What's cooking at the Blue Fox Cafe
All about the ins and outs of writing

Jan
11

Green Lettuce Days

A short Story by Blue Fox Café

a short story written for terrible minds including the following elements; fairytale fantasy, an old abandoned Walmart and talking animals. Also included for shits and giggles is Post-Apocalyptic humor

            There were four of them resting and hiding among the wild rose brambles that lined the sandy banks of the ButtermilkRiver . The sky had been overcast most of the day with clouds the color of cold steel. But now as night was approaching, a bright streak of crimson marked the western horizon. Overhead, Vega glittered brightly through the parting clouds.

All four of them moved out of the thicket, following a well-worn path through a stand of huge cottonwoods. Then they begin their trek across the vast expanse of tarmac that now lay dormant. Several years had passed since the ever-popular Wal-mart had closed it doors; and now clumps of fresh shoots of grass along with small box elder saplings sprang from the cracks in the tarvia.

Pa Pere lead the way followed closely by his loyal mate, Ma Mere, while the two little ones, Antigonus and Amelia, brought up the rear. The quartet searched each little hummock of vegetation, hoping to find some edible bugs or even an errant mouse, vole or mole.

After chancing upon a few measly grubs and finishing off their snack with tidbits of fresh, grass shoots, Antigonus asked his father a question.

“How come you always bring us across this place with the hard, black ground, when there’s hardly anything to eat.”

“Just nostalgia,” replied Pa Pere.

Quickly, Ma Mere cut into the conversation.

“What your father is trying to say, is that, this used to be the best spot to find good vittles.”

“But why do we keep coming here, when there’s not very much to here anymore,” said Antigonus.

“That’s because this used to be the best spot in the whole valley to grab a decent bundle of food,” sai Pa Pere.

“That’s right,” said Ma Mere. “Those were what we called “Green Lettuce Days.”

“What’s lettuce?” asked Amelia.

Both Ma Mere and Pa Pere chuckled at the suggestion, as they lead the two little ones on to the next little clump of grass.

Then Pa Pere began to explain;

“Lettuce was just about one of the best inventions of the “Great Two-leggeds.”

“How come there are any Great Two-leggeds around anymore?” asked Antigonus.

“They disappeared not too long after the Great Shining Light passed right over top of our heads.”

“Really,” said Antigonus, when then this happen?”

“Right before your papa and mama were born,” said Pa Pere.

“There were actually some of the “Great Two Legged” around when your father and I were quite young,” said Ma Mere. “But at that point, it was quite obvious that something was making them very sick.”

“Then more and more them started to disappear,” said Pa Pere. “And before you knew it there wasn’t a one to be found alive.”

After coming up empty for food at the immediate location, Pa Pere lead his family further across the vast flat expanse towards the oak forest that stood strong at the far end of the parking lot. The black and white striped animals made quite a sight as they marched single file across the dark surface.

“Are you glad they’re gone,” asked Amelia.

Well, they could be quite dangerous,” said Pa Pere.

“How’s that? asked Antigonus.

“They would move around in their big metal dens, and in the process they killed all kinds of few four-legged animals, especially us skunks.”

“That sounds horrible,” said Amelia.

“It was a fact of life,” said Pa Pere. “But at the same time they could be quite good to us.”

“That’s hard to believe,” said Amelia.

“I guess it sounds kind of strange, but the “Great Two Leggeds” would leave out all kinds of good food just for us animals.”

All of a sudden a mouse emerges from a clump of grass and seeing the four predators, takes off running for his life. Antigonus sees the fleeing rodent first and takes off in hot pursuit, but the mouse disappears into an underground lair hidden underneath a bunch of grass and weeds before Antigonus can reach his prey.

“Good try, Antigonus,” said Pa Pere. “Maybe next time you’ll get him.”

“These mice must have little tunnels in every little clump of grass,” said a frustrated Antigonus.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they do,” said Ma Mere.

“You know in the old days we would even bother chasing a mouse, said Pa Pere.

“Why’s that?” asked Antigonus.

“See those big empty metal containers sitting over there,” commented Pa Pere.

“I always kind of wondered what they were for,” said Amelia.

“Well, the Great Two Leggeds use to fill them to the top with all sorts of good food,” said Pa Pere. “The kind that us woodchucks, rabbits and skunks really liked.”

“Why did they do that?” asked Antigonus.

“I think they felt sorry for killing so many of us with their awful machines,” said Ma Mere.

“Couldn’t they just stop hurting all the animals,” said Amelia.

“Apparently not,” said Pa Pere. “But now they’re gone, so we have to go back to hunting our own food.”

Then there was a moment of contemplative silence, as Pa Pere lead his family across the rest of the open space to the woods at the far edge of the parking lot.

“Things are sure different now,” said Antigonus.

“That they are,” said Ma Mere.

“Do you think the Great Two Leggeds will ever come back?” asked Amelia.

“ I don’t know,” said Pa Pere.

The End

Sep
12

A belly dancer at the Pacific Coast Fog Fest in Pacifica, CA, USA., from Wikipedia, photo by Clair.S.F.

Intro

Everyday I see quite a lot of advice on how to write better or reach wider markets. While the bulk of the advice seems fine and dandy, very little of it is aimed at anyone who wishes to follow in the financially successful footsteps of a Stephen King, Sandra Brown or James Paterson. To fill this void, I decided to give my two cents worth on the subject.

1. Skip the MFA

A MFA is a great degree to have and hold, especially if you desire a tenured position at a university and like to use long flowery sentences to create literary fiction. Otherwise, skip the time and expense and go to step two.

2. Read extensively In the Genre

Read everything you can in the genre starting , beginning with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and continuing up to the present, including such up and coming literary stars as Brad Thor, Diane Capri or Jo Nesbo.

3. Develop a Complex Spinetingling Storyline

To compete in today’s market, you need to move past the “it was Miss Scarlet  in the parlor with a candlestick” mentality. Instead you need complex plots woven together with the skill of an experienced seamstress.

4. Make Sure You Know How to Write Short Straightforward Sentences and Catchy, Witty and Believable Dialogue

Don’t beat around the bush. Just let the language tell the story in simple sentences mixed liberally with hip, saucy dialogue. Wanna learn how to write good dialogue. Go out and read a bunch of Elmore Leornard books.

5. Revise and Rewrite at Least a Dozen Times

Despite the best efforts of National Novel Writing Month, one draft does not suffice a finished manuscript.

6. A Good Title Is a Must

Can’t say much about this requirement, except that you good titles are like an epiphany. They can come to you at any time – even when you are fast asleep.

7. Use a Pen Name If You have To

If you were born with a name like Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., you might want to change it to something more practical….like John Denver or Elvis Costello.

8. Submit Your Manuscript To Literary Agents and Watch The Money Roll In

Just remember to have a little patience and don’t count your chickens before you hatch.

P.S.
These rules were culled from my daily observations and journeys through cyberspace. As of yet, I have not reached the magic number with six zeros, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

U.S. Money, photo from Library of Congress

Sep
11
Spiral Galaxy NGC 5033

Spiral Galaxy NGC 5033
Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, University of Arizona

The Digital Fortress

I just completed Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. It’s the third book I’ve read by the super-successful writer (also include Angels and Demons along with The DaVinci Code), and in my opinion the most interesting and coherent of  the three books. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of an evening with Deception Point or the most recently released, The Lost Symbol. I prefer Digital Fortress over Angels and Demons because of the stronger ending. Though A & D has an intense story line, it suffers from a hard-to-believe ending. I was glad to see that the Angels and Demons movie has a substantially different (and improved) grand finale than the one in the book.

What’s It About

Without giving away too much of the story, Digital Fortress takes place in Washington, D.C. at a high-command computer and data center and also simultaneously in Seville, Spain, when an innocent college professor is sent there by the government to retrieve a small object of considerable importance. Like all of Brown’s novel, this is a page turner, which races through the events of one very long weekend. The novel contains several finely woven storylines that revolves around the two main characters, a young man and woman, in love, who unwillingly find themselves thrust into dangerous situations that are way over their heads. The book could also be labeled a modern-techno thriller, for their is much espionage and spying that goes on surrounding the vast realms of cyber-space the government uses to keep track of its enemies both at home and abroad.

The Palau de la Generalitat houses the offices of the Presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunya

The Palau de la Generalitat houses the offices of the Presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunyaphoto by Generalitat de Catalunya

Is There A Movie Due

I have found no evidence of a movie in the works, concerning Digital Fortress. By the way this novel was published in 1998 and is the first of all of Dan Brown’s popular novels. However, his latest novel, The Lost Symbol (2009) will be released as a movie sometime in the future, though no date has been announced.

Sep
06
giraffe by Kopp-delaney

High by H. Koppdelaney, who allows some use of his images through Creative Commons

About The Visual Artist

I first became aware of Hartwig. Kopp-delaney, when I had a list of 30 travel quotes accepted and published at Brave New Traveler, a popular and offbeat online Zen travel journal, where I have been an infrequent contributor. Along with my humorous words, the editors added a funny photo of a guy in snow looking at a girl in a phone booth, entitled A Matter of the Heart. As it turns out Mr. Kopp-delaney is a well-known maker of Zen images, who delights in sharing his work through Creative Commons.

Perhaps it is best to let Hartwig sum up this generous attitude towards sharing his artwork in concurrence with the deeply spiritual Zen attitude, which he firmly believes in.

“My artwork is just present on the internet. As the creative act (the kiss of the Muses) already has a good vibration, it is an important incentive, not the money.”

Writers Take Chances

Then recently I came across this fascinating little statement, sent to me in an e-mail by Phil Gladwin at Screenwriting Goldmine, a popular online screenwriting journal and blog.

“There is one thing that is certain in the field of creative writing. If you never show any of your product to anybody, your ideas will never be stolen.”

And along similar lines here is another article at Scriptmag, which delves deeper into the shadowy world of author theft.

There is a beautiful quote here.  “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”  Offhand I can think of some other popular sayings to back this idea up; with the first and foremost being:   “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Will Your Idea Get Stolen?
Only if it’s any good. For example, if the idea is poorly thought out or downright lousy, then probably you will have nothing to worry about. However, a unique idea or approach to a storyline will likely bring out the copycats. Maybe the best thing to do is to send yourself an email documenting time and date of your latest entry and keep on writing, keeping in mind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ooops, I think somebody already said that.
More Thievery
And I just couldn’t resist including one more of Kopp-delaney’s images.
The Businessman by H. Kopp-delaney

The Businessman by H. Kopp-delaney

Aug
30
image of red sprite

Earth as seen from the International Space Station, Image Credit: ISS Expedition 31 Crew, from NASA

Topsy-Turvey World

Recently, I just finished writing my first screenplay. I wanted to create a novel  from the story, but putting together a screenplay meant possibly collecting more financial rewards from a lesser amount of work. On the up side after penning only about 22,000 words, I now have a marketable item, which can be sold for big bucks on the film options market…….Maybe,….. but in reality nobody’s biting…… There could be a lot of reasons for this, such as the market is down, the script sucks, the story is commonplace, filming would be too expensive, I don’t know anybody, legal issues are present, the genre is overworked, I can’t write a good query letter and so on and so on. Actually, all of these could realistically be factors in the non-interest in my story, but in researching the market for screenplays, I stumbled across a fascinating phenomena. Many screenwriters are now viewing the publishing route as a viable alternative to selling a script to Hollywood. Strange as it may sound, it seems that Hollywood is suffering some of the same financial woes that have descended upon the rest of the country.

A Red Sprite

Red sprites, a natural phenomena, can be sometimes viewed in the upper atmosphere from aircraft, Credit: D. Sentman, G. Wescott, Geophysical Institute, U. Alaska Fairbanks, NASA

Publishing Turmoil

As far as I am concerned, turmoil in the publishing industry does not necessarily create  any more good opportunities for screenwriters. As a result many screenwritings are pursuing the publishing path. For those so inclined, there are several websites and blogs discussing just this very issue. And that is how to create a novel from your un-optioned film script. Many writers have tried this and although some have seen their writing efforts go into print, the results and feedback doesn’t seem to be overly encouraging. The main advantage of writing  seems to be  getting your work out to the literary public.

Adapting Sideways

One blog of interest is called Adapting Sidewaysand it includes the opinions and musings of two screenwriters, Jon James Miller and Charlotte Cook. Though no longer in active mode, the postings of 2010 and 2009 reveal some interesting niches that a screenwriter might fall into within the publishing world. And this does even really touch base on all the opportunities that are quickly surfacing among those who read e-books. Another interesting viewpoint comes from an article, The Novel vs. the Screenplay: a Tough Love Guide for Talented Writers, written by James Bonnet, for a website called The Writer’s Store. One thing that Mr. Bonnet points out is that novelists do not have to worry about production costs. In fact, he suggests that a screenplay makes a great first draft for your novel. And that my friends is where I intend to begin.

Winning Contests

And then there is Lorelei Armstrong, who not only has a MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, but also has won several prestigious contests (i.e.Screenwriting Expo Screenwriting Contest, The Contest of Contest Winners, The Filmmakers.com/The Radmin Company Contest, The Scr(i)pt Magazine/Open Door Contest, The Acclaim Film and Television Contest, The A Penny Short Contest and The Family Category of the Fade In: Awards). Despite all this fabulous acclaim, Lorelei remains unrepresented, unsold, and unproduced.  As a result, she went out and published her first novel in 2008.  So to all you prospective novelists and screenwriters good luck…..you’re definitely going to need it…..along with a lot of  hard work.

Aug
17
Alice in Wonderland

1923 illustration by Peter Newell depicting Alice and her acquaintances from the Lewis Carroll book

Brisque E-book

Towards the end of July, Jason Konrath in his excellent blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing, did a little plug for an erotic take-off of Alice In Wonderland written by Melinda DuChamp and available on Kindle, first as a free download and currently as a paid download. The ebook cover with its series of phallic mushrooms is an intriguing introduction to DuChamp’s humorous revision. I’ve only read the first few pages, but the revised tale definitely falls into erotica category. Incidentally for those of you who tend to avoid the overly spicy, Ann Rice once wrote a trilogy of erotic Sleeping Beauty tales, which she penned under the nom de plume of A.N. Roquelaure.

Author’s Comments

In the Konrath interview, DuChamp makes two interesting comments. First of all, she challenges the reader to decipher which events in the book are real and which are fictionalized. More importantly, she goes on to defend the coattail effect and how writers can sometime benefit from riding other peoples coattail, just as politicians do occasionally( or in some cases, frequently).

Revising The Past

These last comments are what I find most interesting about the interview at Konrath’s site, for I have found that the literature of the past can sometimes be a rich harvest, for those who wish to reap the benefits. I do not mean to copy or plagiarize the cherished masterpieces of years gone by. That kind of activity benefits no one. However, for those who like to satirize, develop take-offs or spoofs, the old classic can provide ample fishing grounds for creative ideas. If done well the rewards can be many.  A creative mind will mind plenty of ways to enhance their storyline and improve on their writing skills.

Sherlock Holmes and assistant

Sherlock Holmes recently underwent a fancy revision at the movie theaters

Jul
21
Pastel sketch of a Snowman and his mailbox

Pastel sketch for a Flash fiction story entitled, The Letter

The Book Cover

“You can’t judge a book by its cover”, English idiom. This little saying may be true, but when it comes to selling a book, all of a sudden the cover becomes very important, especially in today’s world, where our ability to create images has been greatly increased by broadcast television, digital imagery and communications satellites. Even in a bookstore, where a buyer is faced with thousands of possible titles, that small rectangular space on the front is oh so important in making the sale. And come to think of it, so is the back and even that long space on the spine that holds just the title and the name of the author. This latter surface becomes important when perspective buyers see the book neatly stacked on a shelf with just the long narrow strip of the side exposed. In this situation a combination of bold letters and striking colors often works to attract the reader’s attention.

A New Art Form

“As I’ve said a gazillion times, a professional cover boosts sales”, Joe Konrath

In today’s world the average visitor is daily bombarded with an infinite number of visual images. Combine this reality with the fact that ebook covers tend to be rather minute in the overall scope of things, and you will probably come to the conclusion that producing an small electronic image, which catches the reader’s eye might be considered something of a new century art form. Not only are ebook covers small, but they often appear on electronic media like they are backlit. This takes a special amount of awareness from the designer to meet all these conditions. No wonder many writers use a professional artist to create an ebook cover.

My Experience

I have jumped into making my own ebook covers for two important reason. Lack of money and some ability to work with visual images. The above drawing was created to illustrate a flash fiction piece about a snowman waiting for a letter. I had fun making the image, but overall it underscores the advantage of hiring this job out. Still, mainly by the process of osmosis, my designing ability has improved. In fact, I am quite pleased with my latest cover made for a chapbook of travel stories that I just self-published at Smashwords. You can find the image below.

To create this image I used  Photoshop Elements II software. First I downloaded the background image from NASA, which is a good source of photographs. Just be sure to check the source, for many images posted here are copyrighted. All Hubblecraft pics, like this one here are in the public domain and free for public use. Next I added the plate and the jelly doughnut, which I found at Wikipedia, another good source of free photos. Last but not least came the next, which was typed in using the curved function of Photoshop.

Also posted below are a few more examples of ebook covers.

Ebook Cover for I Am a Jelly Doughnut

Ebook Cover for I Am a Jelly Doughnut, text and artwork by Henri Bauholz

The cover for Acadian Rendezvous was based on one of my own photos. The building is the Landmark Hotel in Portland, Maine. It has nothing to do with the story, but it looks sharp as the front image. It was enhanced in Photoshop with the posterization effect and then text was added.

Ebook cover for Acadian Rendezvous

Ebook cover for Acadian Rendezvous, a novel by Henri Bauhaus

Jul
19
Mars has a hole

A Hole in Mars
Image Credit: NASA, JPL, U. Arizona – photo taken by robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently circling Mars.

Current Situation 

Just recently I did a google search for screenwriting blogs and came across a site that listed the top 25 by various ways, including Google, Alexa, Bing and Compete, plus a few others. However, when I tried to visit some of the sites listed, I found that many of the links were dead or hadn’t posted in a year or more. As a result I decided I would put together my own list. Though not as thorough, this accumulation should give readers a general idea to what’s going on with screenwriters and screenwriters.

Major Players

John August got 1st place among the list compiled at many of the search engines. And since John is still actively blogging, he gets an easy conclusion here. If you haven’t heard of this person, he wrote a screenplay for Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride and Charlie’s Angels (the movie). Also included here should be Screenwriting for Hollywood, which explores the world of Hollywood films.

Lesser Knowns

The Bitter Script Reader is an interesting blog posted by a real life script reader, who goes by the pen name of Zuul. Also of interest is Go Into The Story, a blog put out by screenwriter and educator Scott Myers. Though Scott does not have the credentials of August, his postings are still worth a look.  And if you are interested in script reading, you might want to check out the postings at ScriptReader Pro. They even occasionally post adds for script reading positions.

One of my personal favorites has come to be Screenwriting From Iowa, which is kind of a hodgepodge of views on screenwriting taken from the cornfields of this most interesting and often overlooked Midwestern state. Scott Smith is the force behind this outlook into screenwriting. Be sure to check out his post on Woody Allen, which includes a very funny video clip of Woody Allen boxing a kangeroo, before he became a filmmaker.

So there you go. This is just a start and remember blogging is a constantly changing scene, so there will be many more entering the field while others exit. Good night and good luck.

Jul
14
Old Fonts

The Gutenberg Museum in Las Vegas has a fascinating old font type displayed on its exterior walls,

Body Text

Though the above text is from the outside of the Gutenberg Museum in Las Vegas, NV, the old font dates back to Johannes Gutenberg’s first movable type that was employed in the 1400’s.  These stylish letters are still in use today and they represent  something a skilled tattoo artist might choose to apply to a client’s epidermis. Not every tattoo employs words, but many do, often combining a select few words with a simple design or image.

Miley Cyrus in 2012, from wikipedia

Miley Cyrus in 2012, from wikipedia

Hannah Montana Gets A Tattoo

“So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt from his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech given in Paris.

Miley Cyrus just had the above 19 words tattoed on one of her wrists. I comes from a longer well-known passage that has been dubbed  ” The Man In the Arena”. Here is a larger selection from the speech that Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne on April 23, 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

This passage is one of the favorites of Richard Nixon, who quoted from it during  his election night victory speech (November 6, 1968) and then again when he resigned on August 8 1974.

This is not the first tattoo that Miley has had added to her epidermis. In fact, so far in life the young actress and singer has accumulated more than a dozen. Considering that her brother and father are well-inked, this quotation on her arm will probably not be the last bit of ink added to her body.

Tattoo Removal

Also in the news are the tattoos of Nikki Taylor, a well known American super model. However, instead of adding more designs to her body, she is having one removed from her forearm. According to OMG of Yahoo, this is not the first tattoo, Nikki has had removed. In fact, she claims that the two tattoos she has had removed  by laser surgery have been more painful than childbirth. She goes on to say that she is removing the tattoo, because it is an impediment to getting modeling work.

 

Jul
02
Apollo 17 at Shorty Crater

Apollo 17 at Shorty Crater
Image Credit: Apollo 17 Crew, NASA

The Seventies

The year was 1972 and the month was December. The whole nation watched while Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow valley. Their names and exploits are almost forgotten today, overshadowed by the first manned exploration of the moon that occurred several years earlier, when Neil Armstrong , Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins first made their lunar voyage in Apollo 11.  In 1972 Nixon was president and the war in Vietnam was still raging. …… Not a great year to be a young man with a selective service card and a lottery number, but nonetheless,  in those times, the publishing scene was much different than it is today.

In 1969, astronauts were quarantined after returning from the moon.

Publishing in 1978

Today, while at the Sioux City (Iowa) library waiting for my laptop to start-up (mine takes  more than five minutes), I randomly picked a book off the  shelves and started reading a short passage by Doris Grumbach about how it was getting a book published in New York in 1978. According to the author, she took the train from Westchester County to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. From the station, she walked over to Doubleday, entered the offices unannounced and handed the manuscript, which was wrapped in brown paper, to the secretary. Two weeks later, she got a reply from an editor saying that they wished to publish the book. Also at that time a literary agent contacted her about representing her next novel, which had already received an option offer from the same publisher.  In 1979, Chamber Music was published and though it has never become the “Great American Novel”, the story has been enjoyed by many and is still in print today.

Today

Doris Grumbach is still alive today and her publishing  account was published in 1999 as part of a collection of short articles, titled The Eleventh Draft, Craft and Writing Life from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her particular article was called A View of Writing Fiction Through The Rear Window. Overall, the book has lots of good stories about writing and living the writers’ life and it  suffices as an excellent distraction, when you writers’ block has taken over and you don’t feel like writing.

Afterthoughts

Even though I was alive and employed as a carpenter in 1978, I had no interest in being a writer and thus no awareness of how the publishing world operated and functioned. Today, I am all too caught up in “trying to get published”. My occasional success have come from  short articles published on the net and my income per time spent has been marginal. Reading Ms. Grumbach’s account has been most informative, for it shines light on a time, when not so many writers were trying to “break-in” to the literary world and finding a voice and a place to be heard was not so difficult.

Things have definitely changed today. Though the web has made the general public for oriented to the written word, it has also greatly increased the number of prospective authors. In most instances having your work available through electronic media is like falling into a swollen river. …..After the initial shock, you have to fight to get back to solid land. I wish I had good advice to all you struggling writers out there, but my experience has not been overly rewarding.

Milstar Satellite Communications System

Today, communication satellites, such as this Milstar, transmit large quantities of data back and forth between different points on the earth’s surface. Many e-books are now sold by the aid of this technology

Jun
27
view from the hubblecraft

NGC 2174: Stars Versus Mountains
Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA

Noted Screenwriter Passes On

I was sitting in a fast-food restaurant this morning watching CNN news with one of the most popular movie clips was aired……And that was the one where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in a restaurant, while talking to her boyfriend. Everybody should recognize the popular scene as being part of When Harry Met Sally, but much less is known about the screenwriter, who created the story. Her name is Nora Ephron and it is sadly noted that she passed away recently at the age of 71.

Accomplishments

Nora is probably best known for the film that featured Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal and for which she received an Oscar Award for best screenplay. Other film scripts that can be accredited to Ms. Ephron include You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Bewitched and Julie and Julia. However, all of Nora’s contributions did not come as a writer, for she also functioned as A Hollywood producer and director. Her specialty seems to be romantic comedy and it should be noted that many of her silver screen efforts featured Meg Ryan as the leading actress. Nora Ephron is already a household name among the film industry, but like many who work behind the scenes in Hollywood, her name is not widely associated with her accomplishments.

Behind the Scenes

Are screenwriters destined to always work behind the scenes? In seems to me that for the most part, the role of film writer is not one that draws the spotlight. It is only when writers become producers, directors or appear in their films as extras or even by portraying a major character, do they become well-known to the general public. Nora Ephron’s film history may be a good case in point. For even before she passed away, the writer has been long been defined as a major player in defining contemporary relationships between the opposite sexes. I’m sure in the days that follow her passing, there will be a lot of attention directed to her and her life’s work, but in general she endeavors in an area, where her influence greatly exceeds her name recognition.

Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron is 2010 from Wikipedia

Jun
15
M82 from Hubble

M82: Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA)

“A crucial ingredient for the formation of a novelist – romantic humiliation and heartbreak. The unhappy childhood gives you the tool of observation. Unrequited crushes, romantic despair, a few memorable breakups, will give you something to write about,”    Jennifer Weiner,  author of  “Good In Bed” (2001), “In Her Shoes” (2002), “Little Earthquakes” (2004), and “Goodnight Nobody” (2005)

Things Writers Need to Know

For the most part writers, especially the fiction variety, draw heavily on their own life experiences to create a literary world to which the reader can relate. This idea remains firm regardless of whether the author is writing  “roman a clef”, such as Jack Kerouac or Hunter Thompson, or producing science fiction stories a la Isaac Asimov or Ursula Le Guin. In many cases, sorrow and despair can be one of the more powerful emotion forces behind a good story.

 

When Things Fall Apart

Ariel Gore put it this way in her fun read,  How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead:  “When bad things happen to writers, there’s always the glimmer of a good story”.  This is an age old principle that has probably been employed since the dawn by  storytellers all around the world.  In fact, one of the most popular books read today, The Bible, is filled with stories of heartbreak and tragedy.  So if something bad comes your way, finding a story in the event, is just one way of transforming the experience into something meaningful.

Pack Up Your Sorrows

“But if somehow you could pack up your sorrows

and give them all to me

You would lose them, I know how to use them”    

lyrics from Pack Up Your Sorrows, written by Pauline Baez (now known as Pauline Marden Bryan)

This  song, which kind of reiterates what was already stated above, was made popular by the singing duo of Richard and Mimi Farina, but actually written by Pauline Baez, the oldest of the three Baez sisters.   While Pauline’s two younger sisters, Joan and Mimi, grabbed the spotlights, Pauline remained behind the scenes. Nonetheless, she was able to create one of  the  best remembered songs of the 60s. This little lesson should not be ignored by ambitious young writers. And that is you don’t have to be in the spotlight to be successful and, more importantly, you can never predict which writing effort will be most important or where it will come from. And for all you readers, who get tired of just reading about the song, you can go here and actually hear the words accompanied to music.

Don’t Get Carried Away

One word of caution. Don’t go out and get overwhelmed by sorrow. When heartbreak comes in large doses, it may be such a defining event that you may never recover. …. .And also as a corollary concept, remember that pre-meditated sorrow may not produce good literary results. Your heartbreak must occur naturally.

Jun
11
At the edge of NGC891

At the Edge of NGC 891
Credit: Composite Image Data – Subaru Telescope (NAOJ), Hubble Legacy Archive,
Michael Joner, David Laney (West Mountain Observatory, BYU); Processing – Robert Gendler

“When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.    Ray Bradbury

Death of a Literary Giant

Ray Bradbury died last week and upon his death, I happened to take a quick look around the web and chanced across this interesting quote about his education. I was surprised to find that Ray did not attend college, but instead went straight from high school to writing short stories. His transition was a short one, but over time Ray’s writing improved and eventually after the publication of a novel or two, he was able to make a living off his writing. I’m sure that by the time he passed away last week, his annual income was quite high, something that most of us college-educated folks would be quite envious of. This set my mind wandering, as to what other writers were highly successful, despite their lack of a college education.

Mark Twain in cap and gown

Mark Twain receiving an honorary degree from Oxford University in England, from Wikipedia

Head of the List

Right away, the name of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, popped up. Here, was a man that grew up setting type in his father’s press, but who never benefited from attending an institution of higher learning. Mr. Clemens had a fascinating life growing up on the Mississippi that included piloting a steamboat on the big river. From there, he participated briefly in the Civil War, only to head to the western territories in order to avoid service in the horrific conflict. From the West he was able to begin a literary career that has been matched by few. Despite this shortcoming, Mr. Twain eventually received an honorary Doctor of Literature from Oxford, quite an accomplishment for someone without a real diploma.

The Adventurers

Next come the adventurers like Jack London, who dropped out of college and headed for the Klondike Gold Rush. I doubt if London planned on being a writer, when he left Berkeley, California, it just kind of happened along the way.  Other adventurous writers, such as Jack Kerouac, Carl Sandburg, William Faulkner and Robert Frost were also college dropouts, who became household words despite completion of their academic careers.

Doris Lessing, 2007 Nobel Prize recipient for Literature

Two of Note

Two very interesting writers, who never attended college, are George Orwell and Doris Lessing, a Zimbabwean-British novelist, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2007.   Even though George Orwell had an excellent British secondary education at Eton, he never attended college because of lack of financial funds. Instead he became a policeman in India. Over the years and after moving back to Europe, Orwell (Eric Blair in real life) eventually became known through the publication of several works of fiction that are still widely read today. In fact, his lack of monetary assets for a higher education, despite a stellar academic career,  may have been instrumental in the author’s political outlook and his frequent criticism of wealth distribution and other such occurrences in the 20th century.

On the other hand Doris Lessing’s remote location in southern Africa might help explain, why she dropped out of school at age 14. Her recent reception of the Nobel Prize proves that large obstacles to success can be eventually overcome. So it just goes to show that lack of a college diploma, is not always a deterrent to accomplishing great things. This is especially important in today’s economic climate where college tuition is climbing out of sight.

Jun
06
A very thin Galaxy

NGC 4452: An Extremely Thin Galaxy
Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA

In Transition

I just heard the news today. Ray Bradbury died last night, June 5, 2012. He had spent over 91 years on the planet and who knows where his soul will end up. Here is a hint that the science fiction writer might be making a long journey. Nonetheless, no matter what your belief is of the afterlife, here are some quotes from Ray Bradbury, when he was alive, including his short and lively preface to his advice to writers, which bore the title, Zen In The Art In Writing.

The Preface:

HOW  TO  CLIMB  THE  TREE  OF  LIFE,  THROW  ROCKS  AT  YOURSELF  AND  GET  DOWN  AGAIN  WITHOUT  BREAKING  YOUR  BONES  OR  SPIRIT       A  PREFACE WITH  A  TITLE  NOT  MUCH LONGER  THAN  THE  BOOK

“It is a great age to live in and, if need be, to die in and for. Any magician worth his salt would tell you the same.”

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

“That is the kind of life I’ve had. Drunk and in charge of a bicycle, as an Irish police report once put it. Drunk with life that is and not knowing where off to next. But you’re on your way before dawn. And the trip? Exactly one half terror, exactly one half exhilaration.”

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

“There is no future for e-books, because they are not books. E-books smell like burned fuel.”

“I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!”

“Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures. Sometimes it is a little hard to tell the trash from the treasures…”

So there you go with just a few of Ray’s gems. I’m sure if you conduct your own search, you will find many more.

Jun
05
Nebraska

Cottonwood stand along Interstate 76

Entering Nebraska

We were on our way to eastern Nebraska, when me and my traveling partner got dropped off at a busy intersection along I-76 in eastern Colorado. Unfortunately, we did not see the state prison until it was too late. This meant a 20-mile detour along two-lane highways, but eventually we got let off near the interstate by a local man, who said it was OK to hitch a ride on the big four-lane.

A half an hour later we had a through-ride all the way to the Nebraska state capitol, located some 400 miles away. Watching the countryside fly by at 75 miles an hour, as it changed from short-grass prairie to plowable farmland was a real treat, especially from the cab of  a spacious, four-door pick-up truck.

Nebraska State Capitol at Night

Nebraska State Capitol at Night

Lincoln. Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska is not a high-priority travel destination, but the bustling city does have a nice downtown area and a bustling economy with a low unemployment rate. It also holds a branch of the University of Nebraska and a large sports arena, where the football team plays their home games. The public library is a small modern building, conveniently located in the downtown area. There is a small reading room on the third room, which houses over 12,000 books devoted to Nebraska authors and history. The space is officially know  as the Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska authors. Among this extensive book collection, the best known authors would probably include Willa Cather’s ‘Little House On the Prairie’ and John Neihardt’s ‘Black Elk Speaks‘.

Scott's Bluff in Nebraska

Scott’s Bluff National Monument in Nebraska

The Importance of Black Elk

Though ‘Little House on the Prairie’ became the basis for a very popular TV program by the same name; for me, John Neihardt’s riveting account of the life and times of the Sioux elder, became one of my landmark adventure’s in leisure reading that I pursued in my early twenties. Though the Native spiritual leader resided in neighboring South Dakota, it was the Nebraskan author ( and college professor) along with the University of Nebraska Press that made the publication of this landmark book happen.

Over the years many books have been written about the life and times of Native Americans, but few seem to capture the spirit of the times as well as this window in life among the Sioux at the turn of the century. Black Elk was unique in that he participated in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, survived the Wounded Knee Massacre and went on to participate in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Neihardt’s interpretation of Black Elk’s life was first published in 1931, but is still read and enjoyed by many today.

May
17
Star Formation in the Tarantula Nebula

Star Formation in the Tarantula Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, ESO, D. Lennon (ESA/STScI) et al., and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Babbling With Scott

I must admit that over the past year I have followed Scott Eagan’s blog with much anticipation and interest, even though I am not a Romance writer and I can’t see myself ever becoming one in the near future. That is because Scott’s daily (M-F) comments cover a much broader range than the Romance writers, who write for the Harlequin Line, which seems to be the main publisher for Mr. Eagan’s clients. I followed ‘Babbles’ mainly because Scott’s daily musing applied aptly to almost any genre of fiction writing.

Strange Coincidence

Two days ago when I went to the website, there appeared something very strange – a large blank space. At first glance, it appeared to be a mere glitch in programming, but then while perusing around the web, I found out that there may more here than first meets the eye. It seems that Scott has recently posted a blog defending Harlequin Romances, which now has been taken down. For a reading of the missing blog you can go here, and read all about it. Seems to me Mr. Eagan has just stepped into some dodo.

Uncle Remus illustration by Norman Rockwell

Uncle Remus illustration by Norman Rockwell

“Youk’n hide de fier, but w’at you gwine do wid de smoke?”  Uncle Remus

Harlequin Romances

The problem here is two-fold. First, it is coming out that Harlequin Romance authors don’t make much money. In fact, you might say they get paid peanuts. All of this is well documented over at Joe Konrath’s A Newbie Guide To Publishing in an article entitled, Harlequin Fail.

The other problem concerns ethics. Is Scott Eagan an independent agent like he claims to be – or – does he just work for Harlequin?

May
16
Monroe statue taken down

Marilyn Monroe statue in Chicago is taken down, Reuters

In the News

Today, I turned on one of those morning news TV programs and learned that the Marilyn Monroe statue in Chicago was being taken down and moved to Palm Springs, CA. To be honest I never knew such an art creation had been put up. Once I realized what the statue was and what it represented, I think I was happy to see it go. I think the people of Chicago will be glad, but I’m not so certain about the two-legged residents of Palm Springs,  California. Maybe the giant likeness of Marilyn  is destined to become part of the “Burning Man” Festival that is held every fall, not too far from the popular desert retreat.

Anyway, maybe there is a better way to honor the so very popular, matinee  idol. No don’t get me wrong, I think that Ms. Monroe’s scene from the ‘Seven Year Itch’, where she walks above the NYC air vent and lets the updrafts reveal her panties is one of Hollywood’s classic scenes. There is nothing wrong with remembering it.

However, the statue in Chicago just seems to be at least a little bit in bad taste and I’m glad the Windy City residents finally had a enough common sense to take it down. Good riddance! Somehow the opportunity to stand underneath a giant-sized plastic likeness of Marilyn Monroe and stare up her dress, seems like an activity relegated  for those who dwell on the outer edges of sanity.

Las Vegas Graphics

Elvis and Marilyn in Las Vegas

Marilyn Impersonators

I don’t even mind all the Marilyn impersonators that memorize the scene at places like the Las Vegas strip. Here, one can walk along the sidewalk and at the chosen casino see one or more attractive blond and buxom models wearing the similar attire that she adorned in the film and placed so that conveniently located updrafts raise the woman’s skirt high in the air. In fact, female Marilyn dress-alikes are just starting to appear in many places, but they have a long way to go until they catch up will the Elvis clones.

Marilyn the reader

Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Poets and Writers Magazine

Marilyn, The Reader 

Actually, the former Ms. Monroe had an intellectual side that was well hidden by her bubbling and effervescent sex appeal that surrounded her during her living years. Her interest in literary pursuits is clearly shown here, as the young actress takes time off from the shooting of the misfits to read Ulysses, by James Joyce, one of the longest and most involved of 20th century novels.

Another interesting aspect of Marilyn Monroe’s life was her marriage to the writer and playwright, Arthur Miller. Married in 1956, this was Marilyn’s third marriage and Arthur’s second. Perhaps the following quote might shed some light on Marilyn’s fascination with the literary world.

“If I were nothing but a dumb blonde, he wouldn’t have married me.” — Marilyn Monroe on Arthur Miller

May
12
In the Center of the Omega Nebula

In the Center of the Omega Nebula
Image Credit: NASA,

A  Small Chain

Today (Saturday May 12) is graduation day here in Boulder, Colorado, home of the U of C Buffaloes. As a result the town is packed with students and visitors. Unfortunately, the weather is iffy and the thousand or so young men and women, who are about to plunge into the real world, might have to receive their diplomas in the rain if the event is not moved indoors.

Fortunately, all of this does not affect me, as I experienced my college graduation many years ago. However. it did explain why the Trident Bookstore on Pearl Street was packed full of coffee drinkers and muffin-eaters at 7:30 in the morning. With all the out-of-town visitors, this business, like many others in the downtown area are hoping for a better than average weekend, as soon-to-be graduates and their guests flock to this Rocky Mountain educational oasis.

For those of you who are familiar with the Boston area, the Trident Bookstore might ring a bell, especially if you spend any time on Newbury St. It did to me, so I asked the clerk about the Boston-Boulder connection, just to be certain I was not missing out on the emergence of the newest bookstore chain. He informed me that the two stores were started by connected entrepreneurs, but that they have long since parted ways. There was originally plans for a third store in Halifax, N.S. (that’s in Canada), but that grandiose scheme never materialized.

Homage to the Bean Tree

Can bookstores like the one I visited survive the upheaval currently being experienced currently by booksellers across the nation. My spending this morning might suggest that without the enjoyable beverage that is made from the coffee bean tree, many bookstores would go under. For example, my female companion and myself bought two cups of coffee and on half-pint container of cream that was needed for later the day. In the process of drinking our coffee, we stayed almost an hour. I alone browsed the book and magazine displays, but failed to purchase any new reading material, even though I saw many fascinating titles. I did not take a survey among early morning diners, but my hunch says that most displayed similar spending habits to mine.

Outlook For Tree Books

After leaving the bookstore, today, I visited the Boulder Public Library, where I was able to access my Smashwords account and was pleased to find that I had a few new e-book sales  pending. That bought me some pleasure, but it left me thinking, how an independent bookstore like the Trident might survive.

Selling coffee and various food items helps, but the bottom line is books – and this store had some beautiful coffee-table examples along with the standard fare of novels and what-not. After leaving the store, my first impression was that a merchant that offers a high-quality product can probably stay in business, depending of course on store location and the local economy. In both cases this bookstore seemed to be in the right place.

May
04
Las Vegas Motel with Mountains

Las Vegas Motel with Mountains

My Situation

I have been in the city of Las Vegas for almost three weeks now and without having ever ventured out into the surrounding countryside, I have learned quite a lot about the place. First of all Las Vegas is much bigger than the infamous strip that attracts the majority of out of town visitors. The city stretches far away to the edge of the mountains and it is estimated that nearly 2 million people live here in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the American West. Still, for most who dwell in the urban mecca, the desert and its easily visible mountains are a distinct disconnect from the day-to-day effort of making a living. Unemployment hovers near 12 % here and finding a job is not so easy. Nonetheless, local residents enjoy the modern luxuries of indoor plumbing, temperature-controlled living spaces and a first-rate transportation system.

What Would Edward Abbey Think

Basically, Las Vegas occupies one of the driest counties in one of the driest states in the U.S. In short it is a very dry place. I think Edward Abbey would have been fascinated by the extremely dry land that surrounded the city, plus he would have had a field day with the strange megatropolis that exists here in the desert. Abbey’s swan song, (Desert Solitaire) takes place in nearby Utah, where he worked for a while as a park ranger. But the man lived in nearby Tucson, so Las Vegas was not too far off his radar. Judging from a brief book review of Fear and Loathing, Abbey thoroughly enjoyed in Hunter Thompson and reveled in his irreverent attitude towards the popular place. Who knows maybe Abbey would have checked out the night life after a day of wandering through the nearby outback.

photo of Edward Abbey

Edward Abby came to the American Southwest and never really left

May
02
Saturn's Moon Helene in Color

Saturn’s Moon Helene in Color
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI; Color Composite: Daniel Machácek

More Is Less

I picked up a copy of James Patterson’s  Honeymoon, because I needed something to read and there was an abandoned copy of the book just lying around my place to stay. In fact, this was the only book available for leisure reading, but still after perusing the back cover and opening credits, I started at the beginning of the book, a rather bloody and gruesome prologue. Patterson’s opening did nothing to dissuade me from the belief that prologue’s are a complete waste of an author’s time and effort.  Then I began the book, hoping I might gain a few helpful insights as to why Paterson is so popular.

James Patterson

James Patterson was born in Newburgh, New York in 1947. His first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, was published in 1976 and since that time he has put out an incredible 77 novels. Though some of his works have been co-published, he is currently the best selling author in the world, a position he has held for the last three years. In 1996 Paterson quit his advertising job to write full time.

Many of his novels feature a fictional character named, Alex Cross, a forensic psychologist, who does consulting work for the U.S Government and private clients. However, the book that I chose to read did not feature the psychologist, plus it was co-written by Howard Houghan, a fact which is barely mentioned on the cover of the actual paperback copy.

Easy Opening

Although I am only about 20 pages into the story, I am very impressed by Patterson austere use of language and how quickly he draws the reader into the story through sharp dialogue, simple prose and vivid imagery. Simply put I am looking forward to continued reading with Honeymoon. Need I say more.

Apr
22
Ring Nebula enhanced

Ring Nebula enhanced

About Memoir

Memoir is not the easiest subject to write about, for many writers have delved into the genre, but not all have succeeded. There is a certain irony in this literary field, for just being present at a monumental event does not guarantee a successful written effort. In fact some of the best memoirs have been written about rather mundane subjects. For it seems, that the writer’s skill usually outshines the chosen topic. Prime examples of this phenomena at work, are Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard and Sand County Almanac  by Aldo Leopold. Both books explore the observations of natural beauty in everyday places.

Fiery Wheel of Writing About Rock & Roll

One of the most interesting of rock’n roll authors passed away just a few days ago. His literary masterpiece was entitled “This Wheel’s On Fire” and by all accounts it heralds the development of one of the most unique bands of the 60s and 70s. Simply called ‘The Band” this group of mostly-Canadian musicians backed up Bob Dylan and created a small cadre of recordings that made a distinctive mark on Rock’n Roll history. Ironically, the one American in the quintet, Levon Helm, sat down and wrote a first-rate biography about his Arkansas roots and how it affected “The Band”. Check it out it is a great read.

The Last Waltz

The Last Waltz is one of the Icons of American rock’n roll cinematography.  It features the last concert of “The Band” as performed at the Philmore West in San Francisco. Although the film seems centered on the applausitory accomplishments of Robbie Robertson, one should not forget what  musical legacies, Levon Helm brought to’The Band’.  His beautiful tenor rhapsodies on such numbers as ‘The Weight” and “Jerimiah’s Revenge” establish this Arkansas native as one of the great voices in contemporary American music.

Apr
17
Shiprock, New Mexico

Shiprock is a widely recognized natural icon of New Mexico. photo from Wikipedia and taken by bowiesnodgrass

Mountain  Retreat

Recently, I just left the state of New Mexico for greener pastures hopefully on the coast of California. For the past winter I was gainfully employed as ski lift operator in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of northern New Mexico. During the course of the winter I got to watch quite a few winter enthusiasts come cruising down the mountain slopes, as well as make a good number of runs on my own. Northern New Mexico was double blessed this winter, for the area received bountiful amounts of fresh snow, while other places in the country went dry, most notable Colorado, Utah and California. My winter mountain retreat along with the occasional trip into town to buy groceries and visit a bookstore gave me more than ample time to contemplate my current situation. Fortunately, some of the time was spent looking at western writers, especially those who spent any sizable amount of time in the “Land of Enchantment”, as New Mexico is sometimes called.

Santa Fe Trail in Cimarron, NM

Sign in Cimarron, NM marking the Santa Fe Trail, photo by Billy Hathon courtesy of Wikipedia.

Historical View

If the Santa Fe Trail had not become so important, today, New Mexico would probably still be a Spanish-speaking part of Mexico. As it turned out covered wagons that traveled overland from the Midwest brought with them an enterprising and industrious traveler that settled into many parts of the state. As a result a brisk trade resulted between the new English-speaking arrivals and the long-standing Spanish and Indian residents. It is generally agreed that just about all parties benefitted from this exchange, which helped to create the modern state of New Mexico.

A British Writer Visits New Mexico 

Perhaps the writer, who most put New Mexico on the literary map was he far northern D.H. Lawrence. The British writer spent about a year in the far northern reaches of the state near present-day Taos, while he penned “The Plumed Serpent”, a twentieth century novel that takes place in Mexico. A piece of property was lent to Lawrence and his wife, Dorothy Brett, so that the British writer could finish the novel. Several other minor works were worked on or completed while the couple lived north of Taos near the Colorado state line. Eventually, the University of New Mexico acquired the piece of property, which is officially known as the D.H. Lawrence Ranch.

Other Writers

Though it has been almost a century since Lawrence lived here in the “Spanish State”, only recently has the place seen the success of local writers. Regardless of their place of birth, such writers as Natalie Goldberg, John Nichols, N. Scott Momaday, Rudolfo A. Anaya, Jimmy Baca and Leslie Silko have found a home here in New Mexico.

Apr
11
Hubble photo of a barred spiral galazy

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Image Credit: Hubble Heritage Team, ESA, NASA

The Books

Recently, I have taken advantage of some extra spare time and delved into several books on screenwriting. The titles involved include “Tales from the Script” edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Herman, “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trotier and “The Whole Picture” by Richard Walter. Each book was fun to read in its own unique way. Individual the manuscripts provided many interesting insights and antidotes, while collectively they covered many aspects of what a budding screenwriter needs to know.

50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Story 

Tales From The Script is all about what successful screenwriters have to say about their craft. Compiled from numerous interviews conducted in 2007 and 2oo8, the writers pretty much give an insiders view of writing for the movies and TV. The text includes comments from such Hollywood legends as William Golden, Nora Ephron and John August, along with insights from lesser-known folk. And for those who don’t like to read, there is a CD that can be purchased online at http://www.talesfromthescript.com.

The Screenwriter’s Bible

For those interested in the nuts and bolts of writing a screenplay, you might want to check out this intriguing title. Here, between the covers novice writers will find the most pages of practical information. From concept to the actual writing to trying sell your finished project, there is much good information here.

A Professor’s View

From the hallowed halls of UCLA’s famed film school comes my favorite discourse on the subject, The Whole Picture. The number of UCLA film school grads, who have broken into the screenwriting circuit is impressive. Yet still, Walter emphasizes time and time again that Hollywood is still open to fresh and unique ideas. This observation seems to run contrary to popular opinion, though the author successfully backs it up time and time again. After I finished this literary effort, I felt I had a better picture of what might sell and how to get to that point. This particular piece also mentions other texts that might be of interest to an upcoming screenwriter. Still, one needs to remember that these books are no substitute for putting ass to the chair and doing some actual writing.

Apr
03

2012 Book Festival in Portland Maine

Today I received an e-mail from the national magazine, Poets and Writers, concerning a book festival in Portland, Maine that begins today and carries on through the weekend. For those interesting in attending, Saturday is the big day, but Friday does have an interesting opening night, including an illustrated talk by Tony Horwitz. Except for opening night attendance to the festival is free with most events being held at Abromson Center on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine.

Portland, Maine’s Contributions To the Literary Arts

Several important American men of letters have been associated with Portland. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Stephen King were both born in the city. Longfellow was a nineteenth century poet and writer, who eventually moved to Cambridge, Mass., where he obtained international claim for such works as ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ and ‘Evangeline’. On the other hand, Stephen King is alive and well and now lives and works in Bangor, Maine.  Another noted 19th century writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, spent some time in the city after his family moved from Salem, Mass. to the shores of Lake Sebago, located just ten miles west of the city in the early 1800’s. In fact, Hawthorne was a contemporary of Longfellow’s, as they both attended nearby Bowdoin College, located in Bowdoinham.

History of the Maine Festival of the Book

Having just moved away from this major, Maine urban center, I was surprised and pleased to see that some staff from Poets & Writers had taken the time to spend the weekend at the Maine Festival of the Arts. This literary event started up several years ago, when the Portland Public Library hosted the event. The initial festival presented numerous panel discussion and author’s readings, making for a lively debut. Subsequent years saw the book festival move to the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland, as the public library underwent an extensive renovation. After the move, the festival went through a significant downsizing, but this year’s lineup seems to indicate a return to the first year, when many different book and author forums were offered. Hopefully future years will see the festival continue in its present form.

Mar
28

A pancake and crumpet

The Pancake Rule As Expressed by Joe Moore

I just found this gem of an article by Joe Moore over at The Kill Zone Blog. In a nutshell, the rule as stated by the popular mystery writer says that novels are like pancakes in that you have to throw the first one out, so the rest will turn out good. This is necessary because the batter might stick to the pan….or there might be too much oil on the bottom or perhaps the heat is not turned up high enough. In fact, this recent post at The Kill Zone, a website that features commentary and advice from at least a dozen mystery writers, is not the first article to tackle the strange similarities of the two, for the concept has been floating around a few select literary circles for a while.

Practical Applications

So what can novice writers learn from ‘the pancake rule’. I guess thing that can be learned here is to not to expect your first novel to turn out perfect. In fact, there is a pretty good chance that the final draft will be long a way from perfect and will likely find a home in your top desk drawer. Nonetheless, there are exceptions, where a first novel gets published, sells and even goes on to be very popular. Just don’t count on it.

Who Is Joe Moore?

Joe Moore currently lives in Florida and is co-president emeritus of the International Thriller Writers. He has co-authored many  many novels with Lynn Sholes, including The Last Secret, The Grail Conspiracy, The Phoenix Apostles and The 731 Legacy. His books have been translated into 24 languages and enjoyed by many around the world.

Swedish Pancakes from Wikipedia

Jan
11

Man in space

Major Changes For Me In 2012

My life has already undergone major changes and the year is only a few days old with the end of the Christmas season still a day or two away. (Don’t forget there are 12 days in Christmas). Since the week before Christmas Day, I have been living in northern New Mexico. First stop was Albuquerque, then Santa Fe and now I am in Taos. Most likely seasonal employment will keep me in this northernmost location until spring, perhaps longer. Northern New Mexico has a strong visual landscape, as anyone who moves here from other parts of the country can testify to. Setting aside the presence of mountains, mesas and deserts, here are my literary resolutions for 2012.

The List

1. Read more. During the last few months of 2011, I delved through several books from Scandinavia. Stieg Larsson’s trilogy was not included, but several titles by other crime fiction writers were.

2. Join Write1, Sub1. This nifty little site takes a big heads up from Ray Bradbury and encourages participants to write one short or short-short story per week. Less ambitious writers can opt for the one-a-month participation level. Since I do well well with Flash fiction, this may be a good venue for me.

3. Get my laptop out of the shop. I dropped it a few months ago, but fortunately the only thing that busted was the off-on switch. Now it’s fixed and since I have rejoined the W-2 workforce, I can now afford to give the repair shop the necessary monetary funds to reclaim my invaluable writer’s tool.

4. Stop writing content. Demand Studios was the only online shop, where I ever made any sizeable chunk of change. And even that place was a house of diminishing returns. My best year was the first one (they even gave me a $50 dollar Christmas bonus), but now I have been dismissed via the evaluation program, so any future income through DS is out of the question except through the ongoing revenue sharing program.

5. Have more fun. Presently, I am employed with the ski industry in the Rockies and so I now spend one day a week cruising down the mountains. It’s a great lift for the soul and it’s fun.

6. Finish my novel. I started it during NaNoWriMo and by Christmas I had half of a first draft written out on paper. Still a ways a go with this one, but I think I will take my time from hereout.

7. Talk to other writers and creative people. Over the last few years I have locked myself in a shell, while I tried to make a living off the internet. In the process I missed out on a lot of good things. Enough said.

Well there are my new year’s resolutions. I realize they are coming in a bit late, but look on the bright side, there are still 355 days left to get in sync with 2012.

 

Dec
23
wreath and door
Blue Door with Wreath in Santa Fe

Local Santa Fe Color

Today, I returned to Santa Fe, NM for the first time in 15 years and to my surprise the place looked very much the same as when I last saw the New Mexico mountain town. The main difference was that the city was bathed in a fresh coating of snow. The weather was very cold, but scenery was spectacular. As a result, I was inspired to walk around the main plaza and downtown area and snap off a few pictures with my camera. The door with the wreath was shot on Canyon Road.

Snow on table
Snow-covered table in Santa Fe

Definitely A White Christmas

Despite its kitch and redundant Southwestern theme, I still enjoy walking down Canyon Road, a narrow scenic city lane filled with galleries. In this regard, I did sense a greater abundance of trendy landscapes with intense colors, but could not find the old name enterprises that displayed works from early in the 20th century. My guess is that over the last fifteen years, major art museums have acquired the old-style artists.

So without the opportunity to look up these guys and gals, there was nothing left to do but walk around and take pictures and occasionally wander inside for a hot cup of coffee. Also new is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, but I have not gotten around to visiting this place yet. Though, I do look forward to that day very much.

Blue-green window with Indian pottery
Blue-green window with Indian pottery
Dec
11

Expanding the Universe; A universe named NGC 5584; taken from the Hubble spacecraft

Paperback Collections of Short Stories

Recently, at my place to stay, I came across a old much used paperback edition of short stories edited by the English writer, V.S. Pritchett. More formally known as Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett, the British author was born in 1900 and lived until 1997, making th man an excellent chronicler of the twentieth century. Much to the credit of V.S. Pritchett, the editor, he only included one story by himself. It is called ‘Many Will Be Disappointed’. Even though this English writer, who preferred the title VSP, was much heralded for his short story writing, I found some other of the literary tales more enjoyable.

A Good Historical Survey

This collection begins in early 19th century America with works by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Every writer should read ‘The Fall of the Housen of Usher’ just to understand how the English language has changed over the centuries. Not only does the story present an archetypal image of the ultimate haunted house, but Poe paints a verbal picture with a flowery style of prose seldom used today.

What’s Inside 

Other stories that caught my attention were ‘Charity’ by Eudora Welty and ‘Hills Like Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway.  Charity is a charming little tale about a visit to a nursing home by a young girl. The story’s simple low key humor is quite remarkable. Hemingway is often seen as a turning point in modern literature. That is to say his use of dialogue to drive a story forward, breaks from past techniques that did not place so much emphasis on the dialogue. As a contrast, visit Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, which relies primarily on description to relay the tale. On a final note, there is Ambrose Bierce’s Coup de Grace, a chilling tale set on a Civil War battlefield. Here setting is paramount to the grisley story.

Flash Fiction Comparison

It would be an interesting side note to compare these classics of modern literature to the Flash Fiction and other forms of very short fiction that seemed to have come in vogue since the development of the internet. These short story writers often go for the very short tale and first impression to communicate their thoughts and experiences about modern life. These contemporary “slices-of-life” are a far cry from the tales from the old masters that are often put into anthologies.

Dec
06
The Rippled Red Ribbons of SNR 0509

The Rippled Red Ribbons of SNR 0509; Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

 Winners & Losers

All you have to do to win during the national writing month of November is to enter 50,000 words or more into the National Novel Writing Month website and you get access to a little banner that you can display on your website or comments around the internet. Presumily, the words have to be coherent to readers of the English language, but I have no idea as to what extent this is checked. In a fascinating blog at ‘Terrible Minds’ Chuck Wendig puts forth the idea that since those who complete the process are all winners, everybody who falls short must be a loser.

Running Against The Grain

Despite popular opinion and the advice of other NaNoWriMo writers,  those who finish still have a long ways to go until they arrive at a completed manuscript. In fact, for many authors, the work may have just begun, for numerous revisions may be needed before a workable draft can be attained. Unfortunately, to truly understand what is involved in reaching this final stage, it is usually necessary to partake in a substantial trial and error process involving numerous friends, relatives, writing groups and interns, who work for literary agents. (These people are the ones who usually get stuck reading the premature submissions from aspiring novelists)

Half Way Point

Presently, as the first week of December is drawing to a close I can feel myself approaching the half-way point of my next great literary creation, which I have temporarily dubbed the Painted Cow. (More about the storyline later) At this rate, I may finish my handwritten first draft by the first of the year, especially since the last month of the year has a long holiday at the end and comes with the longest nights of the year, which are a definite boost to accomplishing major writing goals.

Slower Is Not Necessarily Better

So far this post may appear to favor those who take their time with the wrting process. This approach has many merits, but also some major drawbacks as well. One of the advantages of completing a first draft in 30 days is spontaneity and freshness in your writing. More than one literary sage has put forth that writing with great abandonment is a good prelude to challenging creative writing. For one thing completing a novel in a short time keeps you focuses on the subject at hand and may be a hedge against plotline drift, which is a little bit like ‘Continental Drift’.

Procrastinators

So before I end up joining the procrastinators club, I will be trying extra hard this month to finish what I started. This will be an interesting internal struggle that will play forth as the month unfolds.

Dec
01
Northern Lights in Sweden
Northern Lights in Sweden with the rarely seen blue flames, courtesy of Wikipedia, picture by Varjisakka.

What Is Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Scandinavian Crime Fiction is a literary art form that easily falls under the category of Crime Fiction or even “Mystery”. The main difference between the mystery authors of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark is that they they write in their own perspective language. Otherwise the structure of the book or novel is very similar to those of the English-speaking world. Lately, due in part to the mountainous success of Stieg Larsson from Sweden, these writers have received international acclaim with many of them now supporting English-language translations that can be found all across America, Canada and other places in the English-speaking world.

Why Are Scandinavian Crime Fiction Writers So Popular?

There are many possible reasons why these books are so popular, but a quick glimpse at an Economist article suggests that setting might be paramount to the success of this genre. What better place to set a murder mystery than the snowy hinterlands of Iceland, Norway or Sweden. Murder is a cold business, and a chilly wintry setting just adds to the eerie feeling that accompanies this type of story. Other factors that might aid in their popularity are the anti-hero qualities often applied to the detective and the subtle criticism of the socialist-welfare state that often underlies much of Scandinavian crime fiction.

My Reading Experience

This fall I have read two of the many novels available and have been most impressed with these literary efforts coming out of northern Europe. The two books are The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo and the Sun Storm by Asa Larsson, who is not related to the more famous Stieg Larsson.

Larsson’s Wonderful Wintry Setting

The Sun Storm takes place in the snowy Lapp land of northern Sweden. The main character is a woman detective who returns to her northern village to investigate a brutal murder that has taken place in an evangelical church. The story that unfolds from this simple is quite remarkable, especially since both the main protagonist and author are female.

Norway’s Nazi Sympathizers

The Redbreast, which is written by the popular male author and rock and roller, Jo Nesbo, delves into the lives of those young Norwegian men who volunteered to fight with Germany after Norway was occupied by the Nazi regime during WWII. Though their numbers were small, their story was quite dramatic. Nesbo successfully uses this little known bit of history to create a fascinating backdrop for an entertaining modern story set in the 21st century.

Other Authors

Other writers, who have gained much attention, include Jussi Adler-Olsen, Arnuldar Indridason, Camilla Lackberg, Karin Fossum and Leif G.W. Persson and Henning Mankell. True to the nature of Scandinavian society the women have been just as successful with the genre as the men.

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