Saturday, July 19, 2014
Give Tom Cruise a Break
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Use Whatever Helps
Good lord, what was with that 98-minute standing ovation for Derek Jeter at the All-Star Game? Or with Adam Wainwright grooving a pitch so that Jeter could get a hit?
Seems most folks are in love with Jeter because 1) he's kinda lovely to look at; 2) he's played the game at a high level for 73 years; and 3) he did it "the right way."
Of course, the "right way" means not getting caught with Jose Canseco putting a needle into your backside. And Jeter never got caught doing any of that. That worst Jeter was ever caught doing was Madonna.
As we say with some jackass gets a multi-million dollar deal for three books about an alcoholic vampyre detective going through a nasty divorce while something from his dark past resurfaces, "Hunh. Good for him. Good for him."
I'm not interested in writing the "right way." I'm usually writing as the sun comes up and, uh, maybe there's other stuff I do right. I generally don't compromise characters or plot. I don't chase fads. I don't try to write anything popular. (Sorry, World's Best Agent.)
And I do this big thing that's probably frowned on. I mean, we're talking BALCO-level bad. Much like your PED-infused ballers, I do whatever helps, no matter the long-term consequences. I'll steal from anywhere. I'll take my performance enhancements where I can get them, lemme tell ya.
What the heck am I going on about? Well, here it is.
Writing via paint-by-numbers. Though I'm not proud of my behavior, I'm not completely embarrassed by it.
Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT is this "beat sheet" that film people talk about. You have your "b story" and you're given the point at which your "all is lost" needs to kick in. You're supposed to open with an image, have the hero do stuff for a couple hours, then close with the opposite image so that people feel as if they've seen something happen for their $12. I mean, it's pretty well laid out there in front of you. We're talking "hero's journey" broken down into neatly organized index cards.
Is that gauche? Is it cheating to use a "beat sheet" to write your novel?
Here's an example of how this template works for Frank Miller's famous BATMAN: YEAR ONE.
But here's the thing. I find bits and pieces I can use in what I'm working on. I gave some thought to a "Debate" scene in my current project, worked around some ideas.
Or kicking in with the catalyst. There's the old saying about how there are only two stories: someone takes a trip and someone comes to town. The key part of those stories is the change. And change tends to require a catalyst.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.I guess I find myself going back to these "how to write" programs when I'm thinking about writing or when I hit a slow patch. I don't use them all the time, just when I absolutely need them. You know, more Andy Pettitte than A Rod.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
In the past year or so, I've become much more involved with both the crime fiction writing community at large and my own local community. In addition to writing weekly for the Do Some Damage blog, I now write a bi-weekly post for Prose & Cons. Locally, I'm the Vice President of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and the newsletter editor for the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. Finally, I'm involved in the planning/administration of the bi-annual California Crime Writers Conference, an event that's near and dear to my heart because it was the first writers conference I ever attended (in 2009).
Admittedly, some of these commitments result in some regular kicking and screaming on my part. For example, the monthly Sisters in Crime meetings are located in Pasadena and everyone from Southern California knows that the east/west trek from Venice to Pasadena (or really, anywhere in SoCal), is a pain in the ass, even on a Sunday afternoon.
And of course, a more serious consequence of getting more active in the writing community is the time it takes away from actual writing. This continues to be an issue for me, but one I'm determined to overcome. Why? Because becoming more involved in these circles have added far more to my life than they've taken away.
How do I benefit?
1) It's tougher to make friends as one grows older, but my activities in SoCal MWA and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles have resulted in numerous new friendships. Some are deeper than others, but on the whole I feel blessed to have so many great writers as friends.
3) You've heard it said a million times that writing is a solitary craft. Leaving the house on a regular basis to socialize with other writers is sanity-enhancing.
4) Name visibility. With so much marketing responsibility on our author-plates, this is another opportunity to get your name out and sell books.
I'm fortunate to live in Southern California, where there is a vibrant crime fiction community. If yours isn't quite so active (or even non-existent), you can still join MWA and Sisters in Crime at the national level. You can pitch and write guest posts to bloggers like myself (and not just when you have a book coming out). And if you do live in a place where you have local writing organizations, I encourage you to get involved. Don't be like me and wait until your book is coming out. You just might be surprised by how much value you get for your time spent.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
As If Rocky Had Called Itself “Boxing Ring”
Okay, so it’s not one of the great crime films from the 1970s, but I recently had another look at a movie called Rollercoaster and I think it stands up pretty well.
It’s very straightforward – a guy lets off a bomb at an amusement park and then demands a million dollars from a bunch of amusement park owners or he’ll let off more bombs at more parks.
There’s some pretty good stuff about the amusement park owners trying to keep it out of the press and, of course, just like Jaws, the big finale is on the Fourth of July – I get the feeling that American tourist attractions are not completely empty the other 364 days a year, but who knows?
And George Segal is pretty good as the building inspector who puts the whole thing together and thwarts the bad guy. It must be the first (only?) time when the building inspector is the hero. My 13 year old son had a tough time believing that the grandfather from The Goldbergs was ever that young, but he doesn’t believe I was ever young, either.
The one thing that really stuck out for me with Rollercoaster, though, was the bad guy. We spend a fair bit of time with him, and Timothy Bottoms is very good, but we never find out anything about him. There’s no backstory at all. He doesn’t even have a name.
At one point a carny asks him if he was in Vietnam and for a brief moment it looks like the movie will be offering up that cliché but Bottoms only gives a wry look.
Of course, there’s extortion so his motivation is the money but there’s no lame reason given why his plan involves amusement parks instead of airplanes or trains or office buildings. The amusement parks looks good, sure, but there’s no monologue at the end where he tells us his mother was killed on a rollercoaster or his father was a carny who abandoned him when he was a baby, or anything at all.
The whole movie is on YouTube:
There are a couple of bonuses in the movie, too. For one, George Segal’s teenage daughter is played Helen Hunt and for another the band performing at the amusement park is Sparks.
Oh yeah, the title of this post is from a surprisingly positive review of the movie when it first came out.
I recently found a scrapbook of movie stubs I collected for a while in the 70s so I can tell you I saw Rollercoaster at the Cineplex Odeon Atwater theatre in Montreal on June 11, 1977.
The following week I saw Black Sunday, I guess it’s up next (it has a “disgruntled Vietnam vet’ and plenty of backstory on the bad guy if I remember correctly…)