Thursday, November 29, 2007

Horror Writers at the Strike

Variety--which has reportedly been unpopular among striking writers due to the perceived slanted strike coverage--had an interesting article Tuesday about the creativity on display along the picket lines.

Horror screen writers were reportedly seen dressed as priests in front of Warner Bros. conducting an exorcism.

At least everyone is keeping a sense of humor as things drag on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Great Gift For Writers

I ran across this great sweatshirt in the new Christmas Signals catalog, a great source for highbrow gifts in general. This new offering reads: "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel."

That's certainly a sentiment most writers can identify with when they hit that level of pissed off that exceeds the normal level of aggravation.

Who hasn't wanted to place an arrogant public servant or snide relative into a chapter for catharsis?

Consider it for the writer in your life and the friends who might want to avoid portrayal on the printed page.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The life and death of movies

With home theaters, big screen television and other temptations to make you wait for the DVD, the movie industry clearly needs new dazzle to lure moviegoers to theaters. The enhanced 3-D digital of Beowolf certainly present an enticing carrot.

Spears and Grendle come right at ya, and it's all in all a pretty wowing movie experience, but I felt like I was witnessing spears being driven not into sea monsters so much as moviegoing with the flip side of the experience.

The digital theater in town, where you had to go for the 3-D version, offers dazzling clarity. Still, I have to wrangle with Christine to convince her to go to that Carmike-owned establishment over the locally-owned theater closest to the house. She doesn't worry as much about crystal clarity as I do.

But for 3-D she agreed.

Only to be subjected to what she hates most about the Carmike theater, where we used to get a Fantanas concert every time we went. As Entertainment Weekly once put it "enough with the $3%@*(&^*%*% Fantanas."

It's the holiday movie season so there are more commercials than ever. We got an extended music video about the National Guard then a host of paid commercials, then a string of previews including a cool new I Am Legend trailer.

Then came the message to put on the 3-D glasses, a demo of 3-D effects, a preview of a a 3-D U2 concert video--Bono comin' at you--and a preview for Journey 3-D with Brendan Fraiser.

Then more previews.

"This has been going on for half an hour," Christine said.

She was right of course.

Once Beowolf started and we settled in and enjoyed it, but I'm going to have a heck of a time making another "it's worth it for the digital experience" argument.

Enough with the overabundance of commercials. I know I'm not the only one saying it. That's because it's true.

Keep it up, theater chains, and I will wait for the DVD.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monks Sleeping in Doorways

When we were still figuring out Portland's Max rail system early in our visit, a man noticed us reading the posted schedule at one of the stops and paused to give us some pointers so that we could hop over to the Saturday Market and ultimately to the convention center across the river.

A moment later his companion walked back to where we were standing to explain even more about Fairless Square, Portland's free transit area. Hop public transportation within those blocks and you can ride free to any point within the fairless boundaries.

I'm not sure if the couple was homeless or just a little weatherbeaten but I wondered even as I appreciated the kindness.

I know Wayne has written eloquently about encountering the homeless in Chicago, and it's hard not to be in proximity to those down on their luck or facing other adversity and not be affected or to think about the world's disparity. In sprawling towns and cities, in the car culture, it's more removed, something you see on visits to the Salvation Army.

I know there are issues of individual responsibility mixed in with bad luck, that in many cases choices have been made, but in other cases choice may not play as great a role.

In Portland, I had to turn my head down and walk away from one man who approached me menacingly, babbling not help requests but incoherent ramblings. I was more annoyed that frightened as was the young man he approached next.

As I walked to dinner a lot of evenings, it was the hour people started to bed down in doorways, quilts spread, ski caps pulled down against the chill.

I passed one church with a sign forbidding camping, but around the corner at another I saw a young man curled under quilts and blankets with his dog at his side.

I wondered what brought him to the spot, to the spartan existence with hound as sole companion, wondered if addiction or misfortune was to blame.

I wondered more if for him there was hope.

Then I walked on.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I'm makin' a pictcha

I can't quite believe it, and for a while I thought I was dreaming, but I've splashed water on my face and it's true.

I shot scenes for a movie last night.

It was kind of a plum extra opportunity. I got to be an attorney in scenes with Matthew Broderick in his new film.

This came about because I heard they were filming The Mist last summer and thought it would be cool to be an extra in a Stephen King flick, so I sent in a headshot and list of plays I was in in college.

I think The Mist was actually already finished, so I didn't hear anything and kind of forgot about it.

Then in Portland on Wednesday I got an e-mail from the casting agency saying they'd been looking for me and getting only voice mail. Would I be available to be an extra on Friday?

I was in the business center at the movie-themed-boutique Hotel Deluxe, so I had to go up to our room and ask Christine, who was showering: "Can I be in a Matthew Broderick movie?"

"Where have you been? Having a soda at Schwab's?"

"No, no I got an e-mail. Hmm, maybe I never told you I wanted to be an extra in The Mist."

What's The Mist?"

"It's a movie with the guy who played The Punisher but that's not important right now. Apparently I have the right look to be an attorney in a different movie."

She said sure, and so I found myself in a suit from about 5 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. today. It was a job roughly like playing one of the judges in The Cain Mutiny Court Martial must have been, but still a blast.

I could wind up on the cutting room floor, but I got a front row opportunity to watch Broderick work as well as seeing a big crew in action.

I'll tell you if I hear when it's going to be released.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Books I Found at Wordstock

I'd just wandered into the main room at Portland's Wordstock--I made it home last night by the way--when I met William L. Sullivan, author of several hiking and travel books including Listening for Coyote and now a novel, The Case of Einstein's Violin, a thriller with humor and science backed by input from his son, who is a scientist.

The premise is that Einstein left behind a theory in a violin case he once owned. Ana Smyth inherits it and sells it on eBay, a mistake that soon puts her on the run from spies and other nefarious types.

She's soon globe trotting to places such as Germany, Italy and Greece, all places Sullivan has visited and hiked as well so there's authenticity to the locales.

I've read only the first chapter so far but it looks like loads of fun.

Christine purchased a couple of other books by Mr. Sullivan, a non-fiction account of how he and his wife built a log cabin over about 25 summers, Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part Time Pioneer.

The account has a real-life murder mystery built in, so I'll hopefully get to that after Christine.

More books
I picked up Life on the Ledge: Reflections of a New York City Window Cleaner by Ivor Hanson at the table of its publisher, Two Dollar Radio, which seems to be a cool house with a cool mission.

The book is Hanson's memoir about window cleaning but also a meditation on his life after playing in a band and realizing rock stardom was not on his horizon.

More stuff I bought
It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden from the Portland Museum of Art gift shop.

The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction from Murder by the Book.

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox from Powell's on Hawthorne Street.

Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan from the big Powell's on Burnside

What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the New by Eric Alterman, a staff pick at the big Powell's.

City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate from Powell's Burnside

Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis and Victoria Harrison.

And again a big thank you to City of Readers for getting me around town and pointing me in the right direction many times.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Notes from the Road and More Wordstock

After walking some streets filled with beautiful yellow ginkgo leaves, I went back to Wordstock Sunday to browse a little more and to attend a "Wordstock for Writers" session led by Lauren Kessler.

It was called a "12 Step Program for Writers: How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself and Start Writing." Workshop sessions, I find, are always inspirational and you always glean useful ideas. I won't give away her seminar here, but happily I was already doing a lot of the 12 steps. A few others should help add a little electricity to my motivation.

Powell's with a Map
Went back to the main Powell's on Burnside for the afternoon and got their map this time, then cruised the shelves looking for things that wouldn't hit me in the face at Barnes and Nobel.

Powell's is color coded - Orange for home, garden and cooking, Gold for genre, Green for new arrivals, Blue for Literature etc. etc.

I wound up with a stack of books and not a heavy hit to my plastic.

More later on the books I found at Wordstock and Powell's.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Notes From the Road - Wordstock Moments - Avi on Writing

Wordstock is lacking in mud, though Charles' quip was a funny one. What we did find plenty of yesterday were books and authors.

Christine got to see Roscoe Orman aka Gordon of Sesame Street read from his children's book, Ricky and Mobo, based on his own childhood. It's a possible gift item for our nephews this Christmas.

We also sat in on a session with young adult author Avi, which was loads of fun. I'd read some of his books when preparing to write Deadly Delivery, so I was anxious to see him speak.

He discussed his writing of a new YA on the Monitor and the Merrimack, part of a series called I Witness, then took questions.

One young audience member asked "What should you do if you want to be a writer?"

"Read, read, read, read," he answered. "Then read, read, read, read and when you've done that, read, read, read and read some more. ... If a writer took a year and did nothing but read his writing would improve."

Sounds like fun to me!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Notes from the Road

I'm in Portland for a few days, following a book called "City of Readers" that guides you to various bookshops.

Powell's is like Mecca. I've mail ordered from them but never visited, so had a blast wandering the various color-coded rooms at the main store and dropping in on their satellite home and cooking shop on SE Hawthorne where we also browsed their mega-mini shop of used and new titles.

We also dropped in on Murder by the Book just down the street, a cool mystery shop. Christine, who's been reading the Poirot books by Agatha Christine decided to pick up the first Campion title.

Today we hope to hit Wordstock, Portland's book festival. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Who Gets Hurt By the Writer's Strike?


I like Heroes as much as the next geek, but the screenwriter's strike won't impact me on the episodic television front.

Even if the networks expend all their first-run episodes before it's over, and even if, gasp, Lost gets delayed or, say it ain't so, 24, I've got 80 hours of stuff compiled on my DVR.

Since I watch in increments roughly equivalent to the length of Robot Chicken--one of the skits, not the whole 20-minute show--it will take me a while to burn through it all.

But, I'm still going to be impacted by the writers' efforts to get a fair shake on DVD sales, and yeah I think it's an effort to get a fair shake. They created the material after all. Who else should make money off it? Guys in suits who basically talk to each other for a living?

So, more power to the artists.

But how am I hurt by this strike?

The Daily Show probably ain't gonna be new again until it's over and ditto Bill Maher, which subs for me on Friday nights since TDS is only on through Thursday.

The only way I'm going to know what's going on in the world is by watching the actual news and we all know how reliable and accurate their interpretation is.

The horror. The horror.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Paper Trails

I read an interesting post on author paper trails by TeenAuthor aka Jacob Martin on Library Thing's What Are You Reading Now group message board. I thought it was worth passing on.

A paper trail of authors is a line of authors connected in one way or another, or perhaps authors who led you one to another.

He sites this example:

Terry Pratchett -> Neil Gaiman -> Alan Moore -> H.P. Lovecraft -> Lord Dunsany

It's sort of like a personal - "People Who Liked This Book Also Purchased..." exercise, and it's kind of fun.

Did an author lead you to read another? One of his influences or imitators?

In my recent reading I suppose I could do this one:

Dan Brown -> Raymond Khoury -> Steve Berry.

I'm not a big fan of The Da Vinci Code nor Angels and Demons, which I read first, but I might never have sampled Khoury had Da Vinci never come along, and I enjoyed The Last Templar quite a bit. That's sort of whetted a Templar appetite, so The Templar Legacy from Berry is on my "to-read" stack.

Looking further back at books I've read (or books I could package together on ebay) I might link:

Mike Resnick -> Glenn Cook -> William Hjortsberg because of Stalking the Unicorn, Old Tin Sorrows etc. and Falling Angel, fantastical detective stories all. Each of those writers pens different kinds of novels as well, so such connections might lead to other genres or sub genres or reading horizons.

Another might be John D. MacDonald -> Carl Hiaason -> James W. Hall, different though alike in that they set crime novels in Florida.

Or Charles Gramlich -> Karl Edward Wagner ->Robert E. Howard ->Edgar Rice Burroughs.

You could probably do some kind of paper trail for Wayne too, but I'm not sure exactly where it might lead.

Wayne Allen Sallee ->Nelson Algren -> Superman comics -> Robert Mitchum films -> ???

It occurs to me that for writers this might be a valuable exercise. It means examining why you like certain works. Knowing what you like about others can certainly fuel your own creative spirit, I believe.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Backburner Category

The ad club from back home used to have a backburner category. That was the slot for entries that never saw the light of day for one reason or another. Read that - client didn't get it.

One of my favorites was for a barbecue place. It was shot like a Clint Eastwood Western and the restaurant's beef plates managed to distract gunmen from a showdown.

Flash to the present
I managed to create a backburner print ad this week. We have a doctor who's going to do a free forum on sinus problems.

Now, I should tell you our last free forum was about the connection between neurology and urology problems. We used a picture of a doctor's gloved hands pointing at--now old fashioned-- X-ray film of a brain. The headline was "Problems that start here may trickle down."

Ran in the paper, brought in a crowd. Didn't hear anything negative.

So, I'm thinking of clever lines and I'm making notes of things associated with sinuses and everything and I came up with -- "Do you suffer from Sinus Envy?" as the headline.

Free Sinus Forum, time date.

Jealous of those friends who don't get a runny nose when the flowers are in bloom? Come to our forum to learn about symptom relief.

The artist designed it, and I showed it around. Got some "It's cute" and "Sounds OK" remarks.

The Acid Test
Then I showed Christine who works down the hall. I really probably should have photographed the expression with my cell phone.

"You can't run that."

"Why not?"

"It's offensive to women."

"I showed it to a lot of women. They said it was cute."

"Did they know what it means?"

"I didn't, uh, get clarification on that."

My boss was at a meeting. I waited for him to get back.

"Remember the ad about the urology forum?"

"Yeah, it worked pretty well."

I held up the ad proof. "What do you think of this one?"

He came around a few seconds later when I used the ad proof to fan his face.

"You can't run that. Not here. Maybe in San Francisco."

"I showed it to a lot of people. They thought it was OK."

"Did they know what it means?"

"I'm sure they've heard of Freud."

"Yeah, why don't you go back to the drawing board? It's clever, but it's going to get us all fired."

Sometimes it does help to run an idea by other people.

Our ad will read - "Do you suffer from Nose Woes?" Rhyming dictionaries can come in handy.

But if our ad club had a backburner category. ;-)
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