The May Project and the Muse is Running in Circles



A man is chased by a giant ape!
Run for it!

I was stumbling around around trying to write a short story and suddenly reminded myself that my goal for 2018 was to do longer fiction.  Short stories don’t sell that well.  Cursed Planet, #3 in the GALCOM Universe series, is in with the copy editor.

I have ideas for at least two more GALCOM books.

And…

I’m thinking maybe I need a bit of genre diversity.

I kept circling back to mystery, because I do like mysteries.  I read Nancy Drew and  Trixie Beldon when I was growing up.  Phyllis A. Whitney was one of my favorite writers then, too.  And I read Michael Connelly, J.K. Rowling, and Lee Child.  In fact, it’s hard to get science fiction or fantasy in Washington, DC.  The library tends to stock more mysteries.

Yet, when I wrote my first novel, it was a fantasy.  My second, third, and forth were science fiction.  I’ve only done two mystery short stories.

Muse is running in circles, a little panicked.  I’m actually not sure why.  It might be that my first novel, the Novel That Must Not Be Named, was a mystery.  I had a terrible time with it.  I hit that 1/3 point, got stuck, figured something was wrong with the beginning, and revised the beginning.  Then I would get stuck at the same point again.  Rinse, repeat.

It went on for years.  Coming up with ideas was hard then.  I didn’t have any other ideas that could be a novel, and besides (I told myself over and over), I already invested so much time in it.  So I wandered between the novel and short stories (see the pattern?  I fell into again. 😦 ).

Then there’s the second issue…

This  book is going to make use of a long neglected research area that I know very well:  Hollywood.

1940s.

This is mainly because the 1940s-1970s in the time that interests me.  Today’s politicking celebrities and gritty productions–Pfff!

But 1940s is historical.

Historical is SCARY!

My association with research for fiction was writers who approached it from a position of fear.  Fear that they were being graded like in college.  Fear that a reader would call them out on an obscure fact.  I remember one writer bragging–actually bragging–that he researched the weather on a specific day 50 years ago.  I’m more of a big picture thinker and though I could never write at that level of detail.  Never mind it made Muse want to hide.  Just not creative friendly.

A workshop on research for fiction writers helped a lot.  Though I need to get my feet wet…actually I need to bellyflop right in.

Then there’s the third issue…

Which is to finish the story in 30 days, starting May 1.

That’s got Muse in a panic, too.  I’ve never actually been able to finish a book in 30 days–and this is finishing with cyclical writing so that once I reach the end, it’s done.  I’ve said before that I would finish the story in 30 days and then I got stuck (that 1/3 point) and it took six months.  I got it down to three months.

So we’ll see what happens with The May Project.

 

 

 

Hollywood, Remakes, and Maybe the Reality


Last week, the new Lost in Space TV series premiered on Netflix.  Lost in Space was one of Irwin Allen’s TV shows, though I never liked it much. It seemed like all the bad things about Irwin Allen converged into one place.  But I tuned in any way.

Didn’t stay long.

I want to see new ideas.  We have all this fantastic change, and so incredibly fast, and yet, Hollywood is pulling stories from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.  Lost in Space was fifty years ago.  Even The Brady Bunch, another remake was over forty years ago.

And I’ve heard it said–and said it myself–that Hollywood is lacking creativity.

But is it an actual creativity problem or is it something else.

Problem #1 is that they are allowing money to make all the decisions.  The same thing is happening in the publishing industry, and it makes them risk-averse.  They’ll look at a TV show like Lost in Space or Star Trek and see how popular it’s been and then look at something really new and different…and want to go the safe route.  Safe means it will probably make some money.  New and different means it might fail.

And it also means that despite the number of films and TV coming out, not a lot of it will have the staying power of some of these old shows they’re trying to imitate.

Hollywood’s been doing this for decades.  If another studio came out with a blockbuster, everyone rushed into to do the same type of movie, hoping for that blockbuster.

So why are they focusing on all these old TV shows and movies?

I think that’s where the second problem comes in.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I read Variety at the college library.  Even studied film.  That Hollywood is not the same one today.   Today’s has shot so far out of the boundaries of really pretty much everything that they’ve lost touch with audiences.  They want a show like Star Trek that people talk about fifty years from now, and yet they don’t know how to do it.

They’ve lost that skill.

I used to work with someone who would try to game the marketing in his fiction by picking the right word, as if happy would be more marketable than glad.  The problem is that doesn’t work.

And they’re really stuck.  Getting involved in public opinions has not helped their cause because it alienates too much of the audience.  Trying to trigger the nostalgia doesn’t work if they don’t understand what people liked in that old film (especially given they tend to say “we’re going to improve it”).  Finally, simply shooting for the visuals to get one part of the audience forgets that people want to see good stories.

Something new please, Hollywood.

 

Behind the Scenes: Star Trek’s Khan as a Viking?


Pirate looks out telescope
Ahoy! Spaceship off the port bow!

One of the things I always liked to read is the behind the scenes of a TV show.  Reading about how a show is made is fascinating.  Sometimes it’s easy to wonder how shows come together at all, and yet some of the greatest chaos turns into something spectacular.

Like Star Trek’s “Space Seed” episode, which starred Ricardo Montalban.  And it seems like just about everything has been written about Star Trek.  Those sites that say “10 Things You Never Knew About Star Trek” are always things I know already.  But this Me-TV article had one I didn’t know.

The first was that the now legendary character Khan was originally going to be a space pirate!  Though space pirate sounds kind of cool (at least the fictional ones), it certainly doesn’t fit the actor.  Stellar writing, stellar directing, and stellar acting made this into a classic episode.

While a script can be really good, bad direction or bad acting can botch the whole thing up.  But Ricardo Montalban brought a delicious evilness to the role that makes it memorable even today.

 

 

Theater Ship


A spaceship hovers above an alien landscape, a planet in the background
A woman actor ages out of roles much faster than men. So my character takes to space travel to continue doing what she loves.

Actress Catherine Mason is old enough that Hollywood no longer wants her, so she performs theater in space for the soldiers.  But it’s dangerous duty for the actors.  As they land on a military post, Catherine discovers the aliens are watching.  She’s about to give the performance of her life, if not her life.

A science fiction short story available from your favorite booksellers.

Strands of Blackmail


Cover for Strands of Blackmail
When I was driving home, a white dog was standing up on his hind legs, feet propped up on a fence, looking like he was chatting with the neighbors. So I had to use him in a story.

Sometimes returning home brings back good memories, or bad ones.

For Shari Kendell, it’s finding answers to the questions her grandmother’s death left.  Actors always live in their own world, but Shari is surprised and what she didn’t know.  Who was blackmailing her grandmother, and why?

A Morro Bay mystery short story, available from your favorite booksellers.

Adventures at the book sale


I went to my second book sale of the month this weekend.  This was a fluke that I discovered this one…it wasn’t at a library.

It was at the State Department!

Yes, that State Department.

I actually didn’t expect to find much. As a result of my research class, I’m looking for used books to build my research library.  My topics are:

  • Hollywood (40s and 50s)
  • the sea
  • ghosts
  • military
  • Science Fiction

Given that the books were donated by state department employees, I expected a lot of politics.  But who knows?

So hoofed it down on Metro with a backpack to carry my books.  Little did I realize how much of a challenge my trek was going to be.  The site said the sale was near the Foggy Bottom metro stop.

Yeah, wellllll…

I had show my ID to get into the building and passed by at least six police officers to get to the sale inside.  It was a pretty building for a government building, and there were historic pictures of diplomats up on the walls. Also a very cool statue outside of a man with a globe.

The sale was in a large room with an extension of a tent off the room.  Just tables with the books on top of it.  I had to look pretty carefully in different categories to find books.  Three was a section for the Hollywood type books, but I find all of the ones I bought in other areas.

I accumulated a small stack of about six of the books and one of the volunteers came over to put the books into a book check for me.  After a few minutes, the book check lady came over and asked me where I had found the spy books (2&3).  She thought they were great titles.

I accumulated more books, and by now I was hoping I could actually get them back to the Foggy Bottom Metro.  I ended up with two bags of books (we do not discuss how much I paid; I wished I’d checked the price on one book.  I would have passed on it as too much!).

Book check person commented that I had a lot of books.

Check out person commented that I had a lot of books.

Bag check person commented that I had a lot of books.  I did ask her if everyone was just buying only a few.  I’ve seen people at the county library sale get boxes of books.  She said I was the biggest buyer of the day.

I packed most of the books in my backpack and carried the partially full second back.

Guard #1-5 commented that I had a lot of books.

It was a baker’s dozen:

  1. The Final Dive: The Life and Death of Buster Crabb
  2. The Encyclopedia of World War II Spies
  3. The Catcher was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg
  4. The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea
  5. Rock Hudson: His Story
  6. Black Holes: A Traveler’s Guide
  7. The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk
  8. Comet
  9. The Edge of the Sea
  10. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex (this was the higher priced book)
  11. You Must Remember this: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age
  12. The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There: Time and Navigation
  13. Exploring the Deep Blue Frontier

Uphill back to Foggy Bottom Metro.  Just in time to catch a train!  Yay!  I think I had my exercise for the day.  Now to figure out what to do with my books…

And then there’s another library sale locally next week.

 

 

The Effects of War (A Christmas and Hollywood story)


I always like to read the behind the scenes of movies and TV series.  I’m not interested in back biting or childish antics of actors, but the personal side of working in a creative environment.

Sometimes even war affects that, like in one of the best known Christmas movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which starred Jimmy Stewart.  Mr. Stewart had just come back from World War II, after serving as a pilot and suffering from PTSD (probably called shell shock then).

When he came back, he struggled to find roles and couldn’t figure out where he fit. I think that’s the case for a lot of veterans, because we come back and everyone’s a stranger to us.  Even the world we lived it looks very different.

And there’s anger.  I remember that when I came back.  It was a weird, unfocused anger.  That turns up in the movie, too:

There’s a scene in the movie where he questions his sanity and he’s got this wild look about him. That’s one scene that really struck me, watching it on the big screen. And the other scene that always made me uncomfortable, but now means so much more to me, is when he’s in his living room and he’s throwing things and screaming at his kids — and his wife and children look at him like, “Who is this man? Who is this monster?” And that is so reflective of what millions of families faced, looking at these strangers who came back from the war with this rage. Stewart played it beautifully. He just lets it out.

Read the article and then watch the movie again.  I know I will.

Hollywood vs. Reality: Calling Cadence


If military is in a movie or TV show, there’s usually an establishing shot of the post.  It shows various buildings and soldiers running past, calling cadence.

Fact or fiction?

It’s both.

A cadence is a work song sung by the military when they are either running or marching.  They’re also meant to keep the soldiers moving in step.  From what I understand, the Marine Corps even has a school that non-commissioned officers attend to learn how to call cadence.  The Army doesn’t have any such school, so sometimes the results are pretty awful, since not everyone can sing!

The fiction part of what Hollywood shows is that usually the main characters is time of day, as if soldiers out running could happen at any time of the day.  Physical training is always first thing in the morning.  We had PT formation at 6:30 and were done by 7:30.  That was a firm schedule.

Probably one of the reasons no one did it later was because we ran on the streets, and if everyone was doing PT at the same time, there were fewer cars to compete with us.  During the morning, you could hear the cadences being called everywhere as the units all went out for their runs.

BTW, even our local fire department does cadence.  I’ve sometimes seen them out running–on the sidewalk (couldn’t run on the streets in our area.  Too many cars).  Early in the morning.

The Hollywood military medal


If you watch any TV show with a veteran, he’s often homeless, but he keeps this medal he received perfectly preserved among his meager possessions.

The guy—and it’s always guy—is tormented by war and his buddies dying, so he keeps this medal as something that he looks at from time to time as a reminder.

It’s very Hollywood.

I’m not sure why Hollywood thinks that it would be any different than any other person.  I suppose they hear “award” and think the other meaning, a prize.

Maybe there was one person who kept a medal as a reminder, and Hollywood glommed onto that for all veterans.  They’re good about doing something like that. 

But a way, the medal is rather impersonal.  Sometimes the veterans put them on display in a shadow box.  Mine are stuck in the closet somewhere.  I’d have to hunt for one.  The only time I took one out recently was that another writer wanted to see what one looked like.

If a veteran kept something as a remembrance, it’d be like what your parents or grandparents kept: Personal, to them.  Maybe a photograph, or a card, or a letter.

Mine’s a ceramic Siamese cat.  My Army buddy gave it to me in better times.  War intruded and took with it her friendship, and two others.