Friday, May 28, 2010

Gary Coleman 1968 - 2010

A couple of months ago, I tried to get Big Anklevich to go on a road trip to me to a comic book convention in Anaheim. It was fairly cheap, not a long drive, and didn't take place the same week that his family invariably sets their reunions (for the sole reason of thwarting our plans). He didn't have any money, but I figured since I was already driving there and had already gotten a motel room, he wouldn't have to spend very much. Plus, it was on a weekend, so he wouldn't have to take off any work.

He seemed interested, at first. I looked at the guest list and said, "Hey, Gary Coleman's gonna be there, you gotta go for sure." When I mentioned this to my sister, she said, "He won't go, he's too sick." "What do you mean?" "Gary Coleman is dying," she told me.*

Well, I spread this news to Big, hoping that his job was cool enough to have one of those death pools* and that he'd use the knowledge to clean up. But his job is a petty, penny-pinching, constrictive one, with employees jumping ship like rats from the Titandenburg, and they had no such game going. And I ended up going to Anaheim without him.

Gary Coleman did not appear at the convention.

And sure enough, this morning, Big instant messaged me to tell me Coleman was in the hospital, in intensive care, and it didn't look good.

I don't actually know Gary Coleman, and only encountered him once (he was driving an immense SUV which drew attention to itself enough that any talk of not wanting to be noticed lost a bit of credibility). He was a conflicted, unhappy guy, and hated the spotlight, yet had the child star need to be special and singled out. It didn't help that he moved into a neighborhood that's 95% white, has zero celebrities, and absolutely no little people in it. But people of my generation grew up alongside Gary, feeling that we knew him watching "Diff'rent Strokes" every week, and even when he was beating people up at local bowling alleys (or trying to run over them over in the parking lot), people often waved or said "Hi" to him in the grocery store or the gas station (where I ran into him the one time).

I wish he could have been happier. He really was an icon from my childhood, and I certainly would have liked to have been his friend.*** As far as I know, he never wrote a book, but man, he would have had some stories to tell. His was a unique life, and his experience was both magical and tragic.

Gary died of a brain hemorrhage. He was 42.I hope he's gone to a better place, where he is taller than average, and absolutely no one asks him to say "Whachoo talkin' about, Willis."

Rish "Arnold Jackson" Outfield

*One of my sisters is rather friendly with Gary's wife, and the other is a nurse, so I guess that's a sort of tag-team for this kind of gossip.

**A death pool is a friendly competition where coworkers or friends pick five (or ten) celebrities, gambling that they will die in the next year. Generally, the point system is based on how old they are, with the younger the celebrity on your list, the more points they're worth (Lindsay Lohan is always toward the top of my list every year), but other rules, such as health history and lifestyle can enter into it in more competitive environments. Whoever ends up with the most points at the end of a calendar year wins the pool. Clean, morbid fun.

***My Uncle Ali invited him to our family New Year's Eve party a year or two ago. Gary didn't show, but his wife came and regaled us with interesting stories he really should've been telling. But ah well.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

writing update

So, I got my first check today for my current writing project.

It's not really a significant amount, but I thought I'd mention here it because a) it's significant anytime I get paid for my writing, and b) because the meeting today went much better than the last one.

Collaboration is a funny thing, since it requires (or should require, anyway) a sharing of ideas, a give and take, a trust and respect of the other party, and a knowledge that working with each other is more productive than working against one another. Of course, what do I know? Maybe a creative tug-o-war and a spirit of competition works just as well.

I don't know if it's hubris or just pig-inorance, but I still feel like the story would be better the way I see it in my head, with no editorial changes from the producer. But he does listen to my ideas, and there weren't any insulting comments (at least that I can recall) in this meeting concerning my abilities or my ideas versus his.

So there's that. But I feel like my work would be better if I felt truly invested in the project, rather than feeling like I dare not get too attached to anything since it can (and probably will) get shot down. I also feel like I'd work harder if I was assured he wasn't just going to hand it to another writer like the last producer did, knowing I was in this for the long haul.

I talked to Jeff about the experience and about my misgivings. Toward the end of the conversation, he told me to either stop being a whiny bitch, or look for a less-competitive line of work than filmmaking. He also asked me what percentage of working screenwriters get to write what they want to, what they most enjoy. It was a fair point.

I guess what I need to do is do my best on this project, hoping that it will open doors for me in the future. And as far as writing what I'm passionate about, I can continue to do that in the stories I normally write, which will never be read by anyone.

Rish "Storysmith" Outfield

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A sort of laptop

A few years back, when I first moved to L.A., I lived with my uncle and his family for a month or so while I looked for an apartment. My uncle worked on computers for a living, maintaining them, fixing them, selling the ones he had put together from the disparate components. He knew of my desires to be a writer, and one day he asked me, "Would it help you with your writing if you had a laptop?" Well, this was a great question, and I'm sure my eyes lit up.

"Oh yeah," I said, "It totally would." That way I could take it with me and write whenever I was stuck somewhere, maybe go place that were inspiring like the beach or Compton, and I could save my work as I went along, and never have an excuse that I didn't have the notes I had taken in the development of ideas, etc., etc." My Uncle Sam heard me and said words that have stuck with me to this day. "Well, maybe you ought to go out and buy one."

It was an interesting response, and I've chosen to remember it as a funny story rather than a cruel one, and a better man than I would've taken that (and any other criticism or obstacles) as a challenge to go out there and work to get myself the money for a laptop I could make my dreams come true with.

I, of course, did not.

But years have passed, and I'm now in a place where the money I make (as little as it is) is enough to pay my bills, feed myself, and set a little aside for a balmy day. And I told Jeff that I'd seen one of those little kiddie laptops at Toys R Us the other day and thought that something like that could fulfill my needs, without having to spend thousands for a real, honest-to-Bob laptop computer.

So, Jeff took me to Best Buy, where we looked at these little things people are calling Netbooks (don't know if it's supposed to be capitalized), which are like laptops, but smaller, more portable, and have many times the battery life (for some reason). I found that I could afford one, but silly me, I didn't buy it, choosing instead to go home and think about it. Jeff called me a putz, and the man has a point, but two weeks later, we went to Best Buy again (this time he was going to buy something for himself), and again I looked at the Netbooks, thinking that for sure I was going to get one.

But I didn't. I walked out empty-handed, and Jeff called me a schmuck, and he was right, but I thought that I'd wait for a Memorial Day sale at Best Buy, and that way I'd get the best bang for my buck. But Jeff talked to an employee who said their policy is to honor a sale price within thirty days of a purchase, so I could buy the faux-laptop today, and if it gets cheaper for Memorial Day, I could get a few bucks for it.

So, I got one. It's a little Toshiba machine with internet capability and a word processor, and not much else. My cousin even suggested I take it back since it doesn't have a real operating system and a couple of the things I often do on a regular computer work work on this one. But I didn't take it back. My mom's computer died a couple of weeks ago, so I lent it to her to do her computer work on, and then, because my mom is headed to New York with my aunt, I grabbed it up again today. And good thing too because, believe me or not, the power went out about an hour ago, and nothing here will turn on. No TV, no music, no computer, no exercise machine (though between you and me, I wouldn't have used that anyway).

But as I sit in the afternoon semi-brightness, I'm able to type this little blog entry, which I will post as soon as my internet access is restored. Though technically, I think somebody cleverer than me could search for an available connection and "borrow" it for a while.If I can only take advantage of this machine like this, say, twenty more times, I think it will have been worth it.


Friday, May 21, 2010

a day long remembered

I just read that thirty years ago today, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was released.

Wow, I really ought to say something about that.My roommate in college, John (who is now a prison guard, one of the hardest screws in The Shank) and I used to have fun proclaiming that we loved certain songs ("Sister Christian," for example) so much that we couldn't be intimate with a woman who didn't like that song. It was a running joke I was quite fond of, and just this week, B.A. asked me if I truly wouldn't be intimate with a woman who didn't like "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman.

His retort was something like, "Sure, you wouldn't. You'd be intimate with a cauliflower if you thought no one was looking."

Well, such is my love for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, that I just don't know if I could be intimate with a woman who didn't like that movie. Seriously, just try to seduce me whilst EMPIRE-bashing next time we're together. We'll see if I buckle. But it would be awfully nice to sit on a couch and share in the spectacle and the wonder of it all with somebody else who either feels the same way or is open to watch it objectively.

Before you're tempted to quote Mellencamp ("You just made that story up, there ain't no girl like that"), I have to think that mathematically, there's got to be women out there who like the Star Wars Trilogy. And even more mathematically like, women who are decent enough to give something a chance just because they know it's important/special to the one they're with.

After all, I sat through all eleventy-four hours of the BBC "Pride & Prejudice" once,* and I ain't exactly a paragon of manly romanticism.

In fact, I don't have a cool story about seeing ESB for the first time. I've read several testimonials of what people did thirty years ago today, how they felt, who they were with, and the magic of the experience.** I didn't see it when it came out in 1980. I wasn't old enough to be a STAR WARS fan, I guess, or at least my parents didn't think it was a good idea to take me to either film (and in their defense, I must not have pestered them to take me to it the way I did to CLASH OF THE TITANS the following year. I was into monster movies and little else). So, I didn't see STAR WARS until it hit video in 1982, and didn't see EMPIRE till it came out in '84.

It was October/November when I first saw it, and my friend Steven Staheli's birthday party. He had arrange to have his party on the day the movie hit video, and we all watched it in his living room. Then, when I went home, my dad had rented the videocassette and a VCR (I'm sure I had had him reserve it months before), and I watched it a second time by myself. By then, I knew everything that happened, having talked to people who had seen it, read the comic book adaptation, and the novelization by Donald F. Glut. Sadly, the first time I saw it on the big screen was February of 1997, when the blighted Special Edition came out.

Many essays have been published about the greatness of that movie, and the great circumstances of first viewings ("Grandpa Lewis had terminal bowel cancer . . ."), so I'm not going to do that here. Except that I will say that the movie, somehow, is as special today as it was when I first saw it. No movie series has affected me the way the Trilogy did, and everybody considers ESB the best of the three.
I worked a video store years ago, and sometimes we'd play EMPIRE, and I'd find myself glued to the screen when the Walkers attacked, amazed that it looked as good as any $100 million CGI of modern times. The only memorable part of that post-apocalyptic dragon flick REIGN OF FIRE was when the villagers are acting out ESB for a bunch of enthralled children. It's the only one of the series I've actually met the director of. Talking about STAR WARS has been a bonding experience between me and many old and new friends (both the good memories, the speculation, and bashing the Prequels).*** I love THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I don't imagine I'll ever outgrow that (not again, anyway).

If I'm still blogging (and still alive) come May 25th, 2013, I'm sure I'll have a bit to say about RETURN OF THE JEDI. That one I actually saw when it came out.

Rish "Nerf Herder" Outfield

*Wish I could say I got some play out of that. Quite the contrary.

**There were so many testimonials, in fact, that I stopped reading them after about ten. Not a one was about Grandpa holding onto life just long enough for May 21st to arrive, then passing away in the night after EMPIRE was over.

***I remember just a few years ago, being in Indianapolis for the third Star Wars Celebration, and I wasn't really getting along with the guys I was sharing a room with, so I headed out on my own, and standing in line for something, hearing the conversations going on around me, I realized, "Hey, I could be friends with any one of these guys." It was a nice thought to have.

Babysitter of the Year: The Revenge

There's an IKEA store about forty minutes away from where I live. It opened a couple of years ago, and even though my friend's wife works there, and I hear all sorts of magical stories about the wonders to be had there, I've never had reason to go there before.

But my sister moved into a new apartment recently, and my mom wanted to buy a thing or two, so they asked if I wanted to go to IKEA with them. Jonathan Coulton's song made it sound romantic, plus they were bringing The Child (who I delight in being around), so I agreed.

But the child refused to stay in the cart, and even refused to be held while someone else pushed the cart. No, the boy wanted to run, and run free, free to destroy Nordic furnishings and imitate the legions of snot-nosed ragamuffins climbing on or under the items on display.

I can't really blame him. I remember going places where everyone coupled off and seeing wandering hands and groping tongues every direction I looked and wailing, "When is it my turn? Why can't I be one of those awkward, fumbling hedonists?" My nephew felt the same way, and didn't find it fair to be confined to the cart when others roamed loose.

But every time I'd put him down, he'd run around, out of control, and try to escape our vile clutches.

Well, after a while, I started getting tired of this. It didn't help that the labyrinthine passages of IKEA were so immense that I stumbled across a couple of skeletons, and once encountered some shoppers that, hopeless of finding their way out, had resorted to cannibalism. But by the time it was finally our turn to leave, I couldn't deal with the child's sugar-fueled antics. After chasing him to Aisle 13, Row 6, I finally spanked the boy. Well, he began to wail, and my sister seemed to think I was way out of line. She scooped up the boy and shot me eye daggers as she did her best to comfort him.

Instead of getting angry about it, I decided I'd focus on getting us out of there. Stepping over minotaur spoor, I pushed our cart/trolley thing to one of those self-checkouts, and concentrated on ringing everything up. As the receipt at last fed out into my waiting hands, my sister asked where the boy was. I will admit that my first inclination was to say, "I don't care," but I chose the barely-superior, "I don't know, you were watching him."

Well, she had stopped watching him at some point, and he wasn't with us anymore. I suppressed the desire to say, "See, this is why I spanked him," but instead pushed the cart/trolley toward the doors, where, out in the parking lot, I saw the tiny form of my nephew running with all of his might. "Crap," I said, pointing, "He's out there."

Well, my sister ran out after him, and I went through the lengthy queue of getting our purchases out of the building. When I got outside, there was a stranger holding my nephew. Apparently, this stranger had seen the lad high-tailing it into traffic and had scooped him up and brought him back to the store.

My mom and my sister were pretty upset about it (though my mom less so, since she went through about a thousand nightmare scenarios having me as a child), and I felt ashamed at my hand in losing the boy,* imagining him getting run over or lost or grabbed by a dude in a van and that sort of thing. And whether I've pointed the blame in my direction in this post or not, I most assuredly would've blamed myself had something bad happened with the child on that day.

It's weird how things like that work, too. Because nothing really bad came of it, everybody's already pretty much forgotten the experience, and the boy is free to run around at the next place they take him. Human nature, I suppose.

Rish "Nephew's Keeper" Outfield

*Though it wouldn't be the last time; since starting this blog entry, I lost the boy at the mall and my uncle notified Security before I found him hiding from me inside a cosmetics store. To him, it was all a game. Hmmm. I wonder if I would be happier if I viewed life that way.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stupid Thing of the Week

So, several months ago, my niece had finally saved up enough money to buy an mp3 player. Imagine being nine years old and having a part time job. Anyway, she wanted one with a screen to watch movies on (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was just made for the two inch format)

So, I took her to the store and let her pick one out. I think I got a little grief from her mother for letting her buy a somewhat-expensive player, but I figured she wanted what she wanted, and since she'd worked for it, why not?

Well, an mp3 player with nothing on it is kind of like [*insert small genitals joke here*], so I asked her to make a list of stuff she wanted me to put on it. I loaded it up with Kelly Clarkson songs, "Buffy" episodes, Disney soundtracks, Type O Negative tunes, that sort of stuff, and put it out where she could get it if her mother stopped by when I wasn't around. And then I forgot about it, as I pretty much only see my niece every other weekend or so.

A while later, I did see her and she asked me where her player was, and I told her as far as I remembered, she had taken it. She said she hadn't, so I assumed her mother had grabbed it. I asked her mom, and she said she had put it on my bed to put songs on, and hadn't seen it since.

I shrugged and assumed it would turn up.

But it didn't.

A month passed. Then another month. I'd ask my niece whenever I'd see her if she'd found it, and she'd ask me if I had come across it. The player was gone.

My sister insisted she left it in my room, so I went through my room the other day, looking behind and under the bed, looking through my bookshelves and comic stacks and porn boxes and reams of Jonas Brothers publications. I looked in my drawers, my closet, laundry pile, and all around the infectious waste that garnishes my computer desk. No player.If you see an mp3 player in here, please let me know.

There's not really any ironic twist coming, by the way, if years of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," M. Night Shylaman movies, or tabloid journalism has got you expecting it. My niece was over one Saturday, here to use the computer and consume junk food, and I told her I had an extra mp3 player I bought in 2008 because I thought mine was broken* and I thought I ought to give it to her since she'd lost/I'd lost hers. She seemed to think that was fine, but I never got around to finding it for her.

What did happen was that my mother bought a mirror at IKEA for my sister, and had me put it in my sister's car. I popped her trunk, made room for the mirror, and was surprised to see the mp3 player, still in its package, buried under the junk back there.** Instead of making a big deal, as I wanted to do, I said nothing and closed the trunk, going back inside to not-write.

I told my mom that the player had been in my sister's car all this time, despite her insistence that I had lost it. She was just grateful it had turned up. What I decided to do was to write my niece a note that said, "Your mp3 player is in your mom's trunk" on it, and slip it to her as she left Sunday afternoon. I told her I'd give her a note that would make her happy if she would record some lines for a Dunesteef episode that day, and she had to remind me otherwise I'd forget about the note.

To not forget, I put it in her jacket pocket before she left. She and her mom left on schedule, and my niece called me from the road to remind me I hadn't given her the note. I told her where to find it, and left her to make her own conclusions. Well, apparently she read the note, insisted her mother pull the car over so she could get the player out of the trunk, and then was told that the player I'd seen was not the one that had been lost. Tired of seeing her daughter upset about the lost mp3 player, my sister had gone out and bought a new one (the exact same make and model?) to surprise her with on some future occasion.

I wish I had some kind of amusing coda for the story, but the real mp3 player (if you trust that my sister was telling the truth) remains lost, and my niece remains music-less for the time being. So, this has been a lot of blogging for nothing, folks. And that sums up my life pretty well.

Rish "Absolutely No Punchline" Outfield

*It froze one time and wouldn't unfreeze. Once the battery finally ran out, it worked fine again.

**Other stuff was also in the trunk. Disturbing stuff. Like the Lindburgh Baby.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I wonder if they'll ever remake . . .


My Mom was watching that on some local station yesterday, and I found myself really wanting to watch it. I was (pathetically) attempting to write, but I just couldn't resist the Catherine Mary Stewart/Kelley Maroney tag-team. Mmmmm.

I don't even know if it's that good a movie, really, but I can't not watch it.

Which reminds me: it's always been a thought of mine to remake a couple of really bad movies that didn't work the first time (if I was ever going to do a remake at all). I'm not a fan of studios remaking movies that were beloved childhood favorites.

Did I complain about CLASH OF THE TITANS 2010 yet?

Broken Mirror 2010

So, last year on my podcast, we came up with a little contest called the Broken Mirror Story Event, wherein everybody gets a month to write a short story based on a particular premise. Big and I each came up with three premises, picked one he had suggested, then challenged people to write something on it. I was floored by how many people submitted work, and impressed by how much of it was good. I found myself really caught up in the possibilities, thinking up three or four ways it could go.

This year, we were a month late due to his computer problems, but we had the little get-together to swap ideas. This time I had five premises and he had three, and this year, we picked one of mine: "A child is proclaimed king (or queen), but it turns out to be more than just a game."

I figured you could go a number of ways with it--it could be a Sci-Fi story (a child is proclaimed King of Chlamydia III), a Fantasy story (a kid gets made Queen of the Faeries), a horror story (a retarded boy is mockingly called King of the Middle School, and then he is able to put people to death), a funny story (Rish Outfield is proclaimed King of the Douches, and it really works), or a tragic story (Rish Outfield is proclaimed King of the Losers).

But here we are, weeks later, and I've got nothing.

It's funny, being a person with a faulty brain.

Rish "Not Funny Ha Ha But Funny Sad" Outfield

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stupid Thing of the Week

I've been really dehydrated the last month or two (exhaustive regimens of not writing can do that to you), so I've been drinking a lot of Kool-Aid. It's something I like, is cheap, and easy to make, so I've bought a couple of those big containers of the powder in preparation of the ghastly photo op I'm going to get my nephew in. I'm calling it "Baby Marque de Sade" for now.

So, my cousin was over yesterday, and I asked him if he wanted some. He told me that he had just gotten over despising the stuff. According to him, my grandmother made awful Kool-Aid and hated it until a roommate taught him you could put sugar in it.

Blasphemy! Not only was my grandmother a saintly woman, but Kool-Aid wouldn't have the same kick if you left out the salt.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13th, 2010

I'm babysitting my sister's kid again and he's basically waging war between the turtles and my Spider-man toys right now a few feet away. A second ago, I sneezed and he looked over and said, "You farted. Yucky." As two-year-olds are wont to do, I suppose.

So, I stopped what I was doing and typed this.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Okay, as I was saying, I got this story out of mothballs, needing something to work on pronto.

I started it in August of 2009, inspired by an episode of our podcast called "Love Bites." I realized we'd never done a vampire story on the show, so I thought I'd try and write a really scary one, with none of that romance or sparklies in it.

I thought I'd challenge myself and write the story in first person, from the point of view of a seventeen year old girl. But in typing that, I realize that it sounds like I am writing a "Twilight" type ripoff. No, no, no. It's much more of a WHEN A STRANGER CALLS ripoff.

I had written a synopsis of the story (something I absolutely must do when I get the idea, otherwise it gets pushed out of my faulty brain and I not only forget where the story was going, but--no lie--forget I ever had the idea in the first place), and had even written the final sentence.*

I had then started the story from the beginning, dated August 4th, in the little notebook my Uncle John gave me before he stole my car.** I wrote for five pages, ending on--
"Why don't you go back down to your room, Crissy?"
"Alright," she said, but didn't go.

And then, it just stops.

The next page picks up in the middle of another story, continues two pages, and then stops as well. After that, we get my October Scary Story (also beginning in the middle and stopping before the end), and page after page of works-in-progress. Sad, really.

But on with the countdown. So, this untitled vampire story had lay fallow for nine months, and having finished another story this week, I thought I'd pick this one up and take a crack at it. And what I found sort of bummed me out.

You see, I'd written this story in 2009 to take place in some unspecified future (probably 2011), and it was already dated. Anticipating THE PRINCESS & THE FROG would be a huge hit, I'd referenced a collection of dolls from the then-forthcoming film. And a song which was new at the time being "that old song by so-and-so." In re-reading it, I wondered if I should change the reference to TWISTED/RUPUNZEL and just make up a band name.

When I finished contemplating that, a week had passed.

Despite this setback, I was amazed to discover the story had been three-fourths finished before I abandoned it last year. I had written the ending already, and much of what led to it. It really only took minutes to fill in the blanks, and even though I think it's a particularly weak piece, I have yet another finished work this month.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the clothes I had been wearing during that week-long fugue were not salvageable.

Rish "The Smelly One" Outfield

*The days ahead were going to be hard enough without . . . without that awful thing that seemed to be the truth.
**I'm sorry, that's unfair. He simply took the car without paying for it. And I didn't want that car anymore anyway.

another darn writing post

My buddy Bigglesby has wanted to be a professional writer for, I don't know, let's say ten years now. Recently, he's been reading some words of advice and/or inspiration from a professional novelist, and it has really lit a fire under his rectum. The last couple of times we've been together, he's repeated some of the things he's learned, and has been trying to implement them into his writing (and his attitude about writing). He even printed out a big stack of this guy's How-To sessions to give to me to read, to encourage me to implement them as well.

That's cool, but I'm a little too lazy/cowardly to take any advice nowadays.

Big has, more or less, two or three hours of free time each day. He ends up writing, on a good week, about fifteen minutes a day. That's pretty embarrassing, right? But what's more embarrassing is that I have, more or less, six to nine hours of free time a day. And I write, on a good week, around forty minutes a day.

Okay, that's on a reaaally good week.

At the beginning of this month, I challenged myself to write a story a day for a week and publish them on my blog. I surprised myself by actually succeeding (though, truth be told, it took me about ten days to get eight stories written, the longest of which I didn't put on my blog), but according to Big's writer friend, I should be doing that sort of thing all the time, and sending out my stories to contests, editors, and publishers all the time, without agonizing over whether the work could be better or needs polishing.

They guy has a lot of really interesting things to say like that, things that make me wonder if it's really that easy to sell stories. Things that make me wonder if I can change my ways and be a success. Things that make me wonder if I have a faulty brain.

Hmmm. I'm going to quit typing this and work on a story from last August now.

Rish "The Finisher" Outfi--

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Saturday, May 08, 2010

So, IRON MAN 2 happened...

What does it say that I enjoyed the last thirty seconds (after the movie had ended) more than the movie itself?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Too Many Cooks?

I had a lengthy meeting yesterday regarding my latest professional writing gig, and I found there was a bit of a disagreement between me and the producer over what direction to take the story. It wasn't major, but he had a couple of conflicting ideas about the villain and the big confrontation I had envisioned at the end. We're only in story mode right now (rather than script mode or pre-production), so the time to make changes, the big kind, is now.

Collaboration has always been a difficult concept for me, and I suppose that all partnerships are going to come into conflict from time to time. But I'm not good with conflict. Either I tend to shrink back and just say "forget it," or I become really rigid and reactionary (much more so than the argument deserves). In the producer's defense, he did listen to my ideas before overruling them, and complimented the aspects that he liked. But I couldn't get over the thought that this story would be a lot better if I didn't have another cook throwing in or taking out ingredients, or fiddling with the recipe before the oven's turned on.

Whether I'm a talented writer or not, I think I have a very good grasp on story structure, and can see what works and doesn't work in the stories that I read and watch. For pretty much my adult life, I imagined that everybody was like that, that people just naturally, innately understand how stories work and appreciate good talespinning when they see it, but I've recently discovered that to be untrue. Some people plain don't have it or don't appreciate it. I guess it's something you have to practice, just like anything else, and think about. And who wants to think when you can just hit the Snooze button on your brain?

I thought my ideas were pretty good, and that the ones that were overruled were not replaced by superior ones. And as I said before, my inclination is to think that I could create a much better story if left to my own devices and imagination, rather than have to jump through (write through) hoops and second-guess myself. But perhaps that's just arrogance on my part. Isn't the point of collaboration that each person has a unique perspective, thinking of things the other hasn't, drawing on experiences that shade things differently, and that you end up creating something together that you wouldn't have managed on your own?

I guess so, but the whole too many cooks ruin the stew saying has to come from somewhere. We've all seen those big studio movies where we realize that the script was written by committee, and anything unique or clever or atypically interesting has been removed and replaced by cliche and blandness and the noun that means playing-it-safe. And while my cousin Ryan will certainly buy the DVD of such a movie, I often bewail the suspicion that a really good movie was hiding in that mediocre one, but there were too many voices shouting to "improve" it for that movie to show its furry little head.

Something I proposed at our meeting inspired the film's producer to say that he'd seen that in a thousand other movies. I didn't really think about what he meant by that except to wonder if there's anything I've seen in a full thousand movies, except for:

1) Kissing,
2) Punching,
3) Slow-motion,
4) A cat jumping out with a loud "mreeeow!" sound,
5) People fighting over a gun and it goes off,
6) Somebody sitting up in bed after a bad dream, and
7) A black guy who makes wisecracks all the time.

A thousand is a big number.

Anyway, I don't know if I'm wrong or he was wrong, or we both share some of the wrongness (and by the same token, rightness). This ends up being sort of a rhetorical blog post. I'm not sure there is an actual answer, but it's possible I'm missing something or need to rack up a little more experience before I can find the answer on my own. Damn.

Rish Longfellow Outfield

Thursday, May 06, 2010

PodCastle story

I'm reading the current PodCastle miniature story, "Mario's Three Lives" by Matt Bell. It's an amusing little story, despite the title ruining any subtlety the text may have intended. We didn't do any sound effects or music, so you can hear a lot of cheap microphone on the recording, which is a bummer, but ah well.

PodCastle is the Fantasy-centric podcast spinoff of EscapePod, which was the first podcast I ever listened to, and I shan't badmouth it here. There are three EscapePod-related podcasts, and I have gotten to read stories on two of them (the other being PseudoPod, the Horror version). Truth be told, my fiction is never going to make it on those highly public and acclaimed shows, but it's nice to be able to narrate a story on them.

The tale itself is very short, so check it out if you get eight minutes free.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Writing Resolution 7

Okay, come up with something, something short, something easy. You can do it.


I was almost out of gas, and wasn't going to make it to Vegas. I had gambled on a gas station in Jean, Nevada being open twenty-four hours, or at least to have pumps that were. The gamble paid off (I was in the right state for it), as I pulled into a closed Chevron, with a lit-up sign reading "All Night Gas" flickering above the overinflated prices. I stopped and got out, beginning the fill-up process. I stretched and felt my back pop.

I heard a scuffling sound and turned. Unfortunately for me, I was not alone. There were also several young Hip-Hop-loving teenagers at the station, just waiting for someone to come along. Someone weak and/or alone. Someone like me.

"Give me your money, dork," one of them said, flashing a knife. It wasn't a big knife, but the way he held it reminded me of whittling Southerners. Knives are scary. "And give I-Sore your car keys."

Another teen stepped forward, dressed like an Eighties breakdancer, but with no neon colors. There were five or six young men converging now. The group had surrounded my car, all of them looking angry, some of them looking hungry.

Their spokesman smiled big, revealing teeth of silver and gold. "The rest of you goes to T-Bagg."

I glanced over to the one he was referring to, a frighteningly-ugly man/boy with a fishnet shirt on, and was surprised to see someone standing atop the big Chevron sign behind him. It was more of a big black shape than a discernible person, and before I could discern more, a bony fist introduced itself sharply to my face. I staggered back, and an elbow or knee pounded into my stomach, doubling me over. I was kicked again, and everything went spotty and snow-filled, even though I was in the middle of the desert.

I heard a whooshing sound, and the kid who had kicked me dropped what he'd been holding. It hit the cement with a metallic clank. A tire iron. Two of the young punks squealed then, and one shouted "Mira!" (which my high school Spanish told me meant "Look"). The man standing on the Chevron sign was now standing among us, grabbing the gang and throwing them here and there. He was dressed all in black, wore a cape, and I was dumb-founded to realize that it was Batman.

After all, Jean, Nevada is a long way from Gotham City.

Even more importantly, Batman is a fictional comic book character created by Bill Finger in 1939.

Nevertheless, here he was, punching, slamming, and drop-kicking eight or nine wiry teenagers. I heard footsteps beside me and turned my head, expecting to see Robin. Instead, it was the big, fishnets-wearing punk their leader had called T-Bagg. He had decided to use my face as a soccer ball. I tried to grab the fallen tire iron, but grabbed something small and sharp instead. Immediately, a steel-toed boot met my forehead and all the pain went away. Everything went away for a little while.


"...ere me, sir?" a woman's voice said from far above me. I opened my eyes, and found a woman policeman kneeling in front of me, looking concerned and smelling of Juicy Fruit. The pain returned, and I was almost overwhelmed by it.

"I said, can you hear me?" she repeated.

"Yeah," I muttered. Holy shit, there was something solid and small in my mouth. I knew it was a tooth without looking at it. I tried to sit up, and something in my stomach stung and told me to lay still.

"You're going to be alright, sir," the policewoman said. Beyond her, another cop was shining a flashlight. He was an older guy, a black guy, and seemed to be looking for evidence or clues.

"Ambulance is on its way," that cop said, either to me or his partner.

I turned my head. I was still on the ground at the gas station, and I was alone. Amazingly, my car was a few feet away, the gas nozzle still in my tank. There was broken glass at my feet, and a few dark stains that could have been blood here and there. Of course, they might have been oil drippings too.

"Do you remember what happened?" the black cop asked, casting a bit of light my way. It hurt my eyes and he pointed it elsewhere.

"We believe you were attacked," the woman added.

"I . . ." I did remember, actually. I remembered everything, despite how much my head ached. And that made me wonder if I remembered it right. "Did you see him? Did you see Batman?"

"Batman?" both cops repeated at the same time. It was kind of cute, actually, in retrospect.

"Movie? The middle one was better," the male cop said.

"No, Batman was here. Tonight. He saved me." As I said it, I was aware of two things. The first was that the broken tooth in my mouth had a sharp edge that was digging into my tongue. The other was that I sounded absolutely crazy, and a lot like a little kid describing a dream.

I spit the broken tooth out into my hand. It took two tries and I apologized to the policewoman.

For a moment, I wondered if a doctor could sew the tooth back on, then I realized how insane that thought was, and wondered if I might have some kind of brain damage.

"Near as we can tell, sir," the policewoman said quietly, "You got mugged or attacked within the last two hours. It's possible someone hit you with their car."

"No," I said. "It was a bunch of kids. Muscular, mean ones. I mean, like teenagers, not, like, little kids."

"Your wallet's still here," the man said, holding it up for me to see it. "Still got twenty-seven dollars in it."

I reached out to take it, but felt that sharp pain in my stomach again. The sound I made was embarrassingly girlish.

"Lie still, sir," the policewoman said. "You may have broken ribs."

"You're good at your job," I said, for no reason. Then, because I wanted them to understand I hadn't lost my mind: "It might not have been Batman, you know."

"Oh. You think?" the black cop said. It hurt my feelings, but it would have been funny to anybody else.

"No. I mean, it was a guy dressed as Batman. I mean."

"And he saved you. Killed the bad guys?"

Actually, I didn't think Batman killed people. But I couldn't say that to this guy. If I did, he'd ask me where the bodies went. And ask me which Batman it was, the Adam West one or the Christian Bale version. "I don't know. I don't remember."

"Well, there wasn't anybody else here when we got here. No bodies. Although I did find a filling over here." The black cop smiled good-naturedly. "You got a gold tooth?"

Somewhere to the north, I could hear a siren. I couldn't remember if ambulances have different sirens than police cars at the time. I was confused and my head was filled with a combination of cotton and applesauce. Homestyle applesauce. With the chunks.

"About Batman . . ." I started to say.

The policewoman put her hand on my shoulder, and I shut my mouth. "Just relax. Lie still and don't strain yourself. It'll be alright."


"Sometimes head trauma can cause funny tricks with the mind. One time this guy hit me with a beer bottle and I forgot my middle name for more than an hour."

"It's Consuelo," the black cop added. "In case you forget again."

"Thanks, Albert," she said. The siren was getting closer. I heard a crackling from the woman's walkie-talkie and a voice said something I couldn't understand, though I think I made out "three minutes" in there. She looked down on me again. She wasn't particularly attractive, but I was feeling all affectionate anyway. Grateful. Childlike. "You've had a bad experience and an injury, but I think you're gonna be alright. We'll get you to a hospital, patch you up, and you'll forget all about Batman."

"Especially the George Clooney one," the black cop said. "Whoo!"

"You think I imagined him?" I said, afraid to keep talking in case I called the policewoman 'Mom.'

"Probably," she said. "Doesn't matter. What's important is that you're going to be okay, sir." So, we were back to the sir again. Alright.

She was right. I had been out of my mind, seeing things that my stressed brain wanted to see. Silly, childish things that I had once believed in. There's no such thing as superheroes, and I'd learned that decades ago. There was no such thing as a lot of things. Sad, really. No Batmen, no straight politicians, no business that couldn't go under, no love that lasts forever. Really sad.

I lay there as still as I could, feeling little bunches of pain in my mouth, my stomach, my knee, and my head. The siren was very close now, and I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. Bad. I was lucky I hadn't already gone in my pants.

And maybe I had. Even more embarrassment. I moved my right hand to check my crotch, and felt something hard and metal beneath it. I grasped the object and brought it up to my face to get a look at it. It was a Batarang.

"Heh," I said.

The End

My new jacket

My uncle died in 1990. He left some of his possessions to my mother, some to his sister, and some to his little brother. Among them was a leather jacket (you know, the Fonzie kind), and I don't know if my Uncle John ever wore it or just boxed it up all those years ago. This week, my mom discovered the leather jacket in a box and called John up. He told my mom that because he couldn't fit into it anymore, I could have the jacket, if I wanted to be cool.

Well, of course one wants what has always eluded them, so I happily accepted the jacket. It fits me pretty well, even if it's way heavier than it looks. The only problem is, it has a smell to it. My guess is that it's the musty smell of being boxed up for twenty years in closets or basements, and though I tried to wear it around today, the smell ultimately stifled me. I had to take the jacket off.

I considered putting it in the dryer with a couple of those sheets that make clothes smell like virgins entering a nunnery, but I worried that a trip through the dryer might ruin the jacket. I thought I'd call Jeff up and ask his wife what would happen to leather in a dryer, since she's smart about things like that.

But then I started to think about a leather jacket from a dead man with some kind of curse on it, the smell is something only I can detect, and while it certainly does make me "cool," the smell gets stronger and stronger while my list of admirers and bedmates grows. What could it lead to? Madness? Murder? Suicide, only to be donated to Goodwill and fall into the hands of some other unwary size 42?

That's just how my mind works, really. Thoughts that my dead uncle might possess me, thoughts that I might know things I couldn't possibly know when I wear the jacket, thoughts that the smell isn't mildew at all . . . but evil. Anyway, I don't think I'll actually write up any of these ideas, but I thought I'd share them anyway, since I honestly don't know what to do about the leather jacket.

I am tempted, however, to make some kind of awful play on that old "take off your pants and jacket" joke to end here.

But I shan't.

Rish "Aaaaaayyy" Outfield

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Writing Resolution 6

Okay, I'm going to try another of those one hundred word stories again.


Grandpa was such a gentle man, so decent that I'd always found him boring. He had no stories to tell, and kept to himself for thirty years after Grandma died. After he too passed away, it was up to my Mom and me to go through his house, deciding what things to keep, what things to sell, what things to throw out. It was Mom who found the door to the secret room, and all the human remains in shoeboxes along the wall, skulls of different sizes neatly lining the shelves. I guess maybe Grandpa wasn't so boring after all.