THE ANGRIEST BOY

Cliff Neal is going to make his mark on the world. His mother is an elegant Irish woman who keeps her own council, his father is everybody’s pal, and his sisters annoy the hell out of him. Friends and enemies and the stuff of high school fill his days until he meets the two people who will alter his life.

THE ANGRIEST BOY is blue-collar noir, a story of young love, and a drama about a kid becoming a man who has to decide if he’s going to be the pawn of criminal forces or use his brain to think his way out of a tightening noose.

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Slowly, Surely

Writing to publish demands concentrated effort.

You’re not going to finish anything–and that’s all anyone will read, something that’s complete–if you keep the T.V. on.

Writing is a lonely job. Accept that. Commit to that. Or find something else to do.

High School: THE BOOK OF HIGHS

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A collection of brief takes on non-chemical ways to alter your brain on a budget, Edward Rosenfeld’s THE BOOK OF HIGHS is a case of truth in packaging. Look at the cover and you know what you’re going to get. Resenfeld doesn’t go into any depth because then he’d be straining the attention span of the Dorito-munching target reader, but he does a great job of touching on a variety of ways to get outside your head without turning on. From “Semantic awareness” to “Myths, tales and koans,” from “Suffering and pain” to “Fasting,” the topics are brought up, briefly described, and wrapped up with references to further reading.

It’s not a source book as much as it is a quick intro to getting out of your brain’s bubble. It’s disappointing in its skimpiness–Why couldn’t he have given some starter tips on “Demonic possession”?–unless you’re just looking for suggestions for alternative trips. Lucid dreaming, “Zen morning laughs”, Gestalt therapy–the variety of ideas presented is the book’s great strength.

If you’ve been stuck on the sofa or your books and music aren’t giving you a kick anymore, give this a look. Reading “Finnegans Wake” might be more frightening than “Near-death experiences,” but who’s gonna stop ya if that’s your thing?

The Stepford Yardworker : GET OUT

Random thoughts on GET OUT:

After a shaky opening half hour, the plot pieces slowly come together until, at the one-hour mark, our hero is in a real tight spot.

Daniel Kaluuya  and the writer/director Jordan Peele get us into the character’s skin as he encounters a family of patronizing liberal whites. This is not a small achievement (for a white audience) and a brilliant way to get the viewer’s defenses down. Siding with Chris is easy with such a-holes around. I’m not kidding when I say this ‘just entertainment’ movie could get racists to actually think about racism in a new way–one of the uses for genre material.

Peele has to be a fan of Richard Matheson and Ira Levin; it has a sequence out of Stir of Echoes, and so many ‘parallels’ to The Stepford Wives…

Good, traditional score; no pounding drums.

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Good supporting characters, especially Betty Gabriel as a creepy maid whose big scene involves her walking toward our hero and apologizing for touching his iphone. Her smiling-through-tears response is shocking and scary.

Erika Alexander as a cop is hilarious. Lil Rel Howery is funny, until he’s not anymore.

The hero falls for an incredibly boring girl.

After the amusing idea that the evil racist villains aren’t rednecks but white liberals is exhausted, there’s nowhere else to go but routine capture-and-escape and violence. I’ts well done but routine. I kind of checked out.

It feels good when the hero fights back. I was grateful it didn’t go for a cynical ending. But the humor hurts it.

Most of the humor comes in the last half hour, when things should be most tense. And the really stupid stuff happens here.

This is supposed to be some kind of statement on race, but when the hero asks, “Why are you doing this to black people?” the Evil Explainer says “I don’t know…” and gives some vague explanation about difference, or change–EVERYONE involved wants to do this to a black person? I get it, the libs who are envious of blacks thing. But it doesn’t make sense.

Why go to all that trouble to become someone who chops wood and takes care of the kitchen? If these are just performances to put on a show, why not have them be regular neighbors–less suspicious than all these robotic servants.

Why is there a tape AND an Explainer explaining things to the person they captured? Just kill him! (The explanation is along the lines of “it helps with the transition”–you don’t need a transition to have your brain scooped out.)

The climactic action involves a super-brilliant villain giving a gun to someone who’s just been turned back into a good guy right in front of her. She KNOWS the flash ‘scrambles’ the possessed person, and she SEES it happen. Maybe she was tired.

Watchable, slick, a lead who deserved his Oscar nomination, but the last half hour really hurts it. I suspect it won’t be considered a classic in the long run, once the applause for it being about racism fades.

Write Your Book, Or You’ll Die Alone and Be Forgotten When You’re Gone (and your files will be erased by strangers), or HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

I spent four months this year reworking a novel that now sits in files on this computer. It was a simple story, with a clear plot, and I knew where it was going.

I was reworking it because I had written it years ago. It needed some work.

Time passed.

I rewrote. The hero was more complicated, his story more personal.

It now needed more work than when I started rewriting it.

Time passed.

I rewrote it again. More time passed.

This summer I counted up how many novels I’d written but never got in final shape, never submitted for publication. The number was substantial. (I’m not going to tell you how many. There were more than five. A lot more.)

I set to work on some short stories. I sold some stories years ago, and figured they’d be a good way to get things rolling. I rewrote one, and wrote a new one from scratch.

I had my first computer crisis, ever. (I’ve been writing for decades.) I lost all of those new stories. One month’s work.

As I write, I mess around with very rough ideas of what a cover might look at.

Somewhere in here, the thought occurred to me that I could die, and the things I spent my time — my life — writing and not showing were going to end up as nothing but particles wiped from a computer someone sold for a few bucks.

I went to work on that novel, determined to finish it no matter what.

Four months later, I stopped. By a rough estimate, the first full draft, written years ago, was 400 pages, double spaced, @ 50k words. As I sit here, I estimate I wrote a total of 8000 pages. At least.

Last year, after Christmas, I said to someone, “I should start on my Christmas novel now so I won’t be late with it next year.” I had a title, and a vague idea, no more. I messed around a little but didn’t have a story to tell. You’d be surprised how common a problem this is with writers.

In November of this year, after the other novel collapsed, I started that Christmas story. Like an engine on a cold day, it wouldn’t turn over. No heat.

I started to grapple with the idea that I couldn’t write anymore.

I could write, many years ago. I once wrote 20,000 words in a sitting. You wouldn’t know that, because I never published that novel, either. (I was up to five unpublished novels even then.)

If you really want to mess up your life, decide you’re not going to really start it until you’ve sold your first novel. You might end up with nothing more than an expertise in regret, but you’ll have some kind of parody of an artistic life. Won’t be worth the cost, I can tell you.

I happened to read about a book that was nothing like the kind of book I thought of writing. Some of the best sources of original material are descriptions of other people’s books. Without even reading it, a description can get your imagination going. If you act on it creatively, you might think, “No, what *I* would do with that is…”

Then I had the brilliant idea of writing a book I felt like reading. Not the one others might like, but the one that I really, truly wished someone would create so I could enter that made-up world. This is such a basic motor for a book, and it’s behind the initial impulse to write. But sometimes this gets lost when you’re reworking. You sometimes end up in the woods, wondering how you came to be writing this other thing.

When you let go of your desire, your need to write the book that’s going to pull you out of your hole, whatever that hole is — marriage, booze, unemployment, or the much more common hole of despair about how you ended up where you are — and just start the story you’d like to sit down and read for pleasure, you MIGHT have found  a path through that very dense, very dark forest.

After working for months on one book, I thought up and wrote a short novel in a little less than three weeks.

Here’s where the trouble usually starts. This time, though, I was aware of it.

I usually end up hacking up the “final” version of a cover, and start over. I liked the “Ripoff” type, and the film frame.

 

I started rewriting this Christmas book.

See, just because I wasn’t going to let myself rework this new book to death, I didn’t have an excuse to vomit out something and then expect anyone would want to read it.

The key was rewriting from the beginning and NOT backing up to fix one or two things. That’s the route to never finishing something. I didn’t stop and make sure this was perfect. I didn’t start inventing new subplots.

I DID combine a couple of characters, better define the characters, tighten the story. I sharpened the descriptions, too.

Someone once warned me that I had a tendency to lose a book when I didn’t know exactly how the ending worked out. I kept that in mind.

The ending of the first draft was just awful, but this time I TRUSTED that I could make it right when I got there the second time. (I’ll end the suspense: to me, the ending is the best, most original part. And I didn’t have it until the third, final draft.)

The first rewrite improved the book. It was messy, and twisted, but something original was on the page — it wasn’t just “And the characters got together, and then they won.” The book doesn’t have a villain, which is a recipe for disaster. It DID have a situation with conflict, but as is often the case, the opponent was inside the characters–in some cases, literally.

This wasn’t turning into anything like a traditional Christmas story. It turned out it was more about the family that comes together in the workplace. And there’s a spirit. And the characters talk a lot about movies.

I wanted to read this book. If you feel this in the rewrite process, you’re on the right path. Keep walking it.

The problem was this: I knew this second draft still wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t going to sell to a publisher. It was just this story about a group of people who worked in a store, and then this ghost comes along. And then Christmas comes, and the hero resolves the conflict.

It was too small. The conflict was there, but it just sort of stopped.

I started to rewrite it again. This is where the movie viewer thinks “Uh oh.” This is where the orchestra comes in low, as the hero just knows he can fix things without screwing them up.

I got to page 100 and gave it to a friend to check out. He liked it. But there were a couple of problems…

Don’t go back, I thought. Just plow ahead.

I went back. I fixed those problems in what I thought was the locked first fifth of the book. I changed a couple of names of minor characters. And really, I should flesh out some descriptions…

I had a cover. Hated it. I reworked it. Hated it. As I continued on the third draft of the book, I took a new approach to the cover. It fit what the book actually was becoming, not what it started out as.

Shopping it to a publisher was a waste of time, for various reasons that don’t matter. What matters is that I needed one in the win column. I had to be able to know, “At least THIS one won’t go into the grave with me.”

The book was first titled NOT THIS CHRISTMAS. I don’t know what the title meant last year, and still don’t. It has some emotional resonance with me, but it no longer fit this more relaxed but fun little book. I came up with a new title. I like it, and it fits the tone.

The book won’t change the world. No one else may enjoy it. I want people to read and enjoy my writing, but that’s soaring, and I’m in a hole right now. Before I can climb up the mountain and leap and fly, I gotta get out of the damned hole.

I finished the book. I did not rewrite it again, even though I could. Instead, I accepted it is imperfect. If I rewrote it fifty times it would be imperfect, but also so tightassed no one could bear reading it.

I put it on Kindle. In minutes I went from third draft to published. Done.

The reason I wrote this, and why I hope you’re reading it, is to tell you this: Your life is going to end before you can accomplish all the things you really burn to do. You must learn when it’s time to let something stand on its own, and then you must move on.

I like the book. That’s the key to it existing now instead of being some vague ideas in my head.

Tomorrow I begin the next book. I don’t know if I’ll try to resurrect one of the others, or just go off and try something I haven’t even thought of as I’m sitting here typing. But it’ll either be making the rounds or be up online by January 1.

What you’re reading is a first draft. With a few minor touch-ups.

Tick. Tock.

Bummer

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Today’s audience might find MARTY dated, but if you have any sense of movies of the fifties you’ll see just how groundbreaking MARTY was. Paddy Chayefsky’s TV hit was adapted for film and was an award-winning hit. Then as now, its subject matter is one rarely dealt with in entertainment media: the loneliness of unattractive people.

Chayefsky’s dialogue is still vivid and interesting, and it’s clear he was an influence on Aaron Sorkin. But Delbert Mann’s direction and Joseph Lashelle’s photography are impressive, with location photography and long takes that build a sense of emptiness of Marty’s world. This is a gentle but straightforward look at middle-class lives that aren’t usually featured in fifties Hollywood flicks.

A good flick, just keep the guns locked up.

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