Sunday, February 26, 2017

WSJ Editorializes on Hollywood Malaise

Rod Pennington writes that "Sunday's Oscars ceremony takes place during one of the gloomiest times for the film industry in recent memory." With ticket sales trending down, Pennington has some specific advice.
The solution to today's film malaise is simple: better storytelling. Studio executives seem to have forgotten the basic rules preached by the late mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, and his model of "Reluctant Hero." Over four decades this formula has dominated blockbusters: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, among many others, are ordinary people reluctantly thrust into extraordinary situations. Elaborate car chases and stunning special effects are fine, but audiences still want someone they can root for.
Since this advice echoes my previous posts, I have no choice but to declare Pennington a genius.

With home theaters a norm, Hollywood believes that to get people off their couches and into movie theater seats, they must blow things up, speed around corners, kill multitudes in gruesome detail, overly edit action scenes, and lay down an ear-splitting sound track. Nowadays, the story is so secondary that the sound track routinely overpowers characters speaking to each other. Screenwriters who understand dialogue write for cable, where they're allowed to strut their stuff. Today's movies are empty calories loaded to the gills with noise and eye candy. Can Hollywood once again learn to walk and chew gum at the same time? I believe so, but only when the story becomes paramount and all the rest is viewed as the delivery system.

And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea - have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!" Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Crossing the Animas back from Editor

A few days ago, my editor sent me the edited version of Crossing the Animas and related files. I'm anxious to reviewed her revisions, but I have some personal issues which require me to be in northern California.

Here is the remaining process to publication. Next, I go through every revision, one at a time. I do this to approve the change and improve my writing skill. After I have a clean edited manuscript, the book goes to my ebook formatter. He makes sure the book looks good on various ereaders. My proofreader gets at crack at the book next.

In the past, I published the print and ebook versions simultaneously. The world has changed. Now, more than 90% of my sales are electronic versions of the book. (Excluding library large print sales) So the ebook versions will be published without waiting for the longer print book process.

All of this means that the ebook version of Crossing the Animas should be available before the end of March. The print version will follow about sixty days later.

I hope you enjoy it.

Rough Cover Option

Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy New Year!

The first eight days of 2017 have already slipped away. I've been distracted by family and fun. It seems the only way to slow down time is to stayed bored. That's not going to happen.

After Christmas, we have made our winter trek to San Diego to avoid the worst of an Omaha winter. Ran right into Southern California cold, rain, and tiny surf. (Yesterday was perfect weather, but it lasted exactly 24-hours.) The small waves didn't bother me because as I grow older, waist-high surf has become my friend.

Today, Crossing The Animas achieved another milestone. My editor broke free of her backlog and starts work this week on my already perfect manuscript. (I always believe that until my book comes back bleeding red ink from every pore.) Prior to sending a manuscript to my editor, I have the book read by a few trusted readers. Thank you all for your sound advise and for saving me untold embarrassment.

Last year I agreed to participate in a short story anthology. I had never written a Steve Dancy short story and I didn't know how I would like the abbreviated format. I loved it. I deviated from my standard form and wrote "Snake in the Grass" from Joseph McAllen's point of view. It put my characters in a different light and gave me a fresh perspective on their motivations. Fun project. Wanted: A Western Story Selection has also been successful, so we have agreed to put together another set of short stories with the creative title of Wanted II. Look for it later this year.

I have again agreed to write essays for Constituting America's annual 90-Day Studies. This year's project will be about important Supreme Court cases. Nothing controversial there, I'm sure. I'll let you know when each of mine is published, but don't wait for me. Cathy Gillespie and Janine Turner do an exceptional job of pulling together bright minds to illuminate the Constitution, especially for the young people in our country.

Anyway, going to be a busy year. Guess I'll have to wait to slow down time.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fruit cakes and novels

I subscribe to the Nelson DeMille newsletter. He's been one of my favorite authors since I read Cathedral nearly three decades ago. I especially liked Gold Coast. Anyway, I received his latest newsletter when I was contemplating ways to promote my books as Christmas gifts. Unsurprisingly, DeMille sardonic take on the subject exceeded anything I could do. So ...
As for my own books, it’s totally your choice if you want to buy them as holiday gifts. They’re great books, but I would understand if you’d rather give someone, say, a fruitcake instead of a DeMille novel. Fruitcakes are good, and healthy – if you don’t eat them. And who does? It’s the thought that counts anyway. If you give a fruitcake to someone, they know what you think of them. A DeMille novel might send a message to the recipient that you think they’re intelligent. And you don’t always want to do that. Right? Your choice.
Anyway, if you do give one of my novels as a gift, I hereby give permission for you to autograph my name. You can copy my signature below. Who’s gonna know? Say something nice.

Monday, October 31, 2016

House of Corn, Stone Presidents, and a Sioux Triumph

Mitchell Corn Palace
We recently moved from Arizona to Omaha and are still getting to know the neighborhood. Friends—and sometime relatives—wanted a road trip to check out the northern hinterlands. We blasted through Iowa to get to South Dakota to our first stop in Mitchell. We came to see the world renown Corn Palace.  Each year, the town decorates the outside of the building with artworks made entirely from corn cobs. Pretty cool. Or at least cooler than a big ball of twine.

K Bar S Lodge

After gawking at the ethanol cathedral, we speed down the road to spend the night at the K Bar S Lodge, which is in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. The huge lodge closes at the end of the month and guests were sparse. As we wandered the buildings, we kept an eye out for a tyke on a trike or a pair of scary twins. I never spotted a worrisome apparition, but the next day at Mount Rushmore, I spotted Gary Grant strolling around in a dark suit and pristine white dress shirt. We found Mount Rushmore to be an impressive feat of art and engineering and the park service has done a good job of presentation.

North by Northwest

The Knuckle Saloon in Sturgis

Lunch found us at the Knuckle Saloon in Sturgis, host city to the seventy-eight-year-old motorcycle rallies. We saw only one lonely rider, but the food at the saloon was good and the ambiance iconic.

Sheridan Inn a bit before we arrived

In the afternoon, we drove to Sheridan, Wyoming and stayed at the historic Sheridan Inn. This hotel didn’t seem haunted either, despite one of the long-term employees having her ashes buried inside the wall of her room. The photographs on the walls are reason enough to pay the inn a visit. After breakfast, we drove to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Here we found ghosts and restless spirits aplenty. Little Bighorn is a sobering experience that reminds us that there are two sides to every story.

Art work detail at Little Bighorn Battlefield
We returned by way of Sheridan and stopped for lunch and a shopping spree at King's Saddlery. If you’re ever in this part of the country, King’s is a must stop. It reminds me of the tent in Harry Potter that looks small from the outside, but goes on forever inside. This is not a tourist store but a serious place to buy ropes, tack, and appropriate attire for horseback riding. If you want something western, whether it be leather goods, belt buckles, clothing, jewelry, art, dishes, books, ropes, or whatever, you can find in at King’s.

Kings Saddlery

On the way home, ate breakfast at Wall Drug and took the 240 loop through the South Dakota Badlands. Due to thousands of signposts, Wall Drug is as hard to find as a fly in a cow pasture. It’s worth the trip, however. Good breakfast, cheap coffee, and lots of western art and artifacts. After breakfast, we sauntered through the Badlands. We saw very few cars, but we did make a sharp turn and almost ran into a Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep. I stopped the car, wondering how much damage those curved battering rams could do to my side panels, but luckily he seemed more interested in eating the vegetation alongside the road. The Badlands landscape is impressive and when it’s uncrowded, you can feel connected to some bygone era. If you make this trip, late October is perfect … unless it isn’t. Weather during late autumn can be unpredictable, but we had it near perfect. Good luck to you, as well.

Just before we scooted home, we made a stop at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. We stopped at the Visitor Center, and then went on a guided tour of Launch Control Facility Delta-01. Both are must-sees, but the Launch Control Facility requires a reservation. These nuclear weapon delivery systems are now thankfully in the back of our consciousness, and hopefully will remain there.

This road trip was my second favorite. My favorite is the Grand Circle. It’s a shame more people don’t hit the road nowadays. The expansive countryside of the West has awe-inspiring landscapes, a fascinating history, and friendly people eager to help a tenderfoot.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park Talk About Storytelling

NYU teaches a class in storytelling the Tisch School of the Arts. On the first day of class, Professor Liotti invited Trey Parker and Matt Stone to discuss their take on storytelling. In this short video, there are a couple of nuggets of great advice, which helps explain the 20 year success of the animated television series. I found it interesting that they basically said writer's block is not an option. If they can't come up with a show idea, seventy people are idled. This reminded me of William Shakespeare, who had forty people depending on him to come up with a new play that would draw a large enough paying audience to feed themselves and their families. Nothing drives creativity like hunger.

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By the way, kudos to NYU for teaching storytelling. Many universities think creative writing is solely about crafting wonderful sentences. Not true. Storytelling is at the heart of anything still read or viewed that was written over twenty years ago.

Storytelling is the art, good writing is the craft that brings it to life.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Magnificent Seven—Hollywood Finally Gets It Almost Right

Hollywood doesn’t like Westerns. They keep trying to make them into something else. If a traditional Western is a success, like Unforgiven, critics tag it as an anti-western. The Chicago Tribune said of Unforgiven, “This dark, melancholic film is a reminder -- never more necessary than now -- of what the American cinema is capable of, in the way of expressing a mature, morally complex and challenging view of the world.” As if a Western never plumbed the depths of depravity before.
Last night my wife and I went to see The Magnificent Seven, the remake. It’s a good movie. I thought the climatic gun battle was over the top, but that’s what audiences expect nowadays. Also the storyline was more implausible than the original. A roving band of bandits in the age of Poncho Villa raiding villages for food is far more believable than a mine owner killing random farmers to acquire land that hasn’t proved to be lodes of precious metal. But, hey, this is entertainment. Suspension of belief is de rigor.
An NPR review said of the movie, “it's not a revisionist western. Nor is it an anti-western. It's a western.” The reviewer, Chris Klimek, did not necessarily mean that as a compliment. I say, thank goodness. It’s about time Hollywood got back to good storytelling. Modern Hollywood often gets itself wrapped up messaging. Storytelling is an art that requires a meaningful plot, engaging characters, proper pacing, and craftsmanship. When they made the The Magnificent Seven, they set out to make an entertaining film, not a statement. Great stories can make statements, but they must be subtle enough to not jar the reader/viewer out of the story. Philip Pullman once said, “Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” The Magnificent Seven did include a message about inclusiveness, but never did that theme interrupt the flow of the story.
I liked the movie, and my wife liked it as well. The film did $41.4 million on its opening weekend, which bodes well that box office receipts will be high enough to encourage more of the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In Desperate Need of Ruby Slippers

In a previous post I lamented our poor travel luck of late. The good news is that once we left the USA, all of our travel difficulties disappeared. We flew to Paris without incident, and took taxies, trains, and Metros without mishap. The bad news greeted us on reentry to the USA. The final leg of our flight was cancelled due to weather. Despite claims by Global Warming alarmists, airlines still consider weather an act of God. No free hotel. No paid one either. When weather has a temper tantrum, New York hotels fill up in a New York minute. A long taxi ride into the city found us a place to stay.

Our airline booked us out of LaGuardia the following evening. Since we were anxious to get home, we left for the city four hours ahead of our scheduled departure.  We wanted to miss the work traffic. What we didn’t know was that since our last uneventful trip to LaGuardia, some nincompoop decided to tear up all access roads simultaneously. It took two hours and a wheel barrow of money to get us to the terminal. But we still had a sense of humor. We laughed at our travails as we grabbed a glass of wine at the Delta Sky Club. We were in heaven. A quiet, little sanctuary hidden from the hubbub just outside the sliding glass doors. Then all hell broke loose. Alarms went off, tense announcements ordered us to evacuate immediately, and people rushed everywhere. First responders burst in from outside. Was it the Sky Club or the entire airport? Once we got outside the lounge, we found calm and order. Who had turned the world upside down? Apparently a short in the dishwasher. The culprit had been an electrical fire in the kitchen.

In our haste, we had brought our wine out with us and it was less than an hour before our flight time. C'est la vie. We’d manage. Heck, we’d already endured much worse than being thrown out of an airport lounge.

How naïve. Our early evening flight got delayed until the dead of night.

When I had a horrible game of golf, my eighteenth hole was always spectacular. I think it was someone’s sly way of enticing me back onto the links. In a similar fashion, once we landed in Omaha, everything went perfect. Technically, it was morning. At that hour, taxicabs were rare, but our luggage came out first and we beat the competition to the cab stand. Omaha traffic is light in comparison to big cities and non-existent in the wee hours. We flew home.

Six weeks of travel makes one homesick. Home, sweet home. There’s no place like home.

We think we’ll stay awhile.