It Started


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It started like any other day.

The Sun rocketed toward Lambda Herculis at 45,000 miles per hour. The earth continued to rocket around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. Any given point on the earth spun around in a circle at 1,000 miles per hour.

It gave the appearance that the sun rose. The sun does not rise.

Rather, we do.

Sabrina Adams rose from her bed at 5:53 A.M. She had only hit the snooze button once. For some reason it only let her snooze for eight minutes at a time. She had never gone into her  iPhone settings to adjust the snooze length. It was not something she had ever considered doing, or even thought was possible.

Outside her window, she was slowly rising to meet the sun.

Toilet Urine Water Soap Foam Teeth Brush Foam Water Deodorant Clothes Shoes Beans Water Mug Keys and she walked out the door and down the part of the hallway’s carpet that is a slightly lighter shade of putrid grey than the rest. It’s the part in the middle, where she always walks.

It wasn’t until she was halfway down Ventura Boulevard that she woke up. The road was clear, and she had somehow kept the Mazda’s wheels in between the narrow, white lines. She set the radio to a station that was playing something, and outside her window…

Outside her window she met the sun over the San Gabriel.

Rays shot past the peaks and made the orb look like the imperial flag of Japan. The pollution in the air glowed orange and pink. It had rained quite a bit recently, and she could see a peak that had some snow on it.

And she wondered.

She wondered what it felt like

And then she was at Van Nuys, driving past her turn, heading East. Her ear lobes tingled. She hummed along to something nameless and elusive.

Fifteen minutes later she was in Burbank, and the passenger seat started to glow. She looked at her phone. It said ‘work.’ She pulled over, stared at the buzzing metal, and then, after one second more, silenced the call.

The next time her phone rang, it was accompanied with the slamming of a door and the sound of no-slip shoes padding out of a parking lot and up a hill.

She’d never touched it before. Not really. She’d touched ice cream. She’d touched freezer burn. One time, when she was very young, she’d even gone to the park and ice skated on a frozen pool. They had to stop skating every fifteen minutes to refreeze the ice. No one there was any good at ice skating. It made clearing the ice problematic.

She sat on the wall next to a teenager who was tall enough to scrape the ice as they waited to skate again. She smoked a cigarette someone else must have bought for her and made a pile of shavings, and then slid it against the wall. Sabrina had touched that, later, when the teenager wasn’t looking. It felt like what she imagined snow would feel like.

She had to be sure, though.

She just had to be sure.

It was one of those mountains where you find out that you and your tinder date aren’t as athletic as you both pretended to be and, hopefully, that neither of you care. The specific geographic coordinate she currently struggled across hadn’t even traveled two hundred miles closer to the sun when she had started to sweat, and there was still most of the mountain to go.

She tried to see the snow, to get inspiration, but when you’re dealing with a mountain, you can only see the top when it’s really far away. Once you start climbing it, you can’t see the summit until you’re almost there.

So she walked, and she breathed in the fresh air, and felt the sunlight pelting her face. She heard a bird chirp from somewhere not too far away, and she was relieved to know that not all of them had left for the winter.

Come to think of it, she hadn’t paid attention to birds in a long time. She’d been working so much, rising to meet the sun and not going home until she had left the sun behind, she hand’t really noticed birds but now, now they sang, and she listened. Their song was nameless and elusive. Sabrina liked it. It made her nose itch. It’s normally a bad feeling but out here…

Out here it made her feel like she could climb a mountain.

Her phone rang a thousand feet below her. It said work

Thirty minutes later, she started to shiver. She hadn’t brought a sweater, so she just kept going .

She ran out of mountain an hour after that.

And at the top, there was snow.

She knelt in it. It was cold on her ankles. Her ankles didn’t count as touching it, she decided. Touching it only counter with her finger tips or, maybe, with her face.

She did both, just be sure. It melted and ran through her fingers. It liquefied and ran down her cheeks. It was just water, but oh, what water. It was hard, and it was cold, and it was solid, and it was wet, and it was white, and it was colorless and she finally just dropped down and rolled in it, covering her black jeans and shirt in white powder, and she hummed a song both nameless and elusive and a few thousand feet below her a phone rang in the passenger seat of a Mazda travelling approximately 1,000 miles in a circle that was spinning through a vacuum at 64,000 miles per hour caught in the orbit of a burning ball of gas that hurtled through the galaxy at 45,000 miles per hour and it started like any other day.

It had just started like any other day, when Sabrina Adams rose at 5:53 A.M. because her snooze only lasted for eight minutes and she met the sun.

*****

And this is me avoiding working on my screenplay.

Ah, well.

My mountain is now climbed.

Perhaps I’ll make that turn onto Van Nuys tomorrow, after I’ve slept through rising to meet the sun.

tmhnks

How To Start Something


This is a post about writing, and about startin’ somethin’.

I wouldn’t consider myself a writing guru, but talking about the craft of writing is one of my four favorite things to talk about. My other three favorite things are stories, music and Vikings.

(after having been publicly shamed in no less than two comments, i have since capitalized every instance of vikings except this one)

I recall the first time I actually fell in love with Vikings. I had told my German teacher that I used to be a huge fan of pirates. I would read about them and write stories about them, and dream about being back in the days of swashbuckling. Then the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out, and all of a sudden overweight people who worked at McDonald’s were getting skulls and crossbones tattooed on their shoulders, and I felt sort of robbed.

It wasn’t like I was a pirate pariah beforehand. I was never beaten up for liking pirates. I just felt like… I don’t know. It was just annoying.

“Pirates are okay,” Dr. Ferguson told me, “but Vikings are better. They’re basically pirates but with a crazy religion and way more violence.”

Well, well, well.

If your interested in books about Vikings, I would highly suggest reading the phenomenal Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell.

This is all beside the point.

I wouldn’t consider myself a writing guru, but I recently watched two movies, and the beginnings couldn’t have been more different, and so I wanted to write about it.

The movies were Labyrinth and Singham. They are, strangely enough, more similar than you might think.

Everything has to start somewhere, and it’s your job to pick how.

When you talk about acting, you’re supposed to say “I really like the choice she made” when referring to someone’s performance. That’s because acting is about making choices. Writing is about making choices, too. Nothing is unintentional in a film. Even less is unintentional in a book, because someone chose literally every word on the page.

So when you wanna be startin’ something, when you gotta be startin’ somethin’ you need to make some choices. Both Singham and Labyrinth made choices, and what’s really, really interesting is that they couldn’t have been more similar and yet, at the exact same time, more different.

When you’re planning the beginning of the story, your job is the same job you have when you break out a board game for your friends to play: you need to make sure all of the pieces are on the board. Some games are really complicated, though. They’ve got a lot of pieces, but you really want to play, so you need to make sure you get all the pieces down as quickly as possible, or your friends are going to get bored and go do drugs or something instead.

You don’t have to be thorough. In fact, you need to be as brief as possible. If you tell to much, you use up all your ammunition for later in the story. Character secrets are like bullets, and you only have so many. You can’t come out blasting, you have to bide your time. Wait for the perfect shot, and then you’ll blow your audience away.

So the trick is to be fast, and let people know what’s going on.

In the first ten minutes or so of Singham, we meet an evil mobster who makes a good cop in Goa kill himself from shame. It’s clear the mobster is an asshole, and then we come to this song:

And now, all of a sudden, you know everything you need to know about Singham, the main character. He’s a man. He does manly things. He’s religious. He helps the week. He’s super strong. He has the ferocity of a tiger, and he never spares evil doers. He’s dashing as fuck, and can wear the hell out of a denim shirt. He’s Singham, and he’s going to beat the shit out of some people in this movie.

This is how Labyrinth starts:

And boom, we know (almost) everything we need to know about the main character. Anything else we need to know happens mere moments later, when she runs home and we learn she has a baby brother who she always has to watch and she hates so much that she wishes the Goblin King would come steal him away.

Both films put their pieces on the board super fast.

Then Signham… Singham just fucking drops the ball.

Don’t get me wrong. The movie rules. It has fight scenes like this:

That’s just some good, clean fun. The whipping is… a little disturbing, but, I mean, come on, the dude called out Singham. Insulted his future wife! What did he THINK was going to happen?

This fight happens after maybe twenty minutes in, where we’ve learned even more about Signham: he’s the head cop of some village and guards the villagers with his life. They respect him and shit.

Then the tale spirals out of control with a forty minute long love story that has nothing to do with the main plot at all. It’s not a bad love story, but there’s a big problem.

What’s this love story doing in the movie we just watched two clips from?

Here’s the beginning to one of the greatest cinema masterpieces of all time:

You might think this beginning is stupid, and you’d be right. But it’s also perfect, because it lets you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger can carry a fucking tree, he can pet deer and they won’t run away, and he loves his daughter more than anything. This sets up the plot of the movie (his daughter gets kidnapped) and the tone of the movie (Arnold is a tank that kills everything and it’s insane) perfectly.

What happens in the rest of Commando? Arnold kills everything keeping him away from his daughter.

What happens in the rest of Labyrinth? Jennifer Connely goes to a magic land and rescues her brother from the goblin king.

What happens in the rest of Singham? We have a forty-minute long love story and then get back to the plot we all came here to see.

So now we’ll talk about beginnings.

You’re job as a writer is to let us know everything we need to know as fast as possible, and then deliver us an amazing thing based on those things you just let us know. Arnold loves his daughter? Good. She better get fucking murdered or kidnapped. Jennifer loves this weird old book? Good. She better learn that she lives in the real world. She hates her brother for no reason? She better learn not to hate him. Singham is a tough action man? He better do tough action things.

Watch your favorite movie or TV show. All the stuff you need to know show up in. oh, about the first quarter of it. Any fun surprises or twists happen later, and if they are done correctly, they play off or use things that were brought up in the first act.

So why did I decide to do this?

I read a lot of stuff on wordpress. I talk with friends about a lot of writing projects. Beginnings are hard. They’re hard to nail, and so when I see something that does it really well, like Labyrinth or (parts) of Singham, I just want to share it.

Lastly, someone, and it could have been Albert Einstein, but it probably wasn’t, once said that if you can’t explain something well then you don’t truly understand it. Therefore, if you learn how to explain something well, then you will understand it.

So this post has a twofold purpose:

  1. Hopefully it will help some of you start something.
  2. Hopefully it will help me be a better writer.

Oh, and one more thing: Hopefully it makes someone watch Singham, Labyrinth or Commando.

A Song For David Bowie


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I was deeply affected by David Bowie’s passing today. I called my friend Rob to talk about it. We met up later and listened to some of the hits, and then bought a six pack and watched labyrinth. I’d never seen it before. It’s magical.

I tried to find a copy of Bowie’s new record in town, but every store was sold out, and that’s saying something when you live in LA.

Rob urged me not to go buy something. It’s not right, he said. For David Bowie, we need to make something.

So I did.

It’s called Quicksand:

 

*****

 

I was adrift, stumbling around London in a haze. I could tell you I wasn’t drunk, but that would be a lie. I could tell you I had better things to do, but that’d be a lie too.

I came across an out-of-the-way tavern down the east end. It was a tall old building. It looked like it could have been something many years ago, a rich merchant’s house or a church or maybe even a school. It was crumbling now. The top floors looked barely habitable. The dark front door had a worn, hexagonal brass doorknob in the center of it. Above the door, a large, black star that was back lit somehow. I didn’t care how.

I went inside. My buzz was fading and I needed a drink. Plus, I was trying not to go home.

It was a dive. I pushed past the purple curtains that shielded the interior from the cold and found a rotten palace of beer-stained hardwood. Crumpled cigarettes twisted in overfilled ashtrays. Pool balls sunk into deep grooves on the pool tables. The smoke was thick. It made my eyes wet. I was pretty sure it was illegal to smoke indoors, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone to stop.

I just needed a drink.

I stumbled to the bar and found a stool next to a garbage can, which was just perfect for me. It felt like a rock.

“Pint,” I grunted, and an arm slid a glass of something dark and bitter toward me. I downed it. It tasted like mud. Good mud. The kind of mud you could grow something in. It tasted like… like fate. I’m not really sure how, or even what, but that’s just how it was.

“Thirsty?” A voice asked me. I turned to my right and say that the voice belonged to a man. A woman. No… he was a man. He wore a bedazzled, leather 18th-century outfit that would have been right at home at a fancy dress party in West Hollywood, and he smoked a cigarette out of a long holder. You know the kind. Cruella DeVille had one.

Very Femme Fatale.

“What are you,” I asked him, “some kind of clown?” He smiled at me as he picked up a cigarette packet. He offered me one and I took it. I don’t really smoke. I just sort of suck on the things. If I haven’t been drinking, a get a little head buzz from holding something that can kill me in my mouth. I had been drinking, though, so it was all rather pointless.

“I’m the entertainment,” he told me. I glanced at him, and he jerked his head back at a dingy stage. There was an old, upright piano there with an orange and blue lighting bolt painted on it. I smirked.

“Classy,” I said.

“Hey, man,” he said, “just relax.”

I took a drag and signaled the bartender. He brought me something else. “Fair enough,” I said.

He watched me as I drained the glass, and then took his cigarette out of the holder and snubbed it on the counter. He crossed his legs and stared at me.

“What’s wrong, then?”

I swirled the backwash in the bottom of my glass. Then I drank it.

“I don’t have any problems,” I told him.

“Everyone has problems,” He told me.

“Yeah? What are yours?”

“One of my eyes is permanently dilated.” He showed me. It was.

“Huh. I never heard of that.”

“It’s called anisocoria. Got it when a bloke hit me in school.” He lit another cigarette. It couldn’t be healthy. “We were fighting over a girl.”

“Who got the girl?” I asked. He just shrugged. I laughed. It was short lived.

“So what is it?”

I looked at my empty glass, and signaled for another. “A friend of mine… well, not really a friend. This guy I looked up to. He passed away.”

“And you’re sad about it?”

I didn’t say anything. The man took a long drag.

“So what did you make him?”

“What?”

“What did you make him?”

“He’s dead, he’s not having a birthday party.”

“No, no. People die, so you make them something. It’s how you remember them, right?”

“I remember people by crying a lot and buying things.”

“Does it make you feel better?”

I didn’t say anything.

He shook his head. “No, no. Make him something.”

“Like… what, like a tribute?”

“It’s not for them, love. It’s for you.” He stabbed the cigarette on the counter and leaned forward. “You feel something, right? You admired this guy?”

“He was unique. He was brave. He was kind.”

“So make something unique. Be brave. Be kind. He made you feel something, so use that feeling and make someone else feel something. You know how people say if you remember someone they never really die?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s bullshit, love. Bullshit. They’re dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget. Use what you feel and make something that he would have said ‘yeah, I like this’ about.”

I reached into my jacket and pulled out my manuscript. “I think I did. It’s why I started drinking. I’m just… I’m not sure how it turned out.”

“So you’ve been carrying it around London?”

“Yes.”

“All night long?”

“That’s right.” I laughed. It’s the sort of laugh that you laugh when you’re really just begging for affirmation. “I was thinking about throwing it away. That’s why I took the stool by the garbage.”

He shook his head. “What are we going to do with you?”

“I just need to know.”

The lights dimmed. He smiled again. “There’s only one way to find out.”

He set down a clear, glass orb on the counter and snapped his fingers. The arm brought him two shots of something amber. He downed them both. I smiled.

“I never took you for much of a drinker.”

“Baby, I’m not even really here.”

He walked over to the stage and pressed some keys. I stared down at my manuscript. It was hard to focus. 

“Alright, ladies. We’ve got time for one last song.” He started gently pounding out some chords and singing. “Oh I ain’t got the power anymore, no I ain’t got the power anymore.” He dove into the verse, and I dove into my manuscript.

I read it. He played.

He was better. He was way better. It wasn’t even close, but then again, I didn’t want to compete, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either. He played, and I read, and the music swirled around me, and I felt the power. My mind lit up like a solar flare with the sort of electricity you only get when you’re around someone who cares so deeply about what they’re doing that you end up caring, too.

“I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts, and I ain’t got the power anymore.”

I looked at the garbage. You know how sometimes, in really dim light, you look into something that has volume to it, like a trash can, and it just yawns at you, and it seems like it doesn’t have a bottom, and it won’t ever, ever end?

Yeah, it wasn’t doing that anymore. The trash can, I mean. I could see a condom at the bottom of the liner.

I finished my drink and managed somehow to stand up. The room tilted and whirled so hard it made my brain hurt, but I found a path and made it to the door.

“Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release”

It didn’t really make much sense, but it worked, in a weird sort of way. We made eye contact, and he nodded at me.

I just nodded back.

Then I left.

I suppose I made it back to Bloomsbury at some point because I woke up the next morning in my own bed, wishing I would have died.

I looked at the clock.

Morning. That was being generous.

My roommates would be back from Wales soon, and I…

Had it really been four days?

I rolled over. There was a manuscript on my bedside table. It had a touch of glitter on it. Next to the manuscript was a clear glass orb.

I never did find that bar again. It’s gone now.

I went looking for it my last night in London. The weather was warm, and we took Barclay’s bikes and rode them around the whole fucking town. We didn’t wear helmets, so our hair streamed behind us, and we laughed at the sheer folly of it all, kicked our legs out and screamed like kids, and the blood raced through our veins and our hair was blowing behind us and we could feel the life throbbing through our temples and I never did find the bar again.

I never found it again, but…

Now that I come to think of it,

I’m not sure I ever did.

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The Most Productive Procrastination


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So I finished the rough draft of a novel, and I find it increasingly difficult to focus on anything else.

There’s a screenplay I should be writing right now. I started this thing called “Shut Up and Write”. The idea behind it is that you get four randomized screenplay ideas, created by randomly drawing note cards with actors, genres, professions and locations, and the combining those into little idea clusters, and then you write a screenplay with no planning, no personal stake, and no strings attached.

The idea is to not care if it’s good. The idea is to shut the fuck up and write.

A lot of people worry that what they’re creating is good. I don’t have this worry, because I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t want to read. Therefore, the first fan of almost everything I write is myself, and so I’m almost always confident that something in any project I’m working on has merit.

This isn’t a delusion. I’m also pretty good about abandoning projects that aren’t working. I don’t incinerate them, though. I just put them on whatever is behind the back burner. Anything I’m interested has something cool about it, and at the very least I can cannibalize the ideas from a failed project for a new one. Maybe this scene is nice, but it would work better in this story. This character would be more fun here. Etc.

But a lot of people, especially people who haven’t written as much as I have, never get passed development because they spend all their writing time worrying about if what they came up with is good.

This is unacceptable.

Something about it is good, because you are a consumer of media and have a very discerning taste, whatever that may be. You know what you like and, unless you are Ted Bundy or something, there’s probably a group of people out there who like what you like too.

Novels exist that are basically big foot rape fantasies. They are, quite literally, about young women who wander into the woods and get raped by big foot. I have read one before, and it was horrible. Horrible in that it was morally horrible and also just poorly made.

There’s an audience for it. At one point, Virginia Wade was pulling in sixteen to twenty thousand dollars a month from her erotic big foot stories.TWENTY THOUSAND. A MONTH.

If there’s an audience for that, then there’s an audience for whatever the fuck you want to write about.

And I think that’s why I like writing. Sure, I hate Big Bang Theory. I don’t like Cum For Bigfoot.

But someone else does.

And the fact that I don’t like it doesn’t make the fact that they like it any less valid.

Who am I to say that Big Bang Theory is a garbage show full of stupid, not funny garbage jokes? No one, that’s who.

So goal one of shut up and write is this: just write. The die is cast on the first of January, and everyone will shame you if you don’t finish. Who cares if it’s bad? There’s something in there that isn’t.

There’s something in there that’s good.

That’s the second goal. We write, we don’t care and then we celebrate.

A lot of times when I get notes, I think people are too critical. I’m not trying to cushion the notes i receive by shouting “you’re mean and you’re wrong” to whoever gave them to me, but I think a good note is when you try to figure out what the writer wants to do, and then help them achieve that, rather than saying that something is merely bad. Everything is there for a reason. It’s your job as a note giver to figure out what the reason is, and then think about what you are going to say rather than giving your first gut reaction.

I see gut reactions so many times in notes. Gut reactions are seldom useful.

So we don’t give notes for Shut Up and Write. It’s the only time in the year we won’t give notes. Instead, we celebrate. We’re going to have a big party, where the wine and beer will hopefully flow like the Mississippi, and we will read the writer’s favorite scenes from their work.

We’ll assign characters, goof around, and laugh. Then we all clap and take a drink.

This isn’t softening the blow, though it may seem like it. If someone wants notes, they can send me their screenplay and I’ll give it the ol’ ruthless treatment. Instead, this is encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement, probably even Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowling. Hell, probably even Stephen King.

So that’s what we do.

And here I am, writing a blog post.

The cards I finally settled on were: Tom Hardy, The Everglades, Psychiatrist and Mockumentary.

I love Mockumentaries.

I love Tom Hardy.

I love the everglades.

This one practically writes itself.

Practically.

The practically is very important.

So here I am. I’ve got to head to work in three hours, and I’m participating in the most productive form of procrastination.

I’m writing a blog post.

I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions, but the first is as good a date as any to start something new.

So I’m going to try to blog twice a month.

Calm down, it’s only so I can trick you guys into buying my book later.

Ay yi yi… this post is a quagmire.

Maybe that’s my point, though.

Look at this mess above you.

I hope it’s a beautiful mess, because something other than procrastination gave me this idea.

There’s a kernel of gold among the mud. Can you find it?

I’m not sure I can, but it’s there.

So I’ll leave you with this:

I’m not sure what you’re doing on this Sunday, or whatever day it is when you read this, but today is your day.

There’s a new David Bowie album out.

The sun is shining, at least here in Los Angeles.

You’ve got some free hours.

Don’t fuck around online.

Don’t watch TV. TV is dumb.

Don’t read Cum for Bigfoot.

Don’t clean.

Don’t ___ .

Shut up.

Just Shut Up And Write.

And now….

Well…

And now, I think I’ll take my own advice.

And Shia’s advice, too.

 

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