Archive | May, 2012

MY CUP RUNNETH OVER – WITH BLOOD

26 May

I’ll admit right up front that I love Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. Somehow her combination of the undead and fried pickles works. I like to think that the Sookie books lie somewhere to the opposite of Anne Rice’s elegant, gorgeous creations. If Rice’s works are symphonies of operatic lyricism, Charlaine Harris’s books are a country jamboree.

“Deadlocked” is Harris’s twelfth book in her “True Blood” series and it is one of the better ones. (This is surely not to say that there were ever any duds, for Harris is a continually inventive writer whose talents shine even while utilizing the same characters and locations almost ad nauseum. Unlike Janet Evanovich, whose Stephanie Plum ran aground in the series’ sixth book, Harris still has some steam left.) “Deadlocked” is described as the “penultimate book in the Sookie Stackhouse series”, with the magically numbered thirteenth volume (released next year) to be the final one.
Here’s my next confession: I’ll be glad to see the series come to an end.

Because good as Harris is, as imaginative and readable, she’s been holding this same note for so long she’s turning blue. Magic and the supernatural imbue her every page, just as surely as in any Harry Potter book; and, like JK Rowling, Harris has created a rich and heady universe where almost every magical creature meets in the town of Bontemps, Louisiana – vampires, werewolves, witches, Wiccan, shape-shifters and the Fae, who are the most deadly of all. Somehow Sookie has become the prism through which they all manifest, and we are meant to believe that Sookie’s own fairy blood is somehow responsible. She in fact seems so essential to the existence of the supernatural forces that one begins to suspect that without Sookie they never could have come to Bontemps in the first place (or “out of the coffin”, as Harris said about her vampires).

A couple of books ago I wondered how Charlaine Harris could possibly balance so many characters, so many supernatural worlds and lore, so many plot lines without Bontemps simply tipping over and sliding into a bayou from the sheer weight of them all. When she closed the “fairy portal” that connected the Fae to this world, I relaxed a bit and thought – thank God for Charlaine! One less adversary to worry about! But in “Deadlocked” the fairies are back again, as mean and conniving as ever.
And Sookie is getting mighty tired of it all. She’s tired of the viciousness and cunning of her supernatural friends, who always manage to embroil her into their power-hungry schemes.

And frankly, I’m tired too.

I want the books to end. I want to know how Sookie deals with it all. This tantric exertion of delaying gratification is getting on my nerves, just as it is Sookie’s (and, I suspect, Charlaine’s as well.)

A few books ago Harris hinted that Sookie was losing her humanity, for she was becoming almost too quick to resort to a “Let’s kill them all!” strategy. Perhaps it was because of all the vampire blood that she ingested during her relationships with vampires Bill Compton and Eric Northman. One drop too much, Sookie realizes, and she could spontaneously “turn” into a member of the undead clan, something she definitely does not want to do. But perhaps that blood limit has been reached and Sookie is indeed losing her humanity (and humanness) in the process.

Will Sookie become a vampire at the end of it all, as Bella did in the loathsome “Twilight” series? I don’t think so. Charlaine Harris is too good a writer for that. I like to think that like Dorothy in Oz, Sookie will simply find the equivalent of clicking her heels together and the world will become magically denuded of magical creatures. It might be the only way she and the world can survive.
I can then go on from there, happy and sated. Then it will be my turn to finish my own vampire series, “The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous.” (You can buy the first volume on Amazon for only 99 cents! And relax – I’ve outlined a mere seven books, and have a definite end in mind.)
Yet, after everything is said and done, and though I wish Harris had streamlined her own story, I have to admit that I have enjoyed every one of her books. I have been charmed and titillated by them. I have stayed up into the wee hours reading them. I have eagerly discussed them with friends. In short, the books are everything good books are supposed to be. And I will be among the first to order my copy of the last in the series.

You’ve earned a well-deserved rest, Charlaine. Go with the Angels.

(Which, when you think of it, is one of the few supernatural species she left alone.)

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Starting Out– My First Time Being Published

22 May

Fair warning – when other writers hear my story they sometimes scream and throw themselves out their windows.  It’s the tale of how I got my first writing contract, and I don’t think anyone had ever had so easy a time of it.

When I was living in New York City, where I was VP of Production for a special effects house, I purchased a loft near Washington Square.  Instead of Escrow, as they have in California, a buyer and seller must instead use real estate lawyers to draw up the contracts.  My realtor recommended an attorney he usually worked with, a woman by the name of Judy Levin.  When I went to her offices to sign the papers I noticed that her walls were hung with posters from the New York Stage.  Some of the productions I had even heard of.  “Wow,” I said, “you must really love the theater!”

 Judy, who was both the most laconic person I’d ever met and, perversely, the most loquacious, merely said, “Oh, those?  I produced them.”  It turned out that she had started her career as an entertainment lawyer, and handled the legal affairs for a variety of theatricals.  When you do that in New York you also get a producing credit.  But, as happens to many who work in entertainment, she got burnt out and retired from the fray to become a real estate lawyer.

Well, it just so happens that I was looking to option a book to turn it into a stage play.  Judy got me the book in very short order and for a very reasonable price.  Having tasted the thrill of the theater again, however remote, she then asked me, “Do you have anything else I could look at?”

  Did I?!

 It just so happened that I had the first hundred pages of a novel to show her, a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, which I had called generically “Ancient Egyptian Murder Mystery”.  She took it and a couple of weeks later told me, “I really like it.  Do you mind if I show it around?”

 What do you think I answered?

Judy had brittle bones – this is not a segue, by the way – and had broken her foot.  She would hobble down to the courtyard of her building in Chelsea and – as I might have mentioned – Judy could talk to anyone in that same even monotone she used with me; a stranger, a dog, the clothes dryer.  A gentleman was also in the courtyard that morning, someone from her building who she had never before met.  He too was ill and was staying home from work.  In the course of their conversation he happened to mention his wife, Carol, who happened to work at Simon & Schuster, where she happened to be secretary to the legendary Michael Korda.  Korda, for those of you who don’t know, ran the editing staff of S&S since the 1950s.  “Do you mind if I give you a manuscript?” Judy asked Carol when she met her for the first time a few days.

Carol accepted the manuscript in their laundry room.  “It takes a brave woman to take a manuscript in a laundry room,” Judy said to me.  I could only agree.

But the good news was that two weeks later I had a contract not only to finish my novel, but also to write its sequel.  The first novel, Year of the Hyenas, went on to be named one of the five best mysteries of the year by Library Journal, while the second, Day of the False King, debuted on the LA Times Best Seller List.

And all because I bought a place in New York City.

Luck like that can happen only once in a person’s life, but it is also a story that could only have happened in New York.  It’s a city where you run into people you know all the time, thrust together as you are on sidewalks, in buses and subways, or by frequenting the same restaurants.

The luck began to change when Michael Korda retired, but I always knew that I had gotten to know him at the end of his extraordinary career.  When I was assigned to a new editor, she frankly told me she was not “into” historical fiction and was I interested instead in the chick-lit field…?

We severed our relationship on the spot.

I’ve gone on to write another mystery, but not set in ancient times – instead it takes place in 1957 Hollywood.  What would you do, it asks, if you were a studio mogul and your leading man happens to be a serial killer?  How would save your studio, your film – and your leading lady?

I’ve decided to go explore the self-publishing route this time; the new publishing industry is as unchartered as the wild west, but I’m game for anything.  I guess this is where the REAL work begins.

Interview on Curling Up by the Fire’s Blog

17 May

We just passed 6000 unique views and with nearly 1000 followers between WordPress and Twitter– I thought I’d reintroduce myself. Head on over to Curling Up by the Fire‘s blog for an author interview we did last January.

Book Review–“Restless Souls”, by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate

14 May

“Your girlfriend’s dead.”

That’s what Randy’s Mom announced to us on August 10, 1969 –with an odd smile, yet.  It was about 11:00 a.m., a Saturday morning, and I was hanging out in Randy’s bedroom listening to his latest LPs (probably something by Joan Baez or Diana Ross).  I had just graduated from High School and Randy was already in college.  We had been best friends since 1967, and it was the kind of friendship where we completed each other’s sentences and never had a disagreement of any kind because our interests and souls were so in tune.  Mainly, we were interested in movies, not only in the current releases but in the stars and the industry that made them.            A new exciting crop of stars was rising, too, celebrities who seemed much more hip and in tune with the sixties – stars like Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – and we were fascinated by them.  Directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were just beginning their careers and even then were remaking “the movies” as we knew them.  It was all so incredibly exciting.  In particular there were Roman Polanski and his amazingly beautiful wife, Sharon Tate.

Randy and I followed their lives intensely.  He was such a film genius, and, for me, she was the only woman who could equal Elizabeth Taylor in beauty.  We became so immersed in their glamor and bits of gossip that this was why, on August 10, 1969, Randy’s mother came to announce her terrible message.

We were in total shock, and instantly turned on the television.  News reports only said that something had happened in the Benedict Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills, and that five people were dead.  We immediately thought that it could only have occurred because of a gas leak or a landslide…maybe a fire.

But then the details of the Manson Family’s butchery came out.  There were three horrible events that had occurred in rapid succession that turned me into an adult, i.e. they had stripped away the myths I was currently telling myself – how a second brother in the Kennedy family could be assassinated; that a school mate from my high school could be killed in Viet Nam just weeks after we had graduated, and that a pregnant woman, a movie star, could be stabbed to death in her own living room.  Somehow, I truly believed that pregnant women had special guardian angels, that no one could ever be so perverted as to kill a woman who was within two weeks of giving birth.

I grew up fast that summer.  So did Randy.

All of these scenes have been going through my head, replayed over and over, as I read Restless Souls”, a compendium of unfinished biographies written by Doris Tate, Sharon’s lioness of a mother, Paul Tate, the steely army intelligence colonel (who was just a trifle bit weird), and Pattie Tate, the little sister who was only twelve when Sharon was murdered.  Apparently the Tates were compelled to write their own stories so that other victim’s families might take heart from their courage, or to simply correct the record.  For it turns out that there was another phantom victim in all the tragedy, and that was Sharon’s own reputation.  She had participated in Black Masses and orgies, and downed immense quantities of drugs, or so screamed the headlines.  The Polanski’s were little better than wealthy hippies, it was said, who let anyone into their home at any hour, just so they could partake in sex games devised by the diminutive Polanski, the maker of weird horror films, and his depraved wife.  Somehow Sharon Tate had to be blamed for her own murder.  As always, there was something very comforting in conspiracy theories; that somehow the victims had brought their own demise on themselves.

Until now, none of the Tate family’s stories ever saw the light of day; they had been laid aside, probably too painful to finish.  Instead they have been compiled – not too cleanly – into one volume, juxtaposed and heavily edited, by writer Alysa Statman and Patti Tate’s daughter, Brie.  The result is mesmerizing, if not literary.

Like a rock thrown into a pond, making waves that keep on going and going, washing over distant parts of the pond far removed from the initial turbulence, the crime at Cielo Drive had horrible consequences for everyone concerned.  For three years Doris told herself that Sharon was merely away making a movie in Europe.  Paul Tate went underground in an ineffective search for Sharon’s killers, then became a recluse that haunted his own family.  Patti Tate grew into a scared and shivering adult, convinced that the remnants of the Manson family were out to kill her, too.  (Breast cancer killed her instead – another tragedy for that unfortunate family.)

From August 10th until their deaths many years later, Sharon’s murder continued to haunt, bedevil and ruin her family’s peace.  Doris ultimately fought back by founding several Victims Family Rights groups, becoming the fierce advocate of her dead daughter, and ensuring that the beasts who had murdered her stayed in prison.  “That old bitch” is what the Manson followers called her, and the sobriquet became the greatest joy of her life.  But for all of that you can’t forget her anguished cry at Sharon’s coffin – “This can’t be the end!”

There is not much comfort in this book.  You do get glimpses, however, that in her mere 26 years of life Sharon had packed a lot of living into it.  She was destined for major stardom, yet seemed coolly detached from the entertainment business, far more interested in being a wife and mother.  Polanski, whose own mother had been murdered in a concentration camp, had just come around to believing enough in the goodness of life to finally have the courage to welcome a child into the world.  And then August 9th happened.  He would go on to continuously voice the belief that had he been there that night (he was in London) he could have somehow averted the cataclysm.

The book leaves you with the question about who is luckier – the slain victim or the loved ones who lived on with such gruesome images playing in their head?  Instead of “Restless Souls” the book could just as easily have been called “Blighted Lives.”

Do I recommend this book?  Yes.  Did I like it?  Find it well-written?  Not particularly.  But it was indeed fascinating, even though I found myself unable to read it for long stretches of time.

Field Trip!

9 May

Head on over to Precious Monsters, the blog and check out my new post. Precious Monsters was created by Jolie du Pre, the author, editor, blogger and monster lover. Her first novella, Litria, Book 1 of The M Series, will be published in July of 2012 by Logical-Lust.

How to Write for Television and Film (Revisiting an Earlier Post on Writing)

7 May

I wrote this when I first began blogging months ago and wanted to share with new readers. Let me know what you think of the advice, or if you have any specific questions. I’ll be happy to elaborate!

While I wait for my newest novel, The Stand In to be available via BookBaby on Amazon and iBooks and eBooks… (It’s available now, you can buy it here…) I thought I’d give you a taste of what it is like to be in my classroom. I teach writing at Mount San Antonio College and have been astounded at the degree of talent in my students. This was the last lecture I delivered about Professionalism in the Entertainment Industry…

As a writer you will have two tasks of equal importance – writing something, and then selling it. Both are difficult.  Each are equally important.  Because if you don’t have an audience, you may as well be whispering in the dark.  Both take different skills.  Both are creative. BUT, of the two skills WRITING IS THE MORE IMPORTANT.  Because there are so few truly great writers, if you become one agents will fight to represent you, and producers will pay you gobs of money to produce you work.  If you are a magnificent sales person, but only a so-so writer, you’ll maybe sell one or two screenplays at best.

What are the characteristics of a PROFESSIONAL WRITER?

First of all, no one asks to see your diploma.  No one cares if you went to college.  Your diploma is actually the screenplay they are reading.  They will quickly find out if you know your field, are intelligent, well-read, unique.

How do you become a GREAT WRITER?  Not in classrooms.  I’m only here to teach you the fundamentals, format, structure, character and dialogue.  The rest is up to you.  YOU LEARN WRITING – BY WRITING!

Writing is like a muscle.  The more you write, the stronger the writing muscle becomes. And discipline is key.  You set aside time, preferably the same time every day, and you just write – even if it’s only staring a blank page, get into the habit of discipline.  Remember, good writing is probably the hardest work you will ever do.  Bad writing is really easy.

Rules of the game:  Watch films, old and new, learn what works and what doesn’t.  There’s a real reason I force you watch these films in class – they are inspirational.  Never be afraid to copy another film’s technique or style.  YOU WILL LEARN YOUR OWN UNIQUE STYLE SOON ENOUGH.

And, most importantly, READ, READ, READ – Magazines, newspapers – tomorrow’s headlines or features are the basis of excellent stories.  But most of all READ BOOKS.  When you read, you read sentences, and when you read a lot you will begin to think in sentences, and then you will be able to write both by example and by mimicry.  Soon you will find your own style.  And chances are that if you run into a problem with your writing, Homer probably solved it for you three thousand years ago.  Be curious.  Find out about people.  Ask them questions.  Remember, a writer is a spy, a psychologist, and most of all – a thief.  Everything is available to you to use.

And go to IMSDB and read other screenplays.  Study how the writers constructed them.  See what works – and what does not.

But take heart from one piece of advice – good writers are so rare that they will almost always prosper.  So for those of you so inclined, keep writing every day, including Sundays.

FINDING AN AGENT –What does an agent do?  He or She is your go-between in your relations between a studio, a producer, and all the rest who will read and consider your scripts.  They are the ones with the contacts, they know who is the best producer or team to send your work to, and they will protect you when the shit starts coming your way.  They really earn their ten percent. Unfortunately it’s hard to get an agent.  They usually want experienced writers.  How do you get experience?  Sell a script.  But to sell a script usually requires an agent.  And to get an agent you need to have sold a script.  You can see the conundrum.

WGA signatories – look up those who will take unsolicited inquiries.  Write them a glowing letter describing your background and an even more glowing synopsis of your work.  Remember how I said that the first ten pages of your screenplay were the most important?  Forget what I said – your inquiry letter is the most important.

WRITING FOR A TV SERIES

Don’t do it.  TV series have writing staffs.  They have years’ worth of scripts already written, and they know how the series will arc years from now.  You do not.  But if you must…

Write a sample script.  Rarely will it get bought.  But it might impress the staff enough to hand you an assignment, or to buy your concept.

NEW SERIES – DON’T.  First year is hell.

MOVIES OF THE WEEK:  Your best market.  Market size unlimited.

THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES:  Your second-best market.  Lots of prestige, but market size is limited.

ADAPTING A NOVEL:  The scared producer.  William Goldman says that nobody in the industry knows anything.  Thus, if a novel has been a success, they at least know one thing – that it sold in another medium.  They like that.  But legalities are involved.

Successful writers are goal oriented.  They know how to take constructive criticism well, learn from it, and they also know how to ignore rejection or unconstructive criticism.  REMEMBER, No one Knows Anything.  If someone didn’t like your work, someone else might.  In spite of everything, you must persevere.  And remember, it’s a numbers game.

Another 5-star review for my mystery, “The Stand In”… thanks for making my day!

4 May

I thoroughly enjoyed The Stand In. I have just returned to living in LA after living in the Southeast for 25 plus years. I was in the mood for something “LA-ish” and with the feel of old school like the Noir films I used to love to watch. The Stand In hit the spot- Beagley’s knowledge of LA made the read really fun and the twists and turns as he unfolds the mystery kept me entranced and interested in where the story was going. I highly recommend this book!

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