Friday, December 30, 2005

Don't Tell, Don't Ask

Every now and again I will buy a book on screenwriting. Even though most of the info is familiar, and I often don't need most of the content, just reading about other writer's processes can often get the creativity flowing and inspire me to get back to work. Plus I usually am able to glean a good technique or two worth trying.

So I picked up Alex Epstein's Crafty Screenwriting.

I tend to be pretty careful about whose books I pick up. F'rinstance, I won't read Syd Field. Nary a screenwriting credit to his name. On the other hand, Epstein, Tom Lazarus, David Trottier, Paul Joseph Gulino, Robin Russin--produced screenwriters all.

So I'm reading the book. It's entertaining, if not completely enlightening, but it contains some good refresher material.

But then I come to one of his big suggestions that he really pushes. He says that once you get an idea and work out a story, you need to tell it to everyone you meet, get their reaction, their input, see what works and what doesn't work as you tell the story, etc. Once you can get through the whole story and have your friends say, "Hey, that's great!" then you're ready to write.

My first reaction was "Bullcrap." I have never believed in telling your story out loud before you've ground it out on paper. Some of the writers I most admire have expressed the same in print here and there. I think Stephen King even devotes a few pages to the concept in his book "On Writing."

You see, my perception of this is kind of like sex. Let's say you and the missus are busy, one of the kids is sick, you're out of town for a couple of days, working late, whatever, and you two just can't seem to get into the sack at the same time. Now, you really want to do it, you guys are pretty hot for each other, but a week, then two weeks goes by without release. Finally you get the kids down early, the bills are paid, the work is done and there the two of you are. Watch for falling rocks, baby! You guys have built up all that pressure for all that time and go at it like you're playing naked rugby.

However, let's say all that is going on, but you're frustrated, so you go wank off every day, or worse, cheat on her, spending yourself all over the place... what are you going to have left when you finally get together? The passion will be gone, used up, wasted.

I feel storytelling is the same way. I have a pattern whatever I write. I let the story build up inside. I tell no one. I write a scene down here and there, a character idea, an incident, whatever. I mull it over in the shower, where I do some of my most creative thinking. It builds up and my mind forces me through the twists and turns to find a resolution. At some point, not when it's all worked out, but when it starts moving well, I start writing, and I follow where my heart and mind go. There's passion from all the pent up creative energy finally finding its way to the script page.

However, I'm game, you know? When someone has been more successful than I at something, I'm willing to give their way a try.

I recently finished one screenplay that I have a couple people reading, and which I'll start rewriting in a few weeks. In the meantime I'm well into another one. Not the writing phase, but the mulling phase. I've got character lists, the majority of the plot, the major conflicts, though I'm still working on the resolution. Well, I figured, here's a chance to try Mr. Epstein's idea.

I told my story twice in the last two days.

I will never do that again.

I feel so dirty. Really, it's weird, but I feel like I betrayed my story. It wasn't ready to be told. The energy wasn't there yet. The pressure hadn't built up to the steaming point. I examined my own heart on it and I found my reluctance wasn't born from fear, as Alex would surmise. Rather I felt... felt, I still feel mildly ashamed, like I exposed myself in public, showed something to others I had no business showing, and I can't take it back. There's a time to get naked, you know? But most of the time, you ought to keep yourself modestly covered and go about your business.

I'm not silly enough to think I've lost the story or screwed it up somehow. But I have learned something. I may not be getting half-a-million against a million for my screenplays, but there are parts of the process I've come to trust and understand, and sometimes you just have to do what you know works.

Epstein just wants to save writers the trouble of writing it down first then finding out it kinda sucks. For some of us though, it's the process of writing it down that makes us discover the real story we're telling.

Sometimes there are simply no shortcuts.

EVOC Me, Baby

So, there I am at the Barnes & Noble in Ventura.

I travel to SoCal nearly every week this time of year, getting my deals lined up for the coming season. I don't care to do so much traveling because I'm a bit of a homebody. I'd rather be home with my wife and kids, even if we're just vegging and watching something horribly inane, like the Andy Milonakis Show (I put baloney in my left pocket...)

Anyway, so I'm wandering my way through the music/DVD section when my ears perk up at the music piped through the store. It sounds familiar, and yet not so. A few moments later I found myself singing along... in Italian. Yet I can hear drums, electric guitars... what's going on here?

I recognize the song. La Donna e Mobile, probably the one opera aria everyone in America would recognize. Yeah, I sang it when I was training as a young tenor, that and several other operatic mainstays. But this was beautiful, an amazing, modern arrangement.

La Donna e Mobile

So I dash up to the clerk (literally) and ask, "Who IS that?" She points to the little "Now Playing" display 17.4 inches from her elbow with kind of a "Duh" look on her face.

East Village Opera Company

Unless you are an uptight traditionalist with no sense of adventure, you must go out now and buy this CD. Gorgeous, so many familiar tunes given a very bold, modern, beautiful twist.

Now I know this sort of fusion has been done before, notably in the Disco era (long may she stay DEAD.) It's been done pretty well at times, such as Walter Murphy's work, notably a Fifth of Beethoven, or even David Shire's Night on Disco Mountain (from Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain) which is a bit on the campy side, but fun nonetheless.

It's also been done poorly. Very poorly. Anybody remember Hooked on Classics? How lazy can you be? "Hey, let's just stick all this classical music to a rigid, uninteresting beat, hammer all expression out of the music, and sell it to millions of uneducated morons who wish they 'got' classical music!" Unfortunately, that probably set the classical fusion genre back twenty years, which may be why we're just hearing from the East Village Opera Company.

These guys bring a fresh, expressive, creative approach to beautiful songs and make new beautiful songs that remind you of the original genius, yet make you feel like you're hearing it for the first time. I really cannot recommend this recording highly enough. You must buy it. Now.

Thank you for your support.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Pipes & Whistles

I'm going to see Lunasa.


I can't wait! Full report after the show!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

O Night Divine

Happy Christmas.

Really. This poastie is overtly and unrepentantly religious. Enjoy or not, as you will.

I try not to be bothered by some of the minutiae that dominate other people's lives. Not that I always succeed, of course, but isn't that the essence of humanity? Learning? Growing?

My faith in what Christmas really needs is in no way under attack. Nobody can take from me that which God has placed in my heart. No atheist, no scientist, no CEO, no evangelist, no terrorist, nobody.

It doesn't bother me that Wal-Mart employees say "Happy Holidays." In fact, my holidays are rather happy.

It doesn't bother me that uptight atheists can't handle the sight of anything religious.

I just can't hang out in the extremes like that.

You see, my faith does not require the validation of the government, of science, or of any temporal agency. The things that happen in this world are a result of the human response to existence, and therefore to God, whether in acknowledgement, denial, or ignorance. The clay does not say to the potter, "Why have you made me like this."

God does not need to prove Himself to man. And I believe that He refuses to do so. Without proof one needs faith one way or another, whether it be denial or acknowledgement. But with proof, faith is useless, for who would require faith to validate something already proven to be true. Yet the crux of Christianity, and in fact all religions to one extent or another, is faith.

If one believes in God, it requires faith, because there is simply no completely empirical trail of evidence leading to God. If one chooses to disbelieve in God, it requires faith that temporal, empirical evidence respresents the sum total of the knowable, that there is no other level of existence outside the measurable universe.

I'm not bothered by atheists and skeptics. I appreciate people who ask the hard questions.

I'm not bothered by those whose faith is threatened by those same, hard questions.

I know what I believe, and I know why I believe it.

I believe God created the Heavens and the Earth. I have no idea how long it took. I think the full truth of the matter is unknowable, and we have to simply do our best with the evidence we find and not grind an axe. Good luck finding someone like that on either side of the conversation.

I believe God is fully revealed through the Bible.

I believe that Bible has been faithfully passed on over the last 2600 years. Here I have very good reason to believe that empirically, but that's a different conversation than this one.

I believe that God loves all of humanity unconditionally.

I believe that man is desperately and hopelessly wicked. Look around and tell me otherwise.

I believe that man is unable to obtain a place of enlightenment worthy of heaven by any human means.

I believe that God offers a way to heaven through the person of Jesus Christ.

And I believe that God sent that person, Jesus, son of Joseph, the Christ, the Messiah, to Earth, born of a virgin, born in a stable, probably sometime in April, to live, to die, and to rise again, to save mankind from sin and restore them to God.

That is what I believe. I have faith in God and I live for this hope, the hope I believe is offered to all mankind.

I believe that God loves you right where you are, just the way you are, with no preconditions.

And it is in that spirit that I wish you a very Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Long Live Aslan

Most who know me know that I have a love for Fantasy Fiction. While I enjoy serious fiction and nonfiction, Fantasy has always held a special place in my heart.

And I mean fantasy, as opposed to Science Fiction. Those who lump the two together are simply not paying attention.

I have enjoyed many, many different authors and novels: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (natch!), LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy (and I mean "trilogy." Book 4 sucked rocks. Haven't even read book 5 yet), Brooks' Shannara series, Eddings Belgariad, and many more.

But there is always the first. In the fifth grade (when I was 10) we had, like all students, a reader. It was a series of age-appropriate stories and excerpts that we would often read aloud in class. One fateful day, dear Mrs. Chissolm asked us to open up our readers to the excerpt from a book I had never heard of, by a man I had never heard of. It was the first chapter of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.

The excerpt took Lucy into the wardrobe, to the lamppost, and off with Mr. Tumnus for tea.

To me it seemed so magical. Somehow it wasn't like Brother's Grimm fairy stories and goofy Disney movies. It was a little more... "magical" in a way. I still can't pin down why, since some of the things that really captured my attention happen a little later in the book.

I remember being concerned at first that I would never know what happened to Lucy, because I assumed that no adult other than my teacher would ever have heard of the story, and surely it was forgotten if it appeared in a stuffy old school reader. Yet I asked and soon had it checked out from the school library. I took it home and started it. The next day I would not attend school, as I had a doctor's appointment in Reno, and would be spending the day in the car with mom while we did that and other errands on her list. At the end of that day, in the back seat of mom's car, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy were crowned in Cair Paravel, Aslan departed again, and the four of them went off to hunt the White Stag, returning to the mysterious lamppost, and stumbling back through the wardrobe and into our own world again.

How terribly fascinating that was! I didn't know grown people wrote stories like that.

What stuck with me the most? Perhaps when Mr. Beaver leans over to the children and whispers:

Aslan is on the move!

Aslan is on the move! I didn't know anything about the imagery and allegory Mr. Lewis had built into his stories, I only knew that the idea of Aslan being "on the move," and the idea of an ancient prophecy, and the imminence of fulfillment touched a chord deep inside me.

At the time, I didn't even know that there were a whole series of books, of which TLWW was only the first. In fact, I grew up in the happy knowledge that I had plumbed all the depths of Narnia.

Silly me.

At the age of 15 I met and wooed a very cute young lady (who at the very moment, though not as young as she once was, is still very cute, and is baking Christmas Cookies in the kitchen.) Once I was allowed to hang out with her (playing Intellivision (!)) in her room, I saw on her bookshelf a nice, multi-colored box set of the Chronicles of Narnia. Puzzled, I examined the spines, seeing the the first book was TLWW! There were six more! Fortunately, the cutie was already falling in love with me (silly bint) and lent me the books.

I simply plowed right through them. Sure, they were really written for youth, but I found them captivating and delightful from front to back.

As I got older, many stories I loved were made into movies. Yet I always wondered when someone would take on the Chronicles. I always thought it would be difficult, because so few of the characters are human, and most are decidedly not human.

I saw on TV some of the cartoon version, and some of the BBC/low-budget version. The story was there, but they were so cheesy that I couldn't be drawn in. I wanted to see it in full-blown, full-screen, blinding color.

When CGI became the cutting edge SFX method it is today, I thought someone must make it soon. Yet it took me by surprise when I finally heard it was coming.

So finally, today, that cutie and I, along with my dad and youngest brother, went to the movies to enter the wardrobe.

Well, I can't rightly "review" the picture. Sometimes the movie just works. Sometimes everything is just as you imagined it, enough to give you goosebumps. Not very often, perhaps only once or twice.

But I was captivated, more than ever. I was a ten-year-old all over again, and Aslan was on the move!

I doubt too many people will have the same experience I did. I doubt anyone else got goosebumps like I did. I doubt anyone else had a small tear spring to their eyes when St. Nicholas arrived in Narnia. I know nobody else clapped at the end like I did. None of the kids did, certainly. Just some pudgy, middle-aged geek in the tenth row.

But how could they know that it really was true? That there, in King City Cinema, in the tenth row, for one latent ten year old...

Aslan was on the move indeed.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Fitting In

My wife and I have known for several years that my 8-year-old son, we'll call him Tiger (no, nothing to do with golf) suffers from a moderate learning disability. It was evident from toddlerhood that he was not developing quite the same as other children his age.

On the one hand he was brilliant. By 18 months old he could count to 100, or up to 20 and back down. He could recognize all his letters by age 2 and was able to read words by age 3 and toddler books by age 4. But ask him to tell you what the book was about and you'd be met with a blank stare. Despite his precocious reading and pattern recognition ability, he suffered from an inability to comprehend what he read or apply such things to his own experience. His speech contained a lot of echolalia and somewhat innapropriate responses. If you asked him a question, you might get a sensible answer, but you might also get an answer that didn't make much sense from the question. He would hear the question, but if he didn't immediately understand what you were asking for, he would choose a memorized verbal response that sounded right and regurgitate that. He had, and still has, a terrible time inferring, and also a tough time answering Why and How questions.

There were other oddities during these past eight years that we never associated with his condition, but thought them just the simple things a kid goes through. He had some very intense and irrational fears, especially about walking on certain types of surfaces. Until he was six years old, he would not walk on any sand, sandy surface, or gravelly surface. He would throw a complete fit and become inconsolable if you tried to force him to do so.

So now he is in the second grade (we waited a year to start him to give him time to catch up socially, which he has somewhat.) He is still in the mainstream and maintaining good grades. He takes speech therapy twice a week (since kindergarten) and now takes occupational therapy twice a week as well. We have been blessed with a wonderful set of teachers for all three of Tiger's school years so far, and with a sweet, patient, and knowledgable speech therapist too.

Yet all this time we were unable to put a name to his condition. We checked into all sorts of autism related conditions, types of dyslexia, which we sort of discounted due to their nature (more on that), and other disorders. Nothing fit.

Finally, and quite by accident, my wife ran across a condition that we had never heard of before. It was a stunning revelation, not because it is anything so terrible, but because it is an almost indescribable feeling to be dealing with something that doesn't seem to make sense to anyone else, then suddenly find the answer and realize that we're really not alone, that somebody knows what we're going through, and that people with the condition live successful lives.

Now we're going through the process of having the school system reevaluate him to see if he's eligible for additional resources for help, but we know that they won't diagnose him, because they just won't, for fear of liability. So when the school is done checking him out, we'll take him down to Linda Mood Bell to a licensed psychologist to have him officially diagnosed.

It seems our son suffers from Hyperlexia.

It is actually kind of the "opposite" of dyslexia, and likely related to it.

Usually these symptom lists are just full of bugaboos for people. Yet when we looked into it further and saw that it wasn't a matter of Tiger exhibiting a few of the symptoms, but that reading about the disorder was like reading our child's biography, we realized we had found our answer.

Now that we know what we are dealing with, it's comforting to realize that most of what we had been doing for him when we couldn't put a name to his struggle was right on the mark. It also gives us a lot of hope. It moves the focus off of the is he going to be able to function as an individual? question. That's a good thing.

There's another aspect that has since become my concern, however. Now that he's in second grade, his peers are getting a little older, a little wiser, a little more savvy. Kids at that age start developing more self-consciousness and social identity. They're starting to figure out that Tiger's a little different. Right now they are mostly very nice to him, and he has healthy playground friendships with several children. When he runs into some of his peers outside of school, they often go out of their way to wave and say hi.

On the other hand, his social difficulties lead him to sometimes speak inappropriately, or at inappropriate times. This sometimes comes out in class. It's actually sweet, for his class for the most part is used to his minor foibles. The teacher might be in the middle of explaining something to the entire class and right in the middle of it, Tiger will exclaim, "Oh! I get that!" The class smiles, and a couple of the kids near him roll their eyes as if to say, "Oh, there's Tiger again."

But I wonder how long it will remain innocent like that? I remember school. I remember it was really closer to the third and fourth grade that the differences really started to tell, and that the popular and the unpopular kids began to diverge. I didn't struggle with any particular learning disability, but I was a geek (still am.) I was somewhat outcast and ostracized and made the butt of jokes. I was picked on and browbeat and sometimes just beat up.

I find myself lying awake at night wondering, "What will happen to my son?"

Will they tease him and torment him like they do to so many kids who are a little different, who don't fit the mold? Will they ignore and ostracize him? Will they be openly hostile?

Will they beat him up someday?

I am not so naive to think I can find a way for him to avoid many of those things. It's just part of being a kid in a fucked up world. But I want to protect him, and already I see myself grabbing those imaginary kids who in my mind are already doing these things, and tying them up in a Hefty bag, tying an anchor to them, and tossing them in the bay with a picture of my son forever taped over their eyes so his face will be the last thing they see.

Oh, don't look so shocked. What parent doesn't at least think awful things in the dead of night when only the breathing of your mate is there to comfort you?

In reality, I'm going to do my best to prepare him, to teach him how to behave socially, to help him minimize the difficulties that his condition creates. Then when it finally happens, when someone really works him over, I need to be prepared to just be his dad, and help him learn how to forgive, how to move on, how to feel sad for someone who has to put down another person to feed their sense of self-worth.

After all, that's what we're about as parents, teaching our kids to survive in a hard, harsh world.


It's about me, dummy!!!


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