Every Day’s a Holiday

handwriting

I love holidays, and there’s no reason for us to think that the holidays are over, just because we’ve celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, that we’re finished for a while. We celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday on Monday, January 19th, but we’ve missed one – National Nothing Day. That was this past Friday, January 16th. It’s an easy one to celebrate. You just do nothing. Yup. All day long, you do nothing. Harold Pullman Coffin gave birth to the low-impact holiday in 1973. Seems appropriate that a guy named Coffin would come up with it. Anyway, mark your calendars for January 16th, 2016.

Fortunately, we’re just in time for today’s holiday, Penguin Awareness Day. Always on January 20th, this is a perfect day to learn about penguins, hug a penguin, or tell all the actors who’ve played The Penguin know what a good job they’ve done, including and especially Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin in the TV series Gotham. He does a fantastic job in the role.

So, I started thinking, what holidays are there for writers? Well…

Coming up on January 23rd, there’s National Handwriting Day. When’s the last time, other than scribbling a note in your note pad (and I’m assuming here that you use a note pad, not an i-whatever for keeping track of stuff), that you actually wrote something using pen (or pencil) and paper? I do keep a journal, an actual paper-type journal, but mostly I’m on a keyboard. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve sent someone a handwritten letter, or written anything longer than a journal entry. The folks at WIMA (Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association – I had no idea there was such a group, but isn’t that cool?) started the holiday to revive the tradition of handwriting. I know one thing for certain. My penmanship is awful these days. There’s an art form that will be lost to us soon, and it’s something I need to work on. Think I’ll sit down and write a letter to an old friend or two or one of my relatives I haven’t seen in a while. Handwritten letters are something that shouldn’t go away.

International Children’s Book Day is April 2nd. Read a book to a child, or write a children’s book, or, heck, read one even and especially if you’re an adult. It’s good for you. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful. I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss.

National Columnists Day arrives on April 18th. It was organized by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in honor of Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist from the World War II era. Be sure to read a column on that day or drop one of your favorite columnists a note, just to let them know you read their work.

On May 3rd, we have World Press Freedom Day. Here’s our opportunity to become more aware of, and to strive for, freedom of the press everywhere.

Here’s one near and dear to my own heart – National Comic Book Day, on September 25th. I grew up on them, and still love ‘em. Comic books have had it rough at various times, but are still hanging in there. So, read a comic book on that day, or trade a comic, or draw a comic. Comic books are good for you.

These are just a few I found out on the ‘Net. If you’re so inclined, create your own writing-based holiday. Spread it around. Get creative.

‘til next time…Adios.

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Where the Words Roam Freely

Buffalo

Wonder if There’s a Roaming Fee?

Taking a break from the magazine article I’m writing to let my fingers play on the keys.

Fly, fingers, fly!

It’s not a case of being stuck on the article, but I’m trying to fit things together. See which ideas connect and which don’t, plus making decisions about what to keep and what has to go away. “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” said William Faulkner. Ol’ Bill knew best, and that’s where I am, trying to not fall in love too much with some of my words.

Sometimes what happens is I’ll have two paragraphs where I’ve said nearly the same thing, just with a slightly different spin. Then it’s a matter of, “Oh, man, now what the hell do I do? I like how I said this part here, but the rest sucks. And this part over here sucks a little less than that part.”

Other times the words drop like bricks, and are just generally unruly and disrespectful. They won’t cooperate and get mean and snarly.

Every so often, the words soften up and start purring, and they dance around on my fingertips.

Right now, they’re being brick-like, so that’s why I’m writing this post, in an attempt to calm them down.

Wendy and I watched an episode of Mike and Molly the other night, and it really stuck home, as lately the character of Molly is turning into a (gasp!) writer. And we learned a new word. No, not that word. We already know plenty of those.

No, there’s the word ‘writer’, and now we have ‘writtener’. A writer puts words down on the page, hopefully in a semi-coherent order. A writtener is someone who, after finishing the novel, and victimizing friends and family with any number of rewrites and rereadings, finally sends it off to her agent or publisher. Okay, she didn’t actually send it herself as she was paralyzed with writer fear. It was her husband, Mike, who sent it off for her. So, now she’s a writtener.

I want to be a writtener, too.

There were a couple of moments of tension as we watched the show. Wendy and I were terrified that with all the back-and-forth on the computer dealing with her manuscript, it would get deleted.

For a writer, that’s a white-knuckler.

Not sure if any of this makes sense, but I sure do feel better letting my fingers run free for a few minutes.

Okay, I’ve abused you folks enough for now. More later.

Oh, and one more thing. Hey, spell-czech…writtener is too a word. I heard it on TV. So there.

‘til next time…Adios.

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To Spell or Not to Spell

spell

Is it Spell Check or spell check? Or perhaps it’s Spell check. Or Spellcheck. Or SpellCheck or spell-check. Seems the spellcheckers themselves can’t even agree. Which brings up the question…How do we trust web sites or applications that can’t standardize the process they perform?

All the variants of spell-check I listed came from a quick search out on the ‘Net. Of course, spell check came about from the phrase (originating many moons ago when the only spell-checks consisted of our eyeballs, our noggins, and a dictionary – not an online dictionary, either) “…you need to check your spelling…”, or words similar. But let’s take it back a little further, as I so often do.

It has its origins in Old English, meaning “…to talk, announce…”, and by itself is a verb. Which brings up the question, why don’t we say “spelling-check”? The word “spelling” is a noun, and it seems we would want to check the spelling after we’ve laid our words down. Or perhaps spell-check is correct, as it happens mostly while we’re in the process of spelling. Maybe we need a ‘spell-check’ while we’re laying words down and a ‘spelling-check’ after the fact.

Then there’s the problem we could run into if we’re sending a letter to either Aaron Spelling or Tori Spelling, because Aaron Spelling left the land of the living a few years back and can no longer spell anything. Would a letter sent to him go to the Dead Letter file?

I’ve abused you folks enough for one session. More nonsense another time.

Keep speling.

‘til next time…Adios.

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Wait…I’m Not Dead Yet…

I_buried_the_living

Did I Use the Black Pin or the White Pin? Hmmm…

I Bury the Living (1958) is another example of a movie that could’ve gone with the old Smucker’s Jelly ad – with a name like I Bury the Living, it’s got to be good. But I’ve seen and heard of too many films with names like Scared to Death, etc., that are pure schlock sensationalism, meant only to lure teenagers to the drive-in. The copy I own is on a 4-disc set called Horror: Do Not Watch Alone, and I doubt I would’ve ever seen it unless I was looking for a bad movie to watch, except for one reference I saw in one of my movie books that recommended it. “Seriously?” I remember thinking, still ignoring it. Then, while I was away one weekend, Wendy popped it in and watched it, and said it was quite a surprise, that we had to see it at our Classic Horror Film Club, so last night we fired it up on-screen.

This is a tightly-woven film, and it gets the job done in 76 minutes flat. It starts where it should and ends where it should, with no wasted shots. What we get to watch is a man spiraling further into paranoia and terror. It’s made all-the-better considering it’s happening to Richard Boone, Mister Have Gun, Will Travel himself. And that was right during his Paladin years. His performance was right up there with Dennis Weaver’s in Duel. Tough guy meets Paranoia.

And that’s one of many enjoyable things about I Bury the Living – the acting. I don’t think there was a slouch among them. The only sort of weak area was the role of the old cemetery caretaker, Andy McKee, played by the great Theodore Bikel. Mr. Bikel gave many great performances during his career and was a master at accents. However, his Irish accent in Living sounded like MY Irish accent, which is nothing short of horrible. It gave the impression of someone trying too hard to get that brogue into their speech. But other than that, the acting was tremendous.
But, I’m getting a tad bit ahead of myself here. First, the story. Robert Kraft (Richard Boone) is the President of a successful department store chain, as was his father, grandfather, etc., before him. The family also has a long history of charitable activities, and…one of the charitable parts they must play is, when you’re Chairman of the Board, as Bob is now, you have to serve as director of Immortal Hills cemetery (love that name). All Bob has to do is stop by occasionally, sign checks as needed, and just oversee operations. The caretaker I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Andy McKee, worked 40 years at Immortal Hills and he’s being retired with a full pension.

Andy explains the workings of the cemetery to Bob, as it’s a decent-sized place. So much so that he has a large cork board on the wall of the office with a map of all the plots. And, there’s a bunch of push pins – white pins for someone who’s purchased a plot, black if the owner has taken up residence in the plot.

Okay, so this young couple that Bob knows just purchased two plots side-by-side, and he sticks a couple of pins in the board to represent the new owners – black pins. DUNH dunh dunh…(cue heavy dramatic music). So, next day the couple are found dead, and Bob thinks he killed them by using the wrong color pins. And there we go.

Sometimes in a spook show we’re asked to do the “willing suspension of disbelief” thing by having our principal players disbelieve the connections the movie makes – in this case, that when Bob sticks black pins in the board, those plot owners wind up in Immortal Hills. Of course, no one at all believes it. Except for Bob. And he tries not believing it for a while, but eventually, he, and we, the audience, fall in line.

This is a top-notch spooker, playing like a well-done Twilight Zone, with a few Zoner special effects at times. It’s not a special effects movie, however, by any stretch. Like some of the best spookers, it doesn’t have to rely on effects, instead using story, acting, directing, and writing. It’s shot in glorious black-and-white, and it’s stood the test of time. Picture and sound quality are good. Better, in fact, that some movies shot even more recently than it.

The music is perfect, punctuating at just the right times, and not overdone or too repetitive. There are some great harpsichord sequences reminiscent of some terrific Gothic chillers.

Besides Mr. Boone and Mr. Bikel, there were other solid actors that I remember from that era. When Jess Jessup, Bob’s friend and local reporter, first shows up, a bunch of us Boomers shouted, “Hey, it’s Dennis the Menace’s father!” Yep, none other than Herbert Anderson. He worked consistently in movies and TV for 35 years, from 1940 to 1975. And then, there was Howard Smith, who played Bob’s father, George Kraft. Mr. Smith was always popping up in TV shows during the whole Boomer era. Funny that I had just seen him a few nights earlier in a Twilight Zone episode titled “A Stop at Willoughby”.

If you’re looking for a really well-done chiller for the evening, one that builds suspense with a minimum of special effects and without blood splatter, I Bury the Living should do the trick.

Just stay away from the black pins… DUNH dunh dunh…

‘til next time…Adios.

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Meandering Through Filmland

Spider

Watched several movies over the last couple of weeks, some good, some bad. No real thorough reviews here, just want to touch the highlights.

First up was Wild, the story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who had really messed up her life – sleeping with around while married, drugs, booze – then decided to walk her way back to herself. I hadn’t seen Reese Witherspoon in a role like that before, but she really brought the anger, the guilt, and the self-destruction to the screen. She also seemed physically smaller than what I remembered from previously, perhaps trimming up for the role. Actually, last time I saw her was in Walk the Line back in ’05 when she played June Carter. She did great in that one, too.

This was a voyage of self-discovery film, and not without some humor, especially when Cheryl started her journey. She stayed overnight in a cheap motel, getting her backpack ready. There was this whole scene that took at least five minutes as she rested her pack against the bed, then backed her way into and strapping it on. She flopped over with the pack on top of her, finally pushing her way to a standing position. Another hiker she meets on the trail names her backpack the Monster.

Great movie to watch, especially for the cinematography. Beautiful scenery all along the Pacific Coast Trail.

Forgot to mention that Laura Dern plays her mom. It’d been since October Sky, back in the 90’s, when I last saw her.

Next up was The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This was a Christmas gift from my wife, as I missed it at the theaters last year. It’s entertaining, truly a lot of fun, and I really got a kick out of watching Andrew Garfield as Spidey once again. He’s just so much fun and you can tell he’s having a good time in the role. I don’t want to take anything away from Tobey Maguire, but Andrew does make a great webslinger. And the relationship between his character’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) feels natural.

Okay, now for the picking of nits. Hey, I have to pick a little bit. It’s what I do. It seemed to get a little more comical than Number 1. And, yes, it is a comic book, but they established some ground rules in the first one, with some serious situations, and this time it seemed spoofy. First off, the character of Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) seemed clichéd. They had him as this loner who didn’t fit in and needed a friend, a stereotypical nerd. Then he gets juiced up with electricity and can now “get his revenge”. Seen that too many times. Also, the uber-secret labs just kept popping up like a bad spy film.

Overall, it was fun, with great action and special effects. And watching Andrew and Emma work was a treat. Will I watch it again? Absolutely.

Better sign off for now. Got really talky here, still have three more flicks to cover, so I’ll return. Just like Spidey. Oh, yeah, almost forgot. Listen for the song “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” in the movie. It’s a groaner.

‘til next time…Adios.

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Musings and Mutterings

random thoughts

Here I am, back at the table again. This will be one of those posts where I toss a bunch of stuff out there.

First, my suggestions for myself for the new year. One I mentioned previously — turning off, or at the very least, getting that noisy neighbor in my head to stop bugging me so much. “Hey, buddy, if all you’re gonna be is a back-seat writer, go get your own pen and paper, or computer, or whatever.”

Numero Two-o is to stay in touch with those who I follow and who follow me on my blog. Someone will follow my blog or post a comment, and I’ll think, Need to get back to them, and next thing I know it’s next week, or next month, or next year.

Numero Three-o is to keep writing. Every day. Keep laying the words down, playing with them. I’ve had this happen too many times where I’ll let a few days go by without writing anything other than a shopping list (although I’ve been fairly creative with a shopping list at times), only to return to my writing, and it’s like the ink in an unused ink-jet (or is it ink jet?) printer. Everything comes out sketchy and all skippy, then I have to do keep putting garbage down to clean off the neurons, until finally, the words are moving again.

Next up, I’m proceeding (slowly) with the latest round of edits on my novel’s rough draft. Man oh man, it takes time. Every time I go back over it I see more stuff where I think, Whoa! That doesn’t connect, or I just introduced her on the previous page, now I’m doing another intro? What the…? But, it’s getting cleaner, syllable by syllable.

Good News Department. I sent an article idea to “Games” magazine and they liked it. They really liked it. Apologies to Sally Field there, but it seemed to fit. I always thought her acceptance speech was nice and heartfelt. Anyway, I’m pretty excited about that. More later on the development of my article.

And one bit of word play here. I’ve been reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, and loving it. I’m finally getting around to reading some of the classics I was supposed to read way back when. But anyway, I love some of the word choices he makes. One caught my eye the other night — “Keep in sunders” — meaning “…to force or keep apart”. I’d heard the term “torn asunder” before, and it seems Word has heard of it, too, as it didn’t complain. I’ve always kind of liked that term. Don’t know why it ever went away.

Another phrase I like is “a ways off”, as in it’s a “fer piece away” or “over yonder”. Wonder if there’s a difference between “over yonder” or “down yonder”?

Ah, well, movin’ on.

‘til next time…Adios.

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The End of The End

Novel Idea

It’s funny and strange going through Round Two (or Three, I’m not sure which this is) of edits on my book. Even saying the word ‘book’ has an odd sound. I’ve written two or three picture books, none of which are published yet, plus one chapter book for kids, also not published yet, and yes, they are books. But this feels entirely different. The length, a novel-length book, is something I only imagined years ago. Before I began this project ten (yes, ten) years ago, the longest work I’d completed was less than fifty pages. Certainly not a novel.

Another thing is the amount of time. And, for sure, I haven’t worked on it consistently. I’ve dropped it numerous times, sometimes as much as a year or two. Or perhaps longer. But always I came back to it. But one thing I know is that without my wife believing in me, I’d have shelved it long ago. Heck, there were times I wanted to give up the whole writing gig.

I’ve learned a lot on this voyage, and it’s not over yet. But one thing I’ve learned is that you get tunnel-vision working on a novel. I’ve been so embedded in it that I’ve forgotten whole characters, or I’ve started a chain of events that just trail off with no resolution. Names have changed, and not to protect the innocent (that’s a bad riff on the Dragnet thing, in case you’re much younger than me). I’ve referred to characters later that, Oops!, were killed off way back when, and brought characters in supposedly for the first time, only to realize they had their intro early on.

I’ve lived with it in my head for so long that I’m certain I already described a setting, only to realize, nope! I see it my noggin, I thought I wrote it down, but it’s still in my noggin. I’ve created characters I’ve never used, villages with no people, and monsters that don’t do any monstering. And parts of my book that I wrote during the first year or two have only a faint resemblance to parts written recently. It’s the ol’ ‘If I knew then what I know now’ deal.

I’ve written ‘The End’, but now I’m heading toward the end of ‘The End’, and I have mixed feelings about that. I’m glad, elated that I finished it. But I’m also a bit sad, because these are people and places I’ve inhabited and that have inhabited me for a good chunk of time, and I’m reluctant to see them go. Which is why I really hope that it gets picked up as a series. I’d love to return to my world and get everyone that lives there in some really big trouble again.

‘til next time…Adios.

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