Have a Hallmark Train Wreck Christmas!

Returning to writing screenplays is a significant adjustment after writing nothing but prose for the past four years. Reading quality screenplays and watching good movies with an eye toward dialog, character, and plot has helped me get back on track. On the other hand, there’s value in coming at it from the other direction.

It’s a truism that we should learn from our mistakes. To disagree with that adage would be foolhardy, but there’s a better way: Learn from others’ mistakes. That way, you can avoid some of those mistakes in the first place and still come out fully informed. That’s the rationale behind watching bad movies. And when you talk about bad movies, this is the best time of year for them.

No, I’m not talking about wonderful holiday films such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’m talking about a relatively recently created genre: The Hallmark Christmas romance movie.* There is a long list of immutable truths about these denizens of the holiday airwaves:

  1. Though there are dozens of them, all are minor variants of about three distinct plots. (Lest we sit too high on our horse, the same can be said of most superhero movies.)
  2. There is an ensemble of (usually) Canadian actors who take turns playing the leads.
  3. There’s a cute kid… who can’t act.
  4. Each features at least one washed-up sitcom star in a minor role.
  5. Although there is lots of talk about faith, belief, and fate, there is exactly zero reference to any of the spiritual aspects of the season. None. Nada. Zilch. Ever.
  6. If any of the protagonists spent any time being honest with each other, the movie would end after 15 minutes because all the misunderstandings would be resolved.
  7. The Kiss, which is always delayed until the final two minutes of the movie and is preceded by multiple near misses, is 100% antiseptic, and is performed with less passion than your average oil change.
  8. As with a train wreck, however, I can’t keep my eyes off them.

Re that last item, I confess it’s true. I watch a dozen or more every year. My expectations, which couldn’t be any lower, are rarely met, never mind exceeded.

Why do I put myself through this? They have all the suspense of a game of tic-tac-toe, the ending of which, like the Hallmark movies, is set in stone from the first move. There is almost never a new plot.

(Example template: Successful woman comes from the “Big City” in an attempt to convert a beloved local establishment into an impersonal commercial development, until some colorful local characters resist her, causing her to give up not only the project, but her home and career to marry her childhood sweetheart, an amiable fellow in a flannel shirt with a permanent three day growth of facial hair with whom she’d had a misunderstanding after the Big Game in high school, but not before a last minute appearance by the woman’s fiancé, who arrives from said “Big City” wearing a Brooks Brothers suit worth more than the other guy’s pickup truck and almost puts the kibosh on the burgeoning romance.)

Three reasons I watch these things almost against my will:

  1. Most of them are graphic lessons in how not to write a screenplay.
  2. I’m an incurable romantic and hope springs eternal (some of the time) that one of them will actually be… well, romantic.
  3. Occasionally, very rarely, one will rise above the dreck and actually be pretty good. In those few cases, I don’t have to waste another half hour of my life bemoaning the fact that I just wasted an hour and a half of my life.

The truly embarrassing reason I watch them, one I hesitate to admit, is that I want to write one.

Yes, it’s true! I would love to write the movie that rises above the miasma of the typical holiday romance porn. In fact, I’m doing it now. In truth, I’m rewriting one of my general romantic comedies to align it with the genre.

Yes, I’m a Christmas mercenary. So be it. At least I’m a romantic mercenary. ❤


* Other networks have noticed the popularity of these movies and have joined Hallmark in this orgy of quasi-romantic, quasi-Christmas tales. Ion and Lifetime are cranking them out almost as plentifully, often with better quality.

Priming the pump

You ain’t a writer if you don’t write

Much to my embarrassment, the last time I wrote a real blog post for this blog–not a shameless advertisement for one of my books–was January 23 of this year. (My other blog is not much better. Last post: August 16, 2019. And that one was preceded by an eight-month hiatus.)

Mea culpa.

Once I completed The Endless Cycle (a four-book series for middle-grade readers (all installments now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions (I couldn’t resist (sorry)))) I decided to take some time off to regroup, relax, recover, rethink… and do some jigsaw puzzles.

Time’s up. I have to put something out here to prime the pump for my next large-scale project, one as yet to be decided. So here goes: A brain dump of random strange thoughts that have been piling up.

Lessons I’ve learned from my grandchildren, Part I: Any truly good book has stickers at the end.

I don’t think, therefore… am I?

I love Maine. It’s a beautiful state. My favorite spots are Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, or as we say in Boston: Bah Hahbah and Arcadier National Pahk. (Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t discard our “r”s, we recycle them.) I have one problem with the state, however. They need to put a moratorium on the use of the pathetic pun “Mainely” in their advertising and business names. Driving around the state, you’ll encounter “Mainely Lobster”, “Mainely Antiques”, “Mainely Burgers”, “Mainely Brews”, and Mainey more. Enough already.

Speaking of Maine, on my last trip there, I saw this bumper sticker:

I thought it was a souvenir, but then I noticed it was on Donald Trump’s car. Makes perfect sense.

It’s a shame that the common expression is, “sweat like a pig.” Two fun alliterative alternatives exist: “sweat like a swine” and “perspire like a pig.” Just sayin’.

Here’s some word weirdness that makes me say hmmm…

  • Overlook and oversee are opposites. As are “look over” and overlook. Yet an overlook (noun) is something you should look over rather than overlook.
  • Loosen and unloosen mean the same thing.
  • Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
  • Valuable and invaluable aren’t quite synonyms but they aren’t the opposites one would expect, given the spelling. Invaluable, in fact, means more valuable. Go figure.
  • A one-way mirror is the same thing as a two-way mirror. Good thing streets aren’t like that.

The English language was obviously created by committee.

The Endless Cycle is complete!

(Is that a contradiction of terms?)

Endgame…

…the final book in my series for middle grade readers, “The Endless Cycle”, is currently available. And it was delivered on schedule! (Probably a first for me after a long career in software development.)

This installment concludes the story of the cycling, baseball-playing, mystery boy who has spent the past month trying to figure out who he is, where he came from, and how to get back. When he does find his home and family, everything is wrong. Just as he had to help people on the road, he has to save his family at home.

But will he be in time to rescue them?

The four-book series, along with my other three books, is available now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. Visit my author page to see them all.


I promise to write actual blog posts occasionally now, rather than this obsessive self-promotion that has occupied this blog for so long.

But don’t hold me to that.

[Note that the title of this book was decided on long before a certain comic book company released their latest bombastic exercise in cinematic junk food. No legal action will be take on my part.]

“Slipstream” is out!

“Slipstream”, the third installment of “The Endless Cycle”, my middle-grade readers series, is available today on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-book. The adventure concludes in the final book, “Endgame”. (The Avengers stole the name from me! 🙂 ) Watch for it on Sept 1.

Visit my author page to see the entire series so far, as well as all my other books. †

It occurred to me that I never even mentioned book 2 in the series: “Blowout”.

(Sorry that book promotions are about all I’m putting on my blogs lately, but a guy can only write so much!)

 

The Endless Cycle: Book 1

I’m pleased to announce the reason for my recent absence from the blog scene: My new book, Breakaway, the first in a four book series intended for middle-grade readers, has just been published.

The description on the back cover gives you a good idea of what you can expect in the book:

A boy with no past finds himself on an endless bike trip looking for answers. What is his name? Where did he come from? Where is he going?

When he comes to town on the local bike path, he’s befriended by a compassionate single dad and his phone-obsessed daughter. But will that be enough to protect him from suspicious police, a crime ring, and a man with a gun, hot on his trail?

Join him in this first exciting adventure in the Endless Cycle: Breakaway!

I will deliver each of the next three books in the series separated by no more than two months, approximately May 1, July 1, and Sept 1.

If you know anyone in the 10-16 age range (or anyone else who likes a good story) who is looking for some good reading, please check out “The Endless Cycle”. You can find the paperback and Kindle e-book today by clicking the image above or by visiting my Amazon author page here.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this or any of my other writing.

Thank you for your support of independent authors.

Shots’n’thots

Working on a new book (actually five of them!) so the blog is lower priority. Hence the sparsity of posts lately. Here’s a quickie that’s been on my mind. A few thoughts spread among a few shots.


If that’s a seedless watermelon, folks, I don’t want to know what those little black specks are.

Try looking up “Funk & Wagnalls” in your Funk & Wagnalls.


This tag was attached to a stuffed, weighted dinosaur. So, this is a perfect accessory to any home’s decor? Yeah, it would look perfect at The Breakers or Fallingwater.

Welcome to a new year. In my younger days, I’d be writing the previous year well into March. Now it’s like a tick of the clock. I started writing 2019 on January 1 without missing a beat.


So, these are the essentials. No wonder my last party crashed and burned.

By my observation, people usually say more than they know yet know more than they’ll say. Some of us err on one side more than the other. But we all do it.


Since when is shopping a gift? I thought it was a chore. Not here in the United States of Walmart. I love the irony of this toxic message being on a kiosk that dispenses hand sanitizer. I don’t suppose it will protect against the affluenza virus.

Fortunately, we have…
Wow! That’s precision for you. Isn’t science wonderful? I only hope the 0.01% it doesn’t kill isn’t the aforementioned virus.
If sitting is the new smoking, as I believe it is, what’s lying-on-your-back-like-a-slug-for-hours-on-end-ingesting-mindless-drivel-at-close-range? Can’t be good.

I was in California not too long ago. I saw a truck for a local business called “Leadership Fumigation“. Do you think they’d do a job at the White House?


I can’t say for sure they named this place after me, but…
I can’t prove they didn’t.

Coming in March!!

Watch this space for the announcement of my new book series for middle-grade readers:

The Endless Cycle

Lies, damned lies, and Statcast

Baseball is my sport.

I enjoy watching or listening to it every chance I get. I also write about it a lot. Like here and here and here. Oh, yeah, and here and here. You get the point.

This year was particularly gratifying for me because I’m a diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan. Having grown up with Sox teams that couldn’t get out of their own way much of the time, I’ve reveled in the past 15 years of teams that often can’t lose. Especially this year. I’ve never seen a team like the 2018 Red Sox and I may never again.

The fact that I saw most of these guys when they were just kids playing pro ball for the first time with the Lowell Spinners in short season single-A ball (including all the killer B’s: Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Bogaerts) makes it that much sweeter.

Having said all that, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post if it weren’t full of griping. 🙂

My latest beef is with this goofy marketing tool disguised as meaningful data known as Statcast. It used to be we had to somehow manage baseball discussions with trivial stats: wins and losses, RBIs, average, ERA, triples, and the like. Thanks to Amazon Web Services, we can discuss crucial data such as exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit, and barrel, the last of which is a stat that takes an entire page of text to describe and is still as confusing as a knuckleball.

You’ll note one common thread connecting all these new statistics: None of them has anything to do with winning baseball games. Last time I checked, a home run is worth one run, regardless of its distance, launch angle, or exit velocity.

There are plenty of other more recently developed crazy stats like WAR and WHIP and OPS. I can live with these because, as convoluted as some of these numbers can be, at least they have something to do with scoring runs and winning and losing, which is what the game is all about, after all. Exit velocity is a stat for losers who need something tangible to back up their obscene contract demands. Sadly, this crap works.

Another one: Catch probability is just so much hooey. If a ball is caught, the probability is 100%, if not, it drops down to about, oh, zilch. I expect the probability of catching a ball depends mostly on the fielder. If it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. the catch probability is pretty darn high no matter where the ball goes. If Aaron Judge is plodding after it, not so much.

One final example: I read an article talking about how desirable a commodity Manny Machado will be as a free agent during this offseason’s hot stove league. Most of the argument was based on Manny’s Statcast “hard hit” data. Not surprisingly, there was no mention that this guy is likely to be poison to any baseball team. When a player doesn’t run out ground balls and stands to admire his “home run” that was actually a double but which he turned into a single through his arrogance, it doesn’t matter a rat’s turd how hard he hits the ball! That kind of player is an albatross on any team he plays for. Anyone who pays this prima donna big bucks deserves to be dragged down into the loser-gutter with him.

Which brings me to what might be the most tantalizing aspect of baseball. In spite of all the stats and data and computer models, it’s largely a game of hunches and gut feelings. That’s what makes it great. That’s how a journeyman like Steve Pearce ends up being World Series MVP. It’s how the ’67 Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant and almost the Series. It explains how a bunch of idiots won it all in 2004 and a band of bearded overachievers did the same in ’13.

I love this game. Let’s not ruin it in the name of Amazon corporate profits.

 


Note: For those in Eastern MA, I’ll be doing two “author appearances” at local venues. The first is at Chelmsford Public Library. The event is Saturday 11/3 from 1-3 PM, although I will only be there until about 2 PM. All the details can be found here.

The other is at a great little shop in Chelmsford center called Artisans Exchange. I’ll be hanging out there on Friday night, 11/16 from 7-8.

I hope some of you can come out to say hello and do some early local (author) holiday shopping.

Multiverse theory proved!

There’s tremendous controversy in scientific circles about “multiverse theory”, the contention that our universe is just one of many, possibly an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes. At first I was skeptical about this theory. While it makes for countless compelling science fiction plots, it seemed too far-fetched to be acceptable as scientific truth.

As a result of extensive and meticulous observation, my views have changed. It’s now obvious to me that there are indeed many, perhaps billions of parallel universes. Let me encourage you to use standard empirical methods to discover for yourself the undeniable truth that surrounds you every day.

Next time you are in heavy highway traffic, look around. The guy weaving in and out of lanes, endangering everyone around him? He’s clearly in his own universe. What other explanation could there be? His actions make no sense in this universe: He’s getting virtually nowhere and he’s merely aggravating an already miserable traffic situation. There is no other reason to drive so idiotically. There’s no connection with anyone else’s reality. He lives in a parallel, or maybe slightly skewed, universe.

More evidence? Take note of the following people:

  • The person with 15 items in the supermarket 6-or-less express lane.
  • The woman trying to stow a piece of luggage the size of North Dakota into a plane’s already cramped overhead luggage rack while the aisle fills with people waiting to get to their seats.
  • The fully able moron parked in a handicapped space right up against a van’s wheelchair entrance.
  • Donald Trump.
  • The kid yapping on his cell phone in the movie theater.
  • The motorcyclist revving his illegal exhaust system on a quiet street in the middle of the night.
  • The person at the front of a long line of customers, taking 15 minutes to decide what kind of cruller to have with a double latte.
  • The driver who considers the use of blinkers to be leaking information to the enemy.

All these people live in their own universes where they are the only inhabitants. They have no connection to or awareness of the reality other people occupy. It’s their universe, their laws, their morality, their “truth”, and no one is going to come from any other universe to interfere with their actions or disturb their complacency with meaningless concepts such as facts, civility, or selflessness.

Now that’s science.

Constraint-induced writing therapy

A few years back (here, to be specific) I wrote about how the tyranny of the urgent, a way of living that keeps us always running but never getting anywhere, gums up the writing process big time. Writing will always take a back seat to mundane but sometimes artificially urgent tasks such as dealing with insurance or cleaning the bathroom or cutting down the pile in the inbox or grocery shopping or catching up with old friends or…

You get the point. Again. The list is seemingly endless. So when to sit down and perform the arduous but not always pressing task of writing? It’s the easiest thing to blow off because it isn’t breathing down my neck.

Except it is.

I’ve come upon a possible solution to this problem. In medical rehab circles, there’s a concept called “learned non-use”. (Stay with me here; there’s a connection.) When a stroke victim loses control of a hand, for example, the brain “learns” not to use it or, more accurately, unlearns how to use it because the patient gives up on that hand and relies on the other. That process can be reversed through a technique known as “constraint-induced movement therapy”. With CIMT, the brain is re-taught to use the formerly abandoned hand by restricting (i.e. constraining) the use of the good hand, thus forcing the use of the previously unused hand. Through a process known as neuroplasticity, the therapy rewires the brain such that the hand can be used again.

So, is there such a thing as constraint-induced writing therapy that I can use to get moving again? Can I constrain the rest of my schedule and to-do list to force me to write? Not likely. The “urgent” tasks will be with me always, yea, unto the end of the world.

Getting away on a personal writing retreat solves the problem temporarily, removing the temptation to give up writing to do the urgent but often less important items weighing heavily on my mind. (Note: If you don’t consider your writing to be important, you’re probably in the wrong field.)

If anyone’s checking (half of me hopes no one is, the other half wishes someone were), this is my first blog post in… too long. The blog serves as both a barometer of my commitment to writing and as a motivator. If I’m not writing in it, chances are I’m not writing at all. If I post something, it builds inertia to keep me going. I’m rewiring my brain to write.

Let’s see if it works.

Feeling bad ain’t good enough

I have an inordinate affinity for little-known, minor musical artists from the late 60’s to early 70’s. Working for two record companies (you remember “record companies”, don’t you?) during that period only served to feed my obsession. I got to know bands who barely made it out of the warehouse. Most belonged there but some deserved a better fate.

Among my favorite obscurities are Stackridge (produced by the incomparable George Martin), Lindisfarne (pride of Newcastle), Emit Rhodes (the one-man Beatles), Roy Buchanan (the most soulful guitarist ever), and Ralph McTell (troubadour extraordinaire). Others, such as John Kongos, Seatrain, and Andrew Gold, are slightly better known but still vastly underappreciated. I exult in these musical phantoms.

The unfamiliar band that’s been in my brain of late is one McKendree Spring. (I’m not alone in my admiration. Legendary rock promoter/manager/impresario Bill Graham justifiably called them “one of the best unknown bands in the world.”) IMHO their third album, the aptly titled “McKendree Spring 3” is a masterpiece. What all this rambling is leading to is a song on that LP that has captured my attention and won’t let it go. Although included on the 1971 release, the song “Feeling Bad Ain’t Good Enough” couldn’t be more timely. It could have been triggered by yesterday’s news. Or today’s. Or tomorrow’s. Check out the chorus:

Feeling bad ain’t good enough now
For something you ain’t done.
Especially when the crazy man,
He’s reachin’ for his gun.

It has everything but the #enough. Feeling bad isn’t good enough. Nor are your thoughts and prayers, although I believe in the power of prayer.

The early date of the recording and certain lyrical references (“What was that voice from the tower; what was it trying to prove?”) indicate that the song could have been inspired by one of the early mass shootings in this country, that of the University of Texas Austin tower sniper. It’s sad to think that, in the 52 years since that tragedy, we’ve become inured to these events. In fact, we expect them now. A handful of people killed by a lone shooter barely makes a ripple in the mud puddle known as the evening news. In spite of the fact that mass shootings have escalated along with gun ownership, the powers-that-be continue to rant that more guns is the answer. Rather than fight back, our spineless lawmakers grovel before the nation’s largest terrorist organization, the NRA.

#enough