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: 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

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.

Start moving now!

The lazy way out of writing this post would have been to simply make a link to the latest post in my other blog because this is little more than a reiteration of what was written there. But that little more (buttressed by my overdeveloped sense of responsibility) is enough to justify a few original words.

Until the new year hit, I hadn’t written anything in months except these posts, and these were dwindling down to a precious few. (Did anyone notice?) As for more substantial written efforts—novels, screenplays, even short stories—that wasn’t happening. I was giving serious consideration to chucking the whole thing. (Who do I think I am to call myself a writer?) Motivation was MIA, but there was no A to speak of.

Then the fortune cookie crumbled. (q.v.)

On top of that, I’m reading a book called “The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life” by Erwin Raphael McManus. McManus, one of my favorite writers, has a way of getting under my skin and into my soul to inspire and challenge me like no one else. This book is no exception and the timing was perfect.

Bottom line (literally): I have to write something. In fact, a few things. Watch this space for updates.

Book reading at Creaticity

I’ll be doing a book reading (my first!) at…

I’ll be at Gallery Z in Lowell, MA, as part of the Creaticity Art and Maker Festival. My reading will happen on Saturday 9/16 at 3:15 in the Writer’s Corner in the gallery. Click on the image above for details.

I’m excited about this because it will be a stretch for me reading my words in public, although I’ve acted my (and other writers’) words on stage a hundred times or more. Strangely, playing myself as author is a role I’m not all that comfortable with. It’s different when you’re playing another person. That pretense of anonymity makes all the difference.

So it’s a risk. But as Brennan Manning used to say, “To live without risk is to risk not living.”

Bring it on.

If you have chance, come by and say hello.

A blessing and a curse

I’ve been told I have a “critical spirit” due to the fact that I find and readily announce flaws in ideas, people, events, places, creative works, and just about everything else. Yes, it’s a curse, mostly to the people around me who must endure my endless bellyaching.†

As with so many other personality defects, this one comes with an upside. My eye for error makes me a ruthless and fastidious editor. It’s a rare book I’ve read that doesn’t have at least one heinous error, typos more often than not. I’m about one-third of the way through a book now and I’ve found two glaring errors already. Other writers sometimes ask me to review their work-in-progress and—whether to their relief or dismay, I can’t be sure—I never fail to come up with plenty of real problems along with a long list of equivocal suggestions based on my personal biases, of which there are many. (My latent OCD tendencies don’t help matters.)

When it comes to my own writing, I’m not so good. I still find plenty of problems after the first, second, and third drafts. That’s another good news/bad news thing. People, including me, tend to be poor editors of their own work, whether it’s the blindness of familiarity or the moral refusal to “kill all our darlings”.

I’ve had no one point out problems in “A Slippery Land” yet, though the little buggers are no doubt in there. We’ll see how it all works out with the next book I’m dangerously close to putting out there. That should happen in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, I have to dive back in and do another fine-tooth-comb review. The proof is in the publishing.


It’s actually not that bad. But it feels that way. Especially to others.


NB: Don’t forget to come to the 8th Annual Trivia and Silent Auction for Servants for Haiti. 

Bring back the Underwood

underwood

Just bought a new laptop. I have a sudden desire to get an Underwood.

I’m no Luddite. I appreciate advances in technology. My phone is invariably with me and my audio/video system, while on the duller edge of the curve, has brought me plenty of enjoyment. Technology can make us more productive in many fields. It can also be a lot of fun. The problem is, the leading edge is too far ahead of me. It even leaves itself behind at times.

Have you noticed that, with each advance, we lose something? Few would choose to go back to analog recordings, but Neil Young is right when he decries the subtlety lost in the digital recordings we all use now. More is lost in the compression algorithms used, whether for audio or video. (Can you spell MP3?) Plus, we’re watching films on 3 inch phones that were intended for acre-size screens. One step forward, two or more back?

Like most computers, which are no longer used or useful for computing (or writing), cell phones fail at their original raison d’etre. Yeah, they’re great for lots of things—texting, browsing, reading—but between dropped connections, poor reception, speech delay, and butt calls, their suitability for talking to other people is debatable.

Matters grow worse as I age. The value of high-def TV and audio is lost on my low-def eyes and ears. As devices get smaller, the controls necessarily do as well. My fingers weren’t meant to manipulate buttons the size of boogers.

As a writer, I’ve already chronicled my frustrations with the modern computer in this post on my other blog. (It would have been more appropriate in this forum, but I hadn’t started this blog yet when I wrote that in 2014. Consider this my atonement. Please note that I predicted the rapid deployment of landscape-format web sites.) Those complaints remain valid. And since that day, no one has yet come out with the “writer’s laptop” I asked for. I suspect no one will.

I want to write.

I don’t want moronic games.

I don’t want to remove your bloatware.

I don’t want to learn new versions of software every six months.

Have I made myself clear enough yet? I’m a writer. I want to write words.

Don’t even get me started on Windows 10. Heaven help the writer.

Christmas Bells

[Although this is a blog dedicated to my writing, it would be the ultimate hubris on my part to think that my creations alone are worth publishing. Thus, I present a real writer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and his contribution to our Christmas literary legacy. This poem is as relevant today as it was when Longfellow composed it during the Civil War.]

church_bells

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”