October 29, 2015

Afraid of the Dark, or some thoughts about my novella, Nite-Lite

As an engineer, I'm sort of turned on by complexity, which is both a blessing and a curse when you're a writer.

When I first started working on my MFA at the American Film Institute, the first screenplay I wrote was a big, sprawling modern fantasy piece with multiple layers of reality and a deep secret history.  It was pretty trippy.  When I presented it to my writing group, I remember my instructor pointing out that my classmates who loved weed were the ones who appreciated it the most.

The major piece of advice that my instructor gave me consisted of one word: "Simple."

It took another script before I really began to take that advice to heart.  And, as most of us in the film industry know, the simplest kind of movie to get made is a horror movie.

Now, you know I love horror.  So I set about to work on the most direct, straightforward horror story I could imagine.

Which, of course, led me to think about my childhood, where, let's face it, just about everything is scary.  Dogs are scary.  Strange people are scary.  Weird looking food is scary.  Clothes are scary.  Plants are scary.  TVs are REALLY scary.

But the single scariest thing of all was the absence of light.

I'm not sure how old I was before I stopped requiring the hall light to stay on to ward off the darkness before I went to sleep, but it was definitely a while.  So I started to mine that base fear to find a simple story to tell.

And, since I'm a research nut, I started looking up the history of things that scared children.  And I started talking to friends and family about their experiences.  As it turns out, for many of them, that fear of the encroaching darkness didn't end with childhood.  If anything, for some, adulthood only crystallized it into something hard and fast and unrelenting.

But it wasn't until I started writing an outline that I started having night terrors.

Imagine lying in bed, suspended in a sort of waking sleep, where my mind, and, in some case, even my eyes are aware of the room around me, but control of my body has left me.  I can't turn.  I can't move.  I can barely breathe.

Now, imagine being in that state, and sensing, no, KNOWING that there is something else in the room with me.  And, let me be clear: not someone else.  SomeTHING else.  Something so awful that its very presence made me tremble.  Something that, if I were to find the strength to roll over and meet it face-to-face, I knew, at the core of my soul, it would result in the end of me.

And now imagine being in that state, KNOWING that is there, and trying to scream.  Trying, and failing.  Trying, where the only thing to come out of your mouth is a faint, breathless whisper that doesn't even amount to the only word with any meaning at that moment.


So, that happened to me at least three times, maybe more over the course of writing the first iteration of what is now my first horror novella, aptly entitled, "Nite-Lite".

I'm sure those with sharp eyes will catch some of my influences, which I'll talk about at a later date.  Let's just say, of everything I've ever written, this is the one piece, after all these years, that I've never tried to re-write.

I'm not sure that IT would let me.

I don't have night terrors anymore.  I actually sleep pretty well.

As long as all the doors are closed.  No need to look the darkness in the eye,

Click the link or the image yourself, then.  Read.  Enjoy.  And sleep tight.

August 09, 2015

Why all Fantastic Four movies fail

It's very simple: the idea of Reed Richards is just completely alien to most of the people who can greenlight something in Hollywood. A renegade science genius so smart and crazy that he'd steal a spaceship and ask his girlfriend and her kid brother to be his co-pilots, but is still a dedicated husband and father who just loves to explore and occasionally saves the world? I mean, the guy named himself "Mr. Fantastic". 

He's not motivated by greed or lust or ego, but curiosity and joy of finding new things. They can't handle it. They don't even understand it. It's the same reason why Mark Zuckerberg is allegedly driven by rejection in The Social Network. 

So they make him an awkward geek or a nerdy kid because the notion of  a good, smart, honest, loving man seems devoid of drama. These movies fail because they don't accept the basic premise of the book. It's an adventure story, like a Scifi Indiana Jones. Marvel studios would get it right. But until Fox or whomever else holds the rights accepts the central conceit, these movies will always bomb. 

February 27, 2015

for Leonard, or The Most Human

It's my brother's fault.

Since he's a baby boomer, his formative years were in the wake of Kennedy's New Frontier, when being an astronaut was considered the pinnacle of individual human achievement.  So, within that context, a television show about The Final Frontier couldn't help but be his favorite.

Needless to say, since I didn't come around until 4 years after the original "Star Trek" had been cancelled, we pretty much watched whatever my brother wanted to watch.

Which, frankly, was fine, because that show is still, probably, my favorite of all time.  I'm sure can practically recite entire episodes by heart.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, when I was 9 years old, the whole family, cousins and all, went to the theater to see "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan".

As I've said before on this blog, I cried my eyes out at the end of that movie, when Spock died.

 I mean, we went home, and had dinner, and I was still crying, to the point where my father had to take me from the table, sit my down on the living room couch, put an arm around me, and say "I'm sure Mr. Spock is going to be alright."

Which, was, of course, true, all the way up until today.

Now, as I mention in my book, The Savior Inside You , I absolutely wanted to be Captain Kirk.  I mean, who wouldn't, right?  He was the hero.  He was in charge.  Everybody looked up to him.  He was smart and cool and brave.  He got all the girls.

But everybody knows that Captain Kirk needs his best buddies, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock.  Now, most people have someone in their lives who can provide the folksy, down-home, irascible wisdom that DeForest Kelly spun each week as the ship's chief surgeon.  But no one had ever met anyone quite like Mr. Spock.

 Mr. Spock was the true soul of "Star Trek".  If the mantra of the show was to seek out new life and new civilizations, we, as the viewers, could literally do that every week just by tuning in and spending time with Spock.

The weird thing about TV characters is that, you see them week after week, you inhabit their fictional lives, you are compelled to care about them, to the point that some of us lose the ability to distinguish between the character and the actors that portray them.

So, beyond "Star Trek" reruns, I also spent a good chunk of my early 70's TV watching with Leonard Nimoy being my guide to the mysteries of the world through the old TV series "In Search Of."
In short, Leonard Nimoy, a man I'd never met, came to feel like a true family friend.

That is the beautifully weird alchemy that happens when you mix writing with performance to create a character that moves you like the living, breathing people in your life.

Oddly enough, on this day, when the world mourns Leonard Nimoy's passing, I find myself  filled with more wistful gratitude than sadness.   I am so very grateful how Mr. Nimoy's skill as an actor helped open my mind and heart to so much over the years.  In a very weird way, I'm grateful for his virtual companionship, as I suspect are so many others.

Thank you, Leonard.


February 23, 2015

Getting Saved

My apologies for the long absence, dear readers, but, to make amends, here's a very brief excerpt from my latest, a non-fiction book entitled "The Savior Inside You: 18 Daily Essays on Hollywood, Self-Help, and Other Illusions."
There’s a minister in Nigeria whose personal net worth is presumed to approach $150MM.  
Money from nothing.  
I guess I was wrong about there never being a class of people who could reasonably expect to acquire wealth without having done any real material work to attain it.  After all, mass media wasn’t invented with radio and TV. 
 It was Gutenberg with the printing press, and the first product was The Bible.  
The irony is that, like so many other money making products, as soon as something is successful, people immediately set out to copy it.  After Hunger Games, the market was flooded with young adult actioneer novels.  After Karloff’s Frankenstein, the theaters were filled to the brim with monster movies.  
And, for better or for worse, after the success of the Christian church, everyone and their mother wanted to sell you on salvation.

 If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll probably recognize some familiar themes, but I think it's safe to say that I've gone a bit deeper and, frankly, even more personal than usual.  As always, if you're a fan of my writing, I definitely encourage you to pick it up.  And, if you like it, please share it and add your voice via comments and reviews on Amazon.com.

Thanks, as always.