Welcome Gentle Readers

This blog tends to wander from its main purpose -- updates on my fiction. I do have updates and excerpts of my work. But I also write about my obsessions -- food, friends and pop culture and my weird life in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Epic Collisions, True Sentences and Live Animals

Warning: If you find yourself here via a google search for such things as TV shows or films, recipes or cities, this blog has some facts. However, this blog is one author’s very twisted musing on many weird things. It is sometimes graphic in content. If you read on, don’t write to yell at me.

For those coming in from the Amazon.com feed, I actually talk about my writing at some point. So, bear with me.

Disaster and Opportunity

Many thanks to those who sent notes in the wake of my cryptic non-blog post last week. It's nice to know there are so many who care. I know that for many bloggers, the venue is a place to vent at the universe. And I know that many find me funny when I'm on tear (I think that's a trait that I get from the southern relations). Goodness knows I don't mind fussing up a storm when the mood strikes. But I'm also somewhat superstitious. I find that when I put mostly positive energy out into the ether (the heavens, not the flammable liquid), I get mostly positive energy in return. The events of last week put us in such a state of extreme limbo, that I couldn't find anything really positive to say. I didn't want to frighten people with all of the negative outcomes I was seeing in my mind at the time, so I thought I should hold off on the blog until I had a better idea of what was happening and was less terrified.

On any given week, Jon and I have a tumultuous ride in our creative lives. It is often as soul crushing as it is exhilarating. That's why we really embrace the Chinese definition of chaos. We are always coping with impending disaster and opportunity. Most weeks, the positive outweighs the negative enough that we keep slugging along. The ideas keep coming, the writing keeps flowing, and there is enough entertaining strangeness to keep life interesting. A key part of balancing the chaos has been having the security that our basic financial needs are being met. Our day jobs keep body and soul together fairly well, and we have enough breathing room to enjoy some minor luxuries and indulgences. The day job, like any day job, is a grind that gets tiresome at times. For me, the physical drain has not helped my back or joints. But the security it provides is essential for us to be able to reach for the stars. Last Wednesday, we were surprised to learn that our day jobs were going away as of July 31st due to the budget crisis facing UCLA.

That's not a lot of notice. Despite the generous severance offer, the prospect of unemployment (the writing grant for many a writer like John Sayles), and the fact that Jon and I are in a count down to starting the film projects, I was terrified. In the best of circumstances, one likes to leave a day job on your own terms and fully secure in where that move will be and how much that move will pay. While the film countdown is on schedule (more on that later in the blog), we also know how easily everything can evaporate. Our current standard for when we're willing to give notice to a day job is beyond contracts being signed and beyond seeing a check. We want that check to have cleared in the bank and our pay deposited in our account before we quit a job. Why yes, we have quite jobs only to have a film disintegrate. That was a very hard learned lesson, and the big reason why I don't like to give up my basic security. Yes, I've already said that.

There was a long shot possibility of finding another space for the LA part of the Archive as they still had funding for the staff to continue and actually grow in size. We were all asked to pitch ideas no matter how remote. I contacted Ralph about a liaison from the Mayor's Office who could be helpful. That call prompted Ralph to suggest that our friend Lucy may have the space at her new sound stage warehouse. It's a cavernous building that will house several kinds of sets (hospital, labs, morgue, court room, jail, a mansion with a gourmet kitchen and working bathrooms among others). She has the space and it would benefit her as well to do something for a nonprofit organization. Thus, the day job will continue without interruption until the move. I'm pleased that my co-workers won't be losing their jobs, and that I can stop having night sweats and nausea, but this is a weird situation to be in. I try to keep my life in compartments. It's less messy that way. I've been working on Lucy's behalf first with researching funding then with sending contacts to her for bookings. Jon is working on the first version of the website and organizing her prop database. We plan to shoot at least one of the films there and using her facility has factored into the budget for the Blood Oath proposal. Our worlds are about smash together in strange and unpredictable ways. For instance, there is the live lion that will be on the premises for a music video shortly after the Archive is due to move there. On the other hand, I'll have access to a commercial kitchen with fridge and freezer to hone my skills. The trade offs will be interesting for the time I'll be straddling both worlds.

One True Sentence

One of the bright spots during this past week was the arrival of A Moveable Feast : The Restored Edition. I have loved the original book since my dear friend Kim gave it to me for Christmas several years ago. And this version purports to be the way the author intended it to be published along with material that was never included for publication in a separate section at the end. The book combines my love of writing and writers with my obsession with Paris. I can only read it a half chapter at a time. Every sentence is a bit of art, or what Hemingway a true sentence. I like to write sparse sentences in my fiction. But reading this book reminded me that there is still room in sparse text to take time to bring the reader into the feel and flavor of the place and time being detailed. In a scant 4 and a half page chapter, A Good Cafe on Place St.- Michel, it is easy to feel the damp cold wind ripping through the dark streets contrasted against the warm cheeriness of the cafe. And the reader is schooled on how this good cafe differs from one nearby that is filled with unwashed rummies in just a few vivid, visceral paragraphs. Any reader can appreciate this experience, but I confess to a better understanding to Hemingway's treat after finishing a story more than I could before. I have now had raw oysters with a crisp white wine. I find I agree that the taste is sharp and salty and clean, but I found that they tasted like a well made martini as much as they did the sea.

Reading that wonderful, well crafted prose made me realize that I needed to put on the breaks – maybe even go in reverse with some of my recent writings. I've been making a lot of progress, but I had notice a lack of satisfaction with the prose. Reading this book again made me realize why. I needed to get into the ambiance and enjoy the moment. In some cases, I realized that I had forgotten some nuances in my outlines as I rushed to finish pages. I'm now correcting that. Trying to do pages for the sake of filling pages or rising word counts is a danger in writing. That should never be a measure of progress, but it often is. In scripts it's how many scenes or minutes against the outline, but it's similar to prose. I've been going too fast. But going over my work has been satisfying. After all, part of why I write is to spend time enjoying the places and people in my prose. Though the past week was perilous, I have found some measure of peace and enjoyment in writing.

Updates, New Digs and Live Animal Acts

Strangely, the only constant in the last couple of weeks is that we are still moving toward pre-production. It still looks like the end of August will be the start. Aiding our cause with at least one of the films and with Blood Oath is our association with Lucy's business, Central City Studio. She has acquired some high quality sets and real equipment and furniture. The hospital sets from her last location, lucy's hospital set was used in the Jack In the Box superbowl ad. In addition to that she has access to a great deal of space to erect sets that she doesn't have already built. It's in a part of the county that's getting two kinds of tax breaks for filming in that location, making it competitive enough against other states offering incentives that makes traveling less attractive when we don't have to. Thus, our budgets have become more attractive to funding sources while raising our production values. Mind you, we can't shoot Luv U 4 Ever there. No place in the world looks like New Jersey. We also can't shoot The Gunslinger there. I don't think horses or cattle would like the confines of a warehouse, no matter how big. As it is, I'm not sure that lion is going to be happy during that music video. Fortunately, our offices are on another floor. Yes, Dragoncor - Earthdraggon Entertainment will have a real production office to call home complete with audition and rehearsal space. Thus, the film making side of our lives has been more predictable than the regular, reliable day job. Go figure.

The other big news is that, despite all the upheaval, Jon and I will be making a pilgrimage to the ancestral home of Philadelphia in about three weeks. I will actually cook for my family there for the first time in over 15 years. The next few blogs will likely include details about my obsessive compulsive preparations for travel. Hopefully, I won't sound too crazy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Blog Called due to Chaos

I won't be doing a blog this week. Jon and I are embroiled in one of those situations where chaos and opportunity are colliding in an epic fashion. I can't really discuss any of what's going on. I certainly have no idea where any of it will lead. Thus, I'm at a loss as to what I could write about this week. So, I'm going to take a week off. I'll be cooking and working on some fiction while I await the outcome. Stay tuned. Next week should be really interesting.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thwarted Plans and an Inspirational Film

Warning: If you find yourself here via a google search for such things as TV shows or films, recipes or cities, this blog has some facts. However, this blog is one author’s very twisted musing on many weird things. It is sometimes graphic in content. If you read on, don’t write to yell at me.

Be patient, somewhere in here are actual musings on writing.

Best Way-Laid Plans

Many of my plans were thwarted this weekend. We were going to see giant robots smash things at the movies, but never got there. We were really swamped with production related work, and I'm a bit behind in everything I'm writing. We just couldn't justify being gone for half an afternoon. There is also a small pile of films at home that we haven't watched. So, we stayed home. It was just as well, because the weather is finally hot as blazes. Thus, we are in our air conditioned cave hunkering over monitors and keyboards. It's a lot like being at work but without a sofa to lounge upon. Or the wine.

At any rate, my time is still pressed as I write this, so I can't do as much ambling around as my norm. I had a whole report on Craig's dealings with the shamwow guy when he was a scheduler at a local cable TV station. He's claiming that there are no tapes of the man's 'comedy' routines. Not that I care. What interested me more were some skits Craig did with a co-worker called Children of Our Doctor's Hospital, a mock soap opera. We think there may be clips that survive. I really want to see them. But these ramblings are quite involved and often disturbing, so they must wait for a day when I'm not so pressed.

Sublime Viewing

Last week, I was tooling around the movie channels on my cable guide to see if there as any film noir to be had that week. There was not; however, two films caught my eye. The first was one I had not seen before though it had come with many recommendations from friends. My friends know me well for it was a film aimed straight at my heart and soul as a writer and as someone madly in love with a city. Paris Je T'aime is a collection of 18 short films set in Paris. Each short is by a famous director and each captures an aspect one of the neighborhoods or arrondissements. [See the Trialer here]. There are wealthy and poor characters. There are many ethnic groups represented. And all strata of the society are given voice, even the magical or fantastic. It is mostly in subtitles, but there is English spoken as well. A whole lot of American talent appears on screen. Since my writing focuses a lot of eclectic people thrown together in the same orbit, this film appeal ed to me as a writer as well. Though each segment was only six minutes long, I was told about an entire lifetime of each character. The segments were funny or sweet or sad or all of those at once. I was surprised by a number of things that Paris Je T'aime revealed. Wes Craven apparently really gets Oscar Wilde and his wasn't the horror segment. The Coen Brothers were odd, of course, but the segment was an extremely witty observation about the mind of an American tourist (Steve Buscemi) . Naturally, there was a segment with beautiful young men in love. That was a very funny and sexy segment called Le Marais after the neighborhood that is home to both Jews and the gay community. There was what Jon called a big slab of boy named Gaspard in the lead role whom I'm thoroughly in love with – as an actor, of course. And being a French film, there is a hilarious and surreal segment in Chinatown and there are mimes. This was different though. It seems that Parisians seem to find mimes and disconcerting and annoying as the rest of the world. That was gratifying to learn. Paris Je T'aime is a great introduction to a glorious city, warts and all. I was crying while laughing. It made me a bit melancholy, of course, to see streets we'd walked down. We have a photo of Jon standing on the beautiful little street where the Mime lived. Please take a look at the trailer, then rent it and enjoy.

Seeing that film inspired my writing for the entire week. I tend to write characters in shorthand in the hopes that their dialogue and actions will tell the reader who they are. Paris Je T'aime was deft at rendering three dimensional characters with the sparest information. Seeing such beautiful work lit a fire under me with regard to my own stuff. Thus, I must be off to do some honing and refining along with my chores and production duties. I should have more updates next week.

Oh, the other film I recorded but have not yet watched (I've seen it before) was Mr. Hulot's Holiday by renown French director Jacques Tati (he is also Mr. Hulot). It's a charming film that I'd describe as a more sophisticated Mr. Bean. I'm saving that film for a break in my day later on. For now, I'm back to work.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Multiple Voices, Grillin' and Tough Calls

Warning: If you find yourself here via a google search for such things as TV shows or films, recipes or cities, this blog has some facts. However, this blog is one author’s very twisted musing on many weird things. It is sometimes graphic in content. If you read on, don’t write to yell at me.

Shades of Sybil

I'm always happy when the characters I'm writing find their voices and start living in my mind. Don't worry, it isn't time for a straight jacket (not for that, anyway). I'm not splitting into these characters and their voices have yet to tell me to set anything on fire. They just hang out in their disparate groups with remnants of songs (lately, they've largely been Michael Jackson or the Jackson 5 and songs from Funny Girl ) and snippets of books that I'm processing for the Archive. Okay, that still sounds crazy. Don't worry about it. I'm currently writing a few things simultaneously. All of those characters are now running around in my head doing their individual things. I'm having the most fun with dear Vincent Greven and the cookbook. Jon's been helping me with the guy's view of cooking. The result is some very funny narrative between the recipes about such important things like having to clean the fridge every now and then or how to handle cutting boards so that no is killed by the food. Vincent's voice is often playful and sardonic making him a lot of fun to write. I'm also thinking about him and Rik Heron for the next Soldier's book. Simon Molinar, from Demon Under Glass is back for that one as well. That book is in there percolating phase. The characters from the Surrender books are back in my mind, because I'm contemplating a third book with them.
And then there is my Mother with the memoir. She's not out of place with my more lurid characters. Mom was very open minded (she came of age in the 60s, after all). I inherited my penchant for attracting very strange people as friends from her. There are a number of very naughty characters that Mom would have liked to hang out with very much. I'm still sweating the plot threads (memory threads, really) and the language in the first story from the memoir. The exposition in this story is really important to the rest of the collection, but it can't seem like exposition. It must feel more like rumination (as in pondering, not chewing cud ). The story was spun really quickly, but the honing is at a glacier's pace. Most days, one of the characters is speaking to me more loudly than the others and I make progress on something. Last week, I was so tired for some reason that none of them were speaking. I suppose characters can nap as well. They're all talking now, especially Vincent. I expect to finish the cookbook, writing wise, soon. We've never laid out a book like this, so the production may take some time after that.

July 4th 2009 Edition

The following is a bit more cooking detail than my norm, but I'm cross posting this section on Paula Deen's social network. This crazy blog is now appearing on all sorts of sites without my intervention and at least six where it was directly requested. Go figure!

I had hoped for a relaxing 3 day weekend. That would mean that all three days are spent relatively close to my sofa working on the pile of stuff in my inbox. Alas, that was not to be. We had to go to Costco on Friday. Perhaps because the banks were open, I thought that most people weren't off on Friday like Jon and I. Silly, silly me. The crowds in the parking lot and the store were unlike anything we'd ever seen there. The parking lot was full to the point of complete gridlock. Every square foot of that cavernous stores was jammed with adults and children who were all but immobilized by the volume. Jon and I have a method for such crowds. We park the cart then zip around and get what we need. That helped some. I still had to shove some carts and the person pushing them out of my way. For some reason, the Pharmacy window is next to one of the registers. The people in line seemed to think that leaving a foot of space clear would negate their spot in line. Naturally, they were either on the phone or texting. So, I shoved – hard. A little later I passed by the same area to find that an elderly woman had been injured trying to get through the register line to the pharmacy window. That was the kind of day it was there.

Though the errand was inconvenient and I was homicidal by the time we worked our way out of the parking lot, it was worth the effort. I wanted to try grilling some new things for this 4th of July like lamb chops. We didn't have lamb growing up, because Dad didn't like it (but they kept foisting okra on us). We've made leg of lamb for Easter when we had a room mate. His family was from Eastern Europe, so we had a blend of foods at holidays. That was okay. I liked ground lamb in a ragout . Jon even liked it though I suspect he didn't know what the meat actually was. I first had lamb chops at the premier party for Battlestar Galactica. The buffet was just killer (better than the one we had for the premier of Leap Years, and that one was awesome) with a huge bowl of grilled lamb chops at the center. Gabriel Koerner and I had a pile a piece. It was disgraceful, but so delicious. I've seen many recipes for grilled lamb chops on the Food Network, and finally decided to try one when next we pulled out the grill. Costco has an amazing price on a rack of lamb that cuts into 8 chops. Mine didn't look as pretty as the ones on TV (you may notice that some of the little chops have fallen off their bones), but they were really delicious. A simple marinate of garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil for an hour along with the tobasco barrel woodchips in the charcoal fire made for incredible flavor. The wood chips were a gift from Ohio DJ friend Bruce Kline. I plan to do a lot more grilling this summer. Lamb chops will be on the top of the list. I also lucked out in finding a huge pork shoulder on sale. It had the bone and the fat layer on top. That's becoming increasingly rare at my markets for some reason. I bought one of those and slow, slow roasted it overnight with a new kind of rub. Instead of the pulled pork rub (onion powder, garlic powder, brown sugar, chili powder and pepper), I did a rub with herb de Provence, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. I found I like pulled pork with other than just barbecue flavor, and this rub gives me more options. And don't worry, Jon and I weren't in a meat coma by the time of the fireworks. I have my handy vacuum sealer to properly freeze the vast leftovers for meals over the next couple of weeks.


We've heard from our funding connection this week before the holiday bug-out. Our current count down to a mid to late August green light is holding steady. Toward the end of this month, we'll start contacting our locations for The Gunslinger and find out their availability. We'll also look at the availability of lodgings and such. For the horror film, the debate over where we're filming is over. Our company is now involved with a local soundstage that can provide everything we need, set wise, at a price that no one else is going to beat – no matter how many rebates on the budget are offered. Additionally, California and the city of Los Angeles are offering rebates that make travel for a shoot completely unnecessary unless it is for a unique locale. So, for one of them, we're staying home. For Blood Oath, we're taking on some new personnel for post. The reasons are detailed below. The rough cut is being refined. And we're looking seriously at having a screening for the network suits and yaoi fans in August. That should be some kind of interesting party. Stay tuned for more details.

Tough Call

I had to fire someone very close to me last week. It was a difficult decision, but I had to think of the good of the project. Yep, I had to fire myself from one of the tasks on Blood Oath. My work was fine, but my production was too slow. It was too long since I had used that skill set. I was happy with the sketches as was Jon, surprisingly enough, but the output couldn't match what we needed to finish the pilot presentation in any kind of timely manner. So I fired myself and put ads out for a replacement. Randy was very surprised at the speed of the decision. He worried about his own position. I made him feel better by saying that he'd better get his tush out here as quickly as possible with a big spring in his step. I've learned that I have to put the film before everything else, including my ego and others. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I think it makes me happier in my role as a producer. Things run more smoothly and I'm less aggravated. That was another thing I had to learn. Every set has a personality. Sometimes, it reflects that of the director. Sometimes, it reflects that of the lead. Our mentor in film making, Jonathan Zimmerman, told us that sets can have a frenetic energy where everyone is highly strung and prone to explosions or it can be really laid back and mellow even under extreme pressure. Problems only arose when these temperaments were mixed on the same set.
He was of the opinion, and we agreed with him, that since making films was one of the coolest jobs on the planet, there was no reason to be screaming and tense all the time. Jon and I are laid back and mellow. I seldom raise my voice and Jon hates that kind of tension. It was great on Blood Oath to have crew that gave great creative input and helped us problem solve without drama. It was the most fun I've had on a shoot (though Gunslinger was a hoot, it was more of a grind). Thus far, we've gathered some very talented people for the upcoming shoots. They also seem to be as mellow and twisted as we are. Still, it was hard firing me. I had to make it up to myself with a special desert. I'm sure I'll get over it in time.