Update: Screenwriting Challenge

In the last challenge, I placed third in my group. That gives me a total of 45 out of a possible 50 points so far.
Top ten in each group moved on to the next round.

My screenplay for this round is posted below.

genre: Historical Fiction
location: Fallout Shelter
object: cactus

I struggled hard to come up with an actual story. I had an immediate impression of an innocent, a young woman standing barfoot in the midst of cacti - as so many young people in the 60s stood innocent in the midst of the dangers of the time.

I imagined her making out in the backyard bomb shelter, a protest of the culture of life against the culture of death, and then hearing about one of the events of the era on the radio - Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy Assassination, Che's killing... but that still wasn't a story, more like a snippet.

But, after reading about events of the 60s, I finally came up with something, an historic meeting of sorts. I re-located it from a beach into the shelter. It's a direction I didn't expect to go, but once I thought of it, it really hooked me.

It's the meeting of Charlie Manson and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme.

Several hours of research went into getting this initial exchange right, so I hope it works

She just seemed to really fit that opening image, the initial impression I had, of an innocent among the thorns.

Barefoot In a Cactus Garden


A cactus garden - several shapes and kinds, cluster around a concrete platform. In the middle of them rises a mushroom-shaped aluminum vent, the blades on top spinning.

LYN (18), her red hair in braids, walks by. The edge of her Indian-print skirt catches on a large prickly pear. She bends to disentangle the fabric from the cactus.

Charlie (33), looks around the yard, and scratches his stubbly beard.


Where is your pad, chickie?


Right here.

She frees her skirt, steps away from the cactus and onto the concrete, and points down.


Lyn maneuvers around a small couch at the center of the cramped space.

Shelves are stocked with dusty cans. An AM/FM radio in the corner. An ashtray filled with butts, and some empty cans litter the floor.

Charlie makes his way down the ladder.

Lyn sits, uncomfortable, on the edge of the couch. Charlie sits beside her, she nervously jumps up - then sits again.

Charlie cracks a smile, an elfin grin of both sympathy and amusement.


Tell me - what troubles you?


How - How did you know?


Up in the Haight, I'm called the gardener.

He reaches into a shirt pocket and pulls out a joint, then sticks it behind an ear.


I tend to all the flower children.

Lyn stands up now and faces him, but stays close.


Charlie. It's Charlie, right? I'm no delicate flower. And I don't need any gardener planting his seeds.

Charlie looks at her.


Lynette. Lyn. Even a cactus -

He grasps the edge of her skirt, where it had caught the cactus above, and finds a needle there.


-blooms once in a while. Flowers come in infinite variety. Some of them with thorns.

He pulls her arm out in front of her, opens her hand, and drops the cactus needle in her palm.


That makes it special when you can get close to them.

Lyn melts, and flops back onto the couch. She leans slightly toward him, then pulls back again.


I guess I dig what you're saying.


So, we're copascetic.

He pulls out the joint, and pats his pockets for a light. He stands, and starts looking through the stocks.


Over there. Matches are by the radio.

He lights the joint, then squats in front of her, and passes it to her. He waits for her to take a hit.


When did your old man kick you out?


Wh- uh - he. How did you know?

He just grins.

She laughs.


Any little thing and he'd go ape, man. So, you know, I figured it was time to split.

She starts to tear up.


Look, I've spent most of my life behind bars. Stupid shit mostly. Petty crimes.


Oh, that's golden. I've invited a criminal down here to get high. That's supposed to make me feel better?


I'm tryin to tell you, man, for a lot of years I was seriously down on myself.

He holds her chin in his hand. Curiosity overwhelms her fear.


Do you miss your daddy?

Lyn shakes her head no.

He holds her gaze a while longer.

She shakes her head yes.


You wanted daddy to hit you.

She pulls away. Pushing Charlie from her, but with no real insistence.


Fuck you, Charlie.


All little girls want their daddy's attention.

Lyn freezes. He gently pulls her into his arms, and strokes her hair.


Prison was like that for me. I hated it, but I wanted it.


Do you still?


No, man. I learned that the way out of a room was not through the door.

He taps his head.


It's up here. Just don't want out, and you're free.

They both laugh.


We've got a bus. Painted black, full of cushions and groovy people.


Yeah? OK.


We're going up north again. Into the woods. Maybe back to the Haight. Come with us.


I can't.

He pushes her away from him.

She tries to lean on him again, but he pushes her up.

He stands up, and goes to the ladder.


You're leaving already?

He shrugs and goes up the ladder.


Well, I can't make up your mind for you. Stay here with your Daddy if you want... But I think you'd love the Family.

She sits a moment, and looks at the cactus needle still clutched in one hand. She takes it and presses it into her fingertip, drawing out a small drop of blood.


Charlie? I'm coming.

She licks the blood from her finger, and follows him out of the shelter.

round 2, Murder at India House



TOPHER (24) is slumped over in his wheelchair with a backpack on the back, a wine bottle propped between his scrawny legs.

A beach ball comes flying through the air and bounces off his head.

He pulls himself straight, one eyebrow raised high, smacks his lips and looks around.


Knock it off, guys. Hey Topher - you OK?

Topher whips the wheelchair around, and pops a wheelie - but ends up losing control and tipping backward. The wine in his lap spills all over his shirt and face.

Laughter (O.S.)

Inside the house, Topher sees the shadows of partiers on the walls, movement and dancing.

LEVI, a short guy with a trendy hair, looks down at him, and winds an unlit cigarette between his fingers. Without turning, he gestures for someone behind him

HIRO, expensive digital camera in front of his face, comes to the window. Levi whispers something in his ear.

Hiro lowers the camera, and gives Levi a playful punch.

Levi makes pistols with his fingers and shoots, "bang, bang" - not at Topher, but at someone nearby.

Hiro turns his camera in the same direction.

EMILY comes to his rescue and and lifts the chair back up.


Those guys are jerks when they drink.


Me, on the other hand - I'm an amateur in the drunken asshatery department, but I think I've got a good start.


Epic fail, dude. Next time aim the wine spillage in his direction.

She points up at Levi.


What's your name again?


Oh? I may have to re-evaluate your amateur standing.


Oh come on. We just met. I would've forgot your name even sober.


Well, that's reassuring. Emily.

Levi comes over with a drink in his hand.


Topher my man, you seem to have run dry.


I don't think you could call me "dry."

He gestures to the spilled wine.


One more. My signature cocktail.

Topher accepts the beverage, takes a sip.

Levi crouches down behind Emily, leans his chin on her head.


Now, Em, if you don't get your rest, tomorrow I'm just going to kill you.


Ha. Ha.

Topher nods off again.


Topher is passed out, drooling on a pillow.

A scream somewhere in the building awakens him with a start.



He sits up, and swings his legs over the side of the bed.

Woozy, he sways a moment. The room is dark. In fact, the whole place seems remarkably dark and quiet.

Another scream.


What the fuck? Hello? People?

His chair is parked at the foot of the bed. He scoots down to it, rummages through the backpack hanging on the back, and pulls out a flashlight.

He flashes it around the dorm room. No one is in any of the other beds. Hiro's camera sits on one of them, pointed at a spot in the middle of the floor, on and recording.

Topher rubs his face to wake up, and pulls his wine-stained shirt away from his body. He climbs into his chair, and wheels over to the camera.

He starts rolling, and then suddenly stops. Something wet and sticky on his hand. Something wet and sticky on the wheel.

He takes a deep breath, and shines the flashlight at his hand. Red. Not wine. Thicker. Visceral. Blood.

He shines the light around the room again. Stops on the camera. Looks in the direction it's pointed.

Face down on the floor, in a pool of dark wetness, is a body.


Oh shit.

He wheels to it, shining the light on it.

It's Hiro. And wet tracks lead back to Topher's bed.

Topher pulls his backpack into his lap, and digs through it. He pulls out his phone, flips it open, and gets a black screen.


No. No. I refuse to accept that.

He tried turning it on, and nothing happens. He throws it across the room.

Levi stands in the shadows at the doorway.


Temper, temper.


We've got to call 911.





He shines his flashlight on Hiro.


We've got to call 911, man.

Levi shakes his head. Walks away.


Hey, man, where's your little girlfriend?

He disappears into the dark hall.

Topher's face drops.


Levi making a shooting gesture at someone, just before Emily picked up Topher's chair.


Topher starts toward the hallway, but then pauses, and shines his flashlight around the room, desperately looking for something. He stops, then weighs the flashlight in his hands. It's got some heft. He swings it, then turns it off.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he adjusts to the dark. There is some light coming from outside, so it's not as pitch black as he first thought.

He slowly wheels into the hallway, flashlight in his lap, listening carefully.


A squeak. The faint silhouette of Levi, who seems to be facing him.

He pushes forward.

Levi steps back.


They are in the common area now, with a little more light coming in from outside. Christopher stops and looks around.

There are people here - all sitting quietly, as if waiting, like they are waiting for a bus.

One of the party girls from last night sips a mug of coffee.

A guy nods to him.


Where is she? Where's Emily?


It's her turn to die. I'm next.

No one reacts.

Levi continues to back away, leading him. In the dim light, Topher can see that Levi has another camera.

From under the door of one of the private rooms, a bright light shines.

Topher ignores Levi and rushes to it.

He slams the door open, and floodlights blind him for a moment.


When they adjust, he sees Emily, gagged and tied to a leg of the bed, struggling. Her wrists are raw. Her clothes are slashed and bloodstained.

She sees Topher, and her eyes widen. She shakes her head no desperately.

Topher rushes in, but can't negotiate the small room.

A camera hangs from the ceiling, spinning, recording Emily's struggle.

Topher throws himself from the chair, and crawls to her.

Levi is behind them, recording them.

Emily looks at Levi, confused, then at Topher.

She reaches up, and pulls the gag out of her mouth.


Dude. You ruined my scene.

Levi laughs.

Topher looks confused.

Levi walks over to the dangling camera, and turns it off.

He leans in close to Topher.





So, uh, that competition?
The one I barely managed to complete the assignment for, with zero editing?

Figured I'd do Ok. Top third. Enough so that I could do well in the overall, since the points for each round accumulate.

I placed #1 in my group.


Just a reminder that deadlines are good for me.
Specifically short, tight, non-negotiable deadlines.
Keeps me from over-thinking.


I now have more faith in my country than I ever thought possible.

I have said for several years that what we needed as president was a leader. Not a politician, or a negotiator, or a businessman, or whatever else a president might be - but a leader. Someone who would hold up a vision to inspire the nation, and then encourage us to get there. That to re-invigorate innovation, promote service, and generate real change - we needed someone who could make us see that a) it is possible, still and b) it is our job as individuals, to make it happen - not to rely on the government.

Kennedy was such a leader. Martin Luther King. Lincoln, and Susan B. Anthony.

But I didn't think I'd see such a leader anytime soon. A leader like that requires not only their particular skills and charisma, but the right atmosphere for their message to flourish. I simply didn't think things were bad enough for the public to be motivated in any significant way.

When I first heard Obama speak, knowing nothing about him but the small rumblings that he might run for president one day. I don't remember what he said, I just remember being impressed...but I did not think we were ready to elect a black man president. The more I learned about him, the less chance I thought he had. Bi-racial, African father, raised abroad, hippie mom. I thought his name alone would be his downfall. That his opponents would just have to say "Barak Hussein Obama" a few times, and that while there was little chance the majority of voters would vote for someone with an ethnic name, there was no way they would vote for someone with a muslim name - and not just any muslim name, but one specifically demonized and associated with the worst kind of despotism.

And they tried...

...but we got past it.
Mr. Obama got us past it, but we were ready to go there.

We turned out in record numbers. We got past race, past ethnicity, past the demonization of a name.
And I am so proud, right now, to be an American.

Desire's Revenge

Here it is, exactly as submitted. Genre: Horror, Location: Shipwreck, Object: Pillow
Written in 1 hr 40 minutes, with zero outlining, editing or proofreading.

(My first try posting something with scrippets, still have some kinks to work out with the formatting.)


Darkness, and the subtle shimmer of moving water.

Light, the beacon from a lighthouse, sweeps across the water, revealing sharp rocks and churning waves breaking on them.

The light sweeps by, then is gone leaving darkness for a moment. When it sweeps by again, a broken board floats by.

On the third pass, more flotsam - and among the wreckage, a man clinging to the remains of his bunk, clutching a white pillow. He appears dead, until his hands start to tremble, and he shivers.

One more pass. Something slippery and scaly slips from sight just as the light hits it. The man tilts into the water, floats a moment, bobbing, then is pulled underneath.



Quartermaster JOHN DUNHAM oversees the distribution of fish and goods from a net.


Looks like we'll be eating well for a week boys.

The sailors, about a dozen men on the boat all cheer.

Just past the Desire is a fishing boat, run up on the rocks and sinking slowly.

JIM BLACK, the boatswain, watches the wreck.


Mister Dunham, sir, if I may?


Yes, Boatswain?


If we could anchor here in the shallows a while, I could use some of the lumbar and ropes from the fishing boat to finish some repairs to the Desire.

John looks around, spys Captain WILL POWER inspecting the rigging, and waves him over.


Ask the Captain.


What can I do for you, Johnny?


Mr. Black here proposes we stay a while, and cannibalize that unfortunate tub over there for the Desire's betterment.


Is that so Jim?


Yes Captain. Since we've got food here to hold us a bit, I thought it would be a good time to remain still for a couple of days.


Allrighty then, we will.

He notices something shine among the fishes in the nets, and reaches for it. It's a fancy comb, silver and mother of pearl. A pretty thing, tangled with seaweed.


Quartermaster, I claim this small prize for myself. A pretty for one of me wenches when we return to Port Royal.

He plucks out the seaweed, and then is overcome by a sudden shiver, despite the sunny day.


Will and John sit at the captain's table with the FIRST MATE.

John and the First Mate are laughing. John eats with his fork, carefully cutting of pieces of fish, and squeezing lemon over the top.


Fresh fish and fresh lemons.


Better than salt cod and ancient limes. My skin was starting to form a salt crust.

Will is distracted, pulling bites of fish off the bones with his fingers and eating them. He toys with the comb under the table.


Alone, Will lays on his bunk, and tucks the comb into the cover of his pillow.

He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, a beautiful woman is lying close beside him. Her blue-green eyes are full of the dreaminess of a calm sea, and her smile is warm and inviting.

She strokes his cheek, and then suddenly kisses him with forceful passion. Rolling him on his back, she rips open his shirt, and he realizes she is naked.

He reaches for her breasts, and she slides downward, kissing his chest, wiggling along his body.


Will opens his eyes again, and sits up. He's alone. He starts to shake off the dream, but notices his shirt is torn.

He touches the pillow where the mysterious woman appeared. It's wet.


Will wanders along the deck. The sharp eye that was inspecting the rigging has faded, his gaze is dull.

The sailors whisper to themselves as he passes.

The wreck in the distance has been stripped down to its bones.


Captain Power, sir, the men were wondering.


The men?


Well, I was wondering - when might we be setting sail again?


Well, when we are done with repairs.


Allright then sir.

He looks concerned and confused and walks away.


Will, the repairs were completed yesterday. You said we'd sail after one more night.


Oh? Did I? Then we will. We will sail tomorrow.


What is going on? I can't remember the last time you were content to be in one place for nearly 7 days.


This place has its charms, is all. But we'll sail tomorrow. Time to head to Port Royal.


Will lays on his bunk, clutching the pillow to his cheek, eyes squeezed shut. He opens them again. Nothing has changed. He is still alone. He tries again, with the same result.


Will has more bounce in his step, he's focused and awake.


Allrighty men, what are you waiting for? To Port Royal?


A storm lashes at the ship.

Will stands at the helm, but there's a glazed expression on his face. He stares into the distance, as if he sees something.


Will! Mind the rocks!


Do you hear it?


I hear only the storm.


Her voice.

He walks away, and John tries to grab hold of the steering and bring the ship back under control, but the wheel is too hard to turn.

Suddenly a calm overcomes the ship.

Women climb over the railings. A dozen of them. Beautiful and naked, their skin glowing pink like the red tides. They each approach a man, taking his hand. The men all leave their posts and follow them. They lay down on the deck with the women.

John still fights with the wheel, as if he still sees the storm. He looks up and across the deck, as a wave washes over it, and sees the men, alone, lying down.


What are you doing?

The captain, looking at the same deck, but in a calm and foggy night, sees the woman from his dream. She takes his hand and leads him into his room.


She lays him down gently on the bunk, lays beside him, pressed against him, both of them resting their heads on the pillow.

Suddenly, again, she flips him on his back and straddles him.


The ship's bow breaks against the rocks, splintering, splitting open and letting the stormy water rush in.

Darkness, and the subtle shimmer of moving water.

Light, the beacon from a lighthouse, sweeps across the water, revealing sharp rocks and churning waves breaking on them.

The light sweeps by, then is gone leaving darkness for a moment. When it sweeps by again, a broken board floats by.

On the third pass, more flotsam - and among the wreckage, Will, clinging to the remains of his bunk, clutching a white pillow. He appears dead, until his hands start to tremble, and he shivers.

One more pass. Something slippery and scaly slips from sight just as the light hits it. William tilts into the water, floats a moment, bobbing, then is pulled, still clutching the pillow underneath.

recipe: Strawberry Ginger Salmon

Before I forget what I did, I want to get it in writing:

Salmon steak - spread with a thick layer of ginger paste (the stuff in the tube, could use a lesser amount of fresh grated ginger as well), sprinkle with a little fish sauce, a dash of lime and a splash of sherry. Set aside to marinate (about 30 minutes)

Strawberries - about half a pound for two generous servings
Cut them into chunks. Add the juice of 1/2 a small lime. Sprinkle with a little basil. (About a dime sized amount in the palm for dried, or about 2x that for finely chopped fresh basil.) Drizzle with honey (about a 1/2 a tablespoon), soy sauce (about a teaspoon), and sprinkle with wasabi powder (about 1/2 teaspoon). Stir.

Coat a skillet with a light film of olive oil, and bring it up to high heat. Place the salmon in the pan, skin side down. Cover. Let cook on high heat for about 1 minute, then add a splash more sherry, a pinch of salt, cover again and turn to low. Let cook about 6 minutes, or until salmon just starts to flake a little when pressed. (It should still hold together well. If it flakes too much, it's overcooked.)

Heat strawberries in microwave about 1.5 minutes, till just warm.

Serve the salmon topped with a generous portion of the strawberry mixture.
I paired it with asparagus and wild rice - but the sweet strawberries made the asparagus taste bitter by contrast and the rice just wasn't quite right. In retrospect, I'd go with acorn or butternut squash, or sauteed spinach and quinoa or cous cous cooked in chicken broth with saffron.


I entered the NYC midnight screenwriting challenge. For those not familiar with it, you are given a genre, a location, and an object and have 48 hours to write a 5-page screenplay.

I entered. Excited. Figured I had time off to work on it, since it was around my birthday.

...didn't realize that I'd be busy all day, shopping and getting a mani/pedi, then going out to dinner with my sister and my dad. (And a really outstanding dinner it was. Craft is my new favorite restaurant in Dallas. A little room for improvement with the service, but the food is uncomplicated and just heaven. Pricey. But heaven.) I mean, I knew I'd be busy, but thought I'd have some time to write. I didn't.

Still, I didn't stress about it, figured I'd write when I got home. Did not anticipate the results of eating braised short ribs, buffalo tenderloin, lamb shoulder (all dishes are served family style) and roasted jerusalem artichokes, pumpkin risotto, sauteed wild mushrooms...not to mention dessert. Oh, and let's not forget the mushroom fondue amuse bouche and the fois gras and roasted fig appetizer.) Specifically, I fell asleep with the notebook on my chest.

I never fall asleep while writing. Really. There is literally only one other time in my life I've done that.

OK, so today. I figured I could write a little at work. However, after two days off I was busy all day sorting things out, and preparing for the meeting after work, and finishing updating the stats for the clinic. I got out of there around 8, and realized that I had even less time than I thought - because the deadline was 11:59 EDT... and it takes me almost an hour to get home.

Get home, eat dinner rapidly, sit down, and it's 9:20.

at 10:48 I realize I'm almost done, but not quite - so I open up the website to start the entry, then return to my script and finish the last page. I squeak by, at 10:58 I'm uploading - and my spotty internet connection cuts out. It comes back a few minutes later and I am able to submit.

So, if they time it based on when I started the entry, I'm cool. If they base it on when I actually uploaded the file, I'm about 8 minutes late.

Of course, it's totally unedited or proofread and really desperately needs to be tightened and then finessed. Its not what I hoped for...BUT it did give me a really cool idea for a full length screenplay.

I'll post the script here soon, though I do not pretend that it's anything more than adequate... it's certainly not bad for having been written entirely in an hour and 38 minutes.

yes I'm still alive out here

Managing the clinic takes a huge amount of energy. It's stressful, and I'll be honest: I'm not happy doing it. It's not quite what I'd imagined: a lot more administration, a lot more dealing with complaints and with needy people - both clients and employees.

So I've given myself permission to not think or write - a mental vacation - and spend my free time playing Warhammer Online.

Sometimes it's necessary to shut off for a while.

I'll be back. I always am. Either I'll find balance at this job, or I will go back to doing massage.

Where am I?

I was promoted to manager at Massage Envy, running the location in Plano, and we're severely understaffed right now so I'm working pretty much all the time.

Anyone want to work a front desk/sales position? $8/hr plus commissions on memberships you sell. Low key and relaxed environment. Full and part time, morning and night shift available. Get in touch and let me know!

kitchen creativity

I've been a bit stuck with my writing for the last, oh, couple of years - for reasons I'll get into in another post (real soon) - but in the meantime, my creativity has found other outlets, primarily cooking.

So I've decided to include the occasional food post here

A few notes about the way I cook...I improvise a lot. I take risks. I experiment. I play. When I tell you I can't give you a recipe, it's true. Not only do I rarely know how much I used of any ingredient, I often don't remember every ingredient I used. When I want to try a new dish, I research and find about a dozen recipes. I see what they have in common, and what items and amounts vary - and go from there. I also have enough experience to have a very good idea of how certain flavors will play together, or how changing the amounts of ingredients will effect the texture.

Recently I did a brisket, slow cooked for about 18 hours. Yes, that's right, 18 hours. Brisket is tricky - and the only way to really get it tender is to use a whole one (around 10-12 pounds), with the fat cap on (yes, that's just what it sounds like - a good inch or more of fat on the top of the whole thing) and cook it as slowly as you can manage while keeping it as moist as possible (the fat cap helps with this.) I made a rub that I liked, and thankfully have some left over so I'll use it again: salt, black pepper, smoked hot paprika, sweet paprika, dry mustard, cumin, cinnamon (and maybe some other things I've forgotten).

But the thing I was most happy with was the sauce. It was a Dr. Pepper Citrus BBQ. Where I got that notion, I'm not sure. I saw a recipe for a mop sauce (that is, a thin BBQ sauce you mop onto the meat while it cooks) that used root beer, and Dr. Pepper just has a little more complex flavor - so I thought I'd try it. I added the juice of a couple of oranges, some of the dry rub seasoning, a fair amount of liquid smoke (pecan), a little cider vinegar, a little ketchup, and some honey. I simmered it, letting it cook down a bit - and when it was time to baste, I took some of the drippings out of the pan and mixed them into the sauce before using it to baste. The resulting sauce was complex, a little smoky, a little tangy (without being too vinegary - which shuts down the taste buds), a little sweet (but not cloying.) I have no idea if I can repeat that sauce, but I'll definitely play with it again. I'd like to try a thicker version with more citrus on some chicken.

Last night my sister and I shared a Lamb and Apricot tagine. I made something similar a couple of months ago, using dried apricots. This time I used fresh, and you'd never even realize they were the same dish. I used lamb neck this time, too, which is much leaner (and way cheaper) than the shanks I used last time, so the flavor was more mild, not as gamey. If you're going to stew the meat, then a cut like neck is fine - the meat falls off the bone, is tender, the marrow contributes to the dish, and if you have dogs they will appreciate it.

I'd started the tagine over a week ago - because I'd picked up the lamb, not realizing how long the brisket would last us - and had it in a container in the fridge. I wasn't sure if it'd still be good, but when I pried open the top and got a bright whiff of fresh apricot - I knew it was all good. (A cold fridge and air-tight container makes a huge difference.)

For those who aren't familiar with the term: a tagine is a stew, traditionally cooked in a ceramic pot with a high conical top. the word actually describes the vessel, but is applied to the dishes made in it as well. It's designed to cook on a low fire, and works best in a modern kitchen on a stove top. The high cone captures the moisture, allows it to condensate, and drip back into the food. Moroccan tagines are generally made with a cheap cut of meat (often lamb or chicken), a few veggies, some fruit and maybe honey - plus a complex blend of spices.

I'm in love with the Moroccan spice blend Ras el Hanout. Like curry, there are as many variations as there are cooks - and some of the ingredients often used in Morocco are illegal here (like Spanish Fly) - but it's still a wonderous thing. The one I bought from World Market includes not only "warm" aromatic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, black pepper and ginger, but rosebuds and lavender. My mother used to refer to cooking as alchemy, and all I need to do open the container and smell this in order to believe there's some kind of magic here.

So - this tagine, I threw together the following: lamb neck, ras el hanout, salt, the juice of a lemon plus the rind, a little honey, red wine, a couple handfuls of baby carrots, and a can of diced tomatoes. I used some mint I'd grown, but I have no talent for gardening and the mint somehow managed to have almost no flavor - so it had no noticeable impact in the dish. (Last time I made the tagine, with dried apricots and lamb shank, the mint played beautifully off of the tomatoes.) When it was all done, I felt like it still needed something - so when I re-heated it last night, I added garbanzos and more ras el hanout and red wine.

This dish was a real joy. The brightness of the apricots and tomatoes balanced the heaviness of the lamb, and the spices wafted off of it, filling the room with the smell.

Good food, especially when I am involved in it from conception, to production, to consumption, to be transported to a realm of pure sensuality.

Right now, I've let my weight climb up alarmingly, and my sister's having health problems related to her weight and diet - so most of my posts on cooking will focus on healthy foods. Whole grains, small amounts of processed carbohydrates, lots of legumes and beans, lots of veggies and fruits, and lean meats of all kinds. I'll be using these posts as a way to keep myself excited about cooking healthy, and remembering that tea-smoked salmon with a wasabi vinaigrette can be as sensual and fulfilling as brisket burnt ends.

Golden Ages of Cinema

It's generally accepted that the '30s and '40s were the golden age for cinema, and that more great films were made in 1969 than in any other year.

But In a recent blog, Earl Pomerantz says

1939. The Oscar winner was Gone With the Wind, the nominees – among others – The Wizard of Oz (Dr. M’s favorite), Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Ninotchka, leaving no room fo Beau Geste, Gunga Din, Young Mr. Lincoln and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not the mention The Thin Man. May I have your comparable list of any other year? Or any era, beyond the Thirties and Forties, where, by the way, the movie business was just as passionately committed to making a profit?

This was my response:


All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Marathon Man
The Omen
Taxi Driver

That's a pretty good list - and there are comparable ones from every year from 1969 to 1979 (with some stellar films in '67 and '68 as well.)

And of course, 1939 also included Hitler - Beast of Berlin, Barricade, Bachelor Mother, Boys' Reformatory, Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, and Daughter of the Tong.

Every year has good and bad films.

Though, I do admit, the balance has been off for a while - I think it's cyclical. Film improves every time it's threatened by new technology. In the '30s - there were over 40 million radios in use in homes in the US. To compete with radio shows, the movies had to be better. In the 60's TVs had proliferated - and in the 70's, with the advent of the VCR, movies had to shine a little more to compete with videos.

I think we're about due for another golden age, as "new media" becomes more prominent and studios realize that to compete with DVRs and the Internet, they don't need to make more expensive movies - just better ones.


(I left out The Man Who Fell to Earth (one of my favorite movies), and a handful of other favorites)

I get frustrated with the kind of nostalgia that says things were better once and they'll never be that great again because it's all ruined. It reminds me of the nostalgia for a fake-perfect America that conservatives use, an imagined 1950s where everything was Leave it to Beaver and there were no poor people, or shell-shocked vets, and women never minded not being able to divorce their alcoholic husbands, or to work as something other than a secretary or waitress when they were widowed.

There were a lot of great movies in 1939, and in 1976 - but every year has amazing films, groundbreaking work, and every year has schlock. Indiana Jones, this year, is schlock. But did you see Iron Man? Critically acclaimed movies thus far this year include: Reprise, Priceless, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Visitor, and The Counterfeiters - and we're not even close to "Oscar season."


I've had a lot of pain recently in one of my shoulders, and I've had carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. This is from doing deep tissue massage. I've cut back my hours, but when I started I went from 3-4 massages a month to 36 a week, and it was way too much. I'm down to an average of about 28, and that would be perfect - but I need to take time off to heal...just can't afford it.

Anyway, I'm doing what I can with ice and massage...but one impact it has is that typing hurts. I can get about one sentence out before my hands start falling asleep or throbbing, and I have to pause. Silly me, I was doing it anyway - just making very slow progress.

I realized this week that spending all this time on my computer writing was hindering my healing.

So, not much blogging, not many comments on my favorite blogs, and no progress on my screenplay. Indefinitely.

I'll be back. (And I'm still out there, reading, just avoiding typing )

the Essential Caesura

Caesura is a literary term, referring, in poetry, to a pause that occurs naturally when a line is spoken. It is used purposefully, using the rhythms of speech to make it fall in a specific place, to create a desired effect, and can be soft (barely noticeable) or hard (as in a full stop, such as a period.) Without these little pauses, the words all run together an become meaningless. When used skillfully, they can not only add to the flow of a piece, but can actually create implied meaning. (For example, when I sing White Christmas, when I get to the line, "everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe," I like to pause after "turkey". That pause give a whole new meaning to the line.)

What I've noticed recently, is that there is some equivalent to the caesura in all art forms.

On Dancing with the Stars, one of the judges is fond of saying that a good dance needs "light and shade," by which he means aggressive or flashy moments should be punctuated by quiet ones in order to have the most impact. A dance that is all "pow" simply isn't as interesting.

In advertising and print design, we talk about "white space." The page needs to have a certain amount of white space in order to look like something meaningful, or it all bleeds together. A page of advertising that's full of exclamation points and neon lettering and bright photos might as well be a black and white list of dense text - when everything is loud nothing stands out. High end advertising often contains a large amount of white space, and may be a single large object on a white or other simple background, with little more than a short slogan and a logo.


as opposed to something busy like this, where the message gets lost

This one is interesting because it effectively blends the background details so that they appear monochromatic, and then it also echoes for emphasis and to play on the message. This kind of echo, or refrain, is used in music and poetry in a similar manner.

In visual art, we talk about "negative space," which is, simply, the space not used. It applies not only to painting and photography, but to three-dimensional and functional arts such as sculpture, architecture, furniture, and even jewelry.

Negative space is used to create optical illusions, where we focus on one image, and only when we shift our perception do we see another image as well. Perhaps in a similar manner, in a story what seemed like the background, or what seemed like the pauses between action, could suddenly pop to the forefront, while the the other story becomes backgrounded.

Which brings me to screenwriting and film. The caesura is used here as well.

Visually - framing, focus, and light are used to direct the eye. Where the eye is not directed is the negative space. Look at the use of negative space in these filmic images, and the way they dramatize the actor, make them seem bigger than life, or overwhelmed by their environment:
Pirates of the Caribbean
7-Year Itch
Sound of Music

Without the negative space surrounding them, these moments in the film would feel smaller, less important. The negative space sets them apart, sets the actors apart.

Here's a great image from Lord of the Rings, where the actor becomes part of the negative space, a shade lighter than the background, and the focus is on an object in the foreground.

These things might be implied in a script by describing the big sky behind the character, or the tight box enclosing them. The focus on an object could be highlighted by describing the character matching the background: grey, more than white, as the tower was a grey of a darker shade - and the red eye of the orb glowed before him (OK, that sucks, but you get the idea.)

But film is not static, and negative space can be manipulated to create meaning and moods in movies through movement - whether it's as simple as pulling back to increase the volume of negative space, or pulling in to tighten on an actor. Changing the color, texture, and location. Changing the focus, sharp on one actor or object, then switching focus to another.

What I'm most interested in right now, however, is the use of the caesura in screenwriting. Pauses in the story. Quiet moments. Or, as Mystery Man put it in a recent post, breathing room.

The most straightforward use is perhaps to modulate pacing. A few movies have come out recently that are non-stop go-go-go, and while Crank and others like it are fun, I wonder if they would have been improved by a little breathing space. The pace goes from 0 to 60 very quickly, and to maintain the feeling of speed, needs to keep getting faster. When you're driving at 70mph, it stops feeling fast after just a few minutes. To keep feeling the speed, you need to slow down a bit at regular intervals. It also gives the character a chance to believably rest and have the energy to go hard again.

Another use of slow moments is to build suspense and tension. The calm before the storm (in a natural disaster movie, this might be literal.) It's suspense, rather than surprise. Hitchcock said it best.
There is a clear difference between surprise and suspense […]. We are sitting here and having an innocent conversation. Let us assume that there is a bomb under this table between us. […] suddenly there is a loud boom and the bomb goes off. The audience is surprised, but before this surprise they have only seen a very ordinary scene without any significance. Let us instead look at suspense scene. The bomb is under the table and the audience is aware of this because they have seen the anarchist plant it there. They also know that the bomb will go off at one o’clock, and up on the wall is a clock showing that the time is now quarter to one […]. In the first scene we have given the audience 15 seconds of surprise […] but in the last scene we have given them fifteen minutes of suspense.

Those moments of suspense are when an audience becomes invested in the result, and those moments are the ones they remember. Surprise may get their heart rate up, but nothing's been invested, so without another surprise immediately after the moment passes and is soon forgotten.

Another use of the caesura, or dramatic pause, is to emphasize the importance of a moment. This can be a small one, and need not even be a full scene. A pause can simply underline whatever occurred right before, or let us know that what we see next is something to pay attention to.

If a character simply walks by our protagonist on the street, stops and looks in a window, and moves on, the audience is unlikely to even take note. That's just an extra, a passerby. If, however, the protagonist has just stopped to, say, check at their watch or look at the sky and are essentially doing nothing for a moment before that other person passes them, and as that other person stops and looks in the window, then the audience is likely to take note of them and wonder what their significance is. You can bring this character back, and many audience members will remember them.

It can also underline theme. A moment that is quiet will give the audience time to reflect, and think about what's happened and why. Small moments, with small reactions from the characters, are ones the audience can fill with their own meaning. If these come right after a significant thematic moment, then it will serve to underscore that idea. Say, the character looks at a photo - and then sits back on the couch for a minute, and gets up and starts straightening the room. Whatever was in that photo becomes more important than if they look at it, put it down, and move on. If they look at it, then rush out the door - the photo may be important to the plot, but with the quiet moment, it's likely to speak more to either theme or character.

Which brings me to the final use of quiet moments in a film: character development. Whether they highlight some element of the character's background or history, or show something about their nature, or give them time to process an emotion - this is a challenging way to use the filmic caesura, but may be the most rewarding for the writer. Well, if you like focusing on your characters, that is. Which I'd say most of us screenwriters do.


A man goes to a park, and walk around. Maybe he kicks the leaves, or stops at a particular bench, smells the flowers on a particular rosebush. You know he is remembering this place, or one very much like it.

Or - she folds laundry. Every shirt is military-precise. Items are separated, socks are paired, things are hung or put into drawers right away. Then imagine, against this quiet background, she comes across an unmatched sock - a man's sock - and sits down with it, on the bed, sighs, and fights back tears as she strokes the pillow on the opposite side of the bed. This is a much more dramatic and memorable way to tell us her husband is missing (dead? at war? run off?) than if we caught the news through dialogue. If it hadn't been a quiet scene, it would not have been pregnant with implied meaning. Such a small thing as a sock, and touching a pillow, would get lost in a busier, faster scene. The questions about exactly what happened can be answered later, with a close up of an object or a single line of dialogue that wouldn't have had meaning unless the audience was already looking for answers. (When she goes to the post office, someone stops and puts their hand on her arm and says, I'm sorry. She nods and thanks them.)

The caesura is an essential building block of the art of the screenplay, just as any other art, and I'm sure there are many other uses for it.

bad movie making

This week I saw what is one of the worst films I've ever seen: Striking Distance with Bruce Willis. I hadn't heard of it, and had to check to see whether it was meant to be a comedy - because it had some of the funniest scenes I've seen in a thriller, stuff that I thought surely had to be intentionally played for laughs...but no, it doesn't seem that's the case.


Bruce Willis' character Tom is assigned to River Duty (basically coast guard) after ratting out his partner and alienating all the other homicide detectives. He drinks too much and doesn't get along with his partners (surprise) until a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) is assigned to work with him. After she's introduced, he stands on his boat, looking back at her - and picks up her wet suit. It has molded cups. He looks at the molded cups, then at his new partner, then back at the cups again. Now, forget the campiness of the scene...I've never seen a wetsuit with molded cups. I have female friends who dive and surf, and just to be sure, I Googled women's wetsuits. Nope, they don't come with prominent boob holders. The intent of the scene seemed to have been to emphasize the potential awkwardness in working with a woman...

Then there's the fact that their first time out on the water together she saves his ass. There's about five minutes of "tense" (or not really) emphasis of their differences before they jump into the bonding crisis.

And I knew they'd end up sleeping together. Because all female cops are sluts who sleep with their partners. But then, there was no set up for it. I think the (one) scene where she's wearing a dress to the policeman's banquet (despite the fact that most of the others are in their uniforms) and he tells her she looks "different" was supposed to let us know they were falling for each other, but I was surprised when suddenly with no precursor there was a scene of them waking up in bed together. [HINT: You need more than one comment before characters risk ridicule and their career to have sex for it to be believable. And failing to set something up is not the same thing as making it surprising]

Of course, some of the best bad stuff comes early on. The partner Tom ratted out for beating a suspect doesn't show up to the sentencing hearing, most likely because he's making a scene on a bridge over the river. The partner's dad, who is Tom's uncle (cop families) and the partner's brother are trying to talk him down, as he gives a maudlin speech about how mom drove in the river and they never found her body.

Tom, against the advice of everyone else, tries his hand at talking the partner down, and it involves a weird kind of baby talk. The partner says, "Who's the best cop? Who's the best cop?" and Bruce Willis answers, "You the best cop". He reaches out his hand, the partner reaches back and then suddenly whips around and throws himself in the water. I was completely baffled as to why these men were speaking baby talk to each other, but it's revealed near the end that these guys grew up together and used to try to out-do one another to see who was the best cop. I guess it was supposed to be touching, or maybe even creepy - but instead it was weird as hell and funny, especially since we didn't know any of that when the scene occurred.

But the best scene in the movie, the one that helped set the comic tone for me, happens near the beginning - at the inciting incident.

Brucie (Tom) is driving a car with his dad riding shotgun (since he's ratted out his partner,) and they're chasing a bad guy, with several other cops behind them. The bad guy goes off the road and flips. Bruce follows and flips too.

Next scene, three cops are pulling Bruce Willis out from under the car as he re-gains consciousness, helping him try to stand. Because that's what you want to do when someone's been crushed in a car accident and knocked out - move them, pull on them and get them upright. There was no imminent danger of the car exploding, the paramedics were already there - we know, because that's the next shot, a body in a bag being flopped onto a gurney. Because it's more important to load up the dead guy than attend the wounded and heavily bleeding one.

Bruce asks about dad, realizes that's his dad, and kind of stumbles/falls to his knees (on the legs that weren't working at all a second ago) and (get this) strokes his dad's hair as he sobs over the body. Which, y'know, had me groaning - but I didn't get a full belly laugh until I saw that in the background, they popped open the trunk of the bad guy's car, and there, out of focus, as Bruce makes out with his dad's corpse, the body of a woman in a red dress pops out and flops over with a bounce.

I'm all for making a single shot convey as much info as possible, but this is better done in more subtle ways than bouncing bodies - even if they are out of focus.

There's more, there's more - but you get the idea.

Almodovar's Women

I finally watched Volver last week. As with all of Almodovar's films that I've seen so far, I spent the first 20 minutes or so not sure I'd like it, and by the end was totally engrossed in the fates of the characters. One of the reasons I get so involved in an Almodovar movie is the fact that the women are all crazy, contradictory messes...in other words, something like me.

Admittedly, the women in the earlier films (in particular Women on the Verge) are more like drag queens, but the stories themselves were more like soap operas - over the top in content, color, and style as well as character. But by All About My Mother, there's a definite shift. As his storytelling becomes a little less strident, so too his characters become less exclamatory...and many of his characters are women. This may not seem remarkable, but just try to think of films where the leads are women. Where the female characters have a relationship or interaction with each other, especially one that's not simply about men.

But simply featuring women isn't enough. The women are presented with difficult circumstances, hard choices, uncertain alliances - and they find their way through.

Volver, in particular, features some of the most mature portrayals of women I've ever seen in a movie. There is insanity and a kind of willful superstitiousness, a desire to believe the stories and myths because they work for the narratives each person creates about their own lives - and when these narratives these women create intersect with parts of other people's narratives in ways that don't fit, the characters are forced to examine themselves.

The women find ways to make reality work in their own personal stories. A lot of it is like the fake bottom Penelope Cruz wears to make her look more womanly (can you imagine an American actress doing this, and not for fat jokes but because she's too skinny to be a believable mom?) - it's a fiction that gives an illusion of reality as part of a myth, but those myths are ultimately what allows everyone to function.


Raimunda's mother is dead. We start the movie at her grave. But when they visit the auntie, there's evidence that the mother is there in that house. Her smell in the air, her special cookies baked for them. They dismiss it at first, then they subscribe to the idea that Irene (Raimunda's mother) is a ghost, taking care of the old auntie. The sister even takes her in, and continues to half act as if Irene were a willful spirit - but no, she is alive. Everyone continues to pretend she is dead, however, because it hides another truth that's buried in a myth - the fact that Raimunda's father was with another woman when he died. It's only by managing a difficult balance of truth and myth that the characters are able to confront what really happened, and only as a ghost that Irene is able to make amends with the daughter of the other woman.

Of course, it's all much more complicated than that. This is Almodovar, after all. But it is this complexity that makes the women real. That makes us go from one outrageous circumstance or belief to another, without ever being thrown out of the story. Raimunda, for instance, is very good at pretending and ignoring the truth. She's had to be since she was a teenager, when she hid the fact that her father impregnated her. Pretended that the loser she ended up marrying to cover her shame and provide her daughter a father was more than a convenience.

I also love Almodovar's women because when faced with situations that would crush so many others, they simply go on, as we all must. They make terrible messes and then they find a way to live with them. They find the strength, sometimes in their friendships with each other, sometimes in themselves, and they are often surprised by it.

Isn't that how we all muddle through? With some myths about ourselves, a few hard truths, leaning on our friends a little and managing to find surprising strength in ourselves to not only muddle through impossible situations but even managing to shine once in a while.

It's refreshing to see such beautiful messes in a movie.

Sequence - the "Secret" Structure of Movies

I knew there was something I was forgetting. When Malvin Wald died recently, I tried to remember what I actually learned in his class...but that was so long ago. I only remembered that he didn't know how to use a VCR, wrote the script for the most popular documentary of Marilyn Monroe, and the guy who wrote a Crossroads won the Nissan FOCUS award.

What I was missing, and so desperately needed to remember, was Sequence. I was reminded of this when someone on Triggerstreet asked if anyone used the Sequence approach. Ding-ding! Bells went off, and I Googled it. Turns out there's a book on the subject now.

Now, you read a lot about the Three Act Structure, which is the most common (though certainly not only) dramatic structure for plays in Western literature. Screenplays, in many ways, evolved from stage plays...but there was one physical element of early movies that was a stronger determining factor than drama in how a film was put together: the reel.

Reels were ten minutes long. Each reel typically was a self-contained mini-movie, or sequence. The sequences still hold together in the context of a larger narrative, build on one another and move the overall story forward - but by making each ten-minute section it's own piece of narrative, you keep the movie, well, moving.

An average movie would have eight or nine sequences. Each one focuses on a character, leads up to a complication, and has a resolution (if only a partial one, that leads to further complications - and thus further sequences.) These sequences can blend well with a three-act structure, the mini-resolutions falling around the turning points, or they can be seen as following their own rhythm. Shorter sequences, interspersed, can be used to develop sub-plots.

As a screenwriter, it's less intimidating to approach ten- to twelve-page sections. As a film-goer, it's more interesting to watch a film that has smaller sequences with rising action, conflict and resolution in each of them. It's also closer to the approach used by TV writers (each section between commercials is sometimes called an "act" but is really a sequence.)

By focusing on sequences, it becomes much easier to keep the story moving through the dreaded middle-of-the-second-act doldrums.

I've been stuck on a screenplay for months. Starting it, stopping, looking at my outline, re-evaluating my characters - because I couldn't find a way to get through the middle to the end. I had my beginning and ending down, and was on the verge of letting this one go...but remembering Sequences has let me work out an outline for the entire main plot of my screenplay, and I'm going through now and fine-tuning it. But it's all there. And my "second act" has not four Sequences, but five. And if I feel that I need to break them down further, I can - keeping in mind that each one needs to have rising action and a resolution.


Spent this evening browsing blogs I hadn't read before (and now am subscribed to far too many, but I will thin out the crop after I watch then for a while), and in doing so found a couple of quotes I love. I'll be using these in my signatures.

One script. One feature. One pilot. One credit. No one in or out of this Guild is more than 120 pages away from the A-list. - Josh Friedman

Cinema and storytelling is there to smash the jail that we've put ourselves in.
- Anthony Minghella

Ones I have already been rotating for my signatures include:

Screenwriting and filmmaking is the most money you can make writing poetry - Gordy Hoffman

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass... - Anton Chekhov

Script Frenzy

I do well with deadlines, so something like Script Frenzy is perfect for me. A complete screenplay in 30 days (or less.)

Also -
I used to direct those seeking a quick summary of screenwriting format to the Nicholl's page on the subject, but Script Frenzy's is more complete, plus they have worksheets for character, setting and such. So this is my new go-to.

Mystery Man Does It Again

This is why I have a massive intellectual crush on Mystery Man,
and why he has respect from many as one of the most interesting and informative bloggers on screenwriting on the web.


Feeling very optimistic.
Have been stuck on a screenplay that I wrote the first draft of a few years ago and am doing a page one re-write on. Last night as I was falling asleep, I had a huge breakthrough - that what's needed is to take the idea back to the original.

I'd made some changes to the main character as I developed it, and in retrospect, those changes weakened her, resulting in a stronger secondary character and too little external conflict.

If I take the character back to what my original concept of her was, while keeping those elements of conflict that have been added as I've gone along, then I think it will work.

Write What You Know

Imagination is a powerful tool. It can carry us into areas that no one before has ever conceived of, it can solve problems, it can pull beauty from nearly nothing. Imagination is essential to a writer. So why then, are new writers so often admonished to "write what you know?"

The truth is, for a writer who knows themselves, there is no contradiction.

Our imaginings are the product, just as everything else about us, of a combination of genetics and instinct with experience. It serves a function in our personal cognitive and social development (and in our development as a society, allowing humanity the diversity and adaptability that makes us so distinct from other species...even our ability to communicate with one another through language involves a level of abstraction that's greater than most species and thus an imagination to interpret - but that's another topic.)

In short, even the most grandiose or unusual imaginings are founded on things we know. But for most writers, imagination is not a problem. Those of us who are driven to create are more likely to have an active imagination that tends to wheel off in its own direction, that becomes it's own incentive to create. Thus, the admonition "write what you know" is a way to help ground our work.

It can function in the basic sense of knowing your material. Do research, character background studies, and know the reality behind the story.

It can function to encourage writers to experience life, to have a broader range to draw from.

But I think that the most useful and powerful function of writing what you know is specificity. The more specific and personal a work, the greater the likelihood that it will transcend itself and become universal.

It becomes "real" in ways we can't anticipate when we know that a brand of tennis shoes that were popular in a time a place our characters occupy, when we know that a certain carpet color is common to cheap motels built in the 80's, when we know how you hold a fishing line and how much room you need to cast a fly. Because when we know these things, our audience has a point of reference, and it becomes real to them.

Humans are social. We desire belonging, we are constantly (usually unconsciously) searching for connection. When a writer provides points of connection by giving specific, clear details, then the audience will join them.

It becomes "real" in ways that are surprising when we talk about our bi-racial friend who buys giant dubs to prove he's black while bragging about "sounding" white on the phone. Or about the dweeb who tells us for weeks how beautiful and sexy we are, turning up when we're out for coffee or at the grocery store, but the minute we say clearly that we're not interested pointedly calls us a fat bitch, and then whines because being a "nice guy" gets them nowhere. And the feeling of helplessness as we watch our mother on life support, surrounded by plastic tubes and wires that seem to hold a once-dynamic woman in stasis. The more specific you are about your experiences, the more likely you are to have people tell you they understand, and that it's "just like" something they've gone through.

So that feeling of helplessness gets attached to an image of an astronaut, so dependent on the tubes that connect her to life. Or the dweeb backs up their aggressive response to rejection with a knife. And bi-racial guy becomes a human raised in an alien environment. Focus on the specifics, and these situations will become familiar not only to us, but to an audience.

Thus, a writer must know themselves, so that when they do imagine flying, they can place the sensation of the rush as they dive through the air as something akin to riding a roller coaster. So that when feel a rush as they ride a roller coaster, they can think: this is what superman feels like when he's flying.

Know yourself. Pay attention. And then write what you know.

Defending Home

My contribution to the Triggerstreet collaborative screenplay titled Hate.


An iron gate with a rusted chain and heavy padlock guards the stairway into a dilapidated apartment building.

At the top of a short flight of stairs a dark wooden door, pulled off its hinges, leans against the frame.

Plaster, painted an ugly late-communist shade of yellow, cracks away from crumbling brick walls.

From behind the door, JIRI emerges with a ladder and a toolbelt. He runs a hand through his limp black mohawk, sets the door in its frame, and attaches the lower hinge.

(O.S.) A loud slam followed by muffled cursing.

Jiri jumps down the steps and peers out the gate.

Cobblestones line the floor of the entryway before the gate. The graffiti is a mixture of the political and the obscene - anarchy signs and cunts.

One end of the entryway is open to a courtyard enclosed with a two-story brick wall. At the other, a pair of heavy doors shelter the space from the street.

The doors open and JACK (40, American) steps in, walking with the especial purposefulness of a drunk attempting to look sober. He cradles something inside his motorcycle jacket, and gestures for BESNIK to follow him.

Besnik's dark hair and moustache are streaked with gray, as is the dingy black coat that tops his workman's jumpsuit. He shakes his head, and steps into the entry.
Jezis! Drzhobo.

Are you telling me to shut up? Me? Do you forget who I am?

Tak fine: drzhobo, Sensei.

He bows slightly.
That's more like it. Come, have a drink with me and...


Jack pulls a bottle of Becherovka out of his jacket.
OK. Let me finish this.

He turns back to his work, and nods at someone coming down the stairs.

SARA (26, American) sticks her head around the corner.
I knew that was you, Jack.


You're drunk.

And I'll still kick your ass.

Ah, yes, drunken master.

Aw, you speak so sweetly to me, my darling. Sara, me girl, come have a drink with your husband for it is cold in our abode and I must numb myself before I sleep.

Sara steps around Jiri on his ladder and unlocks the padlock.
This is Besnik, he works across the street, on the restoration.
Jiri hops down from the ladder. Offers Besnik a cigarette.

Yes. I am a mason.

He takes the cigarette, lights it, and then offers one from his own pack to Jiri, and to Sara.

What will it be?

Sara declines the cigarette, but Jiri accepts with a nod.
A bank, I'm afraid.

That's not good. We're not quite legal yet. The neighbors don't like us. A bank...They will not like a squat across the street.


The door at the top of the landing is attached now. It's been painted bright blue.

(O.S.) A loud slam, followed by the sound of several pairs of booted feet.
Police in black riot gear storm the building.

One officer has a bullhorn.
(in Czech)
Police. Open the gate.

Jiri opens his door, sees them, and immediately runs further up into the building.
Have your identity ready.

Another officer with a large pair of bolt cutters snaps the lock. The gate swings forward, and the police rush up the stairs.

Out in the courtyard, Sara and Jack jump from a window onto the top of a low building. Sara reaches behind her and catches a baby. Another couple drops onto the roof, and all of them run across it, and disappear into a neighboring yard.


KAREL, his hoodie up, drinks a beer and sits on the steps just inside the gate, which is held closed with a new lock. A candle burns beside him.

Jack and Sara return.

Karel hands them keys and pulls out a smoke.
We had to get you out. We knew they would be looking for you.


In Germany, they claimed foreigners in the squats were proof of an international conspiracy. The squat is not illegal, but conspiracy...

He opens the gate.


The couple with the baby return. HELENA sings a Russian lullaby to the baby in IVAN's arms.

They see the new lock on the gate.

She walks to the courtyard, and from the shadows jumps a SKINHEAD BOY with a bat, followed by two others.

They knock her down, and kick her.

A boy rushes Ivan.
(in Czech)
No foreigners in our fatherland.

He turns around and covers the baby with his body as the bat strikes him across the back.

Footsteps on the stairs. Half a dozen anarchists come running down, shouting.

Helena tries push herself up to stand, but one of the skinheads kicks her arms out from under her.

She screams as her arm breaks.

The skinheads run away, taking advantage of the moment it takes to get the padlock open to get away.


Jiri, Karel, and Ivan stand with a few other at attention in a martial arts stance, facing Jack. Some of them wear a black gi under their hoodies.

Helena, her arm in a cast, watches.

They go through their forms in pairs, sparring. Jiri and Karel are good. The others are less practiced.

Jack walks through them and corrects their form.
Stop, stop.

They stop.

He hands a stick to Karel, and lights a cig. Karel swings at him, and he deflects it without even turning to look, then quickly strikes Karel, stopping his fist less than an inch from the kid's nose.
This is real. Not something to look cool. Do every movement knowing that you are being attacked. Next time, we will be ready. Now, again.

They spar again, this time with renewed focus.


Snow drifts into the entryway from the courtyard. Karel and another kid play guitars and thrash their heads, while a girl with pink dredlocks dances. Beer bottles have started to pile up around them.

A pounding on the street door, and it flies open. The police are back. The kids hold up their hands.


The gate is on the ground, the hinges cut and the frame pulled from the wall.
Anarchists sit on the stairs, holding bats, sticks, and flashlights. Some are in the courtyard. They are on alert.
(in Czech)
The fascist police, and their friends the skinheads may force us out before the bank opens, but this is our home.

Put out those lights. Get ready.

The anarchists disappear into the dark.


The street door creaks open. Five skinheads come in, quietly. One reaches down and picks up a loose cobblestone. One opens the blue door and Jiri and Jack come out at them.

The skinheads are surrounded.

Someone puts on blaring punk music, and shouts of "skinheady" and "fascisti" punctuate the fighting.

The skinheads make their way back down the stairs, noses bloodied and eyes blackened. More anarchists come at them from the courtyard. Jack gives one a kick that makes him fall and hit his head on the broken gate.

The Skinhead Boy that attacked Ivan tries to help his fallen comrade up, but the anarchists pummel them.
Let him go!

Reluctantly, everyone backs off and the skinheads limp away.


Besnik plays a soulful violin, as Jack, Sara, and the others pass a bottle. Snow catches the moonlight in the courtyard.

Karel fingers his guitar.
Can you play anything a little more exciting than that gypsy stuff?

I like it.

You Americans. We have a saying:
(in Czech)
The only thing stranger than a foreigner is a gypsy.

What do you mean by that?

I just want some good punk music!

The other anarchists shout in agreement.
So, get up here!

Karel stands beside him, and Besnik begins strumming his violin like a guitar.


It's still and quiet. The street door opens, and the Skinhead Boy backs into the entryway, dragging a body.

He lays it beside the broken gate. It's Besnik, unconscious or worse. Blood shines in matted hair on his forehead.

The Skinhead Boy pulls out a gun, and hides around the corner in the courtyard.
Jack and Sara come down the stairs.
Wait, I have to piss.

You drunk.


She crosses her arms, and notices Besnik on the ground.

Jack unbuttons his pants as he walks.

Sara bends down, touching Besnik's forehead.
Jack. Oh no.

When Jack turns to see what's wrong, Skinhead Boy steps out.
(in Czech)
Death to gypsies and foreigners.

Jack looks down the barrel of the gun.

Gunfire. Blackness.

Sara screams.

Oscar Trends

Stumbled on this site today:

A fascinating breakdown of the nominations and winners for the major awards. Looks like your best chance of getting nominated for a Best Actress award is to play a mute hooker with one leg.

Most of the films that have won Best Picture have been adaptations.

Cool stuff.

Sex Toys!

Many people, even in the state of Texas, may not have realized that sex toys were illegal to sell in this state. Sure, they were sold at stores like Condom Sense, but technically they were presented as "novelties" or "educational" or (my personal favorite) cake toppers.

It was legal to own them, but owning more than 6 automatically put you in violation of the law. Apparently no one buys that many for their own use, so if you have 7 then you must be intending to promote their use and sale.

However, this law has now been overturned.

So we can buy and sell Dildos, Vibrators, Butt Plugs and more, with no fear of prosecution.

Coming Soon to a Theater...or not

Titanic: Two the Surface

Goonies of the Carribean

Brokeback to the Future

Sleepless in Seattle: The Horror Movie

The Shining: A Romantic Comedy

Depression and Creativity

The death of Heath Ledger, whether or not it's actually attributable in any way to his depression, sparked a few conversations about the connection between creativity and depression.

This is a subject I've given a lot of thought to, because for most of my life I've based a large portion of my identity on being a poet - and poets are so frequently associated with this romanticized view of depression.

Does an artist need to suffer? Do they need it in order to have the material to produce art? To have the impetus? The insight?

Does being mentally ill provide an advantage to an artist? Does it allow them to step outside normal boundaries and access greater creativity? Does it inspire them? Drive them?

Over the years, I've had different answers to these questions for myself. I do think that it's hard to produce art if your life has always been easy, if your challenges have been small and easily overcome, if you've lived inside the "norm" comfortably.

In terms of suffering due to external causes (as opposed to mental illness, there's a saying that it's impossible to create art when you're starving, or the idea that art is a luxury... yet I've witnessed some of the most inspired work from people in duress, people on the edge.

I'm reminded of a singer I saw on the streets of Prague when I was homeless. I was begging for spare change in one of the main squares, it was early winter, and the first real snow had fallen. A pale, thin woman in a cheap quilted coat stood near one of the churches, a man beside her with a little tape player. He set the player down, pushed play and the tinny sound barely reached a few feet... and then she began to sing. Not simply sing, but reach up to heaven with her voice, the purest and most passionate soprano I have ever heard. It was simply transcendent.

A few months later, in the early spring - I saw the woman again. She had a better coat, more color in her cheeks, and the weather was turning warmer - and her voice, though still accomplished and beautiful, lacked that extra dimension.

On the other hand, being too far outside society for too long is more often a disadvantage - "outsider art" has it's own appellation because it's simply not as accomplished as other forms. Being pushed to extremes is more often a distraction, or can wear down an artist until they haven't the energy to produce anything.

And what about mental illness?

This article mentions the "creative fire," and associates mild mania (specifically with bipolar disorder) with creative intensity - but is that an accurate association? the specific characteristics they describe are, indeed, also components of what is sometimes called the "creative trance" which many artists enter when they create. A hyper-sensitivity to stimuli, especially emotional stimuli; lowered inhibitions; and the tendency to become intensely focused while working. I find that those are actually part of the reason I sometimes avoid writing - especially the absorption. When I get into a project I have to allow things to effect me more deeply, to drop my inhibitions, and I become intensely absorbed...and it can interfere with my ability to function. During my most creative periods I have trouble keeping a job, embarrassed myself and done damage to professional and personal relationships by simply saying too much because I lose my sense of what's socially appropriate, and I had difficulty relating to others in a rational manner. So yes, I would agree that there is some level of social dysfunction associated with intense creativity... but is it an advantage, and is it necessary?

Most people who have bipolar disorder or major depression do not become great artists - so it's not as though these illnesses automatically will make you a genius.

An article on the APA website suggests that part of the connection may be self-reflection. Both creative persons and people with depression exhibit a higher degree of introspection than average. So it may be that the conditions which encourage and develop creativity also tend to encourage the development of depression or manic-depression.

Another factor, as mentioned here, is that creativity can be stifled. It's dismissed, or put down, or set aside for "real" problems. And that stifling of potential can lead to depression. Another article discusses this in a more complex manner, and even suggests that some of the characteristics of creativity can be mistaken for mania.

Mary Rocamora, who counsels gifted people, and heads The Rocamora School in Los Angeles school, which provides awareness training classes for gifted and talented adults, says those "who are passionately engaged with their talent but are constantly separated from the creative experience by relentless self-criticism, self-doubt, and feelings of inferiority often suffer from depression and the periodic shutting down of their spontaneous creative impulses. The drive to express their inner creativity is heightened in many gifted individuals, and when the drive to create meets the wall of shame, it implodes into numbness, rage, depression, and hopelessness." She also notes that it is well known among researchers of the gifted, talented and creative that these individuals "exhibit greater intensity and increased levels of emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensual and psychomotor excitability, and that this is a normal pattern of development." Dr. Linda Silverman, Director of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development in Denver, has also cautioned that this higher level of excitability and intensity may be perceived and misdiagnosed as manic depression.

But the article I found most helpful was this one: An interview with a doctor who did an empirical study on creativity and mental illness, and so is speaking from facts rather than supposition. In his study, around 70% of the writers had depression, which is just massive. However, he noted that during a depressive or manic phase, an individual is not motivated or organized enough to actually create. It is only after they emerge from that state that they are able to use those experiences as fuel. He addresses the fear that some have of medication stifling their creativity with examples, and states that creative people are more functional and more able to actually produce work while their illness is under control. He also notes that besides major Depression and Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia has a link to creativity - but once again, not when it is out of control.

Which makes me optimistic.

Does an artists need to suffer? I would say that yes, they do - they need it as fuel. But who, in their life, has never suffered? And that suffering, like branches gathered in the woods during a storm, is only useful to light the creative fires once it has cured and dried, after the rain is gone.