Monday, December 22, 2014

Broken Eden

I spent ten years as a struggling, almost successful screenwriter. The first five years were one of the best times of my life. The second five years, not so much.

Broken Eden was written near the end of those second five years.

By this point, the agent who had actually signed me had left the business, and I’d been inherited by the name partners of the boutique agency I was with. So I was now a writer with an agency but no specific agent. On top of that, both agents already had their own rosters of clients bringing in regular commissions, and though I’d had some interest, including an option or two over the years, I was still a writer they were trying to break. Even worse, my last spec script had gone nowhere, and the one before that had provoked real disagreement, not just between the agents and myself but between the two agents as well—and had also gone nowhere. Worst of all, I was pushing forty, which for a still struggling screenwriter may have been the single biggest hurdle to my staying in the game.

Simply put, the next screenplay I turned in was going to be do-or-die for me, and I knew it.

That meant it had to be commercial with a capital C. It had to be plot-driven. It had to be high concept, an idea we could pitch in one sentence (something I had always had trouble with) and not a script anyone who read it could come back and say, “This should really be a novel.” It had to have large action set pieces. It had to have characters you could see specific, name actors playing. It had to be big and exciting, with a story that moved. It had to be read-able, because for all the talk about scripts just being the blueprint for a film, someone, somewhere, has to slog through it to the end, and you better make sure that person gets more than a bland set of verbal schematics sitting dead on the page. Above all, though, it had to be fun—especially for me, because those second five years had had a distinct lack of that very thing.

In a nutshell, I needed a Hail Mary career pass of a script.

Broken Eden was what I came up with.

Kindle | Paperback

Sunday, December 21, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Sony to remake Footloose

One of my old Hollywood contacts has leaked me this exclusive footage from Sony’s upcoming remake of the American classic Footloose...

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Piece of Eternity

I spent ten years as a struggling screenwriter. The first five years were one of the best times of my life. The second five years, not so much.

A Piece of Eternity was written early in those first five years.

I had spent my twenties writing three novels, with three different agents and far too many editors praising a manuscript, then passing on it, but always wanting to see my next one. And almost always saying, "This is so visual, it should really be a screenplay." I took that as a compliment early on, generally mumbled some neutral acknowledgment and ignored it a few years after that, then finally started wondering if I was writing in the wrong field altogether. So in my thirties, I switched, and life got wonderfully bizarre.

I landed an agent in Hollywood fairly quickly, after she read my second and third attempts at a screenplay. (Even I didn't want to read my first.) The third one even found some interest with the first producer who read it, which put me in a strange position: I had a project (supposedly) coming together, but I had never made the rounds of meet-and-greets with a calling card of a spec script. My agent and I both agreed the second one was better as a follow-up than an introduction, and a micro-budget indie producer was interested in it anyway. And that third one needed a budget to give even the most artistically minded bean counter the vapors. So I needed another one, a big yet affordable one, and quickly.

A Piece of Eternity was the script.

Kindle | Paperback

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Only Drank The One


I swear.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jesse Pinkman, Street Therapist


A bad neighborhood, where TWEEKER and TWEEKETTE argue.

TWEEKETTE: You’re holdin’ out on me!

TWEEKER: I ain’t holdin’ nuthin’, bitch!

A ratty car squeals to a stop at the curb beside them.

TWEEKETTE: It’s Jesse Pinkman, Street Therapist!

JESSE: I can help, yo!

TWEEKER: Got any blue?

JESSE: I’m outta that life, man. Now I do therapy to redeem myself, ‘cause if I know anything, it’s meth-heads. But I do my therapy on the street, ‘cause I’m still an outlaw.

TWEEKER: I really need some blue, man!

JESSE: And I need a state medical license, but the DEA ain’t gonna let that happen either. What’s the problem here?

TWEEKETTE: Tweeker’s holdin’ out on me!

TWEEKER: For the last time, I ain’t holdin’, bitch!

JESSE: Hey! Don’t call her a bitch, bitch!

TWEEKETTE: And stop holdin’ out on me!

JESSE: Meet her needs, yo!

TWEEKETTE: He never tells me what he’s got hidden away in there!

JESSE: Narrate that fat stack of feelings!

TWEEKER: But all she wants is the blue, man!

JESSE: Yo, the blue is just a cover for your deeper issue.

TWEEKETTE: Oh, it’s all about the blue!

JESSE: It is not about the blue, alright?! And what’s with you expecting him to take care of you? You got, like, daddy issues or something?

TWEEKETTE: I don’t have daddy issues!

JESSE: Hey, I know daddy issues, okay? So no more half-measures. We’re going full DMV-2067 psychosociable science here.


JESSE: Yo, this is science! Like, with beakers and robots and shit. Let’s try a role play –

Tweekette pulls a gun on Tweeker.

TWEEKETTE: Gimme your blue, Tweeker!

JESSE: So not what I had in mind…

TWEEKER: Pinkman! Help!

JESSE: What, you think I got some magnet hidden away here to pull that gun from your old lady’s hands?!

TWEEKETTE: I said gimme the blue!

JESSE: She’s got a gun, bitch! Give it to her!

Tweekette shoots Tweeker.

JESSE: Yeah… Um… I’m gonna give you a referral.

Jesse peels out, fleeing the scene.

TWEEKETTE: I shoulda stayed in grad school…

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

24: Trek Another Day

Apparently, Yeoman Janice Rand in the original Star Trek series was the Chloe O'Brian of her day...

Damned rips in the space-time continuum, always switching people in parallel universes...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Perfect. Beyond. Words.

A sadly accurate commentary on the Internet and our times...

I would have been so screwed on that bubble tea question, too.

(H/T: Commenter Book at Monster Hunter Nation)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Andrew Klavan: "The Debate Is Over"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Suggested Readings for the Krystal Ball Book Club

Back in the days everyone assumed I would go for a PhD in English Literature, I heard time and time again how “author’s intent” means nothing. In other words, it’s not what the book means to say, or even actually says, it’s whatever meaning you can find within (or impose upon) the text.

In fact, one reason I left that path was the many tortured reinterpretations I would have had to swallow—and create—on my way to Shangri-Tenure. Krystal Ball of MSNBC, however, clearly took this idea to heart when she declared George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm to be a warning against capitalism, complete with the pigs as Mitt Romney “maker” 1%ers. And when people took issue with this rather ground-breaking interpretation, Krystal stood her ground like only someone who had read an entirely different book could.

And thus the #KrystalBallBookClub was born.

Because what other classic books could be dramatically misrepresented to promote a blatantly political agenda? The possibilities are literally endless, once the sheeple are awakened and the scales removed from their eyes, but I suggest the following, in no particular order:

The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s cautionary tale about the dangers of overfishing.

A Wrinkle in Time: Dry cleaning, patriarchy, and why women have always paid more and earned less.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: John le CarrĂ©’s compelling argument for government-funded job-retraining programs.

Fear of Flying: Erica Jong examines the perils of airline deregulation and lack of FAA oversight.

The Color Purple: Alice Walker’s insightful look at how swing states determine presidential elections.

The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien’s classic tale of how nine men fought the odds in their quest for marriage equality.

Dune Messiah: Bob Woodward’s insider account of how the Obama administration won the Arab Spring.

The Happy Hooker: How enlightened federal environmental management makes for happy fisherman (and -women).

Fat White Vampire Blues: Andrew Fox’s game-changing investigation of how the Koch Brothers fight their own clinical depression by creating income equality.

The Hobbit: Tolkien’s timeless classic of how ignorant Tea Partiers from flyover shires should just stay at home.

Jurassic Park: Michael Crichton’s expose of how the GOP lost the youth vote.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven: Mitch Albom’s heartwarming tales of the MSNBC green room.

and of course,

Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site: How shovel-ready stimulus saved the U.S. from a second Great Depression.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Married Conversation About the Pizza-Welfare State

"Is that the piece I was eating?"

"It was just sitting there."

"I was going to finish that."

"But it was just sitting there."

"I thought you might see it, ask if I still wanted it, and then bring it over to me when I said yes."

"What, you expect the pizza-welfare state to just bring you a slice simply because you want it?"

"The pizza-welfare what?!"

"This is America! Get up off the couch and get your own slice!"

"You mean from the pizza you ordered online with a credit card and had delivered?"

(pause) "Can I bring you a slice, my love?"

"Don't forget the plate."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Seriously, California?

Got this in the mail yesterday with the new checks I ordered.

Seriously, California? I mean, seriously?!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: White House Press Corps Attacks Jay Carney Over Benghazi Memo

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

History's Remainders

Monday, March 3, 2014

Exclusive Video: CIA's Top Putin Analyst Reacts to "Surprise" Invasion of Ukraine and Her Sudden Reassignment

Thursday, February 20, 2014

30 Facts About Me

1. The nurse at the hospital misspelled my name on the birth certificate.

2. When my nieces asked me which was cooler, Star Wars or Star Trek, I answered Babylon 5.

3. I got my first literary agent at 19. I published my first novel at 47. Perseverance rules.

4. My wife is smarter than I am, but I’m the one who always knows where her keys and cell phone are.

5. I believe Stargate Universe is the greatest television show ever.

6. I once managed a 1-900 dateline.

7. As much as I mock the French, when a three-year-old girl I’m reading a story to turns around in my lap and puts a beret on my head, I’m wearing it.

8. I moved across the country for a woman. We’re still married.

9. My first job out of college was working the phone lines for a mutual fund investment group. Six weeks later, the Crash of 1987 hit. Lucky me.

10. I was a child extra in the stands during Ned Braden’s championship-winning striptease at the end of Slap Shot. My mother had no idea this was the scene they would be filming and was absolutely mortified.

11. I have a degree in English Lit. That was a mistake.

12. I’ve lived with two different cats. Both tried to kill me.

13. My wife and I got married in a library, and we spent our honeymoon at San Diego Comic Con. We are that nerdy.

14. I’ve had a crush on Catherine Bell since Season 2 of JAG. (My wife knows.)

15. I believe Toto is the greatest band ever. I’m that middle-aged and uncool.

16. I had a milkshake with Hal Clement.

17. My favorite memory from 10 long, struggling years in Hollywood as an almost successful screenwriter involves an old Warsaw Pact assault rifle in each hand and my feet resting on a nuclear bomb. (The nuke was a prop; the rifles were real.)

18. I was unplanned.

19. My wife and I have differed on nearly every major political issue since the day we met. We’re still married.

20. Sometimes, I really relate to Brian the Dog.

21. I look exactly like my great-great-grandfather. I mean, exactly.

22. I was a communist in my teens, a liberal in my 20s, a sort-of conservative in my 30s, and now a sort-of libertarian in my 40s. I don’t even want to think what my 50s might bring.

23. Thirty years after I first read it, William Goldman’s The Color of Light is still my favorite novel.

24. I once kept my Christmas tree up for an entire year.

25. I believe Episodes is Hollywood’s personal apology to me for our 10 long and co-dependent years together.

26. For my senior thesis on science fiction in my high school AP English class, I personally wrote to every author whose work I discussed. Amazingly, all of them wrote back with their agreements, disagreements, and insights except for Robert Heinlein, whose wife Ginny wrote back instead to say that Mr. Heinlein would not be writing back to me because his time needed to be kept free for writing.

27. I’m all for global warming if it melts the special snowflakes.

28. In my younger days, I was a fire-breathing atheist. Richard Dawkins had nothing on me. In the end, though, it turned out I was more angry at God than I was disbelieving.

29. My wife is Penny, Bernadette, and Amy Farrah Fowler all rolled into one.

30. I am an extremely fortunate man.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On the Lack of Recent Politics in this Blog

Long story short, you need to have the mindset of a "Happy Warrior" to skewer and satirize all that's going on in Washington and the world these days. Only lately, it just makes me feel sad and cynical, watching the second Obama term following the tragic script so many of us predicted so early in the first term.

The "joy" of politics will come back at some point, I know, but I just don't have it now.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Passel of One-Sentence Reviews

Black Sails: Finally, pirates I can actually be afraid of and not spend the whole time wanting to smack upside the head for prancing around like a band of hipster LARPers.*

The Good Humor Man: The absolute strangest book I have ever read that I still wish I'd come up with myself.

Memories of the Abyss: Manages the near-impossible, setting a "cozy" in an insane asylum and then actually making the story work.

My Progress on the Next Many Earths Novel: I am ashamed.

47 Ronin: Everything that is wrong with Hollywood today.

The Last Valley: The best movie you've never even heard of.

Our New Verizon FiOS Service: Look at me surf/stream/download when I should be writing the next Many Earths novel!

Choosing, Buying, and Assembling a New Couch with My Wife Without Us Having a Single Argument: Priceless.

*I'm looking at you, Johnny Depp.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Conversation with the FiOS Guy

This is how my home office looked for most of a day last week:

And this is what convinced me it would be worth it:

Me: "So what Internet speed are we going to get, really?"

Him: "You'll get blah-de-blah-de-blah-blah-blah."

Me: "And that means what, exactly?"

Him: "Four guys playing HALO off the same router with no lag."

Me: "Well, damn. I'm going to need more friends."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Four Blocks South of the Evacuation Zone

Here in Southern California, you learn to live with the fires. And living snug up against the foothills in the San Gabriel Valley (“The Other Valley,” as we call it), you get used to the sirens heading north, helicopters and fixed-wing water-bombers rumbling by overhead, smoke plumes rising just beyond the horizon, and the occasional red glow in the sky during the night. The Colby Fire this past week, though, was something different.

The sirens started sounding before the morning alarm. Not that I paid them much attention, of course, even when they kept coming, and coming in multiples of two and three and even more at one time. Even when “The Bingle” started softly baying at them from beside the bed, I didn’t think or do much, at least not beyond mumbling “Quiet, girl. Go back to sleep.”

Eventually, but still before the alarm, I realized the sirens—and the dog—were not going to let me get back to sleep. So I got up, glanced out the bedroom window, and saw the thick, low clouds of smoke catching the morning light. Still, this was nothing I hadn’t seen before, in the 10 or so years I’ve lived in this particular town. I just called the dog, found her leash and my shoes, and took her outside, like every morning.

Dark clouds of smoke were filling the bulk of the sky by that point, but I already knew there was a fire, somewhere. It happens out here, like earthquakes. Both just become part of the landscape after a few years living with them. It wasn’t until I saw the Bingle’s nose craning up and sniffing the ash drifting down around us like snow that I realized this was more than the usual.

The last time I’d seen ash coming down on our heads had been several years ago. A large fire had been burning to the north, with another, equally large fire somewhere down to the south. The smoke clouds had merged above us, and the sky had rained ash, and the horizon had glowed.

It was like living in Mordor, but with Priuses.

I stood there, remembering coming up with that line at the time, and smiled. (I am a writer, after all.) Then I took the dog through the courtyard to the street, where I would have a better view, and saw the flames, big sheets of red leaping up after and into their own smoke. And so close that you could hear their roar.

I had never seen actual flames on this hillside. They had always stayed beyond the crest in my time here. So I did what any modern idiot of the social media age would do: I went up to my office window and took a picture.

Then I started finding the news.

The mandatory evacuation stretched from the houses farthest up the slope to only four blocks north of our apartment. And the blocks in this town are not large. The fire itself had started when three young men of questionable common sense were tossing paper into an illegal campfire, only to have the wind gust and carry off embers, which then touched off what had become a 1700-acre blaze only a few hours later. All three are currently in jail facing federal charges, with bail set at $500,000 each, and are described as “apologetic.”

Maybe I should have been more worried than I actually was. My wife certainly thought so. Put me in front of a bureaucracy that can destroy my family and my life because some nameless functionary is having a bad day, and I’m a catastrophizing wreck until it’s over. But this fire was something tangible, something I could see. I knew that my wife and I might have to grab the dog and some clothes and whatever we might not be able to live without and head south, but I also knew that we would have warning. And how very, very good the firefighters here are. You can’t live out here and not learn that as well, and quickly.

So I went to work, editing someone else’s book on my laptop while the desktop streamed live coverage of a fire I could turn my head and see burning just outside my office window. At one point, I even found myself watching a close-up, helicopter view of a water-bomber making its run, then looked over my shoulder and saw the water still falling and the same plane pulling up and flying past over my building.

It was one of the most surreal workdays I’ve ever had.

By that evening, the flames on our hillside had been extinguished, and the bulk of the fire had moved out of sight and to the west. The mandatory evacuations were lifted, and most of us who had been untouched but for smoke in our lungs and ash on our cars realized just how lucky we had been. And how good those firefighters out here really are.

Kids are even joking about it now. Like a certain 5-year-old I know who yesterday spun me the tale of how he had heroically saved his family’s home with the garden hose.

Then we realize that even now, days later, the Colby Fire is still burning, somewhere out of sight.