“…The Screaming Of The Lambs”

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Fun time again with some memorable movie lines that span quite a few decades. Enjoy!

"Dinner, anyone?"

“Dinner, anyone?”

“You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs.” Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) has many notable lines in the 1991 Academy Award winner, The Silence of the Lambs.

“Major Strasser has been shot… round up the usual suspects.” Captain Renault (Claude Rains) issues this casual order in the 1942 classic, Casablanca.

"We come in peace...or not."

“We come in peace…or not.”

“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) commands a pre-programmed robot from outer space to stand down and not destroy the Earth in the 1951 science fiction classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still. (This movie is sixty-three years old? Gawd!)

“Hate makes you impotent, love makes you crazy, somewhere in the middle you can survive.” Larry (Billy Crystal) offers some sage advice in the 1987 comedy, Throw Momma from the Train.

“I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have.” Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) during one of the (few) tender moments in 1984’s The Terminator. (Wait, Mike, you’re not quoting an Arnold line?!)

“Can you think of a plan that doesn’t involve your ten-year-old sister joining the army?” Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) to his son in the 2005 remake of War of the Worlds. (I don’t care how old the 1953 version is; the sound of those death rays still creeps me out!)

invasion poster“They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!” A rather disturbed Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) tries to warn the world of imminent invasion in one of my all-time favorite flicks from 1956, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (See my post, “They’re Here Already!”)

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” Just about every line from Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in the 1960 Hitchcock classic, Psycho, is quotable. (See my post, Psycho Memories.)

“Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?” Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in 1985’s Back to the Future.

“It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to night posterlife and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims. It’s hard for us here to be reporting this to you, but it does seem to be a fact.” A TV newscaster renders this chilling report in the 1968 groundbreaking horror film, Night of the Living Dead.

Lines such as these are what make watching movies so much fun. You’re always welcome to share some of yours.

Guest Post: Circle Of Reign

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Hello, my name is Writer Mike, and I would like to share with you the most amazing book. (Sorry Jacob, I couldn’t resist.)

I must say, Jacob Cooper’s epic fantasy novel, Circle of Reign, IS quite circle of reignamazing, and I’m glad he found his way to me for some polishing. Michele Scott (A.K. Alexander), one of my most successful writers, initially worked with Jacob before referring him to me, and I’m pleased that she did. His novel, published this past summer, has already met with much critical success. Here is Jacob’s own account of his path to publication.

 BUILDING ON A DREAM

Circle of Reign is my first novel, Book 1 of The Dying Lands Chronicle. I don’t think I knew what I was in for when I started writing it. On my way home from work in September 2009, a scene popped into my head based on a dream I had years before. A young girl, running for her life through a forest, being pursued by an assassin for something she innocently stumbled upon. The assassin could track her by the fear she was emitting…emotional scent. As the scene played out before me, I could feel the danger, the adrenalin, and it moved me. When I got home, the opening of Circle of Reign just flowed out in about twenty minutes.

Around this time, I had just finished the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson andCOR Iskele was really in awe. I don’t think a book series had inspired me so much before Mistborn. Michael Kramer did an amazing job on the narration and instantly became my favorite fantasy narrator. With that still fresh in my mind, Circle of Reign was easily imaginable to me in a fantasy setting.

For me, creativity has always come when inspired by someone else’s work. Music, poetry, business, writing…whenever I hear of or see something fantastic, I have a drive to create something in that field. It’s an outlet for me and my way of admiring great work. I don’t think I intended Circle of Reign to become the first book in a trilogy, but over the years I kept adding scenes, and the story eventually unfolded.

Once I decided to fully jump in and write a book, I had no idea how hard it would really be. Perhaps that’s because I was building a new world, new cultures, new religions, new slang, new history. All of that is crucial to epic fantasy and must be believable. Further, you have to be consistent with all that world building. It is not an easy thing! On top of that, I’m a college dropout and have never taken a writing class, though I’ve always enjoyed creative writing. Add a few kids into the mix with a fulltime job, and there were definitely some barriers to overcome. Nonetheless, I was excited about the story and believed in it enough to lose sleep writing it. Lots of sleep.

“A DOSE OF HUMILITY”

When I first started working with Mike Sirota, I actually thought I was pretty close to being done. I sent him the manuscript, and a couple weeks later got a thirty-page evaluation. I knew there would be constructive feedback, but I wasn’t prepared for the shredding that occurred. The good news is that Mike did get engrossed in the characters and story, but it took him two-thirds of the book to get there! Talk about getting a dose of humility.

Well, I should have been prepared for that feedback. As I look back on that original manuscript, I just kind of cringe now at thinking it was close. But, Mike was COR artencouraging and helped me craft the story to a much higher level. He believed in it, not something he says lightly. Sometimes he’d challenge me on something and I would be resistant. He’d say, “Okay, that’s fine. You’re the god of your own book. Let’s move on.” But after a few days of stewing on his advice that I had rejected (rare as it was), I found myself grumbling and admitting that he had been right. The best part about being challenged and giving yourself time to think about it is that new storylines, scenes, and characters can come out of that. I know that happened for me.

Something that’s cliché for the fantasy genre in general is a magic system. Circle of Reign is no exception. But, I was terrified of having the word “magic” in the book, so I came up with “influence” instead, which certainly made me think differently about powers and abilities. Much of the magic in the book is subtle and doesn’t appear to be supernatural to those in the world, much like we don’t call the ability to hold a piece of plastic up to our ear and speak with someone across the world magic; but when you really stop and think about cell phones, two hundred years ago it would have been magic to those people. Four hundred years ago you would have been burned at the stake for that ability. So, the influence of the world of Våleira is more science based in large part, but not all. There is definitely still that supernatural flare here and there.

ALTAR OF INFLUENCE

I think anyone who likes the works of Anthony Ryan, Patrick Rothfuss, Robert Jordan, altar of influenceand Brandon Sanderson might enjoy Circle of Reign. The sales have been strong for a self-published, first-time author, and the reviews have been generally positive. That’s been gratifying and encouraging. Late in October, Altar of Influence: The Orsarian War is scheduled to be released. This is actually a “prelude” to The Dying Lands Chronicle. The Red Grove, a short story set during the timeline of Circle of Reign, should be released around the same time. Michael Kramer also did the narration for these audiobooks and his performance is fantastic, as always. Song of Night, Book 2 in the series, is scheduled for release summer 2015.

 Circle of Reign is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, as well as Audible.com. Jacob’s website is http://circleofreign.com/ You can follow him on twitter, @authorjacobcoop and Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/JacobCooperCOR

Short And Sweet II

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Just got back from a short—but real sweet—trip to Idyllwild, a town over a mile high in Southern California’s imposing San Jacinto Mountains. Not that I ever need an excuse to go there, but in this case we made the trip to celebrate a significant birthday for my bride. Jacqueline loves the town just as much as I do. We stayed in an isolated

Our hideaway in the woods.

        Our hideaway in the woods.

cabin amid the pines and cedars, where the only noise was the chittering of bushy-tailed squirrels and the tap tap of countless woodpeckers.

Idyllwild is a magnet for creative folks, as evidenced by a number of art galleries along the main drag and outside of town. There are plenty of unique shops (the Funky Bazaar blew my mind), and you won’t go hungry while you’re checking them all out, what with the array of restaurants there. (The Red Kettle has been in Idyllwild since the dawn of time, and their breakfasts are to die for.)

Tahquitz Rock is an Idyllwild landmark.

Tahquitz Rock is an Idyllwild landmark.

And how about us writers? Well, if you can’t get inspired in Idyllwild, you may have difficulty finding your mojo just about anywhere else. I’m currently working on a book with one of my long-time writers that mostly takes place in the fictional town of Cedar Valley, a thinly disguised Idyllwild. And a long, long time ago I used the town as the model for Oak Glen in an unpublished sword & planet novel.

Anyway, I didn’t want to get into a travelogue here. If you’re anywhere in Southern California (or even if you’re not) and haven’t been to Idyllwild, find some time to take the short trip. It’s a two-hour (or less) drive from most places in this part of the state.

THE DEMONOLOGIST

Because most of the time I’m working on one of my own books, or with other writers demonologiston their manuscripts (though less of that these days), I find little time to read for fun and/or illumination. But during the Idyllwild getaway, upon threats of painful injury from Jacqueline, I brought no work with me. Instead, I read a fascinating—and frightening—non-fiction book by Gerald Brittle titled, The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. If you’ve seen the movie, The Conjuring, or its current prequel, Annabelle, or if you’re familiar with the story of the Amityville house, you probably know about the remarkable Warrens. I intend to write a great deal about them in the not-too-distant future. (And my next read for fun/illumination? Lee Fullbright, your opus is now on top of the stack.)

                               GUEST POST

circle of reignCircle of Reign, an epic fantasy novel by Jacob Cooper, is the first book in The Dying Lands Chronicle. In next week’s guest post Jacob—one of my writers—will talk about the ups and downs along his journey to being published.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

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My dad, Murray Sirota, passed away at age fifty-nine in 1969, when I was just a mere slip of a lad—more or less. We knew it would happen; a couple of months earlier he’d been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, the end result of a lifetime of cigarette smoking, and given six months to live. But the circumstances surrounding the night of his death is the story here—a story that could easily be written off as implausible fiction. I shall explain.

L-r: Murray Sirota, me, Alan Sirota (also deceased), circa 1967

L-r: Murray Sirota, me, Alan Sirota (also deceased), c. 1967

Less than two weeks before he died, my dad had my mother call me to say that he wanted to see me. They lived in Brooklyn; I lived in Ohio. (He did the same with my brother Alan shortly after; terminally ill people know when it is time to put closure on their lives.) I caught the first plane out of Toledo’s airport.

By this time Dad was bedridden and the cancer had taken his vocal cords. On the last day I saw him alive we spent some hours watching his beloved New York Mets (mine too, at the time) beat up on some new team called the San Diego Padres. (The Padres have been my passion for over four decades now.) The Lovable Losers of the 1960s had become the Amazin’ Mets that year, and some pundits even thought that they had a chance at catching the powerful Chicago Cubs. On that note, I said goodbye to my dad for all time.

Well, the pundits were right. On September 10th the Mets had surged to within a half-game of the Cubs and were scheduled to play the Expos in a doubleheader that evening. My mom helped Dad into the living room to watch the games on their larger TV. The Mets won the opener in extra innings and the Cubs lost, putting the Amazins’ into first place. My dad got so excited that he had a massive heart attack and diedamazin' mets. This passionate Mets fan never got to see them win the second game that night. Nor did he get to see them win the World Series a month later. But, I’m sure he knew.

Long after the grieving had passed (does it ever?), I thought: What a way to go! Talk about a true baseball fan. I’d probably choose that same route—maybe right after the Padres win their first World Series? And as an author—well, of course I had to write about it.

My 1991 satirical science fiction novel, Bicycling Through Space and Time—and two sequels—follows the exploits of novelist/ne’er-do-well Jack Miller, a thinly disguised me. In chapter eight, Jack talks about his roots. Here is the paragraph, verbatim.

I was born in White Plains, New York, the only child of Rose and Henry Miller. No, not that Henry Miller, who wrote more books in his life than my father ever read in his. Dad was an unimaginative bean counter for a firm in Manhattan’s garment district, faithfully commuting into the city for three Bicyclingdecades. He died of a massive heart attack when he was fifty-six, and I was eighteen, three months after learning that his two-pack-a-day habit of over forty years had rotted his lungs and left him with incurable cancer. I have to say, for such an uncreative life, he went out in storybook fashion. He died in Yankee Stadium during the fifth inning of a game in which his beloved Yankees were whipping the pants off the hated Red Sox. Pictures of my uncle Jerry doing CPR in the aisle behind third base made the eleven o’clock news, not to mention the early editions of the Post and Daily News.

I’ve said before that writing can be unbelievably cathartic. Of all the books I’ve written, this trilogy allowed me one release after another.

Guest Post: The Hammer Of Witches

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There is a disturbing true story behind the events depicted in The Hammer of Witches, a newly published historical novel by Basque scholar and good friend, Begoña Echeverria, one of my long-time writers. After a brief synopsis, I’ll have Begoña tell that story.

In 1610, a small Basque town is convulsed by accusations of witchcraft. hammer of witchesBased on historical events, The Hammer of Witches tells the incredible story of Maria, a girl determined to honor her mother’s memory by learning to read and improve her lot in life; the priest Salvador Zabaleta, who has sworn to protect Maria but whose own identity is beset by struggles; and the mysterious and sophisticated Sabine Elizalde. As Maria is drawn into their lives and into a series of macabre events, she learns about the depths of her own courage. Drawing a nuanced, detailed, rich portrait of early modern Basque society to tell a gripping story of love, betrayal, and sacrifice in a world turned upside down, The Hammer of Witches delves into the dark places of the human spirit and shows that even in the face of tremendous evil, justice can prevail.

BURNED AT THE STAKE

In 1610 the Spanish Inquisition prosecuted Basque “witches” for their diabolical crimes: offering children to Satan, partaking in masses and sexual escapades with the devil, feasting on human children, and concocting powders to destroy enemies or their crops. Eleven of those accused refused to confess and were burned at the stake, alive or in effigy. Most were women; few, if any, even spoke the language of their accusers. They spoke Basque, unrelated to Spanish or any other language.

Auto de Fe procession.

            Auto de Fe procession.

A warden of the women’s prison told the Inquisitor that he had overheard its star witness encouraging her aunt to make a false confession, for the only way out of the Secret Prison was to tell the Inquisitors what they wanted to hear. Both aunt and niece were pardoned at the “Auto de Fe” (Act of Faith) ceremony, in which their fellow accuseds were burned. The suspicious circumstances surrounding their confessions were not reported until years later.

They might not have been reported at all were it not for Inquisitor Alonso de Salazar Frías. Though too late to save those burned, he was skeptical about the existence of witchcraft from the start. Just four months before the Auto de Fe, his was the only vote against the death penalty for the eight Basques who continued to deny the charges of witchcraft against them. He recommended they be questioned again under torture instead, this being the only proof the Inquisition would accept of a witch’s innocence. Only two of the deniers were given that chance, a priest and monk, who maintained their innocence despite the torture. Their punishment consisted of exile to monasteries outside Navarre and banishment for life from their home diocese. Their own mothers were not so fortunate: both were burned at the stake alongside two other women and two men in front of 30,000 people.

CREATING A SPECTACLE

People came from all over Spain to witness the spectacle; the Inquisition had advertised the event for days beforehand. King Philip III himself had inquired about the date of the Auto de Fe, but ultimately had been unable to attend.

Had he done so, the king might have become as convinced as other spectators as to the reality of the witch-sect, for eighteen Basques confessed to being witches that day. Their confessions were read aloud in the town square, one by one. Each “witch” wore the sambenito (the penitential garment) displaying the St. Andrew’s cross, so that those who could not read or hear the sentences—and the witches themselves, who

A sambenito with St. Andrew's cross.

A sambenito with St. Andrew’s cross.

would not have understood the language of the proceedings—would know they had been welcomed back into the Church. (Or would be, once they paid the usual penance: confiscation of their property and a term of prison or banishment). The reading of the sentences took hours. Reports, pamphlets and even a ballad—unfortunately, long lost—detailed the evil-doings to which the witches had confessed.

These made their way back to the Valley of Baztan, where the accusations of witchcraft flamed anew. Vigilantism ran rampant. Children again accused adults of witchcraft and neighbors turned on one another to root the witches out. Some were subjected to the ladder torture: placed between the rungs of a long ladder and forced to drag it behind them, the trailing end would be lifted up and slammed down, hurling the accused on their faces. Others were tied to a bench, head to toe. The rope would be twisted tighter and tighter with a stick, making breathing difficult and causing excruciating pain. A pregnant woman died this way. Many more lost their lives to other methods of torture, often sanctioned by local authorities.

“CONFESS!”

Alarmed, the Inquisition sent Alonso de Salazar Frías to see what could be done. He was armed with an “Edict of Grace,” translated into Basque, granting clemency to those who confessed to witchcraft within a specified time period. Going to great lengths to protect the identities of those who came forward, Salazar was horrified to learn of what the Inquisition had done to secure confessions. A sixteen-year-old boy had been tied naked to a bed and beaten until he confessed—by his own uncle, an agent of the Inquisition. Other children had been boiled in cauldrons until they

An accused "witch" is grilled by the Inquisition.

An accused “witch” is grilled by the Inquisition.

confessed. Two sisters told Salazar their father had held a dagger to their throats until they admitted to being witches and named others. An Inquisition official had told the father to do this; if the girls made such a “voluntary” confession, they would not be punished. Still others had been bribed.

Inquisitor de Salazar Frías came to the only logical conclusion: “There were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about.” And so he put into place an “Edict of Silence,” enjoining people to consult only with Inquisition agents or their parish priest if they “were troubled by their conscience” about witchcraft, so that their suspicions would not become public. In 1617, he reported on the state of affairs among the 1,800 witches supposedly in the area, the 4,000 others suspected of being witches, as well as their dependents and local authorities, all were “in such a state of peace and understanding… that it seems utterly incredible. No one…could have imagined that with the imposition of silence on the witch question it would have been possible to combat the craze to such an extent that today it is as if the problem had never existed.”

###

 The daughter of Basque immigrants to California, Begoña Echeverria is a native Basque speaker with a PhD in sociology. A tenured professor at UC Riverside, she has conducted research in the Basque regions of Spain and

Begoña Echeverria

                 Begoña Echeverria

France since her undergraduate career at Stanford University over twenty-five years ago. A playwright and singer, Begoña has written, recorded and performed songs in Basque—featuring “dangerous” women like witches—in the U.S. and abroad with her trio, NOKA: www.chinoka.com She has been interviewed by Vatican Radio and National Public Radio, as well as Basque Country radio stations and publications about her expertise.

The Hammer of Witches is available at Amazon or the Center for Basque Studies, basquebooks.myshopify.com/products/ If you’re in the Pasadena/Los Angeles area, you’ll find it at Vroman’s bookstore.

Guilty Pleasures: Godzilla (1998)

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I watched Godzilla (2014) last week. Perhaps I’ll write about it another time. Quick assessment: not bad, kind of dark—literally and figuratively. A lot of exposition long before you ever see either Godzilla or a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). But it did well, and a sequel is already in the works.

That got me wondering why my favorite Godzilla flick—the 1998 version starring Matthew Broderick—never spawned a sequel. And for that matter, why did I even consider it a Guilty Pleasure? Wow, did my research prove an eye-opener!

godzilla posterOne of my parameters for a Guilty Pleasure film is its box office. Godzilla (1998) grossed $380 million worldwide, nearly three times its budget. No problem there; studios usually jump at the chance to do a sequel for such a moneymaker. But the reviews were uniformly horrible, and worse, the legions of Godzilla groupies hated the film and would not even accept it as part of the Godzilla monster-verse. Japanese actors and filmmakers associated with the Toho franchise walked out of screenings. (The monster didn’t even look like Godzilla, they complained. True; it sort of resembled the creatures from the Alien films.) Theater owners joined fans in insisting that TriStar Pictures not make any sequels. They listened, and by 2003 their options for possible sequels had expired. A cartoon series on TV did continue the storyline for a short time, but that was it.

Good grief, bad reviews? (One reviewer wrote, “The script isn’t just dumbed down, it’s lobotomized.”) Fan loathing? Razzie nominations? (Even some “wins”?) Definitely, Godzilla (1998) is one of my Guilty Pleasures, because—quite frankly—I love the film. I also felt a bit vindicated to learn that it has become something of a minor cult classic. Not that it would matter. I like what I like, and as I’ve always said, I’m easily entertained.

SIZE DOES MATTER

With that as its tagline, here is a quick synopsis (spoiler alert in place). Nuclear testing in French Polynesia irradiates a lizard’s nest, specifically one egg. Many years later a Japanese fishing vessel is attacked by a giant creature. The only survivor, an old man, is questioned by a mysterious Frenchman in Tahiti; the only word he can say is, “Gojira.” (Apparently the Japanese version of Godzilla.)

Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (Broderick) is a government scientist studying radiation’s effect ongodzilla 1 earthworms near Chernobyl. He is suddenly whisked off to Panama for his opinion on giant radioactive footprints, as well as the wreck of the fishing boat, which has huge claw marks all over it. He also meets the Frenchman, a guy named Philippe (Jean Reno), who first says that he’s an insurance investigator. Nick identifies skin samples as those of a mutant reptile spawned by nuclear testing. He also sees a tape of the sole survivor talking about Gojira.

But where is the monster going? That’s what the military wants to know. Godzilla finally shows up in New York City (where else?) and takes in the town, destroying a chunk of Manhattan. Nick suggests they lure it in with tons of fish, which they do—to no avail. But he manages to get a blood sample and determines that the creature, which can reproduce asexually, is pregnant and will likely be looking for a nest. Officials think he’s full of crap.

Nick’s old flame, Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo), is a wannabe journalist looking for a story. After making nice with Nick, she steals his tape of the old man on the ship, and Godzilla’s origins become public, despite attempts at a cover-up. For this, Nick is fired and told to pack up. They still don’t believe him about the nest, which could produce numerous little Godzillas.

But Philippe, the Frenchman, believes him. Philippe is head of a secretive French unit bent on keeping his country’s role in the original nuclear tests under wraps. Nick joins this bunch as they seek Godzilla and its nest through old subway tunnels.

"I'll take Manhattan..."

        “I’ll take Manhattan…”

As Audrey sulks about screwing up Nick’s life, her cameraman, “Animal” Palotti (a hilarious Hank Azaria) talks her into going underground to find the nest and prove that Nick was right. Their path closely follows that of Nick and the French guys.

The military lures Godzilla out again, and this time they force it into the Hudson River, where well-armed submarines apparently take it out. As they celebrate, Nick and the others discover the nest—in Madison Square Garden. There are hundreds of eggs, and guess what—they begin to hatch and chase everyone through the Garden. Audrey and Animal join up with Nick and Philippe—the other Frenchmen all become lizard chow—and, after a harrowing escape, they make their way to a broadcast booth. There, Audrey gives the story of her life as she warns the city that Nick was right, that they have a lot more to worry about. Animal takes a shot of the countless little (nine-foot) monsters. The military needs to nuke the Garden, like now.

Again making their way through the mini-Godzillas, the quartet escapes just in time.

Nick and Audrey have not had a fun day.

Nick and Audrey have not had a fun day.

The bombs apparently destroy everything, but do they have time to congratulate themselves? Nope, because Godzilla didn’t die in the Hudson, it only got knocked out, and now it’s back, and so bummed about its offspring all dead. Nick and the others commandeer an abandoned cab and tear ass outta Dodge with the pissed-off reptile at their bumper. The chase culminates atop the Brooklyn Bridge, where Godzilla is put down once and for all. Philippe, after destroying all of Animal’s film footage, fades away into the night, like a good secret agent. Nick and Audrey walk off, looking like lovebirds once again.

Back at the ruins of Madison Square Garden, one egg has survived the bombing. (Well, what did you think?) The mini-Godzilla hatches, roars at the camera—and the end credits roll.

Maybe the critics didn’t appreciate the humor in this version of Godzilla. There’s plenty of it, though not during the most intense scenes. Whatever; I don’t care. I’ll continue to watch Godzilla (1998) at least once a year until the Mother Ship arrives.

“I’m Your Number One Fan”

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That line, and Stephen King’s Misery—which I wrote about last week—are apparently inseparable. In the hope of finding some more material I entered “writers’ number one fans” into a search engine, and guess what: the first four links that show up are for Misery and Annie Wilkes. Here are a few final thoughts on this claustrophobic gem.

                                                            YOU WROTE THIS—WHY?

misery coverStephen King, in interviews given through the years, discussed a number of reasons for writing Misery. First, of course, had to do with his own (numerous) encounters with Number One Fans at signings and other book events. As I well know, when you write creepy, blood-and-gore stories your readership can tend to be a bit…well, weird. I recall Dean Koontz saying the same thing, and at one point, after some uncomfortable confrontations, he gave up doing appearances altogether. When some came up that he could not avoid, he brought along a security guard. (Think of what John Lennon’s Number One Fan did to him. And of all the celebrity stalkings. It is not something to be taken lightly.)

Second, by having Paul Sheldon burned out of writing so many books about Misery and wanting to try something different, King was expressing his weariness about writing horror, horror, and more horror. When he wrote a fantasy novel in the mid-eighties titled The Eyes of the Dragon, his fans went ballistic. They wanted telekinetic terrors, haunted hotels, New England vampires, and so on.

And last—possibly most important, by King’s reckoning—Annie Wilkes became a metaphor for the drug addiction that King suffered from at the time. That addiction, just like Annie, became his Number One Fan and had no intention of relenting.

In addition to the novel being turned into a film, it subsequently was adapted as a stage play—which made sense, given the few characters and the minimalist set. It ran off-Broadway, and later in London, Athens, and—I kid you not—Dubai. And just this past summer, “Misery: A Feel Bad Musical”—I am NOT making this up—opened in Amsterdam.

“HEY MIKE, I’M YOUR NUMBER ONE FAN!”

Yes, even non-celebrity lowlifes like me have stories to tell. My first published novel, The Prisoner of Reglathium, came out in 1978, and it may have sold enough copies to pay for a grand slam breakfast at Denny’s. Maybe two. You get the point. But it did win me a Number One Fan.

The first snail mail letter arrived through my publisher. (No email or texting back indannus 1 the day.) It came from a guy in Arizona. He loved the book, blah blah blah, what a great writer you are, Mike, blah blah blah, I’m your Number One Fan—the usual. Thrilled to have any fans, I wrote the guy back…with my home address on the envelope. Yeah, you’re right: dumb thing to do.

The next letter came to the house. More praise, questions and suggestions about the characters, when is the next book coming, maybe I should think of doing this or that, etc. Didn’t seem like anything scary, so I corresponded with him for a couple more letters after that. Then, another letter announced his plans to come to San Diego for a vacation, and wouldn’t it be great if we could get together, etc. Oh crap!

Given that the guy had my home address, I wrote back and told him I would be out of town that week. I forget where I told him; Borneo, Uzbekistan, somewhere like that. Still, I worried about him showing up at my door, and during the time he was here I must’ve looked out the window a thousand times. Fortunately, he was a no-show.

He wrote me again when he got home, but this time I didn’t respond. His letters stopped after that. Do I need to tell you that, thenceforth, I never put my home address on any correspondence?

ANOTHER SCARY LETTER

Well, you might think a four-page letter that opens with the following salutation is scary:

“Dear Mike, I hate you!”

BicyclingYep, that’s what it said. Oh crap wouldn’t do, nor would Holy shit, because this was definitely a WTF moment. This happened many years after that first letter and was in reference to my satirical science fiction trilogy, Bicycling Through Space and Time. Fortunately, I read on, and what came after proved to be one of the nicest, most thoughtful fan letters I’d ever received. The writer “hated” me because she loved the books so much that she read and re-read them and neglected to take care of other day-to-day stuff, which got her into trouble with the family…that sort of thing. And, of course, she was my Number One Fan. I replied to her by writing a one-page “unpublished scene” from the trilogy, in which she became a character. That was fun.

“YOU SHALL BURN IN HELL!”

I can see King and Koontz and other superstars of our craft encountering crazies at book events—but me? Back in 1990 Bantam Books published my Native American-themed horror novel, Demon Shadows. I made suggestions for the cover art, which included a creepy dead guy, snow, and lodgepole pines, since the story takes place during the winter in the Sierras. Bantam added a pentagram—an occult symbol—in the snow, which had nothing to do with the story. But what the hell…you get published by Bantam, you keep your mouth shut.

So I’m performing my due diligence and making an appearance at a B Dalton bookstore in a local mall. They set me up with a table outside the door and left me to my own devices. I’m chatting people up, signing a few books, when a guy approaches, picks up a copy of the book and stares at the cover with an expression on his face akin to someone who just bit into a roach-infested hamburger. “You wrote this book?” he asks me. “That’s right,” I reply. He slams the book down, points at the pentagramDemon Shadows Old Cover, and launches a fire-and-brimstone sermon about it being the mark of the devil, and that I should burn in hell for writing such evil, and all kinds of fundamentalist claptrap. I thought he might attack me, but some of the bookstore people came outside, and the whacko took off into the mall, still summoning lightning bolts to strike me dead. To this day I still get creeped out thinking about it.

If you want to be a published author, you’ve got to take the bad with the good. Here’s wishing you a lot of nice, normal Number One Fans.

SUCH A DEAL

As long as I mentioned Demon Shadows, how about a deal? From Thursday, September 18th through Sunday, September 21st, the book will be available for .99 cents on Kindle download. Join bestselling novelist Paul Fleming as he travels to a prestigious writers’ colony in the High Sierras to battle the demons of his writer’s block. But the woods surrounding this colony hold their own demons, the kind that Paul may be ill-equipped to fight. Enjoy!

Films About Writers: Misery

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Authors, athletes, actors—heck, just about everyone in the public eye—all have a Number One Fan. Or two. Or a thousand. Even I had some Number One Fans back in the day. Sounds like an interesting topic for a post—which will appear next week.

Today we’ll talk about Paul Sheldon’s Number One Fan. Sheldon is a bestselling misery posternovelist in Stephen King’s 1987 claustrophobic novel, Misery, and in Rob Reiner’s excellent 1990 film version, with James Caan playing Sheldon. The spare title has a double meaning: it’s the name of the lead character, Misery Chastain, in Sheldon’s successful Victorian era romance novels, and it is the nightmare that Sheldon is about to endure in the story. William Goldman wrote an outstanding screenplay based on the book.

PAUL SHELDON USED TO WRITE FOR A LIVING—NOW, HE’S WRITING TO STAY ALIVE

Despite having great success with his Misery Chastain novels, Paul Sheldon has burned out in writing so many stories about her. He wants to write something more…well, serious. In the latest Misery novel, due out shortly, he’s killed the poor girl off, a great catharsis—and closure—for him.

A creature of habit, Paul has written nearly all of his books in a cozy cabin up in the Rockies. His new, serious novel is no exception. Having just finished it, he plans on driving back east to bring his New York literary agent (Lauren Bacall) the sole draft of the manuscript. Snow is falling as Paul drives down the winding mountain road, and it soon turns into a blizzard. The car goes off the road and rolls over. Critically injured, Paul is rescued by a heavily bundled figure and carried off. When he regains consciousness he finds himself in a warm bed inside a remote cabin. His broken legs and dislocated shoulder have been tended to by his rescuer, a nurse named Annie Wilkes, who stands smiling at his bedside, pain pills at the ready.

Annie is quite handy with tools.

    Annie is quite handy with tools.

Meet Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, in her brilliant, Academy Award-winning performance), who is at least twenty-seven cans short of a six-pack. Get the point? A whack job extraordinaire, Annie at first comes off as the sweetest, most caring person on the planet. She won’t even spout a cuss word, instead using adjectives like “oogy” and “cockadoody,” and she has a pet pig named Misery. Yes, she says, she’s let everyone know that Paul is there, but because of the horrible weather it would be best if he stayed put for a while, especially since she’s qualified to take care of him. She even reveals that she loves all of Paul’s Misery novels, that she’s his Number One Fan. Oh crap…

While we get a few glimpses of Annie’s odd behavior early on, Paul is grateful to her for saving his life. To thank her, he offers to let her read his new manuscript. Uh-oh, bad call. She goes off on him about the subject matter, and all of the bad language. Paul has now come to suspect that Annie is a bit…uh, disturbed.

With the weather improved, Annie drives off to town to pick up her copy of the new Misery novel. Though in pain, Paul works his way to the door with the hope of getting to a phone. Surprise: Annie has locked him in.

Annie returns with the book and is thrilled to begin reading it. Every few chapters or so she comes in to praise Paul for his wonderful writing. Paul can’t wait for her to finish the book…not!

Annie goes bat-shit crazy when she learns that Misery dies at the end, and she nearly puts a table upside Paul’s head. How could he do such a thing! She then reveals that she hadn’t notified anyone of what happened, that no one knows he is there and they likely believe that he’s dead. She doesn’t even have a workable phone.

Indeed, the local sheriff, Buster (Richard Farnsworth), has been searching for Paul. He’s found the car buried under the snow, and the consensus is that Paul managed to get out and wander off, only to die. His body will show up in the spring. But he wonders about the marks on the car door that indicated a crowbar might have been

Annie gives Paul's manuscript a harsh critique.

Annie gives Paul’s manuscript a harsh critique.

used to pry it open. Curious about this occasional visitor to his jurisdiction, he starts reading some of Paul’s novels.

The next morning a calmer Annie hauls in a barbecue grill and tells Paul to burn his new manuscript. For emphasis she “accidently” splashes some lighter fluid on his bed. She also orders him to write a new book titled Misery’s Return, in which he’ll bring Misery back to life. Convinced that Annie is psycho enough to kill him, Paul agrees to both.

Now in a wheelchair, Paul manages to get out of his room while Annie is away. He stockpiles painkillers in his mattress (Annie has a shitload of them, stolen from the hospital where she worked) and manages to cajole Annie into a candlelight dinner, where he spikes her wine. But she accidently spills it.

Annie has set Paul up with an old typewriter and paper, but Paul insists on a different kind of paper, so off to town she goes. He explores the ground floor of her house again, this time finding a scrapbook. Shocker: Annie might have killed a fellow nursing student, and her husband, and a number of infants in the hospital, but each time she managed to beat the charges. (In King’s novel the possible body count for suspected serial killer Annie Wilkes was in the dozens.) She even quoted lines from some of Paul’s books during one of her trials.

Paul tries to meet the deadline for his new book.

Paul tries to meet the deadline for his new book.

With the new Misery novel nearly done (in the book, King presents actual pages from Misery’s Return), Paul awakens one morning to find himself strapped to the bed. Annie has discovered that he’s gotten out and has decided to “hobble” him. The ensuing scene, in which she smashes both of his feet with a sledgehammer, is disturbing, and was voted Number 12 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Check out the video. (Could’ve been even worse: in the book she slices off a foot and a finger.)

SPOILER ALERT: The sharp-witted Sheriff Buster soon makes a connection between Paul and Annie. As he drives up to her cabin, Annie deposits Paul in the basement. Buster searches the place, and when he sees Paul in the basement, Annie takes him out with a shotgun. She then tells Paul that they must die together. He agrees, but only if he can finish the novel so they can “give Misery back to the world.”

Paul has concealed a can of lighter fluid. When the manuscript is done, he douses it and puts it on the floor. Annie had given him a match to light up his celebratory cigarette after finishing a book. He lights the manuscript, and when a screaming Annie gets down on the floor to save it, he clocks her with the heavy typewriter. But she’s a psycho bitch and doesn’t go down easily. He finally kills her with an iron statue of a pig. (The confrontation in King’s book is a bit more convoluted.)

Flash forward eighteen months: although walking with a cane, a dapper Paul Sheldon meets his agent for lunch in New York. His new, serious novel is a roaring success. Maybe he’ll write about his nightmare in Colorado, she suggests. Hell no, he replies. As they talk, a server approaches with a dessert tray. Oh shit, it’s Annie Wilkes! No, it’s another woman…just a trick of his troubled mind. The woman approaches the table, a smile on her face. Can you guess what she says to Paul?

“I’m your Number One Fan.”

A Head Case?

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“Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m a head case.”

Okay, I hope that didn’t prompt you to counter with the typical twelve-step response, because if it did, I gotta worry about you.  :) 

Tell the truth, we’re probably all head cases when it comes to one thing or another—something from our past, more than likely. With me, it’s an incident that happened nearly five years ago, something that did not get resolved—until now.

aa-heart1In December 2009 I had open-heart, quadruple bypass surgery. No need to get into that; I wrote about it in “A Memorable Date,” if you’re interested. It’s what happened a month or so before the surgery that rendered me a head case. Permettez-moi de vous expliquer.

I walk a lot. I did back then, and I still do. A couple of months before the surgery I started feeling back pain whenever I walked uphill. In my Oceanside neighborhood you’re almost always walking uphill or downhill. Guess that’s why they call theocean hills area Ocean Hills. Initially just annoying, the weird pain—not like any back pain I’d ever felt—escalated, and I’d have to stop once in a while to rest, something that I’d never had to do.

A month before the surgery Jacqueline and I drove to our favorite El Pollo Loco on South Melrose Drive for lunch. (El Pollo Loco is a food group; we love the place.) Instead of driving back with her, I decided to walk the hilly mile or so to our local supermarket, where we’d meet up after she got some groceries. Actually, only the last third of that portion of Melrose goes up. I would later dub that third of a mile, The Hill.

That day, I had to stop many times on The Hill. At one point I thought the Mother Ship had come, given the severity of the pain. I made it to the supermarket and told my wife that I needed to get to my doctor. He diagnosed angina, and the whole party began.

"One day, Mike. But not for a long time."

“One day, Mike. But not for a long time.”

After a lengthy recovery (seemed like forever anyway) I resumed walking, and before long I was back doing my three-plus miles a day, and tackling most of the hills that my ‘hood put in front of me. But the memory of that day on The Hill—here’s where the “head case” part comes in—would not let me go, and even though I’d walked it many times before, I could not make myself retrace those steps.

What was I so afraid of? Who knows; I’d probably need counseling for that answer. I mean, over the past five years I’d conquered every other hill that had caused me pain. Hell, I’d even gone over to a nearby wilderness area and climbed a hill that—I swear—is like walking up a wall, it’s that steep! But I could not make myself walk The Hill…

…until this past Labor Day weekend. I don’t know why I decided to try it now, after all these years. Maybe Yoda’s classic advice did it: “Try not; do, or do not; there is no try.” I had Jacqueline drive me over to El Pollo Loco and told her that I’d see her at home, three miles away. After covering the easy part I started up The Hill, my eyes on the ground, my brain swirling with other thoughts, as it usually does for distraction, but with more purpose this time. Hmm, this is easy, I thought; probably not up too far yet. So I looked up for the first time. The top of The Hill was about twenty steps ahead.

Piece. Of. Cake!

And I waited five years to do this…why? Okay, so I’m no longer a head case…at least on this one issue.

Speaking of head cases, in my next post I’m going to write about one of the all-time greatest head cases in fiction, a whack job named Annie Wilkes. Do you remember from whence she came?

Common Writing Mistakes

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In my centuries of evaluating and editing manuscripts I’ve probably been through five million of ’em. (Wait, I’m not supposed to exaggerate; it’s only one million.) With that large a sample size it’s clear that many of the same mistakes plague writers, whether they’re newbies or successful, multi-published authors. Here are just a few of them.

EACH OTHER/ONE ANOTHER

I’m going old school on this to say that I use “each other” when referring to two people (“John and Mary looked at each other in disbelief”) and “one another” when referring to three or more people (“The tour group took care of one another after their guide disappeared”). This rule has evolved through the years to the point where, these books 2days, most grammarians will agree that the two are interchangeable.

So why do I go old school? Years ago I submitted a couple chapters of a novel to a literary agent. The proposal came back with a rejection note. (What a surprise, eh?) The agent’s only comment? I didn’t know the difference between “each other” and “one another.” As I’ve always said, why give an agent or publisher ANY reason to reject your work? I’ll be using the old rule on this until the Mother Ship arrives.

EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

To be sure, an exclamation point is perfectly good punctuation! But here is the thing! Many writers tend to overuse them! Just like I’m doing here! I assume it’s annoying the crap out of you!

Seriously, the less of them you use, the stronger effect they’ll have when you do insert one. There is a school of writing thought that suggests not using any at all. I don’t buy into that. Why? Read this same sentence two ways:

  • The piano is going to fall on that man’s head.
  • The piano is going to fall on that man’s head!

I see far more overuse of exclamation points than the other way around. The record breaker (I’m not making this up): a manuscript in which every second sentence ended with one. I mean, read these sentences with the proper emphasis on the last word.

  • I’m going to the store!
  • The car is parked in the driveway!
  • I think I’ll brush my teeth!

You get the point (pun intended): save your exclamation points for when they count.

LOOSE/LOSE

So many of my best and most educated writers mess this one up. All wrong:

  • He had so much to loose.
  • The wild horses ran lose on the plain.
  • Did you loose all your money at the blackjack table?
  • There are lots of lose women in that bar.

If it ever does stump you, remember this sentence: “I hope that I don’t lose all of the loose change in my pocket.”

TWO- AND THREE-BREATH SENTENCES

William Faulkner wrote some long sentences.

William Faulkner wrote some long sentences.

Some writers get carried away with their prose and write sentences that seem to go on forever and ever and what they don’t realize is that they can lose their readers when they do this kind of thing because people like to be able to take a breath now and then and when you write endless sentences with little or no punctuation they don’t have a place to insert the figurative bookmark so they say to themselves that this person writes sentences like Faulkner used to write and since they didn’t like Faulkner when they had to read him in high school they’re going to put this book down and…

Did I make my point? Avoid overlong sentences.

 

This ad had it right AND wrong.
      This ad had it right AND wrong.

 

EVERYDAY/EVERY DAY

I’ve seen this one handled improperly on billboards, in TV and newspaper ads, you name it. I’m sure you have too. For example: “Low prices everyday!” Wrong-o. “Everyday” is a one-word adjective meaning “used routinely.” The two-word phrase “every day” can be interchanged with “each day.”

  • Wrong: “John did his chores everyday.”
  • Correct: “John did his chores every day.”
  • Wrong: “John did his every day chores.”
  • Correct: “John did his everyday chores.”

Jimmy Durante, a great comic from back in the day, used to say, “I got a million of ’em.” Same here with regard to common writing mistakes. We’ll look at some more in future posts.

PRAISE FOR FREEDOM’S HAND

A recent review: “You can’t stop reading it once you start. Yes, it’s well written. Yes, it’s framed in a believable manner that makes you think it really could be possible in our day. Yes, it’s gripping. But that’s not why you can’t stop reading once you start.

“We hear about the Nazi concentration camps, see clips of black and white film strips, Freedom's Hand Ebook Covermake movies that try to recreate what it must have been like, and go to museums. But…nothing makes you feel like ‘you’ are a character in those camps, experiencing the terror yourself. Sirota places you there, in this modern day story of a resurgence of Nazism and death camps—but here in America. You feel trapped with the characters, one of them. Your survival instincts will kick in as you read, and you’ll feel the need to plan an escape in your head…or die trying.”

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