Dirt Dragons

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When I saw that Michael Gross, who played whacko right-wing survivalist Burt Gummer in the first three Tremors films, also starred in Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, I assumed this was yet another sequel. But no, this one takes place in 1889, about a century before the first movie. So what’s the deal?

But first things first: this prequel is set in what was then called Rejection, Nevada, a burgeoning town whose present and future depends on a nearby silver mine. The mine is doing great, until something unseen starts tremors 4 posterkilling miners. Soon there is no one left to work the mine, and people begin leaving Rejection Valley in droves. Only a few folks remain: the Chang family, owners of the general store; Juan Padilla, the sole surviving miner; hotel owner Christine; a Native American named Tecopa; and Old Fred, a drunk.

A telegram is sent back east to the mine owner, a man named Hiram Gummer (yep, Burt’s great-grandfather, also played by Michael Gross), asking for help. His arrival, they all hope, will solve their problem. But no-oo, Hiram is nothing like Burt. He’s a prissy, rich-guy snob who hates guns and violence and loves to take advantage of anyone he can. In no time at all, everyone in Rejection dislikes him.

With Juan’s assistance, Hiram convinces a few other miners to go back to work. They camp outside the mine entrance, and during the night they’re attacked by smaller, larvae-like Graboids. Juan manages to destroy one, but the miners are killed. Juan and Hiram, realizing that vibrations through the ground attract them, make it back to town across rocky hills.

In order to destroy the Dirt Dragons, as the Changs dub them, Hiram telegraphs an ad to some newspapers calling for a gunfighter. It takes a while—and more alienation from the town—but Hiram’s request is answered when “Black Hand” Kelly shows up. Think Lee Van Cleef in the spaghetti westerns, only way-the-hell over the

Hiram develops an affinity for large weapons.

Hiram develops an affinity for large weapons.

top. He doesn’t care who or what he has to kill, only how much he’ll be paid. Hiram, who by this time we have learned is broke—his father had invested the family fortune in the silver mine—offers him all the silver that he can carry away. Kelly agrees, but as a down payment he takes Hiram’s diamond cufflinks and double eagle watch fob. All that Hiram has left is his gold watch.

Hiram, Kelly, and Juan ride out to the mine but are unable to attract any Graboids. As they ride to a muling station for refuge, they spot Old Fred’s wagon. The drunk had been missing for a while. In the wagon they find Old Fred’s head. They tear ass the rest of the way to the station.

Kelly dislikes the prissy Hiram, and the feeling is mutual. But he starts giving Hiram some firearms training, and this comes in handy when they’re besieged by three fully grown Graboids, which start dismantling the station through the night. Juan taps something incoherent on the telegraph key, which is picked up in town. In the morning Christine comes to their rescue in a wagon, though not before Kelly is devoured by a Graboid.

Hiram has had enough and decides to abandon the people of Rejection. He’ll go back east and sell the mine, restoring his fortune. The residents threaten to send a telegram and expose the dangers there. Frustrated, he signs the mine over to them and leaves.

The Graboids are on the move through the valley, and at first it appears that they’ll miss the town. But they

"Black Hand" Kelly is about to become lunch.

“Black Hand” Kelly is about to become lunch.

make a detour, and now they’re headed straight for Rejection. The residents make ready to stand their ground with the few ineffective weapons there, at the same time sending an SOS out on the telegraph line.

In Carson City, Hiram is on his way to buy a train ticket when he hears about the message from Rejection. Fingering his gold watch, he heads toward a gun shop.

The Graboids are getting closer, and as the townsfolk make their stand, they spot a cloud of dust in the distance. No, not one of the monsters, as they assume, but Hiram Gummer driving a wagon chock full of everything that passed for weapons of mass destruction in 1889. He apologizes to the stunned people for leaving and repeats something that Christine had said to him earlier: “A friend once told me it is not important how you spend your money, it’s how you spend your life.” He’d used all he had left, the gold watch, to buy the weapons.

Okay, no spoiler alert; the ensuing confrontation with the Graboids is a hoot, and if you’ve wondered from where descendant Burt Gummer inherited his obsession with armament, and how his ancestors came to Rejection, Nevada—renamed Perfection near the end—you’ll wonder no more.

Why did I like this prequel more than Tremors 2 and 3? First, I like old western settings. Second, I really connected with the quirky and endearing townsfolk of Rejection. And last, I love a good lesson learned. Hiram became quite a mensch, something that did not seem possible.

I don’t know if any more Tremors films are on the horizon. A short-lived TV series lasted thirteen weeks on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003. Perhaps the Graboids have stopped evolving. We’ll see.

Tremors: Aftershocks Create A Few Ripples

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A while back I wrote about one of my favorite dumb movies, the 1990 goofy comedy-horror flick, Tremors (see my post, “Guilty Pleasures: Tremors”). I’ve watched it many times, and while I knew that there had been three sequels made, I had always avoided them—until recently. To begin with, they were all direct-to-video productions, and that usually doesn’t bode well. And more often than not, sequels do not come close to the original (see my post on Mimic 2, “A Real Turkey”).

So okay, while none of the three equaled the first movie, they were nonetheless entertaining. Some laughs (intentional and otherwise), a few thrills, and—good heavens!—even a bit of originality in each. Here are abstracts on the second and third films. The fourth one will follow next week.

TREMORS 2: AFTERSHOCKS

“Evolution: It’s a Bitch” served as the tagline for the first sequel, released in 1996, and indeed it is. Fred Ward is back as Earl Bassett, now trying to make a go of it with a failing ostrich ranch. A guy from a Mexican oil company tremors 2 posterasks for Earl’s help. Seems that Graboids (the giant worms from the first movie) are killing workers at an oil field in Sonora, and since Earl knows how to destroy the creatures… Earl initially refuses, but his sinking bank account, along with a bounty of $50,000 per Graboid, changes his mind.

Along with new partner Grady Hoover, Earl drives down to Mexico. At the oil field he meets a scientist named Kate Reilly, who is investigating the Graboids. Things go well initially, as Earl and Grady destroy a bunch of the things by sending out remote control cars carrying dynamite and detonating them from afar. But because there are way too many of the monsters, Earl calls for backup: outrageous right-wing survivalist Burt Gummer (Michael Gross), who appeared in the first movie. The Mexican army has provided Burt with one hell of an arsenal. They fan out into the desert and resume the hunt.

Later, Earl and Grady confront what appears to be a sick Graboid. It eventually dies as something bursts out of it. This is the next step in the evolution of the Graboids: a disgusting monstrosity that, for soon-to-be obvious reasons, they call a Shrieker. This hermaphrodite creature can replicate at an alarming rate after eating, and since it initially chows down on some unfortunate

This Shrieker is looking for lunch...

   This Shrieker is looking for lunch…

humans, it multiplies into a horde. (Or is that a herd?)

No spoiler alert: Earl, Grady, Burt, and Kate are all that remain at the oil company’s field offices, under siege by the Shriekers. No help is coming; they don’t have much in the way of weaponry; the beasties are still multiplying; and, they’re growing smarter. How will Earl & Company save the day?

Check it out. It’s a blast—literally.

TREMORS 3: BACK TO PERFECTION

Burt Gummer becomes the star in this 2001 sequel, which takes us back to the town of Perfection, Nevada, site of the first movie. It’s a reunion of sorts for actors from the original, reprising their roles as Miguel, Nancy Sterngood, her daughter Mindy, and obnoxious teenager Melvin Plugg. After hunting down Graboids and Shriekers around the world, Burt returns home to his fortress on the hill. Perfection has become a tourist mecca tremors 3 posterfor Graboid fans, with shyster Jack Sawyer offering staged tours and scaring the crap out of visitors. And Melvin, now an obnoxious adult, is a land developer attempting to buy out the long-time residents in order to develop the valley. Burt, though happy to be home, does not like what has happened to Perfection.

When a real Graboid pops up and eats Jack’s assistant, the tourists tear ass out of town. Who you gonna call? Right. Good old Burt, who thought he was done with the monsters for a while, uses his tracking equipment to determine that there are three Graboids in the valley. But before he can set out to kill them, some government agents, along with a paleontologist, show up and say that the Graboids are an endangered species and must not be killed. They even threaten eminent domain to move the residents out, which gets Burt’s right-wing blood to boiling.

Jack proposes a deal: if the government gets one live Graboid, the townsfolk can kill the other two and stay put. They set out to capture one, but the creature swallows Burt. Jack lures the monster to Burt’s compound, where it crashes into the bunker walls and dies. Using a chainsaw, he cuts Burt out of the Graboid’s belly. (I’m not making this up!)

Jodi Chang, who now runs the general store, joins Miguel, Burt, and Jack on their hunt, which soon turns up the traumatized paleontologist. Before dying he tells them that the agents were killed by Shriekers from the second Graboid. They follow the Shriekers toward a box canyon but are trapped by the third Graboid, an albino that they name El Blanco, which pins them down for the night.

Finally dodging El Blanco they enter the canyon, only to find that the Shriekers have shed their skin and evolved into yet another form, this time winged creatures that are capable of jet-propelled flight. How do they accomplish this? Seems that chemicals inside them react when they blow huge farts. (I’m not making this up!) One of the

Ass-Blasters have a unique method of propulsion...

Ass-Blasters have a unique method of propulsion…

creatures kills Miguel but then dies when it crashes into a fence.

These new monsters, which Jodi dubs Ass-Blasters (I’m not making this up!), chase the three survivors to Burt’s compound, and one breaks in before they can arm themselves. Burt traps it in a room, and they escape, but it occurs to Burt that the room was full of MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat). If they’re like the Shriekers, they will multiply after gorging themselves. Reluctantly, Burt blows up his entire compound.

All this time, Nancy and Mindy have been hiding on the roof of the general store. They contact Burt and the others via walkie-talkie and tell them something that they—especially Burt—did not want to hear. Seems that, unlike the Shriekers, eating food would render the Ass-Blasters comatose, and easy to kill. Oh, the irony!

With no conventional weapons at hand, Burt, Jack, and Jodi head for the junkyard to see what they can improvise. And therein lies the balance of the story—which you can check out, if you’re interested.

If I had to rate the Tremors films, this would be number four…you can probably guess that from some of the goofy plot points, and my commentary. Still, it’s a fun flick, and harmless—not counting all the folks who were eaten—and worth a look if you’re into the series, or comedy-horror films in general.

Next time I’ll talk about Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. Sneak preview: for me, this was the best of the sequels.

A Goonies Sequel! Can It Be True?

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First off, here is my Fine Whine: for an almost-retired guy, I’m as busy as I’ve been in years. I’ve been doing my writing coach/editor thing nonstop all through 2014; I’m about to begin a huge evaluation that will take me through much of April; and there is more work waiting. It pleases me to know that there are still many writers who are conscientious enough to care about the product they are putting out into the ether or wherever with their name on it. But as my (self-imposed) deadline for my weekly post finds me writing this in the wee hours, I’m determined to keep it short.

Yeah, short but…SWEET! Hey you guys! In case you haven’t heard, the Internet has been abuzz for days with news of a sequel for The Goonies, the 1985 cult classic that ranks among many folks’ favorite goonies postermovies—and that includes me. The original film’s director, Richard Donner, now eighty-three, let slip the news this past weekend as he visited with fans and photographers in Beverly Hills. (See the brief interview here.) He is hopeful that most of the original cast will return. We’re talking, among others, Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, and Corey Feldman. Two favorites, Anne Ramsey (Mama Fratelli) and John Matuszak (Sloth) have long since passed away.

Only four years ago Donner had nixed the idea of a sequel. But a year later, Sean Astin—who played Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings and starred in one of my favorite baseball movies, The

"Hey you guys!"

                     “Hey you guys!”

Final Season—swore there would be a sequel and vowed to bet his children on it.

Will the story continue with the same characters thirty years later? Or will they introduce a new gang of Goonies and have the originals make cameo appearances? I’m sure there are a thousand questions still to be answered. But one thing remains consistent, nearly thirty years later:

GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!

Play Ball!

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In the spring, those two words are like music to my ears. This is Opening Week for Major League Baseball, and since baseball is my religion, I could not be happier. Even better: my beloved San Diego Padres got the jump on every other team in America by hosting their home opener (we beat the hated Mikey At Petco II 2010Dodgers!) last Sunday night. (Sorry, those two games a week earlier in Australia, for crying out loud, don’t cut it.) Not only that—my bride and I were part of history as we were among the largest crowd ever at Petco Park. All in all, a great evening at the old ballpark.

 

As I’ve written a number of times before, my two favorite movies in the world are Field of Dreams and Frequency. Both are fantasies, and both are baseball-themed, the latter less so, but with a meaningful baseball subplot. Enough said about them. To welcome in the baseball season—and in keeping with the theme of this blog—I offer a lesser-known but entertaining baseball fantasy film: The Scout.

 

Released in 1994, The Scout did not do well at the box office. Reviews were mixed, though Time magazine’s Richard Schickel called it “…the best comedy-fantasy about baseball ever made…” The film stars Albert Brooks as New York Yankees scout Al Percolo, and Brendan Fraser as baseball player extraordinaire Steve Nebraska.

 

The story, with spoiler alert: after finding some questionable prospects for the team, Al is banished to the hinterlands of Mexico. There, he discovers young Steve Nebraska in a small village that worships him like a god. On the mound, Steve strikes out every batter he faces on three pitches with a devastating scout posterfastball, and at the plate he hits a home run virtually every time at bat. (I told you this was a fantasy.) The excited Al calls the Yankees and tells them that he’s returning with the greatest ballplayer ever. They tell him not to bother and fire him.

 

Undeterred, Al flies to New York with the immature Steve and, acting as his agent, arranges an audition for all interested teams. Steve dazzles, and suddenly there is a bidding war, which the Yankees win. But his subsequent bizarre behavior leads the Yankees to insist that he has a psychiatric exam so that he won’t turn out like some of Al’s previous prospects. Al picks a shrink out of the Yellow Pages, the first on the list, “H. Aaron,” a baseball name if he’s ever seen one. But H. Aaron turns out to be a woman (Dianne Wiest), and she’s not about to sign off on Steve, a seriously troubled young man, as she discovers when she delves into what appears to be an abusive childhood. Al makes a deal with her: sign off on Steve so they can collect his bonus, and then she can counsel him all she wants. She agrees.

 

Steve’s contract calls for him to pitch next season, unless the Yankees make the World Series—a longshot at the time. But of course the Yankees get there, and Steve is picked to pitch the first game. He has made strides in counseling but is still pretty messed up and not ready for the big stage. On the night of the game he climbs to the top of the Stadium and refuses to come down. While all who are watching think this is a planned publicity stunt, the desperate Al follows Steve and pleads with him to come down. scout-featureBut when he realizes how screwed up the young man is, he finds his conscience and tells Steve to walk away from it, if that’s what he really wants. He’ll likely go with Steve, since he will doubtless be persona non grata throughout baseball.

 

Al’s loyalty wins Steve over, and he agrees to pitch. Al orders a helicopter up to fly Steve to the mound, a stunt for which the late Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, takes credit. (He has a cameo in the film.) Steve proceeds to strike out twenty-seven straight Cardinals on eighty-one strikes, and his two homers are the only runs in the Yankees’ victory.

 

We never do learn what happens after that. The story ends with the perfect game—which, I suppose, is a perfect ending.

 

Major League Baseball has been around for over a century, and yet one must marvel at how often something happens during a game that has never happened before. Maybe some young fireballing ace will duplicate Steve Nebraska’s feat during the upcoming season. Just sayin’…

Play ball!

Guilty Pleasures: Mimic

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The 1997 sci-fi/horror flick, Mimic, is one of my favorites, though to date I had not written about it (that changes today). Maybe it had to do with my utter disappointment with its two direct-to-video sequels. Let me explain.

On Thanksgiving 2012 I wrote a post called, “A Real Turkey,” which had nothing to do with the holiday and everything to do with Mimic 2. I had purchased the “Mimic 3-Film Set,” and to be honest, I hadn’t even known about the sequels. Now I wish I’d never found out. You can read the old post for my thoughts on Mimic 2, but just so you know, Mimic 3: Sentinel was even worse. And that took some real doing.

But, since I don’t like being negative, let’s talk about the original. First off, a good mimic dvddirector and cast can always benefit a movie. Mimic, directed by Oscar-nominated Guillermo del Toro, features Oscar winners Mira Sorvino and F. Murray Abraham, Oscar-nominated actors Josh Brolin and Giancarlo Giannini, and capable pros Charles S. Dutton and Jeremy Northam. And the screenplay itself was adapted from a short story by science-fiction giant Donald A. Wollheim. A lot going for it, don’t you think?

“EVOLUTION HAS A WAY OF KEEPING THINGS ALIVE”

The story synopsis, with no spoiler alert, as I don’t want to ruin this one: a deadly disease carried by common cockroaches is killing children all over Manhattan. Entomologist Susan Tyler (Sorvino), assisted by her husband, Dr. Peter Mann (Northam) of the CDC, develops a large, weird-looking roach called the Judas Breed, a sort of termite/mantis mix, which eventually kills off all the diseased insects, making Susan a hero. The Judas Breed, all females with a short lifespan, were supposed to die off quickly. But, as they said in Jurassic Park when they did the same thing, “Life finds a way.”

A few years later an autistic kid named Chuy sees a guy pulled underground by what looks like a man but is actually one of the Judas Breed, now gigantic and able to

How would you like to run into this in the subway?

How would you like to run into this in the subway?

“mimic” humans. They actually look like flashers in long raincoats. CDC guy Josh (Brolin) investigates and finds some really big roach poop. He also notices that the place where the guy got pulled down connects to the subway tunnels.

Susan buys a “weird bug” from a couple of street kids. They found it in the maintenance room of a subway station. Tests show that it is one of the Judas Breed, an infant. Dang, they didn’t die off. She asks the kids to look for an egg sac. They go back into the tunnels, find one—and are promptly killed by one of the roaches. Another one of the creatures steals the specimen out of Susan’s lab. She and Peter investigate a dead Judas at a water treatment plant. Speculation is that a large colony now exists somewhere in the subway tunnels.

Chuy, the autistic boy, goes across the street to a storefront church at night looking for the “man” he calls “Mr. Funny Shoes” and promptly encounters some of the Judas dudes. His fate, for now, is unknown. His father, shoe-shine guy Manny (Giannini) follows the next morning.

Susan and Peter, having been denied access to the maintenance room where the kids found the first specimen by outrageous, by-the-book security guard Leonard (Dutton), return with a warrant. Peter, Josh, and Leonard go underground, while Susan, still on the platform, studies a photo they had taken of a dead Judas. When she folds it over, the two halves of the carapace form—gasp!—a human face. A live one then appears on

Leonard don't take no shit from the Judas Breed...

Leonard don’t take no shit from the Judas Breed…

the deserted platform, takes to flight—yeah, they have wings—grabs Susan and disappears into the subway tunnel.

As you’ve probably figured out, everyone is now underground—not along the main routes that most all of us have used when in New York City (“Stand clear of the closing doors, please…”) but even deeper, in tunnels that have not been used in decades. Somewhere down there is a queen Judas, and if they don’t destroy her…well, can you say Armageddon? Menaced by more of the huge insects—Josh has already been killed—the largest group takes refuge in an ancient, long-unused subway car, and…

And I’m not gonna tell you much more. I promised no spoilers, and much of the best and revealing stuff happens down here during the last half of the movie. I will say this: veteran actor Dutton steals many of the scenes as Leonard with some over-the-top dialogue and by singing to calm his nerves as the creatures approach. At one point they find a load of roach poop hanging from the ceiling, and Peter asks Leonard if he’s ever seen anything like it before. Leonard’s reply:

“Why you asking me if I’ve seen some shit like this before? Do I look like I’ve seen some shit like this before? Hell no, I ain’t never seen no shit like this before. Who the fuck would wanna climb up one of these walls and hang one of these? Musta been a big elephant-ass motherfucker.”

If you’re a masochist, then get the three-pack and have a ball…just don’t blame me. Otherwise, if you haven’t seen it already, check out the original Mimic. Great director, great cast, a solid story.

Redux: Why I Do What I Do

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Given my (approaching) dotage I’ve been taking on fewer writers in recent years, though I imagine I’ll never give it up entirely. The primary reason for that has to do with how much I love sharing in the success that many of my writers experience. This was more than evident last week when, three days apart, I received two freshly minted non-fiction books from a couple of writers with whom I thoroughly enjoyed working, from start to finish. And yes, both Ainsley Grace Collins, LPC and William Wright, M.D. listed me on their Acknowledgements page, and each signed their book with a personal note that warmed my heart.

AN EMPOWERING TRUE STORY AND SELF-HELP BOOK

Ainsley’s book is titled, What’s My Childhood Got to Do With It? Her subtitle: How ainsley bookDiscovering Your Past Will Benefit Your Future. Ainsley is a licensed professional counselor and founder of the Center for Humanness, a holistic-based outpatient mental health agency. She holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and has worked in the mental health field for over two decades. Ainsley utilizes her expertise in child abuse, lifespan development, crisis intervention, interpersonal relationships, and grief to help others discover their full potential.

Ainsley also endured one of the most dysfunctional and abusive childhoods that even a horror writer like me could hardly conceive of.

I met Ainsley at a writers’ conference a few years before she actually came to me with her project. It had taken her most of a lifetime to find the courage to put down on paper what she had endured as a young girl. Hearing her story, I felt honored that she trusted me enough to share it. Now, she wanted to share it with anyone who had suffered through an abusive childhood, to show them—as her subtitle indicates—how learning about

Ainsley Grace Collins and friend.

     Ainsley Grace Collins and friend.

their past and dealing with it can help them, as it did her, benefit their future.

Five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominees Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson wrote, “This book is a passionate reminder of the delicateness of childhood, the power of our environment, and the depth of the human spirit.” I couldn’t agree more.

“MY HUSBAND SHOULD BE COMMITTED!”

That’s what Dr. Bill Wright’s wife Mollie said when, after thirty years as a successful maximum insecurityear surgeon, he made a career change to general practitioner—in the Colorado State Penitentiary!

Maximum Insecurity: A Doctor in the Supermax chronicles the true-life misadventures of a doctor administering medical care to hardened criminals—the worst of the worst, murderers, rapists and such. Bill Wright describes them as sullen, 250-pound children who are more interested in intimidating doctors and scamming drugs than receiving treatment. He’s threatened. He’s attacked. And he doesn’t die—not even once.

This book, like “Dr. Bill” himself, is hilarious, especially given the subject matter. It also rips

Dr. Bill Wright

         Dr. Bill Wright

the veil off correctional facility operations and the lives of prisoners, correctional officers (don’t call them guards), and an administration more interested in penny-pinching and paperwork than medical care. I had a ball working with Bill Wright on this project and I look forward to his next one, which he said is forthcoming. I trust that will happen pre-dotage.

Self-Publishing: Where’s The Watchman?

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Quite a few years ago, when self-publishing, e-publishing, POD and such were in their embryonic stages, literary super-agent Richard Curtis (who at one time represented me) wrote an op-ed piece in Publishers Weekly titled, “Who’s Guarding the Gates?” The article detailed his concern over books that were going to be published without

Richard Curtis

         Richard Curtis

any professional screening from literary agents, or editors at mainstream publishing houses. Given the proliferation of self-publishing right up to the present day, Curtis’s concerns have proven quite visionary. While many authors today have found success via self-publishing, the reason for that success may not be because they have written well-structured, riveting stories. Rather, these individuals are great at marketing, PR, and the use of social media.

Bottom line: hype trumps quality.

The following true story took place not long after Richard Curtis published his op-ed piece. I taught a basic novel-writing course for a community college adult education program in San Diego, which included a read & critique segment. One woman—let’s call her Millie—read her work enthusiastically but, sorry to say, her story came up short in all areas. I did appreciate her eagerness to learn and improve, so I suggested she take a longer, more comprehensive class that I facilitated at the University of California, San Diego Extension. She did, and when it was done she told me that she’d learned a great deal and was ready to apply it to her novel.

Afterward, I did not hear from Millie for quite a while. When I finally did, she happily announced that she’d done a number of revisions and that her manuscript was ready for publication, but would I review it just to make sure? I took the project on…

…and could barely get through a few pages of some of the least skillful writing I’d ever seen.

I met with Millie and patiently explained what she needed to do in order for her project to begin approaching what I call “professional grade.” She still seemed eager to learn and professed the four words I’d hoped to hear: “I can do that!” So, telling her toBooks SLOW DOWN and take her time, I sent her back to the drawing board.

Not expecting to hear from Millie for many months, I was surprised when she contacted me shortly after and said that this time she felt certain her story was ready for publication. And so I read it again…

…and could barely get through a few pages of some of the least skillful writing I’d ever seen.

At this point I came to the conclusion that Millie just could not GET IT, and I begged off the project. She thanked me and promised that she would keep at it.

Flash forward about nine months. I received a postcard announcing the coming publication of Millie’s book, which would be available on Amazon and the other usual outlets. I could only roll my eyes at the thought of this book being published, and I realized right then just how spot on Richard Curtis had been.

But the story doesn’t end there. Some months later I was doing my annual gig facilitating classes at the Southern California Writers’ Conference. A woman approached me and said that she had been in a read & critique group with Millie. She also told me something I did not know: in her acknowledgements, Millie had thanked ME for helping her achieve her goal. I could only think (not say), “Oh crap!”

Then, the woman bluntly asked me what I thought of the book. Answering as diplomatically as I could, I told her, “That book should never have been published,” and that I had given up on the project long ago. The woman, less diplomatic, said that books 2she and her group thought the book was “awful.” She also said that she’d heard about me from other writers and had thought about seeking my help with her own writing, but if Millie’s book was an indication of what I did for writers, she wanted no part of me. Though relieved to learn otherwise, she had already committed to another writing coach.

Thanks, Millie.

Self-publishing continued to snowball after that, and I adopted a carte blanche policy of turning down any writer who came to me for help in publishing their own books. This changed when a woman with a fascinating autobiography asked for my help. She had gotten a commitment from a major publisher to do the book, but they’d jacked her around for over a year, until finally her editor there left. At that time, disillusioned with mainstream publishing, she took the project back and decided to self-publish it. But she knew it needed work (it did), and she wanted it to be the best it could be—her reason for seeking my help.

That kind of conscientious attitude led me to take the project on, and since its publication a few years ago it has done exceptionally well. Needless to say, I’ve taken on many more writers with self-publishing goals since then. If they care enough to make their books the absolute best they can be, why not?

These days, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who HASN’T written a book. I still encounter many folks who have the attitude that the 75,000 to 100,000 words they managed to crank out constitute a book, so therefore it’s finished, and they’ll slap a cover on it and put it out there as is. Who needs to spend the money on an editor or a coach?

One old adage still has chops: “Cream always rises to the top.”

The watchman is, for the most part, no longer guarding the gates. If you care about your writing, get yourself a professional pair of eyes to help you make your work shine.

SWORDS & SPECTERS: my sword & sorcery novel, The
Sword of Tyron
, will be Tyron For Kindleavailable for free download on Friday, March 14th and Saturday, March 15th. In this spirited adventure a young mountain man named Tyron travels back in time a thousand years to try and save the great city-state of Berbora from its devastating fate. Enjoy!

Opening Lines: Part Quatre

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I just can’t get enough of those great bad opening lines that have been submitted to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest over the decades. Here are some more gems from recent years.

Hermann lay with Esmerelda, entwined with one another among love-tangled sheets and he thought how this one constant yet mercurial woman was one whom he could hold in his arms forever, although eventually he’d have to get up to go to the bathroom.

It had started off as a prank, but when Major Elyse Livesay discovered (during her solo astronautspace walk, no less!) the tarantula that the boys in the crew had slipped into her spacesuit, she knew that while in space no one could hear you scream, it was damn sure not for lack of trying.

It was a long and boring flight to Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport and when Special Agent Jasper Smoot debarked and walked into the restroom marked “Dama“ in Cyrillic he might have found the woman there attractive except she had more whiskers than a Civil War general and was pointing a crossbow at his head.

The giant ape’s broken body lay upon the asphalt and I didn’t know which had finally done him in—the planes’ machine guns, the fall from atop the building, or maybe just a broken heart—but it was all so heart-wrenching, so tragic, his climbing the Empire State Building just to get a glimpse of that woman’s gorgeous derriere, and the sheer waste of it all finally prompted me to pronounce my own benediction over his great, furry carcass: “T’was booty killed the beast!”

Dispatched to the steamy tropics by crusty editor, Warren Pease, to interview renowned spiritualist, Serrafima Raire, in her grass shack, which he truly feared would exacerbate his chronic asthma, London Times ace reporter John Donne found her dying of jungle fever, forcing him to write despairingly in his cable to the home office, “Medium Raire not well – Donne.”

Doc Parker looked down as Sheriff Eddie LaDuke lay desperately gasping his final breaths in the dusty sun-baked Arizona desert, knowing there was little he could do ascowboy the outlaw’s bullet had shredded Eddie’s internal organs like fresh coleslaw, leaving Doc to ponder his next move equipped only with his pistol, some chewing tobacco, and now, one extra horse.

I traveled long and hard to get here, blindfolded by suspicious gunmen, riding donkey-back for hours across inhospitable terrain, with no idea of whether the next valley would contain an ambush or a bomb, cut off from communication and denied the basic amenities of civilization, but finally I was able to meet with the terrorist leader and see the Polaroids of how silly I had looked riding blindfolded on a donkey.

Dorothy could hardly believe her ears as the uniformed Munchkin reeled off the citations: flying without a license, flying an unregistered building, reckless flying causing injury or death, parking in an unauthorized place, double-parking (vertical), failure to give way to pedestrians, failure to indicate, 2nd-degree witchslaughter, and closing her eyes she fervently prayed, “Please, I want to go home…”

The sun beat like a molten hammer upon the sand that Jasper trudged upon, scorching his bare skin, baking his eyeballs dry, boiling his brains in his skull, and bleaching his deserthair to that lovely yellowy shade that perfectly matched his taupe shirt, the one that he could wear with either his suede jacket or the denim one.

My underwear stuck to my backside like an All-Pro cornerback to a rookie wide receiver as I browsed through the seed catalog that had mistakenly found its way into my mailbox.

Redux: When Art Creates Life

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When my blogmeister and great friend, August McLaughlin, asked if I would participate in her “Beauty of a Woman” Blogfest 2014, I pushed the Staples button: EASY. The Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hairmost beautiful woman I’ve ever known, inside and out, is the one I’m married to: my Jacqueline. And the way we met? Think destiny; think karma; think MAGIC. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, and here it is again. (By the way, stop by August’s blog through March 3rd for links to other participants’ posts and chances to win prizes. She’s giving away gift cards [$5 to $50 value] and more.)

 Okay, art is supposed to imitate life. From our life experiences we create paintings, prose, sculptures, you name it. But on rare—and awesome—occasions, art can create life.

Back in the early nineties I landed a contract with The Berkley Publishing Group for a satirical science fiction novel, Bicycling Through Space and Time. The story follows the misadventures of Jack Miller, a thirty-something Southern California writer who, like his creator at the time, is divorced and, as they say, “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.” Jack has a Bicyclingtwenty-one-speed mountain bike—twenty-two actually, because an alien study group has added an extra gear that allows Jack passage through gates into other worlds, dimensions, earth’s past, literature, etc. When he’s not riding the Ultimate Bike Path, Jack is going out on some pretty bad dates.

Halfway through the book, Jack has a date with a lady named Holly Dragonette. Holly is from Iowa but is transferring to San Diego to take a new job. Jack has a great time with Holly and tells readers that he’s looking forward to another date with her—which will only happen if there are sequels to the book. I delivered the manuscript to Berkley, and they liked it enough to offer me a book deal for two sequels. A writer’s dream, yes? But, they say, we’d like to see how you transition into the second book, so can you send us chapter one?

Standard writer’s answer: I can do that! So in chapter one Jack tells readers that the second date with Holly went great, and now he’s going to ride his bike cross country to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help her move out. The chapter went to Berkley, and I got the contracts.

A month later I respond to a classified ad in a local newspaper placed by a lady named Jacqueline. The first time we talk—on the phone; you had to take it in steps—we seem to really connect, and at some point I tell her that I’m originally from New York City. Then I ask her where she’s from, figuring nearly everyone in Southern California is from somewhere else.

She’s from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Dead silence from me. Jacqueline asks what’s wrong. I say that she wouldn’t believe me if I told her. She assures me that she would.

And she did. In 2014 we celebrate twenty-four years together, seventeen of them as J & M 2010husband and wife. It hasn’t always been easy—life deals you a few curves along the way, no matter who you are—but it’s been a great ride. And what a neat way to find your soul mate.

And if how we met wasn’t enough, here’s more. Two months after meeting we went out to dinner and, for the first time, talked about living together. We settled on four or five months down the road, to give the relationship some time. That same night I took Jacqueline back to her rented condo, owned by a professor who was teaching in Europe—and we found an eviction notice on her door. The guy had decided to move back to the states.

We moved into a new place together three weeks later.

Yes, art imitates life, but art can also create life. Sometimes you just need to put it out there.

“We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes”

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I love memorable lines from the silver screen, especially if they’re from movie favorites that I watch numerous times. A couple years ago I wrote a post titled, “She Wouldn’t Even Harm a Fly”—the great last line from the classic 1960 Hitchcock film, Psycho. Accordingly, I thought it apropos to open this post with another line from that unforgettable thriller. Have a ball!

Norman went a little mad...

Norman went a little mad…

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” – Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) to Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Can’t argue with that logic, eh?

“Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm big-trouble-in-little-china-posterright square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.” Kurt Russell’s goofy truck driver character in Big Trouble in Little China has so many great lines that whole websites are devoted to them.

“This sucks! A maniac gets a hold of my gun and runs all over the streets killin’ people with it. So, instead of bein’ where I oughta be, home in bed with my gal givin’ her the high hard one, I’m out here doin’ THIS shit: roamin’ around the streets with an overdressed, charcoal-colored loser like you.” A mismatched cop (Nick Nolte) and convict (Eddie Murphy) still crack viewers up in the comedy/crime flick, 48 Hrs.

“You contemptible pig! I remained celibate for you. I stood at the back of a cathedral, waiting, in celibacy, for you, with three hundred friends and relatives in attendance. My uncle hired the best Romanian caterers in the state. To obtain the seven limousines blues brothersfor the wedding party, my father used up his last favor with Mad Pete Trullo. So for me, for my mother, my grandmother, my father, my uncle, and for the common good, I must now kill you, and your brother.” – Carrie Fisher hunts down Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) with a rocket launcher in The Blues Brothers, one of the funniest movies of all time.

“Hey, pal. Hey, wake up. Heroes don’t look like me—not in the real world. In the real world they got bad teeth, a bald spot, and a beer gut. I’m just an actor with a gun who’s lost his motivation. Be seeing you.” – Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) giving his reasons for not wanting to take part in hunting down King Kong.

“I was the East Coast distributor of ‘involved.’ I ate it, drank it, and breathed it… Then they killed Martin, Bobby, and they elected Tricky Dick twice, and people like you must think I’m miserable because I’m not involved anymore. Well, I’ve got news for you. I spent all my misery years ago. I have no more pain for anything. I gave at the office.” – Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) to Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams. (Any excuse to work in something from my favorite movie ever.)

“I would hope you would support who we are. Not who we are not. These six individuals have made a choice to work, a choice to sacrifice, to put themselves on the hoosiersline twenty-three nights for the next four months, to represent you, this high school. That kind of commitment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.” – Coach Norman Dale shames the small-minded townsfolk in Hoosiers, a great, inspirational sports movie.

“It all began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves; immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven, to the Dwarf Lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of Men, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and the will to govern over each race. But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret, a master ring, to control all others. And into this ring he poured all his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all.” – I’m sure you knew this one after the first line. Elven queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) gave us this backstory in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I watch all three movies at least every other year—straight through.

There are endless choices for great, memorable movie lines. You are welcome to share some of yours.

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