Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Conferences tomorrow

The full day of student conferences is scheduled for tomorrow, so I'll be beat by this time Thursday night.

Got no writing done today, which is fine. Read student papers and was excited to find what appears to be a "natural screenwriter" in class, someone already writing at a high level of craft. Almost everyone else is overwriting to a large degree, the usual beginning problem.

Have a few breaks in the full day conference schedule, so maybe I can get some writing done then. Otherwise, I'll write a lot this weekend.

I started the novel about the black soldiers in postwar Berlin, and it's quite good. Never heard of it or the writer, but this may turn out to be a first rate book. One of those wonderful books that appears, gets appreciated or not, but then gets forgotten. There must be thousands of them. 90% of the pop lit I try to read doesn't measure to this novelist's knees. William Gardner Smith, Last of the Conquerors. I'll have more to say about it when I'm done.

High Maintenance

Phillip Van's award-winning 9-minute short is another film I admire.

Go to the film.

History of Western Philosophy

Here is my favorite animation on the net, by Bruno Kavanagh and Chris Day:

Salinger's Teddy

Today In Literature takes a look at the short stories of J. D. Salinger today. Included is a great passage from "A Perfect Day For Bananafish" and discussion of "Teddy," a story that I believe is completely misinterpreted most of the time, still. I believe this so strongly that in 1976 I wrote a story called "Teddy At The Pool" in which I clarify the ending to Salinger's story in the only way that makes sense to me.

The question is: what happens at the end of Salinger's story? One critic summarizes the standard interpretation this way: "In another well-known story in the collection called “Teddy,” a jealous sister pushes a child prodigy into an empty swimming pool. Here the little genius has anticipated and even welcomes his own death." (Maxwell Geismar, “The Wise Child and the New Yorker School of Fiction”).

My interpretation is completely opposite from this! I believe in the ending of Salinger's story, Teddy pushes his sister into a full swimming pool (!) and no one dies.

Wow. Talk about a difference. Why do I believe I'm right and all these literary critics are wrong? Because they took Salinger's bait (he's a Zen clown, after all). All the evidence is in the story, as it must be.

Here's the first question: is the swimming pool full or empty? What we know from the story is this: the story occurs not on the usual day for draining and cleaning the pool. That's clear enough. Then how does it suddenly become empty? Only because Teddy, in telling a story, says, in effect, Let's say this was the day they cleaned the pool and it was empty. He needs an empty pool to make his point. But it is clear it is not the cleaning day. There simply is no justification for believing the pool is empty unless you believe that just because Teddy, in telling a story, says Let's pretend it's the cleaning day, it suddenly becomes the cleaning day in fact. This is ridiculous. The pool is full. There is no rational alternative.

So if the pool is full, what happens? We know we hear a girl scream. We know it is Teddy's sister who screams. Moreover, Salinger gives us the clear definitive image: the sound of her voice is reverberating between tiled walls. Where are tiled walls? Above the water level of a swimming pool. In other words, her head is within this space, which is to say, just above the water level. We know she can't swim. She herself is in the water, screaming her bloody head off.

How did she get there? Teddy pushed her. Why? Because he has emotions after all. He spends a lot of time arguing about the inappropriateness of putting emotions into things that don't have them, which is what happens in a lot of poetry, and Teddy tries to put himself above all that. But guess what? Despite his genius, he's an emotional being after all, he loses it, gets tired of his snotty sister, and in a spontaneous moment of emotion, pushes her into the full pool, full because it's not the cleaning day.

This is what the story is about. The evidence in the story can have it no other way. Salinger, the Zen clown, the superb craftsman, knows that a simplistic view will jump at Teddy's explanation (which makes for a boring story, the protagonist telling us the ending ahead of time!), he's cynical enough to suspect, I think, many will do just this -- but his story has a rich complexity and a complete twist at the end, all perfectly and clearly set up for the careful reader. It's a brilliant and extraordinary story. The standard critical reading, in contrast, turns it into a predictable, didactic, boring lesson in eastern philosophy. No way. This is great stuff, and Salinger knows exactly what he is doing. He knows, like any good storyteller knows, that the old cliche is true, that actions speak louder than words. What Teddy says is one thing but what he does is another.

Here's how I make this argument in a more dramatic way, in Teddy At The Pool.

Nightmares & the Chinese Curse

I believe it was Joyce who said history is a nightmare from which we try to recover. But which are more upsetting, the nightmares of the past or the nightmares of the future? Terrorists are just itching to get their hands on a nuke. Bush, it seems to me, is just itching for a war with Iran. Meanwhile Nature is Nature, confident of getting the last word. Nature always wins. Which leaves us with ...

Climate change warning for Sydney
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

A report on the effects of climate change in Australia paints an alarming picture of life in the city of Sydney.

It warns that if residents do not cut water consumption by more than 50% over the next 20 years, the city will become unsustainable.

Read the story.

Jan. 30, 2007 (ABC News) — A major new report on global warming slated to be released Friday raises new fears that the earth's climate is changing faster than anyone thought possible.

Today, 500 of the world's top scientists are meeting behind closed doors to finish a landmark report on global warming, and the picture they paint is not pretty. They say significant changes in the climate could start happening within the next 10 years.

Read the story.

Bush accused of distorting evidence on climate change
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
Published: 31 January 2007

The Bush administration has been accused of routinely misleading the public over the threat of global warming and of orchestrating efforts to try to suppress scientific findings that highlight the reality of climate change.

Read the story.

Which brings me back, as so often, to Thornton Wilder's faith that we survive somehow by "the skin of our teeth." We probably will -- but, as Hawking suggests, not here. On the moon. On Mars. The human game goes on.

I feel blessed to be of my generation. Truly do. Blessed for a variety of reasons, as I've said here before.
  • Born before Pearl Harbor, so I have memory of "a just war"
  • Solid parents who cared for their kids more than themselves (i.e. before the Age of Arrogance)
  • Came of age before TV, so not raised by it
  • Grew up when hitchhiking was safe and an honorable mode of transportation -- folks helped you out without fearing you were a serial killer
  • In the Army I served between "hot" wars, after Korea, before Vietnam, the Cold War far less dangerous but still engaging and exciting
  • Started college when at a public institution like Cal/Berkeley, tuition for a term was about a week's wages -- i.e. college was affordable
  • In small towns across America, business was still done on a handshake. My buddy Dick got a bank loan for college from a small Idaho bank on a handshake. After he had the check, they sent him an application for their records!
  • Did not have to grow up in an age of Whining, Refusing Responsibility, and Quick-Fix Quacks. Nobody was a victim of anything. Shit happens and you deal with it.
  • Lived and paid attention long enough to know that in many areas of life "progress" is a complete myth. Some things get worse, not better. Entropy. Nature wins.
  • etc etc etc.

Maybe most folks are delighted to belong to whatever generation they belong to. If Satan himself appeared to make a deal with me, giving me my youth back, I'd tell him to take a hike. You couldn't pay me to be young today. You couldn't pay me to be younger today. I'm happy exactly where I am in the space-time continuum, thank you very much. I lived my younger years at a better time than now, I'm at the top of my game as a writer to reflect on my experiences, and I retain the writer's curiosity to watch, from as far away as I can get, how the whole mess is going to unravel and come apart -- or ("by the skin of our teeth") not.

Remember that Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times.

P.S. Depression is not the only response to the facts of existence. Another is wonder at how much good there is despite the bad (or perhaps because of the bad in a zero-sum universe, the possible cosmic connection between Bach and serial killers) and especially an appreciation of our individual moments of contentment. I don't have to focus on global warming. I can focus on Sketch's steadfast determination to get me to play tug-the-toy with him. I can focus on the blue sky outside. I can focus on writing this.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sports at its best

On the wire:

14-year-old given exemption by Sorenstam
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (UPI) -- Annika Sorenstam gave a 14-year-old girl with a rare heart condition a special exemption to the Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika, a South Carolina golf event.

Because of the action by Sorenstam, MacKinzie Kline will be able to play in Sorenstam's tournament May 31-June 3. Kline is a top-rated junior golfer but her heart condition keeps her from being able to walk long distances. The LPGA has granted her permission to use a cart during the tournament.

"MacKinzie is a very unique and determined young lady and we are thrilled to have her play in the Ginn Tribute," Sorenstam said. "What she has accomplished, not only in golf, but for the community is extraordinary."

Kline was born with a congenital heart defect, her liver is on the left side of her body rather than the right and she was born without a spleen. She must carry oxygen with her at all times, including on the golf course.

"This is a dream come true for me," said Kline who is from Encinitas, Calif. "I've always had the dream to play on the LPGA Tour and Annika has made this a reality for me. Words cannot express my appreciation for this honor."

Being independent

Primus stopped by my office, and we talked about some exciting future directions for the review. He likes to talk about it as put together "by a couple of old guys" who know what they're doing. He's using his influence to attract some major voices our way, W.S. Merwin upcoming, for example. (At the same time, I'm no dummy: I appointed a hot young talent as video arts editor!)

He also let me know that a dean here had approached him about getting me to "attach" the review to our Center for Excellence in Writing, where we could get "free" bandwidth. I already went over this option and decided I wanted absolutely no official connection with the university because I've been down that track before. Eventually some committee wouldn't like what I was doing! No, this was my idea, my vision, and I had the good sense to hire damn good area editors and to give them lots and lots of freedom. We're ahead of the curve here, we all know that, and we're doing it as independent writers and artists, with no committee to satisfy. Each editor is responsible for his or her section (mine, besides overall editor, being scripts and hypertext/hypermedia except for video arts). I am delighted with the job my editors are doing.

We're about the apply for our first grant, for operating expenses and advertising to libraries. I don't think the granting institution has ever received a literary magazine on a CD-ROM before, so it'll be interesting to see what happens.

This is a damn exciting project, and Primus' enthusiasm matches my own. So did Evelyn's at the party. So has John's in the past. We're in the right place at the right time and with the right approach: Oregon Literary Review.

Remembering Jim Wylie

Found this in my mailbox and thought I'd share it.

Jim Wylie

The Music Years 1964-1968+

1964-----the year that the Civil Rights Act was passed, the year the Beatles arrived in New York, Motown records came into its own, and the Beach Boys and their clones launched the hot rod series of songs. It was also the year the Jim Wylie was relocated with the Air Force from Turkey to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany as an Aircraft Ground Equipment Mechanic. He was 21 years old.

I arrived at Spangdahlem as my Air Force duty station around the same time, hauling my guitar and banjo along---I was 21, too, and looking for others of the Folk Genre-----somewhere someone told me about this kid who lived in another barracks and played a left handed guitar and was pretty good (that’s always a relative term---almost anyone who could play 3 chords was considered talented in those days!). So, I poked around, found this kid who was working the night shift like I was as I recall, and we arranged to get together on our next time off to “jam” a little and check each other out. At that Close Encounter of the First Kind, he pulled out his Framus 12-string and proceeded to blast out “San Francisco Bay Blues” and “Nobody Knows You ‘Til You’re Down and Out” as his first offering. WOW! Could this guy finger pick like crazy! I countered with a couple of my ballads from previous folk work, and we played around for about 4 hours---asking, clarifying, trying harmonies, finding common grounds---

From that came a great combination of song, fun, and activities. Jim brought his wife Barbara over soon thereafter and moved into an apartment just outside the base, and we spent a lot of time together singing, entertaining, and socializing. For the next two years Jim and I ended up teaching guitar lessons and trampoline lessons to the youth at the base, doing trampoline demonstrations at base basketball games, entertaining at the Officers, NCO, and Airmen’s clubs on base as well at countless private parties, and the local Armed Forces Network television station. We also entered and won several base and Armed Forces Europe talent contests during this time frame, making many friends along the way. We wrote and performed songs about the Air Force way of life, about the Viet Nam war (in its infant stages) and about the scandals in British government---nothing was out of bounds for us!

As 1966 rolled along, I was reassigned to school in Arizona----and we asked and pulled some strings and got Jim reassigned to Arizona shortly thereafter---not at the same location, but close enough so we could continue to work our music on the weekends. For two more years---1966-1968, we worked back and forth in Tucson and Phoenix doing shows and developing more styles and ideas. And, oh---was that a fun time!!! Parties and clubs and folk/blues music was still hot! Jim taught me so much just by watching and imitating his finger picking. I was a great rhythm player and harmonizer, so together we had a nice blend. His songwriting was always smile-inducing, and his music and words thought provoking as most of you appreciate. Thankfully, most all of his creations are either written down or recorded—or both, for all of us to reminisce and enjoy.

I left Arizona in late 1968 for Texas and other Air Force assignments. Jim and I kept in touch as he completed his military assignment and moved on to California, having formed other musical bonds and developing his teaching styles and groups. The next time I saw Jim was in 1971 as I returned from Viet Nam----my wife and I spent a couple of days with he and Barbara and had a memorable short reunion then. We called and wrote from time to time, keeping track of each other. I ended up in Seattle in the early 80’s and he ended up in Portland I think, because we arranged to get together in 1982 and again in 1983 at the Seattle Folk Life Festival held at the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle stands) over the Memorial Day 4-day weekend those two years. Spending the night before the first performance on those dates at my home, we quick-rehearsed some of our old songs---to both of our amazements---with the harmonizations, licks, and timing from the decades before----it WAS truly an eye-watering experience (as Jim would say, “don’t get sloppy, just tell ‘em!”). By then I had kids, who had each heard about Jim and got to know him personally just during our short visits.

As the years continued, we sent tapes, called, wrote off and on----I became concerned with his chain smoking and alcohol issues---and we’d talk about those things, trying to work it so he knew he had support any time, any place. He’d send me copies of “Writings From The Cave” and I would hoot and holler about his ramblings----what a sense of humor! By then I was working for Delta Air Lines and arranged some layovers in Portland on some of my trips, where Jim and I could at least meet and have dinner or, on occasion, I could catch one of his performances somewhere. I took one of my sons. Brady, who a talented guitar player in his own right, to see Jim, and Jim spent an afternoon with him, showing him riffs, fingerings, styles, etc that helped Brady master some new techniques---as well some tickling humor from his music creations. Who can forget “Poof, the Magic Deodorant”, “Woad”, or “The Pinto Song”? My kids won’t, nor will I, nor will any of you I am sure.

We had moved to Utah back in 1988, and finally got Jim to come out for a visit over the 4th of July weekend---in 2002 I think---and we picked and grinned ourselves silly for 4 days, letting my kids and their friends whoop it up as they listened to two “old guys” wail and whack the guitars and the Songs of the Elder Set, or so it seemed to them. Same songs, same harmonies, same riffs, same jokes----except he and I laughed long and hard at so many of the inside jokes we shared over the years.

As Jim would also say, “It’s been quite a ride”. And it has, for all of us who shared our time with Jim. We have all been enlightened by him, concerned for him, and will miss him immensely---that he has left us with his Peace, Love, and Music is his legacy and our reflection on one meaning of life.

John Mullen

January 2007

Samples of Wylie's music are in the current issue of Oregon Literary Review ... here.


Broke the 10,000 word benchmark at the office.

William Gardner Smith

Through the wonderful network of university libraries, I was able to track down William Gardner Smith's 1948 novel The Last of the Conquerors, which will inform my Baumholder research for my own novel.

Last of the Conquerors. One of the few fictional depictions of African American soldiers during the war, the novel concerns a black G.I. in occupied Germany who falls in love with a German girl. The African American writer was born in Philadelphia and served as a clerk-typist in occupied Berlin. His other novels would include Anger at Innocence (1950), South Street (1954), and The Stone Face (1963).

Thus far I'm not getting into the race issue in Baumholder, 1961, except how it relates to my central focus, and I base this on personal experience, like the time a black soldier beaned me with a chair in a black bar. One of my best friends in the company was black, and we hung out together for the most part without hassle. Of course, if we stayed on post on the hill, everything was fine.

I'm at the office early, four hours till my class, in order to work on the novel without Sketch yapping at me to go for a run.


Less than a month now until the trip to LA. This production features two Tony-award winners in the female leads. Production details. Only thing I'd prefer different is that they are singing it in English. Can't have everything.

Word count

To 9200 words this morning.

Reports from a Warming Planet

A report from American Radio Works.

Devil's Dictionary

IMPARTIAL, adj. Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy or adopting either of two conflicting opinions.

IMPIETY, n. Your irreverence toward my deity.

IMPOSTOR n. A rival aspirant to public honors.

Ambrose Bierce

Eccentric genius

Ezra Pound is the focus of this morning's Today In Literature. Fascinating to wonder who and where the cryptic literary geniuses are in the culture today, those writing the high art work that demands great erudition to be understood, which once was published despite this but today probably is on the net somewhere, if anywhere at all, today's Cantos (Pound) or Finnegan's Wake (Joyce). What is certain is that they exist. Less certain is whether or not they ever will find an appreciative audience.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Good German

Joseph Kanon is a retired publisher who began writing historical thrillers in retirement. His first, Los Alamos, is first rate and made me a fan, even though I read very little "pop lit" that I can stand. I only finish about one of ten "best sellers" I try, putting most down in the first chapter (and sometimes, as in the case of The Da Vinci Code, throwing them across the room in a fury of obscenities ha ha). Kanon's The Good German isn't as good as his first one but a good read nonetheless, and I came to the movie because I like the story.

Most critics disliked this film.
  • "...peculiar and unsatisfying..." (Chi Trib)
  • "...unintentionally goofy..." (E! online)
  • "...they don't make them like they used to even when they try." (NY Times)
  • "The story isn't gripping or even coherent. There is no real romance." (SF Chron)
    But a few liked it:
  • "...pure moviegoing bliss." (Rolling Stone)
  • "Noirs this good don't come along every day, or even every year." (
  • "...the movie is best appreciated as an exercise in vintage Hollywood style." (NY Post).

I give it thumbs up, too. Not a great movie but an engaging and suspenseful one that had me in its grip for the whole ride. That's what thrillers are supposed to do.

Work on a mellow afternoon

Read a very good start on a student script ... then read one that's such a mess I set it aside for later. Put on my editing cap and got a poet ready for the summer issue, translations from the French. Rec'd an exciting libretto submission from a poet in Belgium we've published before. Have some haiga I accepted to format.

Off to see The Good German this afternoon. It's only at one theater with a few showings per day, signs that it ain't long for this world. Now or never. The critics didn't like it much but I wouldn't be surprised if I did.

Now that the Cold War novel has a good start, time to begin a new screenplay. Been working on a storyboard for the next one, about half done. Busy, busy.

How quickly a screenplay can change

A former student asked me to look at his new screenplay. Since it's early in the term, before I'm buried with current student work, I agreed to take a look.

I was excited from the get-go because the first four pages were top notch. Clear writing, wonderful street characters, setting up our hero, a down-and-out guy who is new to being homeless. And then everything changed. We're someplace else, different characters, and over ten slow pages go by before our potential protagonist shows up as the brother of the new focus. But it's the brother with a job we stay with, so he appears to be the protagonist -- until after twenty pages we go back to the other down-and-out guy. And all the while we are moving forward at a snail's pace with long chatty dialogue scenes. I couldn't read any more and abandoned the script on page 45 of 120. What a disappointment. Frankly, if I'm going to reject a screenplay, I'd as soon dislike it from the beginning. It almost pisses me off to get lured into a story and then have the writer abandon the very thing s/he sets up. It's like a betrayal. "A story is a promise," to quote the title of Bill Johnson's book, and beginning writers are forever breaking their word. This writer hooked me on a story and then tossed it out the window. What a disappointment.

Barbaro is euthanized

By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer 10 minutes ago

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. - Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized Monday after complications from his gruesome breakdown at last year's Preakness, ending an eight-month ordeal that prompted an outpouring of support across the country.

"We just reached a point where it was going to be difficult for him to go on without pain," co-owner Roy Jackson said. "It was the right decision, it was the right thing to do. We said all along if there was a situation where it would become more difficult for him then it would be time."

Read the story.

The vets went far beyond the usual call of duty to save this horse over the past year. A sad ending.

Devil's Dictionary

I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection.

IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.

IGNORAMUS, n. A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.

IMAGINATION, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.

IMMIGRANT, n. An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.

Ambrose Bierce

Another 1000 words this morning. This afternoon I put on my professor's cap and look at student work. Will fit piano time in there, too, of course.

Hand out midterms tomorrow. How time flies.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Up to 7600 in the Baumholder draft.

Barbaro and Bush (RB)

By RICHARD ROSENBLATT, AP Racing Writer 2 hours, 52 minutes ago

Barbaro had two steel pins placed in a bone in his right hind leg, a risky surgery that's the latest setback in the Kentucky Derby winner's fight for survival.

"I'm upset, worried, not sleeping well," chief surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson said Sunday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "A lot of people are very, very committed and spent a huge amount of emotional sources on this horse. So it's very upsetting when things go badly."

Read the story.

Somewhat better news:

MIAMI - Reggie Bush was fined $5,000 by the NFL for taunting during his 88-yard touchdown reception in New Orleans' NFC championship game loss at Chicago last week.

Although the rookie running was not penalized for pointing back at Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher or for somersaulting into the end zone, he subsequently received the league's standard punishment for taunting.

Read the story.

What an irrelevant fine for a talented but Bush-league back. I'd have fined him $500,000, which might get his attention. The very thought that arrogant assholes like this belong in the same record book as the likes of McElhenny, Brown, Perry, Ameche, etc., all of whom had class with their talent, is appalling. What makes this year's Super Bowl so nice is not that you have two black coaches but that you have two coaches with class, which usually rubs off on their teams. Class is no longer a common commodity in professional sports.


Great NW Bookstore

At the cocktail party I had a nice chat with Phil W., owner of The Great Northwest Bookstore. We've known one another by sight for decades but never really sat down for a long chat before, so it was cool. He was excited about the concept of the review and had some good ideas for new directions in which to take it, like including oral histories.

Met a young writer who was a real fan of Oregon Fever, the anthology of Northwest Review articles I edited. Great to see a younger generation understand what a gold mine that publication was and how much we've lost without it. This lad got it!

I had a good time -- and left after a couple hours before I turned into a grouch, which happens after I reach my limits of socialization.

Tick tick

Some important upcoming countdowns ...
  • 28 days until Mahagonny.
  • 42 days until Selection Sunday, March Madness.
  • 138 days until Target Date, finish draft of Baumholder.

Devil's Dictionary

HOSPITALITY, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.

HOSTILITY, n. A peculiarly sharp and specially applied sense of the earth's overpopulation.

HUMANITY, n. The human race, collectively, exclusive of the anthropoid poets.

HUSBAND, n. One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the plate.

Ambrose Bierce

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Some mnemonic crash between cocktails and Baumholder brought to mind Steinhager, a gin-like drink we ordered in Germany when the drinking got serious. One and only time I ever consumed it.

Steinhager: From the slopes of Perrenland comes Steinhager, a variety of gin between 60 and 70 proof made from extremely concentrated juniper berries. The gin's taste is so distinct that even the olvenfolk of the Vesve and Highfolk Valley enjoy it. Steinhager is also popular throughout northwestern Furyondy. Perrenlander merchants export Steinhager, but local varieties exist wherever juniper trees can be found.

There didn't seem to be a lot of quality control and it could be nasty stuff. The cowards among us poured a shot right in the beer rather than chasing it. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone drink it in this country.


To a cocktail party tonight. I can't recall the last time I heard the phrase! Seems so old-fashioned, almost politically incorrect. Hosted by the review's wonderful new non-fiction editor, whom I've never met in person. Not sure how long I'll hang in, being the aging hermit that I am, but H and I definitely will make an appearance. I'll even bring my own Diet Pepsi.

Lynne in Paris

Photos of my friend Lynne the jazz singer on her birthday vacation in Paris, taken by my other friend Lynn the writer who lives in Paris.

Rumor has it, she fell in love with Paris and wants to move there. Doesn't surprise me at all.


Up to 6200 words on the novel draft this morning. Moving right along.

Notes on a scandal

Mixed response to this film. Not sure whether I blame the script or the directing. At any rate, this superbly acted story never grabs me. It's as if the styles are mixed, the story too extreme for the naturalistic package or something. I found myself disappointed despite the powerful performances.

Devil's Dictionary

HATRED, n. A sentiment appropriate to the occasion of another's superiority.

HEATHEN, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.

HEAVEN, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.

HERS, pron. His.

HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homocide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another -- the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.

Ambrose Bierce

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hard-to-get film

There's a 1954 German film, Die Goldene Pest, or The Golden Plague, that is about Baumholder. I know it exists in video because a video of it was shown in a university film class. But I haven't found anywhere I might obtain a copy. Anybody know where to get hard-to-find films?

Space and Time in L.A.

Thinking about Baumholder brings thoughts of "Rich," another Army friend with whom I kept in contact as a civilian, both of us being from L.A. I saw Rich last summer when I went down for another friend's 75th birthday party. Rich said, "You have a gray beard." It had been that long. Rich's wife told me, "Thank you for my life," meaning that I had introduced them to the couple who became their closest friends.

Rich was a big drinker in those days. Also a big gambler. He quit drinking and kept gambling -- in fact, a retired TV editor (he edited "Dallas"!), he now lives outside Las Vegas. At any rate, when I had a new play opening in Portland, he'd come up to see it, mainly to "get away" for a weekend and also to gamble across the river in Vancouver before they "cleaned" the town up. I'd see him opening night and then he'd disappear into the card rooms.

In L.A., time and space have a different meaning than here. Rich and I lived about 20 miles apart. Yet when we both were going to UCLA, it was nothing to drive across town for a study break, have a beer or two together, then return home -- 40 miles of driving without batting an eye! A 40 mile drive, say going down the freeway to Salem, is like a major trip to me today.

One of the funniest drinking stories I've been involved in has Rich in the lead role. One morning around 8 I got a phone call. Rich, pretty drunk. He'd been playing cards all night, had a lot of money, but was too drunk to drive home. Would I pick him up? Sure. He gave me an address on Sunset Blvd.

I drove to the address but two things were wrong: one, it didn't exist; two, where it should be was in a ritzy residential area, and he was in a tavern, he said. I lived just off Sunset Blvd in Pacific Palisades at the time and had driven practically the entire length of Sunset looking for him.

On the return drive I was at a stoplight when I glanced over and saw the number he gave me hanging above a doorway. One of the numbers had fallen off of the rundown tavern! I parked and entered and found him shooting pool. Very drunk. Losing money.

He had a table. A pitcher of beer had spilled onto its side, soaking a huge stack of bills. I gathered up about $100 of soggy money, grabbed Rick and headed out. He wanted to get something from his car.

Where was his car? He couldn't remember. So we did a widening spiral from the tavern and finally found his car about three blocks away. He had a ratty sportscar that he started by hotwiring it. That was Rich at the time, our future editor of the Dallas TV series. Editor of such films as Return to Peyton Place. In his informative years ha ha.

So we find the car. Sprawled on the back seat is a young woman in only panties and bra. Rich, who the hell is this? He couldn't remember. Maybe he'd picked her up earlier last night. Apparently so. She knew him, though he couldn't recall her. We got her dressed and brought her along. I dropped her off, then Rich.

Rich was maybe the craziest drunk I knew. Once, at a Thanksgiving gathering in San Jose, he went out for a pack of cigarettes. No one heard from him again for the rest of the night. His wife called the police, of course. Ends up he had seen a hitchhiker near a freeway on-ramp and gave the guy a lift to Oregon! He finally called his wife many hours later.

No wonder Rich stopped drinking. He never did stop gambling, though. Fortunately, he won most of the time.

In the Army, women flocked to Rich. He had a Kirk Douglas chin and was built like the gymnast he had been in high school. Today he is shaped more like a bowling pin. Aren't we all.

In Kerouac's Scroll, I have a scene in which Hooker and Bear are picked up on a beach in southern Spain by two middle-aged women from Madrid. This is based on an adventure on leave shared by Rich and me. Ah, the adventures of youth. Sometimes I marvel that I survived it all. More or less.

Another week ends

3 weeks of school down the drain. Quite amazing. How time flies.

A lot of piano practicing to do this morning before my lesson!

Baumholder, the novel, is looking good so far. One foot after the other. Patience and faith. I hope I can finish the draft before summer, which would make summer a joyous time of rewriting, with a fresh slate for fall and maybe getting back to Sally.

I am in chapter 2 on the novel. Chapters 1 and 2 are largely Bass' point of view. For 3 and 4, I think I'll turn to the other two major viewpoint characters. I hope I've got the tension taut enough. I'll worry about all the refinements later, after the draft is down.

The book from Reed College has come out in paperback, the one about GIs and Frauleins, so I ordered a copy. This is one I want to mark up and use to inform the historical foundation of my story.

I'm in a good space right now. May I remain so for a while ha ha.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Growth of the journal

Unique visitors to Oregon Literary Review over the past year.

Rediscovering Baumholder

Since it's been almost 50 years since I've been in Baumholder, I thought I'd look at a street map to refresh my memory of how the village is laid out, especially in relationship to the military installations surrounding it. I've always bragged about finding anything on the net but I thought I was stumped with this one -- until I stumbled across "", the official city site in German. There was a street map with everything I need to know.

I also found some recent photos. Looks more like a quaint touristy village today than the Sin City of Europe. Imagine every door here being into a bar. That's the Baumholder I remember.

I also found something I had missed when I was there: a swastika in brick on the kaserne wall!

In my reading I learned that in 1956, only 4 years before I arrived, there was a GI race riot downtown that left several soldiers dead. The bars were segregated "by choice" when I was there, though I used to go to the black bars with black colleagues in order to listen to jazz on the jukebox. In the white bars, it was all country-western. On one occasion, a black soldier came in, saw me and immediately broke a chair over my head. My friends hustled me out. Turns out the same thing had happened to the black GI across the street, a white bar he had entered by mistake. He was just returning the favor.

I'm having so much fun with this project. Sure brings back memories.

Screenwriting columns

Fan mail about my past screenwriting columns:

Back in 2000, you wrote an article, The Grunt Work of Act Two (which I still refer to to this day). One of the better articles that I have read.

In the article, you wrote, "It is the purpose of Act Three, about which I'll write next time, to resolve these issues back in favor of the protagonist."

Did you ever write that Act Three article? If yes, how can I get a copy? I've searched everywhere on the web and no luck.

Not sure why he couldn't find it since it's right on the list of my Cyber Film School screenwriting columns.

Always nice to get fan mail.

Best (?) MFA Programs

Here are the
2007 Creative Writing MFA Rankings: The Kealey Scale
. Some highlights follow.

Top three are:
  1. Univ of Calif at Irvine
  2. Univ of Texas
  3. Univ of Michigan

Top ranking NW schools are:
  • Univ of Oregon, 18th (where I got my MFA)
  • Univ of Washington, 21st
  • Univ of Montana, 22nd
  • Eastern Washington Univ, tie for 50th

I'm not sure why people makes these lists. I'm not sure why I even mention it ha ha.

Home from the Hill

They don't often make these sprawling melodramatic epics any more. Maybe Titanic was the last successful one. At any rate, Robert Mitchum shines as the philandering patriarch in this dysfunctional family where a legitimate son and illegitimate son find separate redemptions from Mitchum's lousy upbringing. This is like several seasons of Dallas all rolled into one movie. Films like this definitely have a place.

The Devil's Dictionary

HABIT, n. A shackle for the free.

HAND, n. A singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody's pocket.

HANDKERCHIEF, n. A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears.

HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.

HARANGUE, n. A speech by an opponent, who is known as an harrangue- outang.

HASH, x. There is no definition for this word -- nobody knows what hash is.

Ambrose Bierce

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On the wire

Text message novel published in Finland

By JARI TANNER, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 19 minutes ago

HELSINKI, Finland - A novel whose narrative consists entirely of mobile phone text messages has been published in Finland.

"The Last Messages" tells the story of a fictitious information-technology executive in Finland who resigns from his job and travels throughout Europe and India, keeping in touch with his friends and relatives only through text messages.

His messages, and the replies — roughly 1,000 altogether — are listed in chronological order in the 332-page novel written by Finnish author Hannu Luntiala. The texts are rife with grammatical errors and abbreviations commonly used in regular SMS traffic.

Read the story

Mexico's sweet film success inspires Sundance

By Mary Milliken 1 hour, 43 minutes ago

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Even before they heard their countrymen had garnered a dozen or so Academy Award nominations on Tuesday, the Mexican contingent at this year's
Sundance Film Festival was brimming with confidence.

Together "Babel" and "Pan's Labyrinth," by Mexican directors Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro, won 13 Oscar nominations -- giving the Mexican film industry its biggest boost to date on the other side of the border.

"In another period, you had the Italian directors all over and then the French directors, and I think it is now the Mexican directors," said Mexican filmmaker Patricia Riggen, 36, after her premiere at Sundance, the leading U.S. festival for independent film.

Read the story


My description in the novel draft. I am using three viewpoint characters: Robert Bass, the narrator of Kerouac's Scroll, the same character some fifty years earlier as a young soldier; Jim Sullivan, the GI who gets extended and then goes AWOL during the Berlin crisis; and Konrad, owner of Gasthaus Konrad, an unreformed Nazis businessman.

There were 57 bars in downtown Baumholder, a figure made astronomical by the fact that downtown consisted of nine square blocks. Most of the bars had names chosen to appeal to Americans: the California Club, the Florida Club, the Texas Club, Jazz Alley, Blues Alley, Martini’s. Others tried to lure in soldiers with exotic names like The Golden Hirsch, Dancers A’GoGo, The Femme Fatale, Gangster Den. It was rumored – and Bass believed the rumors to be true – that most of the bars in Baumholder were owned by a syndicate of German businessmen, most of whom lived in Berlin and Munich. But others were owned locally, the way Konrad was a partner in The Family Club, which the linguists called their off-base home. Seeing how much money was being made by serving the troops. local farmers joined the frenzy to make a quick mark off the Americans, who after all had more money to spend than the Germans had seen in a very long time.

The bars had come to Baumholder during the troop buildup of the Korean War. The Soviet invasion of Germany was a threat real enough to respond to, and the U.S. responded by bringing tens of thousands of soldiers to West Germany. Baumholder, before World War II a small farming community in southwestern Germany’s Rhineland area, with a population never exceeding 3000, was chosen for the major American buildup because the Germans themselves had trained here, taking advantage of the bare, rolling hills for their exercises and war games. The Americans did the same.

Almost overnight, new bars opened downtown to entertain and serve the American G.I.s. Bakeries became bars, barns became nightclubs. Because the American army was segregated at the start of the Korean War, the new bars became segregated. The Florida Club, for example, became a bar that only black troops frequented. The tradition of segregation had remained even after the army became integrated, and today if Bass had entered The Florida Club, he would have been one of only a handful of whites there, and the others were likely to be young Germans eager to hear the American jazz on the jukebox. The jukeboxes in the white American bars mostly featured country-western music.

The Family Club became the hangout for the Monterey Marys because it was the first bar one reached coming down from the hill, which also made it the farthest from the kaserne beyond the other side of town where the Animals were stationed. There was a certain sense of security in the fact that a thirsty Animal would have to pass 56 bars before reaching The Family Club. Of course, under normal circumstances the linguists avoided the Animals at all costs and therefore stayed on the hill whenever the Animals came to town. The linguists knew full well that beating up a Monterey Mary would be considered great fun among the paratroopers and special forces after six or seven weeks of war games in the field. It was always more fun to take hostility out on a stranger than on a comrade.

I've taken little liberty with the facts here. The Family Club was, in fact, where the Russian linguists hung out, the first GI bar one reached from our small base on a hill, after first passing a gasthaus (Gasthaus Albert, in fact; in the novel I call it Gasthaus Konrad). We called the paratroopers Animals and they called us Monterey Marys, after our language school in Monterey, California.

Edward Albee has remarked that his best work is what he is working on at the time. I've always agreed. This feels like my Magnum Opus. It certainly took the longest time to get right: I've been trying to write this damn novel for forty years! Red Hooker, the buddy in Kerouac's Scroll, based on my buddy Dick, was born in the first version of the army novel in the late 60s but doesn't appear in this one. There is a model for the Sullivan character but I ain't tellin'. I, once again, am the model for the Robert Bass character. The German businessman is a composite of various German non-reformed Nazis I met during my service. This, in fact, was a major shock to me in my "innocent youth" -- that there were well-spoken, intelligent, cultivated Germans who still harbored a fondness for the "good old days" of Nazis rule. And that the same might return, albeit absent some of the "ugliness" they claimed not to know about. Does anything ever change in this world?

I hope they hang this guy

I hope they kick the prosecutor in the Duke rape case as far as they can boot him. What a disgusting display of the mishandling of justice in order to get reelected, blatantly playing to the black community's worst fears, lying to the court, making everyone guilty without sufficient evidence and withholding evidence that worked against his allegations. Who the hell knows what really happened? What the evidence shows is that the three defendants weren't in on it if something did actually happen -- and what is abundantly clear is that the prosecutor fiddled and fixed the case to benefit his own reelection. Throw the book at him.

New ethics charges for Duke prosecutor

By AARON BEARD, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 16 minutes ago

RALEIGH, N.C. - The state bar has added ethics charges to a complaint filed against the prosecutor who brought sexual assault charges against three Duke lacrosse players, accusing him of withholding DNA evidence and making misleading statements to the court.

The new charges by the North Carolina State Bar against Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong were announced Wednesday and could lead to his removal from the state bar, according to a copy of the updated complaint.

Read the story.

There are two kinds of citizens: those who would rather convict an innocent man at the risk of letting the guilty go; and those who would rather let the guilty go at the risk of convicting an innocent man. I count myself among the latter. I am appalled at all the men on death row later proven innocent by DNA tests. I figure one of them could easily be myself. As for the three Duke lacrosse players, their lives are ruined forever. A google search of their names will always spit out that they are rapists. An overzealous prosecutor is a scumbag.

That felt good.

Moving right along

Up to 5000 words on the novel. I'm hoping I can finish a draft before summer, then polish and finish during my three-month break. We'll see how it goes. I feel very secure, more than usual, with the story-board at my side.

Here's today's wit from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary. What a classic.

GRAVE, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student.

GUILLOTINE, n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.

GUNPOWDER, n. An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes which might become troublesome if left unadjusted.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Might the Prez even get it?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Human-caused global warming is here -- visible in the air, water and melting ice -- and is destined to get much worse in the future, an authoritative global scientific report will warn next week.

"The smoking gun is definitely lying on the table as we speak," said top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, who reviewed all 1,600 pages of the first segment of a giant four-part report. "The evidence ... is compelling."

Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist and study co-author, went even further: "This isn't a smoking gun; climate is a batallion of intergalactic smoking missiles."
The future is bleak, scientists said.

Read more

I keep thinking of Thornton Wilder's assertion that somehow the species manages to avoid crises suggesting extinction "by the skin of our teeth." In this regard, some scientists say it's time to establish colonies on the moon and Mars. What a prospect. What a life. What a species.

Camus' essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" is more significant that ever: the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. We keep working, keep laughing, keep loving, even if we can't save the world.

The Myth of Sisyphus.

Historical context

I found an extraordinary book to put my Cold War novel in historic context, so I don't have to rely totally on personal experience: GIs and Frauleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany. This book focuses on Baumholder as the typically small farming community turned into a soldiers' playground by the influx of tens of thousands of soldiers. Some of this might prove useful, especially in developing my German character who's involved in the sex syndicate of the era. This is exciting stuff for me. I found the book on the net and got it delivered from nearby Reed College, along with a book called The Wall and Berlin from Oregon State University. Thank God for book exchange among universities.

I'll only use a small fraction of material learned here in the novel I suspect but I think the broader historic context will inform my personal experiences in a positive way -- especially among the German characters, which is where my personal experience is weakest.

Feels so good to have this very old struggle of a project off the ground and looking fine! Baumholder, 1961. It's about time.

Cold War

Another 1000+ words on the novel this morning. High energy, going well.


List of nominations.

I'm not as excited about anything this year as I was about Crash last year. I'm pulling for Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker but otherwise, eh?

Monday, January 22, 2007

You gotta love this guy

At 69, Anthony Hopkins feels like a film rebel

By Bob Tourtellotte Mon Jan 22, 4:06 PM ET

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - He's an Oscar-winning actor with roles such as serial killer Hannibal "the cannibal" Lecter, but at age 69,Anthony Hopkins said he has arrived at a new, rebellious stage of life directing low-budget art films.

Hopkins' "Slipstream," which premiered this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, marks the veteran actor's debut as a first-time filmmaker and is part of a new edition to Sundance called "New Frontier" where art and cinema collide.

"Yeah, I'm a rebel. I want to poke people, not to cause pain, but just make people wake up," Hopkins told Reuters late on Sunday. "I feel I've arrived. I feel I'm starting anew ... I got a feeling I can be a guerrilla movie director."

Read the story.

QB & Coach

Down 21-3, then 21-6 at halftime, Colts coach Tony Dungy wasn't worried. The coach's calm demeanor rubbed off on quarterback Peyton Manning.

"He's calm on the opening kickoff, and he's calm when you're down 21-3. How many guys can say that?" Manning said after Sunday's game. "He's just a cool customer, and I think that really spreads through the rest of the team."

Really clone this day

I'm giddy. I think it's because, 40 years after the first attempt, I may finally have a handle on my Army material. I have an entire novel story-boarded, which lets me write with a strong sense of security. This is especially helpful with material I've been wrestling with since the late 1960s. I've had about four or five false starts on "my Army novel" and two false screenplay starts. But all those were forest writer attempts, confident I would figure things out along the way. I didn't. So I took the time and grunt work to think through a beginning-middle-end story, using the helpful software I've mentioned, and wah-lah! I have it all down. Sure, I also see where things are going to change a bit, but a story board is like a map, I may take a side trip but I always know how to get back on the interstate. When writing is as secure as this, it's more fun.

Off to mail some books and the post office was as crowded as at Christmas. Wonder why. I used the self-serve machine, no hassle for me, but a very long line to the counters stretched a very long ways. Did my business, bought a coffee, cruised a bit to a nice Milt Jackson tune, and came on home. Some student work to read this afternoon.

Clone this day

A relaxed morning in which I somehow managed to get a ton of writing done. Already 2700 words into the Cold War novel. The morning quiet, low key, focused. Sunny and cold outside, keeping me inside and warm.

Arthur Miller v. Thornton Wilder

From Today In Literature:

On this day, fifteen years apart, Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953) and Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938) premiered. Although both were poorly reviewed to start, The Crucible would win a Tony and Our Town a Pulitzer; and both would become not only classics of American theater, but classic, opposite statements on the idea of community living.

Read the story.

The Skin Of Our Teeth, in which prehistoric animals are characters

While Wilder's optimism has long been out of fashion, his dramaturgy continues to be more "modern" than many American plays you see today. Wilder had a greater influence on European playwrights than American, many of whom still write plays in a way that would better be served on film. I have never seen the point of writing a play that would make a better film. A theatrical method is what sets good plays apart, in my view. You can't make a good film from The Skin Of Our Teeth (unlike Miller's work, which uses a more old-fashioned dramaturgy); the best you can do is film the play.

Devil's Dictionary

GALLOWS, n. A stage for the performance of miracle plays, in which the leading actor is translated to heaven. In this country the gallows is chiefly remarkable for the number of persons who escape it.

GENEROUS, adj. Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons. It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest.

GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.

Ambrose Bierce

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's Bears-Colts

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A comeback, a drive, a legacy. And yes -- finally -- Peyton Manning gets his Super Bowl trip, too.

Football's most prolific quarterback put on a show for the ages Sunday, rallying the Indianapolis Colts from 18 points down and driving them 80 yards for the winning score in a wildly entertaining 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots.

Read story.

I came into the play-offs rooting for the Saints and Colts, and for a moment late in the 2nd half of game two, it looked very much like a Bears-Patriots Super Bowl. Then the Colts put together their astounding comeback, exciting and nail-biting to watch, the Patriots refusing to roll over, the game going down to a Colts interception to stop the final drive at the end. Exciting stuff. And Peyton Manning, a jock with lots of class, gets a monkey off his back, the reputation of blowing big games. History was made: not only the largest comeback in a playoff game, not only the first black coach going to a Super Bowl, but two black head coaches going, who happen to be good friends. It should make for an exciting game.

Writing methods

One of the best kept secrets in the creative writing teaching industry is that 90% of the books present a method that's not the only way to do it. That is, they say plan before you start writing. In fact, many successful writers don't do much planning at all. They start with a vague notion of something and start right in writing, working things out along the way. Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, for example, has written that he starts with two people in a room. Ten pages later he knows whether or not he has a play. This is not planning: this is full stream ahead, sink or swim, trusting in the magic of the process.

So I emphasize in my own classes that there are two ends of the method spectrum, the planners and the sink-or-swimmers. I call them the tree method and the forest method, tree as in starting small and building a forest, forest as in starting large and trying to find the trees.

In my own career, I've been mainly a forest writer, a sink-or-swimmer. Since there are so few textbooks for us, I wrote my screenwriting family of textbooks, beginning with the electronic Screenwright and ending with the Focus published Practical Screenwriting, to fill this gap.

However, as I've aged, I feel I don't have the messy leisure to develop a work that's the forest agenda. I've tried to plan more and earlier in order to reduce the time it takes to finish a project. To this end, I've discovered a tool I really like, the structure software called Save the Cat!, based on the book by Blake Snyder. His method is compatible with my own structural paradigm presented in my books. What I especially like about the software is that it requires an orderly development of story structure, finishing one part of the process before you're permitted to go to the next. The most fun is the last part, moving around colored index cards on the screen, creating a story board. I enjoy doing this -- and when I'm done, I print out what amounts to a sequence outline of the entire story, which then serves as a security blanket during writing. I may still stray from it but I always have a reference of where to return.

I developed a story board for the Cold War novel and now am beginning to write it. I moved Sally back burner while I do this, a story that's been giving me a lot of trouble -- one I've attacked as a forest person, bullying forward. I think what may be helpful is to look at Sally through the tree lens of the software and develop a storyboard for it. Then when I'm done with Baumholder I can turn to it, hopefully with a full sense of my story for the first time.

If you like to plan, or get lost when you don't plan, you might want to check out the software and book.

Devil's Dictionary

FRIENDLESS, adj. Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.

FRIENDSHIP, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.

FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.

Ambrose Bierce

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

Anticipating Oscar buzz for Forest Whitaker's performance, this film finally returned to town after coming and going in a flash the first time. The performance is incredible indeed but the movie is damn good in its own right. Not always easy to watch but powerful.

Moving forward

Have a pretty good take on the structure of the first two acts of the Cold War story, beginning and middle, and a sense of my ending ... enough, I think, to start writing, fiddling with the opening sentence and paragraph to find the right voice for this. I'll print out the electronic cards I arranged for structure as my security blanket. First, though, a break -- all this thinking is very tiring.

I'm reminded of the studio producer back in the days when screenwriters worked in-house, telling another producer his writers were all lazy, all he ever saw them doing was staring out the window.

College sports

I love sports, love watching competitions, used to participate in sports. However, at the college level, sports have been ruined by a variety of corrupt practices all spinning around the huge amounts of money made from them. This is especially true in the major college sports of football and basketball. Colleges have provided a free farm system for the NFL and NBA. Professional baseball teams have to develop their talent through a farm system of minor leagues that they pay for -- but not football and basketball. This needs to be changed.

I know how to correct the mess of college sports. However, what I propose will never happen in a zillion years. But here are the steps anyway:

  • Ban all scholarships in all college sports. Don't pay anyone anything to come to college to play a game. This does several things: it immediately divorces college sports as a farm system for professional sports. It re-establishes the focus on higher education, which is what colleges should be about. It introduces what smaller colleges know, and in fact most NCAA athletes know, that sports can be and should be about other things than training for a professional sports career. Those who want to turn pro will be left in the dark -- but not for long because this will force the NFL and NBA to develop their own farm systems and minor leagues in which to develop their jocks, rather than getting a free ride from the colleges. What about all the lost revenue to the colleges from TV rights and other things? Tough. Live with it. Colleges are not about sports as a business. Colleges are about sports as recreation for students.

  • Redefine league play locally, the way high schools do. Don't travel 3000 miles in order to play a game when you can play a game with the college across town. Big school, little school, who cares? Make sports more about recreation than about winning -- at the college level. Create healthy cross-town rivalries where none exist because neighbor schools are in different leagues. Define leagues locally.

  • Make an equal plane for all sports. Colleges should support tennis as much as football, crew as much as basketball, and with no scholarships and no free farm system for the major sports, the entire stresses on the sports budget change. Student-athletes gain equality, one recreational activity as good as another.

  • Pay coaches no more than you pay other "professors" who teach a subject. Teaching football is not more valuable than teaching history or literature or mathematics or home economics or engineering or water coloring or marketing.

Let professional sports solve their own problems. Why should colleges give the NFL and NBA a free ride, a free farm system for developing their future jocks? What I propose will never happen. But what can happen is for the colleges to demand that the NFL and NBA pay for this farm system they provide. Let the pro teams, not the colleges, pay for the scholarships.

Make education about education, the way it was 100+ years ago when the biggest football game of the year was Harvard against Yale. Now that's what sports is about. Harvard against Yale. Cal Tech against Whittier (a rivalry in which I participated). Put the right perspective on college sports again.

Dream on, Deemer, dream on.

3 a.m.

I've always liked this hour. In my wilder days, it's when I'd go to Quality Pie for breakfast after the bars closed. In my less frantic years, it's when I often get up after crashing early to do a bit of work. Everything is quiet and still. The dog loves to hop into bed and take my warm spot, and when I return for a few more zzz's after writing, I'll have to nudge him over to make room for me.

I had planned to work on act two of Baumholder but instead responded to some story matters regarding Julie's novel, which I'm brainstorming with her. Spent about an hour on that, and now I may return to bed. I like to listen to Scott Simon at 5.

Today is free, and I should be able to make more progress working out the sequence cards of the new novel. Sally, alas, is in a holding pattern, as complex work often is, off and on, through its difficult development. I'm not abandoning it, just setting it aside in the heat of new excitement for my long belated Army novel. I think I have found the key this time, after numerous false starts over the past thirty or forty years. Bringing together those three experiences: the Berlin wall extensions, the defection, the local Nazis farmers. I have personal experience about the dramatic elements that will drive this story.

I also like the way the structure is developing. Looking for the buddy, trying to talk sense to him, intermingled with flash backs of how they got there.

What is yet unresolved is the voice. Which, of course, is pretty much everything in a novel. I typically am leaning toward choices that reduce the commercial appeal of this, always bending toward art rather than commerce, it's a damn disease with me ha ha. I may take some real risks with the voice and try things I've never tried before. A kind of pompous Norman Mailer voice. A dark voice. We are in, after all, the Sin City of Europe for this story. Greed, corruption, exploitation, sex, it's all here with our blue-eyed earnest young Americans from the heartland as witness first and soon enough participants. Baumholder is the corruption of American Gothic.

So what I'll be doing is trying out first paragraphs in different voices. Or maybe only first sentences! For example, "May the gods protect the Mothers of America from learning what their blue-eyed sons are up to in the Enlisted Men's Club tonight." This is the opening rattling in my brain at the moment. The thought may belong to the narrative voice ("God") -- or to a character, say a sergeant who enters the going-home party with the news that Kennedy just extended the poor SOB.

I'll know it when I get something that sounds right to me. But I think the voice here will be as defining as the voice in, say, The Sound and the Fury, a voice-defined story. The way the story is told is as important as the story itself.

This is going to be a fun, challenging journey. Onward.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What the future holds

My new agent for screenwriting also handles fiction, so she'll get first crack at the Cold War novel (if we still have a relationship by the time I finish it). But I think of it as looking something like here.

I worked out the ten sequences of act one today, using the 40 sequence, 15 beat software system I'm beginning to like the more I use it. It's quite compatible with the structure tools in my own book. Even though it's a novel, I'm structuring the story like a screenplay. Things change in the heat of writing but this gets the buggy in flight with a sense of security once you work out all the cards. I'm using different color cards for different time lines. Looks out nicely. Even looks pretty ha ha.

I'm going to do something crazy with the tone of this. I can feel it coming.

Big Mick's Rock-n-Roll

Big Mick found my essay Birthing Little Richard about being a teenager at the birth of rock and roll -- could there possibly be a better time!? -- which he's incorporating into a documentary film he's working on about the "untold history" of rock. This morning he requested a photo of me from those days ... and I found this one here. Do I look like a nerd?

Big Mick's Website.

Baumholder, 1961

This is my working title for the Army novel, and I'm moving it front burner despite Sally in progress. The latter is a damn difficult book, the emotional journey complex and layered, which makes the Cold War story straightforward in comparison. I'll continue brooding about Sally and maybe even write on it now and again but I think I can dash off this long belated story based on my Army experiences with relative ease.

I'm using the software to outline the plot. The major unsolved questions are voice and point of view. Pretty sure I'm going 3rd -- I think maybe I'd like to switch POVs between the two buddy characters, get it from their perspectives. I also might jazz up my writing style more than my usual understated prose. Not sure. Or maybe better, change style between the two characters, to match their personalities. One subdued, one flamboyant. I think I have my ending, too. Onward.

More backdrop

I found this on the web:

In October 1952, the German Bundestag declared a large stretch of Rhineland-Palatinate—a poor, rural state in the southwest of Germany—to be a moral disaster area.[1] The legislators resorted to this dramatic step because the buildup of American military personnel in West Germany in the wake of the Korean War had allegedly wrecked havoc in the provinces. The American troop deployment, they complained, instead of creating a bulwark against Soviet expansionism, had brought striptease parlors, prostitution, common-law marriages, and unprecedented levels of illegitimacy.

This is where I came as a young soldier in 1960. A farm community of 2000 (Baumholder) had become a G.I. playground for 30,000 soldiers, with dozens and dozens of bars along its main street. We were a small outfit of 100, isolated from the other soldiers. The "real soldiers" spent most of their time in the fields, practicing war (for Vietnam, it turned out), but when they came into town with a weekend pass, nonstop trains hauled in prostitutes from all over Germany to "serve" them. I can only describe the experience at the train station, watching the hundreds of girls parade in, as surreal. This is the setting of my Cold War story.


Friday has been a good day for a long time, not because it's the last day of the work week but because it's the first day of my writing week when I'm teaching. And now it's also the day of my piano lesson, which I always look forward to. I think the next thing I'm going to tackle on my own is Stormy Weather, an arrangement of which I have in a music book, that looks doable at this stage (i.e. slow), and upon which I can add frills once I get it down. I like to have another piano project other than the stuff we do in class.

I spent a lot of time during office hours yesterday taking notes on the Cold War, Berlin Wall, story. I think I have something. I'm combining two personal experiences -- the buddy who went ape when he got extended during the Berlin crisis, the other buddy who defected to East Germany with a lady spy -- and now I'm adding a third, the Nazis underbrush still in Germany in the early sixties. In my experience, it worked this way.

The German police made a last stop at a gasthaus near our base about 10p.m. After they were gone, the owner went to the jukebox and put on several banned Nazis marching songs! The local farmers who frequented the place really got off on that. Moreover, another buddy of mine had put several Hitler speeches to memory, and he'd stand up on a table and recite them with great vigor, to great applause, and the German farmers bought us beer all night long. We thought it was a hoot at the time. Sounds totally frightening to me now. At any rate, in my story there will be a secret Nazis club involved in this, which can add an element of danger after the war alert goes into effect.

So three personal experiences serve as the foundation of this story. Interesting how we borrow from our lives and use experience like putty to shape a story. What I end up with will have nothing to do on the surface with what really happened, and yet it begins with, and is based on, autobiographical memories. What remains is the emotional content of the experience.

Devil's Dictionary

FIB, n. A lie that has not cut its teeth.

FIDDLE, n. An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat.

FIDELITY, n. A virtue peculiar to those who are about to be betrayed.

Ambrose Bierce

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brainstorming with myself

When the Berlin Wall went up, we were having a "going home" party in the E.M. Club for a friend and fellow Russian linguist. He was supposed to fly home the next day. But immediately we went on war alert, Kennedy gave a speech extending tours, including my friend's -- and my friend went bananas. Totally bananas. Only a great guy and understanding First Sarge saved his ass.

I have another friend who fell in love with a German woman who ended up being a spy and he defected to East Germany. He was a very good mathematician. Always have wondered what the hell happened to him. I think she was his first piece of ass. I went out with her myself, she was trying everybody out, so to speak, before deciding which vulnerable dickhead (literally) to make the move on. She was something else. Day I met her she was in a bar reading Faulkner. Jesus, did she know how to get an American college boy interested. Wonder if they had spy schools for that.

I can combine these two actual experiences into an interesting story line: the buddy, and it will be the narrator's best buddy (though I think I shouldn't do this first person -- the buddy of the protagonist, say. First person may be too restrictive.), does fall in love with the lady but when he discovers she's a spy, he breaks it off. Now, extended and angry, he has second thoughts and has a plan -- to run off with her to Spain. If she's willing to "drop out," he is. He has to ask her, to woo her, at any rate.

Fuck the Cold War, let's live on the beaches of Majorca. So he goes AWOL to find her ... and the buddy, in the chaos of the moment (and boy was it chaotic for a bunch of intellectual ivy leaguers for the most part to be on a war alert!), slips away to find him. So the entire story, after the set up, is a ticking clock, maybe WWIII has started (we all thought so at the time), and in the hunt we can break away for flashbacks about their friendship, the Army, the spies who posed as bar girls, the whole crazy black comedy of the Cold War from the perspective of a company of Russian linguists.

Time to see what a beginning-middle-end diagram looks like.

Academic womb

Out of the slush and snow and into my office! 3+ hours before class, so I should be able to get some work done. On what? At this point, I have no idea. I may try to structure a Cold War story since that wonderful material from my life has hardly been used to date. Maybe another buddy story? So many ways to go with it. The screenplay in progress, "Hitler's Blue Movie," is a romantic thriller.

And then, oh yes, dear old Sally. I sure do seem to be avoiding that. I need to reread what I have -- this usually gets me excited about it again because I usually like what I've done thus far. Sometimes it's the opposite but at this stage of my career I have a better batting average on early drafts than I did when I was younger.

At any rate, good to be in the office! So glad school wasn't cancelled today, would have made catching up harder. Not too much lost with only a day lost.

Building the Berlin Wall, August 13, 1961

P.S. When I start a new story, I usually like to embrace a different story strategy than I've used in the past. Why rehash an approach? I've never done a novel that takes place in, say, 24 or 48 hours. I may do that with the Army material. Maybe the day before and day after the Berlin Wall went up! Lots of excitement there. And I can use flashbacks to fill in stuff. Hmm. May see if I can diagram a structure around this concept. Onward.

Piano progress

Here are some examples of my "progress" on the piano. First, from our class song lesson book (current lesson); then something I picked up from a video; then an example of just fooling around:


Pissing names

All this snow -- still on the ground but the university is open today so later I'll put on my boots and tromp to the bus stop -- had Sketch bewildered for a bit but now he goes out to make yellow holes in the snow with the best of dogs. Watching him this morning, I recalled a pleasant memory from some 45 years ago.

As a young man I'd visit Dick in Idaho when he was going to the university there. Moscow, Idaho. When I did this in winter, we'd eventually chain up if necessary and make the trip to Orofino, his old stomping grounds. There we'd park and bar hop on foot, following paths in the snow from bar to bar. Occasionally we'd step off to virgin snow and have a race: who could piss their name in the snow more accurately? Young male buddies get off on this sort of thing, you know.

Damn, some funny things happened on these trips. I recall one time in a bar called the Jet Club, snow outside, hot toddies inside. We were talking with the bartender when an old fellow down the bar slipped off his stool and passed out on the floor. Without missing a beat of conversation, the bartender grabbed a blanket, walked around the bar, and got the old man comfortable. Folks had to step over him on their way to the can. About an hour later, the old guy snaps out of it, climbs back to the bar, and the bartender met him with, "Jake, I'm cutting you off," and phoned him a cab. Such humane treatment of drunks is something you don't see everywhere even then and surely less in our politically correct culture where such things are too horrid to understand.

Sometimes the bartender would be drunk -- they could drink then in Clearwater county. Once the bartender excused himself for a nap, leaving a jar on the bar for the honor system, which everyone obeyed. In those days, a hot toddy -- bourbon, hot water and a cube of sugar, squeeze of lemon -- cost forty cents if I remember. Maybe sixty. Around half a dollar, at any rate, which meant you could put a nice buzz on for a few dollars. Then get in the car and drive the treacherous roads back to Moscow. I didn't know anyone who didn't drink and drive in those days -- not only in the wilds of Idaho but in L.A.! The culture was different then. More responsible and better now? Well, that's a mighty easy conclusion but I think change always involves a trade off and the summation is pretty much the same. Look at all the friends I've had die during treatment for cancer, the cure worse than the disease. This is progress in medicine? To a man, they would have been better off to say, fuck it, and go have fun for a few months. Instead they were damn miserable for a few months. They still died quickly. What was the point of the treatment? Jim, the most recent victim, even considered the option of going to his favorite Puerto Rico and maxing out his credit card in the time left. Instead, miserable, miserable, miserable -- and sayonara.

Back to more pleasant things. I had more good times drinking with Dick than I can count. Of course, I also had horrid times drinking. I did some really stupid and regrettable things under the influence. At my age, I have regrets but I also have great memories of sheer fun, which I wouldn't trade for anything. These memories, the good and bad, are not mutually exclusive. They make up that shifting mosaic called "life."

Writing, pissing, our names in snow in Orofino is one of those fine memories. On to the next bar. Laughing all the way. I'm for whatever gets people laughing. Shared laughter is one of the major benefits of all good friendships.