Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring? What spring?

Like winter outside. Had a relapse this afternoon, went to bed, then up and to my class. We'll see how it goes.

Signs of the times

Portland Center Stage Announces Layoffs, Eliminates Literary Department


Eliminate support of new work, add more musicals to the season. Typical.


My earlier plan/goal to shoot a feature this summer is indefinitely delayed. Instead my summer video project is to finish up the JD shorts I want to do, two of which are cast but none of which have really begun, thanks to the recent and continuing illness. I hope to get the two started this term, soon as my energy is back.

Will a feature get done later? Who the hell knows?

Juggling numbers

My class is always full with a waiting list, and I always let more into the class than the "limit" set by the department. The question always is, How many more? This term the list is unusually long, including several graduating seniors with this last chance to take it. I may let more in than I usually do, swayed also by the economy and the possibility this is my last term teaching. Who knows what is down the pike? Stuff to brood on today. My job would be easier if some of the wait list folks don't show up. That would be convenient.

Not feeling great but not feeling worse. Again, babying myself all day and heading out mid-afternoon.

H is busy all week with the Korean artists in town. Lots of solo dining. Tomorrow is First Wednesday, which I expect to make unless I have a major relapse, knock on my wooden head.

Monday, March 30, 2009


If I ever shake this virus, need to make a new shooting schedule for video.


When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.

- Henny Youngman

Congratulations, Julie!

The ink on your MFA is barely dry and you've got your first teaching gig at Pacific University! Way to go.


Feeling worse tonight, so I'm going to crash early. Tomorrow, the classroom, in whatever condition I'm in.


Wouldn't want to have to be in the classroom today but I don't have to be. Maybe by tomorrow I'll show more improvement. I'll be there, whatever condition I'm in, but the more well, the more pleasant the experience. Fortunately, week one is relatively easy.

Taking it easy

Up doing a bit of work but I need to get back to bed and get more sleep. I am determined to take it easy today, the beginning of Spring term, and hopefully be close to well tomorrow when my class starts. Spring is usually an exciting term, and I expect this one to be as well.

Feel good about leaving Facebook and Twitter. Had their fascination early on and it was nice to connect to some old, lost faces -- but it's a social network above all else, and I'm not in a social stage of my life. What social networking I need I can get at the local coffee shop.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

So long Facebook, Twitter

Well, I gave them a good try. Not very useful to me. Deleted my accounts.


I attended your screenwriting class back in 2001-- and thanks again, best class I've ever taken-- and I've been writing ever since.

College sports

Thoughts on improving college sports.
  • Get rid of all athletic scholarships.
  • Re-conceive scholarships as athletic investments. The college gets a % of the future professional's first year earnings. A kind of finder's fee.
  • Charge the professional franchises for the privilege of running their farm teams on university property.
  • Pay coaches less than academic professors.
  • Redefine conferences based on geography to limit travel. With no scholarships, large schools and small schools will be more closely matched in sports. The intramural model.

What a fantasy.

Another test

Getting duplicate entries. How to fix?

Testing interface

By the gods, it works!

Testing interface

Testing Facebook/Blogger interface, which appears to be working when it didn't earlier.

Women and sports

I've known a lot of women who are sports fans. I've known others who say they are but one wonders: the gambler who only watched games on which she had a bet; the woman who watched football because "the men's butts are so cute."

I've known women who don't like sports, or who don't like men's sports.

No problem.

What bothers me are women who don't like sports but who make an effort to like them in order to "share" an interest with the special guys in their lives.

It might go this way. It's the last minute of a tight football game. Been close the whole game, and you've watched every play. Now there's a minute left, your team is 4 points behind but has the ball on the opponent's five yard line. Two plays to get it in!

Enter the woman. "Is it a good game?" she asks. You grunt, yes. "Think they'll kick?" What? what? "Or maybe a trick play. Remember that trick play we saw that time, and the guy ran to the cheerleaders and proposed to one of them. That was so sweet!"

By this time, you're going crazy. All the investment you've made in this game for two hours and now this! You turn to her and face a sweet smile inviting "sharing." All numbers of unspoken atrocities occur to you, all numbers of unlettered obscenities, but before you can say, as calmly as possible, "I'm trying to watch the game here," there's a sudden uproar and when you turn to the TV something important just happened, which you missed, and players are jumping up and down, and the announcer is screaming, "Incredible! Absolutely incredible!" and you missed missed missed it.

Then the fight, of course. Finally you escape to the nearest sports bar so you can be with guys who understand where the hell you're coming from.

Women should be honest. If they hate football, just hate it.

New rewrite

Finished new rewrite and will look at it once more before sending it on to agent. Not sure I like it as well, however. May be time to part our ways.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Remembering Juniper County

Tim Streeter published this old poster on Facebook. Nice somebody remembers Juniper County! (where I set a number of plays in the 1980s). Now that I think about it, it's the 20th anniversary of the "Charles Deemer's Oregon" theater season at the Firehouse Theatre, when Steve Smith dedicated a season to a "retrospective" of my work, reviving several plays and ending with a new one, Varmints, which I rec'd an Oregon Arts Commission grant to write. Little did I know that a "retrospective" was rather like a funeral ha ha. 1989 pretty much marked the end of my theatrical career in Portland. You celebrate a fine body of work, then you lock the door. Interesting and strange. (The new work continued to be appreciated elsewhere, just not here. For example, my play Famililly, which won an international competition, still has never been done here. Go figure.)

Battery charge or lobotomy?

Still sick and not thinking too clearly. Apprehensive about being in the classroom in 3 days if I don't feel better than I do.

Also feel like I need new energy, a battery charge, a lobotomy, something to get me focused more than I have been lately, albeit sick, something to regain my faith that my days are spent in work more valuable, more useful, more meaningful, than if I spent them in a coma. The mantra of the existentialist, I suppose. Sometimes I think I don't have the strength of character to be an existentialist ha ha.

Today's goal, get my syllabus done and delivered to the copy center. Shouldn't be too difficult, despite low energy.

No basketball games of interest any more. It's all the hot shots left, the professional teams disguised as college teams. I think they should require a 3 point GPA for a student to play basketball. I think they should raise the hoop 18 inches in the men's game. Maybe two feet. I think there should be salary caps for professional athletes. Like $1 million. I think sports scholarships should be paid by the professional leagues, not by the universities. Bah, humbug.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Screwing screenwriters

I just heard from a screenwriter who bought my ebook and wanted some advice on an offer he rec'd. I was shocked to learn what it was. But now that I think about it, it's the logical next step in a two-decade process that has been making the life of the beginning screenwriter harder and harder. Here's the history.
  • Back in the 1980s, a screenwriter could make some meaningful money by optioning a script. It worked this way. A producer optioned your script, which meant that he purchased the right to "own it" for a year, during which he'd try to put together a package to get it funded. The standard option was 10% of the purchase price, and the purchase price was 1-5% of the film's proposed budget. So say your script was budgeted at $10 million. You'd be expected to make $100,000 or more, and your option would be $10,000 or more. Serious money, even today. If you were prolific and optioned a lot of scripts, you could make a living. I did for a while. After the year, if nothing happened, the rights returned to you -- and you could option it to someone else! I once optioned a script to three different producers.
  • But everything began to change as more and more screenplays got written. It became a buyers' market. Producers got wise and tried a new tactic -- called "the grace option," this threw the 10% standard out the window and replaced it with as little as possible. For example, a couple years ago, I optioned a script for $100 that, twenty years ago, I could have optioned for about 5 grand. That's how much the market has changed to the detriment of screenwriters. Of course, you don't have to accept these conditions. You can write novels instead. But if you are screenwriting, these are the rules of the game.
  • From 10% to nothing -- what's next? Pay them instead! I don't believe it. Well, I guess I do. It just really pisses me off. The offer this fellow told me about was this: he would pay them $350 and they would do what producers do anyway, try to make it happen. But now the screenwriter is being asked to pay for this "service." Jesus H. Christ.

I told him to tell the guy he had it backwards and to make him an offer.

On the road

We have an anniversary coming up, and it occurred to us that H will be too busy to celebrate it. She's part of a group that will be hosting visiting artists from Korea, keeping her very busy in the days ahead. So we decided to get out of town for a day, despite both feelng still under the weather.

We drove only an hour to get to the new Oregon Garden Resort. We had a coupon from the paper for a great deal. The clincher was that the resort is dog friendly, as so many are not. So here we are.

And it's beautiful, right on the garden grounds, on a high plateau overlooking the valley, units providing considerable quiet and surprising privacy, a fine restaurant, the garden at hand and accessible to dogs -- all this only an hour from home. We'll be back.

My contract with my agent expires this summer and he has offered a renewal. This is a big deal since he hasn't sold anything yet. But I have to think about this. I wish I had more a sense of making progress, which the perpetual litany of "crank it up" doesn't always give me. Before the contract expires, I may snoop around and see what other options I may have. This is the best situated agent I've had in a very long time. But agents are just agents. There are good ones and bad ones, and they like to operate from a position of power that they don't always deserve. So I am glad a renewal is offered, which is positive, and yet I wonder if he may be holding me back as well as helping me, in this mad Hollywood chase. Decision time will be soon.

Waiting for H to wake up so we can get breakfast. It's after 8.

A good game tonight, Gozaga and UNC.

Back to the agent: I think the new rewrite will be a test. I see his notes as positive, and I am responding to them, but if he comes back with the same old litany, than I fear we may be engaged in some strange power game. We'll see. After all, I'm no amateur in these affairs myself.

Home sweet home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Continuing education

Notes from my agent on the recent splay, and apparently I'm not as close to the gates of Hollywood as I thought. Lots of notes. The good news, everything is easily addressed. The common theme is the same old theme: CRANK IT UP! Man, these Hollywood folks really go for extremes ha ha. This is the most cranked up stuff I've ever written, and it's still not extreme enough. Yet, within the logic of his premise, my agent makes perfect sense, and I'm trusting his sense of the marketplace here, easy to do since I have little sense of it at all, except in terms of rhetorical cliches.

So I'm moving forward in the new splay and starting a new "cranked up per agent's notes" rewrite of the old one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The joy of small moments

The older I get, the more I appreciate small moments in the day that would have passed unappreciated, or under-appreciated, when I was younger. For example, this afternoon I needed a break and so went to my local coffee shop for my usual large iced coffee. The help there rotates at a puzzling rhythm but over the years I've gotten to know many of them by recognition, and them me. A young woman I knew was working, and she saw me park and by the time I reached the counter, she had my iced coffee and a large grin waiting for me. It made my day.

Slow recovery

Feel like I'm on the downhill side of the crud. And H is getting sick, so it's baton-passing time alas.

Need to attack the syllabus but not today. Have a ten page start on new splay, which I'm getting excited about, the usual "serial monogamist" syndrome. The agent is looking at the last one and I surely hope he's as excited about it as I and some of my readers are.

Fantasy time: If I actually made a ton of money before I pass, I think I'd set up a second household in the southwest, where IT IS WARM, and mostly live there and H could come visit whenever she wanted. She has the connections and commitments here, not I -- except for the university. And I'm close to retiring from teaching, I suspect. I still want a chance to play the role of the old guy in town by whose appearances you can set your watch -- 10am at the coffee shop, 3pm at the ice cream parlor, like that. Secretly writing scandalous avant-garde literature which may or may not be discovered posthumously.

Back to reality. Oh well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our changing world

British Pubs May Be Becoming An Endangered Species

LONDON -- Nothing can stay the same forever although Britain is one country where they try like the Dickens to fight that basic truth. The lyric of an old World War I song said it best:

There'll always be an England
While there's a country lane,
Wherever there's a cottage small
Beside a field of grain.

And down the lane from that cottage beside the field of grain there will always be a pub serving imperial pints (20 ounces) of beer. Well, that is changing rapidly. (Although you can still find some authentic pubs.)

Rural life is unrecognizable from 20 years ago and British drinking habits have undergone a sea change, as well. Both of these factors have led to a crisis for British pubs. Thirty-nine a week are going out of business forever.

Full story

Now let's have a short break

Grades in, spring contract signed, feel good about splay and started a new one ... school starts next week! Well, a little time this week to relax, though I do have a new syllabus to get ready. I don't know why I can't use the same one over and over again, I'm always tweaking the goddamn thing.

I feel like I've made a great breakthrough in my understanding of Big Hollywood Movie Structure. And a rather bizarre and new method for generating same. We'll see how it goes.

I wish this damn cough would go away. Other than the cough, I feel pretty good.

March madness back in gear on Thursday. Look forward to it, though as the lower seeds get eliminated, my interest actually wanes. I'm a Cinderella team kind of guy.

And it's getting to be Triple Crown season, too. Spring! I want warm weather and a chance to push my old-fashioned reel mower around the yard. It makes such pretty music, like the sound track of Our Town. Not at all like the hideous noises generated by my neighbors and all their power things.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Charles v. Bob

I am a Jr., Robert my middle name, and I grew up as Bobby and later Bob. My brother still calls me Bob. So, I discover in recent email, do my former colleagues in grad school as we touch base about the upcoming reunion. So how did I become Charles?

I published for the first time as a mathematician, under Bob. Later, when at UCLA, I published some terrible poetry under Bob. But when I started writing journalism and literary short stories, I began publishing under Charles. Not sure why, just did. But I was still known to friends as Bob through grad school and in Maryland after grad school.

When I came to Portland after my traumatic divorce in the late 1970s, I think becoming Charles personally as well as professionally was part of my New Life strategy. No one in Portland knows me as Bob. I don't even respond to Bob any more, it's been so long ago. A few friends in Portland, hearing about this name-change, started calling me Charley Bob. That was cool.

Here's a funny story related to all this, which I've told before but which is worth telling again. My brother came to a play opening of mine when I was playwright-in-residence at the New Rose Theatre. At the reception afterwards, the director took me aside and pointed across the room at my brother. There's a very weird guy here, he said, who keeps coming up to everyone and saying, Hi, I'm Bob's brother! No one knew who the hell he was talking about! (Later my brother commented what snobs theater people are.)

I think in Eugene at the reunion, I'll just get used to being Bob for a few days in order to spare endless explanation of becoming Charles.

Quotation of the day

For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism.

A. O. Scott, "Neo-Neo Realism"
NY Times

Want to publish a magazine?

Print on demand has reached the magazine industry. Check out:


If I were younger, I think I'd do something with this. I might anyway, having little practical sense. But it's another example of the changing relationship between writers, publishers and readers. Already there are some curious and interesting products available from this resource.

So go ahead -- start that magazine you always wanted to publish.


Get My Grades In Day. Should be able to do this, a few hours of work left, and a cushion tomorrow in case something comes up.

Tomorrow, if free of grades, I hope TO RELAX. If my coughing doesn't keep my from doing so. Actually last night was a relatively cough-free night!

I'm eager to polish the splay and get it out of the house, i.e. to my agent.

And to get back to work on new projects, including catching up on the new libretto and getting back in gear with the novel.


Sunday, March 22, 2009


John Nugent, for whom I wrote the libretto to DARK MISSION, an opera based on the Whitman Massacre, send me the opening bars of one of several projects we've collaborated on that seem to be in various stages of limbo -- and I love them! I really love this guy's music. I hope he finds whatever he needs to finish our incomplete projects: an opera based on my play VARMINTS, and a series of short pieces based on short stories by Maupassant. None of these are commercial projects, of course, and so don't pay the bills, and a composer like any artist must find work that provides income before doing other things. I think the opera deserves more attention than it's received. I love working with John. I love his music.

Let's not forget...

...a few things I need to do before Spring term.
  • video editing for the review -- best to keep ahead of this
  • tweak the syllabus
  • mow the lawn! Spring!
  • start reading submissions to the review

I'm sure there are more. These come quickly to mind. Busy, busy.

Random thoughts between coughs

If I could shake the coughing, I'd probably feel pretty good. At any rate, wasn't a bad day all in all. I started submitting grades, and I have a shot at finishing tomorrow with the next day, a 5pm deadline, as cushion. So I should be fine.

Another Big Budget High Concept Idea came to me. What the hell is going on? It's not natural for me to think this way. I think I'll set aside the low budget idea for a rainy day and go with this one since I know that's the advice my agent would give me and this entire enterprise is focused on making him some money ha ha. I'll again get a solid sequence outline before I start scripting but I'm not going to write as obsessively as before, it's bad for the health. I'll take my time with this.

There have been several very important year clusters in my "coming of age" as a writer and an adult (if that's the right word ha ha). First, 1959-62, my Army years, the most intense educational experience of my life since I was in an outfit with 97 holders of Masters degrees in the humanities, many of whom became drinking buddies. Next, 1966-1975, years in grad school and Eugene, when I became a writer. Finally, in Portland, about 1979-1989, when I matured as a playwright.

The reunion this summer celebrating the second of these, the Eugene years, is something I've been thinking about. I plan to shoot a lot of video with a documentary in mind. But a personal docu, about my own coming of age journey, which will be much harder to do but if done right, might be quite powerful in its emotional truths and insights. Tricky, too, since I have one shot to get a lot of the footage. Other footage, research stuff, setting stuff, I could capture later. I need to think this through and have a working outline in my head so I know what I need. What makes it especially tricky is that to tell the story right, I have to deal with my relationship with the woman in my life at that time. Presently, she'll have nothing to do with me. Will she be at the reunion? This would be interesting since in that time and space, we were "an item," many would think of us "as a couple." I can't image interviewing her on tape! ho ho ho. But I can't tell the story right without her playing a prominent role, and I've already thought of several possible devices with which to get around the possibility that 1. she may not be there or 2. she may be there but uncooperative or even hostile. All possibilities allow for a gripping story strategy. (In a recent exchange of emails, her sister finally got my side of the story enough to realize that actually I am not the bad guy in this soap opera.)

The eternal truth for writers, the Great Mantra, is this: It's All Material.

In this week of illness, my knee appears to have improved a bit.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sat. morn opera

I'm passing on the Live at the Met! opera this morning, due to persistent coughing, but H goes forward. My consolation prize is to watch UCLA in March madness, poor me. Then I'll hit finals all afternoon, with the soundless games on, 4 to a screen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mental toughness

A number of low seeds have been very competitive until the last 5 minutes or so of the game, then collapse. Commentators usually describe this as "running out of gas," as if it were a physical problem. I think more often it's a lack of mental toughness, a loss of focus and concentration, caused less by fatigue than by anxiety and lack of experience of playing under extreme pressure. I think these teams fail more mentally than physically in the closing moments.

Later this afternoon, Portland State plays, a 13 seed against a 4, and we'll see how mentally tough they are. I'd love to see them advance, of course. I don't know squat about Xavier, their opponent. I don't think the PSU team is as good as last year, though.

The PSU women won in the WNIT and play Oregon State Saturday night. Their journey is virtually ignored by the sexist sports media.

Reality check

It's always good to get feedback from a reader who hates the genre you're working in. You get all kinds of suggestions for changing it, most of which defeat your purpose of course. It's the triumph of ideology over aesthetics. All the same, even here there's often something useful.

Not by design, but it happens that among the readers giving me feedback on the splay draft are 3 women who would call themselves feminists. A radical feminist in her 60s who lives in Paris. An old-school 70s feminist in her 70s. And a young feminist in her 30s. The latter wanted to change most things about the script; the former thinks the screenplay excels and the movie will excel! The question is, What happened to feminism in recent decades that a feminist so radical she can't stand to live in the U.S. and who put her body where her beliefs are, a woman with a PhD and an MFA both, a poet, an essayist, a professor, why is she not bothered by the very things that outrage the younger feminist? I will say, the radical made a suggestion that I immediately embraced: the love interest is not married. In the context of the story, this makes her stronger. But far, far from the SuperWoman desired by the younger feminist. (The 70s feminist liked the script, sort of a "B" feeling like, and had no suggestions for change. Maybe just being polite -- neutrality is always suspect.)

I am reminded of a startling realization when my labor play BLOOD AND ROSES: 1934 was done at a Longshore Union picnic and all the younger unions members thought it was a commie propaganda play and all the old union members, some of whom participated in the 1934 strike subject matter, thought the play didn't go far enough in telling how violent the times were. The Generation Gap and all that.

I don't know the political persuasions of another female reader, in her 40s, who also thought the script was strong and raised none of the earlier objections. Her suggestions, in fact, were in the direction of cranking up the romantic moments in the story.

Now all this says is the obvious: we bring ourselves to the material. This is why contests have more to do with judges than writers, and why this feedback process has more to do with readers than anything else. Even so, it's an extraordinarily useful exercise. You have to reach a point where you know what you want -- so a suggestion like, "Irene would be stronger if she remained single despite...", jumps out at you, By God, she's right! and another like "Irene should cut his throat" gets you wondering if this were possible without screwing up other things and a third like "let's move the whole thing to Brazil and make it a musical" are quickly dismissed with a grin.

So far, over half the readers are on the same page I'm on, and that ain't half bad. The script is better for the feedback, and that's the bottom line.

But talk about material for a cultural comedy! Has there been a comedy about a writers' group?


Slow improvement, no doubt about it. Less coughing and more sleep for the second night in a row. 3 projects read yesterday, 3 to go, scheduled for today, which gives me the weekend for the finals, Monday for advanced students, and the deadline met Tuesday. But no room for slack here.

Sick or not, I love March Madness! Some surprisingly competitive games yesterday and finally a significant upset, right here in Portland. Looking at all those courtside seats, knowing a great seat cost $1700 for the 4 games of the day, I marveled how much money people are able to spend, still. $72 for rafters and go from there. I really wanted to go to this but couldn't bring myself to spend that kind of money. So I got the DirecTv special for less than a seat and enjoyed the hell out of it, watching 4 games at once.

Round 2 and more of the same today. Main thing is, get those last 3 projects done! I saved the hardest -- the writers having the most trouble -- for last.

And, of course, I wonder how long the crud will hold on. Looking at the experience of others in Facebook, too damn long.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Page turner

The first 3 readers of the splay draft considered it a real "page turner," all reading it in one sitting. Not so the 4th, and no word or hint from the 5th. I'm eager to do a final rewrite and get it to my agent.

Intriguing reunion

I'm generally not big on reunions. I've had over 50 opportunities to go to my high school reunion and have passed every time. On the other hand, I'd go to a reunion of my class of Russian linguists in the Army Security Agency in a flash. Some experiences are more memorable than others. And so I am intrigued and delighted to learn that a summer reunion in Eugene is planned for all English graduate students who attended the University of Oregon between 1965 and 1975. I was there for 9 of these 11 years, first as a Ph.D. candidate, then as an M.F.A. candidate, and after getting my degree, as a part-time instructor, waiting for my wife at the time to finish up her doctorate. So I expect to be there! I think I'll bring the video vest and shoot a lot with a documentary in mind.

There's always a certain trepidation about these affairs, too. People change. I've run into people I was very close to decades later and discovered that all we had in common now were our war stories. There's also a good chance I'll run into a certain someone that may prove awkward. What the hell. Onward.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Small improvement

A better night, less coughing, more sleep. Hope this is a trend. Buried under in reading/grading chores, deadline Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No progress cough cough

Still hammered.

Monday, March 16, 2009

More feedback

Another report from a reader, good feedback, good suggestions, positive comments.


Need to do six or eight today. Feeling terrible, so it will be a struggle.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


After gathering dust for a few years, my collection of short stories The Man Who Shot Elvis and other stories has a recent trickle of sales. I can never figure these things out.


Got my first feedback on the splay draft, all the way from Paris. Very helpful! Indeed, a suggestion that I will embrace, doesn't take too much work and gives the narrative a more modern sense. Good suggestion! So far, so good.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lady Vikings

Now it's the women's bball team's turn to play for the Big Sky championship, a game going on now (behind 1 to Montana at the half). I can't find it on the radio but am listening to it on the Internet. I wish it were on the radio. Why isn't it? Or cable TV, for that matter. Women's sports do get ignored by the media.


The crud hasn't floored me yet, and I have enough energy to start grading term projects, which is the focus for the next three days. Hoping I can fight this thing to a draw.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Attack of the crud

My turn -- I'm trying to fight it off before I'm down for the count, and so far I'm managing to stay on my feet.

Yeah, right

Latest from "the producer" is he wants me to come direct my screenplay on spec. Yeah, right. Here's the period at the end of this strange experience. Wonderful Hollywood.


4 of them today, a very busy afternoon.

Already brooding about new splay, not the one just drafted. Serial monogamy!

Fighting off a cold trying to creep aboard. Hanging in so far.

Selection Sunday two days away!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Crunch time

Last day of classes! The end of term routine begins:
  • pick up projects today
  • return graded next week, pick up finals
  • read and grade finals
  • turn in grades, about next week at this time
  • enjoy a week and a half off
  • begin Spring term

I have my 91-page screenplay draft done. Want to print today, maybe get in one reading with the red pen before registering it and sharing it for feedback.

During the break, I'll start the new screenplay, the low budget high concept idea.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The worst thing about writing

Writing is widely considered to be a solitary, lonely act but I don't believe this is true. In the act of writing, the writer is surrounded by characters with whom s/he has developing intense relationships. They are fictional characters but so what: most characters we meet in the so-called "real world" are fictional as well. Why else would the nice man next door who tells all the funny jokes at the mail box and always has a sunny disposition end up being a serial killer? In the act of writing, the writer experiences intense emotions with evolving real spirits, his creations. There is nothing lonely about this.

The loneliness starts later, when the God role-playing ends, when the first draft is finished. At this moment, if all has gone mostly well, I experience an intense high -- like today, after writing FADE OUT. An intense high! But then it hit me: no one, absolutely no one, can share this with me because I, and only I, have the experience I've just finished. At this moment no one but I knows what the writing is about, knows who these characters are, knows what the emotions of their various journeys are, journeys on which I was beside them every step of the way. This is our trip alone, myself and my characters. No one else will know about them until later. Then, if I'm lucky, some sharing can begin.

So I can't share this high moment. And I hate that. Sure, I can babble about it but not without sounding like an egomaniac. Later, when others have met the characters, some will agree with my enthusiasm and some not but by then I'll have changed my mind about a number of things, a number of them, anyway. I'm already thinking of ways to change things, a few hours later. The intense high is long gone.

But it was that brief moment, right after FADE OUT, the intensity of that high, My God I did it!, I played God and created the clay and now I can begin the less mysterious process of shaping clay into something that many people can share, if I do the shaping right. And for a brief moment, a brief intense high, I knew I had done something important, something worth while -- but there was no one around to share this with, and even if someone, my most intimate friend, entered the room, I wouldn't know how to explain the experience just ended. FADE OUT, wow!, and then the fall back into reality, so-called, the first and most fragile and most mysterious part of the creative process over. And the rational act of rewriting begins.

Teaching update

All the adjunct faculty, of which I am one, are being asked to submit updated resumes. Sounds like some thinning going on. In this regard, I feel confident, esp. since I started the screenwriting program in the first place, have been teaching it 11 years, always full classes with a waiting list, always good student evaluations. But this is a dangerous way to think when institutions or any large gathering of minds make decisions! Strange, very strange, things come out of committees. I've been there. The moral is ... what happens happen.

As e.e. cummings wrote in a different context, "as long as you and i have arms and lips which are for kissing and to sing with, who cares if some oneeyed sonofabitch invents an instrument to measure Spring with?"

What a wonderful day it is!

Local fan night

Portland State, Oregon and Oregon State all have important tournament basketball games tonight. How will I ever stand it?

Should be a productive day

The day mostly my own. An audition this afternoon. Hope to get well into act three of the splay today. I wrote the last 3 pages earlier this morning -- love them! What I still need is a showdown bigger than anything that comes before.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The kindness of strangers

Well, not exactly strangers. I have 4 good readers lined up to give me feedback on my splay draft. Should be most helpful.

Office hours

Been wondering if next term is my last in this cubby hole of a home away from home, my office at PSU. I hope to teach next year but given the economy, hard to say if I'll be kept on, even though I'm really the only one in the department qualified to teach my class. And I did start the program, so it's dear to me. Hate to end with a whimper and all that. But uncertainty is in the winds, anything can happen. It's not a disaster since I was going year by year whether or not to retire totally, and the decision to continue teaching next year was a close one. At the same time, I'd really like to retire from this on my terms, not the terms of bean counters. I'm letting the gods handle it, at least as best I can. What happens happens. I say that a lot lately.

After the rush of writing the first 70 pages of the new splay, I'm slowing down and letting the last act come slowly, lots of brooding and thinking of alternative actions. This is where I always screw up in Hollywood's terms. This story is too big, too commercial, too well timed, for me to screw it up. I really want to do the ending right. I have the ENDING, actually, what I don't have is how to set up and execute the Big Showdown. I am close. Of course, then the real fun begins, printing it out, the red ink, and getting some feedback from some well chosen colleagues. Digest it all and finish up. I'll be done in April, I think. I'm going immediately to the high concept low budget I have in mind, which I think I have a good shot at selling on Inktip since that's what they like. This is the first low budget high concept I've ever had. Usually high budget ideas are Big Movies, at least when I think of them. But high concept does not come easily for me, it's amazing to have two ideas back to back. Going to run with them and see what happens. I'm getting my art-rocks off with the novel and libretto, don't need to get artsy with the splay stories.

One of my continuing, advanced students is a wonder. An absolute wonder. First of all, she has a natural rhetorical talent for screenwriting unlike anyone I've worked with before -- in a form where story matters more than rhetoric. But she has a flair for minimalist writing that is witty, clever, and keeps you reading on. Her weakness has been storytelling but she is learning and improving through an amazingly rigorous course of self-study, watching a movie a day and analyzing it, keeping a blog about her brainstorming, this lady is nothing but energy aimed at learning the craft of screenwriting -- I think she's not only going to learn but "make it." How can she not with her energy and talent and willingness to pay the dues? I read her blog in wonder. I wish there was a grade higher than an A to give her.

I don't quite understand how or why but I actually feel that my screenwriting has reached a new plateau with the new script (and with the idea for the next one). I think I've finally stopped "thinking like a playwright" and have digested my agent's constant mantra, Hollywood Hollywood Hollywood, and am beginning to get the hang of what to do. The real breakthrough for me was seeing SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. There is not one thing "new" there except window dressing. And by the gods, there is the key! Exotic window dressing, so exotic no one realizes is the same old story told the same old way! This for the mainstream market, at any rate. And my agent doesn't want to market anywhere else -- why should he, the mainstream is where all the money is. It's not show art, it's show business. I've known this for ages and maybe even understood the "theory" of what makes a Hollywood movie work, but SLUMDOG was so different, so exotic -- and yet exactly the same. Yes, it is magic. Dress it up so much that no one sees how you do the trick. The writer as magician. And this is the insight I'm applying in my new script.

Showing a doc film DREAMS ON SPEC in class, excellent Reality 101 story about 3 screenwriters trying to make it in L.A.

100 Free Lectures That Will Make You a Better Writer

Being a writer means you constantly evolve and grow in your writing knowledge. One way to aid in this evolution to becoming a better writer is by learning from what others have to offer. The following lectures cover a wide range of fields including literature, speeches from current writers, lectures from Nobel Laureates in literature, lectures about fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism, and even entire classes on writing.

(link deleted by request)
But only if you pay attention ha ha. Valuable and interesting stuff.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Best news of the month

I am a high school prose coach in a small Texas town. One of my students, Taylor McKinney, would like to perform a selection from your book selected stories for an upcoming competition. The piece he is interested in is "Lessons From the Cockroach Graveyard." Taylor advanced to State competition last year as a high school sophomore, and I expect him to excel this year as well.

I love things like this.

Return to normalcy

The incredibly productive weekend is over. Back to a less obsessive world. Teaching prep chores today, a video audition this afternoon. In between, hope to write a few pages on the splay. This morning I wrote a revised sequence outline for the rest of the story. We're nearing the end, which is where I usually blow it (in Hollywood's terms), so I'm definitely trying to crank things up here in a dramatically logical manner.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Changing the big dance

Each year deserving teams, "bubble" teams, don't make the NCAA tournament because there aren't enough available spots after all the automatic bids are filled. There are those who want to get rid of automatic bids. I haven't because I like all the underdogs it brings into the tournament.

Coach Bob Knight has a proposal that keeps underdogs and gets rid of automatic bids both: expand the tournament from 64 to 128 teams. He also would get rid of conference tournaments. This would add only one game, after which we're back down to 64. I love this idea! With the top 128 teams in the tournament, I'd expect even more underdogs to have a shot at it. I hope this gets serious consideration.

Tournament fever

Taking a break to watch a little tournament basketball, a final between Illinois State and Northern Iowa, going into overtime, winner to the big dance. Love this time of year, especially these competitive games between schools you never heard of. During the big dance, I root for my degree schools, UCLA and Oregon, but otherwise love underdogs and teams with high GPAs. So I didn't even mind it some years back when Princeton beat UCLA, though I consider the latter very respectable in academic terms. So this year, I'll hope no #1 seeds make the final four and look for the inevitable Cinderella team to root for. Preferably one with a lot of brainy student science majors playing ha ha.

Nice note

The student accepted by USC, with other film schools yet to hear from, sent a nice note about his success: "You kickin my ass that did it." It's great when students rise to the challenges you give them.

High concept

A new splay idea hijacked my brain this morning. A high concept idea. I almost never get these, and this is my second this month. What's going on? The first, which is what I'm working on now, requires a Big Budget and A-List actors or it won't work at all. The new one is at the other end of the spectrum, a thriller requiring only 5 actors and about as many locations, perfect for low budget, but still high concept. I scribbled some notes for it, and it will be next in line. No rush! I'll take as long as it takes to get the present one right. This may be the first Big Hollywood Movie idea I've ever had in my life. I think my agent will be pleased. His prayers may have been answered ha ha.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Madam Butterfly

The Met's Live in HD production is amazing! Acts 2 and 3 are brilliant. However, Act 1 didn't work for me, compromising an otherwise extraordinary theatrical and musical experience.

The concept here is to incorporate various Japanese theater techniques, such as minimal sets, dancing, and especially puppets. The full use of these is what makes the latter acts so extraordinary. However, the performance starts ambiguously, as if we might be in a more naturalistic rendering of the story. Consequently I found some scenes almost laughable. It's one thing for a middle-aged matron to play a virginal 15-year-old in an opera house where to most audience members she appears about one inch tall, quite another to splash her on a large screen in high definition video, where she looks 100 feet tall. I kept feeling like I was watching a high school play with teenagers trying to perform the roles of grandparents, only in reverse. There was not enough challenging the realism in act one. Let her wear a mask, engage the puppets actively from the start, even put exaggerated unrealistic makeup on her, anything to make her quit looking like a middle-aged woman trying to be a teenager.

In act two none of this matters because the child is a puppet. A brilliant device! Any notion of realism is thrown out the window, the actress can be any age, any size, because now we're in different aesthetic territory.

So the production didn't define its style soon enough for me. But once it did, wow, nothing but brilliance! In fact, it put the Portland Opera's recent production to shame.

Energy high continues!

Looking forward to a great day: first, the opera Live at the Met!, which goes till mid afternoon, back and expect to be ready to write, probably working on the splay. Looking over the draft, I see that the sequence around page 30 is really midpoint material, so I need to stir the pot more earlier and I found several ways to do that quite naturally, so I should be okay. I'd love to finish Act Two in the next several days but that may be pushing it. At any rate, unless I run into an unexpected problem, usually more likely than not, I should have no trouble finishing the draft this month. But this one came to me whole, I'm more on top of it than I usually am at this early stage.

For reasons unbeknown, a few days ago I forgot to take pain pills for my arthritic knee -- and it didn't feel any worse than usual. So I stopped taking them, and each day the knee felt a little better. It's about at 75% now, which actually I can live with. No sure why the unannounced improvement.

From the library I got a 7 DVD set called Unseen Cinema, lots of avant-garde stuff. Be interesting to check it out, see if I find anything I can learn from or use. Or steal ha ha.

I wonder if I'll have a teaching job next year. I put in to teach but the way the state economy is going, lots of cuts ahead. In my behalf, I have a class that for over ten years has been full with a waiting list every term. They shouldn't cut such a class though they may transfer it to a tenured professor already on the payroll and save a few bucks. Not the end of the world if they drop me but I very much would prefer ending this dance on my terms, not theirs, and I had decided to go into the classroom for another year.

We're starting research for our changes ahead. Do we finance the house or sell it? I'm for selling it and moving into an apartment, preferably one filled with seniors. I'm also for leaving Portland but the farthest away I expect to get on that score is Beaverton ha ha. Long way from Albuquerque or other places I'd like to check out. But I think it's time to downsize, decrease possessions and responsibilities and increase mobility and flexibility.

H still in bed. She needs to get up and have breakfast and get ready for the opera. I've done all of the above.

Great Literary Accidents Dept.

T. S. Eliot is an anagram of Toilets.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A rare day

It's been a long time since I had a day as productive as today. Got significant work done on the splay, the novel, the new video, plus tended to various chores and errands. And I'm still at work.

A dinner tonight, celebrating Julie's MFA, and tomorrow morning is Live at the Met!, Madam Butterfly.

This is a great way to start out my long weekend.

Writing a first draft

When the story is clear, I like to draft a screenplay in 2 weeks or less -- about 10 pages a day. So I hope to draft this new one before the month is out. Onward.

Storytelling v. writing in film

A hard lesson for writers to learn is that in screenwriting, story matters more than writing. I'm a perfect example of this. I've collected a long list of compliments on my "writing" from agents and producers over the years, yet I've never had a feature produced (I've had three shorts produced), though half a dozen have been optioned and several came damn close. My weakness, however, kills me: an act three in story structure that isn't cranked up enough. This is something I continue to work on. But it's a very different storytelling strategy than what I'm used to as a playwright or novelist, forms more natural to me in which the writing itself matters more than in screenwriting. All the same, screenwriting remains the most "fun" writing that I do, even as I still try to conquer this first major studio sale. It's fun, I think, because I imagine it more easily, I "run the movie" in my head as I'm writing. I'm very excited about the new script I just started -- the life of the serial monogamist, after all -- and in its outline I think I have a cranked up third act. We'll see!

This term I'm working with several advanced students with the same challenge: fine screenwriters who need to learn how to crank up the last half of a screenplay story.

The writing life

One of the best feelings in this writer's life is this one: full of energy at 8 a.m., a list of writerly things to do, coffee at hand, glowing in the satisfaction of having already done a day's work, i.e. 7 script pages done. Onward!

Things to do today

  • More work on splay
  • Work on novel
  • Work on libretto
  • Input rewrites to short video script and send to actors
  • Practice piano

Screenwriting v. prose

Why do I find screenwriting so much easier and so much more fun than writing prose? A fact. Can't wait to get up and at the new splay. Getting back to the novel, a story that's actually more important to me (but which would require an X rating if written as a splay), is like pulling teeth. Go figure.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Finished my last two student scripts this morning early enough to do about an hour of research for the new splay. Need to learn some geographic things about the foreign setting.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Best cities for indie filmmakers

Here are the top 10:
1. Chicago, IL
2. Atlanta, GA
3. New York, NY
4. Shreveport, LA
5. Albuquerque, NM
6. Boston, MA
7. Stamford, CT
8. Memphis, TN
9. Milwaukee, WI
10. Austin, TX


I thought Portland might be on the list. I thought Austin would be much higher. I love Shreveport.

Cause for celebration!

Josephine Hart has a new novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE, coming out in August!

About Portland

An anonymous comment on a blog post here is so right on that I'm copying it below for greater exposure. This is exactly what happened in Portland.

I used to love Portland. When I moved here it was paradise, as everyone says. Today, not so much.

The unemployment rate is outrageous. When i moved here, Portland was a plucky little town with jobs and dirt cheap housing. Then the housing bubble, all the hip kids keep moving here right after college, the city put money into expensive condos, everyone refurbished their homes -- all this means, there are too many starving, adorable twenty-to-thirty year olds looking for jobs, and rent/houses have skyrocketed in prices which in turn makes the youth looking for work need two or three jobs, thereby exacerbating the problem.

Because of how fast Portland 'bloomed' with talented people and at the same time experienced housing inflation, there is a large block of nouveau riche -- people lived here before the boom and rode the wave over the crest/crash, or people who dropped in at the right time and landed the good job/smart investment opportunities. So the rich people are hunky dory and not much is going to hurt them unless our whole economic system collapses. And the rich see no reason why the poor should be poor.

Serial monogamy

Nothing like a new mistress to get the juices flowing! At least, what's left of them. The mistress, in this case, a new screenplay story that I outlined this morning. The one I was working on isn't going anywhere. I usually start like that, sink or swim, a "forest" person, and in a few days I know if I have something or not. This morning, however, I sat down and wrote a sequence outline, beginning to end, of a story strategy that's been bugging me for decades. Easy enough to do since it's a well-worn strategy. I'm using the same technique used by SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE -- retell an often told tale in a package so different and exotic that no one recognizes that it's "the same old story." That is, we respond to FLESH, not the SKELETON, of a story -- but it's the skeleton that holds everything together in the right structure. So there's a skeleton, tried and true, I've been wanting to put new flesh on for a very long time but only since 9/11 has this even become possible. So I have the outline of the full story, which gives me a beginning security, though I know problems await me, and I'll begin this weekend. A new mistress! Works every time. I'm just not the writing stud I once was, no more 18 hour writing jags for me, man.

A small step forward

This morning I wrote a sequence outline for a screenplay story that's been bugging me for a while. It's a Big Movie, big budget, not an indie project at all, and I've tried to recast a tried-and-true strategy into a new, contemporary package, a story with an international flavor, a love story set in war. We'll see how it goes. But my agent should be happy, he keeps urging me to aim higher, bigger, major studio stuff.

Scorpio Setting

If I could only finish one of the projects on the literary stove right now, it would be this short novel about the last day in the life of an old man. At the moment, it feels like climbing a large mountain but I can devote the summer to it and what I need to do in Spring is get up to speed, in a good rhythm with it. The story is damn clear in my head, I'm often doing dialogue in my head, it's clear to me -- but it's harder than ever to sit down and put the words down. An exhausting task, perhaps in part psychological since it's such a personal story. Not autobiographically personal -- philosophically personal is a better way to put it. And maybe there's a sense of it being the last, large ambitious project left in me. Well, apart from a feature -- but will I even have energy to do one down the road? I feel like my soul has sprung a leak.

A very full day

A large stack of student script projects to look at today. The last time I see them before grading them. Will take the entire day, and I may still have some to look at tomorrow before class. I'll do as many as I can today.

First Wednesday tonight as well. I may or may not go, depending on my energy level. I'm also a tad peeved about how this particular session was organized (not by Julie, by the guy in charge tonight). But energy, not the other, will determine whether I go or not. My energy level has been crashing recently. I keep thinking of the old blues lyric, "going down slow." Way I feel lately.

Revising the schedule

It's clear my energy ain't what it used to be even a year ago, and my work schedule needs to begin to reflect this. Looking at what I had planned ahead, I don't think I can handle it. I need to zero in on the projects most immediately important to me. What all this shakes out to is this: delaying the feature I planned to shoot this summer. I'm not sure the script will be ready, I'm already behind on the short videos project, and behind on the novel. What's most important to me right now? Scorpio Setting, the novel. It's also the hardest to do. But this, not the feature, needs to get my full attention in the summer since I can't do both -- and I'll likely still be shooting the short video project then since it's already March and I've yet to start shooting one of them.

I've always worked on many projects at once without a problem but my energy, my concentration, even my interest, all have been waning recently. Part of my sense of needing to downsize and move more slowly is demanding less in my writing schedule.

Feels to me like the clock definitely is winding down.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

After positive comes the negative

I've been damn lucky all my life. Quite amazing. However, there are signs that the zero-sum universe is belatedly kicking into gear and bringing me back into a more natural sphere. And I don't even have the right to complain! It may not be much fun.

Yes means No

I'd forgotten how much Hollywood double-speak irritates me. El Producer insisted that I give him a time to phone me, so I did -- and he didn't call. Not all that surprising, just irritating. I think the so-called "deal" is down the tubes or something would have happened by now. Nothing lost except money ha ha.

Paul deLay memorial

2nd Annual Paul deLay Scholarship Benefit Concert

James Harman * Curtis Salgado / Alan Hagar Duo * Linda Hornbuckle
DK Stewart * David Vest * former members of the Paul deLay Band
ล and more

Sunday, April 5, 2009
6 - 10 p.m. / doors open 5:30 p.m.
3017 SE Milwaukie Ave. * Portland OR * 503.233.1994

Monday, March 02, 2009

Class warfare in Portland

I've gotten a few nasty letters regarding the Business Week list naming Portland the most unhappy city in the country. I didn't make the goddamn list! I guess it's a sin to report it. What is interesting, of course, is when the writers sing the praises of Portland, they reveal that they are among the nouveau riche in our fair city, or suggest as much, and they apparently didn't go to the source article to see that the list was calculated from crisis line calls, suicides, divorces and such, all of which put Portland on top. So we have a hell of a lot of unhappy folks here, and a hell of a lot of folks enjoying the good life in the Pearl District, and this sounds like the usual rich/poor stuff to me, which will probably get worse in this bad economy. (You see a similar but more complicated dichotomy in the issue of the mayor). The sense of "two cities" is strong, which is a major difference from 25 years ago, or so it seems to me.

But listen, gang, I don't work for Business Week! I didn't make the list. And yes, I do live here, I've lived here for 30 years.

Inspiring day

Read the work of three of my advanced students today and all have moments of professional screenwriting, which is satisfying to see. Two have good completed drafts of a feature, one quite close, one needing more work on the story structure. The other is a short, very suspenseful so far. I buy into the observation by Richard Toscan: "American movies are about what happens next." The one needing story work could become an art film with less work but I don't believe that's the audience the writer is after. The other draft is all there except for the ending. Really a good day, reading such good student work. Makes me think I may be doing something right.

Celtx 2.0 released

Since the strange disappearance of Sophocles, this is the screenwriting program I send my student to -- and they love it. Moreover, it's FREE. I love the program myself, and love that I can run it from a flash drive. An amazing product, which has come light years from its first clunky days a few years ago.

Portland ranked most unhappy city in country

Our Golden Age, I insist, was the late 70s and 80s.
clipped from www.oregonlive.com

BusinessWeek ranks Portland at top of "unhappiest cities" list

by The Oregonian
Monday March 02, 2009, 6:19 AM

Portland has found itself at the top of another list, but not the kind you can brag about.

A staggering jump in calls to a crisis intervention hotline, high rates of depression and divorce have landed Portland atop BusinessWeek's list of unhappiest American cities. The magazine looked at a range of factors - crime, unemployment, and cloudy days (an average of 222 a year in case you're wondering) - and concluded that the Rose City is one miserable place.

 blog it

Advanced students

Have the work of 3 advanced students to evaluate today. Busy day. Presently I'm ... ta da! ... rendering video.

You know you are old when ...

I was filling out this online form. There were drop down menus for birthday. Okay, I selected the day. I selected the month. But the years ended too soon, my year of birth was too long ago to be on the list, which ended the year after my birth! This has never happened before. Jeez.

A morning phone call

Producer wanting to buy my script is supposed to phone this morning. I expect to learn more than I know now. I'm neither apprehensive nor excited. What happens happens. I don't expect much, frankly. I can think of no good reason he wants to talk directly to me rather than to my agent at this stage. But we'll see.

LATER. Rescheduled for Tuesday.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Louie Louie

Banned play update

Eastern Oregon Univ. won't host it. Shame on them!

Old recording

Thanks, Julie.

March madness

Only a couple weeks now to one of the great events in sports! My short list of must-see events, in no order, includes:
  • March madness
  • Army-Navy football game
  • Summer Olympics
  • Little League World Series
  • Triple Crown

Took three hours to edit and prepare two readers from First Wednesday -- very labor intensive work. But I practiced piano while video files were rendering, enough that my out-of-practice hands are sore. I should've been practicing while video renders all along!

Not much in a writing mood this weekend. Too much work. Practicing piano and editing video are full of grunt work moments.

Scrapple addict

I've finally reached consistent quality control with my "easy" scrapple recipe. All the same, there still are variations I want to try, like using turkey instead of chicken broth.

Up and at 'em

Waiting for the coffee shop to open at 530.