Thursday, April 30, 2009

The gods are messing with me again

Didn't get the subnotebook before I left for class ... but then in my office, checking the tracking, I see it was left "at the front door" at noon, which means they left it at someone else's front door. So now I have to track the goddamn thing down in the neighborhood. Jesus.

8-year-old Saudi girl divorces 50-year-old husband

CAIRO – An 8-year-old Saudi girl has divorced her middle-aged husband after her father forced her to marry him last year in exchange for about $13,000, her lawyer said Thursday.

Read the story

And it's not even from the National Inquirer. Different eras of civilization always have co-existed but only with modern media have we had to know about one another on an hourly, make that minute-by-minute, basis. What would it have been like to live at a time when you learned about the assassination of your president days, weeks, or months after the fact?


Last night I watched a documentary of the great Calumet Farms racehorse Citation. I grew up with this horse, and I remember our family following the news to see if Citation would become the first racehorse to earn one million dollars, which seemed like an incredible feat. My granddad picked a longshot that ended up beating Citation late in the horse's career, another incredible feat. Citation is considered to be the great horse between Man of War and Secretariat (i.e. better than Seabiscuit) by most racing experts. With Santa Anita and Hollywood Park in our area, both going strong, it was easy to become a racing fan in Southern California in the 1940s and 1950s.

Pleasant surprise

The best midterms were on the bottom of the pile, including a couple of first rate "professional" scripts. Great to find!

"On vehicle for delivery"


Navy humor


Today's theme: finish reading them this morning, share them in class.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kid at Xmas

My eee pc arrived in Pdx today ... so delivery should be tomorrow as scheduled. Will it arrive before or after I leave for the university? At any rate, Friday obviously will be test drive day!

Free Met Player Weekend, May 1-3

If you like opera, this definitely is worth checking out.

Wears well

Just watched The Heirs, my silent comedy, for the first time in months. I dig it!

Second wind

Need a second wind to finish the midterms. Maybe I'll finish them tomorrow morning. Not as many good scripts as I'd hoped, this class a [remainder of this post has been removed by request.]


A leisurely day reading midterms. This typically marks the turning point in the class, the point at which most students finally understand what screenwriting IS and are able to write without shooting themselves in the foot. There are usually quite a few good short scripts in the midterm batch. I look forward to reading them and tomorrow we'll share the best ones with the class.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

End the University as We Know It



Got over 5 pages done today. Not bad for a teaching day!

Tracking the eee pc

Landed in Sacramento today ... onward north, scheduled Thursday delivery. Kid at Xmas.

Running out of steam

But only 3 students to go, starting at 4. Then home! But great progress today.

Checking in

Moving right along with the student conferences. This is time-consuming and exhausting but it's actually one of the better things I do in class. Really gives me a better sense of where individual students are at on the learning curve.

Screenwriting on the eee pc

Heard from a screenwriter who uses Celtx on his eee pc for screenwriting and loves it. Good to hear! Mine should arrive in a few days. Can't wait to give it the usual test runs, etc., and to see how this fits into and changes the rhythm of my work day. I've been reading a lot about it and have pretty realistic expectations, I think. I'm certainly not abandoning the AlphaSmart, my on the road writing tool, but I think I'll find ways to use the two together. I still hope the eee pc finds into the pouch on my AS bag. This would make life simple indeed.

While waiting for first student ...

... I've been working on the novel! Feeling productive.

Conference day

A full, long day of student conferences. Once a term. It ends.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Auction addiction

If you're addicted to auctions, you want to avoid Swoopo, an online auction site. But it's fun to watch the live auctions and see the incredible deals available (I was watching laptops). The downside is a bid costs $.75, so you could go broke trying to get your super buy. But the site has high participation snooping available for free.


My old essay The Screenplays of Quentin Tarantino is being included in an upcoming book.

Check out Emma Wallace

The amount of talent in the world is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, the culture's star-driven fame-driven machinery doesn't always make it easy to find. And the exaggerated hype bestowed upon talent that really isn't that spectacular doesn't clarify the waters. At any rate, I frequently stumble by accident upon talent that gets my attention, and today it's the music of Emma Wallace, who left a comment below. So I checked her out. She says about her work:
writer/performer of love songs that are mostly angst-free and done in the style of modern ragtime. A very high piano content.

The last jazz singer I got excited about was Stacy Kent and Wallace has that same soft, low key approach to ballads, in the Julie London camp of song delivery. I dig it. Here are some links to her music and work:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Quotation of the day

For every human problem there is a solution which is simple, neat and wrong.

- H. L. Mencken

Alternative cover

Think I prefer the first one.

Try to be kind

What do you do with a someone who is earnest, enthusiastic, focused -- and terrible. This is how I would describe the DJ of our traditional jazz radio show, a young man who replaced the wonderful Dr. Jazz after he died. This kid reads everything, and not too well. He must write out his entire show ahead of time. He even reads death notices and condolences! I mean, the guy obviously means well and is into the music, but it's become such a pain to listen to him that I find myself changing the station. He talks/reads too much to boot. I feel bad criticizing this guy since he tries so hard, I guess, but can't he say anything, especially something as personal as offering condolences, without sounding like the world's worst reader?


The other day I was chatting with Primus St. John and mentioned my changing writing process, i.e. working in the head the same but taking longer to get to the page, if I get there at all. He, too, has experienced this as he ages. He told me the story of a colleague who told him, I wrote one of the best poems of my career the other day but I forgot to write it down and now I can't remember it.

I swear to God, I have a lot more respect for the mumbling senior citizens on our streets than I used to have (now that I apparently am getting ready to join them ha ha).

The Great American Songbook

The older I get, the more I appreciate the craft of the lyricists of the Great American Songbook (Cole Porter et. al.). The simplicity and natural voice of their rhythms and rhymes are not easy to write, as any songwriter learns soon enough. There was a generation of superb craftsmen that, in numbers at any rate, has not been duplicated since. Great talents.

H comes home this afternoon. Hence housecleaning ha ha.

Here's a markup of the cover I have in mind for the novel in progress, which I plan to finish this summer, my front burner project. Video goes second burner this summer. Pretty typical Scorpio project ha ha!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deadline approaches!

May 1 is the Nicholl deadline, o ye beginning screenwriters!


Cold and wet, so much for yard work. All I can do to stay warm inside. Where the hell is spring?

Early start, back to bed

Heard from my friend in Bali after a long silence. She's moving out of her son's home to another part of the island, her own place. Her youngest son is getting ready to go to law school -- all 3 of her sons are doing great. She seems to be looking for her new life, still.

Checked on progress of subnotebook, delivery date moved back to Thursday. Like a kid at Xmas.

Need to get more sleep. Or at least stretch time.

Friday, April 24, 2009


The Dummies book said the eee pc is about as large as the book itself, in which case I can fit it into my AlphaSmart bag. Actually I suspect the computer is not as thick as the book, which makes a fit even easier. This would be fantastic, getting both machines into the pack!

Not sure what kind of a day it is

No creative work done yet today. Read a book (eee pc for dummies). Mowed the worst section of the lawn and saw it's time to start over again. Took the dog for his run. Took an afternoon nap. Groaned a bit. Think it's time to go for coffee.

Quotation of the day

"Men never do evil so cheerfully and so completely as when they do so from religious conviction."

- Blaise Pascal


I like the Dummies book series. Off to the library to pick up the eee pc for dummies.

A while back, almost had a contract to do the screenwriting dummies book. We didn't like the terms, and I wasn't hungry enough to give in. They found a hungrier writer easily enough. People who need the money, the recognition, the validation, or whatever, will let themselves get screwed sometimes, I did it early on myself, but after you have a track record and enough experience to know when you're being screwed, it's easy enough to shake your head and pass up an offer.

"In the mail"

My Asus eee pc netbook has shipped and is scheduled for delivery Tuesday. Can't wait to get it. It has the potential to change my routine considerably by letting me do out of my basement office the online tasks I normally have to come down here to do. Will be a lot of fun to explore its possibilities and see what new routine emerges. At the very least, it will marry well with the Flip to give me unlimited shoot time on location. But it should offer many more possibilities than this.

Want to do some more video editing today, which means piano practice while the large files render. Before that, get some writing on the novel in.

I see that Celtx now has a version just for the eee pc. I'll install it, I suppose, at least to test it, though I still think of writing tasks on the AlphaSmart, certainly when I have no power. You can't beat 700 hours battery life ha ha! Actually I got more than that with the first batch. I'm only on my second set of AAs, a couple years later!

Sketch cracked me up this morning. When I turn on the heat, he likes to get halfway under the couch with his butt in front of the vent. What would I do without Sketch cracking me up all the time?

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Thank God It's Thursday. Not a bad night, don't feel too bad. Great class, writing exercises that seemed to work. Email brought a request for a script from a producer, which is always nice even if always very long odds.

Hope for a productive day tomorrow, at the computer and also in the yard.

Hanging in etc etc etc

Back from dog park, still a bit under the weather but still a better attitude than when I moan and groan.

Need to work my students in class today, get them in shape. This is a [comment on class removed by request.]

Fall class!

Hey, I'm down for my fall class, so maybe I won't get axed by the budget crisis after all, knock on my wooden head.

Better spirits

Don't feel much better physically this morning but I'm in better spirits. Maybe because it's my Friday. Maybe because I peeked at some of the student work before me and saw improvement. Maybe because I'm looking forward to getting my asus subnotebook and working in hot spots around town. Maybe because H gets home Sunday. Whatever the cause, definitely feeling better in the head than in the body.

On to the student work ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Sudden sinking spell is sending me to bed. Hiss.

Tentative good morning

Feeling better but guarded. Student work to read today but not a lot.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Man, I'm glad to be home. Check in on the Mariners and Blazers and crash early. A tough day. Feel 100. But, as the recent poem says, "I live in a world where I have no right to bitch." Hell of a deal.

If you missed it, read the poem here.

Office hours

At the coffee shop before office hours I saw a fellow using a music composition program on his laptop. Ends up it wasn't Finale but Sibelius, and he's a jazz arranger. Had a nice chat.

Walking to my office, I swear I feel 100 years old. Moving pretty slowly today.

Sunny on the deck

On the deck with the AlphaSmart, clear, warm, love this weather! The last day of it, alas, the usual wet gray coolness returning tomorrow, say the forecasters.

The eec pc should arrive in a couple weeks. Curious what its battery length will be. I'll plug it in as often as possible, of course, and I always can write here as long as I like, then transfer to the other if I have to upload to my blog or something ... so in practical terms, I probably don't need more battery life than the 3 or so it likely gets. But it's always nice to have as much as possible. I was looking around for more powerful batteries and they would cost almost as much as I got the whole computer for! So I'll live with whatever I have. I write here, still. So all I need is online time, email, uploading to blog, that sort of thing. I think it will work out fine. I'm wondering if the eee pc will even fit in the AS bag. Man, that would be very convenient!

Meanwhile, my old body is really falling apart. Knee, now an elbow, it's as if the warranty has expired and now all the parts are crashing at once. The worst thing about old age clearly is the body. At least so far.

No writing progress but I don't seem to be worried about it. Maybe my writing days are finally nearing an end. The process surely has changed. At the same time, the interior work hasn't changed much at all -- it just seems to stop and linger there, rather than exploding onto the page. Maybe this is what Brown meant when he wrote, "Doing nothing, if properly understood, is the supreme action."

This summer we need to reach a decision, sell and move or refinance and stay. I go both ways, depending on my mood. I love the deck on a day like that -- but there are precious few of them in the context of an entire year. I wouldn't mind living in an RV, despite gas prices, but H would never agree to this. Seems I have two choices: stay in Pdx or get divorced.

I'm not feeling as well now as I did when I woke up.

Well, time to go inside and do some chores before leaving for class.

JAG addiction

I've been watching JAG reruns at breakfast. I can't help it.

It's all material

The reunion of grad students this summer gives me the opportunity, besides the usual reunion dance steps, to tango with some old ghosts. To this end, I did some research this morning for supporting images I'd need for a personal documentary about the changes in my life in this era. I'm thinking of doing 2 simultaneous video projects: a straight-forward docu of the event, to share with those who are there; and a personal "coming of age" story, paradise gained, paradise lost, much more idiosyncratic and impressionistic than the other. If I keep busy, I may stay out of trouble ha ha. We'll see how I feel about it as the date, August, approaches. One good thing: with the eeepc I'll be able to download video and free up the Flip. I was wondering how I'd do that out of town.

So far, so good

Feel much better this morning. Just a little prep work to do for class. Going to take it easy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

One step forward, three steps back

Can't believe I feel sick again, after the tease of getting rid of this thing. Really sucks.

All the same, was indeed a beautiful warm day! Read a student script on the deck, took the dog for a run, but didn't get any lawn work done.

A pretty easy day in class tomorrow, showing "The Monster That Ate Hollywood," but a lot of reading Wednesday and a full day Thursday. Next Tuesday is my all-day conferences day.

Hard to get on a decent writing/work schedule with the uncertainty of my energy level.

Reading a recently published intro to existentialism that is quite good. More about it later, maybe.

Up and at 'em!

Feel pretty good this morning, and it's suppose to hit 80 so I'll feel better later. Had a rough night, though. Still haven't kicked this virus.

Need to look at the work of a few advanced students today. Maybe on the deck this afternoon. Also one section of lawn left to mow.

An easy day tomorrow in class, hard days Wednesday and Thursday.

H returns next Sunday. Onward.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Warner Bros. Archive

Rare films to buy on DVD and free clips to browse. Great fun! Go to archive.

Global warming

Video projects

Still on hold, as I'm reluctant to schedule anything until I know I'm completely out of the woods -- and I'm coughing like hell as I write this. I have a good day sometimes but until I put together a good week, I'm not scheduling anything I may have to cancel down the road. I can't believe it's lasted this long.


One of the practical uses I'll get out of this notebook is being able to download video from Flip on the fly. The notebook has 3 USB ports, so I can put the Flip on one, a flash drive on the other, and clean up the camera for more shooting. This means I have unlimited time on location! rather than the 2 hours I get with two cameras, then having to come home to download the clips. This will be very, very useful for video projects. I can't wait to get it.

Also, the AlphaSmart can download to the Asus, too, for prolonged time away from civilization, which can happen (ha ha).

Spectacular morning

A great sight before sunrise, the moon and Jupiter flirting in the low southeast.

Feel like I'm done for the day, ha ha, what with chores early this morning and a trip to the park to run the dog. Health so-so but I think I'll bypass the documentary and putter in the yard as much as I can while listening to the ballgame this afternoon. Take it easy until then.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


With the Trailblazers in the playoffs for the first time in six years, and none of their players out on parole or in jail, a significant makeover from the JailBlazers of old, the city has gone bonkers. A few of us, I suppose, aren't fans of professional basketball (if they raised the hoop a yard or more, I might get interested again) but still can enjoy the town craziness.

A dilemma tomorrow. The Audition documentary is showing, one time only, in the afternoon when it's suppose to be 75 outside! If I feel well, I think I should pass it up and do lawn work, listening to the Mariners day game. Americana. If I feel bad, go to the film. I can always rent it later.

Sinatra, suburbia, old school jocks, reel mowers

Feeling lousy early afternoon, had to get moving to fight the feeling, not up to yard work so grabbed the dog to go for a drive. The jazz station had a tribute to Sinatra. Been a while since I've listened to a lot of him -- it's so easy to take genius for granted -- but, man, did I remember in a hurry why he's called the Chairman of the Board. Incredible tone and phrasing. He really knows how to communicate a song without putting histrionics in the way. Less is more.

We ended up driving streets we've never been on and ended up on roads outside of town, lost, half the purpose, then twisting our way back to recognizable places. Incredible all the housing and condos that have gone up outside of the city.

Came home in time to see the 4th quarter of a replay of the infamous Cal-Oregon 2007 football game. This is the one where a "new school" Oregon jock blew it by reaching out with the ball instead of protecting it (old v new school), losing it, causing a touchback and giving Cal the game. The gesture perfectly matches the egomania of too many of today's jocks, however, me first instead of protecting the ball for the good of the team. If he had, he'd have been out of bounds on the one foot line and they could have scored the next play.

Feeling a little better on our return, I pushed the mower around a small section of the yard. But maybe even this was too much because now I feel like shit again. The circle is complete.

Wrong, wrong, wrong

Erica Jong:
You see a lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy.

Asus Eeepc Notebook

I love my AlphaSmart for writing on the road. Only thing it lacks is Internet connection, and a later model has this. But at $350 or so, you can pick up a notebook computer. Well, today Woot! had a sale I couldn't resist, less than half price on an Asus, which I've had my eye on for some time. So I caved. Hope I don't regret it. But with PSU full of hot spots, this might be the perfect take-to-university model for me. We'll see!

Small miracle

Actually worked a little on the novel this morning. It's been a while. The good news, I really like what I have so far. But the bad news is, Feeling under the weather again. I need to get out and do some yard work. This afternoon, unless I feel worse than I do now.

Better and worse

Saw the sun this morning and my spirits soared! Then I started coughing and realized the virus hangs on, still. My, my.

Friday, April 17, 2009


A gray listless waste of a day.

Dreary Friday

I thought it was going to be nice today. It's wet and cold. Maybe I'll take a drive with the dog. Don't feel like working.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

YouTube orchestra

What a great event and story!

YouTube orchestra debuts, wows Carnegie Hall

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The YouTube and Carnegie Hall generations collided Wednesday night in New York City as a nearly sold-out audience looked on in amazement.

Almost 100 musicians from around the world -- the world's first symphony orchestra comprised of members who auditioned solely online -- played their debut gig. They may have forever changed the audition process in their journey.


Some of my anti-technology colleagues in the arts must read this story. Digital tech can be liberating!

Pushing the reel mower

Suppose to be sunny and warm this weekend, so maybe I can catch up with the yard work. Hope so! Push the mower, listen to the Mariners game, chase the dog. Americana. Love it.

A glimmer of hope

It's been depressing to see how many artists and art supporters in this town aren't bothered by a mayor who lied to get elected. Fortunately, some are beginning to see the light.

As the July 1 deadline to begin circulating petitions to recall Mayor Sam Adams inches nearer, the mayor has lost the support of one of his most visible backers — local musician and man around town Thomas Lauderdale. The pianist repeatedly denounced Adams during the Tuesday open house on redeveloping the Rose Quarter. Lauderdale says he cannot believe Adams is willing to tear down the iconic Memorial Coliseum to make way for a Triple-A baseball stadium, and he also opposes the version of the Columbia River Crossing bridge Adams is supporting.

“The mayor has lost it,” Lauderdale said at the end of the open house, where most of the people who spoke also opposed tearing down the coliseum.

Before the event started, Lauderdale told recall campaign spokesman Jasun Wuster that he now supports removing Adams from office. Wurster was handing out leaflets supporting the recall when Lauderdale walked up and took one.

“I was shocked,” said Wurster, adding he is relieved that even some progressives now agree that Adams needs to go.


It really sucks that citizens have to wait six months to recall a politician. But July gets closer, and hopefully the mayor will be gone soon thereafter, though a recall election surely will divide the city. But with one of his most vocal supporters switching sides, I am encouraged that liars may not win after all.

Woody Guthrie

Been invited to do my Guthrie readings gig at a coffee house celebration in May -- and accepted. I can do this with less rehearsal than performing the songs these days, and there are a ton of musicians in town now who perform Guthrie anyway (30 years ago I was the only one doing it locally). So I "perform" the journals, wearing my actor's hat, not my musician's hat. I'll have fun. Get to keep my toe in the river without getting too wet.

A beautiful morning

Up early, feeling better each day (relapsing later each night), finished student scripts and by 9am was in the park playing with the dog. Now the rest of the day is my own until I head for the university at 2.

Last night was a great rare time to be a NW sports fan. The Mariners are having a remarkable start and last night Ichiro and Griffey both homered in an 11-3 win, Ichiro a grand slam. The Blazers, no longer the JailBlazers, cinched home field advantage in their first playoff appearance in six years. NW sports fans usually don't get so much to cheer about.

Will do a little writing this morning. Onward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


We have a small house on a large yard, off the street behind a large house with a small yard. It's a rental, and we've had good neighbors and bad neighbors over the years. We were sad recently when our best neighbors yet told us they had to move. The landlord couldn't afford to keep the house any more and was selling it.

So I'm surprised, a few months later, to see a For Rent sign in front of the house again. What? Did the landlord lie just to get them out? What did she have against them? Very strange.

But I wouldn't put anything past a landlord. I've dealt with them as a tenant and as an employee (as an apartment manager). I once rented from a slum lord -- who also was a big liberal lawyer in town! I once worked for a racist who almost fired me because I rented an apartment to a black man ("there's always a way to turn someone down," he told me). Once an apartment I managed lost power during an ice storm. We were without heat for several days. After the power returned, a tenant came to my door with her frozen, dead parakeet in its cage. She wanted a free month's rent in exchange, which seemed generous of her to me. But the landlord only offered this -- ten dollars off the next month's rent. It was hard to work for these creeps but sometimes I found ways to help out the tenants without the boss knowing.

The bigger the company managing the apartment, the less humane the treatment of the tenants. A large corporation I worked for as manager once referred to tenants in a meeting as "incomes in your ledger book, nothing more." Quite an education and, of course, eventually I couldn't stand it any longer and quit. For a few months, I was officially homeless after quitting but a fellow manager, an actor himself, let me crash in the basement of one of his buildings, where I put a mattress in a spare storage room and used an old isolated basement shower and sink and toilet, quite the digs. But it was free rent, so the price was right. I got a hell of a lot of writing done there. I used to work at a table with a window at ground level and the outside ground at my eye level. Around ten every morning a cat would come by and piss on my window. I thought of him as a literary critic.

I got out of this mess, thank the gods, by collecting some very well-timed grants. I also picked up a job with a direct to video company. My homeless/basement experience was short, only a few months. Still, I don't look back at the experience as "a bad time." It was an eventful, educational time. At least I wasn't on the street.

The basement, and my tree house in Berkeley for the weeks before I joined the Army, were the low end of my housing history. So far, knock on my wooden head.

The Audition

This Sunday, 3pm ET, noon here, the documentary The Audition is being shown all over the country by the Live at the Met! folks. I definitely plan to see it. If it's being shown in your city (100s will show it), maybe you want to see it, too.

...looks at the intense pressures young opera singers face as they struggle to succeed in one of the most difficult professions in the performing arts. The feature-length documentary takes you behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions, where each year thousands of hopefuls compete for a cash prize, the chance to sing on the Met stage–and the opportunity to launch a major operatic career. The film covers the dramatic week leading up to the finals of the 2007 auditions, focusing on three very different tenor contestants: Michael Fabiano, a fiery 22-year-old grappling with his inner demons; Alek Shrader, a 25-year-old with movie-star looks who attempts to sing nine high Cs in the fiendishly difficult aria that made Pavarotti a star; and Ryan Smith, who at the age of 30, and with little formal training, is pursuing his dream of an operatic career.

The Audition is both a suspenseful competition narrative and a revealing backstage look at what it takes to make it as an opera singer.

The way it was

With the beginning of baseball season, "the last slow dance" I called it in an essay decades ago, I'm rereading some favorite books about baseball. First on the list is David Halberstam's Summer of '49, which I admire not only as "a baseball book" but as one of the best reads out there on the culture at this time in our history, a time before the greed, hype and egomania that steers the culture now. A time of innocence, it's been called. At least for white folks. But, to state something not always understood, "at least for ..." is always a qualification when we talk about "happiness" and "good times." We've never had utopia. In this zero-sum universe of ours, misery somewhere always balances happiness here, and vice-versa. Are you happy today? Great -- at least you don't live in Somalia.

What I miss, and miss terribly of course, is the era when greed, hype and egomania, while existing, did not dictate the tone and direction of the culture, which it does today. I feel blessed to have lived in such a time -- just to know it's possible! Yes, once upon a time, major publishers published literary novels knowing full well they would not sell a lot of copies. Why? Because it was their responsibility as guardians of the literary culture. There are still small presses who operate this way but I'm talking about the major publishers. All this is well documented (I talk to young writers who can't believe it, so used are they to the present focus on 'the bottom line' and the corporate mentality that drives the arts today.)

Now there's always been bullshit. "A sucker is born every minute," after all. But once upon a time there was more balance than today, there were other viable, powerful modes at work in the culture. This energy today is on the Internet. One of the places you find it is in the incredible creative work being done by software developers of Freeware and other anti-corporate-model product development. Some of this has trickled into the arts but most of this energy is still in technology.

I suppose the same positive energy is still around, it's just shifted. You find very little of it in professional sports any more, and less of it in college sports all the time. To get the "old feel" you go to small college sports, high school sports (except in Texas), some women's sports, intra-mural sports, and some minor league professional sports. If the TV cameras don't show up, you have a chance to see a game with less hype and fewer jerks on the field.

Blah blah blah. I need some breakfast.

Speaking of sports where the TV cameras don't show up. I was bitching about my knee to my brother, who replied, "Quarterbacks pay for their glory!" He's a very funny man. He was referring to my "career" as quarterback of Cal Tech's freshman team in 1957, leading us to a glorious 0-4 record. I wouldn't change this experience for the world, especially not losing to Whittier College 85-0 in a mud bath. You can't buy experiences like that!

One step forward

Continuing to feel better, a little, day by day. Last night I didn't "relapse" until late at night -- so the pattern is feel good in the morning, worse later in the day and the time of this keeps moving back. Maybe this truly is the road to recovery. I can only hope so.

Student scripts to read, the first batch, always fun because I'm hoping to find "a natural screenwriter" in the class. Doesn't always happen but it's always fun to look.

Made a new batch of scrapple. Feel like making a chicken pot pie.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Office hours

Feeling better this afternoon than yesterday afternoon. Reasonably easy class day given mostly to an in-class exercise. Thursday is my hard day in class this week.

Mentally feeling ready to get back to the novel. I am thinking of changing focus in screenwriting, another round before retiring, and doing some low budget scripts, including adapting a couple of my plays. For the low budget indie crowd, which is actually sizable. I think the last "big script" is about as far as I can take the Hollywood Model without throwing up. And I did get a request from a producer for it, even though my agent doesn't like it yet. But I'm having disagreements with my agent and seriously am thinking of not resigning with him. Our 2-year agreement expires in a couple months. He's offered a renewal. I'm thinking on it, increasingly No thanks. We'll see what happens.

Damn, I like being on campus! This truly is the last social thread in my unsocial life -- after this, I'm a hermit. Well, not quite, but close. I'm curious if this is my last hurrah or if I'll be around next year as requested. Nobody seems to know what is going on. We'll find out.

I'd really like to make one last significant SALE before I tuck myself into obscure avant-garde masturbation. However, this seems to be increasingly unlikely. If I can't sell this last Big Movie, well, I think it's beyond my reach. I feel pretty good about writing some low budget scripts that would interest folks, however, though there's very little money in that sort of thing. It's been too damn long since I've received a four-digit check for anything, let alone more. I miss the 80s when you could make real money optioning a screenplay. And all the grants that were around. Man, little did I know that those days were the best days as far as staying flush on your own terms.

Been thinking about this grad school reunion in August and getting a bit nervous about it. The grad school guys I wanted to stay in contact with I HAVE stayed in contact with -- and while I have a natural curiosity about how various folks turned out etc, there also are some ghosts in the landscape. My wife hadn't come out yet and our home was a big social center for this crowd. I see on the list of folks, she is listed as a DEEMER, so they don't even know we've been divorced for 30 years. The problem is, She seems to hold this grudge against me for something or other. Granted, I didn't send her flowers when she told me, I'm a lesbian, See you later, but I've never disowned how important she was in my life. I'm not sure I would have become a writer without her support and editorial skills. She has every right to be pissed because I became an asshole when my heart was broken but for the sake of the gods, all that mess was over 30 years ago! I think it would be very awkward if we were in the same room in August. Be nice if I'm wrong. But lots of folks there will remember us as the Party Hosts whose home was a weekend gathering place -- how's it come off if one of the hosts can't even be civil? And do I want to deal with all this shit?

One approach to this mess, the usual knee-jerk to "it's all material," is to MAKE SOMETHING OF IT. And thus I thought of making an autobiographical dramatic video, shooting the reunion, interviewing people, going to the library and getting articles about the times, etc, and making a kind of coming of age story, mine, about this moment, focusing on the relationship, it's importance to me, and it's dramatic change when the wife decides she's gay, and my unfortunate if typically male initial response to the news. This might be an interesting little video. And it would keep me behind the camera, and therefore out of the action so to speak, where I'm very capable to putting my food in my mouth.

Another approach is to bypass it. Or just attend one function -- this is scheduled as a three-day affair, which strikes me as pretty damn long. THREE days to reminisce?

Well, we'll see, we'll see.

The weekend is supposed to be WARM and sunny -- maybe I can actually do some yard work! Ideally, listen to the Mariners on the radio, poke around the yard, the dog outside with me, a bit of Our Town Americana. Need to feel up to it, but I'm hopeful.

Also been brooding about what to read at First Wednesday. At first I thought I'd read the short story Lessons From The Cockroach Graveyard since a high school student from Texas has reached the state finals in interpretative reading with it. But then I thought, hell, this may be the last time I ever read in public, maybe I should read appropriately -- in which case, I decided on 3 short excerpts from my novel Kerouac's Scroll, a light moment, a heavy moment, and the ending. I think that's what I'll do.


Took H to the airport early this morning, her frequent trip east to visit son, grandkids, sister. The dog and I are used to having the house to ourselves. Main change is that I can make noise at 5 in the morning.

Feeling ok. We'll see how the day goes. Have the classroom week figured out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

First Wednesday

Oregon Literary Review co-hosts First Wednesdays, a series of readings, performances and wine-tasting at the Blackbird Wine Shop, 3519 NE 44th off Fremont, 7-9pm. Readers and performers interested in participating should contact Julie Mae Madsen at with an expression of interest and sample work.

The readers/performers for May 6 are Sean Hill, Claire Rudy Foster, Paul Martone, and Charles Deemer

Sean Patrick Hill is a writer and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. He earned his MA in Writing from Portland State University, where he won the Burnam Graduate Award. He received a grant from Regional Arts and Culture Council and residencies from Montana Artists Refuge, Fishtrap, and the Oregon State University Trillium Project. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse, elimae, diode, In Posse Review, Willow Springs, RealPoetik, New York Quarterly, and Quarter After Eight. He freelance writes for the Oregonian, Rain Taxi, and Fringe Magazine. His blog is

Claire Rudy Foster was born and raised south of the Mason-Dixon line. She came to Portland in 2001 to earn her BA from Reed College, and will begin in the MFA program at Pacific University this summer. Her stories have appeared in the Ink-Filled Page, The Benefactor, and other publications. She is at currently at work on her second novel. Claire lives with her husband and son in Southwest, within sight of a cemetery, the highway, and a red-tail hawk's nest.

Paul Martone holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon and a Master of Arts degree from the State University of New York at Albany. His short fiction appears in recent issues of the Saranac Review, the Stickman Review, and Fiddlehead. A core faculty member at The Northwest Academy, a progressive arts school in downtown Portland, Martone is currently at work on his first novel, The Last to Leave, and a graphic novel, Sacred Ink.

Charles Deemer is the editor of Oregon Literary Review. His book SEVEN PLAYS was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. He teaches screenwriting at Portland State University.

Yep, I'm giving a rare reading.

Unforgetable moments in the theater

For some reason, I've been remembering extraordinary moments I've witnessed in the theater. For example...
  • A production of Tartuffe in modern dress at the Seattle Rep. When the messenger arrives at the end to set things right, the deus ex machina, he is dressed in the courtly attire of Moliere's day, and the actors regard him as some lunatic who wandered into their play. Curtain. In what seems like an instant, the curtain opens and all the actors are in courtly attire! A true moment of theater magic, thanks to Velcro I assume.
  • A production of Pinter's The Homecoming in the round at the University of Oregon. I am sitting with my back near the entrance. Across the set, in the front row, I see an elderly couple who from the beginning are not enjoying this play. About 15 minutes in, the old guy has had enough. He grabs his wife's arm and leads her to the exit along the shortest route possible -- right across the set in the middle of the action! The actors, bless them, never missed a beat -- and had a great bar story forever.
  • In my own hyperdrama Chateau de Mort at the Pittock Mansion. Near the end of the play, drug dealers dash across the lawn into the woods, fired upon by narc agents from the mansion balcony. On this evening, a family was picnicking on the lawn. They saw this -- and called the cops! As part of the play, an ambulance rushes up the hill, siren on. On this night, three police cars followed it! Real policemen got out and rushed into the mansion, wondering what was going on. Everyone thought it was part of the script.
  • In another of my hyperdramas, Cocktail Suite, set in a bar, just before we started a non-actor real live drunk stumbled in, sat at the bar and passed out. He stayed there most of the play. When he budged, he was slipped a beer (on my instructions -- I also directed). Here, too, the audience thought this was part of the script, and I got great compliments, and the "actor" as well, for the added "realism."
  • I could go on and on. But I won't.

The human animal

SAN FRANCISCO – Prosecutors said Monday they may include rape and molestation allegations in their murder charge against the woman suspected of killing an 8-year-old Northern California girl and putting her body in a suitcase.
Melissa Huckaby, a 28-year-old Sunday school teacher, was arrested Friday on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sandra Cantu.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend she's guilty. If she's not, it's easy to find a guilty, convicted perpetrator of a similar crime. A sweet Sunday school teacher does this. A mild-mannered, polite college student ends up being a serial killer. Etc etc etc ad nauseam. What we are capable of! Well, in a zero-sum universe, one might argue it's the counter to all the wonderful, artistic, spiritual works some humans have contributed.

What's most disturbing, of course, is the package. Just as the alcoholic more often is the well-dressed executive than the skid row bum urinating on the street, so these monstrous acts are committed by otherwise "lovely people," as the neighbors so often say when questioned after an atrocity. We are more complex than anyone can figure out. A Sunday school teacher, raping and murdering (perhaps in the church itself) a little girl who plays with her daughter. O the sad secrets of us all!

Wellness and energy

Felt great this morning! Ah, this may finally be over, I thought. But by afternoon my energy was drained and, though not coughing, I clearly am not at 100% or even 75% yet. So we take it easy and pop the vitamins and pills and liquids, and rest and wait.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Masters

My late friend Ger was a big golf fan. Thought of him often watching the exciting Masters today. Miss him.

Advice to a young screenwriter

Okay, you've learned how to present a spec script so it actually gets read and not rejected unread. Clean, crisp, efficient, vertical writing. Strong suspense, what happens next? You've learned how to use beginning-middle-end storytelling to tell a tale that moves, builds, surprises, resolves.

The next step is to get validation that you have come this far. There are two main ways to do this: someone who knows the screenwriting field can tell you. A teacher, for example. Someone working in Hollywood who will tell you the truth. Or you can make the first cut in a screenwriting contest, just about any contest. The first cut tells you a reader took your work seriously.

At this point you need to ask yourself, if you haven't already, Why am I doing this? What are your goals as a screenwriter? Your answer will influence the path you take next.

  • Do you have professional ambitions in the film industry? In this case, screenwriting likely becomes an entry-level position on your career path to directing and producing. My advice: move to LA as soon as possible.
  • Do you just want to write screenplays, not produce, not direct? Well, full time or part time, as a career or as a part of a more general writing career or some other career? If full time, living in LA will help you. Go there. But if not, LA is not so necessary. Be where you want to be.
  • Do you just want to write spec scripts? Live anywhere.

If you go to LA, your first job should be to get an agent. If you don't go to LA, your first job should be to get producers to read your scripts. More about this later.

Why old farts mumble to themselves

I've written here before about my changing writing process as I get older. In particular, it takes me longer to move from mind to keyboard, from the brooding about story and playing out of mental scenes to the keyboard to transcribe them and work them through. This weekend, for example, I have done no work on my novel at the keyboard but a ton of work in my mind. I get a lot of the same satisfaction of creation from this, without expending the extra energy it takes to move the old fingers across the keys. I haven't yet started mumbling out these scenes, it's all interior mental work, "thinking, brooding," but I see that it's a very short step from this to vocalization, to mumbling these scenes to myself through the day.

Now when I was younger, I easily dismissed the mumbling old farts I encountered on the street as senile crazies with one foot in the grave. But what if they, or some of them, are writers?! Maybe they're just working on their new novel! The mumbling is the vocalization of the usual mental work in the process of building a story.

So if you see me on the street mumbling to myself, don't dismiss me or feel sorry for me. Instead say to yourself, Look at Deemer, he's really into his new book! He's on a roll!

Good deed

A writer whose work I admire has written a memoir. Apparently she's not happy with the small press that was going to publish it and so looked into her self-publishing options. I volunteered to do her production work for a print-on-demand book at Lulu and CreateSpace -- I can do it all practically in my sleep, including cover design. I feel good helping out a talented colleague. This is definitely a way digital technology has liberated writers, though of course all the marketing work now belongs to the writer. But for those of us who don't write best sellers and never will, it's often a very sensible option.

In my case, for example, I have no sense of "an audience" any more but rather a sense of adding material to my archive so that -- and this is either hope or delusion -- the work is available after I pass. I like to think the same thing will happen with my archive that happened with my essay "English Composition As A Happening," a young student/critic will find it on a dark dusty library shelf and go ape over it.

"What happened to the bold, kicky promise of writing instruction in the 1960s? The current conservative trend in composition is analyzed allegorically by Geoffrey Sirc in this book-length homage to Charles Deemer’s 1967 article, in which the theories and practices of Happenings artists (multi-disciplinary performance pioneers) were used to invigorate college writing. Sirc takes up Deemer’s inquiry, moving through the material and theoretical concerns of such pre- and post-Happenings influences as Duchamp and Pollock, situationists and punks, as well as many of the Happenings artists proper. With this book, sure to become a cult classic, begins a neo-avant-garde for composition studies."

Sirc on Deemer

As long as the work is accessible, there's a chance someone will find it and dig it. And that's all it's about, finding the passionate audience (as opposed to the commercial audience). I have enough fans to keep me sane (barely, ha ha). I'm glad I had my taste of "fame" in the 80s so I know now I haven't missed much. What I miss most is the money. That's it. "How much?" is the first thing Yeats asked when learning he'd won the Nobel, and he was exactly on target about the place of artists in our culture.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Crossed fingers

I need to get well and get my energy back so I can get back to work. I seem to have two modes in my old age: working and semi-suicidal. One is obviously preferable to the other.

Another moment for crossed fingers: I'm aching to do a musical project in which I compose the music. So I'm always looking for something in the public domain to adapt. I read a reference this morning that has me on the track of something, a very obscure work by Mark Twain that intrigues me, and the library even has it -- it would be nice and well timed if this became the foundation of a music drama!

I'm also eager to get back into video production. And writing prose! Damn, damn, damn. It all depends on having energy, which depends on getting rid of the virus. Prior to the virus, I'd been bragging to myself that it had been a couple years since I'd really been sick. That'll teach me. The gods are ALWAYS listening. ALWAYS!

Damn cold and wet out besides. Where the hell is Spring anyway?

Bitch bitch bitch. But then a poem comes to mind:

I live in a world where I have no right to bitch.
Just when I am ready to complain
about my arthritic knee, this clutching virus,
the news brings word of serial killers
and floods, abused children and bankruptcies,
and all manner of mayhem that has escaped me.
I limp away coughing, feeling like a fool.

--Charles Deemer

You can't win.


This unshakable illness gets me morbid. I feel like I'm waiting for a bus that never arrives. I feel like I've been at a party too long and it's getting boring. I feel like I'm a stranger in my home town. Etc etc etc.

What I really need is this: to get obsessive about something I'm working on. Work is a great distraction from Life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Top five

Was looking through my archive and have decided these five books are the ones I'm most proud of. Seven stage plays, three screenplays, a novel, a collection of stories, an opera libretto. All of these are available as free PDFs or reasonably priced paperbacks.

Balancing act

A bit better this morning, hanging in and all that.

Reading more of the Yates bio I see another drinking buddy of his was Bob Lacy, my novel-writing teacher in grad school in the 60s. Lots of familiar names in this book, including folks I know or have met. But the book is still a downer, by and large. Truth can be a downer.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Don't count the chickens etc.

Came home after class and feeling like shit again, as in relapse. Damn damn damn.

Think I'm going to make it

By the gods, I think I've made it through the week. Walk over to my classroom soon and a couple hours later I'll be on the bus home. Maybe this weekend I can get back into my groove. Get back into a writing rhythm after this prolonged virus attack.

Office hours

Good visit with a grad student from last term. "Debriefing", she called it. A very talented screenwriter.

Advice to a young screenwriter

After you've learned how NOT to shoot yourself in the foot by writing like a screenwriter, not like a prose/fiction writer, you will be read and not rejected unread. Rejected unread!? Yep. As a screenplay judge, I've done this all the time. I routinely eliminate half the contest entries after reading no more than several pages because this is all it takes for me to see that the writer is not writing a spec screenplay in the accepted, contemporary style. After all, I have a very high stack of scripts to read -- why waste time with someone who doesn't even know what they are supposed to be doing? Now granted, it's very easy to be misled about proper spec screenplay format. There are outdated books on library shelves. There are published SHOOTING scripts, which have a very different standard. If you don't know what you are doing and go to the library or bookstore, you may think you are helping yourself when, in fact, you are getting inappropriate information. But the "right" information is there, too -- in any good recent screenwriting book, on the net, many places. This is not rocket science. But it can be confusing, especially since the standards of the spec script, which is what beginners write, are different from the shooting scripts that get published.

What next, after learning how not to shoot yourself in the foot?

I recommend the next thing you do is master the principles of beginning-middle-end storytelling. Sometimes called dramatic or screenplay structure. But here again, it's easy to get confused.

Here's the problem. These principles have been around since Aristotle. In his Poetics, the basics were formulated and not all that much has changed since then in fundamental storytelling terms. There's a good little book called "Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters" that's worth your time.

Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of wannabe screenwriters are out there, creating a huge cottage industry of "how to write a screenplay" books, courses, seminars, gurus. It's a very, very competitive field. But nobody ever got rich by saying, Study Aristotle. To be noticed in a competitive marketplace, a player has to look different, unique, and special. So what has happened is this: the same basic information has been repackaged and renamed to make it look different and original. Yet when you analyze all the "different" screenplay theories out there, they reduce to semantic arguments.

It's a bit like money. Is a dollar 100 pennies or 20 nickels or 10 dimes or 4 quarters? Screenwriting gurus argue all day and night at this level. Does a screenplay have 3 acts or 4 acts or 7 acts or 12 acts? All of these alternatives are different ways of describing the same thing! A dollar is a dollar. And a story with a beginning, a middle and an end is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. I personally prefer "three act" terminology because three terms are used: beginning, middle, end. But there are other ways to describe the structure.

The point is, it's all about beginning, middle, end storytelling -- this is your focus, and don't let the semantic arguments in the cottage industry fool you or distract you. They want your money, after all. They want you to believe they have some kind of a secret. It's Aristotle who has the secret and always has.

When you study beginning, middle, end storytelling, focus first on the twists that define the borders -- when the beginning becomes the middle and when the middle becomes the end. Very definite story events happen then. Realize that the middle is at least half the total story, and it too has an important twist in its middle, the midpoint, where another important story event happens. So you can begin to structure your story by concentrating on three major twists -- the end of the beginning or "set up" of the story; the midpoint twist; and the end of the middle of the story, which also is the "low point" in the story journey of the main character.

Different approaches break down the structure even more. All of these are worth looking at it. Some will make more sense to you than others. That's fine. Just remember, it's about story movement and story build, within a framework of beginning-middle-end storytelling. Remember it's the protagonist, the main character, whose actions and responses define this story movement.

Perhaps the best way to learn this paradigm, which is what it is, is to watch tons of movies in the frame of mind of "reverse engineering." In my screenwriting books, I treat dozens of films this way, breaking them down into their beginning-middle-end structures. Once you study and see how this works in actual movies, every film you watch thereafter becomes a learning experience. You learn to watch films as an exercise in reverse engineering. Sort of ruins it in a way, it's harder to use movies as an escape from life's troubles, but every film does make you a more knowledgeable film storyteller.

I tell my students that beginning-middle-end story structure is the most important and useful tool they will learn in my class. I mean it. One can apply it to any kind of writing.


Continuing to feel a bit better day by day. Knock on my wooden head.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

On getting old

Old age is like sex: you hear a hell of a lot about it before you experience it but damn little of this information proves to be useful or even accurate.

I've never run from old age. I never wanted to look younger than I am. I don't wish I was born later than I was. Indeed, I rather looked forward to old age in terms of the myth I associated with it: of becoming a kind of Grand Old Man of Letters who became a fixture in his neighborhood. This ain't happenin'. Probably won't. For starters, I live in a "modern" neighborhood where houses are distant, sidewalks don't exist for neighborhood strolling, and no one knows anyone.

I don't like everything about my experience of old age so far. I don't like having an arthritic knee or a weak immune system. I don't mind my hair going, though. I don't like the lustful energy of my mind being ahead of the lustful energy of my body. I like not having to prove myself to or validate myself to or impress anyone. I like feeling good about myself but I don't like not feeling good about much that surrounds me. I wish I could be more amused than depressed by the culture's hype of mediocrity. Hype has exploded exponentially since my youth. It's astounding what high praise goes to crap. At the same time, there's as much genius and talent out there as ever. However, it's harder to find because Pop Culture has a choke hold on the culture, especially the publishing and movie industries. I'm saying nothing new here. Lots of books, studies, memoirs on the subject. But I'm glad I came of age as an artist in the 60s, not now. I used to think the Internet was going to save the culture but this is what was said about radio and television, too. Won't be long before everyone is going to be asked to pay for email, and that will define the New Internet.

I still hope I can live in a neighborhood where I can walk to everything. I want to become a carless person. I want to live in a neighborhood I can afford. I hope we decide to sell our house this summer and start moving in that direction but the consensus isn't yet reached.

I don't like feeling like I'm waiting for the bus, which is how I feel sometimes. I feel best when I'm busy with a project, so I try to keep busy.

I like more about growing old than I dislike. If that's ever reversed, I can think of a clear, if not easy, remedy.

Approaching normalcy

Feeling better, as shown by my early morning cruising, coffee, jazz, brooding about a new story idea. A good sign. But still careful, aware of relapse possibilities.

Thinking more and more about "officially retiring" as a screenwriter, devote my energy to short novel form, maybe fiddle with a way to wed it to the screenplay form, using the Hare model mentioned before. Big stories in small packages. Interesting possibilities.

Advice to a young screenwriter

I'm going to start a series of entries here called "Advice to a young screenwriter." Exactly what the title says. Hopefully these notes, based on long and wide experience, will save the beginning screenwriter some time and grief.

The first and most important thing for the beginning screenwriter to do is learn how NOT to shoot yourself in the foot. Let me explain. Now and again I'm called upon to be a judge in a screenwriting competition. I'm given a stack of scripts to evaluate, from which to choose one or more "winners." I may get as few as 15 or 20, as many as 100 or more, depending on the size of the contest and the way the judges are assembled. In all cases, no matter how many scripts I'm given, I eliminate OVER HALF of them quickly, in a few minutes, reading only a few pages, because the screenwriter shoots him/herself in the foot. These writers commit the first cardinal sin of spec script screenwriting: they let their writing get in the way of their story.

Let this sink in. They let their writing get in the way of their story. What a thing to say about "writing"! One would never, never say this to a novelist or to a poet. Often writing IS the story, so to speak -- style is everything. But screenwriting is not driven by rhetoric, it's driven by story. The job of "writing" in screenwriting is to present the story clearly, passionately, suspensefully, efficiently.

Also notice that I said "spec script screenwriting." Beginners write "spec" scripts, scripts written on speculation -- as opposed to scripts written on hire, which is what professional screenwriters write. Pros get paid first, an advance, and then they write. Not so beginners. They write "on spec" and then try to sell or win a contest. Along with thousands of others.

All writing in the marketplace is related to reading in some way. So with spec script writing. I used to be a reader for a direct-to-video company. Other former screenplay readers have shared their experiences in books, one of the best being The Savvy Screenwriter. Read this book. Here you learn what it's like to be a professional reader of screenplays, and then, and only then, the strange "requirements" of spec screenplay writing begin to make sense. Consider ...

1. Readers get paid by the script, not by the hour. What does this mean? They want to read and evaluate your script as quickly as possible! What gets read more easily, Henry James or "see Spot run"? Duh. Screenplays are written simply, with simple sentences and fragments favored over plush complex sentences, in order to present an easier reading experience. I tell my students, write to be skimmed before being read carefully. Because, in fact, your reader may be reading your script while multi-tasking, eating lunch, talking on the phone, and evaluating your script all at the same time. Your script must be an easy read at the level of writing style, at the level of rhetoric.

2. Readers read with a pile of scripts on the desk. If your script causes too much trouble, you'll be rejected after a few pages and the next on the pile picked up. I did this all the time. I still do it as a judge -- your script, your wonderful story, which you worked on for a year, gets rejected in 90 seconds after reading two pages. I never even get into your wonderful story. Your overly complex, overly written, writing style got in the way of your story and made reading too difficult. Another mantra: write for people who hate to read. Make it easy! If you want to show off your language skills, write a novel. This is the wrong place for such a talent.

3. Write vertically. A text-dense script -- say on page one is an action paragraph with a dozen or so lines, single-spaced -- gives a negative impression. Lots and lots of white space on the page give a good impression. Write action in small paragraphs -- certainly no more than 5 or 6 lines per paragraph, preferably even shorter. Let the normal reading habit as a horizontal experience, the eye moving left to right, become a vertical experience, the eye moving top to bottom, as much as possible.

4. Use conservative formatting. Tight, clear sluglines. Don't describe anything in a slugline. A slugline that has a preposition in it is probably wrong. Use DAY or NIGHT and don't complicate the mix with AFTERNOON or EVENING. Most of the time it doesn't matter and, at any rate, the scene will be shot at the convenience of the schedule, not the story. Always, always, remember: a screenplay is a practical document, a blueprint for a movie, and not a literary document. Make format as simple as possible. If the story demands that a scene happens in the afternoon, keep DAY in the slugline and add Afternoon in the action ... or write DAY (AFTERNOON). You want to keep DAY in the slugline so it turns up in a search when an asst. is making a shooting schedule. S/he wants to isolate all the "day shooting" scenes ... and if you have synonyms for day in the slugline, such as afternoon, you are making his job harder. Be wise, be a good collaborator, and in this subtle way let the reader know that you know you are writing a blueprint for a movie, not a literary document.

If you follow these simple rules, you should be able to write a script that won't be rejected unread because it doesn't look like or read like a spec screenplay. You won't be shooting yourself in the foot, inviting rejection before the reader even gets into your story.

The price of books

The price of books has gotten out of hand. This week, two books I've been interested in for my class had retail prices of $40 and $45 ... for average paperback books!! I declined inspection copies because of the price. I refuse to ask my students to pay such outrageous money for texts. They clearly "up" the price if it's a college text market. Outrageous.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Prose v. scripts

Early in his career, Steinbeck fiddled with a prose form that he considered a marriage of the novel and the stage play. I think times are ripe for a new short novel form that is a marriage between the screenplay and the novel -- in fact, I think David Hare's script THE HOURS is an example of this. Our busy readers can finish these in a sitting or two. It's like a redefinition of the novella. I may fiddle with this form myself. Very intriguing possibilities, combining the aesthetics and for full stories with literary values in 100 or so pages.

It's a very different pre-writing headset, getting ready to write scripts or prose. Brooding over action v. brooding over language, is one way to look at it. I brood over action lately and mostly, so I have a new habit of mind to remember if I retire as a screenwriter and devote my time to prose.


Retiring is an interesting phenomenon. A bit different for everyone, I suppose. Most retire from "a job" they may or may not enjoy and fill their new free time with hobbies or boredom. I'm not sure writers and other artisans ever really retire, though they may shift the focus of their energy and move into less competitive, less commercial markets.

I call myself "retired" as a playwright. Even at that, I wrote a play about a year ago, though it's only available posthumously. But I do consider myself "retired" as a playwright, and I am happy with the decision. I had a great run in the 80s, a significant contribution in hyperdrama in the 90s, and pretty much burned out on theater, particularly on its necessary collaborative aspects. I've replaced some of this energy and joy with my video projects.

I am close to calling myself "retired" as a screenwriter. I wanted to try something different in the form, challenging myself to write for the large scale Hollywood market, and I think I've come as close to that as possible for me -- so why continue? Again, much of this energy I can satisfy with my small video projects. Thus I seriously am looking at "official retirement" as a screenwriter soon.

Teaching? I still have fun in the classroom so I will teach next year unless I'm given the pink slip due to the budget cuts. We'll see what happens.

Fiction? This is where I began, and this is where I'll end, with a number of personal, non-commercial, "heavy," idiosyncratic fiction projects, which probably will never find an audience. Except me, of course.

I don't want to drag out the end of my life. Unlike many, I don't have grandkids to watch grow, children to help out. I'm not ready to go yet but when I am, I don't want to have to wait for the bus. Which presents a challenge of a very different kind.

Office hours

Definitely feeling better! But careful, aware of the experience of others with this season's crud and the frequency of relapse. Two hours before class.

Good medicine

Beats vitamin C.

After receiving my master's degree in English in May of last year, I began working on a spec sript in hopes to start a career as a television writer. As I scoured the libraries, bookstores and the internet for any and all tips, suggestions, techniques and (yes) mistakes that might come in handy as I learn this trade, time after time, I found myself perusing links to or excerpts from your many writings. I have literally stumbled across works of yours in dozens of places over the past several months. One such website directed me to your blog.

I am sorry to learn of your recent health issues, and I wanted to let you know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of a young writer in Washington, D.C. Your work has been invaluable as I learn the style and substance of the scriptwriting process, and I wanted to thank you for the many years of professional experience that you have so graciously shared with young writers like myself, both in print and across the web.

Best of everything, and again, my sincerest thanks for all of your hard work.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Feeling weak and fragile, so I'm going to skip working in the yard and just rest as much as possible. Class tomorrow.

Richard Yates

Skimming through the recent fat Yates biography. Too depressing to read in detail unless one is in a morbid gossipy mood. It's all pretty generic stuff anyway, a story told many times before. But I learned a few interesting things, like the friendship between Yates and Andre Dubus, two of my favorites. I can see it.

Play ball!

With the baseball season opening in earnest today, here's my 40-year-old article on the Portland Beavers.

The Last Slow Dance
By Charles Deemer

Originally appeared in Northwest magazine

THE PORTLAND Urban Minor League Baseball Experience begins at the New Moon Tavern before the game. It begins in Fred Vranizan's long tunnel across the street from the stadium, Westside, the New Moon Tavern, where pennants hanging from the ceiling cite championship years for the Beavers, where the walls are papered with superstars from Ruth to Mays, where behind the bar autographed baseballs and Louisville sluggers are found instead of go-go girls. With luck the temperature is dropping below eighty outside, though still warm enough to draw brow-beads and to whet the thirst. And if you're thirsty the Baseball Experience begins an hour before batting lineups are exchanged at homeplate, begins with a beer and a nod to Fred, the man with the gray handle-bar moustache. Slap down a quarter, get back a glass of beer, a dime and a pass good for half-price admission to the game. What happens next is up to you, baseball fans. If you want to have a quiet beer, Fred obliges. If you want to talk, and especially talk baseball, Fred's ready. Perhaps you have a question: "Say, when did DiMaggio go up anyway?" Fred refers the question to the guy two barstools down and before the head on your beer drops, the whole place is talking baseball. At the stadium the players warm up with fungoes, and at the New Moon Tavern the fans do the same.

Read story

A sunny day

Mid-70s, they say! But not yet spring, really, tomorrow much cooler and rain on its way. Today's theme, how much to do? Don't want to do too much and relapse. A little better today, want to encourage the trend. May just read on the deck instead of lawn work. We'll see how I feel this afternoon.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

With a little help from my dog

Hopefully I didn't do too much today. Maybe had too much fun in the dog park, then mowed the worst of the lawn, exhausted afterwards and resting the rest of the day. Feel pretty good now after a nap. Will play it by ear tomorrow. Guarded optimism, still, that I'm on the downhill side of this crud.

Down memory lane

Lynne and I on the same bill. When was this, 25 years ago? 30? Too lazy to dig up the date.

Guarded optimism

Feeling better today ... was actually "cruising", a habit of wellness, before the sun was up. Soon to take to dog to our favorite park to run. This afternoon I definitely want to work in the yard, bringing out my wonderful reel push mower, a classic, but need to be careful and not overdo it. Maybe do half today, half tomorrow, and catch up with the mowing at any rate.

Glad to see Michigan State win, an underdog to root for.

I've aged 30 years these past two weeks. Tick tick tick, I feel.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Germs and the meaning of life

Nothing like being sick to put time on your hands. Nothing like having time on your hands to reflect about your place in the universe.

The ol' bod ain't what it used to be. Sometimes the mind forgets this and expects the body to keep up. Ain't gonna happen any more. So I need to create my work schedule with a more realistic agenda. Can't do as much at once as I used to.

Also need to rethink my literary priorities in my last act of this visit. I clearly don't have time to do everything I'd like to do. What would I most regret not doing when my time runs out?

Feel a little better today. Warm tomorrow and the next day, I hope I feel well enough to do some yard work. Be great to get out there with spring chores. Today, taking it very easy.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Moving slow

...and feeling a tad better for it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Somehow I got through the day

Came close to canceling class ... if I actually had to do more than show a film, I would have. It was an ordeal getting there but it's over and if need be I can spend the next four days in bed.

Lynne Fuqua sings!


Hanging in etc

An easy school day, showing a film, so as long as I can get there etc, but I'm not much improved.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Illness and age

Until the recent virus attack a couple weeks ago, I hadn't been sick in maybe two years. Not even my usual annual bad cold. So it's been a while. And one thing I've noticed is how much more hammered I get now, especially with regard to energy loss. I can barely bring up the energy to walk across the room sometimes. Bad news.

Not again

Hammered by the virus last night, relapse, not much better today, First Wednesday in doubt. This sucks.