“Winter’s Tale” Becomes A Movie

[youtube url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v24hp2b97WQ]

After I graduated from the eighth grade, I spent three months in the ninth grade and three days in the tenth grade. The first time I quit high school was from being overweight, high blood pressure and ulcers, as going to school was too stressful and killing me. The second time I quit high school was when the guidance counselor tried to enroll back into the special ed classes—the school got three times more funding for each special ed student—in exchange for a locker to store my 30 pounds of textbooks, which I dumped on her desk and walked out. I became a shut in during my high school years. My only link to the outside world was public television, magazines, newspapers and books.

During those pre-Internet days, the book review section of the San Jose Mercury News was four to six pages long. I read each review with great interest. If I found a book that I wanted to read, I cut out the review and handed it to my mother to take to Crown Books (a discount bookstore chain). Since I came from a family of non-readers, my mother would give the review to a clerk to find and ring up the book for her.

One such book was “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin about a magical and wondrous New York City at the turn of century, 1899-1900 and 1999-2000. Peter Lake runs away from the gang he betrayed and escapes on a magical white horse, finds the love of his life while burgling a mansion, and gets hurled into the apocalyptic future as the millennium comes to an end.

My favorite scene came from the latter half of the novel.

After the father of a prominent San Francisco family passed away, his two sons are sitting in front of the attorney’s desk for the reading of the will. The city is waiting with anticipation to see how the estate would get divided. The responsible brother was given the choice of accepting magnificent wealth or a silver platter. The responsible brother laughed, recognizing his father’s sense humor while the irresponsible brother squirmed in the chair next to him. He takes the silver platter without hesitation, stunning both his brother and the city. With only the clothes on his back and a backpack to carry the silver platter, he’s hitchhike across the United States to New York City.

That scene became somewhat symbolic of what happened after my father passed away two years ago. My brother took possession of the truck and tools, I took possession of the paperwork. Having previously owned my father’s old car and spent five years figuring out every little repair job he did that I had to professionally fix, I’m familiar with the expensive heartache that the truck brings to my brother. From unraveling the paperwork like a treasure map, it was scary to see how much my father and I think alike.

A few weeks ago I saw the trailer for “Winter’s Tale” without knowing that it got made into a movie. A white horse walking into New York City, a man running away from a gang. I got goose bumps from watching the trailer before the movie title was ever presented. I’m rarely excited about seeing any movie these days, staying away from the hype and keeping my expectations low. This movie I’m looking forward to seeing in a few weeks.

Throwing The Book At Stephen King On Twitter

The Real Stephen King On TwitterStephen King made his first appearance on Twitter this week. I found out when another writer re-tweeted his initial tweet: “My first tweet. No longer a virgin. Be gentle!”

(Uh, huh. Where’s my cattle prod?)

Since I haven’t been to a Stephen King book signing (yet), I haven’t had an opportunity to complain to him about killing off my favorite character in “Cell” that made me throw the paperback against the wall.

My first tweet to him was just that: “I threw ‘Cell’ against the wall & let sit on floor for week after girl got killed at NH/Maine border. WTF, @StephenKingAuth? :P”

“Cell” came out as a premium-format paperback in late 2006. The new paperback format was taller with a larger font size and a higher $9.99 USD sticker price than the typical mass market paperback. As a teenager in the early 1980’s, I could get ten paperbacks for $30 USD (which was my weekly allowance from my indulgent mother). I can barely buy three paperbacks for $30 USD, although it’s possible to get ten ebooks for $30 USD.

The book begins with a mysterious signal going out over the cellphone network that turns everyone into a zombie. That’s not an original idea. Having seen both the Japanese (2001) and American (2006) versions of “Pulse,” where a mysterious signal over the TV causes college students to commit suicide, the overall theme was quite familiar. When reading a Stephen King novel, you’re catching a wild ride through Stephen King country.

And Stephen King country was where I had trouble with this novel.

If you read enough Stephen King over the years, you know right away that the three characters coming around the bend on the road to cross from New Hampshire into Maine will result in one of them being killed. The main character was safe. The other two characters, a man and a teenaged girl, weren’t safe. Since I didn’t care for the man at all, I wanted the girl to survive the encounter. Who got killed in a senseless act of violence?

The girl.

I was so angry that I threw the paperback across the room to hit the wall and land on a floor. I’ve never thrown a book like that before. The worst thing I’ve ever done to a book was close the cover and forget about it. This time I had a vicarious reaction to the story. I let the book sit on the floor for a week before I picked it up again to finish reading.

Although “Cell” was a good story, I didn’t like it and haven’t read it again. Stephen King redeemed himself with “Lisey’s Story,” about a widowed wife dealing with the death of her famous writer husband. When the hardback came out also in late 2006, I was seeing a counselor to deal with my grief over my mother’s death from breast cancer. Both my counselor and I were reading the book at home, where it became a touchstone in our conversations. I cried through the ending of that book.

How I Slept My Way Through Kevin Pollak’s Book Signing

Kevin Pollak was at Barnes & Noble for his new book, “How I Slept My Way To The Middle.” I never heard of him. According to my roommate, Pollak’s has the best impersonation of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. Ho-hum. Stand up comedians put me asleep. When Pollak mentioned Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger in one breath, I woke up to realize that he wasn’t only a stand up comedian.

The staff at Barnes & Noble, for whatever reason, set Pollak up on the storytelling stage inside the children department. Not the most appropriate place for an adult to read an adult book full of adult words about working in Hollywood. He did his best to hem-and-haw his way through the various cuss words as parents and children drifted in and out of hearing range. I’m sure some parents didn’t want to explain to their young ones what the letters D, F and S really meant when not brought to you by a Sesame Street character.

Pollak told several stories about working in Hollywood, including a few he read out of the book.

My favorite story was Pollak working on the set of “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise, who had a $500 pen from a New York City specialty store to write notes in the script. After he tried out the pen and commented how nice it was, Tom Cruise gave him a $500 pen as a present. He couldn’t use the pen since it was really nice and he might lose it. Tom Cruise sent him another $500 pen with a note to use that pen. The same pen he took out to sign the books.

A ghost writer helped Pollak write the book in a rather unorthodox way: they had 15 two-hour Skype (online video) sessions recorded that the ghost writer transcribed and printed out for him to edit into finished form. This worked will for him since he didn’t have to write anything and the transcriptions caught his storytelling voice that he uses for his stand up comedy.

The biggest surprise was to discover that Pollak was born in San Francisco, lived in San Jose as a kid, and moved down to Los Angeles. Not often do you hear about a local boy making it big down in Southern California. Despite being a local boy, only 15 people came out to the book signing. A book signing at a Barnes & Noble store in Kansas City brought out 75 people, probably because the book signing was in the front of the store and not inside the children department.

Pollak claimed he hasn’t had a REAL JOB in 20 years since he starred in “A Few Good Men” in 1992. It’s the ambition for every actor to get hired without having to audition for the part on the basis of their past work. An ambition I think every writer wants to have in regards to their work.

Does Borders Closing 200 Stores Mean The End of Writing?

After Borders made the announcement that they were filing for bankruptcy and closing 200 stores, my father asked me if I was going to give up writing. This was a rare conversation. I came from a non-reading family where the daily newspaper and a rare New York Times bestseller was the maximum threshold for reading material.  When my father stayed with me for two months after being discharged from the hospital last year, he became bored because he had nothing to watch on television. (Over-the-air HDTV in Silicon Valley has many clear channels in different languages but none of the major networks in English.) I pointed to my personal library of 400 books. He told me he wasn’t that bored. Being a published writer secured my reputation as being the eccentric uncle in the family.

Does Borders closing 200 stores means the end of writing? Uh, no.

As I explained to my father, Borders having 200 fewer outlets to sell books may impact dead tree writers in the short-term. Independent bookstores have been going out of business for years—usually one at a time—without raising any questions about the general state of writing. With Borders closing so many stores over the next several weeks, the general public may conclude that the end is nigh for writing if they can’t walk into a big box bookstore to find the New York Times bestsellers lining the entrance.

Then again, they’re just ignorant Americans educated not to think too hard about anything or question the status quo around them. For serious readers and intellectual anarchists, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores are still around to fill the void.

As short story writer, I’m still writing short stories. I’ve seen many snail mail magazines go belly up during the Great Recession because they haven’t transitioned over to online submissions and selling their publications over the Internet. Many new magazines, anthologies and ebook publishers have popped up in their wake.

The challenge I have isn’t having enough places to submit my short stories but finding the right places that will accept and pay for my short stories. (Would the world have known about Shakespeare if he didn’t have any paying customers?) There are plenty of publications that accept short stories for free or contributor copies.

I’m encouraged to see some publishers are starting to pay for the first time or pay pro rates (i.e, $0.05USD or better per word). If for some reason I can’t place a short story somewhere, I can always make it available as an ebook and make a nice profit for myself. Writing is alive and well in my nick of the woods.

Anyone else being asked if they are giving up writing because Borders are closing stores?

Breaking Drawn At Borders

Last week I was hanging out with my friend in Borders at Santana Row after seeing The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor (the best straight-to-DVD release movie I ever saw in a movie theater), I noticed that young girls filled the bookstore. Most appeared normal, some had faces painted white with red lips and a few wore bizarre costumes. I asked my friend if they were there for “The Tales of Beedle The Bard” pre-order by the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, mentioned in an email from Borders a few days earlier. He said they were here for the “Breaking Dawn” midnight release party. I haven’t heard of it. When we came upon the display stand, it became obvious why I haven’t heard of it. The book was from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer in the ever popular paranormal romance genre.

Seems like every female writer is coming out with a series book that takes a standard genre (i.e., science fiction, fantasy or horror), add a dollop of romance porn, and blend well into a new genre. (Male writers don’t face the same pressure when writing a series book, but some do add a tar ball of porn that leaves the story dying on the bed sheets, and no marketing department would dare claim that as a new cross genre.) If Amazon Recommendations are any indicator over the last few years, the paranormal romance genre is getting saturated with wannabe titles that lack any trace of originality like a bad date with a vampire.

I’m a fan of Kim Harrison’s The Hollow series about a witch, a vampire and a pixy working together as independent bounty hunters in Cincinnati. The titles are variations from Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Western movies (i.e., “Every Which Way But Dead,” and “The Good, The Bad and The Undead”). There’s a strong touch of sexuality that goes either way depending on who’s in trouble. I just speed read through those parts since that’s not what I’m reading the book for. I got into this series while reading another supernatural mystery series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, about a wizard for hire in Chicago.

According to Amazon Recommendations, The Hollow series now belongs in the paranormal romance genre, perhaps because the author has written several anthologies where paranormal romance was the main theme. I get recommendations about every paranormal series out there—with some series being way, way, way out there—even though I’m not interested. Subsequently, I run away from those books like a vampire waking up at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

The Twilight series was illuminating for another reason. Not because the series is a potential successor to the Harry Potter franchise that can captured the hearts of teenyboppers worldwide that makes bucket loads of cash for the writer and publisher. The general trend in fiction publishing is to have a series if you’re not writing “serious literature” (whatever the heck that is since I don’t write that). If you’re bringing a series to a conclusion (this applies to trilogies as well), you better wrapped up the series in way that keeps the readers satisfied. The initial reaction to “Breaking Dawn” indicates that the author may have taken the easy way out that puts a stake through the heart of the conflict, disappointing many fans who expected a stronger ending. A bad enough ending can easily kill the word-of-mouth popularity for the other books in the series, including the forthcoming Twilight: The Movie.

I’m not sure if a one-shot book can get published these days. The novel that I’m working on, and the research materials I’m gathering for two other novels, all follow a general theme of humanity, morality and technology, each one is a one-shot book with no series potential. (I suspect a minor character from one book will become a major character in another book that will link the books together.) The vampire novella that I’m working on now is the centerpiece for a pair of book trilogies. Those books—if I choose to write them—will be different from the novels I have on the back burners. If I ever end up writing a book series, I doubt it will be in the paranormal romance genre.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.