Sunday, December 21, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
Yes, kids, that’s how the old song starts. Of course, we all know that Rudolph had (and continues to have) a red nose, but most people don’t how just how shiny it really was.

And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
You could say it glows. You could also say that a searchlight glows, or a five-alarm fire glows, or the sun glows. Take it from me, kids, glows doesn’t begin to cover it.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
I’m sorry to say, things did come to a point where most of the other reindeer teased him mercilessly. But the truth is, Rudolph’s nose shone so brightly that it was physically difficult to be around the little guy. His nose wasn’t just a nuisance to the other reindeer, it was downright hazardous. Why, his own mother and father had to wear welding masks just to put him to bed at night. The others couldn’t even get close enough to talk to him without risking permanent damage to their eyes. No one could understand how a reindeer’s nose could be so infernally bright, and some of them thought it was just plain unnatural. A few were afraid of him.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Come Dancing

Most days, I listen to Van Halen, Foo Fighters, or Green Day to help me through my “Thirty Minutes of Hell” workout, you know, something high energy and especially loud, which helps drown out the sounds of me panting and the occasional groan. Today, though, their brand of accompaniment doesn’t strike me right, and so I go with something else: The Kinks’ Live - The Road. As the title suggests, it is a mostly live album, a collection of songs recorded in concert by that most English of English bands circa 1987.

It seems an unlikely choice, I know, but it works surprisingly well. The Kinks happen to be my all-time favorite band, and they flat out know how to rock in concert. I crank through the first three songs, and before I know it, I’ve already whittled twelve minutes off today’s timed descent into suffering. The fourth song begins. It’s “Come Dancing.”

If you were around in the eighties, you might remember “Come Dancing.” It was the last big hit The Kinks ever had. It’s a bright, breezy song with a wistful, melancholy message, the kind that Ray Davies is so adept at writing. It’s the kind of song that seems crafted specifically to be remembered fondly. It’s the kind of song that you could easily imagine being sung in an English pub during the wee hours of the morning a hundred and fifty years from now.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elliptical Batman

So I was on the elliptical this morning, slogging my way through “thirty minutes of hell,” an accurate – if not quite affectionate – name for my workout. At some point, I catch a glance of an old lunchbox on the shelf nearby. It’s a childhood relic recaptured through the magic of ebay, an old metal lunchbox with Marvel superheroes adorning every side. The side that’s facing out shows Spiderman, Thor and Captain America. They are showing off, their athletic muscularity on bountiful display in powerful, iconic poses. I cannot see myself, but I know what I must look like in comparison as I sweat and strain and groan: a pale reflection filtered through a funhouse mirror.

Suddenly, I hate these guys.

As I struggle to cultivate (or even hang on to) the comparatively small amount of muscle mass I possess, as I grapple with this stupid machine in an increasingly tenuous battle to fend off the excess weight that seems determined to envelop me, as I endure these thirty minutes of hell each day just so I can continue to keep some degree of fitness part of my identity, it dawns on me that those guys over there on the shelf have it easy. They always have, and they always will. None of them had to earn their muscle, or fight off the insidious advance of middle age obesity. Spiderman spontaneously sprouted muscles after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Thor was born a god. Gods never have to throw themselves in the path of an oncoming exercise machine. Sure, Steve Rogers started life as a scrawny runt – he and I had at least that much in common – but then he went and got injected by a super-secret super-soldier serum (which conveniently went missing long before I got my turn) and then, WHAM!, next thing you know he’s Captain America. He’s set for life. He might retain some vague recollection of what it was like to be a scrawny runt, but he’s never going to have to deal with the twin scourges of visceral and subcutaneous belly fat.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Adventures of Heracles Mendoza - Sneak peak!

After months of revising and rewriting and polishing, I finally have a chunk of the novel ready to read that stands a decent chance of not embarrassing me. Just to be clear, I said a decent chance. I have written a prologue, which I am currently undecided about using, mostly because the tone and style of it is so very different from the book itself. Still, I'm posting it here because it does introduce the character in what I hope is a charming manner, plus it serves the additional purpose of raising the question as to who exactly the narrator of this story really is, and that, it seems to me, is a very fair question.

After the prologue, there are links to a PDF version of Chapters 1-4 as well as a link to a Word document that readers can complete and return to me if they wish to send me feedback. Or feel free to comment directly on the blog. Thanks for reading!


Where to begin?

Many writers like to start their stories with a bang, jumping right into the middle of some hot mess, trying to hook the reader with a shocking dose of tense, dizzying commotion. Others take the slow, methodical approach, carefully setting the scene, and then zooming in slowly like a camera until the main character is front and center.
But, really, a story can start any old way. I suspect that deciding just where to begin a story is a problem that drives writers crazy. Or maybe it’s just me. I wish I knew for sure. I don’t know too many writers.
Take this story, for example. This one begins on a sunny morning in the city of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, which is a large metropolis in the state of California, in the country of The United States, in the Year of Our Lord 2009. It begins with a fourteen-year-old (almost fifteen) boy by the name of Les Mendoza, as he plays basketball with a couple of friends on Monday, June 10th, the first real day of summer break (because everyone knows that weekends don’t count…).

But is that the best place for the story to start?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bull-leaping lives!

Ever since setting to work on my novel, I’ve been digging deep into the mythology and ancient history of the Greeks. One unexpected (but cool) side effect is that some otherwise random news story or fragment of ephemera will catch my attention because it recalls or connects with something from that time. A great example of this is the following photo, which chanced across my computer’s homepage a week or so ago:

This is a picture of a man sailing over a charging bull, looking much like an Acapulco cliff diver, only sideways. One thing we can say for sure about this guy is that when he landed, it wasn’t in water. Hopefully, it was just sawdust, or sand, or something equally inoffensive. Anyway, it makes for a compelling image, and instantly raises the question: What is this man doing, and where did he get those nifty socks?

I’ve had no luck with the socks yet, but it only took a few clicks to learn that the man is called a recortador, a professional bull-leaper. That’s right, he leaps over bulls for a living. The sport is called recortes, and the premise is to avoid being gored and trampled by a stampeding bull while still picking up points for style. To do this, the recortador relies on courage, preternatural agility, and an uncanny knack for knowing where the bull is going to go. The only weapons he takes into the arena are his wits and an unlimited supply of hair product.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Throwing the Penalty Flag on Muppets Most Wanted

I am already on record as being a huge fan of the Muppets, going back to the early days of The Muppet Show. And I wasn’t shy about professing my love for the recent Muppets reboot (2011) starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams, because it resurrected so much of the pure whimsy, joyful exuberance and gently caring spirit of the first and best Muppet film, 1979’s The Muppet Movie.

So how does the new film, Muppets Most Wanted, fare in comparison? Well, let’s just say that it’s a frog of a different color. Not a completely different color. Just a few shades off. After the opening number, MMW never quite rises to the level of its predecessor. It’s not that it can’t quite hit the high notes; it’s more like it’s not clear that they’re trying. Generally speaking though, it does meet the Muppet standard for entertainment value, and that means kids and adults alike will enjoy the film, in their own ways. Grown-ups will guffaw at the moments of parody, the playful pop-culture references and the quick one-liners, while kids will have fun watching the silly and colorful antics of the characters. It may not be the Muppets at their best, but it is them in their most familiar habitat.

One thing I confess I don’t understand about Muppets Most Wanted is the intentional decision by the filmmakers to loosely shadow the storyline of The Great Muppet Caper (1981). In The Muppets, the theme of reviving past greatness by getting the group back together again naturally lent itself to multiple parallels to the original, which was the story of Kermit and how he gathered the group together in the first place. MMW does something similar with its call-back film. Both are predicated on the Muppets venturing overseas and getting entangled in a major heist.

But why? The Muppets had something to say about reinvention and facing the future that actually builds upon the original, but that is not the case for this newest film. Both Muppets Most Wanted and The Great Muppet Caper are varieties of caper film, but there is no necessary link between them. So what’s the point? Why not set off in some new, different direction with MMW? The Great Muppet Caper wasn’t that great to begin with. Why use it as a model? And does this mean the next film is going to be The Muppets Take New Jersey?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tapping Out: Spinal Tap Turns 30

My career as a movie reviewer began in March, 1984. I had just managed to land the assignment to write a movie review for the next edition of my high school newspaper, “The Brophy Round-Up.” I don’t know how it happened, me only fifteen, still an underclassman. I had only written only one previous piece, a less-than-scintillating profile of Key Club, and now, here I was, getting a crack at the paper’s second-most-coveted gig (just behind music critic). True, being at an all-boys school, I couldn’t count on my status as the school’s official movie reviewer to attract girls, but still, it beat the crap out of covering cross-country racing.

I set out to make a statement with my first review; you know, start things off with a bang. If I knocked this one out of the park, I reasoned, they’d never be able to pry me out of the job. I’d become known as the movie mogul of Brophy College Preparatory. I would go down as the greatest film critic the school had ever seen. And this would be the review that started my inevitable rise to fame.

Brimming with ambition, I scanned the movie section in the New Times during seventh-hour Biology. Only three films were opening that weekend: Repo Man, Against All Odds, and This is Spinal Tap.

The obvious choice would have been Against All Odds, the Jeff Bridges/Rachel Ward flick. I spurned this idea, even though I liked Jeff Bridges in Tron, and really liked Rachel Ward in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, even if she was in black and white the whole time. Odds was a romance, and I knew I needed something more substantial than some piece of romantic fluff to properly begin my conquest. I needed something quirkier, edgier, less mainstream. So instead, when I arrived at the AMC Village Six multiplex that Friday night, I bought a ticket for Footloose.

What? Aren’t quirky, edgy, and less mainstream the first trio of adjectives that pop into your mind when you think of Footloose?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gettin' Smauggy With It: The Desolation of Smaug

Orcs gettin’ shot
Drilled by elves right on the spot
Chasin’ dwarves without a thought
You know they’re never gettin’ caught.
Like a Shaq free throw shot
This hobbit flick is all for naught
Cuz the action’s overwrought
And it’s fraught with extra plot.

That’s how I imagine Will Smith might rap-review Peter Jackson’s second film in The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, if rapping movie reviews was his thing, which it isn’t, and if he shared my cinematic sensibilities, which he probably doesn’t.

Overwrought. That’s the key word I keep coming back to. I could add a few more: ostentatious, histrionic, superfluous, but I don’t know what those words mean. Here’s one I like:

Splurgy. That’s a good word too. This film has a certain enthusiastic spendthriftiness to it. It’s like the working stiff who wins the office pool, and then rushes home and announces, “Gather up the kids, honey. We’re all going to Golden Corral tonight!”
And possibly a severe bowel obstruction.

I suppose this is the kind of thing that can happen when a director as imaginative and ambitious as Mr. Jackson gets too much of everything he wants. As in:
Too much creative control
Too much perceived demand for more Middle-Earth movies
Too much money gladly handed over, strings detached
Too much film stock, or hard drive capacity, or whatever medium movies are made with these days.

Yet it’s hard to fault Mr. Jackson entirely for cranking out an overwrought, bloated product. After all, could you blame the proverbial kid in the candy store for eating himself into a blimp if he was given the key to the store with the words, “We’ll see you, oh, I don’t know…Tell you what, why don’t you let us know when you’re ready to come out?”

The man’s only human, and self-restraint is not high on most humans’ list of strong points. Self-restraint is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but in practice, well, check back later. The sample size is too small.

So what do I mean by an overwrought film, exactly? Well the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding in The Desolation of Smaug is the action sequences. So let’s taste the pudding, shall we?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Note to Self...

It is said that we are made in the image and likeness of God.
It is also said that God is Love.

What else, then, do you need to know?
The answers to your endless questions exist in that one simple truth.

You are not the fear that occupies you
You are not the doubt that undoes you
You are not the selfish lies you speak
Nor the selfish acts you do
You are not the envy that you feel
You are not the shame of your failings
Nor the pride of your victories

Monday, January 13, 2014

So, you’ve written a book…

What does it mean to have written a book?

That’s the question I’m asking myself now, a week after finishing the first draft manuscript of my first novel.  I’m wondering what is it that I’ve done.

I’m supposed to feel really good, and I did, for nearly the entire day.

But that euphoria didn’t last, and coming down was like a caffeine crash.  It was, in fact, a caffeine crash, because immediately after finishing the book I swore off coffee and the like, at least for a month.  By the next day I was in a completely explicable funk, tired and cranky.  I was mentally exhausted, having written the last six chapters in the last two weeks of the year.  Around, under, over and through the holidays.  When I complained of this to Elizabeth, she told me I was just tired and needed to rest. 

But I knew there was more to it than that.  I had a new question to answer, and no suspects.

What does it mean to have written a book?

For the next week, I did no writing at all, and stayed away from the computer as much as possible.  I felt lost.  Withdrawal symptoms.  Following Stephen King’s advice, I decided to put aside the manuscript for a month, use the time to gain some distance and some clarity.  I started thinking about the next book, and also about the future role and function of thunderstrokes.  But the question loomed over me the entire time, still hangs over me, and so now I’m trying to sort it out, the only way I seem to be able to sort things out anymore, in writing. 

What does it mean to have written a book?

Where do you even start to answer that question?  Elizabeth tells me it’s a great accomplishment.  But in my mind, the answer comes back quick:  it’s only a first draft of a manuscript.  One massive revision is needed just to make coherent and readable enough to critique, and then at least another to make it publishable.  And that’s only if I perform magnificently.  From where I stand, it doesn’t feel like a book yet.

The sober, rational side of me looks at how I’ve spent my time and wonders what the hell I was ever thinking.  Two-and-a-half years spent finding my voice, finding a way forward, and then dreaming up this crazy story about a kid who has to go to a strange land and accomplish the Twelve Labors of Hercules, and then turning that dream into a rickety reality, held together, it mostly seems, with equal parts duct tape and pixie dust. Two-and-a-half years of lost income and retirement savings, of trying to dress up a dream in work-clothes, of feeling like a bystander while Elizabeth bears the entire financial load for our family, of struggling with fears and doubts and uncertainties about myself as a writer in an endless procession of constantly changing mutations, each one as ferocious and as deadly as any monster Hercules ever faced, or will. 

I know that sounds dramatic, but I believe it.  The harshest battles most of us will ever face is with ourselves.  Our inner monsters cannot be seen, and for that we should be grateful.  I sincerely believe that if they were given a tangible form, they would fill us with such terror and paralyzing fear it would put Hollywood’s horror-meisters and their paltry creations to shame.

So that, at least, is something. I have learned that I can live with the doubts and uncertainties, and find my way through.