Thursday, May 18, 2023

DISPATCHING YOUR ENEMIES

 


While visiting Ray Bradbury in his home one day, he turned to me and asked, “Do you know what the great thing is about writing fiction?”


Ray Bradbury at home
“What?” I queried back.

“You get to kill your enemies!”

We shared a laugh over that because it can be so true.


Ray famously dispatched film director John Huston in his short story “Banshee.” Before he knew him, Huston had been one of Ray’s heroes. But when Ray worked with Huston on Moby Dick, writing the screenplay in Ireland, where Huston lived, Ray found him to be a merciless bully. 


John Huston and Ray Bradbury working on Moby Dick


It was a trying and possibly traumatic time for Ray. Which must have sat in his mind waiting for some kind of exorcism. Possibly it came when, years later, Ray wrote his short story "Banshee."


In “Banshee,” Huston becomes film director “John Hampton,” and Ray, whose middle name was Douglas, becomes young screenwriter “Douglas Rogers.” 


Charles Martin Smith as "Douglas Rogers"
and Peter O'Toole as "John Hampton"
in the Ray Bradbury Theater presentation of Banshee

It is blatantly autobiographical—except for the Banshee, of course, which is portrayed as an actual entity, and, horrifyingly, snatches Hampton off into eternity. 

 

Despite taking place in Ireland, “Banshee,” and Ray’s experience that gave birth to it, is a Hollywood story. It’s a wonder that Ray still pursued an association with “The Biz” after Ireland and the great white whale of Huston’s ego, but he did. Ray was a giddy cinephile. And, to be fair, he made many friends in Hollywood whom he admired and who admired him in return.

 

But it’s one's enemies who often provide the fodder for fiction.

 

I discovered this while writing my critically acclaimed novel Blood is Pretty: The First Fixxer Adventure, which I have just re-published in a revised edition under my Magpie Press imprint. 




I wrote the novel in the mid-1990s after experiencing several painful “disappointments” in my Hollywood career. Disappointments in events and in people. Disappointments are not rare in Hollywood. And yet, when it is your disappointments, they seem far more intensely essential and worthy of revenge. 

 

I had intended for Blood is Pretty just to be a page-turning thriller inspired by such books from the past, including Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond books, and Leslie Charteris’ The Saint tomes. 




Fun to write, I assumed, and fun to read, I knew. But as it is not so much “write what you know” as it is, “what else can you really write but what you know?” the setting became Hollywood. And, since I had been a satirist since my college newspaper column writing days, I naturally took an askew (or screwy) view of the place and cast the book with people from my Hollywood past that I had found to be, shall we say, less than lovable.

 

So, I wrote a satiric Hollywood thriller—if you can imagine such a thing. But you don’t have to because I already did, and you can get it on Amazon as an eBook, trade paperback, or audiobook.

 

Did I have fun dispatching some of those less-than-lovely people? You damn right, I did. One was young and not yet famous but was convinced he would be before too long. And, indeed, he did become famous. One was an active director of mediocre movies who was self-deluded into thinking that all his films were fabulous. Another was a Hollywood hanger-on, a particularly obnoxious film reviewer for complimentary newspapers. And finally, there was a prominent studio executive whom I knew solely through press accounts in the Trades. But I did have a meeting with him shortly after Blood is Pretty was written. Irony—it's my life!

 

But lest you think Blood is Pretty is just an exercise in vindictive jollies, let me assure you I am not so one-dimensional and have a broader “what else can you really write but what you know?” field of dreams.

 

During this time, I read a lot about the brain and the scientific search for how it works. I have always been fascinated by how easily the brain is fooled. By dreams, by shadows, by shapes we perceive which aren't truly there. And, especially by our reactions to movies, how we can suspend disbelief and live comfortably in a manufactured reality. So I read books by Francis Crick, Paul M. Churchland, and Daniel C. Dennett and had the brain and its workings very much on my mind when I started writing Blood is Pretty.




This led me to create a McGuffin for my thriller called Veritas. This computer program can fool your brain far more powerfully than any virtual reality existing at the time and, indeed, even today. But it was also more than a McGuffin, for its existence in the story let me explore the gullible nature of the brain and how Hollywood exploits that.

 

The following paragraph is on the acknowledgments page of Blood is Pretty.


There is a particular theory of consciousness—of how the brain gives us reality—which I have used as a basis for a significant element in this novel. As reported in the New York Times, the theory’s strongest proponent is Dr. Rodolfo LlinĂ¡s, a professor of neuroscience at New York University. I am indebted to him and the excellent New York Times science reporting for the inspiration. However, the technological extrapolation I spin-off this theory comes solely from the reality of my brain, and neither Dr. LlinĂ¡s nor the New York Times should be held accountable for it.


Despite this modicum of serious intent in Blood is Pretty, readers have found the book fun, entertaining, and—I say with a modicum of humility—a good read. Now that I have re-proofed and polished the original book, I believe the new, revised edition is an even better "good read" than before.


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BLOOD IS PRETTY

THE FIRST FIXXER ADVENTURE


It's the late 1990s—and Hollywood wants to take over the world!


What those in the know in Hollywood really know is that if they need a dark deed done, if they need a sticky personal or professional problem "fixed," they can call upon the mysterious and dangerous Fixxer. With wit and aplomb, he works the fruitful fields of Hollywood, fixing the sins and correcting the stupidities of the denizens therein. 


In Blood is Pretty, The Fixxer comes to the rescue of “the most beautiful woman I have ever seen” to extricate her from the grip of the soul-sucking sexual desires of a producer born in slime and takes on the task of buying off with money and muscle a film geek who won’t cooperate with a director of minuscule talent who simply wants to claim “V”—the geek’s “Holy Grail” of a film treatment—as his own. When the film geek is discovered dismembered, the Fixxer is compelled to know why and finds worlds of evil, both real and virtual, centering around a computer program called Veritas, which has the potential of making its owner the wealthiest and most powerful human on Earth. With the aid of Roee, his friend, companion, and cook who can kill quickly and silently in several different ways; the Captain, officially with the Los Angeles Police Department, unofficially with the Fixxer; Petey, extraordinarily brilliant and comically strange; and “the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” the Fixxer goes forth to do battle. 


Blood is Pretty: The First Fixxer Adventure (Revised Edition) from Magpie Press is now available in trade paperback and eBook formats on Amazon. You can also get the Crossroad Press audiobook edition on Amazon and Audible.


Cheers to all!


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Thursday, March 2, 2023

THE RELAUNCH OF TRAVELING IN SPACE

 


Hello. Everybody!


The revised paperback edition of my satiric science fiction novel Traveling in Space is now available on Amazon worldwide.


AMAZON US https://tinyurl.com/ybxzsx48

AMAZON UK https://tinyurl.com/8d4vs8uh

AMAZON CA https://tinyurl.com/4c4y26zv 

AMAZON AU https://tinyurl.com/dv8zj7sv


My revisions were grammatical. The plot, characters, and dialog are the same. 


In looking up the URLs for each Amazon site to make Tiny URLs out of them, I discovered this customer review from 2021 on the Amazon Canada site, which I had never seen before. Far be it from me not to share!







Well, RoKuS is my newest love!


And here’s a reminder of editorial reviews of the first edition of Traveling in Space.


"Traveling in Space's humor and refreshing perspective is thoroughly enjoyable." — Diane Ackerman, New York Times bestselling author of The Zookeeper's Wife and A Natural History of the Senses.


"Many of the aliens' encounters with human beings are downright funny...much to think about, and I'm sure that Traveling in Space will play on my mind for some time to come." — Russell Blackford, author of Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination.


"A deadpan, laugh-out-loud look at first contact told from the alien POV (with aliens that are as messed up as the rest of us). Recommended!" — Stephen Webb, physicist, author of If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Seventy-Five Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life."


"Superbly entertaining and unique...thought-provoking." — The Mindquest Review of Books


"A unique spin of science fiction... With much humor and much to think about...not to be overlooked." — Midwest Book Review.






Tuesday, November 15, 2022

I WROTE A LONG NOVEL—SO SUE ME!

 


About a month ago, Nicholas Goldberg wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times in which he mentioned that he had a friend whose book club’s only rule was that the books they would mutually read—and, it is assumed, intelligently discuss while eating cheese and drinking wine—had to be no longer than 200 pages. You may not find that disconcerting, but I, who have written several novels well over that ill-painted, splintered-filled benchmark, see it as disturbing as hell. What the hell is their deal? Do they like only concertos and not symphonies? Half-hour sitcoms and not season-long continuing dramas? Insubstantial snacks instead of a hearty meal? A half-roll in the hay instead of prolonged, tender love-making?

 

I’ve brought sex into this blog to emphasize that I’m genuinely disturbed about the above because my latest novel (which releases today), The Reluctant Heterosexual: A Tragicomedy in Four Movements A Prelude And An Interlude, doesn’t conclude its story until page 499. It even has a long title!




 

But then, I have not made it a habit of accommodating readers with short attention spans.

 

Am I being fair? After all, there is a place for short novels. I’m thinking stuffed in that small space between the bottom of a door and the floor to stop drafts. 

 

Now that certainly isn’t fair of me, is it? But then, neither are those who accuse big books of being doorstoppers.

 

Nicholas Goldberg was not casting aspersions against his friend’s book club; he admits that short books can be great. But then he joined me in my umbrage when he read a virulent attack against big, long books in the UK’s Spectator Magazine by John Sturgis entitled, “Good Riddance to Long Books.” Sturgis was celebrating the fact that several short novels were put on the shortlist for the Booker Prize. And yes, he joked that the prize was “...putting the short in the shortlist.” 

 

One of Sturgis’ main complaints about big, long novels was that holding a hefty book in one hand while riding on the subway strains his wrist. Well, get thee to a Kindle, man! Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1440 pages) weighs no more than Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (160 pages) in their Kindle editions.

 

Goldberg also makes this point, which I think makes a lot of sense: “I’ve had a theory for a long time that American students are trained in high school to dislike great authors because instead of reading their best books, they’re assigned their shortest books. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Dickens’ mediocre Hard Times, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.” 

 

To be fair, any writer of fiction who is at least competent in their craft and art knows that a story needs to be as long as it needs to be, to be entirely told, whether long or short. But that said, novelist Jane Smiley defines the novel as “A lengthy, written, prose narrative with a protagonist.”

 

Lengthy is the keyword here. Sometimes it takes time to immerse the reader’s brain in all the events in a story and the nuances of personality that drive those events. 

 

But still, I feel compelled to explain why The Reluctant Heterosexual came in at 499 pages—the longest novel I have written, the longest story I have told. The explanation is a story in itself—the story of the novel’s writing.

 

The seed for TRH was planted in the late 1980s when I was writing screenplays and trying to get them produced. A man who fancied himself a producer (and possibly a sex god) told me a true story he heard about a man who spies a gorgeous woman across a ballroom during a big charity do at a San Francisco hotel. He asked someone who she was, and that someone told him. Except that someone, looking across the ballroom, mistakenly thought the man meant a woman standing next to the gorgeous woman instead of the gorgeous woman herself. Deciding to play matchmaker that someone, finding it impossible to introduce the man to the mistaken woman in the crowded confusion of the enormous charity do, did, at least, get the mistaken woman’s permission to give the man her phone number. The next day the man called the number and got an answering machine. But he left a message, she called back, and they had a pleasant conversation. Indeed, it was more than pleasant. They made a genuine mental connection, all while his mind was imagining the gorgeous woman being on the other end of the line. He asked her out on a date. She said yes. He showed up at her apartment for the date. She opened the door and…

 

It was an excellent setup for a romantic comedy. So I decided to write a screenplay based on it, which I entitled, Wait for the Beep! Those old enough to remember analog tape phone answering machines for the home will recognize the term.

 

I liked the screenplay. I liked much of the dialog I wrote for it. There was just one problem. It had a lousy ending. Or, rather, no ending at all. Silly me, I had given the protagonist too much depth. I made him a man who liked only gorgeous women. And a brilliant neuroscientist who hated ignorant people. And he had a pretty strict standard for what he called intelligent. And if a woman, no matter how gorgeous she was, did not meet that standard, he could not get serious about her. During his phone conversation with the mistaken woman, he discovers that she is not only intelligent but charmingly and wittily so. But when she opens her door, he finds to his immediate disappointment, that she is not the gorgeous woman he thought he was meeting. He had been excited to find a gorgeous woman who was also the charmingly intelligent woman who was his dream. The mistaken woman standing before him is not. Not that she is unattractive. Just not his standard of gorgeous. It is more than an awkward situation. But they go on the date, nevertheless. And, of course, it’s disastrous. It is a horrible night. Not without some biting banter, of course. What’s a rom-com without biting banter? And yet, you know they must end up together, right? So I get them together at the end. But it just didn’t sit right. Or lay right, as the case may be. Because although they have sex at the end of the night, given who they both are (she has acerbic and skeptical ideas of love and marriage, not to mention the baby carriage), I couldn’t imagine that any bells rang out that night.

 

Plus, I had to go and create another character who’s a geneticist striving to develop a formula for a “stick shift for the sex drive.” I liked this guy. He was wacky, if brilliant, quotes Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene theory, and, in my mind, looked like a young Tim Burton. But this brought up the interesting issue of evolution and sex. And the evolution of sex—or the lack thereof. A pretty heady theme for a supposed romantic comedy. 

 

I knew I had more to write about than a screenplay would allow. So I decided to take the script and turn it into a novel to add what narrative prose could offer. I was happy with Wait for the Beep!, the novel, except that the ending was not a real ending.

 

Then I decided to turn it into a stage play. I was excited about what stagecraft could bring to the story’s structure and how I could manipulate time and the order of events. It was a joy to work on. I was happy with the bulk of the work. Of course, the ending still sucked—in more ways than one.

 

So Wait for the Beep! sat for years in three formats, three disappointing drafts, its characters calling out to me forlornly, wondering why I had abandoned them.

 

Eventually, after I had written and published several novels which did have satisfactory endings, I was struck on the top of the head with a realization prefaced by the mental whisper of Dummkopf! The reason Wait for the Beep! never had a satisfactory ending was because it wasn’t the whole story! I had not told the entire tale. Having concluded that my real art was narrative prose fiction, it was now clear that I had begun something I hadn’t finished. And in a sense, I hadn’t even started it. What I had written was just the middle of a whole. The beginning and the end of the full story of my two main characters—now named Robert Leslie Cromwell and Sandra (Sandy) Smith—needed to be told. 

 

And so, Wait for the Beep! became The Reluctant Heterosexual: A Tragicomedy in Four Movements A Prelude And An Interlude.

 

Why movements instead of chapters? That was dictated by the tone of the original piece, which I still wanted to play as a standard rom-com. Or, at least, in the guise of a typical rom-com. But now I was aching to fill in the stories of Robert and Sandy. Who were they?  Where did they come from? What had shaped them into the people in the rom-com? And what happened after the events of the rom-com? And what about this stick shift for the sex drive? What was that all about? How did that affect the story? 

 

None of this other stuff could play like a rom-com. The parts of the whole story, like the different movements in a symphony, would have to have their separate tones and tempo and be played, I suppose it could be said, in different keys.   

                                                      

PRELUDE 

Robert and Sandra - San Francisco - 1992


The introduction of Robert and Sandy. They have been married for over ten years. Sandra, a longtime employee of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, is now the executive director of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Robert is the co-founder of TOTLS Genetics (no one could ever get out of Robert or his partner, Gerald Podobinski, the meaning of the initials TOTLS). TOTLS Genetics, founded in 1981, revolutionized humanity. Robert and Sandy are worth nearly a billion dollars. We see them coming home from a charity do for the Legion of Honor to their modern mansion built in the style of a San Francisco painted lady. They banter about an old acquaintance of Sandy’s who was at the do. A still gorgeous woman. Sex is requested. Sex is denied. After Sandy wonders how they got together as a couple, they go to bed. And after Robert takes the other pill.  

                                             

FIRST MOVEMENT 

Robert - Los Angeles - 1950s to 1980


Robert’s story from before he was born. He’s the son of a lanky and laconic B-movie/TV cowboy second banana. And a gorgeous, sexy, not very talented singer/actress. This movement ends as he leaves for the San Francisco Bay Area to become a professor/researcher at UC Berkeley. As it unfolds, we are privy to his intellectual and sexual development.

 

SECOND MOVEMENT 

Robert and Sandra - San Francisco - 1980

 

This movement is the original Wait for the Beep! rom-com of Robert and Sandy meeting awkwardly and having a disastrous date ending in sex. It ends with a surprising last line. We also meet geneticist Gerald Podobinski, who wants to develop a “stick shift for the sex drive.”                                               

 

THIRD MOVEMENT 

Sandra - Azusa; San Francisco; Europe -1950s to 1980


Sandy’s story from before birth to her education in art history in San Francisco and Europe. She is an orphan adopted by an older couple, both orphans themselves. She is a bit of a tomboy as a child who loves to read and discovers a passion for art. She also learns about boys’ silliness, no matter their age.

 

                                    

INTERLUDE 

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Podobinski - Q&A -1992


The transcript of a Q&A with Gerald Podobinsky conducted by the author of a proposed book entitled: A Stick Shift for the Sex Drive: How Doctors Gerald “Jerry” Podobinski and Robert Leslie Cromwell are Changing the Human Sexual Dynamic.  Podobinski is in his element here, explaining to the author everything about the stick shift for the sex drive, which comes in two pills: CONTROL and ABANDON. In addition, he covers the development and history of the drugs which have made him and Robert fabulously wealthy. And he does it in his outrageous, un-self-censored manner. He also mentions quite seriously that, in his opinion, Robert and Sandy’s is the love story of the century!

 

FOURTH MOVEMENT 

Robert and Sandra - San Francisco - Cheviot Hills - Azusa 1992 

                  

The final movement picks up the morning after the end of the Prelude. Robert and Sandy have a conversation about sex that ends with Robert making a horrible, unintended confession. Sandy is shocked. She accuses him of having raped her over and over for years. She leaves him. Robert is stunned. 


How is all this resolved, if it is? Well, that is revealed at the end. Or is it? 


+++++++++


So—I wrote a long novel. Over its long gestation, it changed literary forms several times. It grew appendages to become a romantic comedy wrapped between two bildungsromans accessorized with science fiction and alternative history. 


And if that doesn't intrigue you, then this is not the novel for you. 



Available in Trade Paperback



Or as an eBook





With The Reluctant Heterosexual, I conclude my thematic trilogy: The Love, Sex, and Pursuit of Happiness Novels. All three novels look at these essential aspects of the human condition, with each novel focusing on one of the three. By the Sea: A Comic Novel looks at our unease when unhappy. Bully 4 Love: A Rather Odd Love Story takes a skewed view of this most revered emotion. 





And now, The Reluctant Heterosexual, as the title predicts, concerns sex, which is not always the same as love, nor is it always a happy situation. Subtitled A Tragicomedy in Four Movements A Prelude And An Interlude, each section of the novel, as in a musical composition, has its own tempo, mood, and form as it tells the story—and stories—of Robert Leslie Cromwell and Sandy Smith. Two Homo sapiens sapiens surviving and striving in the late 20th-Century. 

 







+++++++++




The Reluctant Heterosexual: A Tragicomedy in Four Movements A Prelude And An Interlude is part of my thematic trilogy, THE LOVE, SEX, AND PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS NOVELS. You can check them out on Amazon HERE.   


If you want to read about my other books, please follow this LINK to the My Books page on this blog.


Cheers to all! 





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