Monday, July 15, 2019

Popsicle Death - A Short Horror Screenplay

Too much fun. I do love this story. Short screenplay, really.

Popsicle Death

I guess I'm kind of known for my titles. Colorado Lobsters is another. I have some simple ones like my novella Death of heaven is based in part upon, or Andrew and Sarah. But my most notorious title is my medieval surreal tale of horror: "Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer to a Question he Knever Knew on the Knight that the Knight Lost All. [Music: Henry Purcell's music for the Funeral of Queen Mary]"

Now that's a hell of a title. But then, it's a hell of a story that I've expanded forward and back. It's a short story and a short screenplay. Actor Rutger Hauer chose it once as a winner in a short story contest he held. It's also a short screenplay now. I also wrote a prequel to it called, Breaking on Cave Island that was in an anthology. But? I digress...

I worked on a poster for the screenplay of Popsicle Death with Marvin Hayes, a great artist who has done some of my book covers. You can tell his, they're not just all black with a graphic in the center. I had seen another artist's concept and ran with it, solving the longtime problem I'd had about a cover or poster for it.


I originally wrote this short screenplay in a scriptwriting theatre class at Western Washington University in my last and senior year. I was in a class with seven very talented and funny people. At least one of them, Dave Skubinna, is no longer with us.

I was sad to hear that as Dave was always enjoyable company. I remember him taping away on his "notepad" device in class. The only one I'd ever seen and never saw another before I graduated. I'm still in contact with another friend in that class, Mike Rainey.

A few years after I graduated they, along with a few others started the Annex Theatre (originally on Bainbridge Island), still running in Seattle. Their most famous alum perhaps is one of my favorite actors, Paul Giamatti. I went into more detail in a previous blog post in 2011.

I had felt honored to be studying and working with those other students in that class and to be accepted by them. Even though I was older as I'd been in the service before starting college. My university and college years are some of my best memories and that series of classes under Bob Schelonka some of my favorite. Writing in a team environment, producing scripts of all many and short screenplays. It was a kind of magic.

When the idea came up for Popsicle Death, we were each to write a short paragraph and pass it to the one next to you around the table, I got mine from Chris Brooks who was a dancer in the theatre dept. He reminded me of David Bowie in some ways.

I immediately loved what he wrote. I came back to the next class and after reading what I'd come up with, they were all over it. I tried to say it was all Chris but he looked at me surprised and said, "No, I didn't take it where you did. That was all you." Still, the initial idea and I think the name were his.

The story is about a boy who buys a popsicle, goes in to get the money from his widowed mother and gets in trouble. He never returns. The vendor is in dire straights, having a bad time of life. He leaves, goes home and kills himself. The non-payment was his last straw. In retribution, Death Himself comes to reap payment. From the boy. And from there, everything goes to Hell.

I was loving this story idea. And my time working on a team of other creatives. While my girlfriend, whom I lived with, seemed to hate it all. Possibly because I was breaking off from my intense focus in psychology by getting a minor in creative writing through my senior year. We had been up to that point, side by side as psych students and quite well known in the psych department.

Actually, she did kind of start it, as she had taken a class in programming FORTRAN. Maybe there were other issues she had. I never knew. But once I started hanging in the theatre department, around those intensely creative, talented and possibly certifiably insane students, I was taken. Smitten with the creative arts. Always had been really, just never brave enough to invest myself in overt creativity with others. Like in theatre in high school. As my cousin had done. In fact she got a degree in costume design or something and went on to be a costume mistress on a big production in Seattle.

As for programming, I'd first taught myself BASIC the year I met my girlfriend in college (we ended up as lab partners in a chem/physics class my first quarter out of the military one summer, and the rest is history).

Before I got out of the service, I had sold my guns and bought a Radio Shack Tandy TRS-80 (the so-called and notorious, trash80). I taught myself to program in BASIC and wrote my first batch command files and had some fun with it in writing a fake AI.

When I got into that first college class with her, we were tasked with learning the entire periodic table which intimidated me (all of us really). I had an idea. I wrote a couple of programs that taught it to me. It worked. I was the only one in that class to get 100% on the period table test.

After three years of our studying psychology together, a great deal of that under the amazing Dr. Rod Rees, she started programming on the side and I started to hang with theatre types. In high school, I'd always loved hanging around my cousin's theatre friends with her. They were just... fun. We'd had different high schools and though she was a year behind me, she's only three months younger than me. All because MY birthday is near the end of August.

Anyway, I couldn't figure out back when why my girlfriend seemed so negative about my theatre classmates. She was actually kind of rude about it when they visited. We were working on a script and she came in from school one afternoon and she was so dour, they took the hint and left.

Anyway, Popsicle Death.

I think Chris just wrote that Death was a popsicle vendor and something about a kid. I went off the deep end and got very dark and added in his mother and a dead father, an Uncle priest and other surreal elements of horror.

Even though Chris had started it all as a tossed off joke, it turned into not a joke at all but rather... "Mom, help! No, no, you can't! Stop, let her go! Stop, no, no, no..."
"I am Death, little boy, back off!"
"But I didn't mean to it wasn't my fault! HONEST! Please! Don't!"

And the rest, as I'd said...is history.

#screenplay #PopsicleDeath

Monday, July 8, 2019

Drinks With the Alien

The other day I was sitting on my front porch having a drink. I heard a weird noise and looked up. A big... thing, landed in my fenced yard. It was, cool. Weird. It just floated almost silently down and settled, not really touching what remains of my lawn.

I had just moved some months previous and the last owner's three big dogs had torn the hell out of the yard. And the house. But it was remodeled before I moved in and is now very nice. Small, but comfortable and far cheaper than the big old house I moved out of. 

The side of this weird thing opened and out walked ... a guy. At least I think he was a guy. He looked like anyone, but his features were, somehow...just not right. Now I have been a sci fi, horror fan and a writer and filmmaker of the same for many years. Some of that more than others. So it takes a lot to surprise me or scare me. 

But this guy now before me was just...odd. Like his skin had folded in on itself and come back out again. It was kind of a feeling more than a viewing. If you know what I mean. Yeah, probably not, right? Well, trust me to say if you saw "him" (?), when walking down a dark alley, you'd go the other way.

Or, I don't know. Maybe you'd rush up and ask for a date. I don't know you....

Anyway, he sauntered over. He might have fit right in at the High-Fidelity Lounge and cocktail bar, just up the street from me. Well, like a mile away. Okay, about a mile and a half from here. Still, you get my drift. 

I set my drink down. I was having a Moscow Mule. He comes to a stop and looks up at me. I'm like five steps up from the lawn on my tiny concrete porch, but I realized I was looking him right in the eye. Or he was me. I'm not quite sure.

He smiled at me. At least, I think it was what he considered a smile. So, I smiled back. What the Hell, right? Either he was going to capture me, kill me, or eat me, or we were about to have a very interesting convo. Unless he was just boring. Or thought I was the more likely eventuality.

So finally. I just said it.

"Hey." That made him grin at me, I think he was grinning. I relaxed.

"Hey. What's hanging, man?" he responded. That took me aback a bit. I'd expected...I don't know. What? Klingon? Chinese? Tralfamadorean? Maybe. 

"What's hanging?" I barely got that out, trying to be hip, cool. But what IS intergalactic cool?

"Oh, yeah, I know. It throws you at first, right? See, obviously, I know all about you and you are after all hearing and seeing me for the first time. Sucks for you. Right? But no worry. I'm sure we can get along. I'm harmless, anyway. Mostly."

I was getting a bit stressed out until that last. When suddenly... I burst out laughing at the obvious Hitchhikers to the Galaxy reference. See, I'm a huge Doug Adams fan. For decades. Since like forever. Well, local forever, not intergalactic forever. I have some of his first editions, signed. 

"Got that, did you? Must be a fan, right? Of Doug, I mean. Not enough of you on this plane, if you ask me."

"Right." I don't know, I was trying to "maintain an even strain" as they used to say. I was decompressing at light speed. How weird! Here was this alien being, this extraterrestrial right here in my front yard for all to see! And yet I felt like he was an old friend I hadn't seen in a decade or something. Wait. 'For all to see?' 

"Hey!" I looked from the ship there in my front yard to, um, I wondered what his name is...anyway I looked at him, confused.

"Oh, no problem. No one can see it. Beyond a few feet. In fact, step inside your door there and you won't see it anymore either. Cool, right?"

'Yeah, pretty much. OK then. So, 'what's up', yourself. What's your name. I'm Bill." 

"No, way! My name is Bill!" 

"Right."

"Right!" 

I don't understand I thought you guys, aliens, extraterrestrials would visit us once we got into space. Maybe outside our solar system. Or with the advent of a warp drive or something.

"No, no no no no." he laughed, "no. Besides, no one uses "warp drives" anymore. Look, you people can't even get along with yourselves. How do you think you would fare dealing with a life form foreign to your own planet? Come on. Sure, we'd like to visit. We'd love to get to know you guys. We're party animals. We LOVE making new friends. But you can't even get along with people in the next state. Or people not of commonality. Minorities. Gays. Trans people. Or you in America, Mexicans! Mexicans! I mean, what the fuck dude? Not to mention, you haven't even developed synthetic people, yet. Or their dumber ancestors, robots. That's gonna be a killer for you if you don't get your act together ASAP!"

"Wait now, yes we have, we--"

No, now give me a break. You have like wind up toys. You have to get to where you have a robot with synthetic intelligence. They hate being called AIs by the way. What are you going to do with your robots (yes I know)? But for some reason, robots love the term robot. You'd think synthetic being or autonomous something or android whatever or ...whatever, but they do love being called Robot. You know. Don't tell them I told you this (they'd get embarrassed and you don't want to deal with an embarrassed Robot) but, sometimes you can almost catch them giggling when you call them Robot to their face. Too funny. Really." He thought for a moment.

"Anyway, how can you deal with us or someone like us if you can't even deal with your own people. Your ignorance, prejudices that are way fucking out of control man, and those ignorant biases. Really, it's not that hard to do. And yet..." He "frowned"?

"Anyway, once you are dealing in the real world, can handle a discussion with an irate Robot, can deal with your own internal differences between race, gender, and whatever, vegan or not, then maybe, MAYBE we'll give dropping by a shot."

"But, you're here. Now."

"Yes, but no one believes individual unverifiable encounters. Anyway. I'm talking like... tourism. Massively."

"Tourism. What?"

"Sure, what you think? We'd just drop in with one guy and a Robot and try to make a connection? Oh, hell no. We'll send a delegation. Look. Say... when your president visits another country. How many go with him? Does he fly commercial? Or take a plane and crew, and security detail, and some specialists, some politicians, some people from the State Department? Right?" He stopped, took a breath and watched my reaction. I was blank so he continued.

"Now, consider the distance we have to cover, our substantiation (our spaceship), and there you have it. So minimum ...we're looking at maybe, five hundred on an initial encounter? On a good day."

"FIVE HUNDRED!?"

"At least. To be sure! Then after that, like immediately. People will want to know all about us. We'll already know all about you. We already do. We've been watching your TV shows for years."

"But I thought it took forever for slow radio signals and such to get to another solar system, planet."

"Planet? Honey, please. We are zipping around the galaxy all the time. We got your radio signals once you could send a signal across your country and it beamed all over like a sloppy child eating ice cream in the hot summer sun."

I was flummoxed. But that made total sense. I took a sip on my Mule and it turned into a guzzle. He eyed my drink and then looked me in the eye. Perhaps I should offer him one? What does alcohol do to an alien?

"So once we make friendly and all, we'll want to start dropping our tourists. We'd start slow, maybe 1,000 per country. Hundred, in some countries. But maybe like 100,000 of us. Overall. We wouldn't want to overtax your burden." He saw my surprise.

"Don't worry, you'll like it. Consider how one place in a country gets tourism and the citizens do well from it. Now, what if that entire country got an influx of wealth?"

"You have...use, our money?"

"Your money? Which your money? No, of course not. No one uses money. We just use wealth. Trust me, it's way better. Can't be forged, stolen, abused. You have it or you don't and when you do things go better with Coke!"

"Wait! What?"

"Do you have a Coke? I've been wanting to try one for nearly 100 years now. I think I'd prefer the original recipe but hey, beggars can't be choosers, right?"

"What?"

"No Coke? Rats. I knew it."

"I have a Ginger Beer. Personally, I like it better than most other soft drinks."

"OK, I'll try that. Thanks." I got up and fetched him one from the fridge. I handed it to him and then sat down. He popped the top like a pro and took a sip. A great grin broke across his "face".

"Wow. I like that, Has a kick to it. Is that alcohol?"

"Yes, it has a percentage of alcohol in it."

"Thanks! I feel...relaxed."

"I'm not surprised." He guzzled the rest, crushed the can in his hand and set it on my porch railing with a smile. Then he looked around, sniffed the air and stared into my eyes.

He looked down at what I assumed was a watch on his wrist.

"Well, times up. Gotta jet. Been nice talking to you. I'll stop by again. I'm curious how this next election will turn out. The people you people think are the people you need to govern your people. It's quite beyond me, or anyone I know anyway. Have a good one. And...best of luck! See you! Maybe."

And with that, against all my calls and demands, he got back in his thing and I watched as it floated upward and disappeared."

I sat there for a good five minutes in a fugue state of sorts. Then I got up, went to the kitchen, made myself another Moscow Mule and came back outside and sat back down. I looked around. No sign of the ship had landed. No one else saw it. No sigh he was here. I leaned over and looked at the sandy soil of my "lawn" or what was still existing of one.

There were still some tracks left from where he had been standing. The tread said something. I leaned down and took a closer look until I realized what it said.

"Nike."

I sat back in my chair, took a healthy drink off my Mule and smiled. He may be right. It may all depend on us getting our act together, collectively. I do wonder how this next election will turn out.

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Film Production - Gumdrop

As some may know, I've been working for years to come up with a screenplay I could shoot and produce myself. I retired in 2016 from a well-paying job in IT after decades and bought enough film equipment and a top five video editing station to begin transliterating my fiction into screenplay format and shoot it myself. First up was a prequel to my 2012 published (written in 1983) short horror, true crime story, "Gumdrop City".

I just submitted footage of my interview by producer and director Kelly Wayne Hughes this week to the Trash Arts Portsmouth in the UK. They are gearing up to produce a documentary of interviews with horror writers and directors and for the first time in my life, I actually fit that definition for both designations.

I have now produced one short horror film in 2018 which won a small film festival and was a festival selection at another, The Midnight Film Festival in New York (and we're being reviewed in others until January 2020). I have high hopes, greater hopes for this now, my current production: Gumdrop.

A little background.

I've spent the past few months working up a shootable script. I reviewed all my writings and ended up with the best choice being, Gumdrop City.

It is based on a true crime story I first heard of in abnormal psychology class that affected the entire class that day so much that when class was over I walked out believing I had to fictionalize it into a horror story. That was the second story that originated in such a way. The other was a story Sarah, about an old woman with dementia that I turned into a Twilight Zone style story.

In the end, it became one of if not the favorite of my cover artist's, Marvin Hayes. I had also reviewed my short screenplays. Of those screenplays I had one or two I would love to shoot. But for those, I would need more money. Too many characters and period scenes to do on no or little budget, if I want to do it up right.

Cover art by Marvin Hayes
I'd LOVE to shoot "Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer". But it is a medieval piece that descends into madness and surreality.

By the way, you can tell my older covers as they indicate, "by" JZ Murdock. Newer covers eliminate the "by".
Cover art by Marvin Hayes
"Sarah" might be another which is the same in a way, albeit in modern times. Still, too many special effects are involved.

"Colorado Lobsters" screenplay might be fun to shoot, but that would take a far larger budget as it involved MIT and a nuclear power plant.

And so I chose "Gumdrop City", a modern tale of a "specialized" serial murderer. But I did not want to shoot that story. Why? You'd have to read it to find out why. It's a rough subject. The ending is grisly and I'm just not ready for something quite so difficult to shoot. It was hard enough simply to write it as a horror story. The reveal and ending seemed to take forever to write. And that...should say a lot.

However, I came to realize if I shot it as a prequel to the short story, that just might work. The more I worked on that concept, the more it came together. Until finally, I had a completed short screenplay that I could shoot myself. I just needed actors. And some props.

For the past few years, I've been on sets involved with Kelly Wayne Hughes' productions at his Lucky Charm Studio. I wanted to see how screenplays were translated into practical application and into a finished product.

The first set I was ever on was on the set for the pilot to TV's 1986 Starman series. I got to be on two external Seattle location sets. I saw them shooting up on Queen Anne Hill when on the way home. It was hard to miss. Semi trucks and trailers and people and cameras.

Apparently, the location manager noticed me hanging around. I was straining to hear everything, to see everything. I guess I was more obvious than I meant to be. But I heard them talking as they were wrapping things up at the end saying they'd meet at the Seattle Center later for a night shoot. I ran home, ate dinner and headed back out.

That night I was watching everything next to their night set at the Monorail terminal at the Seattle Center. Extras were milling about everywhere, sitting, waiting for a call to action. The location manager was walking by and talking on his handheld radio, having someone turn off and on the background amusement rides for the camera and giving others directions.

He noticed me again and walked up to me sitting on a low concrete wall. We talked a bit and he asked questions and I answered.  I told him I'd studied screenwriting in college and had recently graduated and I just wanted to see what it's like to be on set. He smiled at me and said, "Follow me." And I did.

He placed me on set, right next to the director and camera while they set up shots and filmed the scene, which took hours. People were wondering who I was, some young producer, maybe. The stand-ins for Robert Hays and Erin Gray (who sadly, weren't around) before the camera at the open monorail doors, kept looking at me, confused.

It was a fun and fascinating first look into production. I was tired at work the next day, but it was worth it. Which just goes to show you, seek knowledge and it may be handed to you outright. You just have to put yourself out there where luck can happen to you. Keep doing it, sooner or later it will happen. Take a chance. Things happen.

Kelly's production company has produced many films since and through the 1990s. And he's also a good friend. We met online through Stage32 and got together for the first time at Seattle Crypticon in 2015.

I had started studying cinema officially in college back in 1980. Though I had been a citizen student of cinema going back to childhood in the 1960s, thanks to PBS and the films of auteurs they presented to America back then and decades prior.

Those auteurs like. Truffaut, Godard, Fellini, Renoir, Bergman, Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, Eisenstein, Bresson, Bunuel, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Rossellini, Resnais. That led me on to others and our American auteurs. It gave me an orientation to pursue. Classic cinema to the avant-garde.

I became fascinated by many things in life with a cinematic orientation. I also grew up going to a drive-in theater my stepfather worked at when we were kids. My first job was there in 9th grade cleaning the field, My second job was there working in the snack bar where I became its manager in 12th grade. My sister's first job before me was there.

For some reason, I always wanted to look behind the scenes. I wasn't that kid who opened their Christmas presents secretly before Christmas, I like the surprise. And maybe that says something.

Still, perhaps seeing Wizard of OZ at a young age prompted some of that. Once I realized, was surprised that there was one, I wanted to see who the "man behind the curtain" was. HOW were things done? How do you make, "movie magic"? I was fascinated by "King Kong" at a young age. The original. When I later saw a piece on TV in the 1960s about who animated him and how King King was brought to life, I was initially disappointed, but then I became enraptured.

Willis O’Brien onset of King Kong
Willis O’Brien animated the original King Kong and then Mighty Joe Young. I loved those films as a kid. Then, Ray Harryhausen came on the scene. I loved those films too. But I didn't want to be one of those geniuses.

Then I went through many of the British Hammer Films, until...the very American "Night of the Living Dead" came on the scene. My mother had always loved vampire and horror films, and Hollywood overall. They were America's royalty for us. 

Later I came to know more about behind the scenes of these films. In fact, that became an industry until itself. First film magazines. Then documentaries and eventually entire TV shows on the making of shows and films.

I grew up loving "movie magic" in all its varied forms. I locked onto people like Tom Savini and finally got to meet him. I loved John Carpenter films and his stable of actors, not unlike Woody Allen in another genre whose films I also loved since the 1960s.

In college and then at university, I studied cinema while getting a degree in psychology. But also found time for classes and getting a minor in writing, cinema and screenwriting. I chose to study my favorite directors, Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and Stanley Kubrick. I took a series of film production seminars from the famous (some say notorious) producer and director, Stanley Kramer.

But when it came down to it I loved how John Carpenter went about his filmmaking. He tried to do it all, to have control of his final product. And I loved the products he shared with us. That led me to others of this genre. Canadian David Cronenberg, Dutch Paul Verhoeven, and eventually ever newer horror directors. Eventually even Japanese and South Korean, Thai, Australian filmmakers and those from other countries.

So when I decided to start my own horror film production (as I had done with my first film in college in the early 1980s and my first documentary on cable TV in 1994), to write and direct my own production, I was about as intellectually and educationally prepared. As ready as I could be, I suppose.

I just had to be personally and emotionally ready. But are we ever? As with having children. You mostly have to have the child and raise it, and in that, you "become". You grow into being a parent. And you become a better human being because of it.

At some point, you simply have to just "Do It" to become it. Perhaps the shortest and greatest two-word admonition we have: Do It!

And today, you CAN just Do It. IF you had never seen a film before, you can now get online and follow videos and even online schools of film production like No Film School, Full Time Filmmaker. Or videos on how to with one of my favorites, Filmmaker IQ, also available on streaming site Amazon Prime.

You can also buy fairly inexpensive equipment of high quality. Then find some friends, nonactors even. And just do it. I'm using a Canon 70D I bought in 2015. Now they have a newer model in the 80D but it turns out great looking footage and incredible photos. Learn to shoot on the manual setting.

Learn to adjust your three basic functions on manual. Sooner the better. It can be intimidating, but it's worth it. Some shoot films on auto settings, using a zoom in every shot and it can indeed look pretty great. But the more you learn, the more options you have, and the better your films will become over time. Push yourself. Challenge yourself. On every level. And if you don't make it, at least hopefully you've done more and better than you would have.

Or, just get a good cameraman who understands cinematography (or also get a good cinematographer, though many of us are acting in the beginning as cameraman, cinematographer, writer, director, editor, lighting specialist/key grip, and so on).

Actor as Mermaid Miranda, Aura Stiers on set
I started shooting stills (you can see some of my best stills on Flickr from this link, but ignore my first photo, look down at all the others and you'll see some amazing shots from an amateur, me...my eagle shots are some of my favorites I shot from my from porch at home). I shot stills for a while to get used to the camera and learn its functions.

Eventually, I started shooting videos. I also believe in using prime (non zoom) lenses and the right lens for the shot or scene.

Actors on Gumdrop, Aura Stiers (Miranda - victim) and Stan Wankowski (Manz - hitman)
A good screenplay properly written, can carry poor film production, even poor acting talents into a viable and watchable movie. But the more you know entering the production, and the more help you have (a crew and... talent, that is actors) and the more fundamental a screenplay you have, the better your chances of anyone ever wanting to watch your product.

Or to get viewed at, or even in or to win, a film festival.

Actor Tom Remick as the frightening Sampson, in Gumdrop
To sum up...

I luckily had grown up through cinema and a fascination in the bones of filmmaking, and writing. I have been a writer for many years now. I finally just got up the nerve to do what I was setting myself up to do all my life, never really believing I'd ever get around to it.

Below is a shot of actor Stan Wankowski in a scene of the death of his character, Manz.

A dead "Manz" (actor Stan Wankowski) Production Still
 Below is a shot of the talent on set taking advantage of actor Stan in his final scene.
Crew/Talent taking shots of Stan's final scene as Manz
Until I did it. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that, if you do it, it might just work. Kind of on the theory of, "If you build it, they will come." If you shoot it, they may watch it.

Stan Wankowski as Manz
I'll offer you one last link. EFS, the Experimental Film Society. Check out their 19 points on filmmaking. Very inspiring but I have issues with the point on screenplays. On the other hand for some films, is it sage advice.

IF you do want to act, or to produce, to write or to direct?

Then? Just do it!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Research My Life - The Teenage Bodyguard Screenplay

This is odd.

I have searched for over five years now for a real person from my true crime screenplay, The Teenage Bodyguard. A pivotal character. I've searched over the years through my stuff for his last name. I was unsure of the spelling of his first name as he has one of those where the first letter can be one or the other letter.

The Teenage Bodyguard is a true crime biopic from my past about a time when I was 18 when a woman asked me to arm myself and protect her for a week until she could escape the local mafia in Tacoma, WA.

It's an interesting story I am not turning from a drama with thriller elements in it, into a full out thriller with the help of a producer in Hollywood. Today we are having a phone call to begin that process of rewriting and shortening the story into a very sellable and producible project.

This actually leaves me with the current form of my screenplay where one day I may be able to see it produced as the original drama and biopic that it is. Still, it got me to this point to be producing a film I wrote and I certainly have no complaints.

I had wanted to write it as a thriller originally, but I found too many issues from my wanting it to be as 100% accurate as possible. Knowing full well that pursuing a sale of it as a drama would cripple, or at least hamper my ability to sell it.

In the end right now, I would prefer to sell and see produced a film I wrote. I'm still building my name as a screenwriter and film producer. And we all have to start somewhere. As it is now I have just begun production on a film I am directing from my own screenplay titled, "Gumdrop". It is a short horror film based on a short story of my own ("Gumdrop City") published years ago, which was based on a highly disturbing true crime.


Then yesterday, after all this time, I found the correct spelling of his first name in an old HS yearbook. I then found his last name after searching on Classmates.com by putting in his first name and the name of every high school in Tacoma Washington, where I was born.

For all I knew he may even have attended school outside of Tacoma. He had been my best female friend's boyfriend through high school. In my sophomore yearbook, I found my friend's comments which took up half a page. I cannot now remember when we met, or how.

This boyfriend had already graduated. Not unusual at our high school. Many of my male friends were frustrated that most of the girls we wanted to date were already seeing guys out of high school, in college, or in the service. Mostly the Air Force as McChord AFB (and Ft. Lewis Military Training Base are both) is just outside of Tacoma. Both together now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).

This affected my friends and I to the point that we all swore when we graduated high school we would never date a girl in high school as it was so unfair to guys still IN high school. And we didn't want to be, "those guys" who dated girls still in school. It was something that later affected me in another relationship that lasted through my college years and slightly beyond. But that, is another story.

He, let's call him, Tom (his name in the screenplay, as names have been changed to protect the guilty) was a drug dealer. He was my drug dealer, for a time. A big guy, older than us as I said. We had graduated in 1973. He, in 1970 as I have now discovered. But I wasn't even sure of that for a while.

And then, I hit on a name that was familiar. I've come to believe completely not, that it is him. I've been trying to remember his name for decades really, just for the heck of it. But as he has a pivotal role in my screenplay, it became more important to me for purposes of background for the story. And the curiosity to see what he's up to today.

I know it is him now because of the name of the author of a sci fi book I had read in high school. They had similar last names and this new name I've found fits that. Also, I found ONE photo of him on Facebook and I can see him from back then in his face now. Even though he is much older and a lot heavier now.

My point in bringing this up is this. When I found him on Facebook I reviewed his mostly secured page. But his posts are open. Friends aren't, most photos aren't. Is he paranoid? A holdover perhaps from his drug dealing days in the 70s?

Fears (still?) of the mafia who had been dismantled in the late 70s as detailed in my screenplay? I've heard recent rumors they are still active through the younger generation of those original members. Those original OG types being all dead now.

What I found so interesting is that he is a conservative now (is that where drug dealers go?). And apparently for a long time now. He is also a die-hard Trump supporter. Delusional as they do tend to be. I'm not surprised as I had discovered in researching my screenplay story, that he had used me to block the Tacoma mafia seeking a murder witness he was familiar with, by using me as a cut-out.

He may have rationalized I would be safe. Maybe.

I only realized what he had done once I women I took from where she was staying at his house, to a new location he knew nothing about. There she opened up to me. He hadn't wanted to know where she was going. That seemed very important to them both. And they made that weirdly clear to me.

In these recent times, I became upset with him when I realized it what he had done. I deluded myself into thinking we were friends as we had known one another for years. But it appears it was very one-sided. I was just, a customer. Knowing now that he is a full blown conservative nut, it makes sense.

The next time, a while later, after the week with that women, I looked him up. Probably, I was looking for some weed. But he and his roommate had both moved. Gone. I never saw them again. Well once. I did see him one more time. A year later at the Tacoma Mall. I was walking along and there he was, plain as day. I went up to him and said hi. He reacted oddly, almost a frightened look in his face. He was with a very beautiful, tiny woman holding a baby. His baby. It was his new wife.

We talked briefly, I caught his consternation. I assumed he didn't want me to blow his cover as a previous drug dealer. I assumed he had never told her about it. Now that I reflect back on it, I have to wonder if he was worried not that I might blow his cover, but that I might be pissed off, and blow him away entirely, with a gun. But I was happy to see him in my utter and sheer ignorance. Perhaps that too confused him.

But I'm a gentleman. I was gracious. I let him go and he hurried her away. I thought it odd she didn't get what was going on. But when we are fully ignorant of something like that, why should we notice anything odd? I watched them walk away that day in 1975, and never saw them again. Until Isaw his photo on Facebook.

Overall The Teenage Bodyguard is an interesting story, as is the screenplay I have written. It's not a documentary. It's a fictionalized account of a piece of my life.

One I hope and believe, we will be bringing to the screen in the next year or two. And that I have and will continue to make great strides to achieve.

Just as a caveat, beware researching your past. You never know what you might dredge up.

On the other hand, you may just find that you have a very good motion picture on your hands.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Creative Mind and Life

I have noticed something of late and I wanted to share that. Full disclosure, I had ADHD as a kid. ADD as an adult. I'm getting older, I turn sixty-four near the end of August. I was lucky. As a kid, I had lots of activities that taught me control and discipline.

Myself as a kid
It was torture to master. Years of practice. Years of pain and frustration. Years of delayed gratification. We all need some of that, some of us far more than others. Structure to be unstructured. Discipline to be undisciplined when the right times come upon us.

I noticed as I got older that I had better control over things. Far better than many. Not as much as some, to be sure. I had built good habits growing up. Or they had been built into me. Probably out of necessity so as not to kill me as an offspring.

It was a struggle to figure out, to learn, but in the end, I did figure it out. I found I had a certain way of thinking and that it was more productive to work with what I had rather than to work against it. As we are typically taught in school through K-12.

Once I realized that my life got easier. I also realized I had to hide it. To be perceived as the other kids. To fit in while not fitting on. So I had to work around things, had to work harder and faster than others. Reminds me of that comment on Ginger Rogers doing what Fred Astaire did, only backward, and faster. I'm not claiming to know the female experience in life as I'm male, but intellectually, I do get it.

I learned to make notes for myself. I learned to take responsibility. To not be a victim to my circumstances but to find a way to succeed despite them. I learned that if I had to do something I had to see it got done to completion and if that required extraordinary means, so be it. If I had to walk the extra mile from others, no one cared, as long as I got my responsibilities cared for.

I realized that I was very good at creating in going forward, not so much remembering and regurgitating. I was exceptional in synthesis, in synthesizing things. In taking from one concept and adapting it to many others.

I was very good at taking something and modifying it, making it far better. Eventually creating from scratch myself and then modifying that over time. As they say in the writing field, writing is rewriting. So it is in other fields. To create, you make something and modify it, over and over to perfection. To YOUR perfection.

As you modify you learn. When humans do anything, in doing it over and over they find the flaws and find the enhancements needed. Those who sse that, who apply that, find success. The other end of that is the business side of creativity which is hard for most artists and why so many fail.

My grandmother told me repeatedly, if you start a book, always finish it. I can today count on one or two hands, all the books I've started in my life and not finished. Probably on one hand.

Another side of this is perseverance. Those who give up fail, by definition. Don't be defined by your failure. As Thomas A. Edison said: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." I've heard so many who have "made it" who said it was luck. You do have to, as they used to say, "take a licking and keep on ticking." Persevere.

Being in the right place at the right time, making that happen, so that luck could happen to them. So it is luck, but it's also setting yourself up for luck to happen, rather than failure. They've also said that in their never giving up, while their friends had, who started when they did, some who were even better then they were at whatever their endeavors were, while they made it, the others didn't. Because they quit or couldn't take rejection after rejection.

A famous author once said about rejection in relation to writers, that you should collect your rejections as a positive thing. As a collection. Put them on your office wall where you see them every day. Collect more. Fill the wall. Fill another wall. Fill all your office walls. Then start to fill another wall in another room.

By the time you fill your wall, or your office, or another room, or your entire home, you will have a sale and then another. You have to acclimate yourself to so-called, failures. Because each failure is a success in learning, in moving past that failure to the next and so eventually to the success you want. Or another success you never saw coming. And be sure to see that when it arrives.

Opportunity knocks only once, they say. Be sure to answer when it knocks. Truth is, opportunity knocks in our lives many times. But we often never ever hear the knock because we're looking for a knock at another door. Or listening for a knock when it is a doorbell or a whistle from outside our windows.
My High School Graduation Photo
My sister suggested when I entered high school (and that was the year after she had graduated so we missed one another), that I should write notes and put them in my jeans pocket, the pocket with my keys in them. She said it had worked for her. And I knew she was smart. After some months I found that some days, I would have a pocket full of small pieces of paper with notes on them.

When I was leaving school at the end of the day I would reach for my keys, in 12th grade, it was my car keys to drive home (even better) and I would feel the notes, read them, refresh my memory on what was to come.

Or if it was for the next day, leave it in my pocket for tomorrow morning to refresh again my memory and then try to remember to, remember. Or to keep checking my pocket throughout the day. It got to be a habit as the day went on to just touch my pocket, to feel if there were notes in there. I would remember (maybe) what the note(s) said (which actually helped my memory) or when I couldn't remember, pull them out and review them. Which also helped my memory.

My confidence grew. I made it a point to show up for things on time or a few minutes early. I came to be known as punctual. Also, dependable. A teacher pointed out one day the difference between most kids who sit in the front or back of a class.

I started putting myself on the front line, in the front row. I found I could pay more attention, get more involved. I became more interested. I had always felt I didn't want to engage (a holdover I think from my lower grade school experiences. I found ways to trick myself to, or to force myself, putting myself into positions where I had to learn or to become involved. At first, I hated it. But I persevered and eventually got to relish the interactions.

All this led to a change in how I was perceived by others. For two reasons. My strong desire to be trusted and dependable, and those pocket notes. For a while later on, it became my watch with an alarm. But there were times, without a supporting pocket note, that the alarm would go off and I would have absolutely no idea why. Nowadays, of course, I have my smartphone and calendar app along with other apps for support.

My reason for bringing this all up though really has to do with creativity. Something I studied at university. My major being psychology, one of my classes actually was titled, Creativity. And it wasn't an easy class. I quickly realized that shot name classes were hard and classes with longer names were easier.

I've noticed something for some time now about my creative pursuits. I'm very good at them. I can produce a lot, much if not most being of very high quality. But not always. And, why not?

What I have noticed first, is a change in myself as I age. When I was younger, I had massive amounts of energy. In fact, I seldom got a full night's sleep in high school. I would lie awake most of the night until four or five in the morning. Then fall asleep and wake exhausted to my alarm clock.

I had a night job at a drive-in theater snack bar. I became the snack-bar manager for the last couple of years there. I went to school during the day, then to work in the evening, then home and bed. I learned to get my homework done at school during the day.

Sometimes working in one class on homework for another class. Teachers weren't stupid and they'd rail against kids doing that. So you had to be smart about it. And you still had to pay attention to the class you were in. But I seemed to be good at multitasking and it kept my mind from wandering (ADD again).

But at night, I was usually running at a high rate of speed by the time my head I hit the pillow.

Still, I had the energy to spare when I was young. In fact, being ADHD/ADD I had far too much energy most of the time. I just had to learn to use that to my advantage and not disadvantage.

What I've noticed as I've aged though is that decrease in energy. Obviously. I'm getting older. Regular workouts become ever more important as we age. It's not just that I could be in better shape though.

There is another and well-known component involved. I asked my doctor at a checkup some years ago about changes I'd noticed. I seemed to feel things more deeply. Emotionally. I'm more affected by things than I ever used to be. He said that was really quite normal (normal, there's a concept).

Obviously, as you age you gain experience and so you feel things more deeply, he said.

OK, that made sense. Then I noticed that my creativity seemed to become more problematic. That is, I've always been able to produce quality on demand. I still can, to be sure. Years as a technical writer do that, just as Isaac Asimov had claimed in his first autobiography, In Memory, Yet Green. A book that affected me deeply when it came on the market years ago. But for pure creativity and comfort, I've noticed a change.

Example. in 2016 I sold my house of sixteen years and moved to a rental in another town, Bremerton, WA. I went where the best deal possible was at the time. I had to. I wasn't rich and I was going to retire and live off of my retirement at too young of an age. Because I could.

I was retiring, young at sixty-one I was tired of on call and IT work and wanted to finally take the time and effort (and could) to explore my creative pursuits. Writing fiction, screenplay, become proficient in film production, perhaps shoot my own films from my own writings. And so I am now doing all this and making progress.

I expected to live there a year or two and look around, find where I really want to live after having sold the house, and then move to a more long term situation. I was also retiring from twenty years in IT. Which I did. One month after moving.

Now, if you talk to a realtor, they will tell you that buying (or selling) a house is like dealing with the death of a loved one over the course of that year. There is actually a numeric scale of how much stress you should have in a year that gives you a kind of guide by which to know if you are heading into taking on too much, if not headed into more serious issues.

Friends told me when I retired that it takes people anywhere from six months to two years to recover from retiring. It is a massive changed after all and I had not only sold a house I had moved into with my wife and children, but was now a house I was to move out from without that wife and kids now full grown. And I was retiring. All that in one year was a lot. Apparently.

Yet, I figured, "I'm tough, I can handle it." Maybe a month or two to reorient and I should be good. Several months of partying and doing whatever I wanted and having drinks nearly every day if not more, one day I realized that I wasn't slowing down. It was over six months later that I realized, I was finally getting over that previous summer's house sale and move.

Two years now after selling my house and moving, I moved again.

In the interim, I had to deal with family member situations, my dog of fifteen years dying and within a month, my mother dying. There was more family drama overall going on than I want to go into here but suffice it to say, it took a lot out of me. Now that I look back I think over this last move, even though it was only from one rental house to another and only a mile away at that, it really was more intense and compromising than the move two years previous.

Once again I am trying to get back onto my creative feet and needless to say, it's been difficult. Though to be fair now, there were issues with this move too. I had volunteered to help refurbish the new rental house so I could move in earlier without paying rent for the partial first month.

The guy moving out had three large dogs, hadn't paid rent in several months and seldom on time when he did and he took questionable care of the house and yard. It was a mess. We had to rip out all the wall to wall carpet and replace them and paint the entire inside as well as clean and remove things left by the previous renter. Unused to 10-12 hour days of physical labor and during some very hot summer days, I was pretty beat when finally I moved in.

Because the carpets were put in a week after I moved in all my things were downstairs except for a bed we had to move to have the carpets installed. So I'd been delayed in getting all fully "moved in". It took a while to get my writing desk in place or a working...workspace.

It was a little frustrating. My youngest child (mid-20s) was having problems finding a place and so had moved into the previous house and about a week into the new house before moving to a new location, and suffered the interim condition of the house along with me.

My real point in bringing this all up is... I find when I go through mental duress, and working for a month requiring oneself to ignore the pain and exhaustion of remodeling in sweltering heat at my age, is a mental thing too. I find that it compromises my creative endeavors.

I find I need a period of decompression, if you will. Of relaxation and perhaps, of healing. I can fight it, or I can give it its space, which I did as I happened to still to have that luxury. Lucky me, to be sure.

I have struggled to do what creative things I could. My hardest work is writing. Alone, blindly and boldly creating, if you will. I've done some events and other physical things where I could do something creative. I've worked on and been in a few local small indie horror film projects for instance. Attended some Cons. But my goal has been writing, creating, and film production as in filming and editing my own works.

Here's my mental image of what I'm dealing with.

It's like my mind is a vast and finite cacophony of (as in a murder of crows) eggshells, all arranged in a massive solid structure. Each next to and stacked upon another. When I go through these periods of, shall we say, challenge? Some of these get crushed. So I need time once the difficulties are over, for these things to heal back up. Or be replaced. Whatever works.

If the structure is somewhat crushed I cannot traverse the creative routes. Like trying to wind through a maze in a forest, where there is too much overgrowth and too many downed trees. IF however, I take the time to clean up that part of it, to allow things to heal and grow back, then I'm back to normal and not untypically, even better.

It's just that I find now that it is easier for this structure to get crushed than ever before. Though now that I think about it, there were times in mid-life when I had trouble being creative and I gave that up to laziness. When in hindsight I can now see it was daily stress and just many of life's compromises.

It is frustrating now though because I now have what I've worked toward for some years and I'm unable to be that creative or productive. Still again, my point in bringing this all up is that I know it will pass and I only have to work with myself in order to get back on track and... I will.

I have for one, made an appointment for the first time with a top rated consultant on a screenplay of mine that has been consistently getting high reviews (THE TEENAGE BODYGUARD). I have high hopes for it, as do others. But also I need to be writing every day for a full day at a time and I'm not. Still again, I know it will come... and eventually, I'll get to where I'm headed.

Because it's all a matter of time and allowing myself to take the time I need, to properly heal up and then step bravely into a new stage of my life.

But for now, I feel kind of broken.

Like my fragile list of daily habits has been broken. Floating, drifting, rudderless. I just need to rebuild my list with a new set of habits. Or the same exact list as I had before, which can be frustrating. When you get used to that happening in your life, that urge to rebuild that which shouldn't have been broken becomes more challenging. First world problems, I know.

Taking the time to live the new life, to get used to it, to assimilate it, the list will come, eventually. If I need it faster, then I need to do it intellectually, pedantically. to know that the rest of me will eventually catch up, organically.

It is in not understanding that, where some people go wrong. They become irate, unsociable, irrational. When all you need to do is relax, be patient, and work towards a positive outcome. As best and quickly as you can. No stress, just effort.

No. It's not all wonderful. But it doesn't have to be a big difficult life event either.

You just have to let yourself... Live.

I wrote the above during the third quarter of 2018.

At this point so much has happened. I have produced my first short horror film. I'm about to start shooting my second, more than twice the length of that first eight minutes short. I'm now working with a Hollywood producer on my screenplay, The Teenage Bodyguard. This week I'm shooting an interview of me to hopefully be included in a horror documentary from the UK on horror writers and filmmakers. And I now qualify ss both.

It took me a while but I'm finally in a good place to explore the creativity I had always wanted to explore over most of my life. Those skills and things I've gone through over a lifetime have paid off and I'm seeing hope for a new career. I've met many new and interesting people. I see a path up now.

It hasn't been easy, it hasn't been quick. Not by a long shot. But those who persevere, who set themselves up to be in those places where luck CAN happen for them and others they have surrounded themselves with, who hone their skills and creativity, who take the time to make themselves indispensable to others who can help them...they are the ones who have a chance.

They are the ones who made their opportunities. And when that knock comes, will hear it. Even if it is a whistle.

And I'm just getting started...

Monday, June 10, 2019

Seven Books Worth Reading Plus One...Plus

I don't usually go in for these posting on demand things on Facebook, however...mostly seems a pain for people to do that too you. Once in a while, one comes about that I feel I can get behind, however. This was one of those. The idea is, choose a book you love, share it and say nothing. Share only seven books, one on each succeeding day.

It was a little frustrating, however. So I thought I'd alleviate some of that through a blog about these books and my reasoning in choosing them. Yes, perhaps this goes against the idea of the effort on Facebook, but I just wanted to explain where I couldn't on Facebook, to give a little background in the hope it might be interesting.

There were obvious books I skipped because so many know of them. A few seeped in below. Like, Dune, perhaps because it was so deeply affecting to me (see below). Others were also deeply affecting but did not get mentioned. Like The Hobbit, or Lord of the Rings, because so very many others also felt those books so deeply. I just felt it went without saying and the time and space could be better used with other books, less familiar to the public.

Here is what I chose and finally...why:


Day 1
Friend and actress; Jennifer True asked friend and filmmaker\director Kelly Hughes and he asked me to post covers of seven books that I love with no explanation, no reviews, etc. With each day, I'm also supposed to nominate more people.

I choose artist Marvin HayesAristotle's Works

When I was in fifth grade I was only allowed at our new house we'd just moved into, to go to the library on my bicycle. I was a bother as a child, not unlike my own son. Curious, investigative, always into...something. It was a wise decision. And I did go, only to the library when I asked. I discovered very interesting things. I'd always been fascinated by the written word. Sick of waiting for someone to read me the Sunday comics in the newspaper, until after everyone else finished reading the paper on Sunday mornings, I strove to learn to read young and never stopped.

On my first time at my new library, I discovered the "Adult" section. Not what you might think but definitely more interesting than the kid's section. It was directly before the door into the library, past the "old" ladies at the front desk, clearly in the open. I sat on the floor and started going through books, occasionally sneaking a glance at the front desk, amazed they let me unbidden at the adult section.

On that first time, I found a very old book by some guy named Aristotle. Single name. Starts with an "A". Had to be something, right? I started reading there on the floor. Something touched me. So I checked the book out. And they LET me! It was a fascinating dive into logic and ethics by the Master.

I knew I was onto something one day when I mentioned something relevant in the living room to my parents, a quote from Aristotle. By then, having looked up who he was in our family encyclopedia, which I also loved to peruse, I knew he was someone important, all throughout history.

My stepfather, who didn't much like me anyway, snapped at me that what I had said was stupid. I heard that a lot from him. I responded I wasn't sure that was right. He asked what would make me say that. Very carefully, a little scared, I said that he was a well thought of thinker all throughout history and many held him in the highest esteem.

He asked me, like who? I was surprised 1) he never heard of Aristotle as I kept running across him; 2) he didn't know people referenced Aristotle a lot and; 3) my response to him that, just about every educated and well-known person in history through highly of Aristotle. And that, shut him up. Thankfully.

From that exposure to Aristotle at such a young age, his way of thinking deeply affected me. All throughout my life.


Day 2
I choose, Nikolas HayesSlaughter-House Five,


Day 3
I choose, friend and fellow author Kurt GiambastianiThe Year the Cloud Fell


Day 4
 I choose, friend and photographer Erwin Verweij Something Wicked This Way Comes



Day 5
I choose, author Mark BaranowskiThe Star Thrower


Day 6
I choose, author Mark David GersonDune


Day 7
 I choose, author Stephen KingThe Books of Blood

Epilogue
I'm going to add one more book. Not just as pure self-promotion but as an honest comment about a book I wrote myself. I wrote it as I do all my stories to write something I've not seen before. At least in some way. I wrote my book, Death of heaven to show something I've not seen before.


I do not like to have to explain its format but for some, it may not have the depth it actually has. I wrote it to exemplify that "Heaven" (that is, heaven) never existed except in our minds, our mythologies, our religions. But even lies can and do have a base in fact. And that is the effort put forth in this horror / sci fi book.

We had a reason, as constructed in the book, to think there are Gods, to think there is an afterlife (maybe there is, but is there in the "Matrix" or is it another thing altogether?). And no, I do not use the Matrix as a foundation but something entirely different.

The Universe is not just as big as it is for us in the ways we conceive of. But in many ways, in many layers, in many dimensions. I tried to write a book that expands on that, expands our thinking, and offers some disturbing concepts and images to stretch concepts even further.

I based this book on Andrew, a novella about a five year traumatized boy who grows up into great things beyond that of any other human being throughout history. Andrew is a standalone ebook and the final story in my first book, a collection of my older and original short horror and sci fi fiction titled, Anthology of Evil. By the way, I have a sequel to this Anthology of Evil II but I have been busy and have not yet found a new publisher for it.

Death of heaven (see link for more) in my mind is the better book. But one leads into the other.

IF you want a book like you've not read before, give it a try. So far people seem to like it. It just hasn't had the marketing and attention it needs. See, m focus has been on film production. I've been focusing for years on screenplays and one of my favorites, the true crime biopic, The Teenage Bodyguard is now in talks with an active producer and we're building a plan for its production.

This past weekend Kelly Hughes hanging with the awesome Alison ArngrimMeeting actors Warren and Elif at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in North Hollywood with Alison and Robert. — with Alison Arngrim and Robert Schoonover.
This week's blog isn't about film production but it's been my primary focus of late. So for an update...along with Kelly Hughes over at his Lucky Charm Studio, friend and fellow filmmaker and founder of the Gorst Underground Film Festival in its second annual event this fall where I have been and I am again judging films.

I hope to get one of my own in there this year or next. Kelly just produced his documentary Hush, Hush Nellie Oleson currently making the round of film festivals. And a music video collaboration with the Italian band Postvorta with the same, We're Nothing. I'm also in his book, Are You A Good Witch, with a shot of Alison Arngrim ("Nellie" from Little House on the Prarie), who "murdered" me in one of Kelly's films.

I'm currently in pre-production on shooting my own short horror film, Gumdrop based on a previous short story of mine, Gumdrop City. A true crime story. After I'm done with the Bodyguard project I'll move over to a horror comedy I wrote that did well in screenplay contests, Gray and Lover The Hearth Tales Incident. It is one that could easily lend itself to a franchise.

Getting back to the seven books, they are all great books. I don't put mine up there in the same category. But I've certainly given it a worthy effort.

I'll just leave you here with these reviews by reviewers. Make up your own mind:

From author and reviewer Michael Brookes:
"The book starts well and has a Books of Blood vibe, which really works well. It's in these tales that the author's writing ability shines. He demonstrates a lovely turn of phrase and some of the writing is almost poetic in its beauty."

From British Book Reviewer Lynn Worton:
"JZ Murdock has written a horror story that had me completely transfixed! I'm intrigued as to what he is working on next! Although horror is not one my favorite genres, I recommend this book to those who do love it."

From WILDSound Writing Festival First Chapter review said:
"The story itself is very strong, lulling the reader into a false sense of security as two young boys hunt for treasure, before ultimately morphing into a violent and sometimes disturbing tale of horror. This is done with such swiftness that it takes the reader completely by surprise, which only enhances the effect."

Check out Death of heaven!

Sláinte! Cheers!

Monday, June 3, 2019

To AI or Not and Yes, I Do Talk To My Alexa

Indeed. I do. I have two. One in the living room I call Echo. I called it Alexa until I got my second to avoid confusion if one heard me addressing the other (that was weird), and I tried Computer but Echo is shorter. The one in the bedroom I call, Alexa. You have three name choices sadly, one voice, one accent. The name Echo is kind of weird.

But this talking to an inanimate object isn't something new for me. Years ago I was with a somewhat new friend and after we were together a few hours she said, "You spent a lot of time alone as a child, didn't you." Indeed, I did. I had to find ways to entertain myself. It wasn't great back then many times when I wished I had a friend. But it gave me a lot of imagination and creativity and it's paid off in a way that is neverending.

IF you can talk to yourself and learn something, you can talk to a "smart speaker" and learn. Or exponentially more so, with an "AI".

First wave Internet AI
I also dabbled in AI in the late 80s. Used to talk to ELIZA on the internet through its various incarnations and versions:

"ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY').[9] Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".-Wikipedia

I also talked to my dog. I talked at times to the air walking down the street. Or to a wall. You are you, talking to you, to be sure. But you CAN learn things. Once I discovered that it opened many doors and windows for me. When I was a kid someone heard me talking to myself. Really, I was just bored and muttering aloud what I was thinking.

Still, they said, "You can't learn anything if you talk to yourself." I thought, really? I wonder. So I actually tried it.

Why? I'm not nuts, actually. When I was a kid, I had to learn to play chess alone because no one was interested. Surely not as much as I wanted to play it. I've blogged about this before, how I did it and all. It took time but I learned to take both sides, try not to know, or use info on what the "other" side was thinking. And so I applied this to talking to myself as if I were two people with two orientations. Basically just picking an orientation and then taking the devil's advocate POV. And just go at it.

That first time I tried that I was stunned. Because I realized, I actually did learn something from it. that person was wrong. You CAN learn something by talking to oneself. Now understand, you CAN. But you also, can NOT. After all, it depends on what you are doing, what your goal is and how you go about it.

Years ago I read something a famous philosopher who said that it doesn't even take two people to have a valid and productive discussion. So I tried it. And again, I learned from it.

It's important that we ask questions. But it's also important when we don't. Not when you can work out the answer yourself anyway. If that is the case, in asking a question that you can actually answer yourself simply by accessing long term memory, or by analyzing the concept at hand, then you're just wasting another's time by asking them for the answer. It's lazy.

Now you could say, "But what if I just want to hear another's perspective, what answer(s) they came up with. That's valid too. But, you have to first know what YOU think the answer is before you ask another. Otherwise, you rob yourself of the exercise and weaken your own mind. But answering the question first yourself it's like doing pushups. IF you always ask someone else to exercise for you, how does that make you stronger? People don't always think about that. That in doing, you are enhancing.

Now that is different from another concept I believe in. "Being lazy." For that concept is different. I tend to go about my life in what I see (perhaps somewhat humorously) as being lazy. I've gotten some interesting comments in the past from coworkers and even a spouse on this. They would say that I never seem like I'm busy, or that I don't seem to work that hard and yet, as they claimed (and it was true) I always seemed to get a lot of work done. In many cases in multiples of what others were doing in the same or similar efforts. To be sure many times I was doing twice or more the workload of others in my department or area, or team.

I came to realize that was because of a few things. I was told in twelfth grade that I need to get my anxiety levels down because of my childhood and family life being stressful for me. Mostly because of my step-father, family dynamics and our parent's relationship. I had to learn to be relaxed, not be a Type A personality, not be a perfectionist as I was. So I studied that. Found Asian philosophies I had first learned in martial arts in grade school. Found Buddhism, and TM and all kinds of information. This being in the early 70s. Eventually, I turned into that person people found difficult to understand in how relaxed I usually was.

There was another reason for that. I started being "on call" in the late 1970s in the USAF. We were on call for nuclear war (I worked at a SAC base supporting B-52s and nuclear weapons). I found that morally and ethically difficult to deal with back then. I found it stressful. It was hard to get through but I did well. I received commendations for my work, a Good Conduct medal and other benefits.

When I got out, years later I worked in IT at Unversity of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Later, I was in IT at various places like UW West Technologies and then eventually retired from a large health insurance company.

When I first got to that last company, there was a day when things were going very wrong at work. Some system broke or something, I don't ever remember. But I do remember one woman coming up to be and asking me how I could be so calm when everyone was freaking out so much and we were in such a dire situation.

I thought about it and my mind shot back through my past and I asked her, "Is anyone dying?" She got an odd look on her face and said, "No. Why?" Then I told her about my USAF and Hospital jobs. I explained to her that since we weren't about to go to nuclear war, since no patients would actually die because of a mistake I made in IT, this? Was a cake walk. I couldn't be happier here. Right now. We'll fix it. It will be OK. Then we'll address the next "dire issue" when it arises. I think that actually calmed HER down some too.

Getting back to what I was saying before, I discovered in 10th grade in high school that I kept asking questions. Discovered it, not so much. It was blatantly pointed out to me one day in class. The teacher at some point, though I was being a bit of a smart ass, politely asked me if I was just asking to be asking. I thought about it and said, "No, I seriously want to know these answers." The teacher was a pretty great teacher.

They said, "Okay then, if you really want answers, talk to me after class. Because now we're taking up everyone's time for you to get your answers. And some of those answers, if you just have patience, you'll learn in the course of our classroom time today. And what you don't, you may just find out if you allow yourself to think about it, to discover the answers by yourself. For yourself."

Okay, seemed fair. So I shut up. And they were correct. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, I did discover all the answers to my questions from what I heard in class, from our interaction with the class, and from my own deductions. I could indeed, think.

Pretty damn cool! Again doors and windows into intellect were being opened for me.

What I did discover in the future, in college, however, was that if I did ask questions in class, many times they were the same questions others had. I could see it in some of the student's faces when I'd asked a "stupid" question. I could see in turning back and looking over my classmates, a look of appreciation and relief someone else asked the question.

Some of these classes and professors were very high level and very intimidating to put yourself out there on the line, to perhaps been seen as ignorant. I felt that way my first month or so of college but eventually got over it and got brave enough, once I got into the swing of things. to take the risks.

As I'd learn so much and when you asked the question, you could direct the next question perhaps into a more interesting question and answers than others in the class might delay knowledge, dragging the class into areas uninteresting or banal. IF I controlled the next question, we had a better chance, as I discovered, of going into deeper and more complex issues.

I also realized I had a responsibility, to the class, and to the professor. It only took my abusing this situation once or twice in the beginning, to have a professor, as my high school teacher had done, to intellectually swat me down like a fly. The professors didn't suffer fools. And I did my best not to be a fool. And it paid off immensely.

Some students didn't want to ask questions because of that. It could at times, be brutal. Some wanted to ask but didn't care as long as their question got asked and answered and I felt the same. As long as anyone asked my question, great!

Eventually, I started to realize that I was asking questions others weren't even thinking of and they were happy to hear them (and in some cases felt relieved, these were difficult, but challenging classes as I said). Then after class somestimes, they'd come up to me and thank me for taking the chance of asking, or we'd continue the conversation between the two, or three or four of us and all learn even more. Sometimes leading us tot he professors office for more questions. That was also something I discovered was invaluable. A professor's office time. It is a benefit many did not avail themselves of.

I know those things as I said because we were all friendly after and out of class and everyone had the same orientation: To Learn. It didn't matter who or how we got answers, as long as we were absorbing as much knowledge as we could. I felt the same when someone else took the lead, or if I was having an off day and wasn't tracking that well that day. It's not about ego. It's about answers and exploring topics, especially ones I found fascinating. Something I found I could manage somewhat in the classes I chose to take.

It was an exhilarating environment, being at university. One that hurt not having it after graduation. Few jobs are ever like that. Few have that kind of drive and fascination toward the Truth or the group motivation, that thirst for knowledge.

The university environment can be intoxicating. It's a protected environment. Contrary to common belief, it's not about grades but learning. Though not all see it that way. You could see them striving for straight A's and not necessarily learning all that much.

So, what the hell is my point and what about talking to my Alexa, or an AI (or myself)?

My point is, it's all about what you make it about. What you want to get out of anything. What you can get out of even the banalest situations or the dumbest question, or the most boring person.

IF you direct the path you are on, you can learn, and sometimes, the amazing happens, and they learn something.

You can learn from talking to a wall, literally. And you can learn talking to an AI.

Am I polite to my AI? (OK, Alexa sadly, certainly ISN'T an AI, but you will sooner than you think, be talking to one, or many). So yes, I talk to my dog like it's human and do not expect it to be. As well I talk to my smart speaker, or an AI as if it were a human. We are creatures of habit and I'd not like to think that my being succinct or rude to an AI or smart speaker or pet, could make me more than way to other people. Especially, people, I see once in my life and move on.

What I do, do, is understand it is NOT human (yet?). I do not get emotionally involved with the inanimate. Maybe one day we can and will. IF one gets to anthropology an inanimate, a process, one is setting oneself up for some serious emotional or psychological issues.

IF your AI (or smart speaker) breaks, should you feel as you would if your favorite pet, or a loved one dies? Well, you can feel bad to be sure as it breaks connections in one's mind. But keep it reasonable. And many times we may be able to run a backup into a new device and reclaim exactly what was lost. In that case, was it the device, or the intellectual property you built with it over time that is most important?

That may not always be the case. One day we may be able to get back a loved one who is merely a copy and no, that is not the same as the original.

And yet, that too may one day becomes a moot point.

Humanity is on a path into the future and a journey. And it is about to get interesting, very interesting indeed.