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 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

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.