Just in Case You’re Crazy…

I want to tell you guys about something that happened to me today that has me a bit perplexed.  Ordinarily, this would just be another insignificant event in my life that I would have forgotten or moved on from relatively quickly…if it weren’t for some shows I’ve been watching lately that have completely thrown me for a loop…

So I had walked to my neighborhood Wawa this morning to get a co-worker and myself some breakfast.  I take a lot of medication for my heart condition, and it has to be taken with food.  I ordered a couple egg and cheese burritos and started the walk back to my building.  On my way out of the parking lot, this attractive gentleman in a decent mid-size sedan pulls up beside me.  He smiles at me with a beautiful grin and says, “You’re too cute to be walking in this weather.”  It’s about 35 degrees out, and I am cute, so I smiled back and said, “I know.  Thank you,” and continued walking.  He pulled up some, to match my pace, and said, “Where are you headed?  Can I drop you somewhere?”  My heart fluttered a little at the question, not from exertion but gut-tightening fear.  “Uh, no, thanks,” I replied, now oddly nervous about talking to this man.  “Really, it’s not a problem,” he said.  Shaking my head, I answered, “I’m not getting into a car with a stranger just because he pays me a compliment.” He smiled and holding up his left hand, revealed a handsome gold wedding band.  “I’m a Christian, and I’m married.”  I nodded vigorously, anxious to cross the street and get away from this person.  “I know what that’s supposed to mean,” I answered sadly, “but really, I’m fine.”  I scurried across the street and out of sight as quickly as I could, hoping he wasn’t following me.

All I kept thinking about on the way back to my office was this episode of Disappeared I saw on Investigation Discovery about these young men, Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos, who were abducted in similar fashion involving a police officer in their district.  Supposedly, this officer apprehended both men then dropped them, on separate occasions, at a local Circle K; in both instances, he was the last to see either man before they went missing.  What’s worse, this officer’s account of both encounters changed frequently, was never documented, and, while his discrepancies and actions got him fired for misappropriated protocol, he has not been apprehended, due to lack of evidence, for the disappearances of these two men.  Now, if you can’t trust a cop–those who are hired and put in place to risk their lives to protect us–then who can you trust?  Certainly not a handsome man in a relatively new Camry with a nice smile and potentially fake wedding ring on his hand.

What’s really horrible about this is how sad both scenarios truly are.  I couldn’t trust a stranger to take me across the street, the same way Williams and Santos apparently couldn’t trust their neighborhood policeman.  What does that say about the nature of our society that we have to ask ourselves is someone crazy just because they offered to be nice?  What have we done to ourselves as a people that a decent gesture now immediately has to be interpreted with a red flag?  How many wolves in sheep’s clothing have invaded our world with their twisted malice that I can’t accept a ride in the cold or a lollipop for my son from an elderly man?  What has our world come to…when we have to tell ourselves to trust no one…?

Furthermore, what if I had been abducted?  How long would I have gone unnoticed?  And even if my co-worker did notice right away, I would have to have been missing at least 24-hours before anyone could file a missing person’s report.  My abductor could have taken me across four or five states in that time, and during the morning rush at Wawa, with everyone’s minds on getting off to work, who would really have noticed the young girl who willingly climbed into a handsome man’s Camry?  I’d be dead, never found, and my family would be just as stricken as the Williams’ and Santos’.  And in truth, most violent and abusive crimes don’t occur with people we’ve never met: we’re sexually abused by family members and close family friends; we’re murdered by jilted and jealous lovers; we’re accosted by the co-worker we never noticed or knew secretly adored us; we’re robbed and raped by the neighbor who always cuts our grass; our children are snatched and molested by teachers and school volunteers.
My heart and prayers go out to the survivors in the Williams and Santos families; they deserve to know the truth and find the bodies of their loved ones so they can be buried properly and be given the closure they crave.  I pray that with enough awareness and outrage across the country, some action will be taken in their cases.  In the meantime, I won’t be accepting or offering any rides to or from strangers.  Maybe Mr. Camry was a nice guy, but I’m glad I took that walk…just in case he was crazy…and in that case, I dodged a life-threatening bullet.  Better safe than sorry.
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2012 is Here!

Happy New Year to you all!  How were your holidays?  I know I took a month off, but holiday time tends to draw focus at this time of year.  I certainly haven’t forgotten you, and now with 2012 officially in effect, I can emphasize my excitement about the launch of The Grim in three and a half months!  May 1st will be here before you know it, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of you at the virtual launching!
In the months to come, I will have some previews of the work, maybe the first chapter or two, as an exclusive read.  I should have a cover worked out soon as well.  I know you guys are going to be thrilled with what we’ve come up with.  I’m so excited about all the pending prospects.
We have some possible signing dates, and maybe even a few store sites that are going to carry The Grim in their stores so keep a look out for that.  And if you’re not already following me on Facebook and Twitter, please do!  It will ensure you don’t miss a thing!

On this Martin Luther King, Jr holiday, I feel blessed to be a part of the black American entrepeneurship rising in this country.  It’s a hard road, and things certainly don’t come easy, but the reward of being able to do what you love and share it with the world is irreplaceable.  I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with all of you in May.  So keep tuning in; I promise to keep it entertaining!

The Adjustment Bureau

So, this week I got to enjoy a wonderful movie: The Adjustment Bureau (2011).  The star of the film is Matt Damon, who we all loved in the Bourne series, and of course, his breakout role, Good Will Hunting.  His leading lady is Emily Blunt, who recently did the voice of Juliet in Gnomeo & Juliet (2011).  This amazing film, directed by George Nolfin, is based on an incredible short story, “The Adjustment Team”, again by Philip K. Dick.  (Remember, we talked about him in my Short Stories to Film post.)

The movie, and short story, is about David Norris (Damon), a young politician whose congressional career is floundering, primarily due to wayward impulse.  He meets Elise (Blunt), a talented dancer, in a men’s room who inspires him to give his greatest speech to date, and sends him down his pre-ordained path.  However, a chance meeting with Elise on the metro bus causes David to see some things he otherwise wouldn’t have, starting a spiral of rebellion against a group of supernatural beings otherwise known as The Adjustment Bureau.
This movie/story is inspiring with its subtle spiritual undertones.  However, because of Dick’s scientific background, there are gentle implications about the validity of God’s judgment, as depicted in the reference of the Plan.  The Adjustment Bureau and its agents are constantly admonishing David about deviating from the Plan and how the world will change drastically, for the worst, if he insists on fighting for his love affair with Elise.
But the film/story raises the question, too, if one is truly in control  of one’s own destiny.  Is free will simply an illusion to give us a sense of choice; is our life already planned for us and we’re simply unaware that we’re traveling down a road that was mapped out well before our own existence?  Depending on your religious background or faith, you probably have a pretty solid answer to this.  But it’s an age-old question that mankind has struggled with for centuries.
No one wants to believe they are not in control of their own destiny.  Everyone wants to feel that they have the opportunity to change the course of their future at any time, hence the reason many of us deny the existence of an omniscient, omnipresent Higher Power.  But whether the Superior you believe in plans your future for you or is simply instrumental in seeing that you get where you’d like to be, this film puts in perspective mankind’s need to take responsibility for his actions and the road he’s traveling rather than relying solely on the nature of divinity.
The Adjustment Bureau is out on Blu-ray and DVD through Universal Studios.
The Adjustment Bureau, Official Trailer

The Simpsons Go Indie!

I’m a bit of a Simpsons fan; have been since I was a kid when my parents told my brother and me the content was too “adult” and forbade us to watch it.  While I’m not a fanatic fan, I do like to catch up on Hulu every once in a while.  The latest Simpsons episode was titled The Book Job, which ended up being one of my favorite episodes to date.

{Warning: Spoiler Alert ahead}

The ep starts with Lisa and her family at a spoof event of Walking with Dinosaurs where she discovers her favorite young adult literature author.  However, this “author” confesses to Lisa that she’s only the cover author; the books are really written by a machine of independent lit students and a team of publishing execs who do market research to find out what will sell, then churn out the sequels in droves.  Bart and Homer catch wind of the idea, deciding to write and market a YA novel Ocean’s Eleven style, with a look alike Andy Garcia as the publishing executive.

When Lisa discovers Homer and Bart are doing it for the money (to the tune of a cool million) and not the love of the craft, she challenges that she, too, will write a novel that children like her will adore.  While Bart and Homer’s team churn out a creative masterpiece in about a month, Lisa finds herself unable to get past the written words “Chapter 1”.

Finally, the book is ready to be published, only to find that the publisher has changed the entire integrity of their book and all the hard work they’ve put into it.  Both startled and crushed by this, the crew endeavors to undergo a second mission: to break into the publishing house and make sure their original work goes to print.

What I found so endearing about this episode was the twist, when Bart and Homer’s creative crew discover that the integrity of their written work is more important to them than the original gain of money.  How true that is for all independent artists, of any type!  Very few authors, maybe an estimate of 3-5%, are blockbuster, New York Times Best-selling writers, and actually make their living on writing alone.  The rest of us do it simply for the love we have of words and storytelling.  Only a small percentage of the American population will ever even read what we write, and so the gratification that comes with completing a masterpiece for us 95-percenters is almost entirely personal–for the joy and satisfaction it gives us to do so.

Retaining aesthetic integrity is important to any artist that respects their craft, and, as The Simpsons episode so brilliantly showed, that integrity is always rewarded.  As cliche as it sounds, staying true to yourself and your work means the money will come, even if only eventually.  Perhaps I’m living in a fairy tale, but dreams do come true, especially if you believe in what you’re doing.  If you love it, others are bound to love it too, even if motivated only by your own enthusiasm.

While this episode showed the horrors of publishing, it also showed what’s brilliant about embracing a craft as well, and the gratification that comes from completing something you know inside is great.  There’s no self-esteem booster like knowing a completed project is as good, or better, than what you set out to make it.  And sharing it, in its original form, with others is a pretty great feeling, too.

Bearing that in mind, I can’t wait for May 1st, so I can share my masterpiece with all of you.  Kudos to the writers of this Simpsons episode, all of whom probably have endured many of the same frustrations they depict 🙂  Enjoy!

http://www.hulu.com/embed/8cYM4hyXFglG7UTJD-EggQ

(If you can’t view this video, click here.)

Writing the Previously Unwritten

“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”— Toni Morrison

There wasn’t a day in my life that I wanted to do something other than write.  Even when pursuing my “illustrious singing career”, I wrote my own material.  I had a voice I was always desperate to use, and not using it was never an option.  I’ve written in a journal for as long as I can remember, and when I couldn’t hash out exactly how I felt there, I wrote prose, verse by verse, until the universe understood me.

My work became very dark and brooding.  I couldn’t figure out how to convey exactly what it was I was feeling, but I understood that feeling was never very…happy.  Love was always unrequited, I was always invisible or underappreciated, and my self-esteem was poor, to say the very least.  I found my favorite authors were those who wrote about death and mystery, primarily Edgar Allan Poe.  I was confused about my identity, and due to some dark happenings in my childhood, I frequently debated if I was a child or an adult–and this confusion was evidenced in my writing.  But my work was praised by teachers and fellow peers alike.  My first real criticism didn’t come until college.
Quite frankly, my creative writing professor cited my work as “troubled”, saying: “Musing about one’s dark and embittered past is not only cliched–it is boring to its very core.  Find your center and write from there.”  I got a C+ in that course–my first C in anything other than math or physical education.  And I was crushed.  Because not only was I passionate about writing and had never conceivably failed at it, but I was also (and still am) very much the perfectionist and anything less than a B in a subject I adored was crippling to me.
Edgar Allan Poe

This led to a determination to hone my craft.  Truthfully, honing your craft is something you never actually finish; it’s an ongoing feat of perseverance.  I found a mentor who has been a major factor in the development of The Grim, and of my writing.  I discovered that all the unaddressed elements of my childhood I had suppressed were surfacing in my work, much in the same way as it was understood Poe’s did.

I am still compared to Poe by my mentor who finds my work just as thought-provoking and macabre as Poe’s haunted tales.  A short story I wrote, The Haunting, was compared to Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, which of course is one of my favorite Poe stories.  I wrote The Haunting as a contest submission for a major writing magazine.  The premise was to write a short story, no more than 15-pgs single spaced, retelling an old classic in a new way.  The classic could be a short story, play, poem, movie or novel–just as long as it was older than 1960 and had been legitimately lauded as a “classic” in its industry.  I took second place.  I chose–well, I’ll let you read it.  Comment below and tell me which classic you think it is…
I am in my millionth edit of The Grim, motivated, as always, by my first real criticism–and the desire to tell a story I hadn’t heard before.  I never expected the story I’d tell though would be my own…

Short Stories to Film

So I’ve been working on a short story collection, and it got me thinking about the short story greats.  And because I so love film as well as the written word, that got me thinking about short stories that were made into films.  Yes, we’ve kinda talked about this before–we all know there’s no shortage of incredible novels made into movies.  But being that short stories are so often underrated, I thought it would be interesting to find out what short stories (or novellas) had been recognized by the film industry.  That being said, the market was kinda loaded–by Stephen King.  And why wouldn’t it be?  His work is the stuff of written genius, whether or not you like being terrified to death.  So here is a short compilation of amazing short stories successfully converted to award-winning film.

1.  Securing Tom Cruise as your leading man seems to be the first ingredient in the recipe for success.  In Minority Report, he surfaces as a futuristic, ambitious chief of police of the Precrime Unit, eager to clear his name when the “pre-cogs”– psychic beings who detect premeditated murders–foresee him killing a man he has never met.  The film is only loosely adapted from a short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
      The movie is a home-run of sci-fi excitement, satisfying with both action and drama.  The author is also responsible for the movie adaptations of Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford, based on his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; and Total Recall (1990), based on another sci-fi short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.  Philip Dick is known for his engaging futuristic sci-fi premises, and captures audiences with inventive plots and mutant characters living alongside their human counterparts.

2.  Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been adapted for film so frequently that I think even the industry has lost count.  The short story is about Ichabod Crane, a lanky school teacher in the town of Sleepy Hollow who is abducted by the Headless Horseman, a phantom ghost rider whose favorite pastime is swiping heads off innocent townspeople.  Each adaptation has different variations due to producer vision, and none ever sticks very closely to the original work.  However, my two favorite versions are Sleepy Hollow (1999) starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, and Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), a short film combining Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) and Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

      The Johnny Depp version is so appealing for its dark comedic wit, typical of its director, Tim Burton, with whom Depp has worked frequently in his career (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland to name a few).  Being a big kid at heart and a huge fan of animated films, I largely enjoy the Disney adaptation, delightful for its colorful characters, narration and innovative music.  The video included is of the signature song in Ichabod, sung by Brom Bones, the town bully, about the Headless Horseman’s yearly visit to the Hollow.

 

3.  Everyone is pretty familiar with Stephen King’s work, but there are many who don’t know that King is responsible for many works which don’t have fear and horror as an undertone.  Fall from Innocence: The Body is a novella originally published by King in his compilation work Different Seasons in 1982 and spawned the cult classic Stand by Me (1986), starring Corey Feldman and the infamous River Phoenix.  In the story, the narrator reminisces about he and his childhood friends finding the body of a missing boy on the outskirts of town.
      There are some who feel the King work is done little justice in the movie, but I beg to differ.  Of course, I feel written works allow for more detail and integrity, but that doesn’t imply that done correctly a movie can’t emulate both visual and poetic mastery.  Stand by Me certainly holds up to King’s novella and adequately earns its placement in cult history.

4.  Stephen King again accomplishes creative genius with Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, also included in the Different Seasons compilation.  Many critics find this novella to be King’s greatest work: the story is about Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover.  Told through the eyes of Red, a fellow inmate and eventual friend of the banker, Andy’s life, ambition, and influence on the prison and inmates is illuminated.  The film, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), starring Tim Robbins (Andy) and Morgan Freeman (Red), is also lauded as one the greatest films in history, earning seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
       I am in love with this movie, easily one of my favorites–and mostly my favorites are musicals!  This film has so many great moments and the cast blends magically.  Tim Robbins really demonstrates his acting chops in this film, and the drama of the character’s struggle is emotionally engaging.  While the film deters in many places from the original story, both are classic depictions of the human heart and soul.

There are, of course, a few more short story/film conversions that I’d love to include here, but for now, these are enough.  I’m sure you’ve found plenty here to comment about, and I can’t wait to see and hear what you have to say!

What are some of your favorite short stories?  Which do you think should be or have been made into film?

Friendship Anniversary

At first, I struggled with this post.  I didn’t have any idea what I was going to write about.  And then, yesterday, I celebrated a 13-year friendship with a remarkable woman.  The Tigger to my Pooh…
My best friend and I have been friends since senior year in high school.  She was the new girl (as she often was since her mother was military), and she was in four of my seven classes.  It started feeling like she was following me around because I saw the girl everywhere.  So after a few weeks of this, I finally decided to approach her.  I wasn’t at all diplomatic about it (smile), and surprisingly, she was receptive to my forward confrontation.  We’ve been friends since that day, October 11, 1998, and neither of us has forgotten it.

Now, I know it sounds odd to celebrate a “friendship anniversary”, and we may be one of the few people on the planet who do it, but there’s a method to the madness.  You see, she and I had an amazing senior year together, and there were some incredible memories generated in that small amount of time.  But, when graduation and senior week were over, and all the graduation parties had either been crashed by unsuspecting parents or broken up by bored night cops, it was time to say goodbye.  My besti has been in the military since the year we graduated; I see her one week a year, usually around New Year’s–until the war started, and she found herself headed overseas every 14-18 months.

This last separation from her has felt the longest because both incredibly wonderful and horrible things have happened to me in the last year’s time.  I’ve struggled with the inability to reach her in moments of great distress or happiness, and harbored animosity with the U.S. government for taking her from me, especially when I needed her most.  The majority of her duty stations have been 3000 miles away, and when she’s deployed, the distance is horrifically longer–communication is almost non-existent.  She missed the birth of my son; I missed her college graduation.  It feels like we’re light years apart.
And then there’s these incredible moments where we’ll get an unexpected care package from each other: I’ll send a Christmas deployment package; she’ll send me Valentine’s Day cupcakes special delivery.  It’s these endearing moments that carry us to the next time we see each other, and I remember why she’s my besti–because she’s thinking of me no matter where she is, and I am always thinking of her.
We don’t celebrate our “anniversary” just because it’s something cheesy to do; we celebrate it because we recognize that every moment of our time on this earth together is precious.  Any deployment could result in a Marine knocking on my door with his hat in his hand and a somber grimace on his face.  I know while I’m sleeping, she’s watching the borders for me and the millions of others in this country who take our freedom and our liberties for granted.  And when I start feeling embittered about our separation, I remember the sacrifice she’s making and instead try to be grateful that she is one of few who was willing to take the risk.  She has re-enlisted two or three times since the war began when she could have taken herself out of harm’s way.  Instead she chose to remain in service, and that courage and conviction reinforces our friendship every day.

Thank every veteran or serviceman you see.  You never know the sacrifice their families and friends endure at the expense of your freedom.  So happy 13th anniversary, Besti!  And may God grant us many more.