out of the ashes

Saturday, April 26, 2014

THE Hardest Thing To Do!

I'm writing a script based on Marvin. A spec script. Should be around 100-110 pages I hear tell. I'm already too wordy or actioney, or something. So I have to start trimming. In my latest scene I have consumed 5 pages. Condensing, condensing, condensing. Cutting a lot of the good parts.

Here's the chapter from the book that I kind of wept over as I...CONDENSED. All that good stuff...GONE! The camera doesn't want to see any of the non-visual beauty, lol.

Maribeth Harris, the governor’s daughter, twenty-one come September, five-four, maybe five, blonde, eccentric, brilliant but too young to know it, a lover of lost or hopeless causes, beautiful in a James Dean sort of way, and a terrible driver. Someone Anselm could make use of in his two times two equals ten method of calculation with these beings.
Angels are no smarter than men or women—simply more obedient, less distracted, and much better traveled.
He’s going to have to vacate the underside of that dock. But, where should I put him? Have him put himself? The rescue missions are no good, he’d wind up killing someone.
Anselm sat deep in thought atop a stone bench. The bench stood amidst a bed of dazzling, colorful flowers running alongside the narrow asphalt road winding through Cheesman Park, a few blocks to the east of the downtown area.  It was nine-fifteen in the morning. A Colorado morning, a Denver morning that was impossibly exquisite—resting as the city did just below the ceiling of the world like a pearl in a silver mount.
Marvin was sleeping soundly, with a spike holding him securely down. Roget had Amy’s hand in his, even if she was unaware of it. The situation was two-thirds under control, but where to put Marvin? Where might he be planted that he could truly blossom?
A sparrow with a worm in its mouth shot in a blur from the sky and perched on Anselm’s knee, though in the physical world his tiny claws clung firmly to thin air—six inches above the cool stone surface of the bench. The little creature rested for a moment and studied him, offering the angel, perhaps, a piece of her chicks’ breakfast with a quick twist of her head that made the worm’s body whiplash. No? She whisked away again toward her nest in an elm thirty feet away, leaving the angel to sit quietly, considering Marvin’s housing dilemma. 
Anselm failed to notice Maribeth Harris racing along the road on her way through the park to visit Maggie. The governor’s daughter was in a hurry, as usual, and drove her Mercedes coupe, top down, stereo blasting Phish for all the world to enjoy along with her.  Maggie, a close friend from Denver University, was leaving for the airport at ten-thirty, and Maribeth was late to taxi her there. Seventy-five feet away from Anselm, her cell phone sang out from its pocket in her purse, a monstrosity of denim and sequins lying on the passenger seat beside her.
“Damn, that’s probably Mags…” She reached with her right hand, yanked the top open and thrust the hand into the well of it. Searching through the contents for the phone, shifting her eyes from the road ahead to the purse. Windshield and road beyond quickly.  Purse. Windshield glaring. Purse again. Edge of pavement at forty-five miles per hour.
Anselm turned his head and watched as the flowers fell like soldiers under a withering barrage of machine gun fire. In a blink the front end of the roadster sheered the bench he was sitting on. It passed through him, over the grate and crunch of disintegrating cement, and came to a lurching stop on the decapitated remains of a fire hydrant five feet away.
The hiss and roar of five hundred gallons of water per minute blasting the bottom of the engine block quickly followed. The call on Maribeth’s phone went to a drowned out message.
“Hi, Mare. This is Mags. Just wondered if you were…Ohmagod, hold on, I just heard a horrible crash over in the park…”
Maribeth sat riveted to the seat back in the aftermath, her eyes like owl’s, hands in a death grip on the wheel, and her legs fully pistoned on the pedals—brake and accelerator, yin and yang. The torrent of water, unable to drive its way through the dense block and crinkled metal of the hood found its way out through other, more convenient orifices. It gushered sideways through the wheel wells in a spray to rival the bursting of Hoover Dam, and forward like a thousand fire hoses aimed point-blank at the smashed grill. It finally awakened her.
“Oh—shit!  Daddy’s going to kill me this time!”
This time was number three. The first was two years ago, at midnight, on a dare from Mags and Jonathon to run the diagonal across the park lawn. An officer was at the other end of the hypotenuse, sitting with the lights off in his patrol car. Daddy had to quietly fix the careless driving ticket. 
The second time was five months ago in broad daylight at five below zero, on black ice, here in the park, not far away. The Mercedes—Daddy’s that time—did a series of swift and graceful twirls, but to port as surely as if a strong tide had locked it in its grip. The sparkling snowcapped handrail of the bridge the car was about to cross brought the sleek, formerly undamaged SL to a halt.  Maribeth blamed the entire mishap on Mayor Copperfield’s legion of useless maintenance workers who hadn’t sanded and salted the road properly, and that was somewhat true. But she had been cruising along, again, toward Mag’s house, watching a jet silently swimming in a silver gleam thousands of feet above her. Thirty-five in a fifteen zone, with a jogger enjoying the frozen morning directly in her path, enjoying the passage of the jet herself as she ran. The lady survived with only a severe case of heart palpitations, but the driver’s side door of Richard Harris’ automobile required expensive surgery, and the bridge rail had to be replaced.
Careless driving. Reckless endangerment. Destruction of city property.
“That’s the last time, young lady!”
It seems it was not.
Leaving the thorny problem of Marvin for the moment, Anselm breezed the few feet to the roadster impaled on the remains of the hydrant. He found it curious, this incident. Had the young woman somehow seen him and aimed the vehicle directly at him?  Disregarded the damage that would be done to the fragile body of the car by the stone bench? Certainly she must have known she could not hurt him—if she had, in fact, seen him.
It was not unheard of that a physical being could at times catch a glimpse of a spirit. It had happened often enough on other worlds, and the writings of these people themselves documented the same here on planet Earth.
He hovered over her, then flitted his enormous wings and moved to the front outside the windscreen, wondering if she would react. She did not, at least to him. Maribeth bit her lower lip and stared straight ahead through the body of the angel in a kind of hypnotic vacancy. Anselm peered into her thoughts. Curious, indeed.
Damn! Damn, damn, DAMN! Stupid phone. Stupid, stupid me. How could I have…he’s going to murder me! Accident. This time just an accident. Wasn’t speeding. Too much.
Oh, Mother of God, help me.
Mother of God? But He has no mother, Anselm smiled. He is Mother. Poor Mary back there in Heaven having to blush at these prayers every other second for two thousand years. But who knows, he thought, maybe she’d run to the throne this time, red-faced, but moved by the plea. She carried a lot of weight back home, it was true. Such a sweet girl herself, with the fathomless heart of a mother. And her smile.  He’d listen if she asked.
Maribeth slammed the heels of her hands on the steering wheel after a few more long seconds of alternately cursing her luck and praying to anyone listening. She finally opened the door angrily. The water continued to jet out from beneath the car, creating a swimming pool in the remains of the flowerbed, overflowing in a merry stream onto the asphalt. She stepped into the soft ooze of mud, her left foot sinking into it up to her ankle. So long Prada flats.
A pair of bicyclists circling the park happened upon the scene and stopped immediately when they saw the Mercedes straddling the gush of water, the remains of the bench, the devastated flowerbed that had stood in her path. And they saw Maribeth looking down, trying to work her way out of the mud, muttering to herself. The man gently let his racer fall to the grass on the far side of the road, then ran to her on tiptoes through the stream as though it were hydrochloric acid.
        “You okay? What happened?” he asked from the edge of the pavement where he had stopped.
She raised her head and shot a look at him. Her blue eyes flashed imploringly. 
“I lost my shoe!”
Shoe? Anselm chuckled, leaning sideways with the tips of his wings lifting quickly, like an eagle readying for lift off.
“Shoe?” the man asked, slightly confounded.
“Here in the mud! God, they cost a fortune. I can’t believe this happened!”
“Do you need…your shoe? I’d think that’s the least of your worries. Are you all right? What happened?”
The female rider joined him at the edge of the pool of water on the pavement, grabbing hold of his muscled arm at the elbow. She lifted her Vuitton shades onto her brow and shook her head sadly. The woman appreciated Maribeth’s sense of loss. Expensive shoes, God forbid.
“I lost a Gucci once. I nearly cried. Well, I did,” she said to Maribeth.
“They’re Pradas! Brand new!”
“Oh, no. That’s simply tragic.”
“What about the car!” he said.
From the east, across the expanse of lawn, another young woman sprinted toward the scene in the bright sunlight. Anselm glanced over at her. She wore denim shorts, cuffed at the upper thigh, and a magenta blouse tied in a loose bowknot above her navel. The woman ran athletically, with long, barefoot strides, leaning forward. Her full lips formed an O as she sucked in air and handfuls of consternation. The red hair settled in tight curls against her high cheekbones when she came to a quick stop just outside the mud field.
“Ohmagod! What happened, Mare? How on earth did you manage this one?” she cried out.
“Exactly,” the male bicyclist said. This one. This one?
“Do we need a cop?” the Gucci asked incidentally. “My God, Pradas. You might as well just kiss them goodbye,” she raised her voice. “The water alone will have simply ruined the one stuck in the mud.”
Maribeth was busy tugging to free her foot, and at the same time keep the shoe locked halfway on it. The deluge continued, unmindful of the drama that had unfolded on its account. Anselm took it all in; the man afraid to de-cleat his own feet and go to the unfortunate girl’s assistance. His vacuous friend. The latest arrival hardly breathing heavier than if she’d ambled slowly across the park. The blonde named Maribeth who seemed less worried at the moment about the someone who was going to kill her than the necessity of retrieving a shoe.
“Oh God, Mags…I’m so sorry I was on my way over to your place and I knew I was late I was speeding just a little when the phone rang it was in my purse and I went to find it and lost the road and then my shoe my brand new Prada no less and Daddy’s going to friggin’ kill me. SHIT!”
That about said it all, in less time, too, than it had ever taken Maribeth to say, “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts.”
“Jeez-Louise, Mare. You and your driving. Here, let me help you get out.” Mags took a step forward through the water on the lawn to the beginning of the super-saturated mud pit and her friend. She leaned far forward, extending her hand.
“Don’t worry about Richie. I’ll make up some cock and bull story to get you out of this one. Here, take hold.”
Richie? The murderer-to-be? Daddy? Anselm brought a finger to his chin and wondered. He looked at the expensive car, the girl. Where could this go?
Maribeth was nearly calf-deep, refusing to abandon the shoe.  Mags drew back, grimacing and pulling. Digging her heels in and grimacing. Pulling and slipping.
“Hey you over there. Can ya’ maybe give me a hand?”
The biker looked quickly at his friend. Not directed to her, he was pretty certain. He looked back at Mags, and then lowered his eyes to the flood of water beneath his cleats.
Anselm leapt from the hood and swooped behind Mags. He reached around her with both arms and placed his hands on top of hers, then as easily as if he were lifting a flower from a vase, brought Maribeth Harris out of the mud, shoe miraculously intact. His body and wings enveloped the two young women, which sent a momentary shudder racing through him when they fell through him to the grass.
Mags felt a blinding sensation the moment Anselm’s hand had touched hers. Something bordering on frightening, for those few seconds, heretofore outside her sensory experience in the physical world. Frightening, yet strangely joyful and comforting. Star hot, yet frigid. Soft, yet diamond hard. Falling backward through the angel’s chest and abdomen, the warm waves of Tahiti met the fury of Cape Horn’s. Her vision tingled from the shock of a flashbulb erupting, her ears picked up Brahms and AC/DC, intermixed and lovely.  Sensible. Shockingly impossible.
The angel stepped away, uncertain in his universe of simpler makeup and emotions for the first time. Accomplish the task assigned, but be wary of coming into contact with the fruit of the tree. He shook the uncomfortable feeling away, but he wondered at its power, the alluring aspect of it. He thought of the Angel Of Light.
Maribeth, soaked and covered in mud, rolled off Mags, who lay still and bedazzled on her back. The governor’s only daughter raised herself to her hands and knees.
"Gosh, Mags, thanks so much. So much. I thought I was going to sink with my sh…Mags?”
According to Maribeth’s reliable fate in times like this, a black and white appeared on the scene. The officer pulled to a stop at the curb and flipped the cherry top on. He recognized the car across the road in the demolished garden, closed his eyes and shook his head. Her again. Officer Thompson grabbed his log notebook, opened the door, and stepped out.
Gucci reached him first.
“No one was injured, officer. The woman just lost a shoe.” She wanted to say more, but the important fact had been disclosed. She smiled and lowered her shades back into place on the bridge of her nose.
“Well, I mean after she hit the water thing…”
He left her there constructing the next words and walked across to her friend.
“What happened here?” he asked.
“Not sure, sir. We got here after she plowed over the bench and the hydrant. I was just going to call and report it…”
“Thanks.” Thompson left him in the water and made his way to dry ground north of the carnage, then across the lawn in a wide circle. He noted the woman lying unconscious on the edge of the mud pool.
“Does she need an ambulance? Is she hurt?” he asked Maribeth. “You, huh?” he added.
“No, sir.  She…” Maribeth looked down on Mags, then back at Thompson. “I guess she’s just dazed…or something. She came to help me after, after…” Yes, what? After I went for my phone, lost control, again, and trashed the park? Again?
He bent down, checked Mag’s wide-open eyes, felt for pulse, then tapped on her cheek with his fingertips. “You okay?”
Mags came to life with a gasp.
“Jee-zus Jones! What was that?” She raised herself to a sitting position quickly, as though a spring had released its energy beneath her back, and turned her head in rapid circles looking for, for. For something.
Thompson stood up and called dispatch to send a tow truck and a city crew to the park. Afterward he peered down at Maribeth sitting beside her friend.
“So, how’d you manage this one, Governor Harris?”
“Ha, ha, ha. Very funny. Look, it wasn’t my fault.” She thought quickly. “A dog came out of nowhere, right in front of me. I had to swerve to miss it. I swear.”
“Speeding again, right?”
“No! That’s the truth,” answered the child with her fingers in the cookie jar. Something better. A sudden hurricane force wind behind her. She passed out momentarily, fearing she’d hit and killed the poor animal. A sudden defect in the accelerator cable…or however the apparatus was connected and worked.
“I went for the brake, but somehow missed it and hit the accelerator in…stead?”
As Maribeth tried to lie her way out of this one, Anselm looked on, absently rubbing the tingling in his arms with his fingers.
The governor’s daughter. I like her. I think Marvin might, too. Wonder where the palace is?

The situation was under control, now. With a little nudging, a little direction, the two of them would soon enough cross paths. Anselm took it upon himself to make certain the governor did not do the poor girl in when he found out about “this one” in the meantime.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


In 1998 I sat down at the computer one morning, inspired. I wanted to write a book. I was 49 years-old.

It's true that I'd written two books many years prior to that day, one in which a man winds up in Hell for no apparent reason, and tries to get out (he did). I wrote most of it longhand, and still have portions of it stuffed away in a box. It wasn't really gripping, and so I went on to other things as the years passed by.

My next venture in writing took me to a street in downtown Denver where a man happens upon a gangland car chase/shoot-out/terrible crash. Conveniently, all the bad guys die. This man, an early morning jogger, nervously walks to the scene, rather confused, as any of us might be. In the back seat is a briefcase which he retrieves and takes home. Hmm...

There is another witness. An indigent by the name of Marvin Fuster, a thoroughly disreputable character. He follows the jogger home, very curious about what is in that briefcase. Cash, of course. Lots of it he discovers as he spies through a window. Marvin's quest is to get into that house and steal that money.

I killed off the jogger; had him run over by, of all things, a city bus one day. I didn't need him any longer. Smiley face. I needed Marvin the bum and the guy's wife. To make a long story short, Marvin follows her everywhere because she has hidden the money. One day in frustration he corners her--in her car, in a lonely place--and he makes his move. Being old, but not immune to a seriously strong testosterone attack, he tries to assault her in the back seat. Screw the money for a moment or two. The woman has a pistol, and, well, Marvin loses his pride and joy. I mean at the time it sounded like a great plot device.

Moving forward many pages, Marvin redeems himself when he saves the woman's new boyfriend  one dark and stormy night. The marriage between her and the jogger evidently wasn't very happy. That was the end of Marvin in the book. I didn't need him any longer, either. The woman and boyfriend simply take the money and move out to, naturally, Southern California where they encounter a whole new set of problems. The mob doesn't give up easily.

I finished the novel--actually closer in length to a novelette--became disinterested in writing, and so stuffed the manuscript pages into the box with the earlier one.

More years flew by until I had that vision to create a new, world-class novel. The main character was clear as crystal (yes, I know that's cliche) in my mind. Very old, thoroughly disreputable, but lovable. I resurrected Marvin and threw him back onto the streets of downtown Denver...

I went back to school in 2005. Seven years had passed since I wrote that opening scene. I was stuck, and so I took a class on "Writing the Novel." I learned a lot. An outline? I need one of those? Story arc? What's that? Rise and fall of tension?

I completed the first draft within two semesters, and knew, just KNEW it was brilliant. It wasn't. Another smiley face. Still, I had Marvin, and I also had a young woman named Maribeth Harris, who except for her age was very much like dear Marvin the dreamer. I shelved the manuscript after about a hundred, "Thanks, but not for us..." answers to my horribly-written query letters. I was disgusted, and so began my next book to alleviate the pain of rejection.

I finished that next book--"One Year On Meade Street"; went through the whole "Thanks, but not for us..." routine again. It was brilliant, too. No, it was.

Several more years passed, and I pulled Marvin out of mothballs, determined to replot, re-characterize the secondary cast, tone down the language somewhat (Thanks, Trish). In 2012 I completed the new Marvin and said, "Screw agents. I'm going to self-pub," something I SWORE I'd never do as I wrote that first draft many years earlier.

Last year, 2013, I entered it into the ABNA contest. Big money for the winner(s). The breakthrough I'd been waiting for. I had to write a pitch, though, first off. Oh, God help me. Blurbs and query letters are the twin demons from hell! I didn't make the first cut.

2014 comes rolling around and I retitle the book, enter it into the Romance category. It IS a romance, essentially. Just a Fantasy/Romance. I made the cut with a new, splendid pitch. How on earth did I manage THAT? I was stoked. Prayed that the one thing I'm not very good at would be good enough to get me to the PW reviewers in the quarter finals. That one thing is opening chapters--getting the ball rolling effectively. It's so damned hard for me. I stated publicly that whichever way the Vine reviews went regarding the first 5,000 words, I'd be fine--secretly praying I would squeak through.

Monday the announcement was posted, listing those authors and their books that made it to the next round. I knew something was wrong when I returned home from work, and Pammy wasn't beaming with joy. I wasn't on the list. I fell into a deep funk and crawled up into a ball for a few days. I'd failed. All those years, the hundred first chapter drafts. Everything, including me as a writer, into the toilet. A serious case of self-pity. Smiling more there. We're all allowed to do that for a short while.

Still, reviews of the opening couple of chapters would be posted at Createspace, and I was curious. Yesterday they came up. I was ready to say, "Yeah, and what do you know, anyway?" I had my mental hatchet in hand...

Maybe there is some truth in what these two Vine Reviewers had to offer. Unlike my friends and relatives, they don't know me from Adam, and evidently they read and review lots of books. I'm okay now, but I won't rewrite the novel. I don't have the money to get it professionally edited, and so it's a done deal I guess. When I wrote THE END in 2012, I meant it. The only thing that confuses me is the statement concerning punctuation and grammar. I worked very hard at both.

Oh God, I don't think I could rewrite that book!

Here are the reviews, at any rate.

I'm kind of laughing (humbly). Walter Brennan? I saw Robin Williams, lol! Marvin is crazy, for God's sake! But okay. What do I know?

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The basic concept is great here, the idea of an old and thoroughly undesirable guy infatuated with a young beauty and being guided by an angelic being...

What aspect needs the most work?

The trouble that I find is that somehow Marvin just is not emerging as the character he is: old, alcoholic, delusional. True, he must have a paradoxical charm about him and that is being somewhat portrayed. I see him as a character who would be portrayed by the classic character actor, Walter Brennan who was able to combine age and shabbiness with a sympathetic aura.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

It does need work, but it also has, in my mind, a truly great potential. Good luck.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

There are a couple of very strong elements in this excerpt.

First: the author does a great job of evoking a dream-like state. While Marvin is 'in between' life and death he takes a journey that is quite magical. The picture the author creates is much like a Dali painting-- very stream of consciousness and meandering. Wonderful stuff.

Second: the author has a way with descriptive phrases. Several times in the excerpt the writing is amazing. The words and phrases the author puts together are neither trite or boring. I was frequently stopped in my tracks by some of the sentences I encountered.

What aspect needs the most work?

There are some parts that are not very clear-- and not because they take place in the dreamlike portion of the excerpt.

For example, the opening sequence is just plain confusing-- what the heck is Marvin doing? He's crawling out of dumpster? Into a dumpster? What?

The writing actually becomes more clear when he enters the strange netherworld while in the hospital.

This excerpt needs a great deal of proofreading to work out the kinks. While it's great to put the reader into a fugue state when you are intending to do so, it's not so great when you do it inadvertently.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Great creativity and writing that is almost transcendent in places.

This author can clearly write and has a very particular and engaging style. However, they need to take care of some detail work and tighten up the grammar and punctuation in places.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Netanya Danrath and Inspiration

I happened back upon Netanya Davrath singing "Bailero" from Joseph Cantaloube's marvelous folk composition, Chants de' Auvergne, and brought it up at Youtube. That reminded me of a scene in Marvin (The Redemption of Marvin Fuster/The Dance of the Spiral Virgins-Amazonbooks) that I wrote a few years ago in the revision, drawing inspiration from Netanya's beautiful rendition of this great piece.
Marvin passed Bunsmeier’s Fine Apparel as he went along in a daze. He walked by the front display windows of the upscale Men’s store, then stopped suddenly and backtracked. More mannequins dressed in fine suits, eyes of empty contentment looking outward, oblivious. He mimicked the pose of one of them as he feasted on the elegant attire it wore. There he was, or could be, outfitted like a banker or a thousand dollar an hour attorney.
I could steal that goddam’ suit if I put my mind to it. He turned his head and checked the street behind him. No cops. No hecklers.
Maybe I just will.
And maybe you should just get your ass to that mansion. Maybe that’s what you should do.
Well, he didn’t say when…and why the hell am I goin’ there without shoes or socks, lookin’ like a basket of assholes, anyway? This won’t take long, then I’ll show up an’ knock on the door like I was King Farouk. Maybe that’s what that thing meant.
That is precisely not what that thing meant.
As Marvin surveyed the movements of the customers inside, two salesmen swooning over them, he began to ease his way to the door. Anselm was there waiting. When a voice from the far corner of the showroom distracted the customers and the sales staff, Marvin reached for the handle. He grabbed hold of the glistening chrome, but then stopped when a blinding flash burst in front of his eyes. He froze.
The thread inside him had awakened, slipping across a different, deeper region of his brain, burrowing now, touching a forgotten memory, or a dissipated dream—a life lived, perhaps, in a different eternity. Musical notes, at first. Only notes—rising from a soft and steadily growing field; spreading and pushing at the horizon in its birth. Flowers, then, with sun-swept faces of amber, pink, azure and crimson, raising their thousand leafy arms, waving at something overhead, or simply reaching skyward as their numbers grew, like a wave traversing a hidden reef. Endless fields growing and stretching in every direction as far as his eye could see. And then a high, clear voice beckoning him from everywhere at once.
Ne pas errer, mon Coeur, ne pas errer…
He recognized the lilting music, the soprano’s singing like a crystal knife opening his heart, moving the same note from word to word to word with clarity and an otherworldly beauty. His heart leapt, and he released his grip on the handle. Against all reason he had understood the command, and he knew whose voice had sung it.
Marvin stood immobile, blinded in the third dimension, immersed in the fourth with perfect vision. Anselm lifted a finger and his charge began the return. As the fields softened into blurs, the voice sang from far, far away in the fading mists.
My shepherd, the water divides us.
I cannot cross.
Sing to me, then, my love.
Come to me with your music
And your youth…your youth.
Yes, yes, I will. I swear it.
He turned and left the entryway, continuing south along the street, unmindful of his surroundings, thinking of nothing but the piercing beauty of the voice. Amy had sung to him, and oh, how sweet the melody had been. He knew she was at his destination, waiting for him, and he quickened his pace.
Some sense of embarrassment prevented Marvin from approaching the mansion with confidence at first...
What transpires at The Governor's Mansion is PRICELESS:) Marvin's metamorphosis begins:)