Anyway Rick Steves has been putting out lots of interesting travel literature about the ins and outs of traveling in Europe for over twenty years. He has covered the Continent from before the fall of the Berlin Wall and has does an excellent job of providing great travel advice about the opening of Eastern Europe as a travel destination. He even gets himself invoved in political or what might be described as political-cultural commentary. Such was the case last Monday when he posted a list of newspapers that were delving into the recent election and how it was being perceived in European capitols. These articles make an excellent read and are worth checking out because the underscore how the new president-elect is being received in Europe.
There is a great website put up by Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP) of NASA called Astronomy Picture of the Day. Everyday a fantastic picture is posted, concerning some sort of visual image from outer space. Sometimes the pictures are even taken from the ground with the naked eye. Other pictures are taken from huge telescopes, while some of the most spectacular images come from the Hubble and other spacecraft.
On November 4, 2008 history was made in the United States with the dramatic victory of Barrack Obama over his rival John McCain. Today president-elect Barrack Obama is headed for the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How did the Democratic candidate beat the ever-popular Vietnam War hero and P.O.W.
Very simply it boiled all down to mathematics and a handful of battleground states. Over the past few years the United States has been divided into red and blue areas and battleground states. The red areas vote Republican, the blue areas vote Democratic and the battleground states, which include Ohio, florida, Indiana, Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado can go either way. This year Barrack Obama did very well in almost every battle ground state, thus assuring the Illinois senator a solid victory.
That’s the red and blue of it. How this came to be, I’m not exactly sure, but this is how our polotics will be defined, by afew crucial battleground states.
This is how my eye’s are going to look by the whole time this whole affair is done, provided I make it that far. I have written 1900 words today a pace that would give me a total of 57,000 words if I can write at that pace for thirty days straight. If today is any indication it will definitely be a struggle.
My first chapter came easy, but I struggled through the second chapter of my writing. I had expected to get more done because I have the day off, but I piddled around doing this and that and that and this. One of big distractions was going to other blogs and websites and making comments about my first day of NaMoWriMo, not a good way to begin the day. Anyway I hope tomorrow goes better than today. Fortunately, I get a break because of the change in time. How thoughtful that they could move the week in which we change time back a week just so NaMo writers could get an extra hour in. That was very thoughtful.
So long for now,
Here is the sailing ship, called the Friendship. It’s official sailing classification is a ship. This means that the boat has three masts, which are all square-rigged. This boat is a replica that was built in 1998. The original ship was built in 1797 and traded all around the world until it was seized by the british during the war of 1812.
This new replica makes a great tour (when it is port) for anyone who is visiting Salem or the greater Boston area. Not only do you get to walk on board the ship, but you get to visit the custom house, where Nathaniel Hawthorne once worked. It is just several hundred feet away. These sites are part of the Salem National Maritime Historical Site in Salem, Massachusetts.
This tour is a traveler’s bargain, for once you have forked out your five dollars you get to go two seperate walking tours through the maritme site. Both tours are very good, but I particularly enjoyed this one for you got to spend about a half an hour on the Friendship.
Here is another replica sailing ship. This is the Amistad made famous by the movie. It was built in New London, Connecticut, just a few years before the Frienship was reconstructed. It is called a cargo schooner and in this case its cargo it was slaves. The ship sailed into Portland Harbor this summer and was berthed at the Maine State Pier, where visitors could take a tour.
I was in Salem last week just in time for
“haunted happenings” in October. These take place in October and the whole affair is like some sort of strange morf between Halloween and “The Salem Witch Trials”. Whatever the reasoning, the combination works, because people from Boston and all over New England come in droves to celebrate. Reportedly, the place gets very busy on weekends leading up to the “big day” or night actually, which falls on a Friday night. However, I was in town on Tuesday, so things were quiet, but still the town was all decked out for the “Night Before All Saints Day”, better known as Halloween. Still it was fun to wander around and check the place out. I had some business to attend to in Boston, so I left at 5 PM.
Instead of concentrating on the solemn history of the Witch Trials (more about that later) I headed for Derby Wharf and the
Salem Maritime Historic Site, where for five American dollars, I received a grand tour of the Friendship ( a three-masted square rigged ship) the Customs House (where Nathaniel Hawthorne once worked) and the Derby House, where the prosperous merchant lived. This part of Salem’s history is quite extensive, but usually overshadowed by the infamous Witch Trials.
Why we are so attracted to the macabre, I cannot say, but this is certainly the case here in Salem.
Why I write?
I’m more of a visual person that a literary one, but still I found out that sometimes I had to write about my art to explain it to the world.
Was this really necessary? I think so, though it sounds kind of hokey, I’m aware of that. But really it was a part of getting the message across. So I kept writing in a journal to accompany many of the images that I was constantly making in my sketchbooks and drawing books. This went on for ten years or maybe longer.
Then in the fall of 2003 at age 50, I made my first journey to Europe. It was a real eye opener, as I roamed from one old world cobblestone city to another. I started in Copenhagen, then journied through Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and back to Germany again. I ended up in Frankfurt; a new city courtesy of Allied bombers, where I boarded an IcelandicAir plane and flew back to the U.S.
This picture best expresses some of the things I experienced, while walking around Prague. This city is a gateway to Eastern Europe and nowhere is that better seen than on the marvellous Gothic Bridge that spans the Vltava River.
Prague is an eerie city and a photographer’s delight. I made many photograph’s while I was here but nothing describes my experience better than this photograph.
Upon my return to the good ole USA, I started writing. Everyday I was up and at it, as if I was writing for a living. After a month of this, I had to go back to work, but finally last month I sold and published the first thing that I wrote upon my return to the U.S. It is called from “West To East” and here is the link. http://www.cstn.org/reports/europe/bus_europe_2008.html
In short this is how I became a part-time writer.
Before the Internet
Before the internet came rolling around way back when, books were an important way of discovering strange worlds that were unknown to us in our day-to-day routines, which most of us lead. And as you go further back in time, before the TV network news, movies and the color photographs, you might find that the written word had an added importance in telling people about the strange worlds that existed across the seven seas and into the interior of some of the most isolated spots on the planet. Our world would have been a whole lot poorer, if it wasn’t for the likes of such writers as Jonathon Swift, Jules Vernes, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelley or William Shakespeare.
Cache Lake Country
For me, one of the most vivid books of my youth was Cache Lake Country, which was written by John J. Rowlands and illustrated by Henry B. Kane. I grew up in central Maryland where the winters were not so severe and not all too long. So to read about two men who spent an entire year in the North Woods of Ontario, Canada was spell-bounding to say the least. The most fascinating part of their tale was their life on snowshoes, which lasted approximately from December till April. The fact that no photographs are part of this book, only adds to the mystique of time and place, even though the manuscript was published in 1947, when cameras were well in fashion.
When I wrote Le Loup de Garou (see previous post), I borrowed from two parts of the Cache Lake book. One part of the short story is influenced by the account of a real-life lumberjack, who gets turned around on one of the coldest nights of the winter and spends most of the night outdoors attempting to gain his bearings. Finally, he comes across a lighted cabin, but not before developing a minor case of frostbite. And then there is the title, which comes from a French-Canadian legend in regards to a wolf-man type of creature that haunts the North Woods at night. So there it is in a nutshell, on how to be influenced by real life experiences, even though they might only appear in book form.
No not really, but Christmas time is a great occasion for storytelling and all those stories need not be about nutcrackers and sugar plum fairies. In fact, if you step back and take a close look at some of the tall tales that circulate on these longest of winter nights, you will find that quite a few delve into the darkness of men’s souls. From Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, innovative storytellers have been more than willing to celebrate the Yule time with a grisly tale. And guess what……they have been very successful at capturing our attention.
Recently, Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds posted a Christmas Flash Fiction challenge. In this quest, he suggested that interested participants write a 2,000 word horror story about Christmas. To put things in his own words: “The holidays are in fact ripe with horror — meat and candy, mythological creatures who spy on you, winter hellscapes, animated toys. So many options for terror!”
My response ran a little over the suggested 2,000 word limit, but here it is anyway, a dark Christmas tale from the Canadian North Woods.
Le Loup Garou (the French-Canadian Werewolf)
a Short Story by Henri Bauhaus
The old timers said that the winters in the spruce forests of Northern Ontario were not as cold as they used to be. According to these elderly gents, there once was a time, when the Wendigo River would freeze solid as a rock from Thanksgiving till Easter. The frigid winter would even solidify Jim McKenzie Falls, a twelve foot high rock ledge that ran the breadth of the northward flowing river. They also often lamented that on some nights it would get so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground.
But there was no need to tell Sam Wiggins that…for he learned all about the awesome North Woods winter, the hard way. The unfortunate event took place on an icy December night, when the trees of the forest were going snap, crackle and pop, as the temperature plunged well below zero. So cold were these solstice nights that not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Sam’s boss man, Patrick Munster, had given Sam and his crew both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. But in the year of our Lord, 1925, Christmas fell on a Sunday, so for the Monday following the most revered holiday, Mr. Cargill expected all twelve loggers to be present and accounted for at 8 a.m. at the Wendigo branch of the Tamarack Paper company. It mattered nil that Monday was Boxing Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen was nigh. To the delight of the paper bosses, Christmas had conveniently fallen on a weekend and come hell or high water Patrick Munster was going to get a week of work from his hardy gang. before the new year rolled in.
The loggers had put in a good day on the Friday before Christmas, so Patrick gave the whole crew the latter part of the day off. The earnest penny-pincher even had a modest cash bonus for all the men, including the ones, who had only been on the crew for just a few months. It had been a good year for the Tamarack Paper Company and the seasoned foreman had been given a small wad of cash and told to disperse it evenly among the crew. Patrick did so without fanfare or keeping even a token amount for himself, an unselfish decision that was rare amongst the company foremen.
Not only did Patrick know the woods well, but he also understood the ways of his men very well. For he knew that sooner or later many of them would end up in the same tavern and that one of the first subjects of conversation would be about their Christmas bonuses. When the subject did come up, Ole Patrick wanted it to be known that his crew got the best bonus possible. For his Christmas kindness, the old Irishman knew that he would reap the benefits in the springtime, when the work gangs were just getting together for the upcoming year.
With only an hour or so of daylight left in the gray, December sky, Sam and several of his fellow loggers headed straight for the Laughing Loon Saloon, which was located just a few doors down from the office of the paper company. From the twelve man crew, only Sam and two of his buddies, Gil McHall and Emit Harding, made it through the front door of the busy drinking establishment.
Once inside, they were promptly seated by an overworked barmaid, who quickly set the trio up with a round of O’Keefe’s Ale and a couple shots each of Seagram’s Canadian Whiskey. Sam lead the first toast.
With glasses raised he said: “Here’s to the overworked lumberjack and the cheap-ass timber company that can’t afford more than a couple days off for its dedicated employees.”
“Aye, aye,” said Gil and Emit in unison, as they clanked glasses together.
“And here’s to the two month furlough we got coming after the New Year,” said Emit, as he raised his second shot glass. “May God rest our weary bones.”
This time Sam and Gil chipped in with a hearty, “Hail, hail.”
After setting their empty shot glass on the round wooden table, each man instinctively started sipping their brew.
“So I hear you plan to spend the winter break up here on the river,” said Gil.
Sam responded. “You got that right. The company offered me some part-time employment and a bed in the bunkhouse until we get going again in the spring.”
“No shit,” said Gil. “Whatcha goin’ to be doin’?”
“Repairing snowshoes, sharpening axes and shit like that,” said Sam.
“That won’t last very long,” said Emit.
“I hope not,” said Sam. “Cause I was planning to set out some traplines, so I can catch me a bunch of snowshoe hares and maybe a lynx or two.”
“There’s always money to be made, ain’t there,” said Gil.
“One way or another,” said Sam, as he took a moment to down the beer from his heavy, glass mug. Then Sam summoned the barmaid, a sweet young lady named Heidi, who was aged somewhere around 30.
“You guys want another round,” asked the shapely lady, as she whirled by the table.
“Just the ale,” said Sam.
“No more whiskey,” inquired the barmaid.
“I’ll do another shot,” piped in Gil.
“Me too,” added Emit.
“One more shot all around,” asked Heidi, as she lay her hand on Sam’s shoulder and swung her long blond braids near enough the tired lumberjack, so he could catch a whiff of her spruce shampoo.
“Hell….make it two,” said Sam. “We got a lot to talk about tonight.”
“Be right back,” said Heidi, while swooping up the empty shot glasses and placing them on her circular tray.
Then she left the table and disappeared behind the bar.
“That’s one foxy lady,” said Sam, as he watched the barmaid fix up a new round of drinks for the hard-working timber cutters.
“You can look all you want to,” said Gil. “But that lady’s spoken for.”
“I can dream, can’t I,” replied Sam.
“No harm in that,” said Emit. “Just don’t get any nutty ideas as the night rolls on.”
“Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m headed up to Moose Crossing for the holiday,” said Sam.
“You ain’t goin’ up that ways tonight, are you?” asked Gil.
“I was kind of thinkin’ of it,” said Sam. “You have a problem with that?”
“No way,” said Gil. “It’s just that it’s a good five to seven miles on a three-foot snowpack.”
“I can handle that,” said Sam.
“Just checking,” said Gil.
“You’re not going to pass on some nonsense about the Loup de Garou,” said Sam.
“You mean the French-Canadian werewolf,” asked Gil.
Just then Heidi returns with the next round of drinks and sets them on the table.
“Here you go guys.”
“Thanks Heidi,” said Sam. “You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Just doing my job,” said Heidi. “By the way I didn’t overhear you talking about le Loup de Garou, did I?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Emit. “That ghastly creature, which only comes out on the longest nights of the year.”
“There’s no such thing,” said Gil.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” replied Heidi.
“You’re pulling my leg aren’t you,” said Gil.
“I used to think like that,” said Heidi.
“What changed your mind?” asked Sam.
“A few midnight stragglers with the fear of death in their eyes.”
“Here at the Laughing Loon,” inquired Emit.
“Every winter, one or two show up with some weird tale about being followed by a strange creature. I used to pass it off as some drunken nonsense….but I just can’t do that no more.”
“Why’s that?” asked Sam.
“Some of them were stone cold sober!”
Heidi walks away leaving the three men to their drinks.
One hour later, Sam, Emit and Gil were outside the Laughing Loon strapping on their snowshoes, which had been left out in the snow, while the three men were inside drinking.
“You’re not serious about trekking up to Moose Crossing night,” asked Emit.
“Sure am,” said Sam. “And I hope you’re not serious about that French werewolf bullshit.”
“Of course not,” said Emit. “It’s just the night is turning into a real cold one and a lot can happen in five miles of night walking.”
Sam finishes lashing on his webbed walking contraptions and then stands upright.
“Don’t worry, Emit. I know where I’m going. Besides I got a rising full moon to guide me.”
“I’m sure Sam can take care of himself,” said Gil.
“Alright then,” said Emit. “See you bright and early on Monday.”
With those words, Sam left his two companions and began following a packed snowy trail down to the banks of the Wendigo River. The rising moon cast its rays across the frozen tributary, creating a spectacularly beautiful scene that rivaled the best paintings ever done. Sam reveled in the beauty of the wintry, nocturnal scene, for the white bark of the river birches sparkled in the moonglow with an eerie iridescence, unlike anything that Sam had ever witnessed.
About half way to Moose Crossing, Sam heard some heavy breathing that seemed to be coming up the trail from behind. At first, the solitary walker thought that there was another person out on the trail……after all it was a popular path that connected the two wilderness outposts.
But every time Sam turned around, there was nothing visible.
Another mile along the river trail and the breathing seemed to be closing in, so Sam increased his pace….not a good idea on a sub-zero December night. Soon, Sam came to a top of a knoll, where the snow was particularly deep and the shoeing was overly strenuous. Naturally, Sam stopped to catch his breath. It was at this juncture that Sam noticed a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark forest and he thought he could dimly make out the condensation of someone exhaling amidst the thick cover of spruce trees.
In no time Sam resumed his march through the December night, but now a new urgency pumped his body full of adrenalin and pushed him onwards to his final destination at an alarming speed. The heavy breathing did not stop, as Sam kept his eyes fixed forward…..too terrified to turn around.
As the trail descended from the small knoll, Sam used the downward slope to propel himself forward underneath the frozen canopy. Another incline and Sam was sweating profusely, as he made his tired legs lift his long, wooden walking aids along the snowy path. Each step seemed harder and harder and instinctively Sam knew he would not last long in this arctic environment at his present pace. If the phantom behind did not get him, his overexertion would. There was no way out.
Then at the top of the next hill a glimmer of hope appeared. It was the glow of an occupied cabin that seemed to be situated about a mile in front of him. Sam did not trust his own eyes, but he had no choice….And that was to propel himself forward, as best he could, and hope that his vision was real and that he would reach the place of human habitation before being consumed by the spirit behind him.
The last mile was the most physically excruciating and mentally terrifying minutes that he ever experienced in his 45 years on the planet. The breathing from behind got heavier and heavier. At times it seemed like the breath of the monster was all around him.
Finally, Sam was a hundred yards away from the lighted cabin. He couldn’t believe it. It seemed so real that he could smell the woodsmoke pouring out the chimney and he could barely distinguish the muffled sound of human voices. They were joyous sounds like those that might come from a merry party.
At last, Sam reached out for the metal latch that kept the cabin door closed tight and separated the warm heated interior from the frigid night. Sam wholly-expected the whole building to be a figment of his imagination, but it wasn’t, as he released the latch and stumbled across a finished maple floor with his snowshoes still attached to his feet.
Immediately, the joyful banter turned to dead silence. The first thing Sam noticed was a huge fire burning in a fireplace that was located to his right. Directly, in front of Sam was a long bar with a banner hanging from the ceiling that said: “Welcome To Hell”. The bartender had a bright red, painted face and two horns emerging from the sides of his head. Worse of all he had an uncanny resemblance to Jim McKenzie, the brave logger who had died ten years before in a logjam right above the waterfalls that now bore his name in honorarium.
When the bartender spoke, Sam passed out.
Immediately, a small crowd gathered around the exhausted logger. A woman splashed her drink in Sam’s face and he came to.
Sam looked at the bartender and blurted out: “You’re Jim McKenzie and you’re dead.”
Immediately, the sounds of laughter filled the one-room cabin.
“No sir,” then the bartender paused for a few long seconds. “I’m Doug McKenzie, Jim’s older brother. Even though Jim passed away ten years ago, people still get us mixed up. It happens all the time.”
“What the fuck is going on here?” said Sam.
Another loud burst of laughter passes through the twenty or so people gathered in the lonely cabin.
“Welcome to Hell Night!” said Doug. “We do this once a year right before Christmas.”
Slowly, Sam surveys the room and notices that all the people are in costume, most of them quite dreadful.
“You’re kidding me,” said Sam.
“I kid you not,” said Doug. “But I do have one question for you.”
“What’s that?” said Sam.
“What caused you to come bursting through the front door with your snowshoes still attached to your feet?”
“I was being followed by the Loup de Garou,”
Another deathly silence swept through the room.
Then the fire flickered and one of the windows fogged up from the outside. A few seconds later another window fogged up, as two wolf-like eyes could be seen glowing outside in the night. And they seemed to be looking into the cabin.
Then the eyes disappeared and faint footsteps could be heard leading away from the cabin.
When things returned to normal, Doug leaned over and spoke to Sam.
“That ain’t no werewolf!”
“Then what the hell is it?” asked Sam.
“It’s a ghost wolf,” said Doug.
“An appearance by a ghost wolf is rare,” said Jim. “But when they do appear, they always take somebody back with them.”
Fact or Fiction
Fact and fiction are a strange pair of bedfellows. One might think that fictional episodes might provides the strangest stories, but in reality, it is often true episodes that provide the most bizarre tales.
When I was in grade school, I acquired a Smother’s Brothers LP, where they did a short sketch on the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Though short, the routine was hilarious and may have provided a bit of inspiration to this story. Looking at the success that these two brothers had in spoofing America, one can only conclude making fun of our past might lead to some success.
Getting Your Facts Straight
Just because you are presenting an alternate history to the mainstream version, does not mean that you can skimp on the little details of everyday life. Things like dress, architecture, mannerisms and even language should fit the times as best you can. This may take some research and in the process you may surprised as to some of the information that you might come across.
When writing Colonial Capers, I wanted to use the type of Elizabethan English that might have been used by the Pilgrims. During my inquiry, I found out that by the time of the Revolution, this style of speaking had all but died out, so I dropped all the thees and thous. Nonetheless, I did come across some very colorful Colonial slang that was used in the years just prior to the Revolution.
My venture consists of a short story, based on events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, which occurred in December of 1773. The tale is called Colonial Capers and is set before, during and after the famous action. The story is meant as a satire on the Colonial era and American history in general. Presently, it available through Smashwords. Here is the link.
In a darkened boathouse on the edge of Boston Harbor, Phineas Phillips and a small band of dissidents sit quietly watching two British ships that are at anchor along the Pearl Street Wharf. Soon a band of heathen Indians will board the two schooners and toss all the tea into the harbor. With advance knowledge of what may happen, Phineas and friends have a different plan in mind.
A Tumultuous Journey and Landing
To say that the pilgrims had a tough time of it in their early goings in the New World, might be a gross understatement. First, there was the oceanic crossing, which occurred in the autumn months, when the North Atlantic is at its stormiest. Although many were seasick for days on end, only two people perished during the tumultuous journey. But from here, things only got worst, as during the first winter at Plymouth, half of the 100 colonists died before the winter was out.
Does Anybody Have a Beer?
The first encounter with the Native population was even more surreal, as it occurred in the early spring after so many had died. In early March, an Indian by the name of Samoset, proudly walked into the Pilgrim settlement and promptly asked in understandable English, if anybody had any beer. To make things worst, Samoset and some of his Wampanoag friends had been living nearby for the course of the winter and so they must have been aware of the settlers severe decline.
So Maybe the New World Wasn’t So New After All
As it turned out, Samoset’s taste for alcohol and limited use of the English language came from his home on Monhegan Island, just off the coast of Maine. Here, English traders had been stopping by on this remote island for at least a decade and trading many items with the Natives for fresh supplies of food and water. A few unlucky souls had even been taken capture and transported across the Atlantic, where they were sold off as slaves. Squanto fell into this category, so maybe the New World wasn’t so new after all.
Divine Guidance Or Just Plain Lucky
In some ways the pilgrims were very lucky, for their new home occurred in a part of the America that had just been ravaged by small pox. Actually, this could have turned out really bad, if the local inhabitants had viewed the new arrivals as harbingers of the dreaded disease. But as it turned out, this was not the case. Instead, the English transplants were seen as suitable replacements, for the nearby village, which had been wiped out by smallpox.
Not only did Samoset and his associates help the pilgrims survive, but also, the newcomers formed a mutual defense alliance with various Wampanoag villages that existed in what is now eastern Massachusetts. This became known as the Mayflower Pact and the agreement lasted, for as long as the Wampanoag sachem, Massasoit was alive. In fact, the Mayflower accord became a realistic model for the many treaties that were created between Indians and Whites in the following centuries.
Origin of the term “Redskin”
The main objection to using Redskin as a team mascot, in the NFL (or anywhere else), comes from its use as a term for a scalp, which is taken from an American Indian during warfare. Some scholars have pointed out the term originated among the American Indians to differentiate themselves from Whites and Blacks and so it is no more offensive than those terms. This may be true, but would anybody suggest changing the name of the Washington Redskins to the Washington Caucasians or the Washington Blacks.
Life On Normal Street
Recently, I had the pleasant opportunity of viewing one of Amazon Studio’s new releases, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. It was an enjoying half-hour program about three kids finding their own adventure on an unusually hot summer day. The first of this kid’s series was done very well. The Main Street setting and the liberal use of magic realism reminded me of some of Ray Bradbury tales from his childhood in Waukegan, Illinois. Created by David Anaxagoras, this story came to Amazon Studios by open submission.
Amazon Studios is Amazon’s answer to Netflix. The above-mentioned, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, is just the first in a line of TV pilots and movies from Amazon Studios that can be downloaded and watched on various electronic devices, ranging from a Smartphone to a large flat screen TV. These programs usually cost to view, but some pilots can be watched free of charge by the general public, as was the case with the first episode of Gortimer Gibbons. The point here, is that Amazon is a company that seems willing and capable of expanding its creative efforts. And in the case of Amazon Studios, they are more than willing to deal directly with writers in developing visual content.
Hachette and Simon & Schuster
Though these two Big Five publishers appear to have received the better part of their deal with Amazon. However, they, along with other large-scale publishers, may face an uncertain future with the paperback bestseller. The high-priced e-book deal these companies cut with Amazon is designed to aid the sale of paperbacks. I don’t know of anybody that believes e-books will replace the paperback, but they will take a larger slice of the pie in the upcoming years. Just how big this slice will be could depend on how well each party plays its own hand.
Strangely enough, the biggest problem for these publishers may be their parent companies, who may demand maximum profits at the expense of literary quality, fair royalties for writers and incentives to diversify. The Big Five may not be doomed as some the new Kindle millionaires may suggest, but they certainly do face a challenging future.
“As with most battles, all combatants lost a little something in end.” Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords
Last week, Amazon and Hachette came to a tenuous agreement on their feud concerning ebook pricing. The Amazon-Hachette settlement followed an Amazon-Simon & Schuster agreement that went down just a few weeks ago. If you stand back and look at both agreements, they are not all that different. The Agency means of ebook pricing pretty much stayed in tact. What this means is that the publisher (Hachette and Simon & Schuster), gets to set ebook prices in most cases. Amazon gets to some discounting (they wanted much more), but only under certain circumstances.
Good News for the Print Market
Most observers believe that Hachette and the Big Five publishers wanted to keep ebook prices high so that they could discourage ebook sales and push paper sales, which at present are their main bread and butter. This should benefit authors, who are capable of generating large numbers of paperback sales in the mass marketplace. It is no wonder than best-selling authors such as Stephen King, Tess Gerritsen, James Paterson, JK Rowling, John Grisham and Donna Tartt, all supported high-priced ebooks to keep paperback sales high.
This agreement that Simon & Schuster first achieved will most likely set the tone for any negotiation between Amazon and any other Big Five or large-scale publisher. Although Amazon did get some concessions, these terms favor the short-term livelihood of the large publisher.
Why Indie Authors Might Be the Big Winner
By keeping ebook prices high for traditional authors, self published ebook authors, who keep their prices low and royalties high, may be the biggest winners. For those working outside a major paper publisher, large sales and high royalties are possible by placing a book in the $2.99 to $7.99 range, not only through Amazon, but with other ebook publishers as well. By maintaining the status quo, Big Five publishers may drive more readers to the Indie market, where ebook prices will probably stay the same in the near future.
The Ultimate Irony
The ultimate irony is that in order to develop and encourage new talent that can create mass paperback sales, companies like Hachette may have to mine the field of self-published Indie authors. This situation may come to exist if the Agency model does become less lucrative for mid list and first time authors. In this situation, much depends on how much of an overall share the ebook market achieves.
Hachette’s (and other Big 5) Dilemma
After this agreement, Hachette will come under increasing pressure to raise ebook royalties for authors and also to show a better bottom line in profits to its parent company, Legendaire. These could be conflicting demands that will never be met at the same time….or a situation, where the publisher might opt for lower ebook prices to increase sale and profits.
American Indian Arts in the Twentieth Century
November is Native American Heritage month and so I thought that I might shine a spotlight on U.S. Native American authors, writing in the English language. I was completely unaware of the official designation until I chanced upon a table of books authored by American Indians. This small display was located in downtown Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Public Library. By coincidence, the Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA) exhibition space is located just down the street. This institution is a national arts college for American Indian students, where many disciplines are taught, including creative writing.
An Overview of American Indian Writing
Though American Indian oratory has been an important part of American history for many years, creative Native American writing has been largely a contemporary phenomena. In recent years, American Indian writers have become more noticeable in the literary marketplace. Perhaps, all of this began, when M. Scott Momaday published House Made of Dawn, a short novel that achieved literary fame, when the tale of the Southwest won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. Following is a quick look at Native American writers, who are readily available in most bookstores, along with a short selection of eclectic writers, who may not be as readily available.
The Big Names
Sherman Alexie – Mr. Alexie has been writing novels for years, but when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007, the author from the Spokane reservation in Eastern Washington was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. Most of his captivating titles are readily available in any bookstore.
N. Scott Momaday – Already mentioned for his Pulitzer Prize, Momaday is an Oklahoma native of the Kiowa nation, who has written may books of stories and fiction. Besides The House Made of Dawn, you might come across The Way To Rainy Mountain along with some of his more obscure titles in your search for Native American authors.
Louise Erdrich – Louise is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas. She has written many novels and stories about Native life in the upper Midwest and Great Plains. She also owns and operates a Native American bookstore, Birchbark Books, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.
Linda Hogan – Though more obscure than the above three authors, Ms. Hogan (Chickasaw) has over the years put out an impressive array of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles. Some of her more prominent titles include Mean Spirit, Solar Storms and People of the Whale.
Leslie Marmon Silko – Leslie grew up on the edge of Pueblo society in central New Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, she would receive national acclaim for some of her stories and books. Her short story, The Man to Send Rain Clouds, received a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant shortly after the story was first published in 1969.
Not all Native American writers produce written works that go on to find national distribution and acceptance. Still, that does not mean that these “lesser works” are without inspiration, merit or good storytelling. Many of these writers have found an important niche as observers of the American scene on a local or regional level. Following are a very select few taken from a much larger group that always seems to be getting bigger. Please note that only a few of the following poets and writers work solely in the literary mode. Many have expanded their voice to the realm music. To paraphrase one Native American poet turned performer, Roxy Gordon, “you have to go where the audience is”
Louis “Little Coon” Oliver – Louis died in 1991 and during his lifetime he only published two books. Nonetheless, his ramblings about tribal life and modern society filled with his humorous and satirical observations were enjoyed by many. Louis was born in Oklahoma, when it was still a territory and was a part of th the Muscogee Creek nation. He was ostracized by many of his tribal members for attending high school and actually obtaining a diploma.
Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice – Joy Harjo is an Oklahoma (Mvskoke Creek) poet , who after publishing several books of poetry, decided to form a band and go on stage. Still essentially a poet, Joy often performs around the country with her musical ensemble, Poetic Justice.
Joseph Bruchac – Though a long-time resident of the Iroquois country in upstate NY, Joe comes from Vermont, where he is connected with the Abanakis. Not only has Joe written numerous articles, stories and books about the Indian life in the Northeast and elsewhere, but also he is a major organizer of Native American literature and American Indian authors. Check out his Greenfield Review Press, for a major who’s who in tribal literature.
Without Rezervation – Without Rezervation was a Native American rap group from Oakland, California. During the 90s they cut 2 CDs and achieved some notoriety as on of the few (or possibly the only) Native American rap groups. The trio consisted of Chris LaMarr, Mike Marin, and Kevin Nez. The members of this group had Native roots in California (Pit River) and Arizona (Navajo)
A Unique Photo Op
This abandoned business in Northern New Mexico, got me thinking about the present fortunes of tinsel town. Though the West Coast film mecca is very much economically alive and producing popular films, there is no doubt about it, the film industry is going through changes. People just don’t attend movies like they use to…..but to compensate for the lack of moviegoers, the industry has found a healthy market in foreign countries and at the American home. This and the ability to lead the field in special effects have enabled the popular industry to remain an important force within the entertainment industry. ……. And don’t forget cartoon characters almost always sell well.
Quotes On the Nature of Hollywood
1. “The classy gangster is a Hollywood invention.” by Orson Welles
2. “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” by Marilyn Monroe
3. “Hollywood is like Picasso’s bathroom.” by Candice Bergen
4. “Mark Twain’s old saying ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ still reigns in Hollywood.” ― James Morcan
5. “Sometimes it’s good to be the smartest rat in the sewer.” ― Michael Houbrick
6. “Whether you’re talking about the Egyptian pharaohs or Hollywood movie stars, it all ends the same way. DEATH.” Neal A. Yeager
7. “I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.” – Elizabeth Taylor
8. “Hollywood didn’t kill Marilyn Monroe; it’s the Marilyn Monroes who are killing Hollywood.” – Billy Wilder
9. “It’s actually great to shoot far away from Hollywood because we don’t have the distractions of the parties and premieres and all that. And, of course, you can save money – there are no good shoe stores.” – Katie Holmes
10. “But the West did not last long enough. Its folk myths and heroes became stage properties of Hollywood before the poets had begun to get to work on them.” – Christopher Dawson
11. “Independent films are where you really get to cut your teeth and have some fun and do the things that mainstream Hollywood doesn’t want to do.” – Anthony Anderson
12. “Hollywood isn’t your cesspool, America. It’s your mirror.” – Bill Maher
13. “In Hollywood, the real stars are all in animation. Alvin and the Chipmunks don’t throw star fits, don’t demand custom-designed Winnebagos, and are a breeze at costume fittings. Cruella DeVille, Gorgo, Rainbow Brite, Gus-Gus, Uncle Scrooge, and the Care Bears are all superstars and they don’t have drug problems, marital difficulties, or paternity suits to blacken their images.” ― John Waters
14. “Hollywood is loneliness beside the swimming pool.” – Liv Ullman
Did Hollywood peak in 1939?
No way around it, Hollywood had a great year in 1939. Some even say it was the best. While large parts of Europe were falling to a fascist regime, our American moviemakers put out a short list of great films. Among the 1939 greats are such classics, as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Wuthering Heights. Looking at the titles, one might think the country was oblivious to world events, but Hollywood has always been a bit of an escapist and surreal enterprise. If America was in a cloud during the last year of third decade of the twentieth century, they would soon find themselves rudely awakened by events in the Pacific, nearly two years later.
Moviemaking In New Mexico
Actually, film directors are more often coming to the Land of Enchantment to film parts or all of their movies. The Spanish state has always had great desert scenery and recent economic incentives from New Mexico seem to be working well in attracting film companies. Just a few years ago, Lone Survivor, was shot almost entirely here because the landscape resembled Afghanistan so well. Other film crews that have spent all or part of their time here include The Lone Ranger, True Grit (2010 version), The Avengers, Crazy Heart and the 3:10 To Yuma.
Simple Analogy (but maybe it Works)
Screenwriting is a well defined craft. There’s not a whole lot of room for flexibility…..at least not at first glance. In a script for a full length film, the text should come in at just under 120 pages. Font is a mandatory New Courier with even spaces between each letter. Your story is told from start to finish by the use of several basic written components. Most important, is the dialogue, spoken between characters. In between dialogue,there is action and setting, which isaptly noted by small blocks of description.
Then come the Sluglines, which give a quick heading to each scene. Rounding up the screenwriter’s toolbox are various commands directed towards the final composition of the film. These include such well-used prompts as fade in, fade out, superimpose, cut to and montage (of shots), just to name a few. In reality, this limited palette of writing tools just makes the writers job more challenging. Taglines and Loglines actually fall outside of writing the script and are in many ways much like the two mooring lines pictured above, for they anchor the main ship to the commercial doc. However in a screenplay, they do so in different ways.
Loglines identify movies, for each movie has one. By the time the film hits the big screen the logline is passe′, but during the development process, the logline is essential to promoting and eventually selling the script to producers and financial backers. Therefore it is essential that the screenwriter come with a catchy one or two sentence riff that defines the proposed movie in a nutshell.
Loglines of Successful Movies
1. “A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons.” For a Few Dollars More
2. ” A college graduate, home for the summer, has an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, then falls in love with her daughter.” The Graduate (Compare this with the tagline, which is much better)
3. “Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to.” Midnight Cowboy
4. “An Iowa housewife, stuck in her routine, must choose between true romance and the needs of her family.” Bridges of Madison County
5. “Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.” It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
6. Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.” Independence Day
7. “Upon admittance to a mental institution, a brash rebel rallies the patients to take on an oppressive head nurse, a woman he views more as more dictator than nurse.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
8. “A 17th century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Jack Sparrow joins forces with the young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England’s daughter and reclaim his ship.” Pirates of the Caribbean
What Is a Tagline?
In short, a Tagline is an abbreviated version of a logline. It is the catchy little slogan that helps sell your movie to the right people and then it may be used a second time to make a favorable impression on the general public.
Great Movies and Their Corresponding Taglines
1. “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” The Forty-year Old Virgin
2. “The bitch is back.” Alien 3
3. “They had a date with fate in Casablanca.” Casablanca
4. “The nearer they get to their treasure, the farther they get from the law.” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
5. “The movie too HOT for words!” Some like It Hot
6. “It’s all about women…and their men!” All About Eve
7. “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.” The Graduate
8. “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby.” Rosemary’s Baby
9. “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.” Taxi Driver
10. “M*A*S*H Gives a D*A*M*N.” M.A.S.H.
11. “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?” Deep Throat
12. “The snobs against the slobs!” Caddyshack
13. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The Shining
14. “Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?” When Harry Met Sally
15. “And you thought Earth girls were easy…” Bad Girls from Mars
16. “What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?” Sleepless in Seattle
17. “This Ain’t No Chick Flick!” AND “Escape or Die Frying.” Chicken Run
18. “They have a plan…but not a clue.” O Brother, Where Art Thou?
19. “EARTH – take a good look. Today could be your last.” Independence Day
20. “The Toys are back in town.” Toy Story 2
Get the Picture
There is a distinct difference between a logline and a tagline. While the logline attempts to follow good sentence and grammatical structure, the tagline, more often than not, breaks free from the restraints of good grammar into the realm of slick sloganisms and making the English language do the boogie-woogie. And this my friends is the basic essence of taglines and loglines.
“All writing is discipline, but screenwriting is a drill sergeant.” ― Robert McKee,
Last year, I used two different e-query services to seek representation for two different screenplays. Here’s what happened.
Over the course of several years, I had written two, feature length screenplays. Each one came in at about 120 pages, a tad long for a feature film, but still workable if I could find the right party. One adventuresome tale took place in Central America during a period of political unrest, while the other story was set on a dairy farm in the northeastern U.S. Both plays had strong comedic elements, so I thought I had a chance at optioning one of the stories, though it was definitely a long shot.
Besides, if I could not find a buyer for the scripts, then I could always (1) enter them in screenplay contests, (2) put them up on Black List or (3) use them as an outline for a novel or novella. Since I had already invested 20,000 words in each script, I thought that I already had a pretty good draft for a short novella. Nonetheless, the idea of selling a script to Hollywood (or elsewhere) was tempting and possibly lucrative, so I chose to go down that road first.
The E-query Services
Conventional advice says not to use an e-query service for seeking representation for a screenplay or anything else literary. According to popular opinion a writer is much better off, submitting query letters to individual professionals, whose field of interest most closely matches your story. But I had tried that method with no significant results, so I decided spend a little money on an e-query service.
The dairy farm script went out through Scriptblaster and for the Central American story, I chose E-query Direct. The price was 39.99 for E-query Direct (300 recipients) and 89.00 for Scriptblaster (650 recipients). Each service produced one contact worthy of mention, which is more interest than I had received from sending out queries one at a time and personalizing each query to the appropriate party. Following are my results.
An Ongoing Relationship
One development company, located in Los Angeles, requested a PDF (standard fare for screenplays) for the Central American story, then over a year later, they requested the other script, even though I had not promoted these screenplays at any other time. The readers gave very favorable comments about each story, but at this point in time, I have not received any offers on either story. However, when I do complete my next script, I will definitely be contacting this group about my latest effort.
The Phone Call
The biggest surprise of all came when a successful Hollywood producer called and asked for a paper copy of the dairy farm script. I sent the script by U.S. mail and when I returned the call, I was shocked to find out that I gotten his first name wrong. This upset the man immensely and I have not heard from him since. It is likely that he didn’t like the story, but the other the side of the coin is also possible…….that is he blew me off for unprofessional behavior. Moral of the story: Don’t screw up the small stuff.
Quality Still Counts
Don’t be fooled by the high number of movie professionals that are on the mailing lists of theseonline services, for you still have to have your writing skills down pat, if you want to connect with the film industry. These skills include writing a good query letter, as well as a good movie script. Surprisingly, writing a good query letter might be the most difficult and the most important of these two tasks. Though only a page long, these letters have to be right on. Good karma and Zen enlightenment are a must if you are to succeed with this task.
One More Thing
And then there are those minute, little things called Loglines and Taglines. Consider these the Haiku of screenwriting, for a good one can go a long way in selling the story.