One of the best pieces of advice a writer can receive has to do with building a lead character:
Make them likable or unlikable, but for God’s sake make us feel something about them.
I recognize Melissa McCarthy’s stature as a comedic star. I mostly enjoyed her turn in Bridesmaids, but after a while her schtick grew a little tired to me. And, based on recent box office results, it’s not clicking too well with the rest of the movie-going public, either.
So when I first saw a trailer for Can You Ever Forgive Me, I was intrigued. McCarthy was leaving the bathroom humor behind and doing a serious flick. And, because I’ve published quite a few books, I was interested in the subject matter.
Opening weekends for movies are generally not my thing. But I made an exception this weekend because Gretchen and I were both anxious to see the new movie about Freddie Mercury and Queen called Bohemian Rhapsody.
This is not a review of that movie - all I can say is that it was fantastic. Go see it.
There was an interesting contrast that stood out to me, however.
(There’s currently a movement underway to adjust where Halloween falls on the calendar. I think it’s a good idea - but they got the details wrong, I believe. So I’m resurrecting this post from two years ago to set the story straight. This is how we should change things.)
I like Christmas, but I love Thanksgiving. It’s got everything you want in a holiday: time off from work, a chance to hang with family and friends, a little bit of football, and the best food of all time. On top of that, while it might inject a little bit of stress, it doesn’t come close to the crushing pressures we associate with Christmas.
The only problem is that Thanksgiving comes at the wrong time. Let’s move it from late November to the fourth Thursday of October. Here’s why:
There was a recent study about boredom, and I couldn’t help but notice that once again the basic attitude seemed to be that this is a bad thing. People have no patience whatsoever for boredom.
Which is sad, I think. In fact, I have such an appreciation for boredom that I made it the subject of an entire chapter in my latest book, The Color of Your Dreams.
This book was written to help people who want to get published but perhaps lack the confidence it takes to get their words out there. It’s not a “how to write” book, but rather a “get off your butt” book.
But chapter 12 is all about boredom, and how we should embrace it, especially if we want to tap into our creativity. Here’s a free excerpt from The Color of Your Dreams featuring that chapter. If you’d like to dive into the entire book - or hopefully share it with friends, maybe as a holiday gift - you can find it at Amazon, or right here on my site.
WARNING:There is language that may offend. This book is not for kids.
By now I’m sure you’re familiar with the term FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. The explosion of social media has created an entire sub-category of people who mourn the fact they’re not out having as much fun as all those hipster-doodles they see on Facebook or Instagram.
Apparently I’m a big weirdo, because when I see photos from some crowded, crazy event the first thought that goes through my mind is: “I’m so glad I’m not there.”
It’s one thing to get older and gradually notice aches and pains, especially first thing in the morning. (Putting on my socks never used to be such an effort, but at 4am my back isn’t on board with my get-ready-for-work routine.)
But it’s another thing to notice something else deteriorating, something I’ve done pretty well for half a century.
My handwriting has gone straight to hell. There was a time when I was proud of my penmanship, thanks to some wonderful elementary school teachers and to my mom, whose cursive was practically calligraphy.
In case we need any more proof of the personal connection we make with art, here it is. You can criticize almost anything about a person, like their car, their lawn, even their hairstyle, and they’ll probably just shrug. We generally don’t care what people think of our choices.
But tell them the music they love is crap and they’ll storm off. Say something derogatory about their favorite movie and they’ll practically unfriend you. Disagree when they rave about a book and you’re not only wrong, you’re a shithead and likely to get punched in the face.
We may not like it when someone disses our shoes but that’s nothing compared to questioning our favorite art. (Although, yes, for many people shoes count as art.) This puzzled me for the longest time until I realized it’s not just a matter of different styles.
The lesson I learned is that there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who love to spend all day on a boat piloted by someone else, and those who would prefer to capsize and drown like rats.
It was a fun trip overall, and this one segment had been billed as “two to three hours” on a boat on the Mississippi. On the surface (no pun intended) it sounded like it could be kinda fun. Grab some beer and snacks and enjoy the scenery, right?
Except our boat was owned and operated by a total stranger, a friend of someone in our group. And she was determined to entertain the shit out of us whether we wanted it or not.
I like to think I’m a pretty good guy, but I must admit I love a cool movie villain. It’s not like I’m cheering for the bad guy to win, but usually the actor has way more fun with the character when it’s evil.
These days there are spinoffs for everything, but the one place I thought Hollywood dropped the ball was by not producing a prequel of the original Die Hard. Hans Gruber (played by the incredible Alan Rickman) was so fascinating that we should’ve had a film about his background. What was that dude’s story?
I feel like such a loser. I don't have a lucky number.
Now, to be honest, there is a number that keeps showing up ALL THE TIME. I'm afraid to tell you what it is because some people are really freaky about numerology and I know what they'd say about my particular combination.
But if I went to buy a lottery ticket there wouldn't be numbers that speak to me. I know that lots of Americans say 7 is their lucky number, but all I think of when I see that number is John Elway.
There was a survey done recently with people from around the world, asking them what number they'd definitely use in a lottery. The number that came up the most often was . . .
I love my country, but I can’t understand why we suck at soccer.
Arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, a tournament that captivates billions of people around the globe, wraps up this weekend when France tangles with Croatia in the World Cup Final.
It’s not embarrassing that the United States didn’t make it to the championship game. But isn’t it humiliating that our country didn’t even play well enough to get into the tournament in the first place?
I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly care about the game. I’m not a fan of soccer, but I am an American and therefore, by nature, a competitive s.o.b.
Two of the best books I ever read about writing didn't spend much time on writing. And that makes sense to me. I’m (mostly) in the camp that you either know how to do it or you don’t. Sure, you can get better. But I'm convinced the biggest obstacle to writing and publishing isn’t on the page/screen, it’s between the ears.
Both of those books spent a lot of time on the mental part. That resonates with me (and maybe you) because, even after publishing 15 books, I still battle fear and doubt. Every damned time. Then I finish writing a book, it’s printed, and I wonder what all the fuss was about.
I won’t beat you over the head with a sales pitch. But I’ll tell you that my latest book, called The Color of Your Dreams, follows the same path: Fix your head and you’ll likely fix your writing.
You're in a happy relationship, and you'd never dream of hurting your partner's feelings. But there's this little matter of sleep. If they're keeping you awake, is it time to think about changing your sleeping situation?
I'm talking about finally breaking down and sleeping in separate beds. Or, in some cases, even separate rooms. It's something we've covered many times on the radio show, and it's an interesting exploration of a social custom.
Because, for whatever reason, our society has the notion that sleeping apart somehow means you don't love the other person anymore. Which is funny. It's just sleep. You're unconscious. Why is it so important to be unconscious together?
The other day I was on the fence about whether or not to go see a movie. There wasn't really anything showing that Gretchen or I wanted to see, but it was a cloudy, rainy day - the kind of day you don't mind sitting inside and enjoying mindless entertainment.
But that wasn't the deciding factor. It was the fact that once I got the notion of movie popcorn in my head, it wouldn't go away.
Harlan Ellison died last week. Perhaps you knew of him, perhaps you didn’t. I knew him for two reasons:
For one thing, he was one of the most celebrated writers of speculative fiction, winning every award imaginable. I had several of his books.
More significantly, he kicked my ass. In person. Figuratively, of course. Physically he was of small stature. Creatively he was a giant. Yeah, I could’ve taken him in a fistfight, but he eviscerated me with words.
he line at the post office snaked almost to the door. I couldn’t do the self-serve kiosk because I was using Media Mail, so I had to get to the counter. Looked to me like about a 20-minute wait.
I began to contemplate a tactical move. What if I went up to the second or third person in line and offered them $10 to swap places? Not let me cut in line, because that would piss off everyone who essentially got bumped back another spot. No, the person would walk back and take my spot and I’d move into their place, in exchange for an Alexander Hamilton.
They might take the deal. Or they might say no, whereupon the person behind them - or ahead of them - might say, “I’ll do that.”
There may be no two words in the English language that bring more joy to a kid’s ears than Summer Break. Hey, I loved school, but I still salivated over the idea of weeks and weeks of sleeping in and goofing off.
But parents and teachers also talk about something known as the summer brain drain. The concern is that too much down time allows students to not only fritter away what they might have learned in the previous school year, but it also gets them out of learning mode.
What’s your favorite memory of your mom? It’s easy to pick out the mushy stuff, which is fine. But what about the quirky, odd memories? The ones that, in hindsight, remind you how much you take her for granted.
When I was in the third grade, our family lived in northern Italy. My dad was in the Air Force, and we were stationed near Lake Garda for a couple of years.
Our school was a small island of American military kids, clustered along a river running through Verona, Italy. Field trips are always fun, sure, but they really get interesting when you don’t speak the language.
As a housewarming gift in December my son and daughter-in-law gave me a turntable. I’m talking the old-fashioned device used to spin vinyl. I quickly ran to my storage room and dug out a couple of dust-covered boxes holding more than a hundred albums. Soon my house was bathed in a sound I hadn’t heard in decades: the crackling, popping beauty of a needle on old forgotten records.
Not long ago we were all told to toss those albums because vinyl was dead, gone the way of 8-tracks and cassettes. And then, for who knows what reason, they began a quiet comeback. Not a massive comeback, mind you, but a trendy one.
I’m ambidextrous, which is kinda fun. I write with my right hand, I shoot pool with my left. I play tennis and racquetball with my right, bowl with my left. I eat right-handed, kick left-footed. Drum right-handed, but strum a guitar with my left.
As one good friend said: Dude, make up your mind. You’re a goddamned mess.
I played a lot of baseball as a kid, and as a left-handed pitcher I did pretty well. By age 15 I led the summer leagues in ERA. I couldn’t hit for shit, but I struck out a lot of guys from the mound. Yet by my junior year of high school I walked away from the game because I was already working full-time in radio. My trusty mitt was put on a shelf in the garage.
On a vacation a few years ago we stumbled across a bar that truly kicked ass. It was outdoors, on gently-sloped property behind a restaurant, a rectangular bar overlooking a small river. Towering shade trees provided respite from the sun. The drinks were moderately priced, the service impeccable.
For what it’s worth, the bar was ergonomically perfect, too. Just the right depth to the tabletop (not too skinny, not too wide), at a comfortable height, and with foot rests positioned just where they needed to be. You may, or may not, understand exactly how all of that matters. Some of us happen to be "eat at the bar" people. It matters.