Literary Laziness

Predictable plots are downright irritating.

When we were newlyweds, Dear Husband was often shocked at how frequently I could predict plot twists in movies. But unfortunately it is all too easy to do, if you know what signs to look for. If you don’t already have, and don’t want to have this self-spoiling plot twist radar, you may want to stop reading now.

Still with me? Good. First, it’s important that you don’t lose yourself in the story. Don’t get so caught up in the scenery and the romance and the fun of it all that you forget that you’re a person who is sitting on a couch, probably eating junk food, and you’re watching a product that some writer created while they were also most likely sitting on a couch, eating junk food. That is even more true in this pandemic era.

Don’t think about the movie. Think about the person who wrote the movie. Think like a writer who is in desperate need of a paycheck. That’s got to be stressful. And stress often makes one lazy. When writers get lazy, myself included, they become predictable.

Ask yourself what destination that writer is trying to reach. And what is the shortest, and thus most profitable route to that destination? That is the well-trodden path that most storytellers take. You could walk it in the dark, such is the groove that it has imposed upon the landscape of humanity.

For example, I genuinely believe that murder mysteries are the simplest things on earth to write. All you have to do is write them backwards. Start with how the evil deed was done. Then think of what clues would be necessary for someone to figure out who the culprit is. Then go back and scatter those clues, subtly and strategically, throughout the preceding chapters, along with just the right amount of red herrings to throw them off the trail. Maybe distract your readers with a bit of sexual tension for good measure, and throw in a lot of superfluous characters, but make them seem important. And there you have it. Murder mystery.

Also, keep in mind that there are 7 Classic Story Archetypes, and they have been around since before stories were written down. Shakespeare’s plays all fit into them, as do the books of the Bible, and the vast majority of all the foundational myths from every culture throughout the world. On the most fundamental level, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Armed with that knowledge, you only need rely on your pure instinct to take the final steps to arrive at a conclusion. If something seems off to you in a story, there’s most likely a good reason for it. Trust your inner voice.

Did a character bring up something that seemed random or unnecessary to you? Did you wonder why that thing even came up, since it didn’t seem to advance the plot in any way? Then rest assured, that thing is significant. If you’re watching a romance and they suddenly have a brief discussion about elephant’s toenails, then rest assured that elephant’s toenails will figure prominently in the subsequent twist.

Also, if a character seems to be demonstrating a particular quality over and over and over again, that’s significant as well. Is the writer really going out of the way to try to convince you that someone is lovable or heroic or evil or sneaky? (A good writer would trust the viewer to do more of the heavy lifting, but a lazy one will beat you over the head with the information.) Odds are good that the twist in the end will be that that person is exactly the opposite of their ham-handed portrayal. Someone who seems weak or foolish will turn out to be strong and wise. If the writer keeps having the main character do saintly things, you can bet your life that that character is actually a sinner.

I don’t think all wordsmiths are lazy. When one manages to surprise me, I have nothing but admiration for her, him, or them. When a story feels fresh and unexpected, I know that I have truly been given my money’s worth, and then some. I am always grateful for that gift.

But if you’re playing the odds, the information above will let you win more often than not, if knowing how a story is going to play out can be considered winning. Most of the time it’s kind of a disappointment. Sometimes it’s downright irritating. But on a positive note, those lazy writers sure do make me appreciate the good ones. Talent should never be taken for granted.

Hey! Look what I wrote!

The Curse of Incubus

Consider yourself warned.

I am sometimes drawn to quirky, obscure movies, and so it was that I put Incubus on my Netflix queue. That decision most definitely bit me in the butt. It’s 78 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

This movie, filmed in 1966, and starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, was definitely a surreal experience. It’s filmed in black and white, and, probably due to its low budget, sometimes night shots were filmed in broad daylight with a filter, and sometimes they were shot at night, and the two variations in lighting would switch back and forth at random moments. That added to the strange atmosphere of the movie.

Then, on top of that, add a musical soundtrack that you’d swear was stolen directly from the creepier scenes of Star Trek. In actuality, part of the soundtrack was from a 1963 episode of Outer Limits called Nighmare. Either way, it made the hair on the back of my neck do an eerie little dance.

But the weirdest thing about this movie is that the entire thing was done in Esperanto. They thought this might bring it to a wider audience, as Esperanto is spoken around the world. While that may be true, they seem to have forgotten that, while widespread, Esperanto just isn’t spoken by that many people. That’s why there are only 4 films, including this one, in the history of film making, that are done in Esperanto.

The actors had 10 days to learn their lines, phonetically, and there was no one on set to correct their pronunciation, so it’s not even done in good Esperanto. You can tell by watching that the actors were so focused on trying to get the Esperanto right that they completely forgot to emote. Everyone except Shatner comes off like a robot. You know it’s a bad movie when Shatner is the best actor of the bunch.

Even if it had been done in English, though, it would have been laughable. Here’s an example of some very typical dialogue:

“I see the heart of darkness… the universe unfolding… taking my breath, my blood, my life… down below, below, below…”

“I’m weary of luring evil, ugly souls into the pit. They’ll find their own way down to the sewers of hell.”

When you first see Shatner, he’s got his arm around a woman that turns out to be his sister. They’re walking through the woods, clinging to each other, practically groping each other, so when you find out she’s his sister, you kind of get the willies.  Even more so than when she goes blind from looking at an eclipse and spends the bulk of the movie crawling through the underbrush in search of her brother, on the advice of a total stranger that she cannot see.

But the strangest part in an already strange movie is the final scene, in which one of the main characters gets attacked by the incubus, who has turned himself into a black goat with long curly horns. Close ups of a live goat’s eye and its long, slimy tongue are interspersed with close ups of a goat’s head on what must surely be a broomstick, on top of the screaming actress, as an easily discernible shadow of the camera looms over them both. And this visual violation goes on long enough to make you squirm. But she saves herself by making a sign of the cross, so all’s well that ends well.

There’s much talk on the internet about the curse of Incubus. Shortly after filming, one of the actors killed his girlfriend and then himself. An actress committed suicide. The daughter of another actress was abducted and murdered, her body left in the Hollywood hills. These are just a few of the examples. It’s very disturbing to read about.

But if you ask me, the biggest curse of Incubus is that you can still get it on Netflix, and unwittingly lose 78 minutes of your life. This movie was counted as number one in a list of the Top 10 Shitty Shatner Movies. Another one of his truly horrible ones, Groom Lake, didn’t even make the cut, so you can just imagine how awful this one truly is.

Consider yourself warned.


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El Norte

A movie that is still very relevant today.

After graduating from college for the first time, I was struggling to figure out what to do with my life, so I took a series of jobs. None of them were a perfect fit, but they all taught me a great deal.

At one point, in an effort to keep the student loan wolves from the door, I took a minimum wage job at Video Action, a video rental place in Apopka, Florida that, needless to say, no longer exists. I was only there for two months because I needed to make more money than that, but I remember the place fondly.

Working there was fun. To prevent theft, they’d leave the video boxes empty on the shelves, and then when the customer brought them up to the counter, you’d have to go get the vhs tape from the back for them. There was a lot of running around, and a lot of fascinating people to meet. The shift always went by quickly.

At Video Action, I met an octogenarian woman who would come in every week and rent about a dozen porn videos. She gave me hope for the future. Getting old doesn’t mean you’ve died.

Another person that gave me hope for the future was the 16-year-old girl who owned and managed the place in order to raise her baby. Jessie was amazing. She showed me that your life is what you make of it. I often wonder how her life turned out.

There was a large Mexican migrant population in Apopka, because it was a farming community. I was kind of drawn to them because I majored in Spanish in college, mainly because I got tired of people being able to talk about me on the school busses in Apopka without me understanding them. They kind of shaped my life without knowing it.

Whenever they came in, I’d recommend the movie El Norte, ostensibly because it was the only bilingual video we had, but also because it is an amazing film about Guatemalan refugees who are forced out of their country due to violence, and they travel through Mexico and sneak into the US, undocumented, in an effort to have a better life, with very mixed results. I figured these people could relate to this video on a lot of levels.

And it’s a beautiful movie, too. In Guatemala, in particular, it’s infused with rich color. And I truly believe it makes you get inside the immigration experience in ways you could never understand otherwise.

Recently I was thinking of this movie and decided to watch it again. Yes, it’s as beautiful and moving as I remembered. The horrible thing about it is that even though it came out in 1983, it’s still relevant to our current immigration situation. If anything, things have become much worse under our current racist administration. How heartbreaking. Shame on us.

See this movie. See the special features that come with it, too. Your eyes will be opened.

El Norte

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A Bohemian Epiphany

It’s all so precious. And it goes by so fast.

I just saw what is probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Bohemian Rhapsody. Go see it.

Yes, there’s some controversy swirling around this movie about Freddie Mercury. It does sort of play fast and loose with the facts of his life. The timeline of certain events has been altered for dramatic effect, and some things are overlooked entirely. This isn’t a documentary. It would be hard not to gloss over things when you’re trying to encapsulate someone’s life into 2 hours and 14 minutes.

But the bottom line is that the people who knew Freddie best seem to be satisfied with it. They feel that it captured his essence. And Rami Malek practically resurrected Freddie from the grave. He deserves an Oscar.

Was the plot formulaic, as some have stated? Sure. But you know what? It was one hell of a formula. I’ll take it. I’ll take it, and come back for seconds. Because Freddie died way too soon. So even a mere representation of him is worth savoring.

He was an unbelievable talent, and Queen, the band, created a special sauce of innovation, creativity, depth, energy, and audience participation that is unparalleled in the music world.

At one point in the movie, he’s performing at one of his iconic concerts, and he knows he has AIDS. And it was a death sentence at the time. And there he is, in front of thousands and thousands of people, and he’s baring his soul with his profound song lyrics, and there’s this palpable tsunami of love rushing at him from the crowd.

I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from bawling right there in the theater. Because it suddenly occurred to me that all the love in the entire world isn’t going to stop you from dying. It’s inevitable. And that’s tragic.

That realization, and by extension, this amazing movie, is going to change the way I look at the world. Life is so precious. And it goes by so fast.

Go see Bohemian Rhapsody. And then tell me what you think in the comments below.

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Another Earth

I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

In keeping with my tradition of being several years behind the times, I just saw a really fascinating movie from 2011 entitled Another Earth. It was a romance. It was a drama. It was science fiction. It was a surprise.

It included three story lines, any of which would have made an excellent stand-alone movie, and they had very little to do with one another, but somehow that still worked. There was a romance that was intertwined with an extreme tragedy. There was a subtle little story about the suffering of an old janitor that I dearly wish they had expanded upon. And then there was the sci fi/philosophical element which fascinated me, and which I want to talk more about.

Spoiler alert. This particular story line was about discovering that there was another planet, capable of supporting life, on the opposite side of the sun. For some reason, our orbits finally misaligned enough so that that planet could actually be seen by us. For years we observed it, but it was too far away to make contact. But the closer it got, the more obvious it was that this planet was, indeed, occupied.

Finally, the planet was close enough to make radio contact, and this is when it gets truly weird. A scientist from SETI makes first contact. And the person on the other end speaks English. And that person has her same name. And her same birthdate. And her same childhood memories.

So now everyone is faced with the concept that each person has another “you” out there on this other planet. If you met your other “you”, what would you say to that person? What would you ask?

And then it is theorized that the moment these two planets caught sight of each other, the synchronicity was broken. We stopped living identical lives, and started off on paths all our own. When you turned left, your doppelganger may have turned right. So now there’s no way of knowing what that place is like anymore. It’s no longer comforting and predictable. It’s actually a tiny bit scary.

And then, as is the wont of millionaires, one decides to create a space program so that a ship could visit this other planet. And he holds a contest so that someone can go along for free. Would you enter that contest? Would you want to go? Would you want to know? Would it be a big do-over for you? Or would it be a do exactly the same? Or a do much, much better or worse?

What would you do if you came face to face with yourself?

If you were expecting me to answer any of the above questions, sorry. I got nothin’. But it’s something I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Another Earth

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Talk About a Scary Movie

Google your prophet.

So, there’s a movie out called The Trump Prophecy that makes out that Trump is the instrument of God. I kid you not. He can commit billions of dollars’ worth of fraud, brag about grabbing female private parts, be completely incapable of quoting the Bible, take children away from their parents, and yet the evangelicals will endorse him wholeheartedly, even in the form of a movie.

Oh, and it gets worse. The “prophet” in this movie? Mark Taylor. Real guy. Google him. He actually believes that the Democrats control the weather and that they can conjure up hurricanes to cover up election fraud. He also thinks that God talks to him through racehorses. I’m not making this up. You can see him say such things on Youtube.

Here’s hoping that the majority of us have enough critical thinking skills left to know how insane all of this is. The ones who are already convinced will love this movie. I doubt it’s going to cause anyone else to go to the dark side. But these days, you never know.

Not since the Roman Empire have so many tried to deify a leader. And even the Bible warns us that that does not turn out well. Trump is the least Godly president we’ve ever had.

The world has gone mad.

The Trump Prophecy

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The Whales of the World Need a Blackfish II

We can do better than this.

Well, I just had a very emotional evening. I saw the documentary entitled Blackfish, and a part of my childhood shattered like a crystal glass being thrown against a concrete wall. This documentary came out in 2013, and while I was aware of some of the controversy sparked by it, and saw SeaWorld scramble to repair its tarnished image in its aftermath, I didn’t see the film until just this month, so I had absolutely no idea how horrified I should be by the state of captive Orcas.

I grew up near Orlando, Florida, and went to its many theme parks dozens of times. After a while, Disney began to seem rather dated and repetitive. I frankly could care less if I ever go there again. But SeaWorld… oh, how I loved SeaWorld!

I love animals, in general. I love watching them and learning more about them. I really do believe, even now, that certain types of captivity have value in the aggregate. Animals that have been rescued after injury, that can no longer survive in the wild, who are housed in locations that are spacious and as much like their natural habitats as possible, and are given proper stimulation and care and are able to maintain social structures, while not being required to perform for our viewing pleasure, can act as ambassadors for their species.

I genuinely believe that seeing animals close up makes humans appreciate them more. I think the more we learn about them, the more we tend to care about the state of the planet. But this movie made me realize that we’ve crossed a line.

Whales should not be kept in concrete pools, with only 1,100 square yards of space, when they require a minimum of 300 times more than that to thrive. Mothers should not be separated from babies, which would normally stay by them for life. No one should be isolated in a pool with no stimulation, only to be called out a few times a day to perform like a puppet on a string.

I did not let myself see that as a child. I got caught up in the whole spectacular show. The good-looking, enthusiastic trainers, who obviously loved the whales, but in truth, had absolutely no control as to how they were treated. I chose to see joy, rather than angst. Playfulness, rather than desperation. I wanted those whales to love their lives.

But they don’t.

As I grew older, I saw other captivity red flags. Orangutans all alone in darkened rooms, looking listless and profoundly depressed. A dolphin with a broken jaw, at a swim with the dolphins place in South Florida. (He had never experienced a wall before his capture, and had slammed right into it.) A walrus, in a pool way too small, swimming in a vertical circle, over and over and over again. (I watched him for 20 minutes, with tears in my eyes.) Tigers pacing in tiny cages. And any creature at all, in a circus. Circuses should be outlawed.

The sad thing is that SeaWorld still has its Orcas, and they still have their shows. They’ve repackaged them to make them seem much more humane, organic, and educational, but those whales are still floating in those wretched pools, their lifespans 1/3 as long as their wild brethren.

What we need is another documentary, Blackfish II, to show how SeaWorld has attempted to rebrand itself, while not significantly changing the quality of life of its whales. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they’re no longer breeding whales in captivity, or capturing whales at sea. I’m glad they contribute to conservation causes, and do make some efforts to educate people. But they are doing so while holding these animals prisoner and profiting from it. There is nothing, nothing at all, that justifies that. We need a second documentary to increase the pressure so that SeaWorld and similar companies will finally do the right thing.

While all these Orcas, who have been in captivity for so long, would probably be incapable of being released into the wild, there are those who think that a whale sanctuary is the most viable option. They would still be enclosed, but they’d have 300 times the space, and they’d be in the ocean, with its natural ebb and flood. They’d have room to move and socialize and feel the sun and the rain and the most natural habitat possible, while remaining safe and cared for.

It’s not ideal. We can’t repair all our damage. It’s way too late for that. But it’s a heck of a lot better than what they experience now. If you agree, please join me in supporting the mission of The Whale Sanctuary Project.

Orca in captivity

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I am so grateful for all that Fred Rogers did for me.

Several years ago, I wrote about the fact that Fred Rogers was really the only father figure I ever knew. That post was entitled, “Fred Rogers Was My Father”, and I really meant it. I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have made it to adulthood without Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood.

Recently I went to see a documentary that’s in some theaters called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I learned even more about this amazing man and what a positive impact he had on the world. He spoke to children about the Vietnam war, and about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and about 9/11. He explained divorce and death to us. And most of all, he talked about kindness and decency and the fact that we’re all okay just the way we are. He made us feel safe. That’s all most kids really need, isn’t it?

I’m so glad that he wasn’t alive in 2007 when conservatives tried to blame him for an entire generation’s sense of entitlement. They claimed that because Mr. Rogers told children that they were special, they grew up to be lazy and didn’t feel like they had to work for their achievements. I was outraged. Many people were.

What’s next? Drop kicking puppies into active volcanoes? I mean, seriously. What were they really saying? That it would be better to tell kids that they were worthless, and that they need to man up? Here was a man that gave millions of people the self-esteem to rise up from their dysfunctional circumstances and have emotionally healthy, productive lives, and Fox News and their ilk were attacking that legacy. It was disgusting.

I highly recommend that you see that movie. The most poignant part, for me, was when they showed a clip of Mr. Rogers, as Daniel the tiger, wondering if he was a mistake, and Lady Aberlin reassuring him that he most definitely was not. That really resonated with me as a child. It still does, if I’m honest. The man was a saint.

When the lights went up in the theater, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And when I got to my car, I really let loose. I am just so grateful for all that Fred Rogers did for me. He knew me so well, without even meeting me. And I needed that. So very much.

Fred Rogers

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No Owl Should Ask Its Name: Crawford Hoarding

The alarm woke me out of REM sleep again.

The alarm woke me out of REM sleep again. I hate when that happens. It takes me forever to shake the fog out of my head.

But it also allows me to take a peek into my subconscious, because I’m often still in a dream, and can actually hear what’s going through my mind for a split second. That was the case this morning, and it was so surreal I immediately wrote it down.

What the voice in my head was saying was, “No owl should ask its name: Crawford Hoarding”.

Um…What am I supposed to do with that? Who, or what, is Crawford Hoarding?

It almost sounds like the name of a mansion in one of those fascinating places where people name their mansions. If so, I suspect the place is jam packed with stuff. “Welcome to Crawford Hoarding! Please watch your step.”

And why shouldn’t an owl inquire about the place? (Or person. Or thing.) What would the consequences be for said owl? And since when can owls talk, anyway? Where were we? Narnia?

I think this would make a great book title. I should suggest it to J. K. Rowling. She could work her magic on it. And I could get a free ticket to the premier of the movie version.

Until then, warn any owls that you might encounter to mind their own business. Just in case.


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Oddly Inappropriate

Isn’t it strange to watch a movie that you absolutely adored at another time in your life, only to discover that now you find it creepy? Sadly, I’ve had that experience on more than one occasion. It makes me wonder who I used to be, and why I used to think the way I did.

For example, as a kid, I absolutely adored Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But now there are a couple scenes that give me the willies. The first is Chu Chi Face, in which the Baroness Bomburst is clad in a bustier, and strikes sexy poses as she and the Baron pretend to be all lovey-dovey, when they actually despise each other. In fact, while she seems to be sexually wooing him, he’s attempting to kill her. Soft porn, anyone? The second is the Child Catcher number, in which he baits children with candy only to then abduct them.

And then, of course, there’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Three words: The Tunnel Scene. It’s a combination of a sick acid trip and a disturbing poem. It’s downright twisted. Willy Wonka was clearly a warped individual overall. I would not leave my child in a room alone with him. Factory inheritance be damned.

Later, when I was older and should have known better, I got taken in by the movie Grease. In which Sandy, a sweet, clean-cut girl, is groomed into thinking that the only way she can get her guy (who, incidentally, is a not-very-bright thug wannabe, as played by cult member John Travolta), is by transforming herself into a frizzy-haired, spandex-wearing, overly-made-up, cigarette-smoking, high-heeled temptress. “You’re the One that I Want.” Great message for the girls of the world. “Feel your way,” indeed.

I know that my earlier acceptance of certain scenes were a product of the times in which I was living, but jeez…


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