Make your own free website on Tripod.com

The Writing Life

The weekly journal of a guy who sits in a small room and types for a living

This is an archived version of the Journal. Links and pictures probably won't work.

5-30-98: Dug in and hunkered down

I emailed a synopsis for my six-issue Star Wars: Episode One comic book prequel to Dark Horse Comics this week and received notes back from editor Peet Janes. He's forwarded the material and his notes on to Lucasfilm. As soon as we hear from them, I can (in the best case scenario) proceed with scripting the first issue, or (worst case) start all over.

I also emailed my Young Hercules editor, Eric Lewald, a springboard for an episode of that series. Yes, I've been officially fired, but you never know. This story takes place in a single, indoor location and could be shot in two days. If they need a quick shoot, I have a chance at a second assignment.

But most of my time this week has been spent on revamping my home page. Moving over to the Windows platform has meant learning a new operating system, and moving all the files from PageMill 2.0 for the Mac to PageMill 3.0 for Windows has involved learning a few new tricks and doing a lot of drudge work, and now I have a scanner so I'm adding images but have to learn to use a new piece of hardware and its attendant software, and I bought some click art and had to buy a graphics converter program so that the WMF files could be read by another new program I'm learning, PhotoShop, and I'm redesigning the whole page visually and all of the links are messed up...you get the idea. It's a massive project and I've imposed a deadline on myself of next Saturday, June 6, to have the whole thing online. Julie is ready to kill me for sitting here in front of the computer all day and well into the evening.

This home page stuff is addictive. It's like having a jigsaw puzzle to put together, but there's no limit to the number of pieces. As soon as one part is done, you can always add a new wing, like the Winchester Mystery House.

 

The widow of the famous gun maker was convinced by a mystic that she needed to turn her mansion into a spook house to confuse the vengeful spirits of the people killed by Winchester rifles. Stairways dead-end at walls, columns stop short of the ceiling, etc. Click the image at left to learn more!

I've also bought my own domain, to be announced with the new page. I'll still be at the old same place, #7022 in Hollywood at GeoCities, but I'll have an easier-to-remember (and type) address.

On the Nuclear Family front, the pitch meeting to Comedy Central was postponed. Twice. After scheduling two different dates in June, it's now set for July 2.

And finally, I've received pages and pages of material from Disney about the new Buzz Lightyear animated series. I think I'll take it all out to the back yard and get some sun while I go over it. The sun...I remember it well. It's that bright yellow thing in the sky that makes you feel warm. Yeah, I definitely need to get outside again. Soon.

 

5-23-98: The Force is with me

Most of this week has gone towards plotting my next comic book project, so brand spankin' new that it's still untitled. What happened is that a former Star Wars editor of mine, Peet Janes, called with the offer of a six-issue series that will prequel the new Star Wars: Episode One movie that premieres around this time next year.

In the movie, of course, the Jedi Knights (garbled in transmission) and in the (garbled) but the (garbled) the (garbled)!

Hm...apparently Lucasfilm's security department is monitoring my website. Ah, well. I'll let you know what details I can, when I can. I can tell you that the artist is the talented Anthony Winn, with an inker yet to be determined.

Seriously, confidentiality isn't something you mess with. I've worked in development at Disney and am no stranger to non-disclosure statements. They must be rigorously observed, no discussion, no debate. And this project is no exception. Lucasfilm is leaking enticing newsbits about Star Wars: Episode One at its Official Star Wars site. Here's also an Unofficial Star Wars site that's pretty terrific.

Anyhow, the project is for Dark Horse Comics, it starts running in December of 1998 and runs through May 1999, at which point the movie will debut. I have six issues to outline and one to write by the middle of June. Yikes!

I also met with the kind folks at Universal to practice my pitch of The Nuclear Family to Comedy Central, now scheduled for June 1st. If you're of a religious stripe, pray for me. If not, just think good thoughts around 3:00 p.m. (PDT) on Monday, June 1st. Any spiritual and/or psychic assistance will be greatly appreciated!

 

5-16-98: Ridin' high in April, shot down in May

The lyrics to one of the late Frank Sinatra's signature tunes, "That's Life," pretty well summed up my week.

Monday morning I emailed my Young Hercules editor, Eric Lewald, the final draft of my script, "Iolaus Goes Stag" along with the note, "What's next?" He called me on Wednesday with praise for the script and informed me that I was fired. Apparently I'd been fired for a couple of weeks, ever since producer Rob Tapert had some kind of fit and fired all the writers except for a handful he was familiar with. Since he hadn't read my script yet, I wasn't one of that handful.

In other words, I was in the village when they dropped the napalm.

This is a major bummer. Young Hercules was my ticket into live action, and now that ticket's been revoked. It's also a financial hit of more than $50,000.

Also on Wednesday, I woke up with a cold sore on my upper lip, nice and visible. Like antlers on a house cat. Unfortunately, this was the day I was meeting Kit Mathew of the new science/entertainment complex in Kansas City, dubbed Science City, for whom I wrote the planetarium show. First impressions being what they are, I'm now imprinted on her mind as the guy with the viral outbreak on his mouth.

Another Wednesday event: Ellen Cockrill called regarding The Nuclear Family, my s-f sitcom that Universal optioned. She had good news: They were pitching the show to Comedy Central. "Great," I said, "good luck!" Ellen said, "We'd like to have you at the pitch." I sighed...another meeting, but if that's what they wanted, I'd go. "Fine," I said. She said, "We'd like you to do the pitch." Auuugh!

Every writer hates pitching. We're writers because our personalities are such that we're happiest sitting in a small room typing. We aren't showmen. We never wanted to be carnival barkers, actors, or motivational speakers. I've been a salesman and I sucked at it. I don't have presence, I have absence. I am the last guy you want to pitch your television series to a bunch of network execs.

Ellen obviously is well aware of my shortcomings in the dog-and-pony-show area and suggested that I attend a pre-pitch practice session at Universal and get some pointers from her and other Universal execs. If there's anything worse than pitching, it's practicing pitching. And she wanted a pre-pre-pitch meeting with me alone to prepare me for the pre-pitch meeting.

Two more cold sores leaped to my lips at the very thought, but I agreed.

So, with my firing fresh in mind and all these pitch meetings looming, I drove downtown to meet with Kit. I hate driving downtown because the freeway that takes you there is always jammed and the traffic downtown is a nightmare and it costs a fortune to park (the meeting cost me $20 in parking fees). The meeting went okay, but it's safe to say that I wasn't entirely there mentally.

Friday I drove to the Valley for a meeting at Disney to hear about their new Buzz Lightyear animated series. Lots of funny stuff, looks great, but I can't shake the depression from getting fired or the anger over getting fired for no good reason. I feel like my game piece has landed on the Return To Start square, and it is way too late in the game to be starting over.

Oh, well.

That's life.

 

5-9-98: Is it just me?

Waaay too much time was spent this week getting familiar with my new computer. I've migrated from the Mac platform over to Windows 95. It feels as if I've left the real world and taken up residence in the Rube Goldberg universe. I can still get everything done, but even the simplest task in Windows seems to involve lighting a firecracker under a monkey or getting an egg to roll down a ramp.

One quick example. I installed a lot of software last week, most of which requires me to restart my computer. Macs are like this, too. With a Mac, to restart the computer you click-and-hold on the Special menu, drag down to "restart," and let go of the mouse button. The Mac restarts.

Under Windows 95, you click on the Start button, then click on the Shut Down option which gives you a dialogue box, then select the "restart" option, then click on "yes." The computer restarts. Four clicks vs. the Mac's one click.

Everything in Windows 95 is like this! And the filing system was apparently designed by the same sort of people who trim their garden hedges into mazes...I can't find anything! So a lot of time has been spending finding the files I want to use, creating and storing Word 97 templates, and putting a few Shortcuts where they're handy.

Is it just me, or shouldn't a lot of this stuff be obvious to the programmers at Microsoft?

Meanwhile, Apple Computer this week announced its new home computer, a whizbang G3-powered all-in-one unit that smokes the competition and is priced at $1299, monitor included. The "iMac" they call it.

iMac has its quirks, though. Like, there's no floppy drive. Which means, for many people, no bringing work home from the office. And how do you store backup files, since there's no Zip drive or tape drive or anything else you can record on? Someone will surely make an external floppy drive available, but that's got to add $100-200 to the cost of the system...as well as putting an accessory on the desktop that had vanished for most of us.

Also, if you're an existing Mac user, there are no parallel printer or SCSI ports, except for the new USB standard, for which there's precious little hardware. (I'm sure there will be more to choose from when the computer actually ships three months from now.) So your current add-ons, like my printer and my external hard drive, can't connect to the new Mac.

And there are no available slots for expansion via plug-in cards. I didn't buy the Mac-plus for this reason, but waited for the Mac-SE which did have a slot, which I used for an accelerator card to squeeze more performance out of the (then) whiz-bang 68000 processor.

I don't know. Apple says that the iMac is "the most original Mac since the original Mac." But it seems that Apple is making the original mistakes all over again: lack of compatibility with other computers and their add-ons, and lack of expansion potential. I'm feeling déja vu all over again.

Is it just me?

Somehow I found time to meet with the Renaissance people about the final draft of my Young Hercules script, "Iolaus Goes Stag." This time we had the notes from Fox to contend with.

You know, if you built a house the way Hollywood writes scripts, you'd get to the final stage, where you (the contractor) are asking what color to paint the window trim, and there'd be somebody on the House Building Committee who'd say, "I think that the whole house should be rotated ninety degrees, and it needs six more bathrooms." If you, kind reader, ever become a network executive, please engrave this rule on your brain: The final draft is no place to start making fundamental story changes.

The final draft is where you say, "This line could be funnier" and "This character's reaction is a little too strong--tone it down a bit." You do not give notes that alter the basic spine of the story and which would require the whole house to be torn down and built up again from scratch.

That said, I must point out that the Renaissance folks understand this basic fact and are willing to say, "We can't do this-or-that, that's a whole 'nother story." Hence, the notes are fairly extensive but do-able and work proceeds apace.

Looking back at my previous Journal, I see that Universal Studios first told me that they wanted to option my s-f sitcom, The Nuclear Family, around the middle of August of last year. This week I finally received the contracts. That's almost nine months to give birth to an option contract. Whew! Seems like an awfully long time to spend on a fairly minor (to them) deal, but in keeping with this week's theme:

Maybe it's just me.

Julie and I attended a show by the All Original Playwright Company called "At First Sight." The AOPC is, in their own words, "a group of Los Angeles-based actors and writers who create exciting new work for film, television and theater. Actors-writers-producers Lisa Soland and Rosie Taravella began the company and act as co-artistic directors, overseeing the development of original scripts created solely from within the membership."

"At First Sight" is a collection of four sitcom pilots performed on stage. Our connection to the group is through the above-referenced Rosie Taravella, whose semi-autobiographical sitcom "A Shrink in the Family" was directed by Patricia Tallman, whom Babylon-5 fans will know as "Lyta Alexander" from that series. Chatting with Rosie's husband, Mike, during intermission, we learned that he'd not read the script in advance and was seeing "A Shrink in the Family" for the first time that night. Mike has a caustic sense of humor that apparently found its way--at times, word-for-word--into his wife's play. He seemed a little stunned as he shook his head and said, "Man, it was weird hearing my own dialogue come out of characters on stage."

That'll teach you to watch what you say around a writer, Mike!

Anyhow, the show provided a number of laughs, so the week, born of Windows woe, ended with mirth. Thanks for the invite, Rosie!

 

5-2-98: Travels with Julie, Part 2

Monday about noon I finished the rewrite of my Young Hercules script, "Iolaus Goes Stag," and emailed it to my editor, Eric Lewald. With no other jobs pending, I called my wife at her work and, knowing that she had the afternoon off, suggested that we drive up the coast and visit the banana tree farm.

Julie wants to plant banana trees in the back yard of the estate. She knew of a banana tree farm that offered expert advice and a variety of plants to choose from, just south of Santa Barbara, and this seemed like the perfect chance to check them out. When she arrived home around three o'clock (her workaholic notion of "having the afternoon off"), we jumped into the truck and hit Pacific Coast Highway.

We discussed the plan for the banana trees. Julie wanted two or maybe three trees. I was in favor of a bolder statement, a whole row of trees along the fence. Julie asked, "What if they cost a hundred dollars each?" "You know," I replied, "there's also something to be said for a single banana tree, standing alone, making its own statement."

About two hours later we arrived outside Santa Barbara...to find the banana tree farm out of business.

Our spirits dampened, we sought out the nearest bar and grille and settled in for some dinner. Two margaritas later for Julie and a couple of beers for me, plus dinner, we'd gotten over the blow and, after a short walk, were back in the car for the drive home.

I can't really consider the afternoon wasted. El Niño's torrential rains sent homes tumbling into ravines, but those of us who don't live in fancy-schmancy hillside houses are grateful for the burst of wildflowers that've transformed the drive up PCH into a scenic paradise. Ocean on one side, hills full of flowers on the other...it doesn't get much better than that. (Well, okay...fall foliage in the northeast and the turning of the aspens in the Rockies can compete handily, and anything involving giant redwoods, and...all right, just forget I said anything.) The drive was lovely and it was good to get out of town, however briefly, and spend a little quality time with my spouse.

On Wednesday, Ken Koonce from Disney called to feel me out about a Buzz Lightyear show. I said I would be delighted to be on board. A show centered on Buzz's space adventures seems like such a natural that I'm surprised it took Disney so long to approve it.

I'd been concerned about cartoon work not showing up on schedule. It's late in the year for producers to be starting work on the new shows and Ken's partner, Michael Merton, informs me that the schedule will be short. If this means that work extends beyond the usual summer cut-off point, so much the better!

I met on Wednesday with the Renaissance Pictures folks to get notes on "Iolaus Goes Stag." The meeting went fine but they told me not to do anything yet as they were getting Fox's notes on Thursday. I expected a call from my editor, Eric Lewald, on Thursday or Friday, but it didn't come. What did come was a call around 7:00 p.m. on Friday, from Erica at Renaissance, setting up a meeting on the next Tuesday. This sounds ominous, hinting at substantial notes from Fox or anticipated production problems or something.

The work lull did give me a few days to buy and install a new computer system. My Macintosh Quadra 610 is five years old now and crash prone. The memory is maxed out at a mere 24 megs and I don't even have a CD-ROM drive. Sadly, I decided after a lot of shopping that it was time to switch to the Windows platform. I need a computer that plays well with others, and even the Reply DOS-on-Mac card in my Quadra leaves me with some compatibility issues.

I ended up with an Aptiva E46. I've spent days hooking it up and installing software and moving the Mac to my wife Julie's desk. My initial reaction to Windows 95: it's like the Mac OS's developmentally challenged brother. It's trying hard but it lacks the elegance and grace of the Mac OS. On the plus side, my trip to Best Buy for software was exhilarating. After a decade of being stuck with the offerings on one little Macintosh shelf, I felt like I'd just discovered a magic kingdom in the back of the closet...all that stuff to choose from!

I'm keeping the Mac up and running for now. I have a ton of stuff that I need to translate somehow and move over to the Aptiva before I put the Mac out to pasture, and I'm not even sure it can be done. It feels like the end of love affair. Excuse me as I wipe away a tear....

 

4-25-98: Another one bites the dust

I learned on Friday that my Starship Troopers editor, Jamie Rich, is leaving Dark Horse comics. He's the third or fourth Dark Horse editor I've driven out of the business.

Tuesday I turned in the first draft of my Young Hercules script, and I went in for notes on Thursday. My meeting, the last of a series of writer meetings that day, started about ninety minutes late. The executive at Renaissance Pictures was due in another meeting soon, one involving communication with New Zealand, so my notes meeting was necessarily short. Thus, notes were light. I should be able to have the revised script in by Monday.

I'm beginning to worry, now, about not having enough work. My two comic book projects (an Elseworlds story for DC Comics and a ZombieWorld story for Dark Horse) are in the earliest stages. I'm waiting for some reference material from DC, and my ZombieWorld editor, Scott Allie, is still working out the budgeting and scheduling and contractual details on that project. Peet Janes at Dark Horse phoned about a Star Wars: Episode One tie-in book, but details are still extremely sketchy. Right now I have nothing to work on but Young Hercules (and my next book project, but there's no money in that). I'm premising some stories for Young Herc and catching up on correspondence and balancing the checkbook and stuff like that.

None of which has resulted in an even faintly amusing anecdote for the Journal this week. Sorry.

 

4-18-98: A fable for our times

Juan came to the strange city of Los Angeles in 1985. He had outgrown the ability of his small, semi-rural town to feed his dreams. At least, that's how he saw it. Others might say that he was seduced by the big city and its bright lights and its promises of wealth. Whatever, he came.

He brought his wife, Julietta, of course. Juan worked hard and Julietta worked hard. Juan did not grow rich, but he did all right, and Julietta always brought home a pay check, and together they made a living and had many credit cards.

After several years, Juan and Julietta moved into a small house in a humble neighborhood, a modest dwelling that was barely big enough for two people. But they were happy with their house because it had a tiny yard for Julietta to make a garden and for Juan to have a dog, Tobias, and Juan had a tiny room in which to write his dreams. Julietta and Juan were content.

But of course, Julietta's family missed her and wanted to visit. They were poor and could not afford to make a trip to California and also pay for a place to stay, and they arranged to stay with Juan and Julietta.

So Juan and Julietta welcomed Julietta's family. Julietta's son from a previous marriage, Tomas, and his wife, Corinna, and their baby, Jonas, slept on the floor in the living room. Their daughter, Britavia, slept on the floor in Juan and Julietta's room. Juan's mother-in-law, Juanita, slept on the floor in Juan's study. Juan's in-laws were content to live like animals if it saved a few bucks.

Baby Jonas thinks that everything is a toy. Even things that are not toys. He plays with toys by throwing them to the floor. Even when things are breakable. Tomas and Corinna try to watch Baby Jonas, but he is ten months old and fast like a monkey.

Baby Jonas knows one word: "Aaak!" Aaak means "I'm happy." Also, "I'm unhappy." Also, "I am wet," "I am hungry," "I fell down," "I broke something," and "I feel like saying 'Aaak!'" Baby Jonas knows one volume. Loud. That adds up to a lot of loud Aaaks. All the time. Like a parrot in heat.

Julietta's friend from work, Carleta, comes and brings her two nephews to play with Juan's granddaughter. The two children who live next door also come over to play. So now there are five children running and screaming where there had been none, plus Baby Jonas.

Tobias the dog has dug a hole in the back yard, under a bush, where it is dark and quiet.

Carleta is sick. Baby Jonas is sick. The mother of the two neighbor children is sick. Soon Juan and Julietta are sick, too. Juan wishes he could dig a hole to crawl into, like Tobias, but he must dig a hole for himself in his mind and crawl into that instead.

The single bathroom in Juan's humble home is the focus of great activity, especially in the morning and especially because there is sickness. Everyone wants to use the bathroom at once, so Juan scurries in whenever he has the chance and stays there while others who were not so fast pound on the door.

Did I mention that Juan is on a tight deadline for a Young Hercules script?

Juan sits in the bathroom and holds his head in his hands. His mind has stopped working. He cannot speak complete sentences.

Someone pounds on the door, wanting in.

"Aaak," Juan says.

***

Saturday morning, Steve Vance and I went out for coffee. We were sitting in the Prebeca Cafe in Marina Del Rey, talking about comic books, when this forty-year-old guy calls to us from the next table: "Are you guys involved in comic books?" We confessed that we were and for a few minutes the three of us talked about comics. I finally asked the guy what he did when he wasn't reading comics and he said, "I teach men how to get laid through hypnosis."

I'd just seen this guy on television and told him so, though I've forgotten his name (Steve Vale?). We chatted around that topic for a minute and then Steve and I left. On the way to the car we wondered, "What kind of man has to resort to hypnosis to get women?" The answer arrived instantly: "A comic book fan," and another little piece of Life's Puzzle fell into place.

(For the record, neither Steve nor myself resorted to hypnosis to obtain our wives. We did it the old-fashioned way, by paying their boat fare from Serbia.)

I got notes on my rewrite of the Young Hercules beat sheet on Tuesday. On Wednesday I stayed in bed, alternately sleeping and moaning, rising only to take medicine or use the bathroom. On Thursday, three-fifths of my company left for Disneyland. On Friday I began work on the Young Hercules script. I need to have it done early next week.

Aaak.

 

4-11-98: What did I do to deserve this?

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday found Julie and me in Las Vegas, not-quite-attending the National Association of Broadcasters convention. We were there as Babysitter and Babysitter's Husband for a friend of ours who was attending the convention and wanted someone to look after her two-year-old, Alex, while she networked (so to speak).

We stayed at the most family-friendly hotel in Las Vegas, Circus Circus. They showed Alex great hospitality, by Las Vegas standards, and didn't physically pick him up and throw him out any windows. Children are not allowed in casinos, but they may pass through on the way to somewhere else. This exception is needed because, to get anywhere in Las Vegas, you have to pass through a casino. The hotels are designed that way because that's where they make their money. So, if you want that $5.75 prime rib dinner ballyhooed in six-foot high letters on the marquee, you'll find the restaurant downstairs in a far, dark corner of the place at the end of a twisting gauntlet of slot machines and gaming tables.

The rule to remember if you have a two-year-old in tow is, don't stop moving. One day, Julie and Alex were waiting for me while I visited the restroom after having lunch. Since the hotel restaurant was enveloped by the casino, this meant that Julie had to stand around with Alex for a couple of minutes in the casino. She wandered over to study the hotel directory. A security guard strode over and snarled at her to "get that kid out of the casino." Julie explained that she was waiting for her husband to get out of the restroom, and the guard snapped, "Then stand over by the restroom!" This was at Circus Circus, which encourages families to attend with an indoor amusement park for kids (which you have to walk through the casino to get to) and a circus midway (which you have to walk through the casino to get to) and lots of clowns on all the signs outside.

Circus Circus also features, as far as I can tell, slot machines as tight as a duck's anus. These things are supposed to tease you along, giving you back a little less than you plunk into them, thus encouraging you to keep dropping in quarters. My experience was: You put in $20 worth of quarters and watch pictures whirl around and then it's over. Out of some forty-plus plays (one or two quarters at a time) I got back two quarters, which of course I subsequently lost. Thus ended my gambling at Circus Circus.

Then there was the smell of the hotel room. Going with the metaphor already established above, I'd say that it smelled like a duck's anus. Mind you, I haven't actually sniffed a duck's anus, but I'm guessing that the eau d'hotel at Circus Circus comes close.

In other words, stay someplace else. The Mirage looked nice.

I returned to L.A. on Tuesday afternoon and met with the lovely folks at Renaissance Pictures on Wednesday to discuss my Young Hercules story, "Iolaus Goes Stag." We went over my beat outline and I received notes for a rewrite.

Besides Young Hercules, I also completed my four-issue stint on Starship Troopers, the Dark Horse comic book, by turning in the last issue of Dominant Species. My very kind editor, Jamie Rich, phoned to thank me for a job well done. He also informed me that they weren't, at present, committing to more than the eight issues of Starship Troopers they'd already commissioned. Sales will determine if the series continues or not.

I also got a call from Jim Higgins at DC Comics who's helping Andy Helfer with the Elseworlds series of books for DC's Paradox Press. We talked about a one- or two-issue story arc featuring a DC super-hero, but I explained that, first, I would be writing a ZombieWorld story for Dark Horse and editor Scott Allie, and that animation and TV were my bread-and-butter, with comic books having to be somewhat generous regarding scheduling. I think we'll be able to work something out. It should be great fun.

Speaking of Scott Allie, he emailed me a ZombieWorld "bible" and answered some questions I'd sent him about the mythos, such as: how do you kill these zombies? Can they think at all, or are they mindless ghouls? Etc. What wonderful questions to ponder while you're driving around L.A.!

On Thursday I rewrote the Young Hercules beat sheet and emailed it to Eric Lewald, and also received a call from Mike Bakich at the K.C. Museum, for whom I'm writing a planetarium show. Mike gave me the final notes on the show and, once the Young Hercules rewrite was whizzing its way through cyberspace, I made the few changes and sent off both the final script and an invoice.

Then came Friday. "Good Friday." For me, it was "Jan Goes to Hell Day."

Friday opened with my literary agent, Stuart Bernstein, calling with the bad news that after five positive readings by editors at Warner Books, the editorial board ultimately gave Many Happy Returns the thumbs-down because they didn't think they could sell a horror novel by a new writer. One might think that the board would want to save a lot of people a lot of time by, oh, issuing a memo to their editors stating, "Don't read horror by new writers as we can't sell it," but apparently that is not the case at Warner Books. They would rather string everyone along and get the author's hopes up before dropping the ax.

Then I set out on what I thought would be an easy quest: To find a book with lots of pictures of Martians from 1950s sci-fi films for the planetarium show. I trekked to Hollywood and Bill Liebowitz's fine comics & collectibles shop, The Golden Apple. And found nothing. What pictures I did locate were horribly reproduced and unusable. So began the odyssey to Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Book and Poster Company and various other such places, then to Santa Monica and Hi De Ho Comics and a used s-f/fantasy bookstore...all in all, three hours of driving on gridlocked freeways and L.A. streets plus three hours of browsing with the result that I found three so-so books.

I arrived home, exhausted, and boxed up the three books and another one I had sitting around, then went to the grocery store to buy provisions for the company that would begin arriving that night: My mother-in-law on Friday, then on Saturday, my stepson, his wife, their new baby, and my grand-daughter. I returned from the store to find that my wife had cleared out everything under the sink because of a massive wet sopping leak. So I drove to Home Depot for parts and let Julie pick up her mother at LAX. On the way home I stopped at a bar for a Scotch. As I left I gave the bartender five bucks and told him, "Buy somebody a drink tonight," figuring I could use the karma. I came home and took a hot bath, greeted the mother-in-law when she arrived, and hied myself to bed.

Maybe I'm being set up by the Celestial Powers for some really stupendously lucky break, and They just have to bring me down before building me up again.

Yeah, that's it. Uh-huh.

 

4-4-98: A Dumb Week

Sometimes I wake up on Saturday morning and realize that I've suffered a lost week. Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend misplaced a couple of days, but I, without benefit of alcohol (as far as I remember) have once again lost track of an entire week. What happened?

I'd been working away on the last issue of StarshipTroopers: Dominant Species when Eric Lewald. This would be...Sunday, late afternoon. I'd turned in a Young Hercules premise earlier in the week and was waiting for notes. Eric had a couple of problems with the premise, and he needed a rewrite in, basically, the next few hours so he could submit it to Renaissance Pictures on Monday.

So I banged out a rewrite and emailed it to Eric, and returned to Dominant Species until Wednesday morning when I had a story meeting at Renaissance to go over the revised premise. Producer Rob Tapert was on his honeymoon with Xena, Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless) and I think that might be what threw me off my stride--certain fantasy images just kept whirling around in my overheated brain all week, making it hard to tie my shoes, let alone write coherently.

Anyway, the story is very problematic for a kids show. It centers on two things Rob wanted to do: A) Herc's pal Iolaus sees Artemis naked, bathing in a pool, and she turns him into a stag, and II) Iolaus-stag is hunted by his uncle, whom I've named Flatus because he's kind of a gas bag. Nudity and hunting are two difficult areas for Broadcast Standards and Practices, or BS&P as we call them, i.e. the censors. Particularly on a show for children.

Without going into detail, the challenge passed down to me was to write a story that kind of dances all around its content without ever actually diving in. I began work on a Beat Sheet (aka Beat Outline) in which I offered alternatives at several different points based on how the decisions might come down at BS&P. Eric called late on Friday afternoon to announce how the various BS&P issues had been resolved.

I absolutely must finish the Beat Sheet on Saturday, as Julie and I are going to Las Vegas on Sunday, returning Tuesday afternoon. This is not strictly a pleasure trip but we're trying to sneak in a little holiday along with the business. There must be something worth reporting about the week just passed, but I can't for the life of me think what it might be. So, as I have much work to do, I'm signing off.

Maybe something exciting will happen in Vegas.

 

3-28-98: Monday, Monday

All it takes is a few days like Monday the 23rd to completely kill, dismember and bury the idea that life in Southern California is all palm trees and sipping fruit drinks by the beach. Monday was New York hectic.

Keeping with the recent theme of bad plumbing, my aging dog Toby has developed a bladder control problem. In plain terms, she's started wetting the bed. So Monday opened with a trip to the vet. Toby always pees in the parking lot so this time when she squatted I slid a baking dish under her tush and collected a urine specimen. We walked out with bottles of medicine and a prescription and a vow from the veterinary staff never to eat our homemade brownies, considering what else we used our baking dish for.

After dropping Toby at the house I raced down to TicketMaster to pick up our once-every-five-years concert tickets. This is roughly how often Julie and I get out to a concert, and it was a big one for people of our generation: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison. The line stretched down the sidewalk, the tickets were $90 each, and I was short on time, so I phoned Julie and we decided to blow it off. This is why we never go to concerts...it's just too damned much trouble.

From there I raced to Johnnie's Pizza, where we were ordering pizzas for our Oscar party that evening, scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m. Pizza on Oscar Night in L.A. is a precious commodity, like water on Dune or mascara at a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot. We had a clever plan: order Johnnie's take-and-bake pizzas, pick them up at 4:00, and cook them ourselves. I ordered the pizzas and told Johnnie's that my wife would pick them up later.

This left me a few minutes to go over the premises for Young Hercules, a new live action series from Renaissance Pictures, the people who bring us Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena, Warrior Princess. It'll be my first live action gig where the show will actually be produced, so I'm very geezed up. The story meeting was set for 3:00 p.m. at Universal Studios, a cross-town trip for me, so time was growing short.

I picked up my copy of some premises the show runner, Eric Lewald, had faxed to me, one of which would be my script assignment, grabbed my coupon for a discount Fatburger and raced out the door for lunch. I went over the premises while eating, getting them good and greasy in the process (in the barbarian spirit), and made extensive notes on my two favorites.

I'd returned home and was packing up for my trip to the Valley when the phone rang. It was Stuart Bernstein, my literary agent, with news that we had "serious interest" in Many Happy Returns from a major publisher. The manuscript had had four positive readings from the editorial board and things looked very, very good.

Buoyed by this frabjous news, I hopped in the truck (I'd meant to ask Julie to take the truck to her work so I could have the car, but I forgot) and drove out to Universal Studios. The guard at the gate couldn't find my name until I misspelled it for him ("Look under S-T-R-A-N-D") and then he gave me a map to Renaissance's office, Building 78. Found it, parked in one of the two vacant, non-reserved parking spaces in all of Universal Studios, and walked to Building 78 trying to look very much like a Hollywood personality for the people on the tour bus.

Inside I linked up with Eric and while we were chatting, waiting for two other writers to show up, the elevator doors parted to reveal none other than Lucy Lawless, Xena herself, who'd come to the office to sign her marriage certificate with producer Rob Tapert. Folks, unlike most Hollywood celebrities, this gal is actually taller and prettier in person than on the screen. And she has a lovely, soft voice that we rarely hear from her Xena persona...not that I was eavesdropping. She is now a Close, Personal Friend, meaning: we were in the same room at the same time. Other Close, Personal Friends of mine include Diane Keaton (shared an elevator at the Beverly Center), the late Vincent Price (I was getting off an elevator while he was getting on), and other celebrities who meet the stringent qualifying criteria noted above.

I had a short, intense story session with the Renaissance folks (Rob Tapert, Liz Friedman, Cynthia Hsiung, the aforementioned Eric Lewald, and two other writers, Shari Goodhartz and Steve Melching) which I have to describe as a "drive-by story session." Rather than going over every tiny point, as I was accustomed to at, say, Disney, Rob and crew hit us with their main concerns and then sent us on our way to write. Naturally, the first order of business was for Rob to offhandedly dismiss the two premises I'd made lengthy notes about, so I ended up signing up for a premise that wasn't even written yet, which we made up at the table.

So compact was this meeting that I was back home in time to greet the first arrival at our Oscar party. Julie had picked up the pizzas, more food and drink arrived with each guest, and I came in 2nd from the bottom in the Oscar pool, missing twelve of twenty-four categories.

After that, the rest of the week had to settle down somewhat, which it did. I made a trip to HiDeHo Comics in Santa Monica to buy a copy of Gen-13 Bootleg #16, the second part of my two-part story arc, since my creator's copies hadn't shown up yet. Whenever I want my complimentary copies to appear, I go out and buy a copy. This little bit of voodoo magic usually works, but when a couple days went by without results, I phoned WildStorm Studios and let them know that neither Kevin Nowlan nor I had received our freebies. I learned that the job of mailing out comps had shifted from one person to another and apparently Gen-13 Bootleg #16 got lost in the shuffle.

I'm really happy with the way this story turned out, so I'm hoping they can find a few extra copies in the warehouse to send us.

And all the rest of the week, Toby's bed was dry, so I guess the new pills are working.

 

3-21-98: More fluids

The plumbing in an older house like ours is a delicate system of corroding pipes held together by accreted glop. Looking into the pipes is like viewing the arteries of a seventy-five year old chain smoker. The result of all this gunk building up is reduced water pressure, which is good because any more pressure puts more strain on aging fixtures and causes them to blow up, as our kitchen faucet did when we fixed a broken pipe last week.

This week the shut-off valve under the (new) sink gave way. I replaced it myself, not wanting to contribute further to our plumber's yacht fund or whatever it is he buys with his $75/hour. That stopped the leak, but it caused debris from the connecting pipe to shake loose and clog up the flow restrictor in the (new) faucet. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a "flow restrictor" until I called Delta's emergency 800 number. Putting a flow restrictor on a faucet still strikes me as weird, like chaining a concrete block to the bumper of a Porsche, or like some government program that decrees, "Okay, we'll give you water, but then we'll take half of it back." The Delta company obviously hasn't seen our pipes or they'd know that the entire network is one big flow restrictor.

Anyway, seeing all the gunk in the pipes encouraged me to get the water filter hooked back up immediately, so I did that, too. All in all, it was an afternoon and then a morning spent under the sink, when I wasn't driving to or from Home Depot.

Luckily, I'd completed the third Starship Troopers: Dominant Species comic book basically on schedule (it's a rather fuzzy-edged schedule with one book falling due pretty much every month) but had to postpone the planetarium show by a day to deal with all this water spewing around where it wasn't wanted. (The spewing came from disconnecting and dismantling the faucet looking for the water that wasn't coming out, which sometimes resulted in the sprayer hose flying around like a live wire or water bursting forth under the sink.) I heard on Friday from Jamie Rich, my Dark Horse Comics editor, that book three of Dominant Species "kicks." I think that's good.

My hardworking wife Julie has been working her lovely buns off at a Beverly Hills CPA office, but chance gave her a rare break on Thursday afternoon, aka "sink day." I'd finished the plumbing job and she invited me to go soil shopping, so naturally I leaped at the opportunity. Water and earth in one day. Sort of a yin-and-yang thing.

Anyway, we found some truly remarkable soil at a place called Weedfree Organics out in Sunland. It made the previous soil we'd bought look like dirt. So we loaded up the truck again and hit the road, nose in the air but not as badly as before (see "Travels with Julie," below) because we'd wised up and didn't fill the Toyota's bed quite so full.

Still, avoiding the freeway made it a slow trip, and as we passed the Amazon bar in Sherman Oaks, creeping along Ventura Boulevard during rush hour (or "crush hour" as we call it here), we were seduced into stopping for a drink. We sat at the bar behind the waterfall and, a couple of fruity rum drinks later, we were in love and in need of some sobering up before taking the dirt on home. We strolled along Ventura Boulevard, checked at TicketMaster for tickets for the Van Morrison/Bob Dylan/Joni Mitchell concert that we're going to blow our allowances on, then took a table at Starbucks for coffee and ice cream. That's where we met Uncle Emil.

I don't know his real name, but he looked like an Uncle Emil. Kindly, elderly face with a scrub brush mustache, what looked like his worldly belongings in a cardboard box strapped to a suitcase carrier. He was building a model boat out of scrap. He had a discarded curtain rod to use for a mast and had hammered together a body out of wood. It sat on his table in front of Starbucks, and now and again he would tap-tap-tap some kind of doodad onto the side, maybe an eagle crest or a small piece of brass. His accent was thick so our conversation was limited. I wondered if he was homeless and dragged this project around all day, guarding it preciously at night from L.A.'s wide selection of thugs and vandals.

We were sitting there, drinking coffee and eating ice cream, when Uncle Emil's pager went off.

He asked us to watch his boat while he made a phone call and we accepted the assignment. Heck...maybe he was some kind of eccentric multi-millionaire who would will us his fortune. (He wasn't, or at least, didn't.) We waited. Finished our coffee, and still waited. The sun was going down and the temperature was plunging into the mid-60s as we waited for Uncle Emil to return. To a Los Angeleno without a jacket who's been eating ice cream, that's cold. Uncle Emil seemed to be making a very long call. We wanted to leave but we'd promised to watch his boat, and since Julie and I had both read and taken to heart Horton Hatches the Egg we knew that we couldn't leave our post until he returned. Finally Julie went in search of him, found him, and after warm thanks he dismissed us from duty.

Industry gave way to romance once we got home, so the truck currently sits in the garage, still full of dirt. The next day I launched into the second draft of the planetarium show, which I emailed to Kansas City late Friday afternoon.

This is what I love about the writing life. Yes, you work as needed, which usually means weekends. No, you don't know when you're going to get paid. Yes, work generally comes in two quantities: too much or too little. But now and again you get to take a Thursday afternoon off and fool around with your wife, have something like an adventure and rediscover what attracted you to one another in the first place. If that doesn't make it all worthwhile, it comes darned close.

 

3-14-98: Water on the brain

Sunday night, I went to bed with a sinking feeling. Earlier in the evening I'd noticed a particularly squishy section of back yard. My optimistic wife, Julie, said, "Maybe I left the hose on." Uh-huh. The next morning, the estate sported a new marsh and my worst fears were realized: An underground pipe had sprung a leak.

Before environmental groups could protest the imminent destruction of the Strnad Wetlands, I called the plumber.

The mansion at the heart of Villa Strnadini is wonky as hell, kind of an accidental Winchester Mystery House. The wiring is inscrutable. The plumbing holds many mysteries. This time we learned that the cold water line runs from the street to the front of the house, then passes entirely through the house in express train fashion, no stops along the way (such as at the kitchen or bathroom), until it emerges out the back. Then it dives beneath the back yard and digs its way to the detached garage off the alley where it traipses around a bizarre conglomeration of pipes in a kind of watery benediction, then it makes a U-turn, dives back under the yard and returns to the house where, half exhausted, it finally seeks out and connects to the various faucets.

So, when the plumber capped off this line to stop the underground leak, he also cut off all cold water to the house.

Eventually the problem was solved, the back yard swamp began to drain and we had water again. I mentioned to Julie on Wednesday night that we seemed to have more water pressure. Which is probably why, on Thursday morning, the kitchen spigot blew up.

The kitchen sink has been an eyesore for several years, ever since the enamel wore off the cast iron, turning it into an ongoing science experiment. Peach skins, for example, turn it vivid purple. Everything else turns it brown. The faucet has been on life support since the Eisenhower administration. Now we absolutely had to replace it since it continued to spew water all over the place despite the layers of duct tape I swathed it in, so I decided to replace the sink, too, as long as everything was disconnected.

The plumber said it would be a three-to-four hour job. Julie suggested that I could do it myself over the weekend. She's such a kidder.

The Strnad Wetlands' appearance on Monday caused me to panic and phone my RoboCop editor, Len Uhley, to tell him that I might not make the Tuesday deadline on my script. He kindly granted me another day. As it turned out, I did make the Tuesday deadline and began work on my next Starship Troopers comic, book #3 of 4 of the saga Dominant Species. I worked on Dominant Species in between trips to Home Depot. Len phoned on Thursday to express delight with the RoboCop script, which went in to the Powers That Be at MGM on Friday.

Anyway, the new kitchen fixtures are beautiful but the hot water tap is now leaking under the brand new sink, so I'll have to get the plumber back out to make it good. Also an electrician because...well, never mind. But it's all because a pipe leaked under the back yard.

I'm thinking now of a story where just such a leak under the White House ultimately results in the downfall of American civilization. Title: The Last Leak.

 

3-7-98: Travels with Julie

So I'd banged together a couple of raised gardening beds in the back yard and now it was time to fill them with dirt. Excuse me. With "soil." There's a difference. Soil costs more.

In L.A., soil is not as easy to come by as it was in my home state of Kansas, where all you had to do was leave a window open on a windy day (i.e. any day at all, except during the eerie lull that precedes a tornado) and soil would appear. In fact, you can't get soil in Los Angeles. Soot, smog...sure. But for soil you have to drive out to Sunland, about forty-five minutes away by freeway.

We have a Toyota pickup truck that my wife bought five years ago in a fit of precognition, visualizing that the day would come when we'd want a vehicle to haul soil and (soon) worm poop in, and figuring rightly that I'd take a dim view of dumping a bulldozer-load of dirt in the back seat of the Acura. I considered driving the truck to Malibu where mudslides are currently oozing all over the Pacific Coast Highway, parking by the side of the road and just waiting for Mother Nature to grace me with all the earth I could wish for, but Julie balked at that idea. We hit the road for Sunland.

Buying the dirt...soil, I mean...was uneventful except that there was no place to pee at the dirt store, which was really just a big open area under some power lines next to the owner's mutt collection. The operator told me I could pee between the trucks and the dogs and that's what I did while the dogs announced to everyone in earshot, "Guy peeing over here! Hey, look! Here's a guy peeing!" Afterwards, Julie and I headed back to civilization with a truckload of soil.

The truck, which lacks power steering, is usually hard to steer, but suddenly it felt like I was behind the wheel of a 1970's-era Cadillac. I could spin the wheel with one finger, a technique that would make my high school Driver's Ed. teacher, Ed, go white with horror. I soon found out why: all of that weight in the back end made the front wheels go up. It was like steering a speedboat. Now and again the front wheels touched down and I could make a faint suggestion as to which way to turn, but for the most part we just cruised along like a big, motorized leaf blowing this way and that. I was grateful for my empty bladder.

I chose not to take the freeway, figuring that when you're being bounced around like a play thing by every stray molecule, it's better not to be traveling at sixty-five miles an hour. We made it home eventually and unloaded the dirt...yeah, whatever...and are planning a return trip for more of the same next week. Then we go to the worm farm.

I'll keep you posted.

Workwise, I received a big thumbs-up on my second RoboCop outline and began work on the teleplay. "The Return of the Hermanator" will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best nebbish-gets-a-power-suit-and-helps-cybernetic-cop-battle-killer-cars cartoons ever written.

Got some preliminary notes on the planetarium show. Pretty light notes so far. I also went on a Net-hunt for a picture of a Hairless Dog to send to Mike Bakich for reference. After about thirty minutes' searching I gave up and called my pal, Steve, who has a scanner. Steve scanned the accompanying photo from the book Dogs of the World. So here it is, finally, a decent illustration of a Hairless Dog on the Internet. Click the thumbnail for the big picture. And buy Dogs of the World for one of the best collections of dog illustrations I've found (written by Maurizio Bongianni & Concetta Mori, illustrated by Piero Cozzaglio, published by Crescent Books).

Disney paid me for my Hercules cartoon script. I must point out, in all fairness, having disparaged Disney's sloth in paying freelancers in the past, that the check arrived promptly (about three weeks from billing). Anything less than thirty days is "promptly" in my book. I am, despite what you might think if you saw me sailing down the street piloting a truck load of dirt, a reasonable man.

 

2-28-98: Bill Clinton steals my movie

Last week's cliffhanger was: Will the check from Dark Horse for my Starship Troopers comic book arrive on Monday, letting me bank enough money to cover the closing costs on my refinance on Villa Strnadini, thus saving me hundreds of dollars every month? The answer: No, it didn't. So my lovely wife and I scrambled for the dough, put the touch on a good friend, and made the deadline.

It was pouring rain as we drove down the freeway to the title company's office to pay lots of money and sign lots of papers. It was, in fact, the worst storm yet in this El Nino winter. Julie was late in picking me up and wanted to postpone everything, but loan-type stuff like "lock-ins" meant it was pretty much now or...well, not "never" but "later with a bunch of extra hassle and maybe some more money." We fought the storm and traffic both ways and got the deed done. The Dark Horse check arrived on Tuesday and we paid our friend back.

Survival as a freelancer means dealing with the cash flow, and more importantly, the cash ebb. You can tighten your belt when the cash isn't flowing, but you can't tighten it forever. Pretty soon you run out of notches.

I rarely (but sometimes) blame the overburdened clerical people who are in charge of moving the amounts of paper that ultimately result in payments to people like me. Too often they're stuck in a system that doesn't put a premium on paying "creditors." I heard an executive advise another executive once, "Collect your receivables, defer your payables." As if real people and real lives weren't on the line here.

Which is precisely what is wrong with corporate America these days--a lack of humanity. "Downsizing" full-time employees and hiring them back as part-timers, thus saving on their employee benefits and salaries (often hiring back the same people who've been fired), is considered "good business." Never mind that these people need health coverage the same as Mr. Executive and his Stockholders. Never mind that these people have rents and utilities to pay, food to buy, schooling for the kids to pay for. Let 'em suffer. Let 'em tighten their belts. They have to learn to roll with the punches. Those people are always whinin' about something....

Friday night I was whining about the President. Julie and I were meeting after work at 20th Century-Fox for a screening of The Winter Guest. I arrived first (Julie was late) and found a small crowd of confused people milling around outside the theater. The person in charge of screenings, Lily Beaudin, who should have been standing sentry at the door and checking passes, was nowhere to be seen. A newspaper ad was hanging by the door indicating that the movie might be, not The Winter Guest but The Sweet Hereafter.

Fine by me, since I wanted to see The Sweet Hereafter, too. Eventually Lily appears. I could tell she was upset because fire was spewing from her mouth and smoke from her ears. She'd had to cancel the screening of The Winter Guest because Bill Clinton had called and asked to see the movie and Fox had sent the print to him. So Lily had substituted The Sweet Hereafter, a print of which she'd gone to some trouble to borrow from New Line Films.

However, the Receiving Department at Fox didn't know why they'd received the print and so sent it back. Initiative is not always a good thing. In the hands of incompetents, it can be like handing a two-year-old a handgun. Anyway, so Lily had been scouring the lot for another movie to show and had come up with The Ice Storm and Titanic. We'd seen both of these fine films so Julie and I ended up going to The Spitfire Grill (after which the movie The Spitfire Grill was named, even though the real Spitfire is a much nicer place) and sat in the side room that looks like the inside of an airplane but with tables instead of seats and had a nice dinner and some Angel City Lager brewed in Culver City (just down the street).

God, the President, and the Receiving Department willing, Fox will show As Good As It Gets today. If I get my planetarium show finished, we'll catch a screening.

I told Mike Bakich at the Kansas City Museum that I'd email him a first draft of our planetarium show about intelligent life in the universe, The Truth Is Out There, today. Guess I'd better get started. Just kidding: I've been working on it all month in between working on the Hercules cartoon for Disney and the RoboCop cartoon for MGM and my second Starship Troopers comic book. It's coming together well but the research is killing me...lots of hours spent researching UFOs and extremophiles and such. My goal is to write a planetarium show that doesn't put everyone to sleep. I'm trying a comedy/dramatic format, more like a radio play with sound effects and such, a dialogue between two opponents: Wolf Muldoon (a UFO believer) and Agent Kelly (a scientist for the FBI). The humor is very sophisticated and highbrow, like this: KNOCK ON DOOR. Kelly: "Door's open." THUMP, MOAN. Kelly: "I mean, it's unlocked. (Some people are waaay too literal!)"

 

2-21-98: Busy, busy

I'd barely dropped one plate (see below) and finished sweeping up the shards when another plate mysteriously appeared to take its place. A new series is in the offing and I'm auditioning via a GeeKeR script. Chances are good because I have an inside track, but I can't bring myself to talk about it because of Midwestern superstition. I feel that if I talk about it too much, I'll jinx it. I know, I'm supposed to be a logical, humanistic sort of person, but I still have a deep and abiding belief (apparently) in jinxes. The producers are in a hurry to get started so maybe I'll have news next week.

This week I emailed the first few pages of the planetarium show, currently titled The Truth Is Out There, to Mike Bakich at the Kansas City Museum. Response was enthusiastic and I'm charging ahead. The project involves a fair amount of independent research, with Mike providing additional info, and I find all this stuff fascinating. Did you know that there are bacteria so resistant to radiation that they actually live inside nuclear reactors? Or that other micro-organisms live on the ocean floor near volcanic vents where the water reaches more than 335 degrees (water boils at 212 degrees F)? Or that some forms of life are nourished by hydrogen sulfide, poisonous to most life forms (like us), but are killed instantly in the presence of oxygen?

Or how about the fact that scientists believe they've discovered vast oceans of water under the ice on Jupiter's moon Europa, or that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has a rich atmosphere similar in some ways to Earth's?

What does all this have to do with life in outer space, the topic of the planetarium show? Simply that, a) life exists on Earth under far harsher conditions than we previously believed was possible, and b) the planetary requirements for life-as-we-know-it exist more commonly than we previously believed. Meaning: There's life on other planets, for sure, believe it! Or not. But the odds against it aren't as long as we used to think.

On the personal front, we close escrow on our home refinance on Monday. It's been an incredible, time-sucking hassle but if it all goes through, it'll be worth it, saving us about $600 on Villa Strnadini's monthly mortgage. We also finished, last week, closing the loan on our truck, which reached the end of its lease and had to be turned back in to the dealer or purchased. We went with the purchase option since the truck's worth a couple thousand more than the payoff and we'll need it to haul the truckload of worm poop my lovely wife wants to dump on the vegetable beds.

When you're self-employed, applying for loans means filling out a lot of papers and providing extensive documentation of your income, as opposed to people who have real jobs who just provide a recent pay stub. So wrapping up these loan projects is a load off my mind and eliminates a couple more time-suckers.

Closing on the re-fi means paying a couple thousand bucks in closing costs on Monday afternoon, and I was counting on receiving a check from Dark Horse Comics last week, for my first Starship Troopers comic book, to cover it. It didn't show and they apologized and assured me that the check went out yesterday (Friday). If the mails don't fail me, it'll arrive by Monday just in time to cover the closing costs. If not, I'll be in a world of worm poop. Who says I don't live on the edge?

How about those Olympics? Word is that the television ratings aren't that great, and I think I know why: The games are held in Japan in the middle of the night, USA-time, and then are broadcast on tape the next evening. Meanwhile, if you turn on the radio or talk to another human being between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., you'll hear who took home the gold, silver and bronze, draining suspense from the evening's coverage of the performances like a vampire bat sucking the blood out of an anemic cow.

How many people would have watched Murder, She Wrote if the media were full of stories about who dunnit all day? How many people would watch a football game if they sat down in front of the tube and the first thing they heard was, "Watch the Buffalo Bills trounce Miami 24-12 this evening!"

I hope somebody's working on this problem, 'cause it ticks me off. And if you've checked out the Rants section of this page, you'll know that more reasons to be ticked off are not what I need!

Anyway, when I wasn't working on the planetarium show or building raised-bed planters for my lovely wife or getting my novel rejected or watching the Olympics or digging up old income tax records for various loan officers, I worked on my second RoboCop cartoon. I submitted a premise, my editor Len Uhley rewrote and submitted it to the Powers That Be, I got notes and began the outline.

Whew! Some week.

2-14-98: I drop a plate

Before I decided to become a writer, I considered a career in plate-spinning.

Inspired by the plate-spinners on The Ed Sullivan Show, it seemed to me to be the highest calling of Man to get a bunch of sticks and start spinning plates on top of them. What drama, as the frantic plate-spinner dashes from plate to plate, adjusting, spinning, calculating the risk as one plate after another begins to wobble and threatens to fall.

The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled before I got my degree from plate-spinning college, and I transferred to English Lit. As a freelance writer, I learned that there were two "states of being" regarding the work flow: too little and too much.

Of the two, "too much" is better. But it means that your life takes on the character of a plate-spinner as you zip from project to project, meeting deadlines and attending to each project before it wobbles and falls.

This week I dropped a plate.

I consulted on Saturday with an improv actor and writer about the science demo show for Science City in Kansas City. Kit Matthew of Science City was anxious to hear our idea and I was anxious to work it out. Unfortunately, the rewrite of my current Hercules cartoon script for Disney was due on Tuesday, and I was staring at the deadline on my second Starship Troopers comic book. While I was finishing Hercules and StarshipTroopers, Kit discovered another writer for the science demos and, since I hadn't phoned her with an update, she hired him or her. So, there's a job that was here and gone, like a fish that flops its way out of the boat.

On the other hand, the loss of that one job lets me return to the planetarium show for Science City, which was a prior commitment anyway. Plus, RoboCop (the new cartoon show) which had dropped off the radar for a few weeks returned with Len Uhley editing my second and final episode. He called on Friday and we worked out a premise.

Things have settled down a bit at Universal Studios where confusion and some panic had set in after Barry Diller bought a significant chunk of the studio. Changes in ownership always result in lost jobs, and I wasn't sure that the people at Universal who were interested in optioning my s-f sitcom, The Nuclear Family, would still be there after the dust settled.

Well, the turmoil is over and my brilliant and insightful supporters are still there and we're close to agreeing on terms for the option. After that's resolved, they'll try to sell the show to a network--or "outlet" as we call them now that there are far more markets than the traditional ABC, CBS and NBC.

The challenge in negotiating an option, for both sides, is all the hypotheticals: Where do I fit in if the series sells to a network? To a mini-network (like Fox, the WB, etc.)? What if they decide to make it a movie? A cartoon series? If it sells to a network, I could be S.O.L. (Strnad Out of Luck) unless the network approves me as a writer. Would they let me edit a network show? Fugget about it! But I'd qualify as an editor on an animated series, and a smaller outlet would be more likely to let me write a few episodes. If I'm not actually retained as a working part of the staff, what sort of phoney-baloney title will they give me, and at what salary? Who gets the comic book rights, and under what conditions? When does the idea revert to me if Universal doesn't do anything with it? What about merchandising? And on and on. I'm glad I don't have to work out all these details myself but have my theatrical agent, Candy, to do so for me.

My script for the no-budget film we didn't make, Maladjusted, is making the rounds. Candy is sending it around and a producer I worked with at Fox, Tarquin Gotch, is sending it to HBO and TNT. I told him that, for TNT, I'd make all the characters American Indians, but he said that wasn't necessary, that TNT is trying to change its image. I'm keeping all my fingers crossed on this one, which mAkes itt rEAlly haard to tYpe. Tarquin is also boosting my novel, Many Happy Returns, to HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch who also owns 20th Century-Fox. If the book sells, it helps the chances of the screenplay, which is where Tarquin would come in as a producer.

Into all this stew entered the ductwork. Specifically, the dryer vent. After six years it's gotten clogged with lint. The Maytag repairman diagnosed the problem (in about forty-five seconds, $39) and recommended a chimney sweep, who quoted me $79 to ream it out. Now, this whole cobbled-together ductwork arrangement has never pleased me, but since the original installation was performed by a so-called "professional" and I thought it sucked (even after I made him do part of it over), I spent most of one day last week under the house with the spiders, banging ductwork together. Under the house is the last place in Southern California I ever want to go, but I seem to end up there a couple of times a year. It's my nightmare that I'll be in the crawl space, flat on my stomach, hemmed in by floor joists and pipes, when an earthquake hits and the house comes tumbling down on top of me and nobody knows I'm there and the authorities don't discover my emaciated body until weeks later, lying in a pool of my own filth.

But I digress.

Anyway, the operation was successful and the dryer works better than it did new, thanks to a few minor improvements I made on the duct design. If this writing thing doesn't work out, I believe I have a bright future in the field of heating and cooling systems. Under the house is where I was when the science demo plate fell, for what that's worth.

When I wasn't bonding with the spiders or sitting at the keyboard typing...and I swear, I spent hours and hours this week doing just that, really...I picked up some new speakers for the office. I've been using a small pair of Radio Shack speakers that honestly weren't bad, but they weren't up to the quality of the Cambridge SoundWorks system that I have in the living room. And since I spend more time listening to music in the office than in the living room, I wanted better sound there.

The best place to buy SoundWorks speakers is not SoundWorks...it's Best Buy. You have to wait until something goes on sale or, when the angels are smiling upon you, is being closed out, but if you catch them at the right time, you can save some serious bucks. I paid full list for my Ensemble II's (sub-sat system) from SoundWorks several years ago, but have since added a center channel speaker, surround speakers, and a subwoofer at discounts large and small from Best Buy. The subwoofer, normally $400, was $159. The system I picked for the office, the Ensemble III, lists at $350 and was $128 at Best Buy. The subwoofer was a demo and the Ensemble III was an "open box" (but never unpacked) item, but they come with new warranties.

I love a bargain...can you tell? Or maybe a man who'll spend a day in the crawl space to save $50 is just cheap. And when it costs him a $2000 job, add "stupid" to the list. I won't be offended.

 

2-7-98: Man overboard!

The man: Kenneth Starr. And he's gone wa-a-ay overboard in his investigation of President Clinton, far exceeding his original mandate to investigate the Whitewater business, no doubt out of frustration because he couldn't get anything to stick to Slick Willy and so he has to follow Bill around (figuratively) in hopes of catching him getting a quick b-j from a randy intern in the Presidential Screening Room. Bill, of course, obliges. So that now I can't turn on television news without the lead story inevitably centering on Bimbo of the Year, Monica Lewinsky, and I'm tired of it!

Personally, I think that the President's sex life is none of our damn business. It's between him and Hillary. Now, if Clinton started having an affair with Boris Yeltzin's wife, which could have serious political ramifications, it becomes the public's business, but...an intern of legal age, with full consent? No way! It's pure gossip column stuff and it really has me flipping channels around news time, like a participant in the Running of the Bulls, dodging Lewinsky "stories."

Meanwhile, I've been working. I had to halt work on the planetarium show momentarily to outline my next Starship Troopers comic book. The outline turned into an outline/script with so much detail that it needs not much more than a reformat to be ready for delivery. I had to wrap it up quickly, though, because I got notes back on my Hercules cartoon and my editors, Ken Koonce and Michael Merton, need the rewrite by Tuesday the 10th.

So this weekend I'll be rewriting, but I'm also meeting with a man I'll call Mr. X, whose identity must be concealed for contractual reasons. We're brainstorming on a science demo play for Science City, the people I'm writing the planetarium show for. The show will be loosely scripted for improv actors, and Mr. X has valuable improv experience that I want to tap into.

It's been raining like crazy out here, turning my life into a science demo. My pal Steve Vance told me how to hook up a siphon hose to drain the lake out of my back yard and into the alley. It worked! Thanks, Steve, and thanks to the unknown scientist who demonstrated the siphon effect to an awestruck and grateful world.

Lines You'll Never See: In my Hercules cartoon, the villain does something bad and Hercules confronts him and says, "That was evil!" The villain replies, "Yes, but since then I've found Christ!" Of course the line won't survive the "good taste" test so you're reading it here first, last and always. Which is a sneaky transition to:

Karla Faye Tucker was put to death on February 3rd. I had another thought about the whole matter. Pat Robertson intervened on Karla's behalf, pleading for her life since she'd found Christ on Death Row and reformed. Without the Christian conversion, would he have done so? Of course not. Which means that Pat Robertson would like to set up a double standard, one that includes the death sentence for atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., and one that makes an exception for born-again Christians. Not in my society, buddy!

Of course our society needs to be compassionate. But it's the law that needs to be compassionate. Compassion can't take the form of prejudicial application of the law based on gender, race, physical attractiveness or religion. If the law naturally results in acts that our society finds abhorrent, we have to change the law. If Karla's death results in a society-wide reexamination of the death penalty, then the system is working as it should.

I have to add that, personally, I'm for the death penalty. I have an Old Testament-type sense of justice, and I think that some people's actions rightly deserve execution. How can someone blatantly murder innocent people and then turn around and claim that his/her own life should be spared because "life is sacred?" Doesn't compute! I'm glad Ted Bundy's dead, wish Charlie Manson was. But that's just me. I understand how people of good conscience and clear intellect can disagree.

 

1-31-98: Whither Karla Faye?

So now we're trying to figure out whether or not to kill Karla Faye Tucker. She's in a Texas prison right now, on Death Row in the state that executes more people than any other. Karla Faye admits that on June 13, 1983, she and her boyfriend, Daniel Ryan Garrett, broke into the house of her former boyfriend, Jerry Lynn Dean, to steal some motorcycle parts. Garrett hit Dean in the head with a hammer while Dean was sleeping. In order to stop Dean's gurgling noises, Karla Faye punctured him with a pickax. Twenty times. Then she went to work on the other person in Dean's bed, Deborah Thornton, killing her also. She reports having an orgasm with each stroke of the pickax.

Karla Faye and Garrett admitted their guilt and were both sentenced to death by lethal injection. Garrett died on Death Row in 1994, of liver disease. Karla, meanwhile, who was a drug addict and prostitute at the time of the murders, got off drugs and found Jesus. She now deeply regrets her actions. A lot of people, including Karla, think that her sentence should be commuted to life in prison, that the person who brutally and gleefully killed two people no longer exists. The problem is, the old Karla's victims are still dead.

Her fate now lies in the hands of George W. Bush, the governor. He can commute her sentence if he chooses, but he faces some serious questions. Death Row conversions to Christ are a dime a dozen, and a bushel basket full of regrets won't bring any of the victims back. What makes Karla special? Is she getting a break with the public because she's a woman? Because she's reasonably attractive? Because she's white? Would the public be rallying around her if she were an ugly black man? And if Bush does commute her sentence, what about all those ugly black men still on Death Row who've also found Christ - would he have to commute their sentences also or face a discrimination suit?

Of the 36 pardons granted to Texas Death Row inmates since 1976 (when the death penalty was reinstated in the United States) none have been for humanitarian reasons. Bush has said that he'll commute Karla Faye's sentence only if her trial was unfair or she is somehow proven innocent.

I have one problem with the concept of the old, bad Karla no longer existing, therefore justifying mercy to the new, compassionate Karla. If you buy this concept, why are we keeping the new Karla in jail? If she really is a different person, an innocent person, shouldn't we let her go free?

Actually, that's what we might do. If Karla Faye gets life, she'll be eligible for parole in 2003. There is no way to sentence her to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

I believe that Karla Faye has rehabilitated herself. But our prison system is not solely about rehabilitation. It's about 1) punishment, and 2) rehabilitation. We aren't going to let the new, kind, harmless Karla go free because our first priority is punishing the old, pickax-wielding Karla. And the law - whether one agrees with the death penalty or opposes it - says that Karla's punishment is to die by lethal injection. Which means that rehabilitation isn't an issue, just as it hasn't been an issue for any other Death Row inmate who's experienced a religious conversion.

I didn't really know where I came down on this issue until I wrote these paragraphs, but now I think that Bush has to stand firm on the execution. And I'm damn glad it isn't up to me, because tomorrow I could change my mind.

Workwise, I turned in my Hercules script on Monday, after working on it all weekend, and began work on the planetarium script, following the X-Files parody format. My contract for Hercules arrived in the mail, necessitating a forty-five minute drive to Disney to sign and have it notarized by the lovely Suzanne Prescott, so I got to visit a few chums before heading back home. I also began outlining the second book in my Starship Troopers comic book mini-series for Dark Horse Comics.

I received a fat envelope of freebies from WildStorm Studios, the first issue in my two-issue Gen13 Bootleg mini-series. The art by Sean Shaw and Kevin Nowlan is awesome! I think this one's going to be a sample piece.

1-24-98: The dam breaks

Lots going on this week!

My Hercules cartoon script is due next Monday, the 26th, so I've been working away diligently on it all week, but other things keep interfering.

Emails have been flying fast and furiously among me and the various people at Science City in K.C./MO, trying to work out a framework for the planetarium show. Mike Bakich, my immediate contact, is gung-ho on an X-Files parody and I love the idea, too, but the concept met some opposition from other members of the committee. I proposed an alternative concept but we managed to get a reluctant "okay" on the X-Files thing. I'm worried, since it can be like pushing a rope to get approvals on jokes, etc., if somebody on the approvals committee really, truly doesn't like the basic concept. But we'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, Kit Matthew at Science City is in charge of another project, the writing of stage plays incorporating scientific demos. She's asked me for a pitch, and I'll oblige because it's a different sort of thing to do. Students of what I jokingly call my "career" should note that the secret of carving out a career is focus. Write one thing and stick to it until you've made a name for yourself! Me, I'm a gadfly. I've written political campaigns, TV and radio and print advertising, comic books (never a regular, monthly super-hero book for a single publisher, but mini-series here and there and everywhere), cartoons, live action TV, and now I'm getting into educational stage plays! Will I ever learn?

Also, we had a death in the family, an uncle on my wife Julie's side. Uncle Vic hasn't been well for a long time and finally passed away in Aurora, Nebraska, on Wednesday. We're also trying to refinance our house, and lemme tell ya, getting a loan when you're self-employed is a real endeavor. The loan agent just didn't understand that I don't issue an annual profit/loss statement other than my tax return and I don't have weekly paycheck stubs to show. The bank's trying to figure out how much money I'm going to make in the next thirty years, and even I don't know the answer to that one!

While we're on the money front, MGM's check finally came through, including $80 of vacation/holiday pay that the union contract requires. MGM, like all other studios with one exception adds this pay to freelancers' checks automatically; those who don't pay as they go send a special check every year. The one exception: Disney. With Disney, you have to find the right person at the right phone number and request your vacation/holiday pay, which I have neglected to do for the last four years. However, thanks to my pal Brian Swenlin who ferreted out the name and phone number and emailed it to his friends, the delightful Kathy Robinson in Disney's Payroll Department is sending me a check for over $1100 in back pay. Yee-haw!

The first issue of my Starship Troopers comic book mini-series passed through Sony/Columbia with no changes, so we're on track there. The next issue is due in three weeks. Hercules by Monday, science show pitch by Friday.

Hey, I'm in business again after the year-end drought! Feels good.

1-17-98: A saga continues

Maybe you've checked out the Rants section of my page, and maybe you read Rant #808 about a video store in North Hollywood called Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee. What Eddie Brandt's is, basically, is a wonderful, unique, hole-in-the-wall shop for obscure videotapes, a store unlike any other, a local treasure. It's also one of the most horribly run retail establishments I've ever encountered, with a non-working answering machine, an incognito store front, and hours that suit virtually no one but the unemployed.

So, naturally, I ordered a tape from them. Believe me, if anyone else had even heard of the movie I wanted -Voodoo Island starring Boris Karloff - I'd never have had to seek out Eddie Brandt's. (For that story, click on Rant #808.) But Eddie Brandt's not only knew of the tape but, until recently, had had a copy for rental, which they'd just sold to a member of the Karloff family, so I put in an order for the tape and paid in advance for the tape and shipping. That was on 10/15/97.

Three months later, I hadn't received the tape or heard anything from Eddie Brandt's. Now, if you're in the mail order business, as Eddie Brandt's is, you know that you have thirty days to come up with the ordered item; if you can't procure and ship it within a month, you're required by law to send the buyer a note offering to refund their money. After three months, I'd heard nothing from Eddie Brandt's, so I decided to give them a call.

Calling Eddie Brandt's is easier said than done because of the dysfunctional answering machine and the limited store hours. I'd think about making the call in the morning and, as the day's events piled on top of one another, I'd forget by the time the store opened at one o'clock and generally not remember again until after closing. Finally, my sputtering brain remembered at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 10th, half an hour before the store closed. I dialed quickly and after less than a dozen rings, someone answered. I said I wanted to check on an order. They said that they couldn't do that because all the terminals were busy. It was their big (apparently monthly) 25% off sale and they were really busy and could I call back next Tuesday after 1:00? Yeah. Sure. Okay.

Like I say, I like this store so I cut them a helluva lot of slack.

Of course I forgot to call on Tuesday, but I did remember on Wednesday afternoon. This time the answering machine was working, and good thing, too, since it told me that everyone was busy with other calls and that I'd have the option, after listening to the message, to leave a voice mail. The message added that I could also punch "03" to speak to a real live person. After hearing the long but very informative message (which gave me the store's location, how to get there, hours of operation, terms of rental, prices, etc.), I punched "03" and got...the message again. Rather than sit through the whole thing, I punched "03" again...and got the message. I kept punching "03" until a phone line opened up and I spoke to, as promised, a real live person.

He checked on my order and informed me that the Voodoo Island supplier had closed completely for eight weeks to move their offices and that Eddie Brandt's had gotten zilch out of them ever since (roughly) I placed my order. In fact, they owed Brandt's about $1500 worth of tapes that they hoped would materialize soon.

So tell me: how does this supplier stay in business?

Anyhoo, I told them I'd just wait, which is about all I can do.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to get a check for my final draft on my first RoboCop script from MGM. Now they're saying that they did issue the check in December (before their payroll company, Entertainment Partners, shut down for the holidays to move their offices) (is that the trendy new excuse for not doing what you're in business to do..."we're moving our offices"?) and apparently it's been lost, so they have to issue a "stop payment" order on the first check and receive confirmation that that's been done (huh?) before they can issue a replacement check.

As a side note, even my editors didn't get paid for a month by MGM, and they're on a weekly payroll. The checks just stopped coming during December due to an administrative error.

I have work to take my mind off MGM and Voodoo Island, luckily. Hollywood's Christmas Constipation breaks around the first week in January and everything that was in the pipeline in December comes due allofasudden. The script for my second Hercules cartoon for Disney is due the last week of January, I'm premising a second RoboCop cartoon, I've sent Mike Bakich another idea for the planetarium show I'm writing for the Kansas City Science Museum, and my second Starship Troopers comic book is due the middle of February.

About that last item: I'd been mercilessly riding my editor at Dark Horse Comics, Jamie Rich, to get on the legal department's case to write my contract so that I could submit the first issue and get paid. The legal department finally responded that I already had a contract that I'd signed back in August 1997. Oops. I might've looked in my files for the contract before bugging poor Jamie, but I couldn't because, uh, er....I'm...uh...moving my office. Yeah, that's it! This blunder on my part is particularly hilarious given last week's screed about legal departments.

I also got our Christmas Letter out this week. It's become a Strnad Family tradition to mail the Christmas Letter sometime in January or February of the following year, probably because my mood is just so foul around Christmas that any letter I sent would count as obscene mail. I printed them, and guess what? It ticked me off! I mean, if anybody who designs computer printers actually used their own blasted product, they'd definitely build in a little wheel you could turn to move the paper through or back it out by hand. Instead, the paper gets stuck somewhere within the bowels of the machine and there's nothing to do but to try to rip it out shred by shred, using tweezers if necessary. Remember how the old $20 typewriters had that little lever you pull that loosens the platen so that the paper just zips right out? How come $1000 printers don't have that little lever? Or that wheel I mentioned above?

If we don't start figuring this stuff out, our society is doomed.

1-10-98: Hollywood lives!

It's just incredible to me the way Hollywood rolls over and plays dead every winter between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. They do everything but mothball the stars in the Walk of Fame. I can't get work and I can't get paid for the work I've already done. This year, the payroll company that writes checks for MGM, who's owed me money for the last six weeks, actually closed shop over the holidays while they moved their offices. Guess where my check is. (Your guess is literally as good as mine...I haven't a clue.)

The shutdown probably didn't help the cause of local Lawn Maintenance Workers who went on a hunger strike to protest L.A.'s recent ban on gasoline powered leaf blowers. The workers claim that their business now depends on the raucous, fume-spewing devices and that they'll starve if they have to go back to rakes and brooms. (The guy who mows my lawn, Art, uses a rake and he hasn't starved yet, so I question the pro-leaf blower contingent's claim.) I believe the hunger strike lasted for eleven days, most of them during the time nobody was in their office to do anything about leaf blowers anyway.

Now, however, the politicians are back from their Hawaii vacations and have heard the roar of grumbling stomachs and have promised to "modify" the anti-leaf blower bill. I don't know about hunger strikes, actually. If any of my enemies tried to bend me to their will by not eating, I'd say, "Okay, I'll think about it...pass the mashed potatoes." And while I'm in the general vicinity of the topic: why do we have Ted Kaczynski on a "suicide watch?" The government's trying its darnedest to sentence the sucker to death, but they don't want him to do himself in? Why not? Heck, I'd be tossing in razor blades and saying, "Ted, if you feel like saving the taxpayers a couple million bucks...." Am I the crazy one here?

Anyhow, for Lawn Maintenance Workers and writers alike, the town is open again and work is beginning to get done by everyone who doesn't have the flu. According to the television, which never lies, this is SoCal's worst flu season in fifteen years. I've escaped so far. There are advantages to spending your days in a small room by yourself.

I got a call on Monday from Ken Koonce at Disney TVA, telling me that they have a Hercules cartoon scheduled to record voices in early February, and they had only a beat outline so far. He asked me to turn the beat outline into a full outline by Thursday, which I did. Now we're waiting for notes from "upstairs" and will hopefully have them in time to write a decent script, get notes on that, and do a rewrite before the show records.

My biggest fear on this project isn't the short deadlines, but the possibility that "upstairs" will sit on everything for so long that they have to miss the recording date, which means that the episode could take months to finish up. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that "upstairs" is as eager to get this script done as I am.

Of course, cashwise, I've taken to looking on Disney payments as a retirement program.

Meanwhile, Mike Bakich, the planetarium director for the Kansas City Science Museum, is back from his honeymoon and we're diving into the planetarium show I'm writing about life on other worlds. Our stance is: OF COURSE THERE'S LIFE OUT THERE! WHAT, YOU'VE NEVER SEEN STAR TREK? And we will prove it scientifically, with numbers and facts and everything!

I finished the first issue of Dominant Species, my Starship Troopers comic book mini-series for Dark Horse Comics. We're still waiting for contracts from the legal department, without which...guess what?...I can't get paid, so I'm hanging onto the script until the paperwork arrives. Sadly, the only way to motivate legal departments to quit playing Doom on company time and switch their computers over to the word processor and fill in a few blanks on a boilerplate contract and print it out, a ten minute job that takes them months, is to let the shit flow downhill from the editor and production staff who'd like to actually produce a comic book, which does not seem to be an item on any legal department's agenda.

Rants about money aside, this is one fun project! I'm moving on to book #2 immediately.

I also started a short s-f prose story called "A World for Dreaming." I'm hoping that Colleen Doran will want to run it as a back-up feature in A Distant Soil, her self-published comic book series, with Doran illustrations. Writing prose always takes me longer than I imagine it will, probably because I'm rusty at it after all of this "media" writing I do. But it remains the most satisfying work that I do, creatively. Probably because there's little or no money in it, I'm free to please myself rather than an executive committee.

Three publishers have Many Happy Returns at present. I'd name them but my literary agent, Stuart Bernstein, says that it doesn't pay to let the competitors know who's competing for the book. To me, it's just amusing to imagine that there's any kind of "competition" for my novel after more than a year of rejections from agents. It's a warm and harmless fantasy (unlike Many Happy Returns itself, which will warp your mind, cost you sleep, and leave America vulnerable to foreign aggressors with weapons of mass destruction).

1-3-98: I vanquish an enemy

There is nothing more satisfying than ripping the body of an enemy to pieces. That's how I began 1998.

I'm not talking about some make-believe villain in a video game, nor am I using the phrase "ripping to pieces" figuratively. This foe of several years' standing literally fell under my blade. I hacked his body into small parts and stuffed it in a trash barrel. And it felt good!

The enemy was the last of three bougainvillea that Julie and I believed we wanted at a more-naive time in our lives. Bougainvillea, according to my dictionary, is an "ornamental tropical American woody vine with brilliant purple or red floral bracts." ("Brachts" are kind of a leaf, kind of a flower, that rain continually from vines, from the Latin brachtus meaning "you'll spend half your life sweeping these things up.") What the dictionary omits is that a bougainvillea also sports wicked inch-long thorns, grows like kudzu and devours pets and small children. It is a terrible thing to plant anywhere near human habitation. Your skin will contact thorns, probably while you're sweeping up bracts. The plant doubles in size every twenty-four hours and feeds at midnight. People sleeping with their windows open have been snatched by bougainvillea and dragged screaming out of their beds. Their bodies are so savaged by thorns that the remains can be recovered only by trained forensic scientists.

Bougainvillea is pure evil in vegetative form. You can't see the 1-2" thorns in this photo, or the small animal thrashing about deep inside the plant.

We planted two bougainvillea in front of the patio cover in the back yard. They grew to enormous proportions and threatened to rend the metal awning into jerky-sized strips. One of the plants died mysteriously, perhaps killed by God in a moment of righteous anger, or maybe poisoned from within by its own sinister nature. I hoped it would communicate its disease to the other bougainvillea, but it didn't and the second plant continued its onslaught against metal and flesh. Finally, when we decided to redesign the back yard and move the garden, Julie let me uproot the second plant. The score became: Jan 2, Bougainvillea 1.

The remaining bougainvillea was a plant we'd stuck in the garden in front of the house alongside the water spigot! Within minutes of planting this monster, the vines erupted forth, creating a Sleeping Beauty-like wall of thorns that had to be negotiated whenever you wanted to turn on the hose. Watering the front yard meant first assaulting the bougainvillea jungle, emerging hours later, clothes in tatters, body bleeding from a thousand cuts, a spitting garden hose in one hand, machete in the other. Turning the water off afterwards meant a return journey. The front yard and garden, naturally, began to die a slow death from drought.

This plant might have survived indefinitely but it made one crucial mistake: it neglected to bloom, thus incurring the contempt of the spouse who values a brilliant or delicate flower over gold and diamonds (luckily for her husband...flower seeds are cheap). The first of January, 1998, Julie gave the front bougainvillea the Roman thumbs-down, and I marched forward with clippers, loppers, ax, and shovel in hand, gloved to the waist, to deliver the killing strokes!

The battle raged for an hour, but eventually the branches were all severed and the stump ripped from the earth, and the hacked corpus relegated to the waste bin. I sprinkled holy water around the house and yard and recited a blessing to keep the grounds free of bougainvillea forevermore.

And I'm sleeping with the windows open.

Workwise, I heard from my newest editor at Dark Horse Comics, Jamie Rich, who has undertaken the Starship Troopers comic book mini-series project. He informed me that my deadline on issue #1 was January 16th. Luckily I've been working on the outline over the "holidays."

I have to say it's been a pleasure working on this property. I wrote a one-shot story called "Brute Creations" and an eight-pager, and it's been fun. The mini-series is giving me an outlet for my ironic and cynical side, and I'm getting to write on a mature level, moreso than with super-hero comics and much more than my cartoon work. Now and again I just hunger for the literary company of an older audience.

My book agent, Stuart Bernstein, will begin submitting Many Happy Returns, my horror novel, this year. Hopefully Wes Craven's coattails are long and broad enough to carry the book and screenplay to fruition.

Still waiting for Universal Studios to finish the paperwork on the option of The Nuclear Family, my s-f sitcom. Maybe now that the holidays are over and people are actually in the office, some progress will be made.

RoboCop the animated series will provide another episode for me soon, and there's other stuff in the works that I hope to glom onto.

I think it's gonna be a good year.