Archive for February, 2014


hoard

Confession: I’m a packrat for articles.

That means I’ve got stacks of articles.  File folders of articles.  A mini-library of articles.

Sure, I’ve kept some because they might give me ideas for a novel, but these days I’m moving away from writing, so I’m throwing away a lot of them.

But for you writers who might like some inspiration, especially in the sci-fi and paranormal genres, here are a few tales from my “Psychology” file.

There’s “Savant for a Day.”  It’s about “transcranial magnetic stimulation” or TMS, which means having a series of electromagnetic pulses directed into your frontal lobes.  One scientist had used TMS on university students (I assume they were volunteers), and while those pulses were being administered 40 percent of the students suddenly exhibited “extraordinary, and newfound, mental skills.”  Imagine almost instantly being able to draw like a real artist or solving mathematical problems with vastly increased speed.  It seems this effect only works while you’re connected to the TMS by electrodes, but who knows where this technology could lead.

brain machine blue

Then there’s the old article about multiple personalities and how some of them exhibit “the immense power of the human mind.” Psychiatrists describe how one personality in the same body can be an alcoholic, but another personality emerges and isn’t.  One is allergic to cats, another isn’t.  One patient has a “personality with an irregular heartbeat and another who has a perfect heart. Even an EEG shows different data for the two personalities” in the same body.

Then, finally, there was the touching piece written by a doctor.

His patient David was dying of cancer that had spread from his lungs through his body and into his brain.  David had a young family that was at his hospital bed every night for two weeks, even after he stopped speaking and moving.  Then one morning the doctor went to his room and found it empty.  The patient had died the night before. “As I turned to leave, I was blocked by a nurse, an older Irish lady with a doleful look on her face.”

window

“He woke up, you know, doctor—just after you left—and said goodbye to them all.  Like I’m talkin’ to you right here.  Like a miracle.  He talked to them and patted them and smiled for about five minutes.  Then he went out again, and he passed in the hour.”  David’s wife later confirmed the nurse’s account.

As the doctor writes, “But it wasn’t David’s brain that woke him up to say goodbye that Friday.  His brain had already been destroyed.  Tumor metastases don’t simply occupy space and press on things, leaving a whole brain.  The metastases actually replace tissue.  Where that gray stuff grows, the brain is just not there.

“What woke my patient that Friday was simply his mind, forcing its way through a broken brain, a father’s final act to comfort his family.”

How about you—do you come across real-life articles that make you want to write a novel, or at least a short story?

Olympic Inspiration

on February 16, 2014 in Misc 8 Comments »

red skater

Have any great novels been written about the Olympics?

I don’t think so.  On Amazon I found only a few minor novels and quite a few childrens’ books, but that’s it.

And this is odd when you think about it, because the Olympics really are extraordinary events full of extraordinary people and a whole lotta drama and heart and soul.  Yet I myself have never had a literary inspiration from them.

My body, however, can suffer from Olympics inspiration.

This last week when I was watching the ice dancers, snowboarders and skiers, I wondered if I could even get into some of those positions.  Like when ice skaters crouch down on one leg, hold the other leg straight out and off the ice, and spin like crazy on a thin blade while slowly rising and changing into other positions.  Could I do that?

russian skater

Remember—this Becoming Layla blog started with my learning to do physically whatever my hotshot character Layla Daltry can do.  And I like to think of myself as being in basic good shape.  But could I get into that deep position and hold it for several seconds before slowly moving up? Just on my shoeless feet, no blades, no spinning, and while lightly grasping a chair with one hand for balance?

The answer is no.

On Friday and Saturday I tried to do as much over and over, only to discover that my body should be a whole lot stronger than it is.  So for those two days I worked on those movements and plenty of others, and pushed myself not to the limit but pretty far.

needle skate

Today is Sunday and my body really, really hurts.

Seriously, writing an epic novel about the Olympics would be easier than getting into the kind of shape those phenom athletes are in.  My admiration for them is now boundless.

How about you—are the Olympics inspiring you?  Will you write The Great Olympics Story?  Maybe take up the luge?

And I’d appreciate it if someone could explain to me how athletes steer those luges while moving so freaky fast.

I have learned a lesson the hard way.

NEVER EVER LET SOMEONE ADAPT YOUR NOVEL FOR A SCREENPLAY UNTIL YOU FIRST HAVE AN AGREEMENT IN WRITING!

Some time ago I wrote here that the daughter of a friend was adapting an unpublished manuscript of mine into a screenplay.  He told me about it over dinner at their house (surprise!), and my reaction (since I’m an idiot) was to be flattered.  She’s a young struggling actress in New York and he believed a screenplay would open doors for her.  I was happy to help.

hollywood

I assumed, however,  that this screenplay would be a mere “calling card,” meaning a producer/ whoever doesn’t want this screenplay but likes what they see and hire her for another job.  In reality, of course, the odds against selling a screenplay are astronomical, even tougher than getting a book published.  I myself wrote a couple screenplays years ago that got nowhere.

Anyway, his daughter finished the screenplay and needed a contract with me in order to show it around.  I checked out the Writers Guild of America website, found what I thought was a suitable adaptation contract, tweaked it and sent it to her father.

OMG, what he sent back to me…

It was completely rewritten and, while most of it was standard fare, he had added two shockers.  First, if “in any way” his daughter’s screenplay helped to get my book published (yes, he was that vague), she was entitled to 25% of my book royalties.  Forever.  And since my book is the first in a planned series, she was entitled to those royalties for my ENTIRE SERIES!

pile screen

The second shocker was that if her screenplay didn’t sell but another person was hired by producers to write it, she and I would share any payment for that new screenplay 50-50.

In other words, he saw his daughter and me as being 50-50 partners, never mind that it’s MY story, MY characters, MY scenes, MY dialogue, MY backbreaking amount of historical research (the setting is1867-1868).  His argument? “Nobody wants your book”—a slap to me and a conclusion he came to because he had sent my manuscript to a few people he knew to help me get it published, but not one of these people (as far as I know) was a literary agent or book editor or publisher.  I had appreciated his efforts, but I’d never suspected that he wanted this kind of payback.

While it’s true that if this young woman sells the screenplay that would help my book, the cost to me would be terribly steep.  Yet when I refused to accept the contract, her father was furious and insulting (okay, so he was being the protective father) and emphasized that we might all make a great deal of money on this deal but if I didn’t go along with it I would have nothing.  Because nobody wanted my book.  He would not change a single word in his contract.

To make a too-long story shorter…

law

We’re no longer on speaking terms, our long friendship is over, but his daughter (who’s pretty innocent in this mess) has contacted me so I’m trying to work out something with her.  I mean, if I hadn’t been encouraging to her I wouldn’t feel obligated, but now I am.  So I’m going to have to hire an entertainment lawyer to look over the short contract she and I are negotiating, because everyone I’ve consulted and everything I’ve read says that this is essential.  And it’s going to cost me.

Only one good thing has come out of this ugly episode:  I am now determined to find an agent and traditional publisher for my novel, which I have let sit around for too long.  If that doesn’t work I’ll self-publish FAST.  I’ve had raves from a few readers and I know it’s a good book, but I need to have some faith in myself.

So let that be a warning to you, my fellow writers.  NEVER let anyone do anything with your writing without first getting specifics down in a legit contract.

NEVER.

P.S.  Short of a huge change for me and my books, this is yet another reason why I’m swearing off writing, with the exception of one very short non-fiction work I will complete.

Stop Thinking

on February 3, 2014 in Misc 14 Comments »

little boy

First, a word about the Superbowl.  And remember I live in Denver.

I knew the game was going really stinky awful bad horrible for the Broncos because my neighborhood was silent.  I mean silent as a grave.

See, whenever the Broncos are playing and they score you can hear shouts of joy up and down the streets.  Tonight, however, I only heard one neighbor cry out as if in pain, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

By then I had stopped switching from a repeat of 60 Minutes to see how the game was going.  I didn’t want to think about it.

Which leads me to my next topic: I have discovered that Not Thinking can be very good for me.

As you know I’m an epee fencer.  Not a very good one, but I keep trying.  Well, a huge shock for me is how suddenly, after a few YEARS of fencing, I’m getting MUCH better. Sure, my lessons with Maciek, a gold medalist Olympian, have really helped.  But in the last couple weeks I’ve suddenly started to kick ass.  And all because I’ve learned to shut off my brain.

See, I’ve got a noisy brain.  If you could poke your head into mine, you’d be overwhelmed with chatter, monologues, odd observations, old songs and movie dialogue and God only knows what else.  Yet in fencing, as in a lot of sports, you need to turn off your mind and let your training, experience, and instincts take over.  The physical movements must come faster than conscious thought.

Zorro fencing

Now, at long last, it seems I’m developing the Don’t Think skill.  The result?  Last week, during my third fencing bout, I put myself into a zoned-out Zone.  And I beat someone who ALWAYS beats me with the unbelievable score of 10-3.  In fact, when he yelled the f- word after one of my touches (he was furious with himself, not at me), a few people gathered at the end of the strip and watched us.  Usually I would get self-conscious, but instead I zoned them out and went on to my big win.

And because I won, Jim, a fencing coach and so scary good I haven’t fenced him in at least a year because he consistently creams me, stepped onto my strip. He wanted to fence me.  Holy crap!  This time I had more trouble staying in the Zone, but I still did okay:  he won 10-7.  I mean, I GOT SEVEN POINTS AGAINST JIM! FANTASTIC! HE EVEN TOLD ME I HAD REALLY IMPROVED!

So tonight, as everyone in Denver tries to forget about the Superbowl, I’m dwelling on my Not Thinking breakthrough, and feeling quite happy.

How about you?  Have you found that quieting your mind helps you when you write, play sports, create music, anything?  I’d love to know.

Have a great week.