williamallenpepper

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Archive for the tag “writing”

TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS

Steamed milk. Sugar. Chocolate – dark chocolate this time. A dash of cinnamon and, was that nutmeg? Whatever it was, the beverage was just the thing to warm tired bones after a long, frigid night.

Kringle took a long pull from the steaming mug of cocoa and eased back into the easy chair. He shivered a little, pulled the red and green plaid blanket a little tighter over his legs.  A man his age shouldn’t go out on nights like this; especially when nights out for him lasted, well, an impossibly long time. They had to. How else to get all those toys delivered in one evening?

Kringle set the mug on top of an old book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, on the table next to him. A bit of whipped cream slid down the side of the mug, which was a stout, blue ceramic item with flecks of gold and his initials filigreed on it, or at least the initials of the name he was most commonly called by – “SC”. Head elf Flifle had given it to him a century before and he’d enjoyed a cup of cocoa in it every Christmas night since.

Santa sat. Just sat. He hadn’t done that the entire pan-dimensionally long night. All over the world. Down the chimney. Up the chimney. Springing to the sleigh, springing out of the sleigh. Icy roofs, barking dogs, the odd sneaky kid trying to grab a peek. Occasionally getting singed by a fire that didn’t properly extinguish itself.

It was a young man’s game.

And Kringle was not a young man.

Every year, he thought about retiring. His predecessors had done the job until they dropped – faded into the other world or whatever. But he was tired. More so all the time. It was getting hard to press on. Even harder now.

Stop it, Kris. It’s Christmas! The most joyous time of year. He was the poster boy for holiday cheer – jolly ol’ St. Nick, Ho ho ho, and all that. But once in a while, when the presents were delivered, the workshop was shuttered until January 1 when production ramps up again, and the elves had gone home…well, these quiet holiday moments can be killers, can’t they? Worries that this year just wasn’t as merry as the last; regret over harsh words to the elves, frustration that little Sophie wasn’t going to get the exact doll she’d wanted. Concerns about the ratio of naughty to nice on his list.

In the past, he could count on Mrs. Claus to pull him out of a holiday funk with a joke or an encouraging word. One year, he’d quit being Santa all together and went to live in the Real World. Mrs. Claus, with the help of good ol’ Flifle and a couple of kind real worlders had pulled off a bit of Christmas magic worthy of, well, himself, he supposed. He chuckled awkwardly at the notion of his own legendary status. A status he never would have achieved without his beloved Mrs. Claus.

But things change. The seasons pass and so do those we hold dear.

Santa watches the children – sees them sleeping, knows when they’re awake, knows who is bad or good.

But what about himself, Mr. Kringle. Who will watch over Santa now?

Kringle shivered again. But it wasn’t from the cold this time. Santa drained the mug, but the warmth of the chocolate failed to penetrate the chill that stayed with him even when he delivered presents to the tropics. It was the chill of loss and mortality, not of climate.

There was a faint rapping at the chamber door. As it opened on ancient hinges, The light from the hallway spilled into the darkened room, Flifle’s jingle bells echoed in the silent night.

“Sir,” Flifle said. “I have the children’s letters If you’d like to read them now.”

“The what?”

“Oh,” Flifle said. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“Mrs. Claus set it up before…well, before. She thought tonight of all nights you’d be wanting to read some of the millions of letters from the children who love you.” Seeing the somber look on his boss’s face, Flifle prepared his retreat. “I can take them back to the workshop if you like.”

Kringle looked at his old friend and helper. The warmth he’d been seeking finally pushed out the cold. “No, that’s all right, ” he said slowly, the twinkle in his eye not quite there, but definitely emerging. “I’ll take them.”

Flilfe left St. Nick alone with his letters. But he wasn’t really alone. No one who carries the spirit of Christmas in its many forms can ever really be.

Happy holidays!

Psst…want to read more about St. Nick, Mrs. Claus and Flifle? Let Rudolph’s nose lead you here. (Or whatever book purveyor you choose)…

http://smile.amazon.com/St-Nick-Time-William-Pepper-ebook/dp/B0092902GW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418447515&sr=8-2&keywords=In+the+St.+Nick+of+Time

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BLOGGING IN THE BACKSEAT

Maybe I should put up those signs they put around construction sites so people don’t fall into the holes Eddie Excavator dug, but Denny Dumptruck was too sleepy to fill in. (My six-year-old has a lot of construction books.)

Assuming you’re not lying in a battered, bloody heap at the bottom of the blog pit unable to form coherent thought, you’ve probably noticed a lack of new content in this space for a while – a crater in the landscape of knowledge I impart here on a regular basis. There’s a couple reasons for this:

Here’s one:

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His name is Charlie. He’s an eight-month-old horse lab mix. He’s very well behaved when not punching through doors. The cats are pissed.

Here’s another:

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I recently attended the Midwest Writers Conference at Ball State in Indiana. This is an excellent mix of workshops, panels and just general writing inspiration for writers and writing professionals from newbie to veteran. I came away with a whole new perspective on a thing I’ve been writing and am really busy right now rewriting. Which brings me to another thing:

Blogging might continue to be light for a while. I’ve got a number of exciting things in the works that are demanding my time. But don’t go away! Watch for the flashing lights around this site. One day soon, Earl the Flatulent Blog-Road Opener will shuffle out from the trailer to tell you we’re open for business again. In the meantime, enjoy the archives and, of course, look for me @carnivalofglee on Twitter.

IS ALL WRITING THE SAME?

Years ago, I attended a novel-writing workshop. The presenter, a prolific novelist, opened the session by putting a DVD in the player and playing the opening scene from the movie My Cousin Vinny, the Joe Pesci comedy where Joe is a street-wise, New Yorker who just recently passed the bar ex.He is called down to a small town down south to defend his cousin and his cousin’s buddy who are charged with murdering someone while passing through town on their way to start college.

But you probably knew that.

The opening scene of the movie has no dialogue. it’s just a music montage following the boys’ car as they travel from New York, down south, headed to college. We know all this just by looking at the details; road signs, what they have in the backseat of their green convertible, the license plates. That, in fact, was the point of the exercise: to see how much information we could glean about these characters just by what was given to us on screen with no narration and no dialogue.

It was a very effective exercise. But it strikes me now as a weird choice for a novel writing class. We were learning about writing prose, not screenplays. One is all about the written word; conveying ideas on the page through reading. The other is about telling a story visually.

So why, when writers teach other writers,do they always go to movies and TV shows for examples? My Cousin Vinny. Mad Men. Lost. These all get trotted out for examples. A novelist and blogger I really like, Chuck Wendig, frequently cites the Die Hard movies when he talks about plotting. (By the way, check out his site, terribleminds. It’s fully of awesome, profane wisdom)

Why not try to prove a writing point about setting by citing a passage from a Michael Chabon novel; or vivid characters in a Stephen King novel? Do writers just assume other people don’t actually read books? These seminars are often writers talking to other writers. Surely other writers have read books?

Of course they have. So why not use some of those books as reference points? Is it because we watch more TV than we read? Do we assume a greater percentage of the attendees have seen the same shows than have read the same books? Is there something inherent in the visual nature of TV that emphasizes the SHOW in “show, don’t tell” better than passages from the books we’re supposed to be learning how to write?

Writing books should just be different than writing TV right?

Well, maybe not. All story telling is fundamentally the same. Make up characters, build a world, progress the character from A to B, screw with them a lot along the way. Maybe you could have a bunch of writers read from photocopies of some novel to get a point across, but watching a film clip makes more of an impact, fits more with the showmanship aspect of any presentation. And it’s simple.

Confused? Well, here’s let’s just watch this clip from …

Hey, that is easier.

WHAT I’M THINKING ABOUT THIS WEEK

COLD TWEET FEET

This morning, a little song was running through my head. My own composition. Here, I’ll sing it for you. *Takes out pitch pipe. Blows* Ahem

Kick me in the nuts
Kick me in the nuts
Go ahead. Kick away!
Kick me in the nuts

Its not Grammy-worthy, but in the rush of an early morning work day, it made me laugh. I was going to tweet it, maybe make someone else smile too. But…

I hesitated,. Thumbs poised over the touchpad, I couldn’t pull the Twitter trigger. Was my little ditty..dirty? Well, no, that’s over stating it. But still, it is a little…blue I guess. Was I embarrassed? I’m no prude, and the Internet definitely isn’t, so why not just post the damn thing? I think I will. Right now.

Or maybe tomorrow.

GOOD WRITING: BIGGER ON THE INSIDE

So, I’m editing a book manuscript right now. A couple weeks ago, I was editing a play script. I’m always writing something. Writing a new story, putting words to the page on a new adventure is a thrill. The editing process doesn’t have the excitement of the new, but it does have something just as good, maybe better: creation.

Writing a story is just vomiting words on a page. Editing a story is where the real act of creation happens. It’s where the story gets its depth, it’s meaning, it’s power. Whatever you want to call it. A good story, a polished piece of writing, is more than a collection of words and clever ideas. A good piece of writing is like a TARDIS. It’s bigger on the inside.

And that’s exciting to me.

THE X-FILES IS BACK!

The news that Fox has ordered a limited six-episode series of one of my favorite shows ever fills me with joy and nostalgic glee. I especially like that it’s going to be centered on Mulder and Scully and not some sort of lame hand-off from Duchovny and Anderson to the hot, new X-Files Avengers or whatever. The X-Files movie series never really took off. Perhaps ratings success, like the truth, is still out there.*

*See what I did there?

**Well. Just exactly how much didyou pay to read this?

THE WRITER UNBOUND

It’s fashionable these days to express your lack of concern for something by rather glibly proclaiming: I have no more fucks to give.

It’s a little crude, sure. But sometimes a little well-placed crudity can cut through a lot of double talk. Casting off your cares, flinging your fucks, as it were (as it was? As it is?) is liberating. It can free your mind, boost your mood, whatever you need.

But can not giving a fuck apply to more than crappy jobs, Internet trolls, and that jerk in the restaurant on his cell phone?

Could it apply to, say, writing?

Writing, especially fiction, should be the ultimate in not giving a fuck. When you write, you’re building a world; sometimes a universe. You make all the decisions. Character names and traits. What the buildings in your city look like. Where to break the paragraphs. You can do whatever you want. Who cares if other people think Seymour is a funny name? If you like it, use it. Who cares if there’s no obvious market for “Meet the Press” fan fiction? If like it, write it. (“John McCain’s smoldering lust could not be contained by a commercial break. Mitch McConnell’s world would never be the same.”)

Writing should be freeing. It’s the ultimate “I have no fuck to give. I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT.”

Except…when you sit down to seriously write something, not just “oh, I think I’ll doodle a little story about a bunny on my iPad pages app while I wait for my chai latte”, but really, seriously write something it’s totally the opposite of freeing.

You can fall into the mindset that you’re writing a book and a book looks a certain way – whatever that is for you. You get bogged down in stuff like word counts and linear plotting and getting every detail of the backstory of the characters down before you even start the front story.

All that is important – but not right away. What’s important right away is getting the story out. Get everything out of your head and onto the page, you can cut mercilessly later. Just get it out now. I haven’t always been good at that, by which I mean I’ve never been good at that. Often then, the writing process feels stilted and awkward. And most of all, slow. I’ve probably wasted lots of writing time this way.

But, no time for regrets. No time to waste. My hopper is full of tales to tell, worlds to build. So much stuff to give, except…

Well, you know.

FILM-BASED FACE-OFF: JAMES LEER VS. THE 12TH DOCTOR

So, there’s this movie my favorite movie is the best movie ever is Wonderboys. (I’ll whup any soul what says different.) This was the 2000 cinematic adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel set at a small college over the course of a weekend in which the lives of pot-smoking professor Grady Tripp (played by Michael Douglas), still working on the follow-up to a hugely successful novel seven years later, and his very brilliant, but very odd, writing student James Leer (played by Tobey Maguire), are turned upside down.

I’ve watched this movie, um… *counts on fingers* *takes off shoes for additional counting space* Let’s see…

Seven billion times.

Okay, not really, but I do watch it at least once a year. It’s an annual event like Christmas. Or underwear rotation. I don’t get tired of it. The characters are still interesting. the dialogue sparkles. The plot sustains. And, bonus: After so many viewings, the things you loved at first are still there, but other things emerge from the background. There’s always something new to appreciate.

I recently had this year’s Wonderboys viewing. (My shorts are doing fine, too. Thanks.) And here’s the startling revelation that jumped out me.

James Leer is a timelord.

Like from Gallifrey. Doctor Who, anyone? The most obvious first indicator is how James dresses. Dark pants, long dark coat, white shirt buttoned up to the collar. To whit:

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Okay, now check out this guy:

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Eerie, isn’t it? Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor dresses a lot like James Leer. The prosecution rests.

Consider also, each man is never without a particular item which gives him his power. James has an ugly, green knapsack with books and videos and his precious, completed first novel manuscript; the thing that unlocks his future. The Doctor has his sonic screwdriver; the thing that unlocks doors. Unless they’re wood.

James is a brilliant writer. The Doctor is brilliant at everything else. I’ve never actually seen him write, though. It’d be weird if it turned out he was illiterate, wouldn’t it?

James knows all about what’s happened in the past, mostly as the past pertains to suicides of famous actors, but still…The Doctor, a time traveler, knows all about history too; and may have married Marilyn Monroe.

James has socialization issues. He’s arrogant, laughs at inappropriate times, thinks nothing of helping himself to a stranger’s bourbon and smoking a doobie in the person’s living room. The Doctor has trouble remembering faces from one minute to the next and is fond of telling people to “shut up, shut up, shut up, shut-ity up up up.”

So the question is: Is James Leer the Doctor, or some other time lord? He’s not really evil, so probably not the Master or the Rani. He could be some other time lord like the meddling monk or Professor Chronitis. Or he could be yet another surprise, formerly unknown, incarnation of the Doctor himself (we’ve had a lot of those the last couple years).

I think this is a pretty air-tight case. Go ahead. Prove me wrong. Just try.

A WRITERLY POST

I don’t get very writerly on this blog. At least, I haven’t lately. Regular readers know that in addition to the blog, I write stories and books, most of which you probably haven’t seen (except maybe this one). I also write plays a few of you may have seen. If you have read one of my things other than this book, or gone to see one of my plays, many things.

But I don’t usually get writerly here. I write about Doctor Who. I write about my latest gripes. I write as my perpetually sorry alter ego airing his regrets from time to time. But I don’t usually do author-y type stuff here.

But I do always do writerly stuff elsewhere. I’m always working on a story or a book or a play. Not so much screenplays. I will when the idea comes along, but nothing cooking yet. I’ve got several things started, most of which are back-burner. I just finished a play and am re-focused on a book, though this week I’m taking a detour to write a quick short story, the idea for which popped into my head the other day.

This brings me to…the ideas.  A writer whose work I enjoy, Chuck Wendig, once wrote (I think) that writers are often asked how they get their ideas, to which most writers want to respond, “How do YOU make the ideas stop?” There is no end to things to write about. I have a desk full of little scribbled-on scraps of paper, which were formerly stuff in my pants pockets from some point during the day when inspiration pelted me between the shoulder blades with an ice ball of creativity.

Or something.

Point is, I think of a lot of writerly crap throughout the day. Story ideas. Character names. Bits of dialogue. Titles for things. Then I scribble them on pieces of paper so I don’t (usually) forget. Call me old school if you wish, but I can’t seem to will myself to use notepad apps for this sort of thing. I’m happy to use technology to create the thing that came from the idea, but there’s something about the pure intellectual spontaneity of a sudden inspiration that it seems more satisfying to scribble a note to myself than to tap-tap-tap on an iPad or something.  I have a lot of these little notes.

Chuck Wendig, by the way, in addition to writing awesome crime/urban fantasy books, dispenses very insightful, if profanity laced, writing advice at his blog on terribleminds.  He is always highly amusing on twitter @ChuckWendig. You should follow him.(And me if you want @carnivalofglee)

So little notes make my writing go. What makes your creativity tick?

IS DINNER THEATRE LESSER THEATRE? I DON’T THINK SO.

When I was six or seven, my parents took me to my first “big time” theatre experience. It was Chanhassen Dinner Theatre in Chanhassen, MN. The show was the musical “Camelot”. I wore my pale green, three-piece suit (it was the seventies), got to eat prime rib at a table with a candle on it, and drank Shirley Temples.

Then, after we stuffed ourselves, they turned off the lights and put on a show for us. To a kid, it was like being king. “Feed me! Now dance and sing! Chop chop!”

To top it off, at intermission, they brought us MORE FOOD. This time, brownie hot fudge sundaes. If they’d had an Atari 2600 and some Star Wars action figures too, I’d never have left.

The show was excellent. I fell asleep, but that was more a reflection of my age, not the performance. At least once a year after that trip, until I went away to college, the family caught a show together at Chanhassen.

As an adult, Ive only gotten to Chanhassen a couple times, but think about it often.

I never did theater in school, but as an adult, I’ve been on stage a number of times in non-musical plays. In more recent years, with little kids at home, it’s been difficult to justify the four of five night per week rehearsal life of a local theatre actor, so I’ve transitioned into writing plays instead of acting in them. Several have been produced. All of this has given me a different perspective on theatre. I still enjoy the spectacle as I did as a kid, but now I also enjoy watching shows with an eye for the technical aspects.

But once in a while, you just want to enjoy the spectacle. Recently, my wife and I got the chance to return to Chanhassen for the first time in nearly a decade. This time, for the first time, our kids were with us; one 8, the other 4. I knew it would be a nostalgic thrill for me to return, and it was. The old place hasn’t changed. I loved it as soon as we walked in, but wasn’t sure whether the kids would end up enjoying it.

We chose a matinee, because the kids are little and an 8 pm curtain after a big meal, wouldn’t fly. The show was “The Little Mermaid” and it was great. The eight-year-old, who has become a stage veteran as a dancer at the local junior theater was entranced. The four-year-old, a kinetic ball of perpetual motion who normally can’t even sit down long enough to eat a meal, was mesmerized. He sat, mouth agape, through much of the show and applauded louder than anyone. He’s a natural performer around the house and in school. We recently put him in an intro to theater acting class for kids to channel some of that energy, so, who knows? Maybe we’ll see him in a Broadway musical someday. And even if not, the experience may make him appreciate the arts a little more.

Fine arts programs are often the first to get cut in schools when they are struggling with their budgets. Why we let schools struggle with money baffles me in general, but that’s a topic for another blog. But kids get so much out of the arts – acting, singing, dancing ,writing, painting, whatever. Kids learn about teamwork, fostering creativity, focus and pride of accomplishment. Plus, it’s damn fun. Whether it’s Chanhassen or high school theater, expose your kids to this stuff. You’ll thank me for it.

And don’t skip a play just because it’s dinner theatre. A lot of people do, and I don’t know why. Serving a meal before a show has no bearing on the quality of the performance. In my limited theatre acting experience, I’ve done dinner theatre shows a couple times. As an actor, there is a different vibe in the room, and not just because you can smell the entrees. People seem more relaxed, more ready to laugh at the funny bits when they’re funny if you gave them a nice meal beforehand. What’s wrong with that? As a dinner theatre attendee, why wouldn’t I want to be pleasingly full, then see a show without stressing over the commute to the theater in between?

So, in summary, fine arts: good. Dinner theater: good. Chanhassen: good. “The Little Mermaid”: excellent. Now, close this browser window and go order some tickets online.

You’ll thank me for that too.

HAND ME A SHOVEL, I GOTTA REBOOT THE ROUTER

The Law of Entropy says that everything in the universe is in a state of decay. In other words, stuff breaks.

And somebody’s gotta fix it.

Back in the caveman days, if something broke…well, they most likely left it where it was and moved on in pursuit of the next wooly mammoth, leaving behind some artifact for future generations to use in the epic battle over just exactly how old the world is.

In pioneer times, real men chopped down trees and built their own log cabins. If it got drafty, they just whipped up their own pine tar and slathered it on. Good as new. Or something like that. Me, I would have used Legos as I am hopeless with any other building materials. Pretty sure when the apocalypse comes, I’m doomed.

SIDE NOTE: British crazy person James May actually built a house out of Lego for a TV show. A real life, life-sized house where even the furniture was Lego. The toilet too. Peeing in a Lego toilet is every perennially nine-year-old kid’s dream. I. Want. To. Live. There. So. Much. If something broke, I could totally fix it.

Unlike pretty much anything that breaks in the real world. Today, if something in your day to day life breaks, it’s likely to be technology. Every generation is becoming more and more comfortable with tech in their daily lives.

SEEKING THE SUPEREST SUPERHERO

I’ve been reading comics lately.

When I was really young, I was a “Superfriends” fan. I liked the Hulk on TV. The old Batman series. The Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Caped adventures were definitely in my wheelhouse.

But I was never really into comic books. When Batman and Spiderman cartoons proliferated on TV, I sampled, but didn’t get attached to any. Eventually, the superhero thing died out, replaced, I suppose, by Doctor Who ( *ding* obligatory DW reference) and other things.

I briefly got into the habit of reading Action Comics and the other Superman titles fifteen years or so ago around the whole “death of a Superman” thing. But it didn’t stick.

Over the last twenty years or so, a gathering snowball of superhero movies has gathered steam rolling down the movie hillside. (Yes, I know that a steam- gathering snowball would just turn to slush. That’s not the point.) I’ve enjoyed most of them, but still wasn’t really inspired to pick up a comic book.

Recently, though, I’ve been listening to the Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcasts. Ben Acker is the moderator, as well as co-creator of The Thrilling a Adventure Hour (which is also a podcast you should listen to). He is a comic book writer as well, and frequently has panelists on the podcast who write comics for DC or Marvel or others. Listening to them talk about the craft of creating comics for that medium is fascinating. These writers’ enthusiasm for the medium and the characters that inhabit these universes inspired me to start picking up a title or two on Comixology.

I’m enjoying the “X-Files season 10” series very much. It’s overseen by Chris Carter himself and, more than any other X-Files adaptation in print, really embodies the look and tone of the show.

I’m also dabbling with X-Men, Avengers, Captain America and others. I’m still finding my way through huge, decades-old universes, but it’s fun.

Now that my boy is 4 he is into Superman and Spider-man big time. We watch a lot of Superfriends and Ninja Turtles and Spider-Man, at least the ones geared to the youngest viewers. But there aren’t many. Can anyone suggest good superhero material, print or video, for a soon-to-very kindergartner? My daughter is almost nine and would like to be included in the boy’s games, but there aren’t many female heroes to be had. I’m exploring Captain Marvel and Ms. Marcel, but she might still be a little young. Any suggestions for her?

Look! Up in the sky! It’s another completed blog post!

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