Easier than falling off a blog...

I blog because Stephen King told me to.

Well, sort of.

Years ago I read a quote by King that has stuck in my head for the past twenty years and which is more or less why I’m a writer today. To paraphrase him, “I write my stories for people to enjoy, sure, but mostly I write them just to get them out of my head. Writing down my stories keeps me from climbing up a water tower with a high-powered rifle to thin the idiots from the herd.”

I read that quote when I was in my early twenties. Back then I was a Community College dropout who was living at home and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I worked as a packaging designer for products in Sears’ kitchen and bath departments, and was a secret drinker (mild and sporadic but working my way up the ladder). One day my boss, Tom Murphy, was reading the hardcover of Stephen King’s The Stand. I asked him why he was going through all the effort of reading a fifty-pound book. He tossed me a paperback copy of King’s The Shining and later that night I understood.

I instantly connected with King because he made the effort to connect with me. He talked to me, not at me. I really liked that. For some reason I equated his writing to that of Stan Lee, the wunderkind at Marvel Comics, who helped create icons like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and more.

When I was a wee lad the only comics we had in the house were Archies and Harvey. I had tried reading the occasional Superman or Batman comic over the years, but they always left me cold. The characters were flat and the storylines were unrealistic and had nothing to do with my life. My first encounter with Marvel Comics had the opposite effect. Stan Lee is legend for writing about characters with feet of clay. Everyday folk like you and me. Ordinary people sent flying into extraordinary situations. It could have just as easily been me that the radioactive spider bit, rather than Peter Parker. Or I could have been the one accidentally bombarded with radiation that releases the creature that lurks in all of us, if I’m pushed too far. Stan Lee and Stephen King were both on the same page, and I loved reading it.

Writers are strange folks. Or maybe they’re just ordinary, everyday folk who react to the world and what’s buzzing around in their heads in a different way. Each day I see dozens of situations or hear snippets of conversation that I think would be the basis for a good story, or at the very least a part of a good story. Or I’ll make some observation that I’ll forget about as soon as it passed through my mind, but instead of dropping into the garbage chute it keeps bouncing around inside my brain until I have to file it somewhere.

I’ll smell the neighbor firing up his backyard grill and that odor will trigger a memory I had when I was ten, when I heard the song Windy playing on the transistor radio while my dad was cooking some burgers on our charcoal grill in the backyard. The song Windy sticks in my mind because it was sung by Petula Clark, a British singer I always used to get mixed up with Lulu, the gal who sang the theme song to (as well as playing a minor role in) the ‘60s film classic, To Sir With Love. To Sir With Love will remind me of another Sidney Poitier classic, Lilies Of The Field.

I think for most people it would stop there, but not me. I’ll remember that Sidney Poitier also once stared in a movie with Tom Berenger, Shoot To Kill, and that Berenger starred in a different movie with Debra Winger called Betrayed that I saw with a friend while living in Staten Island. In the movie Winger and Berenger rob a small bank in Chicago which was the same bank I used to go to every Friday when I worked at a small printing place down the street. I slapped my friend on the leg and hissed that they were in my bank. A few years later I saw the Jodie Foster movie The Accused in the same theater. In the film she gets raped and the rapists get off pretty easily. I remember at the end of the movie when the lights came on I noticed I was the only man in the audience. All the women seemed to be glowering at me.

Just down the street from the theater was a building that once held a discount toy store. I remember browsing through the store one day and I found some toys for an animated series called The Bionic Six. I was in running to write a comic book series based on the animated show, so I bought as many of the toys as I could and shipped them to my editor in California, Valarie Jones, who is now my wife.

I think most people have the ability to step out of the stream of conscious early on, but not me. I’ll keep slogging on until the threads no longer connect to anything else, and then I’ll continue to chew on the whole mess over and over again, pulling story ideas out and recounting funny instances. I guess my brain was pretty gunked up before I started writing.

My niece is a writer and she’s a big proponent of writing in journals. I’ve tried this off an on over the years, but they’ve mostly turned out to be a place to park chunks of ideas and funny doodles. I’ve never been able to see the benefit of writing for myself. It would be like painting a picture and then stuffing it into a closet without showing it to any one. I know a lot of people do a lot of creative things and never share them, and I just don’t get it.

Maybe it’s that I like being paid for my writing, and if I’m looking to entertain myself, hey, reading a book is a lot easier than writing one. Or maybe my ego is so overgrown that I think every string of words that I lovingly craft should be available for all to see.

I guess that’s why I’m so fortunate that blogging came to be. It’s not paying work, no, but it’s not random scribblings in an ornately bound journal, either. You are reading this and being affected in some way, so that’s okay.

Unleashing the weird and randomly strung together thoughts that clog up my brain is certainly a cathartic experience. Plus it’s always fun to write without a copy editor or project manager looking over your shoulder. This is all about me. Well, me and you.


Vice, Vice, Baby...

Last night I was flipping around the channels and happened upon an episode of Entertainment Tonight. It used to be once upon a time that I loved that show. When I was a lad I think it was on every night right before primetime and I never missed an episode.

Something changed between then and now. Either the show is different or I am, either way, these days I equate watching an episode with getting a shard of glass jammed into my eye.

The thing that made me stop last night on ET was they were doing a fluff piece on the upcoming Miami Vice movie. They showed Colin Ferrell and Jamie Foxx learning how to shoot, duck, roll, and then shoot again, just like real cops NEVER do. Anyway, I like Colin Ferrell a lot (even though he has yet to be in a movie that harnesses his somber yet feral qualities) so I watched for a few minutes.

I’m very curious how the movie is going to fare at the box office. The camera loves Ferrell and Foxx, but neither of them has been strong enough to open an action movie.

I liked Miami Vice when it premiered on television back in the early 80s. I stopped watching after a few episodes because I never bought into the brand of smarminess Don Johnson was selling, Phillip Michael Thomas was such a un-actor to me that it was like there was an empty void on screen where his character was supposed to be, and Edward James Olmos mumbled all the time (he seems to make an effort to speak more clearly these days on Battlestar Galactica). But the show did have a kick ass pilot episode full of enough visual style to choke a grown man, and had opening credits to die for.

I haven’t seen an episode in over twenty years, but I remember the opening credits featured scenes of zoomy cigarette boats skipping over the water, helicopter shots of Miami’s interesting architecture, panoramic scenes of Miami’s nightlife shot from the left rear wheel well of a car, some jai li players in action, a naturally busty bikini girl walking past the camera with her assets in motion, some shots of Rico and Tubbs in action, and I believe the sequence ended with a pair of bathing beauties walking away for the camera. All this was set to a syntho-rock chunk of music with a thundering drum line.

The creator of the show and the director of the movie really blows hot and cold for me. Collateral had its moments and Tom Cruise was fun, but the yoke of the movie was on Jamie Foxx’s shoulders and I don’t think he was up for the task. 2001’s Ali left me sort of cold and The Insider was entertaining enough but I don’t think I’d sit through it again. 1995’s Heat had all kinds of potential, but the script was too long by half (although the bank robbery sequence is worth watching all by itself). I am an outspoken fan of two of Mann’s earlier films, 1981’s Thief (with a wild choice of Tangerine Dream for the soundtrack) and 1986’s Manhunter. I love Anthony Hopkins to death, but Brian Cox will always be Hannibal Lecktor. The supporting cast rocks the house as well. Tom Noonan as Francis Dolarhyde aka The Red Dragon, Joan Allen as the blind Reba McClane, and the always sturdy Dennis Farina as Jack Crawford. Manhunter doesn’t hold us especially well twenty years later, but it remains my favorite Thomas Harris adaptation (I never bought Jodie Foster as Clarice for even half a second.)