Thursday, October 30, 2014


Maggie thought I should post this because its a through-provoking Halloween story I wrote a couple years ago.

Let me know if you enjoy it, or if it scares the living shit out of you.


Tony DeNelli had nothing against Halloween—for the little ones. He enjoyed seeing the neighborhood kids in their costumes and chatting with the neighbors over a beer. But when his only teenage daughter, Heather, announced that she and her friends intended to Trick-or-Treat again this year, Tony got a minor case of the ass.
“You ain’t no kid no more. You and your friends are too old for Trick-or-Treat and all you’re gonna do is get in trouble.”
But his objection was overruled by Heather’s mother, so Tony conceded the outing but little else. Two days later, when Halloween rolled around, Tony treated it like any other night. He was one to catch a couple hours sleep before going in on the evening shift, so that’s what he did Halloween evening.
When he awoke, he felt restless, anxious, and stepping into the kitchen, found Heather dressed in her costume.
Tony did not like what he saw.
            His wife Connie spoke first, knowing the signs. “How’d you sleep?”
            “Not worth a shit.” Then he gestured to Heather’s costume with a dark look. “What the hell is this?”
“This is my costume, Daddy,” Heather beamed. “Like it?”
“A little too grown up for a fourteen-year-old girl, don’t you think?”                                              
The sparkle in Heather’s eyes dimmed with her smile. “I’m old enough,” she resisted.
Anyone who knew Tony, knew what was coming next.
“You’re old enough when I say you’re old enough, which you ain’t yet. Go change.
I'll let you go out, but you ain’t goin’ out dressed like that.”
Heather’s faced stretched as her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.    
Wha—? Why? Why not?
“Because I said so, that’s why not.”         
“But Daddy…”                  
“Tony, it’s just a costume.”                                 
“She looks like a slut, Connie, and she ain’t goin’ out lookin’ like that.”                     
“But Daddy, all my friends—”     
“I don’t care what your friends do. Now, if you wanna to go trick or treatin’, change into something more presentable for a fourteen year-old girl or you can’t go. You will not leave this house lookin’ like that.”
Heather stormed out making all the disgruntled noises that teenage girls make when they can’t get their way and stomped up the stairs to her room.
“Tony, really.” Connie said. “Don’t you think you’re going just a little overboard? I mean she’s growing up. She just wants to be like everybody else her age. Jennifer is going as a sexy nurse. It’s no big deal.”
“What the hells-a-matter with you, Connie? Did you see that costume? She looks like a freaking hooker! Wearing a skirt up to her crotch with her ass cheeks hanging out.”                     
“She has short-shorts on underneath, Tony. Nothing showed.”
“Jesus Christ, Connie! I don’t care! That top was too low-cut for a girl built like her. Half of her was bulgin’ out. She’s fourteen, for Christ’s sake, not twenty-four. Do you know what dressing like that says to boys? To men?”
Connie’s tone hardened. “No, Tony, I don’t! Why don't you fill me in?”
“It says that she can be hadthat’s what it says.”        
“Oh for God’s sake. You’re such a Neanderthal. That kind of archaic thinking went out a long time ago.”
“You believe that, huh? What fucking planet did you come from? I don’t give a shit what them PC feminist bitches say. Men are men. Period! And if they see a woman—or a girl—dressed like her? You better believe they’re going to think she puts out!”
“I just think you’re being too strict.”
“Too strict? She wants to look like those half-naked women on those damn music videos. They all look like tramps! The revealing clothes and the grinding against each other, damn near havin’ sex right in front of everybody! I let her dye her hair blonde, didn’t I? She looks cheap, but I let her do it anyway … just to keep the peace.”
“I’m a blonde. You think I look cheap?”
“You’re a full-grown woman, capable of making good decisions. She’s a teenager who ain’t.”
Connie gave him a cross look. “Yeah … Well I’m beginning to wonder about that.”
“Don’t get wise. She ain’t goin’ out looking like no whore and that’s it.”
“Well?” Heather said, interrupting her parents as she ambled into the kitchen. “Is this okay?”
She had slipped into dark gray sweatpants and a light gray sweatshirt stained with “blood,” and painted trickles of blood at the corners of her mouth. She performed a pirouette, mocking her father’s overbearing and uninformed attitude. He let it slide.
“That’s better. Be home by nine-thirty.”
“Nine-thirty? But all my friends…”
“It’s a school night.”        
Jesus, Dad! Why can’t I just this once—”
“Do you want me to make it nine, young lady? Just keep arguing with me.”
Heather unleashed an exaggerated eye-roll expressing her displeasure with her father and turned on her heel. “Fine!” she snapped, and set off on the three-block walk to Jennifer’s house. “You always ruin my fun!” The door slammed behind her as she stormed out in a huff.
Tony glared through the door for a moment, debating whether he should drag her back considering her display of blatant disrespect. But he decided that would just make things worse. He let it go and turned to his wife.
“Look, Connie, I know you mean well, and it’s not her I don’t trust. She’s a great kid, except for the occasional backtalk.” He offered a withering smile. “It’s just that every time I turn on the TV or the radio, I hear about another young woman who disappeared, only to be found days later … dead. Some of those girls are in their twenties. What the hell does a fourteen-year-old know? Nothing! That’s what! She thinks life’s one big social event. She ain’t got the street smarts to avoid danger.”
“She just wants to have a little fun.”
“She can have all the fun she wants without drawing that kind of attention to herself. Most guys are civilized enough to let it go when they hear the word, ‘no.’ They ain’t the ones I worry about. There are animals out there that don’t bother to ask. They just take what they want. I ain’t havin’ my only daughter beaten and raped—or worse—‘cause of the way she’s dressed. And you know damn well I’m right.”
Okay! Okay! You’ve made you point! Can we just drop it?”    
“Yeah … sure.”                            
Connie’s expression softened. She stepped toward her husband, threw her arms around his thick neck, and gave him a hug. “I know you want to protect her, but she can’t live in a bubble. She has to experience life on her own terms. We did. She’ll be fine, ok? Now, since you didn’t sleep well, why don’t you lie down and take a nap before you go in. You’re grouchier than usual.”

Three hours later, Tony climbed from bed, washed his face, and decided he should have a little more faith in his daughter. He trotted downstairs feeling every bit the overbearing parent Connie thought he was. He walked into the kitchen and looked around, but didn't see his daughter.
“Where is she?” he said to Connie, suppressing a newfound anxiety. “It’s ten-thirty….”
“Oh, I’m sure she’s at Jen’s rooting through all their goodies. She should be home soon.”
Now Tony felt overbearing had its place. “Call her cell and tell her to get her ass home. She’s in big trouble.”
“Jesus, Tony.…”
Connie huffed a bit more, but this time, Tony didn’t budge. She picked up the wall phone in the kitchen and dialed a number. A few seconds later she hung up and dialed again.”
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s going directly to her voicemail. I told her not to turn off her—”
“Call Jennifer’s house.”                                                   
Connie, now teetering on the edge of panic, offered no argument. She dialed a new number.
“Hi, Sandy. This is Connie. Is Heather still there?”        
… A long pause.
“No, she’s not here. I… No. What time? Nine fifteen? And Heather wasn’t with her? Oh my God! No, no, Sandy. That’s. … No. Look, I’m sorry, I have to go.”
As Tony listened to his wife’s conversation with Jennifer’s mother, every muscle in his body tensed as if the weight of the world had just descended upon him. Connie hung up the phone, her face ashen. She looked up at Tony—the sudden fear in her eyes unmistakable. With her heart in her throat, she managed to force out the words.
“I think we better call the police.”

Two uniformed officers spent an hour questioning Tony and Connie as to Heather’s description, her dress, her plans, and her state of mind when she left. The officers glanced at one another when they found Tony and his daughter had argued before she left the house. Finishing their interview with Heather's folks, the two officers made a beeline to Jennifer’s house, and her parents.
They arrived to find a hysterical teenager, sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the living room, being interrogated by anxious red-faced parents on the edge. It was a scene right out of a noir novel. All that was missing was a glaring overhead bulb. The cops separated Jennifer from her worked-up parents, calming the scene. Then they took Jennifer aside.
“Tell us what happened, Miss.”
Jennifer settled herself enough to talk to the officers, now that her parents had deferred to the two cops. “She made me promise not to tell. She was mad at her father. She told me she would be home in time. We met these guys.…”
What guys?” her father bellowed.
“Please, Mr. Browning. Let us ask the questions, sir. Jennifer. Tell us about the guys you met.”
Jennifer bit a quivering lower lip. “We had just left my house … ten minutes, maybe. A car pulled up next to us and these guys asked us if we wanted to go to a party. Heather wanted to go, but I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she said she was going with or without me and her father couldn’t tell her what to do anymore. I didn’t think she would really go without me, but she got in the car and they pulled off.”
Jennifer fell into hysterics as she continued to detail as much as she could remember about the guys and the car. When the cops got all they were going to get from her, they went back to Heather’s house to talk to her parents.

“Apparently, Mr. DeNelli, Heather accepted an invitation from several young men to go to a party. She wanted Jennifer to go, but Jennifer knew her father wouldn’t approve. So, Heather went by herself. Jennifer said Heather was angry with you. Did something happen here that we need to know about?”          
Two hours later, after Tony filled them in, the police left. Night turned into day. The police began combing the surrounding area at dawn, waiting only that long to begin the search in the expectation that the angry teenager would show up at home by then. Day turned to night, and back into day with no results. Several days passed before a knock came at the door.  
“Mr. and Mrs. DeNelli, I am Detective Burns. May I have a minute of your time?”
At the urging of the distressed parents, Burns stepped into the house and showed them a picture of a nearly naked young blonde woman, found just after sunup that morning. Her skimpy costume dress was gathered around her waist and her top lay in shreds beside her body. She had been raped and beaten beyond recognition, and dried blood ran down her neck from where her throat had been slit.
“I was hoping that you might be able to help us out. This costume…. Can you tell me if this is what your daughter wore that evening?”
Tony’s eyes devoured the photo. “No,” he said, denial weighing heavy in his answer. “She was wearing sweats. Not a costume like that. I would never let her go out wearing something like that.”
"We found sweat pants and a sweatshirt nearby."
Pain registered on Tony’s face as his heart leapt into his throat. He looked again, and recognized the costume he made Heather change out of. And as he conceded the similarity of this woman to his daughter, horror took him. He pulled the color 8 x 10 photo against his chest and began to sob.
“Couldn’t you at least have covered her up with something?” Tony cried. “Allowed her some dignity?”           
Detective Burns began to laugh, and enormous teeth lined a half-moon grin that distorted his face like a funhouse clown.
“Dignity? The way she’s dressed? Dignity? She looks like a whore! Just like you said she did! She got what she was asking for, and it’s your fault!
The cop began to shake Tony with all his strength, as if to shake some sense into him. “What kind of father are you?” He screamed, launching spittle from his mouth in flyaway strings. “What kind of father are you…. What kind of father—”
Then from somewhere distant, Connie’s voice floated in, layered atop the chaos.
“Honey? Honey? Are you okay?” she called, shaking her husband, trying to wake him.
Tony bolted upright, wide-eyed as his wife shook him. The sheets were soaked with his sweat and he was trembling. Dazed, he looked around, uncertain of where he was or what was happening.
“Tony? You all right, honey?”
“I … I ain’t sure.”
“You were having night terrors … calling out. And you were crying.”
       Tony wiped the tears from his face and swung his legs out of bed. Stumbling into the bathroom, he drenched his face in cold water. Then, he stared at the mirror and saw a terrified man. Slowly he began to realize it had all been a dream. He walked back into the bedroom and told his wife what little he could remember of his fading nightmare.
       “It was about Heather. Something … bad happened.”
"Honey, she's fine. She's in her room. Go see for yourself."
Tony peeked into Heather’s room to see his only daughter sound asleep, her teddy bear curled up tight in her arms.
He began to weep.

“Heather’s going out with Jennifer tonight, Tony.”        
“I don’t want her out too late.”
“She’ll be home on time. She’s a good kid.” Connie grinned at her husband. “Much better than you were at her age.”
At that moment, Heather popped into the kitchen. “I’m ready. I’m heading over to Jen’s.”
Tony took one look.
“You ain’t goin’ out dressed like that.”
“But Daddy…”
“No ‘buts’.”
“Tony, it’s just a costume.”
“She looks like a slut Connie and I ain’t lettin’ her go out like that.”                                          
“But Daddy, all my friends…”
“I don’t care what your friends do. Now, if you wanna to go trick or treatin’, change into something more presentable for a fourteen year-old girl or you can’t go. You ain’t leavin’ this house lookin’ like that.”
Heather stormed out making all the disgruntled noises that teenage girls make when they can’t get their way. She returned a few minutes later in gray sweats.
“Well?” Heather said as she reentered the kitchen. “Is this okay?”
“That’s much better. Be home by nine-thirty.”
“Nine-thirty? But everybody else…”
Something twisted Tony’s stomach, wringing it out like an old dishtowel, and foreboding cut him to his core. He looked at his wife, and the terror she saw in her husband’s eyes frightened her.

“On second thought,” he whispered, “I think I’m going with her.”

Treat or Treat,

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quiet on the Set! Thurston-The Western Web Series

Last Saturday, I seized on an opportunity and took Maggie to the set of Thurston—The Western Web Series. My buddy and fellow author, Kathryn O’Sullivan invited me (at my request) to come and see the goings-on as they wrapped production of Season Three. Kathryn partners with her husband Paul to co-produce the series, and both wear many hats, including creator, writer, producer, director, cinematography, video editing, and wardrobe design for the series. If you think that sounds like a lot of work, well pardner, I reckon you’re right.

The location is super-secret and hard to find, and only about an hour from where I live, but by the time Maggie & I arrived, shooting had already begun. We walked down a narrow road that was really more of a horse path used by motor vehicles, past the outdoor set of a western town. The fronts of a general store, blacksmith shop, livery stable, and saloon (what self-respecting frontier town would be without a saloon?) sat inactive on my left as we made our way back. Kathryn met us halfway smiling and shushing since shooting was underway. I introduced her to Maggie and we followed her to where the action was, tip-toeing through the autumn leaves, looking for bare spots on the ground to avoid making noise.

It was fun already.

When the director called “Cut,” the scene ended, and Kathryn graciously introduced us to some of the cast and crew that weren’t too busy and we chatted a bit. For me, it was sort of like brainstorming scenes for a novel, talking to the characters and running through scenarios, and imagining possible turns of events. But here, it was real. The scene played out in the flesh, so to speak, with the director placing the actors and setting up the action, and Kathryn following along in the script.  

The production was compact and economical, and on this day, just a single camera was needed. This necessitated multiple runs of the three scenes on the shooting schedule to be shot from different camera angles. I heard the term MOS several times, and discovered it meant filming without sound. I couldn’t tell when they were and when they weren’t, so I whispered most of the time, and didn’t let Maggie talk at all … which was the real upside of the day for me.

Only kidding, 
Honey. Sound was a bit of a problem, though, and not just the inadvertent shuffling of feet or snapping of a twig or ring of a cell phone. Being deep in the woods, who knew locomotive whistles would pass by or jet airliners would roar overhead just as an actor delivered his line. Many a head dipped in frustration and shook side-to-side that morning I’ll tell ya.

Once the various camera angles for the first scene were “a wrap,” excuse my amateurish use of movie parlance, and they were about to begin with the next scene, the wranglers brought in
.... the horses.

As if this day couldn’t get any cooler!

Maggie wanted to take one home. But we already have Murphy, who is almost the same size. Suffice it to say we had a wonderful time, and I’m sorry that I can’t talk more about our terrific experience on the set without injecting spoilers, which I promised Kathryn I would take care not to do. But I will say this, it was a real event for me, and I enjoyed it immensely. I found that running scenes for a novel is much like directing the actors and the action on a set, except that it’s all in my head, and I am the director.

Not that I’m looking for a career change, mind you, but to be totally honest, I think I’d like to try directing sometime. I can see the lure and the fascination of interpreting someone else’s creation, and I think I understand why so many actors become directors at some point in their career. Besides being rewarding, it just seems like a whole lot of fun.

Catch the first two seasons of Thurston—The Western Web Series at your first opportunity. Season Three is just around the corner, and you don’t want to miss it.

Adios, pardner.


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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why Won’t We Read the Classics?

From Wikipedia:
“In his ‘Disappearance of Literature’ speech given over a century ago in 1900, Mark Twain said, (referring to a learned academic's lofty opinion of Milton's ‘Paradise Lost’) that the work met the Professor's definition of a classic as ‘something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read’."

I got the gist of Mr. Twain’s quote because I once decided I wanted to read Moby Dick. “Call me Ishmael.” What a cool opening line. The wife actually got me that piece of dialogue in a frame for my office wall; not to apply immense literary pressure mind you, but it does peer critically down upon me from on high; as if I had a chance in hell of ever writing like Melville. 

With the exception of high school, where I had to read The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, reading a classic would never have been on my radar prior to my delving into writing. But when I did, I began to wonder what it was that made a Classic, classic. Since I knew the story of Moby Dick, I decided I should try one I knew nothing of. So I asked for several titles for Christmas. And I got them. I Robot by Isaac Asimov was one I really wanted to read, but I knew that one from the movie (yeah, I know … not the same, but humor me). Stranger in a Land by Robert A. Heinlein was another, but Santa didn’t leave it. He did, however, bring me Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and I found that pronouncing his first name was nearly as difficult as reading the book.

Written in 1932, BNW is a dystopian tale of future Earth, where advanced genetic engineering allows the State to control every aspect of human reproduction and intelligence in order to maintain specific classes of people, from the brainless Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron for laborious menial tasks, all the way up to the elite Alpha-Plus, the caste that would be future World Controllers. Assembly line people. And it was Henry Ford’s concept of the assembly line that Huxley demonized in BNW.

But I digress.

Besides the technical differences in the writing—single quotes around dialogue as opposed to double quotes, EM dashes with a space on either side, to name but two—the opening chapter of this book (twenty pages) could be considered a massive information dump delivered by characters through dialogue; done well, mind you, but an info dump none the less. After a while, it became tiresome. Today’s novels jump right in so as not to bore the reader.

The first paragraph:
A SQUAT grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.
The second paragraph was more setting.

I also picked up on a fair amount of multiple POV shifts in short bursts with little attribution, which caused me to lose track, go back to see who was talking, and eventually, stop reading—a bad habit I’ve developed from being rejected by agents so many times. The story finally began midway through chapter three, but by then I’d had it. I expect I’ll pick it up at a later date and finish it, and not just so I can say that I’ve read it. I’m sure it’s a bit like 1984 by George Orwell (which I read while in the Navy), and I’m certain I’ll enjoy it as soon as it gets started.

It’s interesting to me that, just twenty years later, in 1951, Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and the trend of opening with characters in action is there, as evidenced by his first paragraph.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

Man! Takes my breath away. Sets the tone, introduces the main characters, and speaks to the old man’s conflict.

So I think I understand why we won’t read the Classics, as Twain says, even those we would like to say that we have, if only to sound learned around our peers. In some cases, like that in Huxley, the writing is old fashioned, with outdated styles and antediluvian vocabulary and technical differences. They read nothing like those of today’s writers, and we may as well try to read the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays, but I think it better to attend the performance.

I like to think our generation is busily cranking out new Classics that won’t be read by future readers who will more than likely say … “King? Rowling? Clancy? Yeah, I’ve read them.”

Best Regards,

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