Gremlins

Gremlins

I’ve never seen Gremlins.

I’m serious.

Just about everyone I know has seen it in some point in their lives, and consider it to be a classic.

But not me. Up until this past week I had never seen the 1984 classic, nor it’s sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Well, I decided to do something about that. I sat down and watched both of them.

I have to admit: movies like this make me miss the ’80’s. As evidenced by Gremlins, it was a time when being politically correct was not an issue. Back then, PG-rated movies still had some teeth, no pun intended. In fact, Gremlins was partially responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating, due to it’s over the top violence. The violence in the movie was considered to be too strong for a PG rating, but not enough for an R rating.

Stephen Spielberg, producer of Gremlins, and director of the other movie responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, suggested the intermediate rating to the MPAA. Now it’s on pretty much every movie. Anything rated PG that comes out now, is usually looked down upon as a family film.

Watching Gremlins for the first time, I was a little bored at the first half hour of the movie. It seemed just a little bit too cloying and sweet. But once the second act started, I giggled like a mad man. I can see why this movie is a classic. The gremlins as characters are actually pretty funny and make the perfect fodder for some gruesomely cartoonish death sequences. The very first one, involving an orange juicer, is still my favorite.

After I finished watching Gremlins, I put on Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

I have to say, whatever magic is found in the first Gremlins movie, is nowhere to be seen in the sequel.

I HATED that movie.

While the first Gremlins feels almost timeless, Gremlins 2 feels dated from the second it starts.

The cuteness of the first act of Gremlins is turned up to 11 in Gremlins 2, to the point where Gizmo annoyed me so much I sided with the gremlins whenever they tortured him. And don’t even get me started on the gremlins created for this movie. Some of the sequences of the first movie can be excused as being funny despite not making much sense, ie Cate being robbed by a gremlin in a ski mask using a gun that just happens to be the perfect size for it’s little hands. That was not the case for The New Batch. Every time they would reveal a new version of gremlin, I’d just roll my eyes and shake my head.

Joe Dante, the director, said that his idea was to make the second movie self aware, to make fun of the first movie. I can say that idea didn’t work. The constant references and jabs at the first movie only made me wish that I were watching it again instead of this drivel.

There’s even a musical number. That was the point where my brain officially checked out. It had seen enough. I had to force myself to finish watching. And I was slapped with a final scene of a man being seduced by an oversexed female gremlin for my effort.

Who writes this shit?

I should have stopped after the first one. This would have been a much happier post.

So, to sum it all up, Gremlins is a classic that I would watch again, anytime. Gremlins 2: The New Batch is horrible. I’m going to go on in life pretending it doesn’t exist, like the Schumacher Batman movies.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my shame pile.

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No Facebook for November for Me

No Facebook for November for Me

No Facebook.

For a month.

Yeah, you read that right. I will not go on Facebook for the entire month of November. Starting at midnight November 1st, this past weekend, and ending at midnight on December 1st, I have vowed to stay off of Facebook, online games, mobile games, and most social media. The only exception is twitter. I am limiting video games, movies, and music to subject material that is either inspiring me to write or is somehow related to what I’m working on.

Like most people I’ve mentioned this idea to, you’re probably scoffing, saying, “Yeah right. You’ll be back on Facebook in a couple of days. You can’t stay away.”

Well, this isn’t the first time that I’ve done this, so I’m confident that I will make it the entire month. This is actually my fourth year of taking one month off.

But, why?

Well, November is NaNoWriMo.

Huh?

Na. No. Wri. Mo.

National Novel Writing Month.

November is when many writers seem to disappear from the world for just about the entire month. I’m not exactly sure when it started, but for that one month out of the year, a large percentage of writers cluster together and push each other to produce about 50,000 words in a month, the minimum word count for your work to officially be counted as a novel.

Think of it as a boot camp for writers, but you don’t actually have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. All you need is something to write with and a connection to the internet. Twitter has become the focal point where most of the participating writers aim their attention. From twitter, participants are giving each other encouragement. They help others who may feel that they just can’t make it, or when they’re stuck. Organizers use twitter to oversee word sprints, or set amounts of time when you need to write as much as you can for an allotted amount of time.

Workshops and meet-ups are organized for those who may be getting cabin fever and need to move to different surroundings. You may walk into a book store or a coffee shop and find groups of people discussing their ideas and plans. Or they all just might have their faces buried in their monitors, but they are with others who are doing the same thing.

Is it easy?

Hell no!

Fifty thousand words is a lot of writing. And you have to do it in thirty days. That is roughly 1,667 words. Per Day. That is not an event where you can just plop your butt into a chair and start writing. You need to plan. You need to get ready.

Just like a runner preparing to run a marathon, you don’t just show up and run the full 26.2 miles. You need to spend the months before training physically and mentally. On many levels this is the same principle. Mentally, you need to be ready to write as much as you can for an entire month. You need to already have an idea in mind. Even better, you should have an outline of some sort. You need to know where you’re going. When a bad case of writer’s block hits you, and believe me it will, you need to have a point of reference so your entire month isn’t ruined because you got stuck and couldn’t finish.

Do you have to write a novel?

Nope. Not at all.

Yes, the word Novel is part of the name, and you are encouraged to use that time to write a new novel, from start to finish. For the first two years, that’s what I tried to do. I got my word count, but realizing that fifty thousand words is actually a very short novel, I was in no way finished with the stories I wanted to tell. So last year I decided to used that time to take the projects I was already working on, and focus on them. There is no better time to force myself to write. You have thousands of people cheering you on while they do the same thing. That is a resource I can’t pass up.

This year, I’m doing it again. I’m have multiple projects that I just want to sit down and write. Plus, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t start anything new until I finish what I already have, or get to a point where I’m seriously, undeniably stuck. That hasn’t happened yet, so have no excuses.

I discovered this fun little month-long holiday a few years back, and I am so happy that I did. Just knowing that there are thousands of other people going through the same struggle that I am is encouragement in itself. To have all of them helping push me along is a blessing that I am extremely happy to have.

I don’t think I would have made it this far without them.

Who says writing has to always be a solitary art?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my shame pile.

Life, Work, and Writing. Who Wins?

Life, Work, and Writing. Who Wins?

You may have noticed that there was no post last week.

You also might have noticed that in my first post upon resurrecting this blog I said I would be posting at least once a week.

Since I live by the tenet that a man is only as good as his word, I feel that I have some explaining to do.

I think there is only one way that I can explain my absence. I need to make a confession.

I am horrible at juggling.

Despite the picture in the header up there, I don’t mean literal juggling. I mean juggling all of the events that most people have to put up with in life. It is a major weakness that I am trying to overcome.

Life can get extremely busy. When you are a married father of two brats children, you own your own business, and have multiple writing projects constantly tugging at your pants legs what are you supposed to do?

Wait.

Maybe it’s the kids tugging at my pant legs. I don’t know.

See? I get confused.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

The past couple of weeks have proven to be a huge test of my multitasking skills. Work, which is usually pretty quiet, suddenly picked up. Its gotten to the point where I go to work with clients, and then come home to make dinner, put the kids to bed, and then go back to my office (the garage) to continue working. Meanwhile, I have a writing partner who has moved from Chicago so we can collaborate, wondering where I’ve disappeared to. On top of that, I just received news that my wife is being transferred, which means a new schedule where she won’t be around as much during the times I try to write.

How do writers do it?

I know better than to fool myself and think that writers are actually making a living off of their words unless they are extremely lucky. Most writers I know hold down a regular 9-5 job and write in their free time. Some of them are even parents of small children, like I am.

What are they doing that I’m not? Are they forcing themselves to write when they’re extremely tired? I’ve tried that. All that produced was an imprint on my forehead in the shape of the keys on my keyboard. Long story short, I fell asleep.

I’ve tried writing while the kids are around. Any parent knows how that went.

An idea is forming in my head, and just as it’s materializing and I move hands to begin typing…. “DADDY! He kicked meeeeeeeeeeee!”

There goes that thought, like fine sand on a windy day.

How do you do it? How do you juggle all of the things life tosses your way and still find time to write?

Help me.

Ok, I’m going to go try and wallow in my shame pile now. Don’t tell my kids. I’m hiding.

Hey! You Look Famous. Read This!

Hey! You Look Famous. Read This!

I had an interesting day yesterday.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the projects that I’m working on is a TV show with my writing partner, Andrew, from Chicago.

We met three years ago through a mutual Facebook friend and hit it off immediately. Early on, we discovered that we both love writing. He’s a poetry man, and I’m more into prose.

Nine months ago, he came to me with a proposal.

He had a story in mind. He wanted to take this story and create a television show with it. He wanted help. For some strange reason, he wanted my help.

I was skeptical at first. I live in Southern California, about an hour north of Hollywood. The closer you get to the epicenter of the entertainment industry, the more people you run across with some idea for a story, some script they want to sell, or an unnatural desire to be rich and famous. I’ve heard some random ideas that will just make you shake your head and steer clear of a person.

As he started telling me more about this story, I realized that he had something special. I really wanted to be a part of this project.

I wasn’t exactly sure how much help I’d be able to offer though. My qualifications for developing a television show is nothing more than watching TV and yelling at it for some glaring plot hole or bonehead decision a character makes. I had never written a script. And, to this day, I consider dialogue to be one of my biggest weaknesses. I figured a script was just people talking back and forth, right?

I have no idea what process professional writers go through to develop TV show. Neither does he. So we just talked about it. Every once in a while we’d chat about cool scenes we’d like to see, different character ideas, different shows that we love to watch that would become an inspiration for us. We spent time on the phone, on Skype, talking through emails, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but things started getting serious. A story was starting to form. Characters were developing. Plot twists were being planned. It started to look like we actually have something.

As he continued to developed the story, I started writing.

Last week, Andrew moved to LA and we decided to meet in person for the first time. That was yesterday. We were going to go over whatever we had at the moment and refine it. So for the first time, I printed out the unfinished script as it stood.

Now, this is a feeling that is new to me. Up until now, most of my work has been on the computer screen. I’ve written numerous things, but for now they remain just 0’s and 1’s in a computer.

Although it’s nowhere near complete, having a good portion of the pilot script printed and resting in my hands is a high that I will chase forever.

It hit me.

This is real.

We’ve devoted months of our lives to something and we actually have something to show for it.

I’m seriously getting excited.

I don’t know what is going to happen with this project. Whether it will crash and burn, or if someone will see that special something that we see in it remains to be seen. All I know is this is the closest I’ve ever come to actually writing and completing something that I’m very proud of.

As far as I’m concerned, this has been a highly educational experience, and something that I’m realizing that I want to continue.

We are now officially Hollywood stereotypes. I can’t wait to try to figure out a way to slip some famous person a script. I don’t care if it doesn’t work. I just want to be able to say that I did it. Once.

So please wish us luck, or for the breaking of our legs, whatever the custom is.

Why would you want someone to break their leg anyway? Whatever…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my shame pile

Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block

I have no idea what to write about this week.

I’m suffering from a pretty bad case of writer’s block.

There’s nothing really big going on in my life that I want to write about.

My brother in law got married last weekend and I got to be the photographer at their wedding. That was actually pretty cool. But didn’t really inspire me to want to write. I mean, I took pictures. That was the creative outlet. Maybe I’m just spent creatively. Is that possible?

I lost a little bit of weight this week. But I don’t really want to write about that either.

My writing partner is flying into town next week for a bit. I’m not really sure what fruit that will bear. But that’s not giving me any material to blog about either.

It’s been a pretty busy week so I haven’t been able to make the time to find an item in my shame pile to dive into. Nothing new there.

What to do…what to do…

You know, it’s funny: whenever I have a bad case of writer’s block I put on my music and do something else. Maybe it’s some chore I’ve been meaning to take care of. Sometimes, I’ll just go for a drive and and turn the volume up. Either way, as long as I’m not sitting in front of a blank monitor waiting for input, my creative juices begin to flow again.

There’s a trick to it, though. The music can’t just be any type of music. It can’t be the radio. It can’t be the latest song that’s hot right now. And it definitely can’t be anything with lyrics. Anything with words is more distracting than it is helpful.

Most people don’t know this about me, but I love film scores. A lot. If I’ve seen a movie, it’s more than likely that I have the score for it.

There’s just something about a film score that spurs my imagination. If I’m reading a good book, I’ll put on music that fits with that particular story. Suddenly I’m enjoying it so much more.

As far as writer’s block goes, a random film score seems to unlock an area of my brain that is pure imagination. It’s hard to describe. It’s almost as if there’s a locked door to a theater that is always playing something cool n my mind. And the only way to get in is to play the right song, from the right composer, from the right movie.

Maybe a little Danny Elfman will do the trick. Or Alan Silvestri. Lately it’s been Brian Tyler more than anyone else.

Right now, I’m not sure which one will stoke my imagination. It’s at time like this that I load up my phone and press “shuffle.” It doesn’t take long until something gets knocked loose.

So that’s what I’m going to do right now.

I just pressed the button. The first song to play?

No Pulse, by Ramin Djawadi from the Pacific Rim score.

I swear, my phone really knows me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my shame pile.

What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

I’d like to introduce you to someone.

It’s someone very close to me.

It’s…well, it’s me.

Ok, maybe I should explain. It’s my alter ego.

Wait. Not like that. I swear to you that I am not a crime fighter by night. And I’m not schizophrenic. At least, I don’t think so.

What I mean to say is that I’d like to share with you my pseudonym, my pen name.

As you probably already know, this is not something new. This is something that is actually quite common, not just among writers, but among many people who happen to be in the public eye.

Think about it. Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemons. Dr Seuss’ real name was Theodor Giesel. George Orwell was really known as Eric Arthur Blair. Even Picasso. His real name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. Do you think he really wanted to sign that on every painting he finished? His signature would have covered the entire canvas!

There are all kinds of reasons why someone would want to have a pseudonym. They can range from not liking your name to wanting a name that people will remember.

Neither of those reasons is the case with me. I like my given name. And I honestly don’t care if people remember my name. I’d rather have my writing be remembered.

So why am I going with a pen name?

Well, I struggled with whether not to use my real name and finally decided against it. Ultimately, it came down to two reasons.

My first reason is privacy. This is the least of the reasons, but it does bear some considering. I’m not saying that I will become rich and famous, but if I were to somehow, through some miracle, put out something that makes me famous, I’d want to keep that separate from my personal life.

I enjoy living a quiet life. I try my best to keep to myself. I like that I can walk into a room and, beyond the furtive “who’s that random stranger?” glances from others, can just blend into the background.

That’s really not that big of a deal. I don’t see that happening any time soon, but if it did, I’d be happy knowing that I had planned ahead.

My second reason would be people I know. How can I explain this better?

Everyone has those people in their lives, whether they are old friends or family members, who sometimes don’t quite get it. They’re just a little too judgmental. Maybe they don’t understand why you’re doing something you love. Or maybe they’re the kind of people who you don’t really want knowing your personal business. Everyone knows at least one of these people.

I happen to know quite a few.

Those who have known me for a while, know that I come from a particularly religious background. Anyone who has been a member of any church or faith knows that there are members who are relatively lax with how they follow their beliefs, and then there are those who follow them to a ‘T’. There are members who you would consider to be a little bit on the overzealous side. You can’t fault them for being extremely committed to their beliefs. They, on the other hand, are very quick to read you the riot act over some infraction to which you might not have given a second thought.

Just as an example, let me tell you a quick story.

A few years back, I decided to organize a congregation outing. I wanted to get a group of families together to go watch the first Iron Man movie on opening weekend. This a harmless movie that like other parents, I’ve let my children watch without hesitation.

I called up a group of families and invited them. Most of them were families with kids. I let everyone know when and where we were going to see the movie and left it at that.

Starting about a week before the movie opened, I started getting calls from people who were canceling. People who had previously been excited about going, were suddenly backing out.

It took me a couple of days before I realized what was going on.

Word had spread that I was organizing the trip. One lady who hadn’t been invited wanted to know more about this Iron Man person that everyone was talking about. So she googled it.

Now remember, at the time, this was the first of the Marvel movies. Anyone googling Iron Man would have been given the results of some of his most famous comic book stories. The first search result?

Demon in a Bottle.

Now, anyone who has read the comic book, or knows the Iron Man story, knows that Demon in a Bottle refers to Tony Stark’s personal battle with alcoholism. It was written in the late 70’s and was one of the more well known Iron Man stories.

This lady, knew none of that. She wasn’t the type of person who would ever pick up a comic book. She wasn’t the type of person who would understand a metaphor. Nor was she the type of person who wold actually read the actual search result that she was looking at.

She got as far the title and had already made her decision. In her mind, Iron Man was a movie about a demon. In a bottle. Hardly the acceptable type of entertainment a good christian should be taking their family to see.

Because of her new-found knowledge, she took it upon herself to help all of us who were being mislead down a path to sin. And she did it the best way she knew how: through the grapevine. What started out as whispering amongst the old ladies in the congregation began to spread like wildfire.

People started canceling and backing out, lest they be caught fraternizing with this heathen organizer who started the whole thing: me.

Once I found the source of the trouble, I tried to sit down and explain to her that the movie was not what she thought it was going to be. I also tried to explain what was meant by Demon in a Bottle. But it was a pointless conversation. Her mind had been made up and she was going to try to use the scriptures to convince me that I was in the wrong.

In the end, our group of over 30 people was downsized to under 10. We had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man. I’ve seen it countless times and I’m still waiting to find that bottled demon.

See, people like that are why I’m deciding use a pseudonym. If they were to see my name on a book cover, they would read it, and would mostly be aghast at my vulgarity for writing the word ‘damn’ or something. However, seeing an unknown name on a random book cover, they would most likely pass it by and not give it a second thought.

It’s not that I’m hiding. I just don’t want the annoyance of having to explain myself to someone who has already made their minds up about something they don’t understand.

In a way, having a pen name frees me to just write without restrictions. I am not shackled to the thoughts of what that lady would think about my story. I am like a child running through an open meadow without a care in the world. I can stop to investigate any story idea that comes to mind whenever I like. I can say what I want, how I want. I can be as vulgar and base as I want to be.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to J. D. Harrald.

From this point on, my blogs, stories, and writing will bear that name. I think it’s a good name. I hope it’s a name that will become synonymous with great writing. I hope it’s a name that people look for, and request, when they want to read something good.

And remember, if you don’t like what was written, I didn’t write it. He did.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my shame pile.

What I’m Working On or: What I Lost When My Computer Crashed and am Working to Rewrite

What I’m Working On or: What I Lost When My Computer Crashed and am Working to Rewrite

Young writer.

I have always liked that term. It makes me think of a smiling young person happily sitting at a computer monitor while writing up whatever comes to mind with reckless abandon.

I realize however that I myself could be considered a “young writer.” I don’t know about the “young” part, but it’s true.

I know this much: my image of a young writer couldn’t be further from the truth.

Much of my time has been spent staring at blinking cursor, while I try figure out how to pull the amazing image in my head down through my arms, out of my fingers, and push it into the keyboard so it will appear on the monitor. Once I’ve accomplished that, I spend more time trying to figure out why it doesn’t read as well as it appeared in my head.

Sooner or later, I’ll figure that out. For now, I’m just happy to get it out.

Getting past that lead to my next problem. No one mentioned to me that I would spend the first few months of writing chasing my friends and family around, begging them to read something I wrote. It got to the point where anyone who even looked in my direction immediately had a page shoved in front of them while I begged them to read it. I just wanted someone to tell me that what I was writing was good.

Now, I hear that this is a pretty common phase with young writers.

Once my confidence had been given a big enough boost, I started keeping my stories and ideas to myself. I figured it would be wiser for me to show off a finished product than to present someone with something that may change drastically during the creative process. So I’ve forced myself to put my nose to the grindstone and focus on actually writing.

Would you believe I’ve gotten a lot done now because of that?

However, due to my supposed silence, I’m constantly being asked if I’m still writing. And what I’m working on.

Yeah, I know you’ve been reading for a while, but this is why I’m here. I just wanted to answer those two questions.

Yes. I’m still writing. I haven’t given up on my dream of becoming a published author. I’m actually working harder at it now than I ever have.

At some point while I had a handful of papers under a friend’s nose, I ran across a saying: “Those are who talk about writing are not writers. Writers write.”

Ok, noted. I withdrew into whatever quiet corner I could find and buckled down.

It’s now been four years since I started taking this seriously. I’m not only fielding questions from those who knew about my decision to pursue this dream, but I’m also starting to ask myself what I have to show for all of my efforts.

So here’s what I’m working on. I’m going to keep it relatively vague because I want to keep the element of surprise. I don’t like talking about things too much before they are done. Also, I know people who are quick to give me more than my fair share of finger-wagging because I may have changed my mind, killed a project, or gone in a different direction.

I started out writing a novel. And I got pretty far into the process. I did research for months. Outlined the story. And I started writing it. But because of the dark subject matter, I needed to take a break and write something lighter. So I shelved that story. I don’t think I was ready for it.

I started a second novel, which I’m currently working on. It is decidedly much lighter fare and a lot more fun to write. But that first novel is haunting me. My guilt over having this unfinished thing lying around in my house is driving me crazy. Once I finish my other project, I will be going back and completing the first one.

I also have plenty of short stories that will probably never see the light of day, at least for now. Maybe someday I’ll gain some courage and release them.

I have the blog that you’re reading now, The Shame Pile, that I’m trying to resurrect. There’s a big gap in the dates that I can’t offer any excuses for. I’m hoping to make up for that with content in the near future.

I’ve also started writing for thenerdelement.com. It’s a great site started by some friends of mine that focuses on, well, things nerds love: movies, tv, games, tech, etc. All of these are things I enjoy writing about. So I love writing for them

At some point along the way, I also picked up a writing partner. We connected over an idea for a TV show that he has. We’ve been collaborating on that for a few months now. I have to say, learning to work with another person and not rely on just my own ideas has been an eye opener for me. I had always been under the impression that writing is a lonely art. But I’m now realizing that it doesn’t have to be. In addition, I’m doing something I’ve never done before, writing a pilot script. I must admit, I’m enjoying it. Once we get this project off the ground, and I have faith that we will, I can see myself writing other scripts in the future. I definitely plan to explore that avenue thoroughly.

Unfortunately, that pilot script is one of the things that I lost when my hard drive died. So I’m working feverishly to rewrite it so I can start circulating it.

So what does the future hold?

From my perspective, it’s limitless. I have these projects to finish, and I also have a massive saga that spans generations, and many novels, forming in my head right now. Just escaping into that world when I’m researching it makes me giddy.

I can’t wait to share it with you.

I intend to give you a lot to read in the future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my shame pile.