Thursday, November 17, 2011

Knives and Shootings, New Hampshire Style

I covered a story for tomorrow's edition of the local paper. It's about a couple of film companies from New York shooting a movie, practically in my neighborhood. And it all started, well, strangely.

I first heard about it from a friend who showed up at my house and said, "What's going on down the road? They've got lights all over the place." And of course I thought he meant lights from emergency vehicles, and I looked out the window to see if I could see them now that the trees are bare and you can see further.

Well, it wasn't quite that close to my house and, thankfully, nobody had had a heart attack. We got in my friend's truck and took a look, and they were shooting a movie in a field with lights all over the place. It looked like a great setup for a baseball game.

Last Friday I got a chance to interview two of the producers, Dave Marken and Dan De Felippo, and the director of photography, Jon Miguel Delgado. It was my third visit to the charming little house they were using as a base of operations, and I must have made a good impression because on that third visit, nobody came at me with a knife. Actually, everyone was very friendly, but when I showed up the first time, unexpected, I interrupted a young lady who was cooking,

and she came to the door with a paring knife (and an onion, I think, or maybe it was an apple). She suggested I come back the next day, and that's when I met Dave Marken, and of course he was cooking and holding a knife. The place smelled great, too.

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie when it comes out. I expect to see a lot of well-fed actors.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I'm Damaged

A week and a day ago I saw my first 3D movie. It was “Dolphin Tale” and I enjoyed it. And it damaged my brain.

At first I thought it was just a headache. They say that happens to some people, so I wasn’t concerned. The first sign something was wrong was when I still had the headache the next morning.

It took me a couple of days to get over it: not just the headache but dizziness, confusion and the sense of not knowing exactly where the edges of my body were. After that I declared I was over it and drove for several hours, an indirect route from New Hampshire to southern Connecticut.

I shouldn’t have. For the next four days I was shaking, dizzy to the point of falling over, walking into things, and randomly using words I hadn’t even thought of. I heard the word I meant, I even felt it in my mouth as it came out, but everyone in the room told me I’d said something else. I said “fry pan” and they heard “Filipino.”

I stayed in Connecticut until I felt safe to drive again, and came back Friday. Now it’s Sunday and I’m still not back to normal. Speech doesn’t come automatically. English feels like a foreign language: I have to work to remember the words, think about how to put them together to form a sentence. I have to focus to keep from slurring or spouting nonsense syllables.

I don’t know how long this will last. I do know the problem is almost minor when I’m well-rested and quite bad when I’m tired. Tomorrow, when my doctor’s office is open, I’ll make an appointment. And I know that no matter what happens, I’m going to be fine, because even if the damage is permanent, I can still write.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Carlos Robson

Yesterday I had the chance to attend a poetry performance by Carlos Robson.

I almost didn’t go. I could just imagine what it would be like: an hour of whining, if I was lucky. If I wasn’t lucky, he’d be the kind of ‘poet’ who puts together disjointed images of gore and perversion, just to shock the audience.

I did go, of course. I’m a writer, after all, and a poetry performance is, at least marginally, an event in my field. It was free, and it was very close to where I was staying at my brother’s place in New Haven, Connecticut. I went because I couldn’t come up with a decent excuse not to.

I loved it. Instead of whining, I heard inspiration; instead of shock, respect. And it was the kind of inspiration and respect you can believe in, because it was anchored not in lofty ideals but in practical reality. The audience was mostly young and urban, and Carlos spoke their language.

The poem that affected me most was about his uncle, who was a fan of “The Wizard of Oz” and who lost his mind in the Vietnam War. Let me back up and fill in some context.

I recently finished writing a novel about terrorism. To write it, I immersed myself in the twisted mind of the mass murderer and put myself in the shoes of the victims. And I wrote it too fast, didn’t give myself the time to take the insanity in pieces.

After that, to help myself heal, I’ve been working with my daughter on something just for fun: a fan fiction teleplay. To get to know my characters and make them ‘real,’ I always make them my imaginary friends. Sure, I get caught talking to myself, and it probably means I’m diagnosably crazy, but the technique works. Lately, I’ve had a Cardassian Gul from Star Trek following me around whether I ask him to or not. And it just so happens that his planet was recently reduced to a ball of rubble in a particularly horrible war.

So with all that in mind, I sat in a Connecticut classroom last Friday and watched Carlos Robson take on the persona of his uncle. “Follow orders!” he yelled at the tornado. “Follow orders!” Then sadly, “Follow the yellow brick road. The road is paved with the faces of the dead.”

The poems weren’t all so heartbreaking. In fact, even the tragic ones contributed to the overall message: “Don’t let anybody stop you from doing what you need to do to get where you’re going.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cat Protection Software

I decided to check out some new writing software, and if it's anything like it claims on its website, this one's pretty amazing.

It's called Yarny, and it was created for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in which a lot of crazy writers each attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Here's what the Yarny people have to say for it: "Yarny lets you write the way you want to write, using any approach you like, in a simple, distraction-free environment." A list of features on the page boasts:

Auto saves your work
Automatic versioning
Supports virtually any writing method
Stay organized with people, places & things
Distraction-free writing
Full-screen mode
Export all or some of your writing
Trash can, to recover deleted snippets
Tags for classifying and quickly finding
Free forever plan
Paid plans beginning in December

All those features sound really useful to me, except maybe the last one. But it's the distraction-free writing that has me in awe. Imagine it: software I can rely on to keep my cousin from choking the cat, fetch snacks from high shelves, feed the fire and turn down the TV. I have got to have that program.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why I Wrote My Novel

Ten years ago today I was in Manchester, New Hampshire, not far from the airport, staring at the empty, silent sky. No clouds, no airplanes. I felt numb.

I wanted so badly to help. I had no money to give. I didn’t get the chance to go to New York and help search the rubble for victims. I tried to donate blood, but they already had so many donors they turned me away, even though I have the rare O- type. It felt good to know so many people were donating, but I still wanted to help.
I attended a public meeting to figure out how Christians, Muslims and others could work together to help the survivors and the victims’ families, help each other recover, and help prevent future attacks. Again, I was disappointed. I met some nice people and learned some things, but that was all. No one else seemed interested in doing anything practical to help: it seemed they thought the fact that we gathered and talked about the survivors somehow helped them.

And then I found it. Stories started popping up in the news about hate crimes against Muslims, and even against non-Muslims who had brown skin or dressed in non-Western clothing. I realized that people don’t do horrible acts of violence all at once. They usually talk about their anger and get encouragement from others until it grows and hardens into an insane hatred. Then they act.
So I started talking to people. Whenever I found myself in a conversation with someone who seemed bitter and hateful, I’d try to be an influence of compassion, moderation and reason.
I failed. Nobody wanted to listen: they were right and I was wrong. I needed facts. I had to be the expert, to know more than they did. Not that I would rub it in their faces; my assertions just needed to be difficult to dismiss.

I did a lot of research, learned a lot and had fun learning it. I kept talking with bitter and hateful people, and I think I was able to do some good. I certainly hope so.

Somewhere in that research and those conversations, a book started to grow in my head. It would be about the insane kind of religious fervor that drives people to unthinkable atrocities, and about the redeeming, strengthening power of true faith.

The book is entitled Resist the Devil. Please download a copy, read it and share it with others. Together, we can help.