Author of "This Is Rage" and "Endless Encores"

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Movies That Most Influenced My Life (So Far)

By on Mar 9, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

Shortly before the 90th Annual Academy Awards aired this past weekend, I took an online quiz asking how many of the 89 previous Best Pictures I had seen. Somewhat to my shock, the answer was 70. While many of these were late-night film society screenings during college when I was a projectionist, that’s still a lot of wasted youth. Or was it? With this year’s Oscars behind us, I thought it an apt time to confess the 10 (actually 20) most significant commercial motion pictures that have impacted my thinking and creative process. You probably know I read a lot of books, but I wanted to share with you some of the filmed stories that have most shaped me as a writer. Although a few of those 70 Best Pictures are noted below, many of my choices are further off the ranch. Should you agree or disagree, I hope you might share your own favorites with me privately or publicly, particularly as they have influenced your creative thinking. These are not in specific order, although they are directionally stacked. They all matter to me, and while my reasons are kept deliberately brief, I hope some of the influences come through in my own writing as you may experience it. No apologies, this aesthetic is a bit of who I am! 1. Apocalypse Now (1979) It’s based on Joseph Conrad’s forever-haunting Heart of Darkness. It was supposed to be Marlon Brando’s crown achievement, but that honor went to Martin Sheen. This Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece breathes the existential and freezes in time the horror of the Vietnam War with natural metaphor and nuance. “The End” by The Doors is the glue in its arc, and Robert Duvall demonstrates in a few brief lines that insanity is a product of subjectivity. The movie poster has been in my home office for over 30 years. It means that much to me. 2. All That Jazz (1979) Bob Fosse’s unforgettably dark self-portrait took his kinetic style of dance and nonlinear storytelling from stage to screen. When I first saw Roy Scheider smoking in the shower it strangely gave me solace to know I wasn’t the only person who did that. I gave up smoking...

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Your War to End

By on Feb 22, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Dear Teenage America: Your outrage is well founded. All your lives you’ve known gun violence as a norm. It was not a norm when we were in school. It should not be a norm. This is your Vietnam. It is a corrupt war hijacked for purposefully obscured reasons. It is your war to end. Vietnam was a war abroad challenged at home. This war is solely on our land. The names of schools suffering premeditated surprise attacks of destruction ring out like the battles of any prior global conflict: Columbine (1999). Virginia Tech (2007). Sandy Hook (2012). Parkland (2018). Add to these battle monikers the neighborhood mass shootings near your campuses: Aurora (2012). San Bernardino (2015). Orlando (2016). Las Vegas (2017). These don’t even include the lessor acts of weekly gun violence that no longer seem to warrant national news coverage. The assaults are frequent and terrorizing, yet somehow they have become numbing. With these numbers and the vast unpredictability of some 300 million guns in American civilian hands, no public space can be declared protected, fortified, or safe. Not schools. Not churches. Not theaters or clubs. Not government office buildings. How is this not a war? We hear your cry. Enough already. Make it end here. Make it end now. Eliminate assault weapons from the American civilian landscape and you will have changed our nation for the generations to come. You have risen with spontaneity, passion, and authenticity to oppose injustice. You can no longer tolerate the breach of trust perpetuated on the places you come in order to learn, share, trade ideas, grow, and ready yourselves for the future. Your immediate impact and opportunity have not gone unnoticed. Here is what one writer, Emily Witt, wrote about you in The New Yorker: By Sunday, only four days after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, the activist movement that emerged in its aftermath had a name (Never Again), a policy goal (stricter background checks for gun buyers), and a plan for a nationwide protest (a March for Our Lives, scheduled for March 24th). It also had a panel of luminary teens who were reminding America that the shooting was not a freak accident or...

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The Emergent Miracle of 50

By on Feb 8, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

Were popular songs from 1918 played widely in 1968? How about songs from 1928 in 1978? Or songs from 1938 in 1988? So how come songs from 1968 are still widely played in 2018? Want to know why? Here are ten songs from the top of the charts in 1968, from the Billboard Hot 100 of that year: “Hey Jude” by The Beatles (#1). “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream (#6). “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel (#9). “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells (#13). “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone (#20). “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf (#31). “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones (#50). “Light My Fire” by Jose Feliciano (#52). “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (#57). “I Say a Little Prayer for You” by Aretha Franklin (#93). I don’t think I need to write any more words today. The point proves itself. We don’t need to know why. The songs speak for themselves. They sing for themselves. Our attachment is primal, mystical, enduring. Given the fifty years between the 1960s and the 2010s, not a day goes by that we don’t celebrate the 50th anniversary of something, for many of us our own time on the earth. Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This year it’s The White Album. The Rolling Stones already have a 50 and Counting tour on their resume. Last year Fleetwood Mac hit 50 and headlined The Classic West and East stadium tours alongside iconic peers the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Journey, and Earth, Wind, & Fire. Paul McCartney will likely tour until he can no longer stand on the stage. Ringo is still regularly on the road with his All-Starr Band.  You’ll remember that The Beatles led The British Invasion shortly after the Kennedy assassination. Yes, “all those years ago!” So what is the endurance factor of what we now call classic rock? Is it simply that the baby boomers who shepherded these bands in youthful acts of defiance are living a lot longer? There might be something to that, but it doesn’t explain why so many millennials are...

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My Third Book: From Nothing

By on Jan 16, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

Writers by affliction are an idiosyncratic lot. Other than a willingness to spend an enormous amount of time alone and a preternatural love of language construction, we don’t have all that much in common. We write about different things, from the historic lives of dead people to the ponderous calculations of romance that could never live up to its description. Some of us have enviable discipline in reserving hours for our craft day in and day out. Others are beasts of procrastination who binge occasionally in overnight typing sessions while devoting daylight hours to cleaning out pencil-stuffed drawers and ceiling fan lint. An author on tour may enjoy speaking publicly, while another cowers at facing readership in the form of human flesh. We may share a passion for literary achievement, but we are in few ways the same. One bit of sameness has occurred to me exactly three times, each when I’ve finished one of my novels. When the final copy-edit has put the book to bed and readied it for your consumption, I’ve invariably asked myself the same simple question: “Why did I do that?” The existential query is unavoidable. Why does a writer remain dedicated to the challenge of completing a book? I am guessing I am not alone in that meditation. It is impossible to think that most of my colleagues and the legions of our predecessors have not asked themselves the same thing. It’s a heck of an endeavor, for most not particularly lucrative. It disarms the writer to a battalion of transparent critics, and the incomplete satisfaction is resolved only in the reborn commitment to attempt it yet again. So I ask you, as you are likely to ask me: Why bother? To say that we are without choice in the matter may sound glib, but I am afraid that is the only reasonable answer I can muster. We do it because we can’t not do it. We do it because there is something inside of us that needs to ferment and emerge, to escape the confines of a sole mind and become part of a shared consciousness. If we could avoid or redirect this need many of us would, but we cannot, and...

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Proactive Means Now

By on Jan 4, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

For many of us the new year begins with the best of intentions. It’s not so much that we delude ourselves in committing to resolutions we will never pursue as it is the open calendar before us filled with possibility and promise. What can we do with all of those days between now and the end of the year? The choices are as endless as the opportunities. Almost immediately we start falling behind in our daily tasks. Days into the new year we are already playing catch up. Why can’t we get ahead of our task lists and beat the daily grind into submission? Why can’t we focus on projects and prospects that matter? Why do we spend endless hours on stuff but still waste so much time? Maybe it’s just too easy to kick the can. Difficult challenges don’t sort out themselves. They have to be wrangled and wrestled. That’s the kind of intellectual and emotional commitment that takes the force of will to muster. If you want to achieve meaningful progress, you have to get ahead of your calendar, not let it consume you. Want that glorious promotion at work? It’s not going to find you. Want to make a significant dent in your competition? They aren’t going on vacation to give you breathing room to pounce. Want to learn a new skill, a new language, accelerate your ability in an artistic discipline, or finally figure out why your department is going sideways instead of upward? Those are all really difficult things to do that won’t take place between Facebook posts or tweets. If you want to stop drowning in your dizziness, learn to think proactively. Set your sights on a potential outcome and work your way back to the present. Envision a roadmap and establish a set of checkpoints that will lead you to a better outcome. Own the outcome by owning the process. Most important, you need to do it now. Not in a month. Not in a week. Not tomorrow. Not in an hour. Now means now. Procrastination will cost you your dreams. If you have dreams, you need to act on them. Even if you don’t have dreams, and you should, if you...

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Dan Rather Live

By on Dec 13, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Last week I attended a talk with Dan Rather, who is on the road in support of his latest book, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. Produced by Live Talks Los Angeles, it was an especially engaging conversation because he was interviewed by someone equally interesting and unique, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem made it clear this was an unusual gig for him because he is usually the one answering rather than asking interview questions. He opened with the observation that what he and Rather have in common is that today each of them is considered an elder statesman. Without missing the lightness of the moment, Rather jumped into the dialogue and made it clear that he does not think of himself in any way as a statesman. He also declared with humility that he is not a philosopher or a political scientist, just a very lucky reporter grateful to have enjoyed a long career in professional journalism. I have to admit that I am quite the fan of Dan Rather. I was in college when he was passed the torch from Walter Cronkite. In those days anchoring the day’s national  news wrap-up was both a high honor and enormous responsibility. I was raised on the CBS Evening News and to this day it remains a welcome friend in my home, played back late at night from a digital recording. The anchor chair has changed hands several times over the years, but when Rather sat there, he carried the weight of the world’s biggest stories with dignity, authenticity, precision, and charm. I found Rather’s comments that evening so insightful and energizing, I wanted to share a few of his thoughts in hopes that those who share my regard for his career know that his voice is still resonating, and those who are unfamiliar with him might choose to discover the depth of his observations. “News is what powerful people don’t want you to know,” he offered with certainty. He defined the job of journalism as getting the story that others may be hiding, and that is why journalists are often unpopular with people in high places. This has always been the job as he sees it, finding out what the public needs...

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