A Couple Cool Things from October: Discovering Dick Francis

There was this hot minute where I wondered whether this should be the year I tried NaNoWriMo, which challenges a writer to write 50,000 of a novel during the month of November.

The answer is “Nope. ‘Tis not to be that kind of November.” There’s a lot of life-stuff happening.

BUT I will be revisiting a 10,000 word novelette I started a while back, no doubt re-ordering each sentence four or five times — which math-wise, is like 50,000 words!

But before those things take up all my brain space and I forget — a quick gratitude-y post of a couple cool things from October.

30 Days of Yoga IRL.
A yoga studio that opened by us ran an introductory special: Unlimited classes for 30 days for 30 bucks. At this place the default cost per class is $25, so obvi the 30 for $30 is a deal!

Studio yoga classes are expensive for me right now, but in general I think they can be worth their cost. My first yoga experiences happened at a time before it was mainstream, so doing it at all meant doing it at a dedicated studio with dedicated teachers. Good training early on gave me a solid and long-lived practice. Once you have a strong foundation, you can get greater value out of free yoga classes taught by aerobics instructors at low-rent gyms, or on YouTube during the pandemic.

And it enables you to recognize a well-lead class and really appreciate it, which I’ve been doing! I took about 15 classes in 30 days. In the near future, I’ll pick up a few “Community Classes” (classes a studio gives to the community at a lesser price) for the next couple months and it looks like next year will contain a couple months between producing gigs where extra time and extra money coincide and I’ll buy their month subscription then.

Dick Francis (and probably Mary Francis, too)
One of my current writing assignments — the digital comic I’ve mentioned — involves horse racing and the kind of shenanigans that an ex-mafia guy in need of some extra currency might get up to at a horse-racing track. It’s up to me to figure out the details of what these shenanigans might be, so I’ve been researching, interviewing acquaintances who are into racing, reading books and articles about betting, watching old movies like “Let It Ride.” All these have been somewhat educational but not inspiring.

But then I stumbled onto the novels of Dick Francis… and they are so. much. fun! Like if Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett had a love child and he was a British steeplechase jockey… which is what Dick Francis was before embarking on his second career as a crime thriller writer. From 1962 to his death in 2010, he wrote 42 books. So far I’ve stayed up to into the wee hours reading his debut novel, Dead Cert, as well as all his books that feature his only recurring protagonist, Sid Halley – a one-handed ex-jockey-turned-crack-investigator who pursues his perps despite being haunted by personal demons. I’ll be looking for a couple Dick Francis novels to download to my Kindle before my upcoming 15-hour flight to Istanbul!

The library book I read didn’t have the cool Trevor Denning illustration of this first edition, but was just as fun between the covers.

P.S. I enjoyed this article on by author John Fram about rediscovering Dick Francis during an extended illness. I might check out his book too!

New Story in Santa Monica Review

I recently got some good news: My short story “Girl, Wolf, Woodsman” was accepted by Santa Monica Review and will be published this coming spring!

The story is a twist on “Little Red Riding Hood.” I started it an embarrassing number of years ago and then apparently got either distracted or frustrated. During my “writing lull” earlier this year I ran across it, gave it an edit and finally sent it out.

I’m excited to have it in Santa Monica Review because it’s a respected national journal, but it’s also right down the road in Santa Monica. It would be really cool to read in person at the launch.

I’ll mention it again in three or four months when the issue comes out. It’s a print-only journal, but I get paid in “unlimited contributor’s copies,” so if it’s of interest, you can hit me up!

Application Fun

I spent a frightening portion of the last few weeks prepping an application for the Universal Writers Lab. For readers who aren’t aspiring screenwriters, a lab like this is essentially a miracle ticket — a salaried, year-long fellowship where the participant receives mentorship while developing work with producers, execs, and others, all combining to hopefully provide a springier spring-board into the industry than the participant has experienced thus far.

Applying to opportunities like these are moonshot endeavors, as usually only half-a-dozen are chosen from many applicants. To give you an idea of how many – a couple years ago I prepped an application for similar lab, but when the application portal opened, there were so many applicants it overwhelmed the submission portal. Ultimately the organizers capped the number of applications at 4000, leaving an uncounted number of people left over. Such is the glamorous life of an aspiring Hollywood writer!

I can tell that the organizers of the upcoming Universal lab really tried to cover all their bases, detailing what to name documents, what formats to use, word and page counts, font size, line spacing and even how to address the optional referral letters.

But it’s impossible to predict all the pain points. Because the third party submission portal had no way to save an in-process application, I lost my work three times. Coming to the end of the application the third time, I was getting excited about the nearness of the “submit” button, when I discovered the final “question” was actually a form that needed to be downloaded, hand-signed, scanned, uploaded AND sent to my agent for their hand-signed signature as well! A bummer of a surprise on get on a Saturday night, though it would have been more of a bummer to get it on the Monday evening it was due.

Such administrative oversights land harder in the context of the feelings raised by filling out applications in general. For me, the whole application process calls my life into question — when I’m asked for referral letters, I wonder why I haven’t cultivated have a larger network and more intimate relationships? When tackling the essay prompt, I question whether my life experiences or thoughts could possibly be “unique”! The 15-year limit on work history on the resume is a reminder that few see the life experience of older applicants as having value or relevance. Same for unpaid labor. Although the focus of the initiative is diversity and inclusion, my projects with diverse collaborators didn’t qualify for mention because they were the most difficult to find money for. Overall, the application process is a prolonged reminder of the chasm between where I am and where I want to be, which in turn causes me to self-interrogate — do I think that wanting something badly makes me worthy? Worthier that the 4000+ applicants with their own stories to tell?

At a certain point the overwhelm is too much, I have to give up on these questions. Work continues, even on wrong side of the chasm, and it has its own rewards: For me, the rewards of making through this application are that I finally created a complete project list with loglines that I’ve been needing for ages. I revised a treatment. I re-opened a feature script that broke my heart last year and realized my heart is mended and I have the distance to revisit it again. And I wrote a 750-word essay that would live a better life as a longer-winded and more introspective 1500 blog post — so ya’ll can look forward to that.

Macroverse Panel Today

I think I’ve cryptically referred to the “digital app” company I’ve been doing a project for… To be less vague about it, I’m working with a company called Macroverse. Today, as part of a virtual Web3 Comicon event, I’ll be on a panel where Macroverse reveals it’s upcoming releases, including the series that I am writing on, called Sal Bones. You can access it as a livestream on YouTube, here, at 4:30 PM (PST) today (Sunday, October 9, 2022) or see the recorded version later.

I’m not sure how many projects are being introduced, if I’ll actually be called to say something or if I’ll mostly nod and smile. I’ve been watching several of the other events over the past couple days, and feel like I’m getting a slightly better sense of what “Web3” means, and how storytelling might evolve if it comes to pass.

Announcing… My 2022 Solar Return Trip

I know some of you have been waiting with bated breath to find out what astrologically recommended trip I’ll be taking for my birthday this year…

(For those unfamiliar with this blog, in the last few years I have become, reluctantly, a person who lets an astrologist use the time and location of my birth to calculate my “transits” and then recommend the best places to spend my birthday, I wrote a bit about the origins of this practice last year in this post.)

First, let me tell you about a couple of the contenders for this year’s “best place,” because I think they’re more entertaining than usual: According to our astrologist (yes I’m aware of exactly how California it sounds to talk about “our astrologist”)…

The VERY BEST place to be during my Astral Solar Return (i.e. “ASR” i.e. my birthday) would be:

Takaroa: an atoll in the French Polynesian islands. An atoll is apparently a ring-shaped island with a big lagoon in middle. Takaroa is 17 miles x 4 miles in total, but only 8 square miles of that is land, and the rest, I guess, is lagoon. Takaroa’s population is 674 and it has a tropical monsoon climate — with my birthday month of December being the wettest of the year. Traveling to Takaroa, while not impossible, looks expensive and a bit complicated, involving an unverifiable flight from either Tahiti or Papeete. Does an island with 700 people have an hotel?

The BEST (and “only good choice”) in the U.S. was:

Umiat (OO-mee-yat): an unincorporated community in North Slope Borough, Alaska. Located 140 miles from Deadhorse in the Arctic Circle, it’s accessible only by air or river. It is known as one of the coldest places in the US, and “has no permanent residents, being a camp and fuel stop for aircraft and helicopters operating in the area.”

Reading these first two options, I thought for a minute maybe I was being punked. (For comparison, Paul’s first choices were Amsterdam, the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, and Dublin), but apparently this is how my stars aligned.

Out of a handful of other choices ranging from “good” (Maldives) to “very good” (Bishkek, Kyrgzstan) to “other best” (a tie between Nairobi, Kenya and Samsun, Turkey), the winner is….

Samsun, Turkey! It’s a port city on the north coast of Turkey with a population 710,000. It looks pleasant (although it is right across the Black Sea from the Ukrainian nuclear plant we hope the Russians won’t target). I’ll likely just be hanging out there for a night or two, and spend some additional days in Istanbul (…which is not Constantinople)!