So yesterday was the 239th anniversary of the greatest day in American history (and yes, even over October 19, 1781–we don’t celebrate that date, do we?!). So, being that I live quite close, I decided to spend the day in our nation’s capital. Of course, on that day there wasn’t a Washington, DC at all–only a swampy area (it felt like that yesterday after the furious downpour!) I enjoyed my day anyway, spending time with the Founding Fathers (and Mother, as Abigail Adams was there as well), and especially enjoyed viewing those glorious documents in the Archives Rotunda by which we established this great country of ours. Not all was well, as when I arrived home I found my notes on The Light of Liberty, particularly swathes of the brainstorming I accomplished on the Metro regarding the younger brother in the odd Groff family, have essentially dissolved. But I did have chats with a few knowledgable folks and their conversations stuck with me long enough so I could get my reactions down when I reached dry land (and paper!).
So to all Americans and those who choose to share in our celebrations, I hope that your Independence Day had been quite amazing and eventful in the positive connotation of the word! 

Don’t let these be your notes. Use protection!

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.


Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]


There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).


Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

latest Hugh-Keays-ByrneImmortan-Joe-Mad-Max-Fury-Road

So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it



[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

I fight through the gila monsters, hordes of raiders and a few desert dwellers, turning them all into a thin, red paste in order to retain my claim to the treasure tucked carefully away inside my backpack.  I’ve been waiting for this for ALMOST 30 YEARS!  At last, the prize is mine!

As I reach my cozy little bunker, far away from the radiation zones where my Geiger counter sits silent instead of clacking away, the excitement and tension are palpable in the cloistered air.  Booting up the old kitbashed Commodore 64, I remove the carefully wrapped package, pop in the disk and proceed to install WASTELAND 2.


So I purchased this some time ago, but my writing schedule did not permit me to play it.  I admit freely that I can be easily sucked into playing a video game for hours, but I have plenty of self-discipline to not let it turn me into the freak that lives off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew in their mother’s basement whose only exposure is a trip to answer the door when the UPS or FedEx guy drops off that special collector’s edition Mad Meltdown Mayhem III.  However, I had been eagerly awaiting this one, as stated, for 30 YEARS!  Not that the Fallout series wasn’t fabulous (all of the games are), but Wasteland was the one that got me started, back in the day.  I was a young girl then, and when my brother bought the game and installed it on his Commodore 64 (two disks, double-sided, had to be copied*), I couldn’t wait to get my fingers on that keyboard.

And so it is…

First, I made a team loosely based on my characters from Umbra.  [The following may contain some SPOILERS, if you haven’t read the novel or played either of the games.]  There’s Shaw with his beard and boonie, Mance with his youthful stature and mussed hair, without the robes he wore in the novel, however.  And there’s Vera.  I am absolutely delighted to say that within three minutes of starting the game, she had her goat following her.  Now, Aberforth isn’t Casey, but I can’t get everything I want.  And to round out the team, I included hefty meatsmasher Deergut to give my team a little heavy weapons and brute force.  Deergut wasn’t in Umbra, but he will showing up in one of the sequels…

 WL2 Umbra

It was nice to see the “old faces” in the game, namely General Vargas (‘Snake’), Angela Death**, Thrasher and Hell Razor, and sadly, Ace as a corpse. Makes me wonder who else I am going to see***…

What also got me excited was that they tried to stay true to the locations, as well.  The Ag Center map is much like the map from the original Wasteland, with its desk area at the front, the long corridor in the center and the two garden areas off to the side, complete with the satellite dishes. The Ranger Center, now moved to the Citadel where they originally fought off hordes of evil nuns, even has the museum room with the Secpass in the display. (I guess the Quasar key you found there was left behind at Cochise.)

As for the soundtrack, they get extra kudos for bringing in Mark Morgan who created the music for Fallout 1 & 2.  Anyone who reads me knows I am very picky about soundtracks for games/movies like these, but I can’t say enough about Mark Morgan’s work. “Radiation Storm”, the track played during the Vault Dweller‘s trip to The Glow, still gives me the chills when I hear it.  Talk about creeptastic.  If anything, I am looking to progress through the game not just for the storyline and entertainment of playing an RPG, but for the music Morgan brings to the game.

I was really happy to be playing an isometric style game.  I loved the original Wasteland with its sprite-ful overhead view and the combat screens with portraits and descriptors (note that ‘thin, red paste’ I inserted above. And don’t forget to bring the blood sausage!), and I really grew to love the visuals of Fallout.  This game is no different, giving it a retro but not too retro feel.  I am able to accomplish a lot of tactics that I enjoyed setting up, like the crouch and headshot (headshots! woot!) for my sniper in order to get the ‘party’ started, and I like the ambush function.  My only gripe with that feature, however, is that they ALL shoot/aim for the same target on the ambush.  I wouldn’t mind having a simple “wait” so that my sniper, for example, could use her turn on the high-value targets instead of the fodder that can be cleaned up with a club or a simple burst from an SMG when they wander into firing range.  If they change this in an update (which they may already have, but my internet connection is spotty so getting the old computer to a place to DL them is a trip rather than a normal occurence), I will be one happy camper.

I could go on and on, but I think a full play-through will be necessary, and probably more than one, since the very beginning of the game sets it up for multiple playthroughs with different outcomes.  I’ve been having a grand time getting in an hour of gametime a day, so I see this one keeping my schedule occupied for quite a while.  So far, I am going to give the game 4-1/2 out of 5 mushroom clouds.


*This was done so that changes made during gameplay were maintained throughout the world, something few if any other games did at the time.  You couldn’t go blow a place up, leave the local map and come back to find everything intact.  Your actions mattered.  This is fairly standard now, but a lot of credit goes to the developers for the persistence of behavior and consequences in Wasteland.  Of course, if I wanted to play the same area over again, I could make another copy of that side of the disk and play ‘fresh’.  I suspect that was how a lot of people, myself included, got their Rangers absurdly high promotions.

**Minor break in continuity, if you had the Strategy Guide from the original Wasteland like I do (yes, I still have my copy).  Angela gets fatally gutted and they leave her behind, and SOMEONE is an android.  Good reading though.

***I hope the reference to the ‘blue woman’ is actually ‘purple’ and happens to be Charmaine, one of my favorite characters from the original game.

So, yes, I know the movies isn’t exactly this summer’s blockbuster, but when I read back over some of my old posts from a different site, I noticed a glaringly obvious snafu.  I promised a review of The Book of Eli when it came out, but I never delivered.

Well, ‘never’ is such an absolute term.  And I am here to rectify my error and nullify that ‘never’.

The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as Eli, most often referred to as ‘The Walker’ for the duration of the movie (in fact, his name is said only once, and is written once on a tag and carved into stone).  Mila Kunis plays Solara, the girl who becomes his sidekick by circumstances addressed in the film.

Post-Apoc, this baby takes the cake, eats it and bakes us another one.  The visuals in this movie capture all of the bleak and decaying landscape fans of PA and games like Fallout and Wasteland could ever desire.  One particular scene of Eli peering up at the broken, curving highway directly recalls similar images from Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland.

The music was very hit or miss for me.  If anyone’s read my review of The Road, they would know that I favor a ‘less is more’ soundtrack for films like this.  Part of the scoring with the languid, melancholy cello seemed perfect, like endless drifting.  Too much of the heavier ‘rock-like’ music felt invasive.  The insertions of other music via the iPod or the radio felt right, and also seemed like something pulled from Fallout (I especially loved the ‘soothing’ song, ‘Ring My Bell’.  Proved this film had a sense of humor, too.)  Fans of Fallout 3 will also find a familiar face (voice) but I won’t spoil that.

I generally love anything Denzel involves himself in, and this film is not an exception to that.  Not a huge fan of Mila Kunis, but she didn’t grate on me in this film, although her character didn’t develop as much as I’d like.


The ending image bothered me in that it seemed too amorphous.  I would have liked to see a complete circle happen in this story.  Having her take some of the Bibles with her would have given the sense of completion.  Eli brought the Bible to the place he intended, and now she is taking it (them) away, on another trip, to distribute.


In all, the only gripe I had with The Book of Eli was a very personal one: some of the images I found in the movie were ones I had already written into a very early draft of Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery.  Some things that I conjured up seemed too familiar, too similar and so I felt forced to abandon those particular scenes and characters I had grown to love for fear of being labeled a plagarist.  Someone may still point out that a few of the ones I left in were still enough to evoke those similarities between the two, but for some reason or another, I couldn’t give them up, and they stay, albeit as modified as I could bear to change them.  In a very odd way, I suppose it’s flattering.  After all, the movie proved that some of the ideas I came up with would work, and work well.  (This happened to me quite a few times, sadly enough, while writing other stories during my childhood and early teenage years, when I began to think that someone was copying ideas from my brain.  At least that’s the only logical explanation.  I will just say that one of the Predator stories, as told by Dark Horse comics, is frighteningly close to ideas I developed in unpublished fan fiction.  Cree~py.)

Overall, I liked the movie. 4/5 Mushroom Clouds.

It’s FINISHED.  The Opal Necklace is finished.

That’s right, my NaNoWriMo torture time is finally over.  What I ended up with was one great big, steaming pile of verbal crap.  (See, Hemingway, you were right!)

Not literally, of course.  Not the ‘steaming part’, anyway.

However, this one is going to go simmer on the back burner in hopes that I can take the excrement and somehow magically convert it into a savory pot of tasty sauce. Or at least an edible one.

By ignoring the manuscript for, say, a month or two, I can come back to it with a fresh eye. I have my technical specialists who look over some of the aspects (thanks Dave and Greg!) but as for the entire thing, I need to step away from it and pretend I am reading it for the first time.

I’ve also been reading Syd Field’s books, in particular the one on Screenwriter Problem Solving.

Anyone who tells you that novels/plays/screenplays are different… well, they’re correct. They ARE different, but only in nuance. They should all convey the story by showing, not telling (c’mon, I know you’ve heard that one a thousand times before), and even the stage play benefits by minimizing the exposition and the talking heads* doing nothing but droning on alone or at one another. I think it was Blake Snyder of Save the Cat! fame who said if you have to have some exposition, at least bury it in the characters doing something exciting (paraphrasing here).

HOWEVER, saying that a novelist cannot benefit from research into how a screenplay is constructed would be the biggest crime of all. After all, screenplays are three-act structures and the same pacing of good films is really the target that I am aiming for. (I don’t particularly like to read rambling, whatever happens, happens kind of fiction, and I don’t like to write it either.)  Everything in the first two acts of the story builds up to the climax, contributing to the resolution and finale. I like to write out all of my scenes on index cards and “marry them” up with the points on Syd Field’s Paradigm. It’s a fantastic way to see where I might be spending too much time in the setup, for example, or rushing my ending in just a couple of pages. Last thing I need is my reader to go looking for missing pages at the end of the book because the conclusion felt so unsatisfyingly short. While I am not suggesting that all books should end up like ready-to-film, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the tension and conflict suggestions I’ve already found in Syd Field’s books.


*Someone I once knew happened to rape the whole graphic novel medium by having his characters do little more than talk to each other for the length of the comic, while lounging around.  Mediocre art aside, one particular excruciating page had 16 FACES of back and forth conversation depicting indiscernable facial expression changes, and just their heads. It is called a ‘graphic novel’ for a reason, for heaven’s sake!

Thank goodness that one is not indicative of all graphic novels.  There are quite a few which had no words at all, but the story couldn’t be more brilliantly clearer because the action in the artwork conveyed the entire thrust.  Talk about your “show, don’t tell”!

Real Help on Thanksgiving

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Just a Thought
Tags: , ,

Thanksgiving is around the corner! While plenty of us are planning on trucking out to homes of friends and family on order to get their turkey grub on, there are some who are worried about a place to live.

While I like to help folks under “umbrella” charities, it’s good to make it personal every once in a while.

So this guy, who is a friend of a friend, was more worried about how his loyal and beloved pup was going to fare than himself! Looks like he’s got some help for the pup, but HE needs plenty of help too and I want to see him have the most Thanksgiving-ever-after in spite of the shit hand he’d been dealt. Being a veteran myself, those who have served and continue to serve hold a special place in my heart.

Help here.

Or night job, as the case may be. Lately, I’ve been tempted to throw in the towel and give up the rat race. I’m sure most people have experienced the uglier side of office politics (not ‘what’ but ‘who’ you know and how far you’re willing to stick your nose up their butt), or the stereotyping (that person’s just a dumb admin who can’t read too good) or even vicious racism or misogyny.

But… There’s a time to get disgusted and walk out, and there’s a time to hang tough. Not just for the steady paychecks (big, big reason to hang on, to be sure), but also for the conflict. I’ve frequently been finding myself thinking of the events at work: “wow, this situation reminds me of a story I read once.” Sometimes I even think what’s happening right in front of me would have required a massive suspension of disbelief in order to incorporate into a story — “you can’t make this crap up” is a common phrase uttered at work. And if it wasn’t so personal, it would be hilarious. Maybe a little softening over time and I’ll have a comic bestseller.

While I’m working on the next stories (I anticipate having Belly of the Beast published early next month), hoping I’ll be able to earn enough from my writing to keep a roof over my head and some food in my fridgeI’ll keep at it and think of it as inspiration to

And Office Space, believe it or not, is not as strange as it seems to be. Anyone who worked in an office can attest to this. The scenes with the copier? Spot on.

Yes, it’s true, apparently. Over at Authorgraph, readers can request an inscription and signature for their digital copies, and I am happy to provide the service for my readers.

In the middle of NaNoWriMo, I have chosen to forego some of my word count in favor of a vacation. True, I had planned to take a break way back in the distant past (July 2014. Ancient times, you know) but in choosing not to write as much as I normally do per day during this month, I have been able to let some of the ideas simmer. And like anyone who makes spaghetti sauce (or tomato gravy, if you happen to be from Philly), the more they simmer the thicker and tastier it gets. Unfortunately, instead of the ideas for my NaNoWriMo novel, I found some ideas for the sequel to Umbra worked their way into my brain. Can’t entirely fault it, but it’s just as well, since I had been deciding whether or not to restructure my schedule and do the sequel earlier in 2015. Now I’m actually pretty eager to let the ideas get out and play around on the page. So Shaw and Vera and the others may just be making appearances earlier than expected. Stay tuned.

The Opal Necklace

Anyone whose done any creative writing at all has most assuredly had the old “Show, don’t tell” beat into their skulls by well-meaning instructors.  Nothing wrong with the phrase, and, in fact, it works.  What they usually don’t extrapolate is the “How” part of that showing without simply telling.

I have discovered my method of “How” and it’s very simple.  I ask myself, about everything I describe, how does it make me feel?  (And by me I mean that I filter it first through me, then through the character whose point of view I’m using for the scene.)  Each of us has a plethora of experiences, and quite a few of us like to share these memories, good or bad, with one another.  Look at social media entries on sites like Facebook* -most everyone is more interested in telling us how they feel about something rather than exactly what occurred there: “Having a great time!”  Or the opposite – your car breaks down in a dark neighborhood.  It’s not just the broken streetlamps, or the sound of rats scurrying in the trash littering the alleyways.  These things help to build the tone, but its the reaction to them which holds power, especially in fiction.

Most of our most poignant memories elicit a memory of the FEELING of being in it, rather than a second-by-second replay of events.  The latter would be horrifyingly droll.  The former is what brings others into the moment.  We may not have exactly the same experience, but every human being on this planet shares the same set of emotions, whether they show it or not.  (Or misdirect it.  Some really creepy villains stem from those who absolutely LOVE things the rest of us find abhorrent, but to them it is love.)

This is insanely useful in fiction, as it brings the human element into what is essentially a foreign world (fantasy and science fiction are notorious for high-level play-by-plays of the scenes.)  It allows the reader to sense the world rather than reading what it’s all about.

For example:

The sun crested in the noonday sky, baking everything below.

Consul Norrus felt uncomfortable in his breastplate and leather armor, and cursed.


This one rates a “meh” on the description meter.  Barely.

But now I take it to a personal level:


Consul Norrus mopped at the sweat on his forehead and squinted at the scorching noonday sun.  His breastplate absorbed the heat, cooking him in the

ridiculous accoutrement his title forced him to wear, and he prayed some small crisis erupted requiring his presence erupted, preferably somewhere with plenty of shade.


Now I get a sense of not only of the heat of the day, of Norrus’ discomfort with the armor, but also his feelings about some of the necessities of his position.  This makes him a human –how many of us have been forced to wear something uncomfortable just to satisfy some obligation of our profession or duty?  This brings us closer to him as a person, either as someone we like (which I hope in this case you, dear Reader, will, as Consul Norrus will be showing up as a protagonist in The Opal Necklace) or someone you despise.

Of course, there are plenty of scenes in stories which have character, no point-of-view, right?  Wrong.  An omniscient narrator point-of-view falls very flat without a tone, without a reaction to the course of events they are narrating.  Otherwise, it’s once again just a narration, and probably worthy of setting the book aside.

I want to make my reader sense the scene rather than simply read it.


* Or don’t. I won’t necessarily advocate it, because I’m not a fan myself, but it has its uses.