What I'm Working On Now

Three short films are in Post-Production, soon to be submitting to film festivals.
Producing/editing a pilot for a new web-series inspired by the Alice in Wonderland tales.
Producing/editing a documentary on Gene Roddenberry and the genesis of Star Trek The Original Series.
There are a number of other projects in development, just waiting their turn to be produced.

Monday, September 2, 2013

MOVE THE CAMERA, BUT NOT TOO MUCH

Warning: Opinion Ahead

   It seems me that a lot of movies these days are shot with far too little or far too much camera movement. The Shaky-Cam (or hand-held) look comes from documentary/live event shooting but has become popular in feature films and television. Some films/TV shows pull it off, others go too far. Cameras are hand-held far more often than you might think. There are times when getting a tripod, or dolly track through a space isn't going to happen. At times like this a steady-cam is used, or else the camera is truly hand-held. There are lots of amazing camera operators who can make a shot look so smooth you'd swear it was on a track. Obviously there are times when you need/want a bit more shake to the camera, action scenes for example. But the aesthetic of the shaking camera is lost when it's so overdone.

   My opinion is that the camera should only shake when there's a strong reason for it to shake, and never all the time because then the audience become desensitived to it. It's like a piece of music that's performed all at mezzo forte.

Friday, August 30, 2013

POETRY: MEDLEY

Gray morn, grassy fields
Leafy trees with ferns below
All turn to face dawn

*

A lone figure stands
Calm atop a sloping hill
Watch the world burn

*

Every night's the same
Fearful of coming horrors
Oh what dreams may come

*     *     *

   These are pieces about my recent dreams.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BEWARE OF THE MONTAGE

   Sorry for missing Monday's post. I thought I'd combine my usual Monday post with today's since they go together so well.

   I've seen a number of films recently that use montage. some to great effect, others not so much. Montage shows up in writing as well, only not as frequently. For my purposes, I'll define a montage as any sequence incorporating several short scenes or images to express either a passage of time (incorporating growing up, training, building, etc.) or a state of mind (delirium, anger, ecstasy, etc.).

   Before using a montage, ask yourself why you're using it. Is this the best way to tell this part of the story? Let's look at the first Iron Man film. When Tony Stark is building the Iron Man suit in his workshop (in America after his escape in the proto-suit), there's a great montage of him trying different things, testing, failing, testing again, etc. There's some moments of dialogue to break up the montage a bit and added to the pacing as well as brought in some character and humor. It's quite common for these superhero movies to incorporate a suit-building-montage segment. Go watch just about any origin super hero movie and it'll have a suit montage (except for the X-Men movies). Spider-Man, Bat Man, Iron Man...the list goes on but those are the big ones that most people would have seen. Another famous montage is the one from Home Alone when Kevin is fortifying his house against the would-be thieves, ending with him calking the air rifle. Each of these show a definite progression in the story, are not confusing, and move the story along without getting bogged down. As interesting as it would be to watch the entire prep for the house, or the entire build of the super suit, or whatever, it takes too much time. The Hunger Games also uses montage to show the tributes training, as well as when Katniss is hallucinating from the Tracker Jacker's stings.

   Now then, after these examples of montage done right, you may be thinking they're always great. Not so. Like any tool for storytelling, there's a time and place for everything. I watched a film adaptation of the novel "Flowers for Algernon" not too long ago, and there were several times they used montage. Most of the time I had no idea if the montage was literal or symbolic. They left me confused, sometimes bored, sometimes frustrated. Not what you want in a film. Most of the time, the film could have done without the montage entirely. Other times it just needed to be cleaned up or explained a bit more. Since I've read the book I understood what was going on, but my wife who was unfamiliar with the story had to ask me for clarification.

   In books, as I said before, montage is less common. Even still, it happens and the same rule apply. Make sure it's important and not just filler. Don't jump into it without setting it up so you don't confuse your reader. If there's a more interesting way of telling that part of the story, use the other way. Sometimes you have to cut the montage entirely because it doesn't work in the overall story, even if the montage is a good one.

    So what's your favorite montage? What's your least favorite montage?

Friday, August 23, 2013

POETRY: SUMMER'S END

Cool breeze this morning
The some-time gust of autumn
Swishing through the trees

*

The stream is empty
It dried up early last month
Soon rain will fill it

*

The leaves are turning
Shades of yellow invading
Spinning round they fall

*     *     *

   Due to some bad joints, I've always had a hard time seeing to good side of changing seasons (except for Spring to Summer), but I've been trying to fix that. Fresh perspective and focusing on the good.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

FROGS AND TOADS; IMPULSE vs LOGIC

   Years ago I was watching a nature program about amphibians and a contrast between frogs and toads was drawn that has forever shaped my view of people. You see, when a frog is sitting on a lillypad and it decides to go back into the water, it just jumps...never bothering to check if there's a school of fish waiting to gobble it up. Toads on the other hand, look before they leap and are far less frequently munched by such opportunistic predators.

   People are much the same. Some of us look before we leap, considering the consequences of our actions and weighing the risks and benefits, whereas others of us jump right in without a thought in their head that things might not go according to plan.

   In the same vein as last Wednesday's post about Writing Character who are Emotional vs Passionate, this week I'm focusing on logical and impulsive (illogical) characters. So let me define a few things. Logic is the act of reasoning, considering outcomes, and basically thinking about what one is doing and why. Therefore, illogical behavior is behavior that lacks forethought. We all know people who fit into these categories. Most of us are a blend of the two with a slight lean towards one or the other; and most characters in stories are as well. However, when writing a character, it is important to remember which way he or she leans on this spectrum as it can make a huge difference in their behavior.

   This part of character creation happens organically for me. I write a character and their logical or illogical behavior comes out. It's not something I really have to think about (illogical writing?). From time to time I need to go back and fix a few choices that the character makes to bring them in line with their nature, but overall, once it becomes apparent to me which way a character is leaning, their voice has become strong enough to keep things going on their own.

   It's not usually a good idea to have a purely illogical or logical character unless you have a very good reason for doing so. Spock, for example, was famous for his logical behavior, and loved for it, because it strengthened his character. And before anyone tries to say that the Joker in The Dark Knight was purely illogical, think again. He was ALWAYS thinking about outcomes, always planning ahead. Regardless of what he might have said, he did have a plan.

  As a side note, there is also intuition which is based not on logic but on instinct. Sometimes, a character just knows that doing this or that will have a certain outcome, even though they can't explain it. Logic only comes into play when the time comes for them to decide if they will follow the intuitive prompting or not. Remember this line?
   "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Sometimes the characters in Star Wars heeded their gut feeling, other times they didn't. Now go and watch the movies and find each time this happened and figure out if they handled it logically or illogically.

Monday, August 19, 2013

COLOR

   Over the past few months I've been working on color correction for the two films I shot at the beginning of this summer. Now don't worry if you don't know what color correction is, because that's what this post is all about.

   First thing you need to understand is that a camera DOES NOT see things the same way our eyes do. As such, when filming a movie, the set will look unnatural to our eyes (either too bright, too dim, too much contrast, etc.) but when we play it back it looks just fine (so we hope). But even the best cinematographers, camera operators, and gaffers can't overcome the limitations of the camera. There's always some unwanted color loss/change or a scene that came out a touch too bright/dark/etc. So what's to be done? Color correction.

   The basic concept behind color correction is that you enhance an already good shot by bringing out some more vibrancy from the picture. If the shot was poorly done then there's only so much a colorist (someone who does color correction) can do. Green grass becomes emerald, orange-red hair becomes flaming-red, wane skin turns healthy. The other real benefit to color correction is the fact that it helps separate your subject from the background. Often times, lenses have the optical effect of flattening the image (removing the sense of depth) and thus the subject, often the actor, gets a bit lost or loses the focus that it needs. It can be the difference between a stunning shot and a forgettable shot.

   So the next time you're watching a movie, take a moment to pause it and look at it. Do the characters jump off the screen? Are the colors true? Are they a bit grey? Are they too vibrant?

*
   As a side note, this is often also how certain films get an overall color filter look (as an example, the Twilight films all have a blue-grey color filter added), and also how day-for-night works (film a scene in the day and then do heavy color correction to make it look like night.

Friday, August 16, 2013

POETRY: NIGHTMARES

Crying in the night
So weary, I toss and turn
Bad dreams for my son

*

A plague of nightmares
Followed me since early days
Is my curse now shared

*

It's hard to calm him
At least I understand why
I can be patient

*     *     *

     I've had night terrors for as long as I can remember. Every time my son has a nightmare, I worry that he's inherited them from me.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WRITING CHARACTERS WHO ARE EMOTIONAL VS. PASSIONATE

   *Note: when I use the word passionate, I am not referring to the romantic variety.

   If you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you I'm not a very emotional individual. I'm pretty mellow, never lose my temper, and I can't really remember the last time I was at any emotional extreme. That said, I am a very passionate person. I become veritably manic when working on a project or pursuing some goal or such. One of my sisters on the, other hand, is VERY emotional. Several highs and lows are reached in any given day. But as far as passion goes, she's pretty even on that scale.

   Now what does this have to do with writing characters?

   There are lots of different types of people in the world, some are passionate, some are emotional, and some are a mix of both (there are also logical and insane character, but lets not worry about those right now). In my writing, most of my characters start out leaning more towards the passionate and less towards the emotional side of things. That's fine for first draft, but then I have to go back in and pick out who's going to be my emotional characters and 'fix' them. Writing emotions is not an easy thing for me, as it's never featured much in my own personal experience (watching people being emotional is not the same as feeling emotional). To fill in my experience gap, I always find someone who fits the character(s) I'm fixing and have them take a look at it ( hurray for beta readers).

   What I discovered while going through this process surprised me. Both groups, the emotional character and the passionate characters, do things for different reasons (not a surprise) but that there are a lot of times when their actions aren't all that different from one another.

   Both Passionate and Emotional characters can behave irrationally, and will often act on impulse. However, the emotional character will be driven by external motivators (Person A did something I did/didn't like, and so I feel the need to do something about it) whereas the passionate character will be driven by internal motivators (I want a certain outcome and Person A will/won't help me so I feel the need to do something about it).

   Often, emotional characters are less concerned with the right or wrong of a situation and are more concerned with their own self. Passionate characters will generally adhere to some kind of moral code (not necessarily a good one) and will defend it to a fault.

   So what are you? Are you emotional or passionate?

Monday, August 12, 2013

I WATCHED HUGO

   I finally watched Martin Scorsese's film "Hugo" the other day. For those of you who haven't seen it, don't worry, I won't be spoiling much here. Oh, and I recommend watching it.

   The film made me think back to my film history days when we were learning about the rocky transition from silent to talking pictures. The silent movies were really becoming quite astounding (with a few exceptions) in their visual storytelling, and the talking pictures were (with a few exceptions) a huge step backward as far as the art of movie making was concerned. One of the main reasons for the loss in quality was the restrictions of the new camera and audio set up. Cameras of the day were noisy, and so had to be placed in a large soundproofed room with a glass wall to film through. The actors couldn't move around or turn their heads or else the audio recording would become useless.

   These restrictions frustrated most of the great silent film era film makers and, sadly, most of their careers didn't survive the transition. It took a couple of decades before movies could claw their way back to the quality of storytelling they had before the advent of sound.

   So go watch some late era silent films and early era talking films and let me know what you think. And while I always recommend watching "The Jazz Singer", it doesn't count for this exercise because it's mostly a silent movie with a few talking/singing scenes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

TEACHING ONCE MORE

   Once upon a time, I taught...a lot of things. I taught at an elementary school, I taught at a university, I taught at a middle school. I did a lot of teaching. I like teaching. However, I didn't get a teaching degree, and various rules and laws about teaching prevented me from pursuing a career in education after I graduated with my BS.

   Years passed, I went into film making, ended up getting an MFA, and suddenly I've found myself back in the world of education. I just finished teaching a Summer teen program and I'll be wrapping up an Intro to Editing course later this week. Neither of these classes are long term positions, and I am not planning to stop making movies in order to teach full time. Rather, I'm excited about the prospect to share with others, from time to time, my experience and knowledge of film making with others.

   I've heard it said that "those who can, do, and those who can't, teach". To me that is a terrible phrase. Don't get me wrong, I've known plenty of people who fit that description, but personally, I think those who can should also teach. They are the ones with the most to offer to their students, the most experience and success to share.

   Not everyone has the ability or desire to teach, and I understand that. It just seems wrong to me that there are so few working professionals in the film business who take the time to teach. Yes, they're busy making movies, but that doesn't mean they can't teach a class here and there.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

     Okay, so now I should be getting back on schedule...finally. Post-Production on "Merlin in Love" and "Scream for the Whisperer" has been going well, but taking up a lot of my time. I can't wait to show them to you. In addition to that I've been teaching some courses at the Seattle Film Institute (more on that tomorrow with my regular update) and having a blast. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I should be able to get back into a regular schedule once more...until mid-september, as that's when my wife is due...at which point all bets are off.

Friday, July 26, 2013

POETRY: THE LONG DRIVE

The path goes onward
Sometimes paved and sometimes not
But forward I go

*

Tired feet, sore bones
Life takes its toll on us all
Night comes,will I sleep

*

Can I rest a while
Would that break some unknown rule
Where does the road go

*     *     *

Still getting back into the swing of things: new job, new house, almost a new baby. I'm hoping to get more posted next week and get everything caught back up to speed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

POETRY: SLOW (re)START

Long breaks make weary
Old habits fade, new ones form
Reassert my will

*

Lazy Summer day
Sit outside, lie in the grass
Must I work today?

*

Imagination
Whole worlds are inside me
Yet gathering dust

*     *     *

     My break from writing is coming to an end, but I'm having a hard time breaking out of the inertia. Still, I'm getting there.

Monday, July 15, 2013

SORRY FOR THE DELAY...

   Moving, filming, and lots of other things have happened recently that have kept me from writing my usual posts. But no one likes to hear excuses, so let me just tell you about how the 48 Hour Film Competition went.

   We made a musical comedy and a cut of the film got submitted to be viewed in competition. That's the good news.

   Here's the bad. We were late (like last year so we can only be considered for the audience awards), people got mad, and eventually the team broke apart due to threats and violence. It's always really sad when the stress of the competition gets to people in that way. I think that's why it's so important for teams to know one another very well before going into something like this, because miscommunication is poison and when a team is unfamiliar with how everyone works, it increases the likelihood of bad vibes.

   If/when I do this or any other film competition,I'm going to be the Director (I was just the writer the last time), and I'm going to hand pick my team.

   Still, overall, I had a good time and learned a lot.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

48 HOUR FILM PROJECT

Every year, in Seattle, (and a number of other large metropolitan areas) there's an event called the 48 Hour Film Project. The filmmakers have, you guessed it, 48 hours to write, cast, shoot, edit, and turn in the finished film. In addition to this madness, and to make sure no one gets to work on their film ahead of time, each team randomly selects a genre at the start of the 48 hours and they're also given a name and a line of dialogue and a prop they have to incorporate into their film.

Last year was my first time working on such a film, and had a blast (even though we were late). This year I'm hoping to use my experience to improve our chances of snagging some of the awards.

Monday, June 17, 2013

MERLIN IN LOVE-ONE STEP CLOSER

   Today I'll be sending the audio files off to my audio engineer, and he'll begin making it all sound perfect. Good audio can make or break your film and I'm lucky to have a great audio guy. He helped me on another project last year, and it went from barely watchable to a great piece of film (it's also in Spanish if you're interested).

   I'm hoping to avoid needing to do ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement: having the actors come back and rerecord their lines in the studio, generally done when the on location recording isn't usable). For one thing it takes more time, and for another we might not be able to capture the same amazing performances we got on location. Neither are good in my opinion.

   Have you seen a movie where the audio really stood out to you, good or bad?

Friday, June 14, 2013

POETRY: BITS

Birth, play, learn, work, sleep
Life cycle of human kind
Then what dreams may come

*

Bare feet in the snow
Shock and chill are numbed by time
Skin sloughs like a glove

*

A catch in my throat
I cough and hack yet it stays
Reminds that I live

*     *     *

   No rhyme or reason to today's haiku, they don't really go together, but they do seem to fit, if that makes any sense. And as a note of advice, if you're ever going barefoot in the winter, make sure you don't get frostbite.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

WORKING ON ONE PAGE FOR A WEEK

   Yes, over the last week, I've been working on a single page in my (untitled) novel. This has been a good thing, however. The page is a major turning point for my protagonist, filled with betrayal and pain, a battle and a flight, followed by personal growth and some great character development.

   Okay, so not all of that happens on a single page, but the page I've been working on is where it all comes together. It's like the keystone in an archway that holds everything else up and gives shape to everything that came before and that follows after.

   I believe I've finally got it right and so I can move on to the rest of the book. I generally don't like staying in one spot in a book for too long, but this section really needed the extra attention to ensure that the rest of the story would fall into place.

   Have you ever had to sit and fuss with a single page (or similar small section of a story)? Am I just alone in this oddity?

Monday, June 10, 2013

PRACTICAL EFFECTS

   Last week I finished filming my short film, "Scream for the Whisperer". In that film, there is magic and telekinesis, and lots of awesome things that can be really really hard to do on film. What kind of things am I talking about? There's air distortions, objects summoned to people's hands, doors that open and shut on their own, just to name a few. There are a number of ways that these effects can be accomplished, but the methods can be categorized into one of two categories: Practical Effects and Special Effects.

    A Special Effect is any effect added in after the scene has been shot, either through green screen, 3D models, etc. These can be as simple as atmosphere effects life mist or lens flares, or as complicated as marching armies and collapsing buildings.

   A Practical Effect is any effect that is actually done on camera. There's real mist in the scene, a real building is exploded, the crowd scene really has hundreds of extras.

   Quite often there's a mixture of the two. "The Lord of the Rings" movies are excellent example of this, mixing in digital characters in with their real actors to make the locations and battles feel all the more real.

   My films are not on the same scale as "The Lord of the Rings" (yet) but the principles of how to achieve an effect are still applicable. To make an object move across the room in a film is easier said than done. If you want to go the Special Effect route, you have to make, digitally, whatever object you want to move. Then you have to get your actor to perform with an imagined object and hope that their pantomime turns out looking believable. If you go the Practical Effect route, then you have to figure out just how you're going to move the object without your methods being seen. Magnets, thin strings, hidden motors and the like are all common ways that film makers accomplish this.

   For "Scream for the Whisperer", I knew I wanted to use Practical Effects as much as possible. As such, I began playing around with different ways to accomplish the effects I wanted. In the end I decided on using fishing line to make the objects move. A simple trick I learned years ago for making objects fly into an actors hand is to attach some fishing line to the object and then run that line through a ring that the actor is wearing (make sure your actor is wearing a ring), and then have someone off screen pull the fishing line and, voila, the object flies into their hand. This trick, obviously, only works for smaller objects.

   At times I like to watch a movie and think of ways that I could achieve the same effect. What are some of your favorite movie effects and how would you do them?

Friday, June 7, 2013

POETRY: DANCE

Feel the rythum
Tap your toes or nod your head
Let music move you

*

Some will sway in place
While others will leap and bound
Music in their soul

*

I'm the kind of soul
That should only rarely dance
Inhuman spasms

*     *     *

   My wife is quite graceful and an amazing dancer. I can only manage a dance if it's choreographed. If left to my own devices I either devolve into a simple two step or else begin looking like I lake control over my basic motor controls.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

ANOTHER NIGHT OF FILMING AND AN UPDATE ON LIFE

Today's a short post, I'm afraid. Explanations to follow.

  Tonight I will finish filming my short film, "Scream for the Whisperer". You may recall that I shot the first half of it a few weeks back and, due to some unexpected location problems, we had to postpone finishing the film. We'll be trying out some practical FX involving telekinesis so I'm rushing around making sure everything's ready.

 Once the filming's done I've still got the editing to do, along with another, bigger couple of projects starting up later this month.

Finally, on a more personal note, I'm moving! This is bitter sweet for me, as I really love where I'm at, but my family is growing and our current home has refused every overture I've made to get it to spontaneously add another room. I've got less than a month to get ready for this move and my wife is very pregnant right now so it falls mostly on me to make this happen.

I'll try to keep posting as usual, though the length of my posts will probably be shorter than what I've done in the past.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A FEW SECONDS CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

     I've been working on editing my short film "Merlin in Love" for the past couple of weeks and I'm nearing the end of the process. As I've been refining the movie, most of the changes I've been making have been on the order of 1/2 seconds. I take a couple of frames off the end of that shot, take a couple frame from the beginning of this other shot. Sometimes I'll even add a few frames.

     At times, I go back and watch the film without the new changes and then watch it with, just to remind myself of the power of simple changes. A section of dialogue can look and sound flat before the nip and tuck, and afterward it flows beautifully.

     That's the way it is with film, a lot of the time. The big amazing things are nice, but it's the small and simple things you do that really make the difference. A lot of film making is not about getting noticed, but about going unseen. If people are aware of the editing during a film, it's usually because there are problems. If people are aware of the sound mix, it's usually because of inconsistencies. If people are aware of the lighting, it's usually because it was done improperly.

     What's your favorite film? What about it has made it your favorite?

Friday, May 31, 2013

POETRY: CHOICE

Darkness inside us
Trying, fighting, to get out
We all must struggle

*

 Some contain more light
While others brim with darkness
What makes us different

*

No matter our state
Irrelevant our nature
Choice defines us

*     *     *

   I've been thinking back on my philosophy courses from college, and how many philosophers argued about our natures as inherently good or evil, what our natural dispositions would lead us toward. Growing up I felt a strong pull towards the dark, though my choices would not reflect that (I was a bit rebellious, but not anything extraordinary). I've often wondered what the difference would have been had I chosen to follow my natural instincts rather than the counsel of my parents.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

STORYTELLING IN DIFFERENT FORMS

     First, a confession: I play Dungeons and Dragons.

     Now before anyone breaks out the pitchforks and torches to chase the nerd away, let me explain. D&D is a great storytelling medium. For those who are unfamiliar with D&D, in any given game of D&D there will be a group of players and one Dungeon Master (also known as the DM). It is the job of the DM to create the world, the dungeons, the trials, etc. that the players encounter and have to make their way through. The players have options for fighting or talking their way out of various situations, and depending on the type of hero they're playing they will have different options from those of their companions.

     So why do I bring up D&D here? Because I just started a campaign where I'm the DM. Having to think about what the players might want to do, and make sure that those options don't get them all killed, is a great exercise in storytelling because I also have to make sure that the story is compelling for the players, incorporating their backgrounds and character stories.

     I've been feeling drained of late and my writing has been suffering for it, but the D&D sessions have been like a breath of fresh air. It's a different form of storytelling than anything else I've experienced. For one thing, it's a cooperative storytelling medium because the players make their own decisions, within the world I've made for them. Sure, they follow the basic framework I've set for them but it's them who go to the cave, them who fight, them who struggle and weep when they fail.

     Anyway, if you haven't ever tried cooperative storytelling, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't want to play D&D, you can always get a group of friends together and each take it in turn telling the next piece of a story you all make up together. And if you do, please share with me the story you create.

Friday, May 24, 2013

POETRY: NAP TIME

Sleep my wee one, rest your eyes
Drift through dreams with endless skies
Cross o'er brooks and flowered hills
Breathe the air that fragrance fills
Be the hero, save the day
But promise me you'll not long stay
For though I love to watch you dream
When you nap o'er long come bedtime you scream

*     *     *

   Any one with small children should be familiar with the dangers of allowing said child to nap for too long.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

MAKE USE OF EVERY MOMENT, YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU'LL NEED IT

   The ducklings in the pond near my home are growing bigger by the day and my 2 (almost 3) year old doesn't want to miss a moment of it. As a result, he and I have gone out almost every day since the ducklings hatched and spend a good couple of hours watching them swim around, nibbling at bits of pond muck.

   I am a bit of a numbers freak, I like to count things over and over and over and over...even if I know the result isn't going to change. Examples being stairs, steps taken in a hallway, and ducklings in a brood. As it turned out, and I should have guessed that this would be the case, the numbers of one of the broods was different yesterday than what it had been. The bakers dozen of ducklings had become a standard dozen of ducklings. I looked around for the missing duckling but the little ball of golden down was nowhere to be seen.

   When I looked to where I knew their nest was, supposing that the duckling was perhaps resting there, I saw that the nest was in terrible shape, as though it had been torn apart. And then, not far off but hidden slyly in the shade of a bramble patch, I saw the cat. Besides gutting the cat, there's no way of knowing if the cat was the culprit, but the look on its face and the way it was watching the nest (or what was left of it), leads me to believe that it was in fact the cat.

   Now then, why do I write about the cat that ate a duckling? Because it reminded me of a storytelling tool I've been trying to implement in one of my novels: The Snake in the Grass. The trusted friend betrays the hero, the little old lady downstairs is the serial killer, the otherwise innocent looking cat turns out to be eating the ducklings. The more unsuspected the snake in the grass is, the more potent the effect is on the reader. This has been a difficult tool for me to use in my book because finding the proper moment to reveal the snake in the grass is, I believe, the most important part of making it work. I think M. Night Shyamalan's film Unbreakable is a perfect example of this. Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn Trilogy, Warbreaker, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, etc.) also uses this tool to great effect from time to time in his books. If you haven't read anything from Brandon Sanderson, I highly recommend it. You can get a free digital copy of Warbreaker at his site and it's a terrific novel.

   Have you ever used the snake in the grass in your stories? Do you feel a little betrayed when the hero discovers the snake and now has to deal with the damage done by this supposed friend?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

SORRY I MISSED YESTERDAY...BUT IT WAS WORTH IT

     So yesterday was a busy day for me. In addition to writing/directing/producing/editing my own films, I am also Assistant Director on a project that a friend of mine is putting together at the Seattle Film Institute. We posted auditions yesterday and the response we've received for the project has been overwhelming...in a good way.

     I'll have more about that project as things develop. In the mean time, I want to tell you about our awesome night shoot we had last weekend for "Scream for the Whisperer". The location was simply amazing. I saw it a few months after moving to the Seattle area and swore I'd have to find a reason to film there. Well, as it turns out, I found a reason. The owners were great about the whole thing (special shout out to the Blue Star Cafe & Pub!) and we were able to get everything we needed from them to make the night a success. Now, I find words a bit lacking as I sit here and try to describe the location, so how about I show you some of our Behind the Scenes photos.

The red light us courtesy of Bizzarro Italian Cafe

   We had to add in some lighting of our own so that the red light didn't shine too brightly and make everything too red, but it was a great freebee. 

Every horror film needs a good tilt, that's the back of my head, by the way

   While we were doing some blocking with our villain, played by Neill Hoover, the actress's were busy getting their makeup on so our audio tech, Greg Cousin, stood in as the victim.

Greg looks so scared

   I also got the stills back from our other project, "Merlin in Love" and thought, why not share some of those with you all. I think I'm just going to spam a few at you and save the detailed commentary for another post. Sorry.

Gotta love a giant water tower made to look like a watch tower

I wore a long sleeve shirt because it was a chilly morning, and yet I still wore shorts. something's wrong with me

Greg Cousin, our audio tech, was the luck guy who always got to stand close to the action

Our camera died so we called in the aid of my brother (far right), his wife (next to him), and their camera (in my hands)

My chair. I love my chair.

She thinks he's dead, so he offers her a mint.

 

So cute

I don't remember the joke, but they both have such great laughs that that's all I hear when I see this photo

Friday, May 17, 2013

POETRY: SLEEP DEPRIVATION

Sleep deprivation
It's become my Kryptonite
Plague of waking dreams

*

The film that I wrote
Requires shooting all night
What was I thinking

*

Artists must accept
We sacrifice for our dreams
So I will not sleep

*     *     *
     I wrote a screenplay for a short film that requires the whole thing to be filmed at night, which translates to me not getting much sleep over the next couple of weekends. nothing too serious, but I require a bit more sleep than the average person...otherwise I begin having waking dreams. Pretty crazy stuff sometimes. Still, a small sacrifice to be able to pursue my dreams.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TENSE

     So, the last couple of books that I read were written in first person present tense...I think. Sadly, my English education was lacking when it came to definitions and such. I can recognize good writing verses bad writing, it's just all the labels that get me confused. ANY WAY, as an example of what I'm talking about, here's a couple of made up sentences with the same formatting so that everyone knows what I'm talking about.

     I sit down in the only vacant seat in the room. The room has blinding white walls and the over bright lights don't help. On either side of me sits another confused looking student.
     "Hi," I say, but neither responds.

     Okay, you get the idea. I have no problem with first person storytelling. I've written a number of stories in first person and I find it a lot of fun to have full access to a single character's thoughts. But I've never read a book in this format before (first person present) and I'm not sure what to think. My natural instinct was to dislike the format, but I fear that may be my natural prejudice against the unknown. As I mentioned before, my English education left something to be desired and I have no idea whether the problem is with me or the writing. As another example, I'm use to this kind of writing:

     I sat down in the only vacant seat in the room. The room had blinding white walls and over bright lights that did nothing to help. On either side of me sat another confused looking student.
     "Hi," I said, but neither responded.


     Help me out here. Is there anything wrong with either of the above examples? Have I been wrong all this time? Are both correct? Are both incorrect? Is there a third option I haven't yet considered?

Monday, May 13, 2013

LAST WEEKEND: A LESSON IN PROBLEM SOLVING

     So this past Saturday I shot a short film. My crew and I have spent that last several months planning and preparing, gathering the equipment we'd need, making sure we had all our paperwork and permits in order, etc. Then, the evening before the film shoot, we get an email notifying us that the Pot Festival (marijuana is legal in Washington) is going to be happening at the same time that we were suppose to be filming at our second location, and just 50 yards away from us. Naturally, it would have been nice to know this a month ago when we first contacted the city of Seattle about our film. Oh well, it was too late to do anything about it so we decided we'd have to make the most of it.

     Saturday morning, at our first location half of our crew thought we were starting at the second location, and were a half hour late. Then, when our equipment arrived, we discovered that we had no memory cards for the camera or audio recorder. Thankfully, one of our crew happened to live nearby and he had a couple memory cards. Our DP hadn't shown up yet and he wasn't responding to calls or texts. This was very out of the ordinary for him but there was nothing to be done at the time except promote my gaffer to DP for the time being.

     The first location went well and we finished ahead of schedule. We packed up and everyone headed to the second location; none of us knowing exactly what to expect once we arrived.

     The moment we arrived at the location, it became clear that we wouldn't be able to film there. With the 100+ people smoking pot all around us, not to mention the loud music and emotional speeches that made any audio recording pointless.

     I told everyone to take lunch and my gaffer and I scouted around for a replacement location. It took about half and hour but we finally found a suitable replacement location not too far away and we were able to begin filming the scene. My DP finally called and explained the situation and he was soon with our crew. And then our camera stopped working.

     It was at this point that I considered scrapping the day and rescheduling. Thankfully my crew kept at it and I wasn't about to let them down. We fussed, we prayed, we made some calls, and in the end my brother (who had an identical camera) was kind enough to let me borrow his camera. By this time, we had about an hour left before our actress had to leave.

     We resumed filming and, miracle of miracles, we figured out what was wrong with our original camera and we were able to shoot with both cameras simultaneously. We wrapped the last shot with one minute to go before our actress had to leave. I sighed a breath of relief and now it's just editing and some ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement, for those lines we didn't quite get a clean recording of on location).

Friday, May 10, 2013

POETRY: AWAKE

Ceiling, wall, pillow
Toss and turn in search of sleep
What did I forget

*

Ribbons of moonlight
How rarely do we see them
Creep across the room

*

Slumbering faces
Wife and son in silhouette
How can I complain

*     *     *

     From time to time I suffer from insomnia, but after so many years, I've begun to see more of the wonders of night, rather than complain about how tired I am in the mornings. These haiku are a representation of that shift in my thinking.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PLOTTING

     So, the other day I sat down to write at my usual time and upon reviewing the previous days' work I decided I needed to look over the plot synopsis I'd created for the book using a spreadsheet. Several hours later, after many revisions and some chapter shuffling, I saved the updated plot synopsis and closed the file.

     I love having a good plot and tying events together, it makes it easier to work on character, I think. But I have to admit it bothered me a little when I realized all of my writing time for the day was gone and I hadn't written a single word in the manuscript. My noble goal of writing ten pages had gone out the window the moment I opened that plot synopsis. Even though it was important work that I did on the plot, and I don't regret having that work done, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had wasted my day. And then I remembered one of my favorite anecdotes about one of my favorite authors.

     Roald Dahl passed away some years ago, and it was then that I heard his granddaughter reminiscing about visiting her famous grandfather. He was friendly but aloof and there were strict rules about not bothering grandfather when he was working, which was most of the time. However, in the evenings, one of the visiting grandchildren would be allowed to take grandfather his evening tea with biscuits and cake. The granddaughter spoke at length how her grandfather would be sitting in his chair, a journal or notebook in his lap, and that he would be, most often, staring at the wall or ceiling. When asked about what he was doing, he would explain briefly a piece of the story he was working on. In essence, he was doing what I did (or I should say I was doing what he did) except he didn't need a spreadsheet to do it.

     So, I can forgive myself of spending my time working on plot if Roald Dahl could do it too.

     What about you? Are there productive parts of writing that you don't like doing because they feel like a waste of time?

Monday, May 6, 2013

LOCATIONS, REHEARSALS, AND UNPREDICTABLE WEATHER

     My current set of short films are being shot on very low budgets. I'm not complaining, low budgets are a common occurrence with  independent films. Low budgets, however, mean restrictions, or as I like to call them, exercises in creativity.

     Here's an example of what I'm talking about: In Merlin in Love, there's a car accident. Nothing big or wild, the scene itself begins after the accident, we just see the aftermath. However, cars drive on streets and streets are owned by the city/state and they have rules about filming, obviously. To film on a street in the manner that we're wanting to, we would have to hire a police officer to manage traffic (and any concerned citizens who see the accident and think it's real). Hiring an officer is not cheap and it came down to either being able to afford the street or some other aspect of the shoot (like the camera rental, or some lighting, or food for our hard working cast and crew, etc.).

     So, I found a new location, one that was almost identical to the original but was privately owned and all I needed was a signature from the owner to film our accident there. The best part was it didn't cost us a thing.



     As for rehearsals, not every director likes them. Not every actor likes them. I hate NOT having rehearsals. In film school there wasn't a lot of time and so a lot of the time we shot our films without any rehearsals and I feel our films suffered because of it. One of the main aspects about rehearsals that I love is sharing my vision with the actors. There is such a dramatic difference between a performance given by actors unified in their vision of the piece than when the actors are working almost in isolation when they're creating their character. I still believe in giving actors their freedom to personalize their characters and make the scene their own, but it's the overall vision that ties everything together.

     Working with a low budget means not being able to pay what an actor may be use to getting and so we're limited in what actors are willing to rehearse for the roles. Still, actors want to act and a good role that only requires a couple of weekends is a lot easier to cast than a bad story that takes months to film. This is why I'm shooting shorts right now that I've put a lot of work into getting the stories as polished as possible so that we can attract good talent.


     The main obstacle still looming up before me and my crew is the weather. We're in the Seattle area, and as such rain is a common occurrence. Even so, Seattle has it's dry season and we're hoping to capitalize on that as much as possible. Outdoor locations are easier and (generally) cheaper than indoor locations (another reason so many short films are shot outside) and so we become slaves to the weather.


     We begin filming this weekend and it's looking to be beautiful weather so here's hoping that all goes well.

Friday, May 3, 2013

POETRY: PLUS ONE

Black and white image
Technology at its best
See my unborn child

*

A boy or a girl
Do we want to know that yet
Grandmas will be pleased

*

Such a normal thing
We all have a family
Awed to see mine grow

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU'RE STUCK IN ONE PLACE?

     I have a book that I've been working on since I was sixteen. The good news is that it's always getting better and I'm going to begin shopping it around soon to agents (yay!). The bad news is that it's a book I started when I was sixteen. It's taken A LOT of work to get it into a readable format. The basic story has always been strong (that's why I've continued fussing with it rather than shelving it like so many other failed projects), but the writing was...well let's just say I didn't pay attention in high school English as much as I should have done.
     So now that I've struggled through the mire of mucky grammar and the sands of shifting tenses, I have come to the point where I get to fine tune. Right? And then I realized that the whole second act (the longest and, some might argue, the most important) took place in an apartment...well, more specifically a single room of the apartment. The main character, Erick, looks out the windows and has interactions with the immediate surroundings, but he never leaves that room.
     Problem.
     He is in hiding so it makes sense for him to be laying low, but the one room, I feel, gets really dull after a while. There supporting character, Sarah, is there with Erick and she gets to explore a bit more, but the story doesn't follow her. We only get to hear about what she's seen. I tinkered, I tailored, I soldiered on, and in the end, I knew I would have to use a spy to force Erick out of the apartment.
      And that's what I did. It added drama, pushed Erick forward in the plot and gave him additional motivation to become who he needed to become.
     Have any of you ever had similar problems where a character's gotten stuck in a rut? Maybe it was like my situation where the story was good but the location was growing stale?

Monday, April 29, 2013

NOW I'M BACK...REALLY, AND I HAVE SOME COOL UPDATES

     So, I keep saying that I'm back and that my posting will get back to normal...and then I take another week off. Well, this time it's for real. No more distractions. I'll be posting Monday/Wednesday/Friday once again and here's how it's going to be: Monday's I'll be posting something about film making (convenient since I'll be shooting two short films this month), Wednesday's will be a general post with observations or updates about writing, and Friday's will be poetry.

     As I mentioned, I've got two films I'm working on right now, "Merlin in Love" and "Scream for the Whisperer" (I posted an older draft of the script which you can read here). We held auditions earlier this month and have begun auditions...but that stuff, sadly, makes for pretty dull reading, so let me tell you a story, or actually two stories.

*

     Morgan was not having a very good start this week, work was frustrating, school was terrible, but the last straw was when, yesterday, an old man wandered out into the middle of the street right in front of her car. There was no way she could have stopped in time and she struck the old man. He was already fading fast when Morgan got to his side.
     "I had to see you...one last time," the old man said, blood in his mouth. He died there in her arms.
     Morgan couldn't take anymore this week, and called in sick to both work and school, opting instead to go to her favorite park and try to forget what had happened. The park bench was a bit chilly but not uncomfortable as she ate her lunch.
     "Excuse me," said a voice, "may I sit down?"
     Morgan said yes without looking up at the newcomer, engrossed in her own thoughts.
     "Have we met yet?" asked the man at her side.
     His voice was strangely familiar, though definitely not one of her friends, possibly an acquaintance. Morgan glanced at the man and felt her jaw drop. It couldn't be, he was dead, the old man from yesterday.
     "Right," said the old man in an understanding tone and extended his hand in greeting, "my name's Merlin."

*

     Melissa really didn't care for Sophie. She was arrogant, ignorant, and attracted far more attention from the male customers than she deserved. If it weren't for the fact that Sophie was a Speaker, able to command magic by simply speaking normally, Melissa would have fired her long ago. Still, Speakers were rare and usually didn't stoop to such a menial job as waiting tables. Every other waitress Melissa had hired before Sophie was, at best, a Shouter, and they were all but useless. Not only did they have to shout to command magic, they also had to be so specific that a single command could take several minutes to construct. Perhaps it was Sophie's personality flaws that made her unemployable in a better job. Whatever the reasons were, Melissa didn't ask. She tried to minimize how much she had to talk to Sophie. At the moment it was nearly midnight and she, Melissa, was finally on her way home. She'd forgotten to command the cupboards to open before sending the dishes to them and had to put the broken plates back together. She was still muttering under her breath, frustrated with herself for making such a stupid mistake, when she tripped over something on the sidewalk. In the dim light of a nearby street lamp, Melissa saw what she'd tripped over: a leg stuck out at an odd angle from the dark alley Melissa had been passing.
     Melissa followed the leg and into the alley until she found the face. Sophie stared blindly up into the night sky, blood spattered around her mouth and dribbling onto her neck.
     A foot scuffed from deeper in the alley. She looked, and as she did the shadows seemed to pull away from the walls, coalescing into the form of a man.
     "scream for the whisperer," he muttered. The air around him wavered and then Melissa began to scream.

Monday, April 22, 2013

IMMOLATION: COMPLETED

The problems that I was having with IMMOLATION have been dealt with and I've updated chapters 56 and 57. Chapter 58 is gone, along with that direction of the story, sorry for those of you who may have liked where it was going.

Below is both chapters, though you can also find them at their respective links above.


*     *     *
Chapter 56
Papers lay scattered across Matt's desk. A solitary lamp hung overhead, swaying slightly each time the ground quaked. Matt tried not to think about what each shock wave meant, and the fact that they were becoming stronger and more frequent. Still, it wasn't any more terrifying than the tight, handwritten scrawl that covered each page. He was all too familiar with that handwriting on the papers before him and Matt shook his head in horror. Nuclear power plant designs, oil refineries, and schematics for explosives were just a few of the things Matt had found in Dr. Muto's office.
The door opened behind Matt and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as footsteps, muffled ever so slightly by the thin carpet, heralded the approach.
How could you?” Matt asked in a low whisper.
The footsteps stopped just to his side and Matt looked up at Dr. Muto's shadowed face. Dr. Muto looked to the mess on the desk and then back to Matt, acting as though he had not heard Matt and collected up the papers.
What were you looking for?” Dr. Muto's tone was conversational, if a bit stiff.
What do you think?” Matt asked.
I really couldn't tell, considering what you've laid out for yourself.”
The plans, Muto, I was looking for the plans.”
And it would appear as though you've found them.”
The plans for the heat Machine,” Matt corrected. “It might not be too late, we could still stop the world from destroying itself.”
Dr. Muto chuckled.
What's so funny?” Matt demanded, incensed at Dr. Muto's apparent lack of concern.
What do you think all of this was for?” Dr. Muto asked, waving the papers in front of Matt. “Our world was dying.”
Matt jumped to his feet. “And now you've gone and killed it!”
It's people, perhaps,” Dr. Muto said dismissively, putting the papers back into their respective folders and drawers. “But I've come to accept the fact that the human race is determined to destroy itself, no matter how hard you or I try to save it.”
Then can't we at least postpone that end?” Matt pleaded.
How?”
Share the plans to the Heat Machine!”
NO!” Dr. Muto shouted, forcing Matt back down into his seat. “Do you think that will change anything now? Can they build one? Do they have the resources? The man power? The time? I doubt any of these so called armies even have a plan to get back to their own countries.”
Dr. Muto—”
No,” Dr. Muto cut Matt off, “The fighting going on out there has long ago stopped being about energy. Their only goal is destruction now.”
Well, now that I have this,” Matt said, holding up a small thumb drive, “we can see which of us is right.”
Matt got back out of his chair and pushed passed a stunned Dr. Muto.
Where did you get that drive?” Dr. Muto asked breathlessly.
Matt paused in the doorway. “I hacked into your computer about a week ago,” he said unabashedly, “and at first I was frustrated that I still couldn't find the plans. Then I found this in your desk,” Matt held up the unremarkable thumb drive. “I still haven't been able to break the encryption on it, but I'm all but certain this is it. Any way, I'm going to hand it over to them and let them figure it out.”
Dr. Muto screamed and lashed out, his cries were wild and bestial as he clawed at Matt, trying to get the thumb drive away from him. For a moment, all Matt could think to do was hold the drive out of Dr. Muto's reach. The crazed ferocity was something Matt had only seen once before; when Dr. Muto attacked him during his thesis defense. Matt buried his fist into Dr. Muto's stomach, doubling him over, and followed it up with a right cross that snapped his head to the side with a crack and Dr. Muto crumpled to the floor where he lay motionless.
Matt hurried out of the office and down the hall. He didn't care if he'd overdone it on Dr. Muto. Either way, if things went according to plan, Matt wouldn't be seeing his old mentor again. It didn't take long for Matt to make his way to the observation room and he took his customary position at the main computer.
Everyone out,” Matt ordered as soon as he was logged in. “Now!”
There were looks of confusion and concern on their faces as the technicians left, but Matt ignored them. Like Dr. Muto, Matt wouldn't be seeing them again. The moment the door was shut, Matt began disabling the security systems, turning off the cameras, and deactivating the security doors. Finally he pressed the button that unlocked the door to the Heat Machine. All he had to do now was go in there and lift the latch and the door would swing open. A minute later he was standing in front of the Heat Machine itself. There was no way to communicate with Joan and let her know what he was doing.
I'm sorry for everything, Joan,” Matt whispered.
He raised the latch and unbearable heat poured out, forcing Matt backwards and he realized this may not have been the best way to go about freeing Joan.
*
Numbness held Joan in its gentle embrace, rocking her back and forth and keeping her safe from all that would destroy her. Her fire helped, too, in keeping back the walls and the darkness, for in the darkness the walls could move. In her fire she could grow flowers, blossoming and blooming at her every whim.
Awake or asleep, Joan burned. She couldn't remember a time when she didn't burn, as though the thought of not burning was something foreign and absurd. Every once in a while, in her dreams, she visited a time and a place where she burned less, or not at all. It was a wondrous place of such unimaginable joy that she often awoke from those dreams crying. So many faces and names that she could never quite remember once she was awake. The flowers in the fire were her attempt to bring some of the dream into her waking moments
Joan,” a phantom voice carried over the rushing of her fire.
Such things were not uncommon for Joan. Voices from her dreams often carried over into her waking thoughts, though this voice was one that she was less familiar with.
...my fault...won't blame you...free...”
Joan frowned. The voice was growing stronger, louder, perhaps even a bit desperate.
Who are you?” Joan asked the voice.
The voice changed and this new voice answered with a nonsense name. “It's Tom,” the voice spoke so clearly that Joan could have sworn he was standing only a short distance away. “Please don't burn me!”
It was at that moment that Joan became aware of a draft in the air around her. She dimmed her fire enough for her to see beyond it. The shock of seeing the door to her room open robbed her of her strength and she fell to the floor.
Someone stood outside of her cell, backed all the way up against the far wall, nothing more than a shadowy figure to Joan's eyes.
Please Joan,” the first voice shouted, “I want to help you, don't burn me.”
Joan overcame her shock and got back to her feet, scrambling to get out of her cell. The cool touch of the stone beneath her feet felt good and the air smelled remarkably fresh when compared to the stuffy, processed air that was pumped into the Heat Machine.
Joan hated how cold the floors were in the morning. Her parents never listened to her when she suggested they get heated floors, or carpet, or at the very least some rugs. It would certainly make getting up in the mornings easier.
Joan, hurry up,” her mother called from the kitchen.
Joan sighed and hurried down the hallway to the kitchen. Her mother stood in front of the stove, frying some eggs and bacon. A stack of pancakes already lay on a plate on the counter.
Thanks mom,” Joan purred, “It smells delicious.”
Joan, it's burning,” her mother said, though the voice was not her own and it was etched with fear. “Stop it Joan, stop it!”
JOAN!” the second voice, Tom, shouted and Joan found herself back in the enclosure, the silhouetted person still leaning against the far wall. Whoever it was, they did not move away as Joan walked closer.
Tom, is that you?” Joan asked, still not sure who Tom was, and she squinted through her fire trying to see more than just his basic form.
She continued to step closer but her fire, dimmed though it was, still prevented her from getting a clear view. At last she was close enough that she reached out her hand to touch him. Immediately he crumbled into a pile of bones and dust.
An image from her forgotten past jolted into her mind and she saw a man, Tom, curled on the ground before her, writhing in pain as he burned within her fire. No other memory about who Tom was came to her, just the image.
Fear and anger gripped Joan and she burned white hot. Who was this? Was this the real Tom? Was this someone else? From the looks of it, whoever he had been, he'd died trying to open the door. The door had expanded and jammed in heat before he could get the door open. The ground around Joan began to melt along with the rest of the door.
A thunderous crack rang out and the glass from the observation room above shattered, sending a cascade of glass shards down onto Joan. Her fire caught most of the shards, vaporizing them before they could reach the ground and the rest scattered far enough away that her fire didn't heat them too much before they tinkled to the ground. Once the last of the glass hit the floor, Joan cleared the fire away from her face to give her a better view of what was happening. The walls were ablaze, the concrete was crumbling, and everything made of glass was either shattering or else melting. High above her, the skylights of her enclosure began to warp in the heat.
Joan screamed in joy and shot a bolt of fire straight upward. Glass exploded and then vaporized and the whole enclosure was filled with sunlight. For the first time that she could remember, a warm breeze that wasn't from her fire blew around her, blowing her hair about and stirring the flames in the room. Ash and smoke billowed out and the fire burst forth with renewed vigor.
Hurry up Joan,” her friend called after her, “or all the cute guys will be taken.”
Joan tossed back her head and laughed for joy, following after her friend, though she couldn't quite remember her name.
They ran through the close trees of the woods near their home where they'd agreed to meet the others. They were going to have a bonfire. From the smell of smoke in the air, Joan guessed they'd already got the fire started. The trees grew closer and closer together until they lined the path like walls and their boughs formed a sort of ceiling, blocking out the starlight and moonlight.
I can't see where we're going,” Joan called happily to her friend who ran in front of her.
No response and the darkness grew more foreboding.
Hey, are you there?” Joan couldn't hear her friend's footsteps anymore.
Still no answer.
The darkness became complete and the walls began to move.
NO!” Joan shrieked and her fire burst back into life.
The forest was gone, replaced instead by an unfamiliar corridor. Her fire pushed the walls back to where they belonged and Joan shivered for a time, uncertain about what to do.
The ground shook.
Chapter 57
Another door melted to the ground and Joan stepped over the pool of molten slag. All around her, the corridor shone in the flicker of firelight and very once in a while, the ground shook, making her have to steady herself against the wall. She passed another sign pointing her toward the exit and she hurried her steps. Whatever was causing the ground to shake was getting stronger, and judging from the way the walls were cracking with each tremor, she guessed they were not figments of her imagination.
Joan reached what she thought was the end of the hallway only to find that it turned to the right and continued on in an equally long stretch of bare corridor. A great shuddering boom sounded above and she broke into a run. Behind her she heard sections of the hallway collapse and a large plume of dust shot up after her.
The firelight danced all around and in its shadows Joan saw all of her greatest fears. Terrors from her time trapped inside the Heat Machine. Days, weeks, months...Joan had no idea how much time had passed inside of that terrible place. She yearned to blaze like she did inside the Heat Machine, push back the shadows entirely, but she knew these walls were not sufficiently strong to handle such a blaze.
Joan,” called Tom's voice from the shadows.
Go away,” Joan ordered the voice. She didn't have time to waste on her hallucinations, not with the building collapsing all around her.
Joan, I want to come with you.”
Like I could stop you.”
I miss you Joan.”
Her vision blurred and she realized that she was crying. As she reached up to wipe away her tears she ran headlong into a security door. The impact was so great that for a moment she just lay there on the floor in a daze and it took another crash from behind to prod her back to her feet. Pieces of ceiling continued to collapse behind her and a few pebbles hit her on her head.
Melt,” Joan said as she pelted the door with her fire. “Come on.”
The door warped and began to glow red hot but the collapsing corridor was catching up and she began to panic. She had to burn hotter.
The walls crumbled and the floor bubbled and still Joan burned hotter. All around her, the air began to pop and burst as the extreme heat threatened to ignite all of the oxygen in the air.
The ground shook and the hallway collapsed right behind her. Joan shrieked and in a great surge of concentration, her fire turned white hot. The door all but vaporized, filling the air with the acrid stench of metal, and Joan started to run.
DON'T LEAVE ME!” Tom screamed from behind with such anguish that Joan was forced to stop fleeing and turn around.
There, just visible through the shifting clouds of dust and shadows stood a man with blonde hair. He pointed to the floor where a parcel of folded letters lay on the floor; her fire didn't seem to have its usual effect on the papers, though their edges were beginning to brown and crinkle.
Please Joan,” Tom pleaded in a quieter tone, “Don't leave me.”
Tom's plea was so heartfelt that Joan wanted to go and take the letters and before she knew what she was doing, she had already walked over to them and picked one of them up. However, her instincts for self preservation returned as another section of corridor collapsed and she scuttled backwards on her hands and knees.
Please,” Tom said, and Joan was torn between what to do.
While the debate raged furiously inside Joan's, the ceiling above her head cracked as another quake tore through the complex. There wasn't time to think anymore and Joan threw herself back as concrete rubble fell where she'd been crouched moments before.
RUN!” Tom shouted and Joan obeyed, stuffing the single letter she'd managed to grab into her shirt pocket.
Joan's fire burned so hot as she ran that she hardly had to slow down for the next security door, it melted so fast. The intense heat did nothing to slow the collapse of the building, if anything it sped it up, but Joan ran on, staying just ahead of the collapse.
Door after door, turn after turn, Joan ran on while behind her the building fell, until, all at once, she found herself standing outside in the sunlight.
No,” Joan muttered. She didn't have time for another of her waking dreams. The building was going to fall on top of her at any moment and she'd be crushed. She smacked herself across the face, pinched her arm, and still the corridor did not return. A loud crash behind her made her spin around just in time to see the last remnants of the front doors of the compound collapse.
She was out.
A light breeze blew through her hair and, judging from the sweet flowery warmth in the air, it was summer time. A high mound of earth had been built up all around the compound, recently from the looks of it, and the compound itself was in ruins. The parts of it that were still standing were pocked and scarred. In the distance Joan could hear the distant rumble of machinery and the occasional cracking of gunfire.
Read it,” Tom said, walking into view from behind her. “There isn't much time.”
Joan withdrew the letter that she'd saved.
However, the wind shifted before Joan could begin reading and a very different scent accosted her nostrils, distracting her. Smoke and sulfur tinged with rot and decay so strong that it almost made Joan retch. A high pitched whistle sounded behind her, growing louder. Joan looked around, wondering what it could be until it climaxed in a thunderous boom that shattered the far side wall of the compound. Joan covered her ears and her fire blazed, feeding from and intensifying her fears once more.
Another whistle and this time Joan didn't wait around. She ran as fast as she could toward the hill surrounding the compound.
Read it,” Tom said as he ran along beside her.
Now's not a great time, you know?” Joan informed him as a blast from behind almost knocked Joan to the ground.
It'll only get worse,” Tom said. “Read it.”
Joan did the best she could, running and trying to read the paper while at the same time keeping a look out for debris that could trip her.
Dear Joan, she read, I hope this finds you well. Or at least better than last week. Things here are going well. I got a cat...
Joan paused in both her reading and her running. She'd read this before, but when or where she couldn't remember.
Tom drew closer to Joan. “Remember me.” It wasn't a question.
Joan looked at Tom, puzzled, and then back to the letter. This was from him, she realized but before she could question him about it another distant whistle spurred her onward again. This time, as she ran, she gave the letter more attention than before.
I can't think of a good name for him. I've included a picture of him so you can help me out. He likes being held, but not being scratched. He'll sit on my lap for hours, purring, as long as I don't touch him. Whenever I do try to pet him he bats my hands away. Sometimes he'll bite if I don't stop right away, but I can't feel it.
Something wasn't right. Why couldn't Tom feel the cat biting him? Something in her mind was struggling to get loose, as though the missing memory was just out of reach, hidden in shadows.
The hill exploded and the world fell silent as her eardrums burst.
Joan tumbled head over heels through the air and with each revolution she saw the apparitions from her captivity, and her memories began to unlock.
Tom was lying on the ground burning. Tom, who had written her so many letters, who loved her. Joan still didn't now if Tom's letters had stopped because the postal service had stopped or if the war had reached where he lived.
Melanie stepped out of the flame and took Joan's hand to calm her fears. Melanie had always been there, sheltered her, even knocked Mike out to help her escape, but her visits had long since stopped, thanks to Matt and his false promises.
Mike stood not far behind, surrounded by bookshelves and looking nervous but not complaining about the fire. He'd given Joan more chances than she deserved, considering how much Mike loved his bookstore. True, it was in part due to Melanie's influence but he had genuinely seemed interested in helping Joan.
NO!” Joan screamed as the apparitions vanished at the same moment she hit the ground. Tom's letter had been torn apart in the explosion and only the little piece she held between her fingers remained. Pain arched through her like electricity and put an end to the flood of memories as it became clear that she wouldn't be going anywhere any time soon. In fact, given how close she was to the explosion, she doubted she would last much longer.
Through the gap in the hill, Joan saw an approaching army. On the far side of the ruined compound another army crested the hill. It was obvious from their movements and hand signals that they had seen one another, as well as Joan. Many of them had their weapons trained on her. As they drew closer Joan did the only thing she think of; she burned.
Fueled by her fear, her pain, and her anger, the fire exploded outward. The soldiers on both sides were forced backward by the heat. None of them had time to shoot their weapons. Men screamed and then fell silent as the fire expanded faster and faster, consuming everything within. What was left of the compound after the shelling crumbled beneath the unrelenting heat, the parts that could melt melted and the rest turned to dust.
Joan made no attempt to reign in her fire. The years of holding it back, the fear and anger at what had been done to her, finally found focus in her fire.
YOU BETRAYED ME!” Joan screamed at the armies, at her family, at Matt, and even at Judge Dervin. They all should have been the ones protecting her, helping her, and instead they'd allowed this to happen, allowed her to be abused and driven into madness.
The fire continued to press outward, burning through buildings, flooding through caves, finding every crevice and hidden bunker, purging everything in its path. Nothing escaped. And it was accelerating. Hundreds of miles had already been engulfed in the fire and still it sped on. Joan felt each new thing the fire touched and she knew what each object was, whether it was plant or beast. Everything was burned. She wondered what would happen if or when her fire found Tom, Melanie, or Mike. Would she recognize them? Would she spare them? What would be left to them in a world of dust and ash? Would it be more merciful to kill them now than to leave them to suffer and die slowly?
After another couple of minutes the oceans began to burn as her fire raced onward in every direction. The North and South poles lost their ice and cast enormous clouds of steam into the air.
Joan felt colder than usual and she wasn't sure if the gathering darkness was because of smoke clouding over the sky or if it was just her vision dimming. Her body shivered and shook but her pain, at least, lessened somewhat.
Flowers made from fire blossomed around her on the ground, waving as though in a gentle breeze. Blades of grass followed in like manner and soon Joan lay in a golden field. Trees burst out of the ground, reaching up toward the sky. As a final touch, Tom, Melanie, and Mike came and sat down beside her. Joan could feel them in her fire, though that may have been part of the hallucination. Though it didn't appear to make any difference to her friends, she told her fire not to burn them.
Tom stroked Joan's hair, ignoring the sticky patches where blood and dirt had matted it. His fingers were soft on her skin and he traced her facial features with his other hand.
The fire finished crossing the oceans and surged across land once more. In the places where there was nothing to burn but sand, Joan left glassy fields of fire flowers behind.
Melanie began to sing a lullaby and Joan was pleased that her recent deafness did not extend to her hallucinations. Melanie's voice was clear and delicate, something Joan had always admired about her. In high school, their choir teacher had complained that Melanie's voice never carried very well, but now, in this valley of fire, it carried perfectly. Joan nestled her head on Tom's lap as Melanie's lullaby resonated through her body, easing the last of the pain away.
Joan,” Mike said, “let me tell you a story.”
And he told her of a beautiful land of peace and calm, where no one was feared, where doors were never locked and the lights were never dimmed. A land where her family loved her, where her fire was never outside of her control or hurt those that she loved.
Fire met fire and Joan sighed in relief. The world spun in her fiery grasp, cradled and purged of all the pain and sorrow she'd endured, but at the same time she felt sad and empty. Joan couldn't help but to weep for the loss. The stunning cities, the wonders of nature, the loves and joys of humankind, untold beauties never to be seen or lived now that everything was...gone.
Sleep,” Mike said, and Joan's body relaxed.
Sleep,” Melanie said, and Joan's eyelids grew heavy.
Sleep,” Tom whispered, and Joan's fire went out.
She was walking hand in hand with Tom through a wide expanse of fire lilies. Melanie and Mike were not far off, also hand in hand. An understanding smile showed on each of their faces, none of them blaming her for what she'd done, and behind them, Joan left her body, and with it all her troubles and woes.