Under Attack

The first time it hit, I thought I was dreaming. My head wasn’t quite right after the previous day, and my eye still hurt like hell from whatever happened last week (I can’t remember). But oddly enough, it was the eye that most dragged my consciousness forward. I don’t usually have black eyes in dreams.

Wham.

There it was again, even louder this time. In an instant, panic poured into me, and I leapt frantically out of bed. I could be wrong, but I’d swear I felt the entire house shake slightly after that last one. My good eye looked helplessly to the bedroom ceiling, where one of the many signs of previous repair work still remained. That time we’d been lucky, if you’d want to call it that. Only because I’d gotten the kids out in time.

My legs, never long to begin with, felt so incredibly short now. The journey to the kids’ room was an interminable gauntlet of fear and time. Halfway down the hall, I stepped over a picture frame that had fallen off of the wall, which confirmed my fears and pushed the last strands of hope away. The house had indeed shaken. They were coming for us again.

Sometimes, when disaster strikes, the mind occasionally slows things down to a standstill. I don’t know how this happens, but it’s both amazing and terrifying. In this case, as I stepped over the broken picture frame, I happened to see it was a picture of my son and I, holding aloft a prize. We were happy in that picture, the two of us, but what jumped out to me in this particular moment was how arrogant we looked. How cocky. Maybe on some perverse level we had this coming.

At the end of the hallway, I burst through the door of my kids’ room, abruptly met by their haunted faces. And unprotected heads.

“Steven, take your sister and get out the back door,” I said, much calmer than I felt. “And what are you doing without your helmets on? Get them now. Now.” I felt another moment of sadness as I saw them yank each helmet from the closet—mostly because both helmets were utterly devoid of cracks and decoration. We had to replace them so often.

“Okay! Now just like we’ve practiced—”

WHAM.

This time the house most definitely shook, plaster raining down on all three of us. The windowed side of the room creaked and actually leaned slightly. Through the window I glimpsed two dead birds lying on the lawn. Jesus.

“GO!” I said, the calm now fleeing me as quickly as it had come. In unison the three of us dashed into the hallway as fast as our legs would carry us, then away from my bedroom and toward the back door.

Wham-wham-wham.

The house creaked and groaned in protest, something crashing on the far side. Three of them this time. Sometimes we got lucky and they either ran out or simply turned back from all of the death. Sometimes we weren’t so fortunate. This time, we reached the back door and practically crashed through it, not out into the night air but down into a tunnel I’d built specifically for this purpose. Even amidst the devastation the mud felt comforting, as it always did. I felt the kids relax a little until we heard another loud crash behind us, and then several crashes so monstrous that they all blurred together into a single cascade of destruction. The house was lost.


Hours later, utter resignation etched into our faces, the three of us crawled out of our tunnel. The air had never been so silent. Boards and splinters lay everywhere, and amidst them, of course, the feathers. Nora, with a stillness that was hard to watch, pulled out a long red feather and stared at it.

“Why do they hate us, Daddy?” I shook my head, but I couldn’t stop thinking of that photo in the hallway. The one of Steven and I holding up the egg. So of course I knew.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. They’re just angry. They’re so damned angry.”

Writing and Screenplay Format

Right on the heels of the Oscars, it’s probably a good time to mention that I have always loved screenplays—and the screenplay format. I first ran across one back when Stephen King scripted Storm of the Century, and I quickly realized that this was the way that all Hollywood movies were written on paper. I was fascinated.

Since then, I’ve read quite a few screenplays/scripts for both movies and television, and have quite enjoyed them all. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’ve felt an increasing itch to try to write one myself. I’m curious, though: have you ever read a screenplay, in any form? And if not, do you find the format pretty readable? I can include an example here: the screenplay for Big Fish, which is hosted by its author (John August) on his personal site. If you wouldn’t mind reading through a few pages of this, I’m quite curious to know how appealing the format is or isn’t to you. To me it would seem especially appealing to anyone that enjoys movies but doesn’t necessarily like to wade through an entire novel; most screenplays are around 110 pages with plenty of whitespace. I’d be grateful if you would let me know via a comment (or Twitter/Facebook/e-mail) what you think.

If you’re curious, my two very favorite screenplay/script collections are The Dark Knight Trilogy (available on Kindle) and the West Wing Script Book. They’re both terrific looks into how movies and television are made, and also a fun chance to see these stories unfold visually in your own imagination.

Coming back to my site here, the really neat thing is that I have used jQuery to craft a way to turn ordinary text into screenplay format, right here on my site! Here’s a quick example:

-Script-

EXT. AN OLD DIRT ROAD – DAY

Two men, both mid-twenties, stand next to a battered country road. Faintly stretching across the road in front of them are the imprints of chicken feet.

GEORGIA GRAD
Why did this chicken cross the road?

GEORGIA TECH GRAD
Well, to accurately identify that, we’d need to calculate the velocity of the wind, in combination with the weather, to determine external factors influencing the chicken’s resistance to moving forward. Then, we’d have to learn about the chicken’s social habits, including the proximity of any female chickens, because—

GEORGIA GRAD
Okay, we’re done here.

-Script-

Would love to post some bits of fiction (amusing and not) in this format, so again, I’d love to get your thoughts. If it’s a bit jarring to read (the link to Big Fish being the best indicator), definitely let me know.

Thank you for your help!

Writing Advice: Avoiding “Thought” Verbs

Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs – Chuck Palahniuk

Ran across this post by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club), which features some of the simplest but most powerful writing advice I’ve seen in a while: avoiding “thought” verbs as much as possible. These are verbs like knows, thinks, wonders, and remembers. Instead, he implores us to be as descriptive as possible.

I think this is fantastic writing advice for writers of any level—not just in fiction writing but in corporate and personal settings, as well. Don’t state but show.

Are Our Stories Good Enough?

Browsing through Facebook, I’m always a bit stunned to find how often we share things from strangers (i.e. the internet) instead of ourselves. It’s so easy to view others’ extraordinary achievements (“Man leaps over fire to propose to fiancée!”) as much superior to our own (“Man nervously takes wife to a park only to give away proposal intent.”). We can’t compete, right?

But we can and should. Why? Because the internet is full of such extraordinary things, but our lives are not. Personally, I don’t care about random larger-than-life stories from the internet, but I do care about your everyday ones. The experiences of friends and family are far more valuable than strangers’, because it’s friends and family that we build our lives around. We should care much more about what happens to each other—whether serious, silly, or somewhere in between.

So in 2015 I implore you to share your thoughts and stories, and we’ll all enjoy them more. Even if they don’t involve catching a shark with your bare hands, or painting an incredibly realistic seascape on your sidewalk. And better yet, don’t be afraid to create new stories—because even though others have already done so, it’s your stories that matter most to those around you.

Imaginary Tea

Imaginary Tea, by Jon McLaughlin

Here’s one of many reasons why Jon McLaughlin is my favorite musician: an incredible love song for his little girl. Every time I hear the line, “Before you know it, you’ll be old and grown,” it breaks my heart a little.

Cherish your little people every day.

Imaginary Tea

I love you more than you will ever know
I love you no matter what you do
I’m gonna hold you as long as you will let me
‘Cause you’re mine, I love you

I loved you before I heard ever heard your voice
Before I even knew your name
I loved you before I saw those pretty eyes
I loved you right away

So take it slow
Before you know it, you’ll be old and grown
Just remember that I’m always here
Hands you can hold on to
I love you

Don’t worry what anybody else will say
Don’t hurry to break that precious heart
When you try to be like somebody else
Remember I love you the way you are

So take it slow
Before you know it, you’re gonna be old and grown
Just remember that I’m always here
Hands you can hold on to
And I love you

So let’s climb every tree
And drink imaginary tea
And speak a language only we can understand
And I will fight back the tears
As we fly through the years
And I’ll keep you as close as I can

I love you more than you will ever know
I love you no matter what you do
And I’m gonna hold you as long as you will let me
‘Cause you’re mine, I love you

Every Day is Groundhog Day

It’s fascinating to think that this very moment is the culmination of everything you’ve ever learned to date—skills, habits, mannerisms, education, and even which things are truly important to you. On its own, each bit of learning seems so insignificant. But compiled over time, they represent an enormously important part of who we are.

Amusingly, I think I first started to realize this after watching the movie Groundhog Day. In the movie, Phil (played by Bill Murray) finds himself in a situation where he wakes up every morning to find that he’s living the exact same day as yesterday. It’s always Groundhog Day. The key, though, is that he retains his memory from day to day—and after some initial despair (and humor, of course), he realizes that he can use this to his advantage. He learns more about the girl he loves. He learns when to save people from ill-fated accidents. He learns to play the piano.

It is this last that really got me thinking: aren’t our lives, without the repetition of days, still essentially the same story? We float from one day to the next, often reacting to the events around us, without stopping to think about the true sum of these events over time. We turn away from piano when we consider how difficult a song seems to play, without taking a moment to think about easy it would be to learn ten notes.

And then ten more notes.

Going one step further, we can look at this in the context of our most important dreams—dreams that often seem so unattainable. But if we can break down the steps to those dreams, to the smallest of steps, we can create our own Groundhog Day experience.

Some people ask me why I’m so driven to move myself forward—mostly because it often seems to my detriment. Is it really helpful to study web design in the depths of the night, when sleep tries to force my hand? Is it mentally damaging to try to hold on to so many goals at once? I am not sure I know the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing: I don’t want to look back on my Groundhog Day and say that I’m no better off than when I started.  I don’t want to be the version of Phil that stares blankly at a piano on Day 74.

I hope that you don’t, either.