Friday, June 28, 2013

Convocation Sensation Frustration

I'm part of a panel discussion today, but the biggest speech of my life was at Cornell University during graduation weekend at an event called convocation. I was a sensation. I spoke before a thousand people. It's been all downhill since then . . . .Frustration?

As the chairman of the Commencement committee, I organized the event and hosted several prominent speakers. We had wanted Mario Cuomo, the governor at the time, but he blew me off. I will never vote for a Cuomo again.


I still remember the first words of my speech. "I'd like to thank Brown University for letting me speak today." There was a hush through the audience--did he just say that? "Like many people here Cornell was not my first choice, but when I hear from those people at Harvard, Yale and Brown that they did not receive the same quality of life and fellowship that I received here at Cornell, they won't get sympathy from me."


I carried the class banner at graduation the next day. Thirty thousand people cheered for me as I entered. The future looked bright.


So what the hell happened?

To be continued  . . .

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are you better off?

My birthday is on Saturday, my first wedding anniversary is on Monday. Am I better off than I was a year ago? I would have to say yes. How about you?

I used to do a handwritten list of everything I've accomplished over the last year starting when I was 13. I went over what I wrote on my 14th birthday and my 21st.Those lists seemed to get shorter every year. Were less things happening in my life?

I stopped making the lists every year, after my dad died five years ago. That was like a midpoint in my life.

I found I couldn't remember whether something had happened in this year or the year before, everything kind of blended together in time.

I also would vote for person of the year, the person who most affected me that year. Now that I am married the choice is obvious--it is my wife. Some of those people earlier in my life are long gone--moved on. I once had a dream of calling one of those people, a certain woman, with a tale of my great success. I actually ran into that woman a few weeks ago, and I forgot her name.

I had what I called an "enemy of the year," although I didn't use that word. Many of those people are dead and I'm sure they weren't thinking of me when they died.

So there will be no list this year on my birthday. My only goal is to be better off next year than I was today.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Next Book?

I should have a book coming out this fall, I just don't know which one. It's like Shakespeare saying "Should I put out Hamlet or MacBeth" next?" Yeah right...

The Southwest Writers project is a go for November 15. It will be a collection of member submissions. Considering the incredible talent within the group, the book should be fantastic. My credit will be "executive producer." What does that mean? I'm not sure, but if my name is on it, I'm going to work extremely hard to make sure it's the best possible product.

It will be the perfect time for me to have a book of my own out there, but what?

I've already submitted the first fifty pages of this blog to Southwest Writers in the Non-fiction book category under the name "Rattlesnake Blogger." As of this writing, I don't know if it even made the top twenty. If I don't even place, this blog will probably die a natural death in the bowels of my computer. However, if the blog wins the category, or God Forbid wins the grand prize, then Rattlesnake Blogger will be available for order on November 15.

Suppose Rattlesnake Blogger does not win anything, then what? I have my collection of short non-fiction called Laws and Loves ready to go. I even have a cover model and a possible publicist. I can print the entire 90,000 words of it at once, or divide it into segments. There have been a lot of laws and a lot of loves.

But wait, there's more . . .I have two completed manuscripts that are currently owned by my publisher. I still have my old modern western. (An old modern western, that's fun to say). I wrote a thriller set on the Navajo Nation a few years back that my publisher has the right of first refusal. The book uses my existing characters, but it just feels different in tone from my other work, more like Breaking Bad than something good. If they reject it, I might just put it out myself.

The one thing that is NOT coming out in the immediate future, is my legal thriller set in the far future. Or will it? My publisher could conceivably give me the rights to that as well and that could sneak out there.

So stay tuned. Then again, Shakespeare also had King Lear waiting to go as well.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Can I Write for Mad Men?

Did you see Mad Men last night?  Every once in a while, I see a scene on TV and I say "I wish I could write like that!" I saw a scene on the season finale of Mad Men last night. Don is pitching to Hershey's executives and gives a feel good story about growing up and the value of chocolate. Everyone in the room is smiling. He then admits the story is fake and tells a different tale-- how he grew up in a bordello and that chocolate was somehow connected with sex.

Don didn't close the deal with Hershey's, but he probably closed the deal with Emmy voters. Matthew Wiener the executive producer probably earned an Emmy for best writer in those few seconds as well.

I don't love Mad Men, but I do admire that it is taking risks on the small screen. I can't imagine how Wiener got this on the air and was able to make the main character so unlikeable, or at the very least complicated. Perhaps I should re-write Rattlesnake Lawyer to have Jon Hamm play the lead.

I'm more of a Breaking Bad man myself. The scene where Gus Fring died is arguably the best scene I've ever personally witnessed on television. If they do indeed do a spin-off with Saul, I'm hoping to get on the writing staff or else pitch my own show to Vince Giligan.

Breaking Rattlesnake anyone?

Have I ever written a scene as good as the Hershey's pitch scene? Well, some of my stuff has made it to youtube videos, but nothing has ever sounded that good on the screen. In my seven novels, page 220 of Volcano Verdict is my personal favorite page, while the final chapter of my latest book, Rattlesnake Wedding is my favorite chapter. I don't claim that any of them are in the same  league.

But I'm back at my computer this morning, going over the scenes I've written in the last few days. I'm punching them up when I can, taking risks that I never thought I'd take. The bar has been set.

For some reason, I'm going to eat a Hershey bar today.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gandolfini vs Pitt in Tarentino's True Romance

Xfinity on demand had a tribute to the late James Gandolfini available, so I clicked on one of my favorite films, True Romance. About halfway through, Gandolfini's mob enforcer, Virgil, confronts a stoner named Floyd, played by a young Brad Pitt. In those few lines of dialogue, two stars are born.

The twenty year old film is special to me for many reasons. I wrote an article called Walken vs. Hopper, about the scene involving Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper and that article  was published in Creative Screenwriting. I think I made sixty bucks. The article was then put into a book called Quentin Tarentino the Film Geek Files which was published in 2000.

The plot is fairly simple. Christian Slater's Clarence has stolen the mob's cocaine and is hiding in LA with his friend. Floyd is the friend's roommate. Virgil asks Floyd where Clarence is.

Take a moment and find the scene on youtube.

To be honest, there's nothing brilliant in Tarentino's writing in the scene, but we see flashes of Tony Soprano's dark side with Gandolfini's smile. As for Pitt, he is so committed to the character, that we don't know if he is really stoned or acting. That character was voted one of the best stoner characters of all time. He would probably be Brad Pitt's second best character after Tyler Durden.

Twenty years later the film still holds up in parts but there is a sadness associated with it. Tony Scott, the director committed suicide. Chris Penn, Dennis Hopper and now Gandolfini are dead. Christian Slater's career is dead, but that's another story.

RIP James Gandolfini.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Cons and Cons

I'm going to prison in the morning. I'm going to the Albuquerque Comic Expo in the afternoon. I'm far more worried about going to the Comic Expo.

As a criminal defense attorney, it's part of my job to visit correctional facilities on a regular basis. Most of these visits are quite routine. You go through a metal detector, you sign in, you get a badge, go to a meeting room, exchange information and then leave. You CAN tell the players without a scorecard. The guards are in blue, the inmates are in orange. Everyone else wandering around is wearing a badge.

Over the course of the last ten years, I can count on one hand the visits that have not been routine-- I was once locked in an interview room for an hour with an inmate while the guards forgot about us was probably the worst thing to happen to me.

But I got out after an hour, safe and sound...

As a published author who writes thrillers, it's part of my job to go to a variety of conventions on a regular basis and attempt to sell my books. I have one novel, Lawyer Geisha Pink, that has clear fantasy elements so I have one foot in the science fiction/comic camp. I still hope to have someone produce a graphic novel for several of my books. I am also working on a science fiction novel.

Not to mention, I like the genres even though I don't know what a dalek is.

Unlike prison, you can't tell the players without a scorecard. People wear masks and costumes, sometime of characters you've never heard of. And that brings us to an important question-- how do you sell a legal thriller with fantasy elements to someone in a Darth Vader mask? Does the person in a furry outfit even have 14.95 for a copy of a darkly comic mystery set in the southwest?  And who the heck are you supposed to be?

I made a vow not to pander or pretend at these conventions. I treat everyone with respect.  I've been surprised. Darth Vader does like legal thrillers with fantasy elements. The person in the furry outfit might not have 14.95, but is willing to buy a book for ten dollars because they don't have any change. And that person is playing a character from the upcoming movie RIPD.

I just have to make sure that I don't confuse the two places.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Longest Day of the Year

Is today or tomorrow the longest day of the year? It is strange to see the sun before six in the morning. I get up, but as I've said I don't write very well in daylight. Yesterday, I attempted to edit a novel over the lunch hour. The brighter it gets, the dimmer my creative mind gets. When it's over ninety degrees, my IQ goes down to the low 80s.

Solstice is bad for the soul.

I also don't write well in the heat. My mind wants to find a swimming pool. Last summer, I went to the swimming pool at the Sandia Resort and tried to write something. That didn't really work either. I didn't mention the bar was open at lunchtime, did I? The bikinis didn't help either.

I write best in December. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin-- and it's always about the Benjamins--early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and able to write a thousand words before dawn. In December, I get up before dawn, it's cold out. I put on a sweat shirt, grab an energy drink and I'm typing away within minutes.

I was born in the summer, this time of year. I wonder why I am less productive--perhaps my body was just getting used to things, and wanted to chill out, literally...Every summer, I regress to my first days.

Well, the best thing about the solstice, whether it's today or tomorrow, is that the days are going to get shorter again.  It's almost time to start writing.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Mexico True?

Yesterday, I entered the New Mexico True contest. It is a contest for people to tell true stories about New Mexico to promote tourism in the state. As a published author, am I a ringer? Should I feel bad if I don't win?

I was hoping that I could just plop in an old story, but unfortunately I had to type it all on the page in the little boxes provided. I'm someone who writes outside the box in so many ways. It was hard to edit as well, no spell check, or double spacing. Worse, I couldn't send it away to my editor to make sure I hadn't used the same word over and over again.

I talked about our recent trip to northern New Mexico and I talked about our trip around the grounds of Los Alamos National Labs. In these days of national security, did I just put myself on an NSA watch list?

That might be a good thing, every hit counts, right?

A picture is worth a thousand words, well I submitted six pictures. One picture is a picture of me standing by Georgia O'Keeffe's home, a cow skull in the background.  That's a picture that's as New Mexico as it gets, right? That might as well be a billboard for New Mexico right there. Unfortunately, I'm wearing a t-shirt for Monument Valley which is in UTAH. My regular readers know that I have made this mistake before when I confused Monument Valley with Shiprock on the cover of La Bajada Lawyer.

Speaking of pictures, I did have a brilliant idea which I put in the entry. I suggested a New Mexico "app" which would tell people if they are near the setting for a famous painting or photograph. That might end up being used, even if the entry isn't that good.

I am worried that I will be New Mexico blue as opposed to New Mexico true.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Numbers Game

Within the next few hours, I should find out if this blog is one of the top twenty entries in the Southwest Writers contest in the non-fiction category. I should also have my three thousandth hit. Which is more important? I'm not sure . . .

The contest is part of my master plan at world domination...sort of. I've won the category before and taken second last year. Assuming I make the top twenty and then make the top three, this blog has a real chance of becoming an ebook. If I win the category, it can become a real book. If I win the contest, I can actually follow in the footsteps of another winner and become a best selling author who travels around the world.

I don't really expect to win the category when the finals are announced in September-- a descendant of Isaac Newton might be submitting 5,000 words on gravity. Dr, Ruth might be submitting something about sex. Or perhaps someone has an entry about zero gravity sex that will revolutionize everything.

I have several speaking engagements already lined up. For the next few months at least, I can be introduced as someone in the top twenty in the contest and tell people to "cross their fingers." If I don't win, am I morally obligated to tell them that I didn't place in the contest? No, but I will certainly feel guilty.

As for the three thousand hits, I am also well aware that some people get 3,000 people a day, or 3,000 people a sentence. Still, there is some satisfaction in knowing that a few dozen people read this every day.

You all will probably keep or lose.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bonus Father's Day Blog: Iron Son



            In the seminal book Iron John, Robert Bly surmised that a boy does not truly become a man until his father has died. My dad had suffered from cancer for years, and had seemingly made a miraculous recovery. He had the occasional fainting spell, but he was still going to work every day and running what seemed to be a thriving business. I figured he would live forever.

            However on December 5, 2008, I became a man.

By 2007, I was still practicing law, but qualified for malpractice insurance at a reduced rate as a “moonlighting attorney” since I worked less than twenty hours a week. I practiced out of my father’s office, rent free. I didn’t really have my own space, I just shared the room with the copier and the fax machine. When I met with clients, I had to tell everyone else in the office to refrain from copying for fifteen minutes. Usually, they listened.

Some Iron Man, I felt like a tin man who didn’t have much heart.

I still was writing the great American novel when I had the chance, but I had a tendency to rush my writing, especially if I wrote at the office. My editors would fix everything when they went through it if I missed it the first time, so I didn’t care.

I kept doing book signings in Amarillo; unfortunately, I would sometimes spend more money on dinner than I made in a night of book signing. My dad would always ask me “Do you get to keep the money?”

I lied and told him that I did. Money wasn’t important, really.  However, my credit cards were getting a little out of control, but my dad could always help me right? I knew he wouldn’t be around forever because of the cancer, but at least he had life insurance, and that would always be my safety net.

            My father and I had grown closer over the course of the last few years as he recovered from the cancer. While working out of his office, he suggested that I take the insurance exam to obtain a salesman’s license just in case I needed to sign something if he became incapacitated. Call it insurance on an insurance business.

At first, I was reluctant. When I was in High School, my father and I had watched an episode of Happy Days, long before the show had jumped the shark. One character told his father that he would rather eat barf before going into the family business. The character might have said “bark” as opposed to “barf,” but it had become a private joke between the two of us. Study for the insurance exam? I’d rather eat barf.

While at his office, I looked around his business—his phone was constantly ringing and was answered by a nice person. Respectable people came in and out, usually carrying checks.  I wouldn’t mind this being my inheritance.

I reluctantly studied every facet of health and life insurance for a month and I passed the three hour exam on my first time. I scored an 83, the perfect score in that I passed with flying colors, but I hadn’t expended too much energy or lost sleep over it.

Kinda like my life.

With my license in hand, we decided to run an ad in the New Mexico Bar Bulletin as a father and son insurance team. It was a brilliant idea—we were going to use his expertise to market to my connections. Lawyers needed life insurance, and presumably they would want to buy insurance from someone they already knew, like me. My father and I took a picture in his office, with me standing behind him, my hand on his shoulder. Both of us wore matching orange ties.

 “So you’re eating barf now?” my Dad asked me when we looked at the picture a few minutes later. “Someday this could all be yours.”

I looked at his first floor office in a suburban complex. It wasn’t flashy, but the square footage was impressive, and he had decorated it with expensive artwork and photos of his trips all over the world with my mom. He had five people working for him while I had no one. 

“I’m cool with that,” I replied.

            The full page ad ran on the first Monday of December 2008 and by ten that morning, people were complimenting me on my new career. “Are you still practicing law?” Someone asked. “You could make way more money on insurance if your dad sets you up.”

“I guess I’m keeping law as the insurance to the insurance business,” I said. I had checked with a legal advice hotline, I could still sell insurance and practice law at the same time as long as I didn’t sue the companies whose products I was selling. Considering that I didn’t have a single personal injury case, that didn’t seem like a problem.

In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader had told Luke Skywalker that they would rule the universe as father and son. This would be even better, as I could rule the universe and moonlight by practice a little law on the side.

By Tuesday, one of my friends had actually called about needing a life insurance policy. An hour later, a gentleman from Clovis called, inquiring about group coverage. My father and I spent Thursday afternoon figuring out how to close all the deals and how we would split the commissions. I would get to keep the money indeed.

As we sat at his desk going over paperwork, I felt very close to my father. Maybe we could make this Darth and Luke thing work. I left before five and he kept working. He had some other great ideas he wanted to put together and the next phase of the campaign.

“We can take this national,” he said.

National didn’t sound that bad.

            On Friday morning, I was screwing around at home on my computer writing a silly story, when my phone rang. I ignored it, just another call from my mom.  My Dad had fainted again, and she needed me right away.

            “You need to come up here right now,” she said. “Something’s gone terribly wrong. Your father fainted and he hit his head on the bed.”

            As I took my car onto I-25 heading north, she called again. This time I picked up immediately. My dad had died, my mom explained breathlessly. I didn’t believe her and drove as fast as I could as if that could turn back time.

            I made it to the house and the ambulance was already there. Surely there had been some mistake. They would be able to save them, right. Unfortunately, he was already dead before they had arrived.

It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t even the fainting. He had fallen and hit his head against metal and it snapped his neck. If he had fallen an inch in either direction he would have survived. Supposedly it was sudden, and painless.

I was there as the paramedics wheeled my father out, his face covered. We said a quick prayer. I had a tear in my eye and one of the paramedics told me I had better “man up.”

            My sister came in from LA that afternoon and she fainted in the middle of airport. Part of manning up was literally picking her up off the floor.


            We had the funeral on a Sunday. I gave a speech to the three hundred people in the audience. I had no idea how popular he was in his community. I gave a speech about how my dad went to Cleveland on business in the dead of winter so I could go out-of state to film school. I mentioned the famous “rather eat barf” quote.

I closed with the quip that my dad was still probably trying to close the Clovis deal from beyond the grave and to watch for him speeding down the highway. I even referenced keeping the money as an author.

There was real chuckling from the audience, much like the famed episode of Mary Tyler Moore, they were happy to be laughing instead of crying.

With the possible exception of the speech I gave at graduation, it was the best speech I had ever made in my life.


A few hours later he was lowered into the ground and I shoveled some dirt. I don’t remember what happened the next day.

            We then we had an amazing discovery on that Tuesday. My dad the insurance salesman did not have life insurance. The insurance salesman did not have life insurance?

            He had spent so much trying to bail us out that he hadn’t been able to renew a policy set at a half a million for me. I figured I would at least get a ten thousand dollar inter-vivos transfer, but that did not occur either.

            The next few months were brutal. Without my father, no one wanted to buy insurance from his company. I went out to Gallup on business and closed a deal, but still I would never be the expert that my Dad was. It became obvious that we would be unable to continue. We had to sell the business at a loss in the midst of the worst recession of all time.

We closed the office by the end of 2009.  I had to work out of my home for a year and I resumed practicing law. I met most clients in Starbucks, unless like one they had never heard of the chain.


I once met with a convicted murderer in McDonalds.

After a year in a daze in my loft, I rented an office, hired staff and secured a valuable state contract that enabled me to survive as a lawyer.  I soon was able to manage a second contract and also branch out into personal injury work.

As for my writing, I could no longer do trips to Amarillo after my father died; they were no longer cost effective, especially when I was spending more on a steak dinner than I was making selling twenty books. I couldn’t ask my Dad to pay my credit card bills any more.

            The safety net was gone.


I kept on writing and I managed to win several awards, some of them national, for my next few books. This collection that you are reading now was a finalist in one contest and I literally had to go back through everything I had ever written to make sure it was perfect. I no longer dreamed that I would get the magic phone call. I got up at dawn to write for an hour and then worked a full day practicing law.

And yes, I got to keep the money.

Even though, I was not selling insurance, I was eating barf, but I could live with that. I might not have become Iron John, or even a man of steel, but I certainly wasn’t Tin Jon anymore.

I had become a man at last.

Lawyer in the womb

In honor of my late father, here's an old story....




When I left the public defender’s department on my thirtieth birthday, my first job was a return to the womb, literally. I worked for my mommy’s law firm. My dad owned the building, so the three of us were all together, one big happy family. To make things even happier, I moved back to their home in the high desert foothills above Albuquerque, as I tried to save enough cash for a security deposit for my own apartment in the city down below.                                                                 

Most of the time, I worked on my criminal cases from a conflict public defender contract, but my mother promised me that she’d eventually trust me with her big time civil cases when she felt I was ready.  I had a handful of juvenile burglary cases at the time, and the prospect of paying clients, especially paying clients old enough to shave, certainly appealed to me.

One day, my parents were heading away for a long weekend, Bora Bora, someplace like that. They’d be totally out of touch.  I’d be home alone, and more importantly, “office alone,” for the first time. Not only was I supposed to water the plants, my dad stressed that the most important duty was to call my grandmother each and every day. She had helped out the family during some hard times, and they were eternally grateful. My dad still called her every day and now he wanted me to do the same.

They left on Thursday night. The client’s meeting with Federal investigators was scheduled for Friday morning. That first night, I rented the movie Risky Business, but unlike Tom Cruise I did not dance alone in my underwear after my parents made it safely to the airport.

Friday morning, I borrowed one of my dad’s ties for the meeting. I nearly spilled milk on it as I munched on my Lucky Charms before heading out. The meeting was at the client’s sprawling adobe ranch complex in rural New Mexico. The issue had something to do with a few missed payments to some Federal agency. How hard could this be?  Inside, two Federal officials -- Good cop, bad cop. “Good” was a bureaucrat in a brown suit, yellow shirt and a red striped tie. “Bad” looked like a professional wrestler with a shaved head.  He called himself some kind of an “agent,” but didn’t give his name, much less his agency.       The meeting started slowly. Good took control and asked about incidents on this date and that. My clients cooperated, but Good still wanted just a little more detail here and there. He was friendly about it, used the word “visit,” as in “Let’s visit about this right here . . .”

“Let’s visit about September again” he said, after an hour, still smiling.

Bad abruptly excused himself to go to the bathroom as if September was some kind of code between them. Good’s leisurely questioning continued down the calendar -- visiting about November, December and especially those twenty eight or twenty nine days of February?

I didn’t want to let my mom down, but it was her case after all. I knew I was supposed to object to things, but the requests seemed innocuous enough. I was distracted by some commotion outside--sirens or something.

Bad came back in and nodded.  My clients look over at me, a little perturbed. I had missed objecting to one of Good’s visits, and they hadn’t liked it.

“Asked and answered,” I said, offering some support.

“We’ll let a judge decide that,” Bad said.

Outside sirens grew closer and closer. Suddenly Bad rose again and headed toward the door.  “I have to go to the bathroom again,” he said, strangely.     

Moments later, Bad returned with more agents, state cops and even some overweight locals from the sub-station down the street. All were armed.  Well armed.

 Something snapped in me. It was time to stand up for myself. Not Tom Cruise as the mischievous rich kid in Risky Business, but Tom Cruise as the young military lawyer in A Few Good Men.

 “Let me see that,” I demanded and grabbed it away. I looked over the warrant, it was valid. Or was it? It was based on hearsay testimony of a disgruntled employee.

 “This will never hold up in court,”,, said, defiantly.

“We’ll see,” Good said. “We’ll see.”

“Those were Good’s last words of the day, visiting hour was over. Bad was in charge now. He sat my clients down in the chairs, as he sat in the desk. “Let‘s start with your real names,” he said. “For the record.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I said to him before he could get much past the spelling of their middle initials. I tried to stare him down.

Embarrassed, he reluctantly read them their rights. I looked at my clients.  “Take the fifth. “ I said. “Don’t say a word!”

The clients listened to me. Even more amazing, Bad, a heavily armed agent, listened to me. He stopped cold.

Outside, two local cops surrounded the janitor’s rickety flatbed truck and nearly defied gravity as they leaned over the windshield to look inside. The janitor looked over at me. “You’re the lawyer, right?”

“You can’t do that,” I shouted at the two very big men. “Your warrant doesn’t cover the truck!”

I was bluffing, yet they stopped in mid-air and returned to earth as if I‘d said some magic word.  Damn, the constitution is a wonderful thing!

Inside the agents seized a few crates of records, but they left. I immediately called a famed appellate lawyer and started on the issues to get this thing kicked. It would take a year, but they would be totally vindicated and even get some money in a law suit. My clients told me two words that I never heard in my years of being a public defender -- Thank and you.

I felt like I was a lawyer for the first time. Hell, I felt like a grown-up for the first time. I couldn’t wait until I told my parents. They’d be so proud.

I celebrated all weekend. I told everyone about how I stared down armed Federal agents with only the constitution to back me up. I think by the twentieth telling, I’d fought off the entire 101st airborne.

My parents came home that Monday. They were furious! Huh? I was a little surprised. I had watered the plants, mostly; I had only left one pair of underwear on the stairs. I was about to tell them about my adventure, but they wouldn’t hear any of it.

“You didn’t call your grandmother!”

And that’s when I realized you can be the greatest lawyer in the world, but you aren’t truly a man, my son, unless you call your grandmother

Friday, June 14, 2013

Father's Day of the Dead

With Father's Day coming up, I can't help but think of a story about someone else's father. They say that you should write what you know. Sometimes, we don't know what we know.

After seeing me speak at Southwest Writers a few years ago, I got a call from a strange woman with a New York accent. She told me about her great idea. She wanted me to write a screenplay based on her manuscript about her father. I had no idea who she was but I decided to meet her anyways.

When I arrived at the Grove restaurant, I was surprised to see a seventy-something woman sitting at a table by herself. She beckoned to me, pointing to a large pile of papers sitting precariously close to an overfilled glass of iced tea. She didn't even wait for me to order before she started. "My book is about my father during the Great Depression."
The Great Depression is not the Great Gatsby. "Is your father someone famous?"
"Not really," she said. "He ran a chain of dry cleaning stores."
I expected to hear a business "how to book," but her father's "chain" was three stores at best, and usually two. Other than his advice to "Buy low and sell high," and "Keep your promises to customer," there was nothing about him that screamed best seller.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"I suppose it depends on your writing," I said, politely. If it was well-written, it still might be viable. "Are you finished with it?"
"Unfortunately, no," she said. "I just got back from China."
"China?" I asked. This seemingly ordinary woman had been to China?
"Yes, I worked for a defense contractor and fell in love with my translator. He was arrested by the Chinese government and we went through lengthy court  battle before he escaped."
"Escaped from a Chinese prison?"
"Yeah, we smuggled him out." She then talked non-chalantly about an international tale of espionage that had elements of "Eat Pray Love" spiced with James Bond and the Joy Luck Club. It was a surefire best seller, and a movie that could star Meryl Streep.
Wow. "Ummmm.....maybe we should write about that instead."

I think she was insulted, we didn't talk much more over the course of the meal and I never heard from her again.
I don't know if she ever finished the book about her father.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bonus Blog: Grand Theft Novel



            Friday: I woke up this morning to find my 2002 Saturn coupe stolen from my gated apartment complex in a bad part of Albuquerque. There was a late payment on my insurance so there’s a chance it will not be covered. I still owe five grand on the car, so there is a very real chance I am looking at bankruptcy to get rid of the deficiency.


            I write this on Friday evening, because I am writer and I have nothing better to do.

            There were some personal effects in my car, including a picture of an Asian supermodel who would not release permission to me to use her name, posing suggestively with my novel. To make matters worse there were thirty copies of my novel Crater County that I was taking down to my signing in El Paso. I wouldn't have been surprised to get my car stolen down in El Paso, with its proximity to the border, but the fact that someone would steal my books before I would even get down there. Who knew Albuquerque had such voracious readers?

            I assume that the thief was a drug addict who will sell the car for the parts. But what do you do with the books? Thirty books are worth around four hundred dollars or so.  I suppose you can take the book to a  literary hop shop and sell a few paragraphs here and there on the black market.

            Don’t laugh. I have had legal clients who have taken my books to jail with them. Amarillo in August, my collection of short stories has been traded for cigarettes. Did one story go for a single cigarette?

            The last story is really good and perhaps they’re read at bedtime over the intercom to calm down unruly inmates. Unfortunately, the concept of bedtime stories has some unpleasant connotations in prison situations.

            This evildoer can now try to go around America and sell the book in one big score to the disreputable clerk at Barnes and Nobles and do the deal in the “Fiction and Literature” Section. For some reason, I see a shoot-out like in the final scene of Quentin Tarentino's True Romance when the deal goes bad in the dispute over Chapter twenty-seven.

            That gets me thinking. Maybe it was a mob heist that was planned all along just like the Lufthansa Heist in Goodfellas. Perhaps the mob is going after mid-list authors, because they’re easy marks. You've heard of the mob selling cigarettes from the back of trucks -- why not novels?

            My real fear is that someone might try to impersonate me and do book signings in my name to get some money while on the lam. No one really looks at the picture on the back of the book any ways. Jonathan Miller’s book tour for 2005 might be held in Juarez, the Cayman Islands, and Tora Bora, Afghanistan. I think I can be big in Tora Bora if I can get an interview on the local radio station. If they do posters, I guess they’d have to put the chick on the cover of my book in a burka.

            I suppose I have to look at the bright side. My computer was stolen nine years ago and it had a treatment for a story. Five years later SOMEONE ELSE created some big hit movie with a similar theme. Coincidence?

            Was that first theft karma? The movie that had an idea similar to one on my stolen computer was the obscure film K-pax with Kevin Spacey. That was not a joke. Serves you guys right for having an idea similar to mine.

            At least my name is on the books; it would take a lot to white it out of the tops of the pages. I can’t help but think that most stolen cars end up in Los Angeles. Perhaps the assistant to some big producer will buy the car at some lot and finds the books in the trunk. He can say to the producer “Look what I found,” if he didn’t read the scripts over the weekend.

            So instead of waiting for the call from the police about my car smashed somewhere near the border, or waiting from the insurance company for the check that isn't coming, I’m now waiting for a phone call from Hollywood.

            And if they ever get the guy who stole my car, well I hope they lock him up for the rest of his life. But at least he’ll have something to read.



            Saturday: I got the call at nine this morning. The police recovered my vehicle in an alley a few miles from my home in the rugged South Broadway neighborhood of Albuquerque. The stereo was gone of course, and the ignition was damaged I had some videos stolen, episodes of South Park. My picture of Asian supermodel who wouldn’t let me use her name, posing suggestively with my books was still there, so the robbers were definitely gay.

            As for the books, the box had been removed and thrown into the mud, as if the robbers were making a getaway with it and then dropped it when the cops came. Other than a few damaged by the mud, the vast majority were OK.

            However one volume was clearly unaccounted for. So be on the look-out for a robber, quite possibly armed and literate.

Legal Lapdances

What the heck is a legal lapdance and where can you get one in Albuquerque at three o'clock on a Thursday afternoon? This is the "Blogging at Dawn" column, but you might have noticed some "bonus" blogs in the late afternoon. Don't I claim to have a real job during the day? Well, those bonus blogs are from the "Legal Lapdances" collection, and they busting a move onto the national scene.

I started writing about my life a long time ago back when I was unemployed in Washington, DC. My first professionally published story was called "I fought the law" and was published in Washington City Paper, the DC equivalent of the Village Voice or Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi. It was about looking for a job in Washington and became such a hit that I was interviewed by Georgetown's Law School's newspaper. I had been waitlisted at Georgetown. I found it ironic that the only way I could get in there was by writing about failure. At that moment, I was hooked.

After I got my job in DC, I started writing some silly stories for the DC Young Lawyer, which led me to get stories in the National Young Lawyer publications. I even made the back page of the ABA Journal where 200,000 people read about my computer being stolen. When I moved back to New Mexico, I then wrote some stories for the young lawyer magazine back here. In between, I wrote the stories about laws and loves. My book, Rattlesnake Lawyer was going up and down the Hollywood food chain, so I had my Hollywood adventures as well.

I returned to New Mexico and resumed practicing law. I was representing an exotic dancer on a DWI, and she said something very profound. "What you do as a lawyer is kinda what I do as a dancer-- you get paid, it's intense for a few minutes, and then you leave...kinda like a lapdance." Talk about a great metaphor for law and literature. I liked the title, Legal Lapdances as I am a sucker for alliteration. No, alliteration is not a dirty word.

I did NOT get a dance from her by the way.

A few years later, I compiled all  my short non-fiction, published and unpublished and called them "Legal Lapdances." I submitted the best four to the Southwest Writers contest in the non-fiction book category. I won. I kept writing, and then I submitted some excerpts from a new collection and I took second. I put both collections together and now have about 90,000 words on my computer.

I can upload a 3,000 word story up to my computer in a matter of seconds.

With the advent of e-publishing, I can get the collection published in a matter of minutes. I hope to do so by the end of the year. It's probably going to be called "Laws and Loves."

So look for a bonus blog here and there, and then look for an e-book coming soon. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bonus Blog: Wild Pitch

Tonight's Bonus Blog is an old story called "Wild Pitch"



I went to a Hollywood pitch meeting as a writer and emerged as a criminal defense attorney.
In my pre-Hollywood life, I had counseled over a thousand clients as a lawyer, on charges ranging from first degree murder to trespassing at school. I used the same deep, slow voice for nearly all of them. My clients often suffered from some kind of attention deficit disorder, so I rarely used big words, repeated the key points over and over again, and emphasized the positive as I explained the difference between a deferred and a suspended sentence in the plea agreement.
My “Hollywood pitch voice” was sort of my lawyer voice on speed. Hollywood producers also have attention deficit disorder, so I rarely used big words, repeated key points over and over again and never talked for more than five minutes straight. I just talked much faster and never mentioned anything remotely negative.  Again, the ultimate goal was often getting to an agreement, but this time I wanted it to be a “pay or play.”
This meeting was at a producer’s home on the west side. As I pulled into this meeting, I was happy enough to find parking on the street near the three story modern-looking apartment complex. Inside, the home was a collection of artsy artifacts and the Producer reminded me a bit of my own mother. She had a nice quality about her in the way that she offered me tea and cookies that would remind anybody of their mother, or perhaps the mother they never had. I swore I could smell last night's apple pie in the air.
 The home was immaculate, yet all the other doors were closed. If it had been my home, all the dirty laundry would have lurked behind one of those doors, but I figured that all the rooms were probably just as clean as the living room. She seemed that kind of a mom.
The pleasantries over, we started off on a good note. The producer informed me that her assistant had read my legal thriller script and she wanted to hear about all of my other potential projects.
 I talked about my various experiences as a lawyer and how I wrote about “law and life.” 
“So you really were a lawyer, then?” She asked. "So do you have any true crime stories?"
“I guess so.”
It was time to switch from a curve to a change-up. “As a matter of fact, I based most scripts on my real experiences. For instance when I used to represent juvenile delinquents on murder charges . . .”
She stopped me in mid-sentence. “Then you should talk to my son.” She paused for a moment. “Not about scripts, but about law.”
Before I could regain my balance, she hurried over to one of the closed doors and produced her son. Perhaps she did have dirty laundry after all. On first glance, he was hardly my vision of a juvenile delinquent, but was indeed on probation for various minor charges. Yet the charges were getting progressively worse, and his six months probation kept getting extended until it now stretched for two years. Some of his friends had been busted on weapons charges, so his mother was justifiably alarmed.
He sat down and was surprisingly polite. He reminded of the nice kid that I represented on the trespassing at school charge, who had graduated to murder.
I told the boy my standard stories about staying out of trouble, yet I somehow managed to make them seem both “commercial and edgy.” It was weird, but I was seemed to be talking to the son, yet pitching to the mother.
After about twenty minutes of cautionary tales about the juvenile justice system, she stopped the meeting to take her son to therapy, and told me to meet her to continue the meeting. We played the second half of our double-header in a coffee shop as we waited for her son to “talk through his issues” and get his court-ordered urine test. The mother was tense, but she still seemed eager to hear my ideas -- both legal and literary. One moment we were talking about “setting something up at Showtime,” and then the next we were talking about “alternative sentencing” for her son.
After an hour or two, the boy came back from therapy and apparently had filled the specimen jar with no ill effects. As his mother got up to buy him a Carmel Frappuccino for his troubles, I talked with him some more. Now I was totally in lawyer mode, yet he seemed to want to hear the funny story I had about the criminal who...
I thought about Samuel Goldwyn's famous quote about “if you want to send a message, use Western Union.” The fact that the boy was even opening up to someone at all was a good first step. I then told him about the time I met a female killer with my zipper down. He laughed.
His mother returned. It was getting late, so we called the meeting on account of darkness and they went on their way and I went on mine. I felt confident that the boy would be all right, after perhaps a few more detours outside his mother's friendly confines.
I may not have sold a script, but perhaps I had saved a life.

Can the NSA steal my story?

The National Security Administration DOES presently have the capability to reach into your computer and steal your manuscript and/or script and sell it to China. Should you be worried?
Probably not . . .
But then again . . .

I wrote a science fiction script over twenty years ago where people communicated with electronic notepads similar to iPads. Seriously.  Is it possible that Steve Jobs had the government to troll through the data of hundreds of millions of Americans to find "cool" ideas?
Probably not . . .
But then again . . .

In the early seventies, I had a hand-written manuscript called "Star War," yes Star War, that came out before George Lucas and Star Wars. Seriously. (I still have it, it's in a notebook in my trunk) The Government probably did not have the capability to steal things back then, however, I did mention the title to my Dad who was sold insurance. He did insure someone with connections to the entertainment industry who might have known George Lucas. Could my Dad's client say my insurance agent's kid has a cool title for a science fiction project to George Lucas and then George Lucas say "Hmmm... that kid has a great title for an epic science fiction series, I think I will steal it?"
Probably not . . .
But then again . .

When I was in ninth grade at Albuquerque Academy, I was running track and we were doing interval training on a windy Tuesday. Our coach said something like "Those hundred yards dashes aren't going to magically run themselves," and I thought "Wow wouldn't if be cool if we could do magic in school?" Seriously. Could JK Rowling have read my mind and come up with Harry Potter?
Well, that one's a reach . . .

I am currently writing a science fiction manuscript where the judicial system is run by computers that can monitor everyone and make decisions based on programming rather than on humanity. Will the government steal that idea?
Maybe it already has . . .

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Intern to a Clown

In honor of Vince Vaughn's The Internship, here's a second Intern story for the day-- Intern to a Clown.

I finally did get an internship in Hollywood. I got the lead through a friend of a friend of a friend who currently worked there. I don’t know whether the person knew I was a lawyer when he passed my name onto his boss. In some ways, less was definitely more. When I arrived in a grimy part of Hollywood, I didn’t even show a resume, I basically just had to remember the name of the friend of a friend.
            I said as little as possible as I listened to a man younger than me whose bald head made him look ten years older. I only had one question at the end -- “How’d you get here?”
            He talked about being an intern for some powerful producer.
            I nodded. “Just like this.”
            He frowned. “Not really. We’re talking the big time here.” He mentioned a name that I’d heard of. “I was there for two years. One time I had to play a clown at this party. It was the boss’s kid’s bar mitzvah.”
            “A clown?”
            He forced a smile. He did have a face that would have been improved by greasepaint. If anything, he was the “angry clown.” He kept talking -- something about driving around in a midget car wearing a plastic nose and holding a trained monkey on a leash, but somehow it segued into “within three months I had a deal where the company got the first look at all my ideas. I also got the backing for this place.”
            This man got his big break in life by being a clown. I certainly didn’t mention my jury trial experience and editing the law school newspaper after that.
            The next day, after driving around Hollywood for a parking space, I began my internship. For the first time at a job, I didn’t have to fill out any government paperwork as I wasn’t being paid.
            The place felt like a fifteen ring circus with all the animals wearing ripped jeans and Armani shirts. I looked around. I was the oldest person in the room. No one talked to me.
            The clown pointed to four piles of scripts. He took a certain amount of glee pointing to the first pile -- “honorable mentions.” Apparently my job was to read all the honorable mentions of some national screenwriting contest. If I did well, I’d be promoted up to Quarterfinalists, Semifinalists, and then someday, I’d be directing my own films.
            The clown bluntly told me not to talk about my own scripts for a few months, “until we get to know you and feel comfortable with your work.”
            I sat on a desk of someone who was sick, the first day. When I finished a script, they handed me another. The clown was locked in his office, still angry.
             The next day, the owner of the desk came back. Before I could introduce myself, the clown pointed to another desk, of someone who was away at some “international film mart” or something like that.
            No one talked to me as they buzzed on about this party and that, and some tidbit about one of their friends getting written up in the trades. As they talked about some lawsuit, I was about to pipe in about law school, but they had already switched the subject back to the party.
            Reluctantly I turned my attention back to page seventeen of a “coming of age” script. There was something lower than a quarterfinalist and that was a “friend read,” which had been written by someone’s friend and was getting the most cursory of looks. Unless the script was Sunset Blvd, I figured I should reject everything. Before I could smirk, I realized that as a “friend hire,” well as a “friend of a friend hire,” my own scripts wouldn’t even make it to that pile yet.
            By page eighty-seven, I was long out of friendship with the “friend read.” I needed a bathroom break and nearly bumped into the clown on the way out. He said nothing; he had already forgotten my name.
            The next week, everyone came back from wherever they were, if this was a circus, they‘d run out of rings.  The clown pointed to the couch in front. “Just sit there today.”
            The light was bad and I could barely see the words “cut to” and “fade in.” I was now the guy who cleaned up after the elephant shit, yet bragged about “being in show business.”
            I wiped my eyes when suddenly I noticed a woman sit down in front of me. She wasn’t beautiful; she looked like a female version of me. The clown pretended to be the happy clown, shook her hand, and told her they’d be able to meet after he took a phone call and couldn’t wait to talk about her “concepts.” They knew each other from college or something.
            She fidgeted nervously after he left and closed the door. She was mouthing the words of her pitch, something about a supernatural legal thriller, but with a heart! How many times had I sat where she was sitting? How many times had my heart been broken just like hers was about to be?
            I smiled at her, and then got back into the “friend read.”
            She noticed me holding the script. “Is that yours?”
            “No, I work here. I’m reading the script as a favor for someone.”
            My jeans didn’t have rips in them, and with me looking older than the others, she must have figured that I was someone important. She smiled back.
            “What’s a nice girl like you doing pitching in a dump like this?”
            She laughed.  She opened up, talked about her life. She had gotten her idea for a legal thriller from being a paralegal in a big law firm downtown.
            Paralegal? This was too good of an opening.
            “I was a lawyer,” I said. And before I knew it I launched into the whole spiel.
            She was fascinated, impressed. She was about to hand me her car when the clown looked out from his glass office and saw me. He cursed, then put the important phone call on hold, and seemed to penetrate through the glass and appear right in front of us in a cloud of smoke.
            “Don’t talk to the writers!” he said with a snarl. “Never, never, never talk to the writers!”
            He pointed to a dark corner and a single metal chair. I nodded sheepishly at the woman as I got up. She averted her eyes.
            I could hear the other people in the room look up from their cell-phones for a second. They started laughing. One of them spoke into his cell-phone about the “stupid new intern.” He muttered something else, but I couldn’t hear it, then he laughed again, louder…
            I moved to the corner, and put down the script and just wrote “pass” on it. I felt bad for the “friend read” writer, but that quickly passed.  I was 37 years old.  I could handle not being a lawyer, perhaps not being a writer, but I certainly didn’t want to be a clown.
            I quit the next day.

Interview with an Intern

In honor of the new Vince Vaughn film, The Internship, here's an old story about my interview in Hollywood when I was at AFI. Unfortunately, I had to start at the bottom . . . If this ever became a film, I could see Vince Vaughn playing me!

            My absolute worst Hollywood job interview was at a small production company in the far reaches of NORTH Hollywood. The difference is more than geographical. North Hollywood might as well be North Dakota with better weather. In the Hollywood Reporter, the production company advertised the position as “Your big break into Hollywood.” Well, I really needed a big break at the time, so I faxed in a resume and was delighted to get an interview.  I had seen it all and heard it all already and I hadn’t even graduated from Film School.
            When I arrived at a cramped space in the valley, they made me wait. The big boss hurried out, and left me with his intern who was in his sophomore year at Cal-State Northridge. The kid looked barely old enough to shave and wore a t-shirt for either a film or a band that I had never heard of. He stared at my resume dumbfounded, or perhaps just dumb.
            “Dude, you should be interviewing me,” he said after scanning the third line of “experience.”
            He had a list of scribbled questions from his boss, and it looked like he could barely read the writing either. Considering my luck with interviews lately, interviewing myself didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
            “OK,” I said. “Your first question is why would someone with my qualifications apply for a job like this?”
            The kid stared at his scribbled notes. It was like I was a psychic.
            “How did you know I was supposed to ask that?”
            I shrugged. “The answer to your question is that I want to change careers and I know that you have to start at the bottom.”
            He smiled.
            “Let’s see,” I said. “Your next question is probably whether I’d be willing to do a lot of menial tasks to learn about the industry. Well, the answer to that is yes. As I said I know I have to start at the bottom.”
            Good answer.
            We spent a few more minutes together. And I hit all of questions, although not necessarily in order.
            He said he’d get back to me. Nothing for a week.
            I called and left a message. Another week, nothing. I didn‘t have to be a psychic to know what that meant. Interviewing myself was one thing, but how could I not return my own phone call?