3 Reasons Why Man Cannot Live on Netflix Alone

Well, this man, anyway.


Netflix is the rare technological advancement that’s totally affordable but I haven’t adopted yet. For the longest time it was because I had no device to deliver Netflix to my TV—my gaming days ended way back at the PS1 (which, not to get on a tangent, but I’m very grateful for. As if writers don’t procrastinate enough, I can’t imagine having video games calling my name from the other room while I’m trying to get some writing done). Then, last Christmas I got a Chromecast, and suddenly Netflix re-entered the picture as an actual, viable option for our TV/movie viewing needs.

I’ve talked to people I know, and read the comments/opinions of people I don’t know on the internet, and there seems to be a resounding cry of “Screw the cable companies! Get Netflix and cancel your service provider! Netflix is all you need!”


I agree with the first half of that statement—seriously, screw cable companies. Satellite providers may be only marginally better, and that depends just on your personal experience with whatever company you use, but I hate cable companies. I mean, like, hate-hate. They aren’t regulated for the most part, and it’s basically like the wild west when it comes to their business practices.

But the second part…get Netflix and cancel my paid TV service altogether? I don’t think I can do that. Why? Funny you should ask.

1. Limited choices

From what little I know about Netflix’s menu of programming, TV shows are pretty easy to find—the vast majority of shows are available to binge watch at your leisure. Still, I’m sure with my luck there would be something I watch not on there. Then there’s the issue of movies. I don’t watch movies all the time, but I like having a wide variety to pick from, which from what I can gather about Netflix, is not necessarily the case. They are constantly working to get better, newer movies on their format faster, but their choices are a little limited for the time being. Again, this is just as I (an admitted Netflix ignoramus) understand it.

2. HBO

HBO holds a special place in my heart. Sure, they show movies. Yes, they have boxing. But how HBO got their hooks in me and kept them in is with their original programming. I’m thinking back as far as I can, and the oldest shows I remember watching are Tales from the Crypt, Kids in the Hall and Dream On. Then I got hooked on OZ, followed by the big daddy, still my favorite show of all time, The Sopranos (R.I.P. James Gandolfini—still missed). Since then, HBO has pretty much kept their momentum, with a few bumps in the road of course, with Six Feet Under, The Wire, and Big Love, and currently with True Blood, Game of Thrones, and True Detective.

Time is a flat circle.

Time is a flat circle.

And that’s just the scripted shows.

HBO just struck a deal with Amazon (another alternate TV viewing option) to stream their shows, but only shows that are at least 3 years old. Right now my wife and I are getting ready to watch the final season of True Blood (are they really going to let Tara survive the entire series?), then a cool-looking new show called The Leftovers starts next week, so we’ll be checking that out, and I just started getting into Veep and Silicon Valley. My point is, I’m in too deep.


Damn you, HBO…


Which brings me to…

3. I’m a creature of habit.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning. Once I’m done with this and any other writing I’m working on, I’ll go sit in front of the TV and see what’s on. I’ll look through the onscreen guide, flip to something I’ve never heard of or want to see what it is—I’ll channel surf. That’s what I do, and I can’t imagine not doing it with Netflix.

Last night I found myself watching some show called The Pool Master, about some British guy who was hired to build a dream pool for this (evidently filthy stinkin’ rich) couple in Kentucky. They wanted this dramatic pool built on the side of a cliff, deep enough to high dive off rocks—to cliff dive into their pool, basically—that would have a water feature and a fire pit, etc. It was a massive undertaking as the Brit had to figure out the logistics of digging out the hole for the pool, moving the enormous stones he wanted to use to construct their cliff diving thingie, and it was really interesting…for about ten minutes.

I love doing that kind of thing. Seeing something on and going, what the hell is that? And changing the channel to see just what the hell it is. I know if I cancelled my TV service I could still get a handful of basic channels (the networks) with an antenna, but I’ve been down that road during especially bad storms that take out the satellite signal, and living off antenna is not something I want to do again. Homo sapiens have evolved this far, I’m not going to take a giant leap backwards and watch TV off an antenna like some animal. That’s a slippery slope—where does it end, doing away with my remote and getting up every time I want to change the channel?

I know some of you remember...

I know some of you remember…

Despite all my ramblings, I’ll probably end up getting Netflix sooner rather than later. I think it’s actually a really cool service that would make a nice addition to my TV viewing experience. But to me, that’s all would be: an addition; an enhancement to what I already have. I’m not ready now, and may never be in the future, to cut myself off completely from the pay TV lifeline I’ve been weaned on for so long.

I’m curious what anyone can tell me about Netflix—are you happy with it? Do you find its choices limiting? Have you dropped cable/satellite altogether?



Could True Detective Be the Future of Television? And A Word About Philip Seymour Hoffman

I love TV. I really do. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between books and film as opposed to television among a lot of people. TV has always been looked down on a bit, seen as appealing to the lowest common denominator by putting out broader, more simplistic programming.

In a recent interview, Billy Bob Thornton said he feels that the tides have turned in that regard, and television is now the smarter, more sophisticated medium (you may be asking yourself Who gives a crap what Billy Bob Thornton thinks? and I couldn’t blame you, but that’s beside the point). In recent years TV shows have consistently raised the bar, starting in my opinion with The Sopranos, to the point that now some of the best stories being told are on the small (but ever growing in physical size) screen.

In a way, it seems like it should’ve been that way all along. Movies are forced to tell you a story in two—or in Martin Scorcese’s case, three—hours, whereas a TV show can take its time, pacing the story however they want; the problem is they often drag it out for far too long.


Enter True Detective, HBO’s new anthology series starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as a pair of mismatched detectives trying to solve the case of a serial killer in 1990’s Louisiana, and being interrogated about the case in the present day. That description kind of makes it sound like some terrible stoner buddy cop movie, but I assure you it’s anything but. The tension that builds between the two due to their differing world views is palpable. The acting and writing is excellent, the direction and cinematography are top notch, and it totally reminds me of the feeling I used to get watching The Sopranos—that I was watching something special, not just any old TV show.

What makes True Detective even more unique is the anthology format: while the series is likely to be picked up for a second season, it’s already been set in stone that the current storyline with Harrelson and McConaughey will be wrapped up in this season’s eight episodes. When/if the series returns for season two, it will follow a similar format but have new lead actors solving a new mystery, in the vein of FX’s American Horror Story.

If I had the power to control anything in the world of television, I’d like to see the anthology make a comeback in a big, big way. When you think about it, it seems like a win-win for everyone involved: the networks wouldn’t necessarily have to pay for full 22 episode seasons, as anthologies can be as few or as many episodes as its creators want. Which is good, since paying bigger name actors and directors would likely mean a bigger budget. Also, from the actors and directors point of view, they can work on a quality project but not be locked down for several months out of the year, leaving them open for movie projects or sunbathing in the south of France, or whatever it is actors do when they’re not working.

There was a horror anthology on Showtime a few years ago called Masters of Horror (2005-2007) which, fittingly, showcased legendary horror directors behind the camera for one episode of the show apiece. My favorite episode of the series was titled Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, directed by Don Coscarelli of Phantasm fame and adapted from the short story by master of horror in his own right Joe Lansdale, but I digress. My point was that getting big names (be they actors or directors) for shorter commitments (and with definitive endings to the stories in sight) can benefit everyone.

Networks just love dragging shows out past their prime; it’s disappointing. My DVR is like a TV graveyard for once-promising shows that my wife and I lost interest in. Falling Skies. Revolution. Under the Dome. Even The Walking Dead, the one I would’ve thought I’d watch until the final frame. Having no end in sight means they have to stretch the shows to the point that I just don’t care about them anymore. But I can tell you this: I will be watching every episode of True Detective, and savoring every moment of it.

PS—I type this on Sunday afternoon, a few hours after hearing the news of the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. There isn’t really anything I can say about him that someone else hasn’t already said; he really was a brilliant actor, and I never saw him in anything where he wasn’t “on,” as they say. But rather than lament on the shocking loss, I’ll recommend one of his movies.

Everyone is mentioning Capote, for which he won the Oscar, as well as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master, and of course Hunger Games. But there’s one that has flown inexplicably under the radar ever since its release: Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) is an excellent thriller starring Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers who aren’t as smart as they think, and find out just how incompetent they really are when they try to pull off a heist of their parents’ jewelry store and botch it something awful, with heartbreaking consequences. It costars Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney, and also happens to be the final film from legendary director Sidney Lumet, who went out on an extraordinarily high note with this film. Give it a watch and I’ll bet you like it. It’s a tragic reminder of yet another talented actor gone too soon.


The Bechdel Test: I Passed and I Didn’t Even Study

I recently became aware of a sort of litmus test for movies, which I feel also relates to writing and storytelling in general. It’s called The Bechdel Test, the origins of which go back to a comic created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985. From the site Bechdeltest.com:

The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria:

(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.


Sounds pretty simple, right?

Yet despite its simple construct many, many movies fail to meet the criteria. That piqued my interest, so I decided to take a look at my own work to see how I fare.

Of the four longer projects I’ve either completed or am working on (novels/novellas), two pass and two don’t. Is that good? Should I alter the ones that don’t meet the criteria?

I understand the point of the test—to put a spotlight on gender (in)equality in moviemaking. Which makes sense, since most big budget Hollywood movies are produced by a group of old, rich, white men, and the movies they put out are not always a true representation of the moviegoing public. The publishing industry is a different beast altogether, what with the multitude of indie and genre specific publishers in the business, but that doesn’t change what became my ultimate question: whether they pass the Bechdel Test or not, are my stories relatable?

Sometimes a story just can’t have every demographic present. The Pass the Remote blog just discussed the Bechdel Test, and presented a lot of examples of movies that do and don’t cut the mustard and for what reason. As I thought about it, I realized one of my wife’s favorite movies (and mine too), The Shawshank Redemption, fails miserably. I don’t think there’s a female in the whole movie, other than a few mentions of Andy Dufresne’s wife. That doesn’t take anything away from it of make it any less of a movie (or book, as I’m sure most of you know it’s based on the novella by Stephen King).

Still, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to alter my story simply to pass this unofficial test for gender bias, I do consciously think about gender and ethnicity when I’m dreaming up a story. There’s even a version of the Bechdel that changes the focus from women to people of color—unfortunately none of my work passes that test. I want to have characters from all walks of life, but I don’t want any of them to be caricatures or stereotypes, and I don’t want to throw in characters who are flat or one dimensional just to be able to claim diversity.

One of my current works in progress features several hispanic characters, for two reasons. 1) Necessity, since the first half of the story takes place in a small town in Mexico, and 2) I have been surrounded by Latinos and their culture my whole life and am comfortable creating Hispanic characters that are realistic and three dimensional (or at least as realistic and three dimensional as any of my other characters).

My newest work in progress has an African-American character in it, my first. I did originally conceive the character as a white guy, but all the other principle characters (who am I kidding, every other character in the book) were white, and it just seemed like that was A) boring, and B) unrealistic. So I made the change, and I’m glad I did. It brings a different dynamic to the four main characters (homicide detectives) and makes the story more interesting. What I realized as I began writing this post was that I made the change because I thought it would make the story better, not because it would diversify the make up of the characters.

Now I want to hear what you guys think. As a writer, a reader, a watcher of TV and movies—how much do you think about this stuff? Will you watch/read something even if it leans one way or the other in terms of it gender and ethnic make up? Would you consider adding more diverse characters to your own story for diversity’s sake or do you trust your instincts and let it fly as it is?

Golden Globes Picks and A Few Predictions


I have a somewhat strange fascination with awards shows (except music awards—more on that as we get closer to the Grammys). Especially, but not limited to, The Oscars and The Golden Globes. And while The Oscars are clearly the more prestigious of the two, there’s no denying The Golden Globes are a heck of a lot more fun.

For one, booze is in ample supply, and while most of the attendees manage to keep themselves in line, there’s generally a much looser atmosphere than at other stuffy awards shows. Acceptance speeches tend to be a little more off the cuff, and everyone appears to actually be enjoying themselves.

It’s also the only major awards show (unless you count the SAG Awards) that pairs both Movies and Television. That allows for a lot more interesting combinations, both in terms of presenters and who you might see mingling in the crowd or on the red carpet. The Oscars will always hold a special place in my heart (which I’ll tell you all about as we get closer to the show), but if I had to choose one awards show I’d actually want to attend, I think The Globes would win hands down.

With that, I’m going to offer up a few predictions for the telecast Sunday, January 12, 8ET/5PT, as well as my picks in the major categories. Some will be fairly educated guesses while others will be the equivalent of pinning the tail on the donkey. Okay, away we go!

Prediction: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will make me (and probably you) laugh.


While I love both women just fine on their own, together they really are more than the sum of their parts. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, or honey and mustard, or mayonnaise and sriracha (if you haven’t tried that last one, you’re only hurting yourself). Their timing is impeccable, and they have one of the most important qualities a comedian can have: fearlessness. They will make themselves the butt of the joke at the drop of a hat if it’ll get a laugh, and I’m as excited for whatever they have planned as I am for the a lot of the awards themselves.

Prediction: An acceptance speech I want to hear will be played off while one I don’t care about will be allowed to ramble on ad nauseam.

It never fails. The show’s producers, intent on keeping the show on time, jump the gun and cue the orchestra during an especially amusing or emotional acceptance speech early in the show, while a big star is allowed to ramble on incoherently after the show is already behind schedule.

Prediction: Some of the winners will piss me off.

There are always nominees I root for more than others; that’s only natural. But I have a confession to make—sometimes I’ll start actively rooting against a certain nominee. Petty and childish? Afraid so. Part of the fun? Absolutely. I don’t necessarily have anything against any of the nominees, I just pull so hard for some of them that I get a little caught up in it all.

Prediction: I’ll be upset when I find out someone I was a fan of died during the “In Memoriam” segment.

It happens every year; usually it’s a character actor whose name I don’t know but whose face I recognize instantly. Sometimes it’s a director or even a producer I may know by name only. It usually manifests itself in a gasp of, “Oh no, he/she died? How sad.” While I’m on the topic of the In Memoriam pieces, I also have a problem with applause during the segment. Some of the shows have put a stop to this, and The Globes may be one of the ones that asks the audience to remain silent, but it bothers me when one person’s death is deemed sadder or more important than someone else’s.

Prediction: The show will run out of steam in the last hour (or two).

It’s hard for them not to, honestly. Giving out awards for three hours is boring. There’s always a lull somewhere around the halfway point that lasts until the final few awards. With any luck Amy and Tina have something planned to kickstart the show when it starts to drag, keeping the show’s momentum going to the final Globe being given out.

Okay, on to the awards. I started to give a brief explanation as to my reasoning for picking what I did, but to be honest, does it really matter? Trying to figure out who the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is going to give globes to is like trying to figure out how Nicolas Cage picks his roles; that being said, some of these I feel are pretty good guesses while others are total shots in the dark. On to the list of nominees; my picks are the ones in bold.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

American Hustle
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet, Labor Day

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Julia Delpy, Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Spike Jonze ,Her
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle

Best Foreign-Language Film

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (France)
The Great Beauty 
The Hunt 
The Past 
The Wind Rises 

Best Animated Feature Film

The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Best Original Song, Motion Picture

“Atlas,” The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
“Let It Go,” Frozen
“Ordinary Love,” Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Please, Mr. Kennedy,” Inside Llewyn Davis
“Sweeter Than Fiction,” One Chance

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alex Ebert, All Is Love
Alex Eves, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

Best TV Movie or Miniseries

American Horror Story: Coven
Behind the Candelabra
Dancing on the Edge
Top of the Lake
The White Queen

Best TV Series, Drama

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Masters of Sex

Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical

The Big Bang Theory
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
James Spader, The Blacklist

Best Actor, TV Series Comedy

Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy

Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie

Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luther
Al Pacino, Phil Spector

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie

Helena Bonham Cater, Burton & Taylor
Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie

Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Rob Lowe, Behind the Candelabra
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Corey Stoll, House of Cards
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie

Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing on the Edge
Janet McTeer, The White Queen
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville
Monica Potter, Parenthood
Sofía Vergara, Modern Family

Cecile B. DeMille Award
Woody Allen     

There’s a small chance I may (may) live tweet the awards, so if you don’t already, follow me on Twitter via the button to your right and follow along during the show. Or I may not end up live tweeting, in which case I’ve just tricked you into following me.

Are you making picks? Play along! Disagree with any of my picks? Let me know in the comments below, and enjoy the show!

The Three Things That Shaped Me Into the Horror-Loving Weirdo I Am

Going back as far as I can remember (which is probably around the age of 8 or 10), I’ve always loved the dark side of things. The horrific. The violent. The macabre. By the time I was thirteen, I was renting slasher movies at the video store every weekend, reading the scariest books I could find, and watching any horror movie I came across on TV.

With October almost over and All Hallow’s Eve practically here, I realized I hadn’t written anything about Halloween or my love of all things frightful. I contemplated some sort of Top Horror Movies list, but to be honest, as much as I love horror there are tons of people out there who take it a lot more seriously than I do. People with encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every horror flick released since Noferatu – that sort of thing. I’m not going to insult a true horror fanatic’s intelligence by ranking horror movies when I haven’t even seen The Conjuring yet.

So I started thinking, and a question popped in my head: if I was watching and reading all this crazy stuff so young, when did it all begin? What turned me into such a little gore-obsessed freak by the seventh grade? I began to think back, and I realized if I really had to pinpoint the origins of my love for the sick and twisted it could be traced back to three things.

1. Pet Sematary – Stephen King (1983)


It will probably come as a surprise to absolutely no one that one of my first forays into horror was via Mr. King. It wasn’t the first King book I read (that would be The Dead Zone), and it wasn’t the first horror book I read (that was Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, although I don’t remember a thing about it), but it had the biggest impact on my young, impressionable brain. I believe I was around 10 when I was given the book as a gift, and between the gore, the reincarnations, and the terror of those that have come back to life being a little ‘off’, the book captivated me like nothing I had read before it and set me on a very dark path, entertainment-wise.

2. Elvira’s Movie Macabre – KHJ-TV Channel 9, Los Angeles (1981-1986)


Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I don’t know if everyone reading this will know who Elvira is/was, but in L.A. in the early eighties she was a freakin’ rock star. I remember tuning in to her show every weekend and being treated to schlocky B-horror classics, as well as some not-so-classics. I was but a tiny tot, so the memory is faded at best, but the standouts I remember were The Man with Two Heads, Crucible of Terror, Blacula and especially The Incredible Melting Man. Elvira would make cheesy jokes and double entendres throughout the movie, bringing me my first glimpse of the combination of horror and comedy – another big part of what makes me, well, me.

My dad did not share my love of horror, but he would watch Elvira with me every weekend. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized that he watched for a couple of obvious reasons.


3. Scanners – Directed by David Cronenberg (1981)


The first “serious” horror movie I remember watching (even though it’s largely part sci-fi as well). Although I would later immerse myself in all things Voorhees, Krueger, and Myers in my teens (not to mention Pinhead), before all that there was Scanners.

I haven’t re-watched the movie in ages, and to be honest I had to look it up on imdb to remind myself exactly what it was about – a group of extremely powerful psychics are able to control minds and inflict bodily harm on people at will, and they must be stopped from reaching their goal of complete global domination. But really, none of that mattered when I was a ten year old boy excited to be watching his first real, grown-up scary movie. What it really all boiled down to was one scene that burned into my brain like a smoking-hot branding iron.

A man’s head explodes right before your very eyes. There’s no cut away to blood splattering on the wall then back to the bloody stump, there’s no little spray like when someone gets shot in the movies. His head blew up into a million little pieces and it left me with my jaw hanging open and changed me forever. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I re-watched the short clip of the exploding head before writing this, and I have to say after all these years the effect holds up incredibly well. As a young boy just getting his feet wet in the pool of horror and gore, Scanners took me and threw me in the deep end head first.

Some might think it’s odd that I enjoyed such gruesome stuff at such a young age, and some may find the fact that my parents would let me watch and read things with such graphic content a little troubling, but I turned out okay (heh heh, right? I’m okay, right?).

If you want to see the cranial carnage in question, take a deep breath and watch the 11 second clip by clicking here.

So, there you have it. The three things that set me down the path of evil, darkness, and…more evil. Writing this got me wondering: what would you point to in your childhood that set you on your path, whatever that path is? No matter what you do, for most of us one (or in some cases several) things helped shape us to go in the direction we headed. What are yours?

Have a great Halloween everyone, and since I can’t help myself: for anyone out there who doesn’t watch a lot of horror that is wanting to scare themselves silly, I would recommend turning off all the lights and watching The Descent (2005), directed by Neil Marshall, preferably with the original UK ending. Enjoy!


What Pro Wrestling Taught Me About Character Development


Starting when I was around 12, I loved Saturday nights. My parents would let me stay up late to watch my favorite show: Saturday Night Live. I don’t remember the exact year I got hooked, but it was during the Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo/Billy Crystal days. But some Saturday nights ended in disappointment. I would be in front of the TV at 11:30, waiting for the show to start, when I would hear the ring! ring! ring! of a bell. That would be followed by the loud, obnoxious voices of Vince McMahon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura and I would realize that SNL wouldn’t be seen that night, having been replaced by the World Wrestling Federation’s presentation of  Saturday Night’s Main Event. I would see these idiots parade around in their tights, acting a fool, and I would shut off the TV in disgust. Even though I had been granted a later bedtime I still just stomped off to bed. I hated wrestling.

People change.

Years later, I became friends with a guy who loved pro wrestling. I still couldn’t take it seriously, but I would watch it to try and see what he got out of it. I mean, he knew it was fake (as do more wrestling fans than you might think), so I just couldn’t figure out why he liked it. Long story short, over time it started to grow on me. For a period of maybe five years, I became consumed with pro wrestling. I don’t watch it very much anymore, but I still have an affinity for it that surprises a lot of people when they get to know me. (Fun fact: I actually went to a pro wrestling school and worked out once. Once. But that’s a blog post in and of itself.)

One thing that becomes apparent when you watch wrestling is that it can get very repetitive. The storylines repeat themselves over and over with different wrestlers. During the time I was watching it a lot they found interesting ways to tweak the stories to update it for a new generation, but it was still basically the same story – good vs. evil.

A lot of times, what I found more interesting than the storyline itself was who was in the role of the good guy and bad guy (the ‘babyface’ and the ‘heel,’ if you’re interested in wrestlingese). The reason was, with a few exceptions, wrestlers would always change sides at some point. A guy could only be on one side or the other for so long before people got bored with him (or his character just didn’t work) and the powers that be would decide to ‘turn’ him.

Whenever a wrestler turned one way or the other, they’d usually get the chance to explain themselves. A few minutes either in the ring or backstage to give their side of the story-their motivation for the switch. Going from heel to babyface was interesting, but as someone who naturally rooted for the bad guy I lived for the heel turn. And if you’re still with me, don’t worry, I’m getting to my point. Those few minutes when a wrestler held the microphone could make or break their new direction. If they weren’t believable (in a pro wrestling sense of the word), the fans wouldn’t really get behind it. But if their promo made sense, the turn could propel them into bigger and better storylines, which made for more dramatic matches and payoffs. And when it came to promos and heel turns, one man stands head and shoulders above the rest.


Mick Foley, aka Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love. This guy is quite the case of not judging a book by its cover-he’s one of the smartest, funniest, most charming guys you can imagine, even though he looks like someone who’s never heard the cracking spine of a book opening. The absolute insanity he subjected himself to in and out of the ring might also make you question his intelligence. On the mic, however, he was peerless.

In his book, Have A Nice Day, he describes how he prepared for promos explaining his various turns. He said that he thought for days, if not weeks, about why his character would turn on his other wrestlers and the fans; his motivation. He said that once he understood why his character would do theses things in his head, then he could go out and deliver a convincing, emotional promo that would engage the fans. And he did just that each and every time.

I was reminded of this as I sat blankly staring at my empty computer screen the past few days. Last week I enthusiastically announced I was going to start writing the continuation of the story I had thought was already done, and I thought I’d start in a day or two. Well, now it’s been over a week and I still haven’t started. Before I began, I started to think about my new protagonist and her relationship with the prior one (they are exes). How would they have met, how long would they have been together before calling it quits, that sort of thing. I realized I needed to know those things before I felt ready to tell the rest of the story.

I can’t remember where I read it, but at some point in the past year or so I read some advice for getting to know your characters – interview them. Ask them questions and just let them talk, tell you about themselves. It seemed a little silly at the time, but here we are all this time later, and what do you suppose I’ve been doing? I decided to let my characters tell me how long they were together, how they met, when they decided to split, everything.

Now that I feel like I understand who my new protagonist is, I think I’m ready to tell her story. Here goes nothing.

How about you? Have you ever done anything to get inside your character’s head? How do you prepare to tell their story?

Chocolate Covered Bacon – Pop Culture’s Guilty Pleasures

I was reading something in a magazine about guilty pleasures the other day, and saw things that I liked mentioned. Not things I liked ironically, or things I liked that I know are bad, but things I really liked. It got me thinking…who defines what a guilty pleasure is? If it makes you happy it can’t be that bad, I mean — oh my God, I just quoted Sheryl Crow. You can all email me as to whether you’d rather slap me in the face or kick me in the ass.

Anyway, the point is I don’t feel that guilty about things I like, pop culture-wise. However, the more I thought the more I realized there are some things I enjoy in the privacy of my own home that I might be embarrassed to get caught enjoying in public. And so today, dear readers, I have some confessions to make.

Movies – At first, I had a hard time thinking of a specific movie that is a guilty pleasure for me. It’s more a genre than a certain movie : as I’ve discussed before, I love horror movies.  Even the crappy ones. I feel like a little kid bargaining for a later bedtime when my wife tells me to turn it from the stupid slasher flick I’ve turned on halfway through, and I beg, ‘C’mon, I just wanna see one death scene!’

I also have a soft spot for really stupid comedies, but I don’t feel all that guilty about those.

But then I did think of one particular movie, and I can’t believe I’m admitting it. One of my wife’s favorite chick flicks is the movie Return to Me, starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. The plot is a little farfetched. It’s not incredibly funny, but it has some funny parts. It’s not terribly mushy, but it does start to get a little gushy toward the end. But it’s actually a very sweet movie, it has some of the gruffest old bastards you can imagine in warm supporting roles (Carroll O’Connor, Robert Loggia, and William Bronder), and it was written and directed by one of the costars, the terribly underrated Bonnie Hunt.


I used to put on an insufferable face when my wife would flip to it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. After seeing parts of it, I realized it really wasn’t as bad as a lot of the chick flicks out there. One year, I bought it for her on DVD. To this day, she thinks I’m playing games on my iPad when it’s on, but that’s just for show. If your wanting to feel in touch with your sensitive side, you could do worse.

Plus, the more she thinks I’m letting her watch it against my will, the more she’ll let me watch Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

TV – This one was a no-brainer. Hell’s Kitchen.


My wife and I love cooking shows. We watch Food Network and Cooking Channel all the time, and sometimes it feels like we’re just killing time between seasons of Top Chef. But Hell’s Kitchen is the worst, and I eat it up.

It has idiots, losers, smartasses, and Gordon Ramsay tearing them all a new orifice. It’s trash TV, but I can’t help it. It’s like crack coming over the airwaves; I just can’t wait for my next hit.

Music – This one is the hardest for me to admit. Even though I like nearly every single type of music, I really despised ’80’s glam rock, aka ‘Butt Rock’. The catch was, I had to suffer through that crap for the chance to possibly hear or see the harder stuff I really liked on the radio or MTV (ie., Metallica, Slayer, Ministry, Helmet). So, although I can’t stand most of it, I’m quite familiar with that coke-laced, Sunset Strip big-hair crap.

But one song broke through.

Still of the Night, by Whitesnake. Now, I never minded seeing Whitesnake on MTV, but that’s a completely different story, as a lot of guys my age will probably understand.


By and large, though, I didn’t like their music. Except for Still of the Night. To this day, if that song comes on while I’m in the car the radio gets blasted and I unrepentantly rock the hell out. If anyone caught me listening to it, I’d be mortified. But I can’t help it. It’s a good song, dammit.

I’m curious if anyone else has the gumption to share their guilty pleasures – by all means, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, in doing a little research before I started writing this I found that Still of the Night is only $0.69 on iTunes. My wife is going to kill me.