The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir [Netflix, 2014]

One of my favorite things is discovering a band that is already established, and you get to immerse yourself in their entire catalog, seeing the choices they made from one album to the next, etc. It’s been a while since there’s been a band I dove headlong into like that, but here I am with a band that can be somewhat divisive, but also a band you’ve certainly heard of: Grateful Dead.

I can’t honestly say I ever disliked the Grateful Dead, I just dismissed them as a drug band for hippies and never really gave them a chance. I knew Truckin’ and Casey Jones from the radio growing up, and that was about it. Then, it was with great surprise that I found out that my first wife’s favorite band was, in fact, the Dead. I listened to them a little, and realized they had some pretty good songs, but overall they just didn’t quite do it for me. To make a long story short, their music chipped away at me over the years, and now I’m in the middle of a Grateful Dead-fueled obsession. I’ve also decided to learn more about the guitarist who isn’t Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir. So when I found out there was a documentary on Netflix about Weir, I was all over it.

Talk about an interesting life! Weir recounts the early days, hanging out at the local music shop as a teenager and meeting Jerry Garcia, who at the time was known around town as sort of a hotshot banjo player. They hit it off immediately and formed a band. After a couple of evolutionary steps, they settled on the name Grateful Dead and started to develop a psychedelic rock sound, a change of pace from the more folksy jug band they initially started.

The film walks through The Dead’s career in fairly broad strokes, as it is really for the more casual fan, or the non-fan who knows nothing about the band. And while this is certainly not a “warts and all” documentary, they do address things that could’ve been left unspoken: the copious amounts of drugs they took in the early days; Weir’s voracious sexual appetite on the road (and how much the rest of the band appreciated him attracting women to the group); the seeming disdain Weir had for some of the fans they amassed in the late 80s after their song Touch of Grey made it onto the charts; and Garcia’s ailing health due to morbid obesity and heroin use. In fact, on that last topic, the film grows unexpectedly sad—seeing fans mourn Garcia’s death, one of Jerry’s daughters who clearly still misses her dad, and Weir himself, who said after a brief mourning period he went back out on the road with his band Ratdog, in part because if Garcia found out he was moping around at home and not out playing music, “he’d be furious.”

The film does end on a heartwarming note, however, as the adopted Weir locates his biological parents and forms a friendship with his father. I’m quite the sucker for music documentaries, so it would go without saying that I enjoyed The Other One, but as an ever-emerging Deadhead, it was a nice way to get a brief history of a band that was once described as, “not the best at what they do, but they’re the only ones who do what they do.”

What’s the Big Idea?

A quick aside before I get to the topic at hand: It’s cold, y’all. I’m aware that the majority of the country is facing unprecedented low temperatures this week, so it’s not like I’m telling you something you don’t already know, but just damn. As I sit typing this, it’s -14° outside with a wind chill of -24°. Even though I’ve lived in the Midwest over a decade, I’m a born-and-bred Southern Californian, I’m not equipped to handle weather this cold! But seriously, if your teeth are chattering too, hang in there.

A while back I had an idea. I either woke up with it, or had it as I was falling asleep, I can’t remember which. But as soon as it struck me, I thought “Wow, that’s either really good or total garbage.” I was consumed with this idea for at least two weeks, researching it, thinking it through, the like. It’s now sitting on deck as my next new rough draft once I finish edits on my novel (which I’m hoping to be in the next week or two, finally!). Still, there’s a chance it’ll be a stinker. So you can imagine how much encouragement I found in the following exchange between two writers on Twitter:

I’ve had some wild ideas before, or at least I thought they were wild, but when you’re gaining your footing as a writer and building your confidence, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. But now I’ve been writing for longer than I care to admit (considering the amount of success I’ve had), and I feel like I know a good idea when I hear it. So when I thought of this story, I thought maybe I had fallen off the deep end (seriously, this idea will prove me to be either a genius or an idiot). Seeing that more established authors have the same doubts was pretty comforting.

So that got me to wondering: how many of you have had ideas like that? Where you wonder if it’s worth pursuing, but if it is, it could be amazing? Have you ever disregarded an idea because you thought it was just too ridiculous? If so, what was it? One thing I’ve learned is that there’s a crowd out there for pretty much everything. If an idea strikes me and I can’t stop thinking about it (as was the case with this new Great Idea), I have to pursue it or it will eat at me from the inside. And without getting off on a tangent, I’m already making up for lost time as it is, I’m not going to worry too much about silly little things like “what if no one reads it?”. To quote Frank Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “I don’t know how many years on this Earth I got left. I’m gonna get real weird with it.”

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet [Apple TV+, 2020]

Here we go again, so let me say: I apologize to anyone who doesn’t have Apple TV+, for talking about a show you can’t watch. I did it a while back with the disarming optimism of Ted Lasso, and I’m back to talk about a different comedy with at least one familiar face: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.

Created by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day (both of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and Megan Ganz (brilliant writer for more great comedies than I can list), Mythic Quest stars McElhenney as Ian Grimm (pronounced “eye-an”), the creative visionary behind the titular online role playing game and his staff of outcasts and oddballs as they prepare to launch an expansion to the game, called Raven’s Banquet. So it’s a quirky workplace comedy, and a pretty good one, but it shows signs of becoming so much more.

Now, I’ll admit that I think the show was really finding its footing as it went along, and its second season could be absolutely hilarious. This show has some amazing characters with a ton of potential for big laughs. Highlights from the first season include Sue, the perpetually happy head of Customer Relations, who is practically locked in her basement office and read the thousands of angry emails sent to the company every day, and Jo, the Midwestern-bred conservative who is hired as an assistant to Executive Producer David, but in actuality lives and breathes to serve Ian, to an alarming degree.

But like I said, there are glimpses of what this show can grow to be, and that’s why I finished the season. Two glimpses in particular showed me how this show might hit that sweet spot of being a great comedy with heart and feeling, too.

The first is Episode Five, a standalone episode that features none of the regular cast. Titled A Dark Quiet Death, the episode follows the life cycle of a popular ’90s video game, and along with it the life cycle of its creators’ relationship. It has its lightly comic moments but it’s not a comedic episode by any stretch. It’s actually a touching, rather sad piece of storytelling.

The second is a bonus episode that came out after the season finale, once the pandemic had taken hold of the country. While the majority of the episode is fairly clever and funny, filled with Zoom-based humor, it ends with a reveal that shows that two of its characters are far more three dimensional than they seem.

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a pretty good show, but it has the potential to be really great, and that’s pretty exciting.

Hating What You Love

Netflix alert: There’s a highly entertaining limited series out now, called Pretend It’s a City. It features author/humorist Fran Lebowitz chatting with Martin Scorcese, giving her opinions on an array of topics. If you’re not familiar with her, Lebowitz is incredibly smart and almost unbelievably funny. The show is broken into half hour episodes so it’s easy to digest, though it’s equally easy to binge if you choose.

Of special interest to fellow artists, I would recommend Episode Two, titled ‘Cultural Affairs’. In it, Fran espouses about art, music, talent, and has an interesting conversation with Spike Lee about the difference between an athlete and an artist. One part especially rang true for me, however—when she mentions her disdain for the very thing that gave her the career she’s had: writing.

“I loved to write, until the very first time I got an assignment to write for money. And then I hated to write.”

“I’ve only known one really good writer in my life who loved to write. Most people who love to write are horrible writers.”

I can’t speak to the first part, as I’ve never actually had a paid writing assignment. That second quote though…that hits home. Because as much as I love writing, and for all the time I spend poring over the written word, I actually kind of hate it. I’ve never known any other artform that artists seem to love and hate in equal measure. It’s not just me, either. Plenty of writers have spoken about how they loathe what they love. While watching Pretend It’s a City, I laughed at Lebowitz’s quote and told my wife how true it was, so she asked the question: “Then why do you do it?”

I had to think for a second, but this is what I came up with: It’s almost like a compulsion. I have these stories in my head that I have to get out, because to keep them solely in my head seems kind of pointless. I suppose there may be an odd sense of narcissism in believing they’re good enough that other people would care enough to read them, but I have to get them out. I quit writing once for a few years, then realized I hadn’t felt complete since I stopped. Then about a year and a half or two years ago, I almost quit again. That was when I decided once and for all that I would spend the rest of my life writing stories. Whether they get published or not, I need them out of my head to make room for other things, like why I walked into the kitchen, or what errands I need to run when I get home from work.

My dearly departed friend Michael Louis Calvillo (check out his incredible books here) was one of the first people I heard describe writing like that. At the time, I couldn’t really relate. Now, however, I totally understand. It’s almost like an itch that needs scratched or you’ll go insane.

So, fellow writers…what about you? Do you love writing? Hate it? Both? If you hate it, why do you do it? Is it an itch you have to scratch?

What’s in a Name?

I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. Names of fictional people, specifically. I typically put a great deal of thought into what I name the characters in my stuff. My (hopefully) soon-to-be-published novel, The End of Jimmy Ray Day, features some names I just love: Sam Sneed, ‘Big’ Bill Byrd, and, of course, the titular Jimmy Ray Day. Those names all ring to me and I think sound great. I’ve begun to wonder, though, if there’s a such thing as names that are too ridiculous—I mean so ludicrous that they take you out of what you’re watching or reading. Last week I posted about Ted Lasso, which is kind of a lame name. I’ve also been watching another show on Apple TV called Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (still not sure how I feel about it), and they have a character named C.W. Longbottom. Pretty silly. But what, you may ask, started this train of thought? I have one word for you:


This gentleman is a character from the Amazon Prime show, Hunters. His name is Arthur “Bootyhole” McGuigan, but everyone just calls him Bootyhole. He never gets upset that he is called Bootyhole, it’s never explained why he’s called Bootyhole…he’s just Bootyhole. And for a show about hunting and killing Nazis (granted, with some comedic leanings), I found the name too damn dumb to let go. It took me right out of the show.

Maybe the writers of the show loved it because it made them laugh. Maybe there was a backstory to it that got cut out. Who knows? Doesn’t matter, I couldn’t take it. Also, I assume this is a mostly comedy issue. I doubt there are many dramas out there with completely ridiculous character names, although I’m sure there must be a few. What about you? Are there character names that are too dumb to bear? If you write, do you give any characters silly names? Tell me about your Bootyholes. 🙂

Ted Lasso [Apple TV+, 2020]

2020 was a crapfest. You know it, I know it, we all know it. If you’re lucky, 2021 has gotten off to better start, but speaking personally, 2020 really kind of sucked the life out of me on many levels. I do feel like the worst of it is over (hopefully, anyway) but I resolved a few months ago to be more positive and less cynical, since there is so much nastiness and negativity in the world right now. And what do you know, something to help me with that was hiding on Apple TV+ all along.

I’ll be honest—I forgot I even had Apple TV. I checked it out when I first got the service (it was free when I bought my last iPhone) and there wasn’t much on it except for a filmed version of Mike D and Adam Horovitz ‘s Beastie Boys Story and a lot of pay per view programming. So when I started hearing buzz about a show starring Jason Sudeikis as a fish out of water soccer coach in the UK, it took a while before I realized, Hey! I have that service! And while at first I wasn’t too impressed, I’ll be damned if Ted Lasso didn’t…rope me in. Get it?

Depending on how old you are or if you like to watch old sports comedies, the premise of Ted Lasso will sound quite familiar: A female divorcee inherits her ex-husband’s sports franchise, and tries to sabotage it since it was the only thing the rotten bastard ever loved. Sound familiar? It’s also the plot to the movie Major League, starring Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, and Tom Berenger. While the setup is the same, however, as Lasso progresses it becomes clear that the two really couldn’t be more different.

Ted Lasso is (was) the head coach of the Wichita State Shockers football team. He was adored by players and fans alike, and led his team to a championship. Ted is hired by Rebecca Welton, who acquired the team in the terms of her divorce from her wealthy husband Rupert, and who is intent on running the team into the ground by hiring an American goofus who knows nothing about European Football (soccer), ie, Ted.

Ted has a secret weapon, however. And that weapon is his optimism. Ted answers the most pointed criticism or vile insult with a smile and, if possible, a kind word. His demeanor instantly wins over some, but tends to further agitate most, like the already hostile British fans. This is merely the jumping off point for a show that becomes part workplace comedy, part underdog sports story, and part heart-wrenching drama (albeit to a much lesser degree).

Now, I’ll admit it: Ted Lasso didn’t win me over right off the bat. As a matter of fact, I almost gave up on the show in Episode Two. I stuck with it, though, and by the fifth episode I knew I was all in, as the show managed to surprise me with its range of emotion, showing to true depth of its main character, and in turn, many of the show’s stars. I’ve always liked Jason Sudeikis but never would’ve considered him a “serious actor.” And while I still can’t picture him performing Shakespeare, I still feel like I underestimated him. That’s the thing about this show that’s so remarkable—the show repeatedly exceeds expectations and wins over skeptics, just like the titular character. If you need a dose of optimism and feel-good comedy, I definitely recommend it.

Derek Delgaudio’s In & Of Itself [Hulu, 2021]

How do you talk about something, and encourage people to watch something that’s almost impossible to talk about? That’s the conundrum I face in trying to decide how much to divulge about In & Of Itself.

Derek Delgaudio is an esteemed magician, but this is no mere magic show—make no mistake, Mister Delgaudio performs a couple of cool illusions, some incredible sleight of hand, and two feats of…let’s call it mentalism, that may very well leave you as they left the audiences at his live show: speechless, mouth hanging open, possible shaking with emotion and/or tears streaming down your face. This is not hyperbole. Some might be immune to what happens over the course of the show, but most will be moved beyond words.

Derek performed this one man show over 550 times over the course of a couple years from 2016 to 2018, starting with a couple of runs in Los Angeles before taking the show to a small off-Broadway theater in New York. The film (directed, as was the stage show, by Frank Oz (Yoda!)) splices scenes from several different performances, which I imagine is partially done to help quell skeptics who might think he uses a plant when he calls for a volunteer from the audience.

So, what is In & Of Itself actually about? Hoo boy. When it comes down to it, the prevailing theme is identity—how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we often let how others see us influence how we see ourselves. Make sense? Delgaudio begins by telling a story about a man named “The Rouletista”, who would play Russian roulette for money and defied death numerous times, even after placing additional bullets inside the gun he placed to his head. A stranger told him that Delgaudio was The Rouletista, and Delgaudio carries that theme through the show. On a wall behind him on stage are six “chambers” that illuminate as the show proceeds.

To say anymore would be risking saying too much. This is one of those cases where it’s better to just go in blind. As for me personally, I don’t tend to get very emotional from things like TV shows or movies. I actually enjoy the challenge—I enjoy very morbid, sad things, and dare them to make me feel something. I didn’t shake with emotion of openly sob watching In & Of Itself, but I did get a little choked up, and at one point a tear did roll down my cheek. And if it can do that to me, I expect most people will take it much harder. That may sound like a reason not to watch, but it’s not actually sad. It’s more affirming, if that makes sense. All I can tell you for sure is this: No matter what think, no matter what you feel when it’s over, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

The Night Stalker [Netflix, 2021]

You have to give Netflix credit—they have become the undisputed champions of true crime television, and seem to have no interest in relinquishing their crown anytime soon. As they move down the serial killer checklist, they have pretty much exhausted anything relating to Ted Bundy, and have just released a series focusing on one of the lesser known monsters from years past: Richard Ramirez.

I’ve spoken about Richard Ramirez before (if you’d like to read that post, click here), but to summarize: he scared the bejesus out of me. I was 12 and living in Southern California in 1986, near the end of his reign of terror. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with him ever since—not to mention the novel I have that puts a bit of a supernatural twist on Ramirez, and the exhaustive research I’ve been doing for that, so obviously watching this four-part documentary was a no brainer.

What the promotional materials (see above ad) don’t really tell you, is that this is not so much a series about Ramirez as a person—how he grew up, why he may have done the things he did, etc.—it’s more a procedural about the detectives assigned to the case and a rundown of the crimes committed and the clues they got as time went on. (I will say if you are interested in reading about Ramirez’s upbringing and what shaped him into the monster he was, it’s a pretty fascinating read. It seems like there was almost no other possible outcome for him).

We learn about freshly-promoted detective Gil Carillo and his partner, well known badass Frank Salerno, who rose to infamy on the case of The Hillside Strangler. They speak, along with various other detectives and reporters, about the cases as they happened, witnesses, evidence and the like. One of the reasons I’ve always found Richard Ramirez so fascinating is because of how utterly random his crimes were. He struck all over the greater Los Angeles area, rather than staying in any particular neighborhood; his victims were seemingly chosen at random, as they were all ages and ethnicities; his method of killing was always different, from strangulation to blunt force trauma to gunshot. All of this randomness completely confounded the detectives, but they were still able to piece things together via good old-fashioned police work.

One thing that struck me about the way the detectives had to try and solve these crimes was just how much work it was in the pre-digital age. When they believed the killer wore black size 11 1/2 Avia aerobic shoes, they were able to determine that only one pair matching those exact specifications had been sold in the LA area, but that was the end of the line as there were no records of where the shoes were sold. It would’ve been so much easier today!

The show has received a fair amount of criticism online from people claiming the show features too much gratuitous violence and glorifies both Ramirez and his crimes. While I think that’s a valid criticism for the promotional material (and the logo, which looks like something a metal band might be proud of), when it comes to the show itself…I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m too desensitized to true crime. True, we don’t need a slow motion shot of a bloody hammer in the opening credits, but the crime scene photos are pretty average, assuming you’ve seen crime scene photos before. Also the show speaks to several of Ramirez’s victims and their families, and you can see just how many lives were affected by his heinous crimes.

While Richard Ramirez will always be the scariest of all the serial killers for me, The Night Stalker is only slightly above average when compared to the barrage of other true crime and serial killer shows out there. I don’t really know what I expected from the show, but I was a little let down. However, for anyone who isn’t already familiar with Ramirez or his crimes, I would definitely recommend it, and for all the research I’ve done and how much I already knew about Ramirez they still managed to provide info that I didn’t already know, so I have to give them credit for that.

As for Netflix, I’ve grown tired of the incessant true crime stories they churn out, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still curious about their next serial killer project. There are a few I’d be pretty interested in watching, but we’ll just have to wait and see what the reigning champs have in store for us.

Behold the Incredible Head Hopping Author!

Happy 2021, everybody! Hard to believe we’re already halfway to February, and yet here we are. I’m sure many of you are grappling with writing resolutions—I am, too. Even though I managed to crank out a few short stories last year, my writing output was far lower than I would’ve liked. I have the feeling 2020 had that effect on a lot of people, not just writers.

While 2021 has not exactly kicked off much better than its predecessor, I remain optimistic not just for myself but for all of us. As for my own writing resolutions, I hope to write consistently all year long (including here on the blog). I have two different novels that are beyond first drafts and needing attention to get them finished, plus two ideas for new novels that I’m really excited about. One of them might actually be the most ambitious idea I’ve ever had. It will take a staggering amount of research as it deals with something many people hold very dear, but if I pull it off I think it could really be great. Before any of that, though? Rewrites on my debut novel, The End of Jimmy Ray Day, coming out (hopefully) later this year. The primary issue I’m tackling right now? Head hopping.

Some of you may ask exactly what head hopping is. A lot of newer writers do it, sometimes without even realizing it—it’s jumping to different characters’ POVs, sometimes even in the same paragraph. It can be confusing to readers and take them right out of the story. That’s not to say it can’t be done, and done well, but it takes some precision and care to really pull it off.

When my editor read my novel, her main note was that I needed to fix head hopping issues. Some of the hopping was unintentional and amateurish, but some of it was purposely done to show another view of an incident the protagonist had already experienced, or to show what circumstances lead up to a situation the protagonist was getting ready to walk into. Nevertheless, she suggested cutting and/or rewriting ALL of the head hopping, and presenting the entire novel only from the POV of the protagonist.

That threw me for a bit of a loop when it was first suggested, but after a lot of “wordless writing”, i.e., staring into space and thinking about the story, I saw what she meant. Even the intentional head hopping was messing up the pace of the story. The End of JRD is a pretty short book, and a quick read—but the jumps to other characters’ POVs slow down the action. All from the POV of the protagonist, the pace will be quicker, and hopefully make the book really hard for readers to put down. It has, however, forced me to rethink a lot of different aspects of my story: how characters act, when to reveal key plot points, etc. It’s still the same story, but now it just zags when it used to zig. I’m presently working on finishing said rewrite zags, and I believe my editor was right (which gave me a boatload of confidence in her)—when all is said and done, the book will be unputdownable (god, what a word). The hardest part is not rushing through it, because I am beyond excited to get the book past the editing phase and move on to cover design, marketing, and everything else that comes my way on this roller coaster ride.

I wish you all luck in your writerly endeavors, and hopefully the new year is a little kinder to us all than the last one was. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do to ensure my book stays in one head and one head alone. It reminds me of the Pink Floyd lyric—”There’s someone in my head, and it’s not me.”

Dolla Dolla Bill, Y’all

Stephen King has a famous quote that I suspect a lot of writers hold dear as a milestone to hit in their careers. Mister King said:

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

Of course, the whole notion of getting and cashing a check is a little novel now, but I know that I, for one, always kept that quote in the back of my mind, even when I forgot the detail about the light bill. “If I ever get paid enough to pay a bill, Stephen King thinks I could make it.”

Well, I have a good news/bad news scenario about this: While my power company would scoff if I tried to pay them what I got, I did just receive my first cash payment for my writing. Like, ever.

Excited Make It Rain GIF by DoSomething

And what was the source of this sudden windfall, you may ask? A royalty payment from the anthology A Dark Spring, featuring my novella, Early Retirement. If you haven’t bought A Dark Spring (published by Tall Tree Publishing) yet, by all means click this link to buy it, and read some great thriller stories!

At some point, unless they’re really lucky, the vast majority of writers realize they’re never going to make any money writing. Writing fiction, anyway. Personally, after a particularly busy year that found me submitting a novel and multiple short stories dozens of times to the tune of zero finding a home anywhere, I had to ask myself—why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this, the hours of research, the writing, revising, re-writing, editing, all for nothing? After a few days deliberation, I realized that I did it because I liked doing it. Writing is by far the most miserable thing people can do that is still enjoyable. So I decided to scale back the writing a little, to give myself free time to pursue other hobbies (mostly photography), but I keep writing as much as I can, and you can rest assured there are plenty of works in progress at all times.

But still…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little proud of my pittance. I mean, think about it: I took an idea out of the clear blue sky, thought about it, forced it out my brainhole and through my fingers to the computer, and someone gave me money for it. That’s INSANE! Do these people know what they’re doing?

As far as that quote from Stephen King, maybe if I ask nicely I can get him to amend that whole “light bill” thing. Times are tough, after all. Does it count if it’s enough to cover Netflix for a month?

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