So you can read my books

Saturday, May 15, 2010


One of the sayings of my favorite private eyes, Spenser, happens to be "It is what it is." Unstated is the follow-up : "And not what you would wish it to be."

As it turns out, it is also how screenwriters talk of Hollywood : "It is what it is." Unstated is the follow-up : "So deal with it."

Jo Schaffer , whose husband is in "The Biz," commented yesterday that it isn't always about the money. It's also about "Politics."

And sadly, Jo is right. Studios, like heat-seeking missiles, tend to follow the popularity of an actor or a director, whether or not is based on anything close to quality. Funny enough, it is called following the "heat." At least that was the phrase several years ago.

Politics is more than following the heat however. It is about personalities, their flaws, their prejudices, their ego's. Studio politics is office politics on steroids.

Which brings us to "Hollywood PMS : Politics, Money, and Sex {behind as well as in front of the cameras -- and for a fascinating view of that topic read MARLENE (Dietrich) written by her daughter, Riva -- As Marlene, the German-born Maria Magdalena Dietrich (1901-92) was a charismatic movie actress of the 1930s and 1940s. Like Greta Garbo, Dietrich symbolizes glamour and mystery.

Riva's perspective is unique and affecting. Using her mother's diary, radiograms, and letters, she gives proper weight to Dietrich's youth, her experience on the Berlin stage, her collaboration with director Josef Von Sternberg (e.g., The Blue Angel , 1930; Morocco , 1930), and her latter-day triumphs on stage and as a chanteuse.

There are arresting tales here (father and stepfather killed in World War I; a stint entertaining U.S. troops during the Battle of the Bulge; affairs with legends of the screen and other arts) that give the reader a true grasp of both biographer and subject.} You can get a used hardcover from Amazon for just a penny. How cool is that?

And no, I haven't monetized my blog. My only reward will be the smile I get when you write me how much you enjoyed reading this amazing peek into a world strange and wonderful and sad.

Speaking of sad, let's get back to present-day Hollywood, where sequel no longer means an unexpected twist as in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK but more explosions and a lead actor phoning in his performance as in IRON MAN 2 {a likable but basically the first movie without the hero growing as much as in the first one.}

What is missing? Not much. Just something called craftsmanship. You know, what agents rake us over the coals for lousing up.

How does a writer make science fiction {or fantasy for that matter} real? Especially writers for movies and TV, for without the script all you would have are good-looking actors gazing at one another -- or into mirrors.

More likely the last.

Well, for one thing, you have to make the science plausible. And let's face it, some writers are better sellers of the impossible than others. It's why we have gotten the presidents we have in the past. Let's nail those amoral speech-writers with rotten tomatoes, shall we?

But all joking aside, the science in the tales has to be internally consistent, not change from page to page. Still more importantly, life must be seen taking its toll. Heads must rock back by the thrust of the rockets. Nausea must make stomachs feel like high-tide in zero gravity spins.

Life must hurt. It does for all of us. It must for the characters we watch or we will not believe in them.

We will not buy a story where there is cause without effect. That is why STAR WARS seems more real {despite its space opera elements} than STAR TREK. The blast doors have scorch marks. The Millenium Falcon has dings and dents.

Solo must whallop the door facing of the cockpit to jar the tangled wiring loose enough to fire up the engines. The good guys lose, die, and the survivors feel it in their guts. A father cuts off the right hand of his son. Children, a whole school of them, are cut down by one evil man with a light saber. The evil emperor wipes out the Jedi and rules the galaxy for a generation of terror and oppression.

In life, the bad guys sometimes win. If science fiction or fantasy is to be experienced as "real," then night must fall as it does in the day of each of us. Isn't the true thrill of the dawn based on the depth of darkness to the night preceeding it?

That is why, in a strange way, science fiction can be more "real" than literary fiction. Gene Roddenberry tackled subjects like prejudice, duplicity in war with its betrayed trust of innocents, pacifism in the face of threat, and religious intolerance at a time in the sixties that no other TV show could have done.

And because Gene tackled those subjects that were all too real to his audience, the crew of the Enterprise became real to the viewers as well.

VOYAGER lost sight of that fact. One episode whole shuttles would be destroyed, the ship itself broadsided by raking lasers. And the next week, the ship would be spotless and a new shuttle would be gleaming in the bay.

BATTLESTAR GALATICA showed us wires hanging from the ceiling of the battered starship episode after episode. Mistakes of crewmen would hound them from show to show. Just like our own mistakes follow at our heels for years. Even more, it showed Mankind's arrogance and callousness coming back in the form of his children, the Cylons, to teach humanity that payback is a terrible thing to waste.

Each of us are heading to that last great Exit. Some of us are closer than we realize. As we walk, are we awake or asleep? THE MATRIX and TOTAL RECALL, to mention two Sci-Fi movies, ask that question of us. It is a question that only we can answer. Good science fiction can broaden our perspective to answer it more truthfully.

Again, I am musing in preparation for my two talks at the CON DU LAC Sci-Fi convention here in Lake Charles in June. Come check out its website, will you?

Well, that's it for my thoughts on Hollywood's deficiencies. It's easier than looking at my own! And for all of us dreamers out there who refuse to quit, here's Diana Krall :

I entered the Summer Bucket List of 10 items I would want to do this summer :

1) Finally go out with Angelina Jolie. She's been calling me and calling me. I usually wake before I answer yes to her demands to go out with me. But darn it, this summer I'm gonna stay asleep long enough to say yes.
2) Which leads into my next beloved plan : to get enough sleep. Yeah, me actually going out with Angelina is more likely.
3) Do two excellent presentations at the Sci_Fi convention this June. That is something I actually have a shot at doing.
4)Have a reputable agent offer me representation. Hey, a guy can dream.
5) Have a reputable publisher buy the rights to my novel.
6) Have a studio buy the movie rights to my novel. It's a goal. And goals are good to have.
7) Have the publisher push my release up by a whole year because they're so impressed with my novel.
8) Actually take a vacation this year.
9) Take that vacation in New Zealand.
10) Go out with Angelina Jolie. I know. I know. I already said that. But some things are worth doing twice.


  1. A fascinating post. Don't ever quit!

  2. LOVE the picture at the top of your page. Hooked me with Hollywood PMS...had to find out what that was all about, LOL.

    While I understand Hollywood following popularity of actors, directors, etc. -- they're a business after all. It still drives me crazy!

  3. Well, bought the Marlene book. Thanks for finding me. Great article.

  4. Now don't get me started on Voyager!! Much as I adored Cap'n Janeway - what a missed opportunity!

    I must really read Riva's bio about her mum!

    Take care

  5. Extraordinary post Roland. Good luck at the conference.

  6. Good post Roland. Science fiction's internal logic is vital. I love sci-fi and fantasy - have since I was little. Battlestar G is one of my all-time faves!

  7. well said, roland...

    the things that piss me off about hollyweird: studios bring in 'professional' [?] writers, who then take a tale and butcher it to the extent what ends up on the silver screen is totally unrecognizable by the original writer, solely because some 'auteur' who calls himself a 'director', thinks his 'vision' of the original tale supercedes all

    then that clown at mgm, years past, who said: writers? a dime a dozen!

    for great tips on screenwriting [and more] visit alexandra sokoloff's blog [link in my sidebar]... she writes and teaches writing

    also, have a look at david trottier's 'the screenwriter's bible'

  8. Great post, Roland. I'm a huge "Old Hollywood" fan and have a read a few of the bios of those glamorous stars (Cary Grant's is fabulous). I haven't read Dietrich's, but I will now!

    My husband is the Sci-Fi fan in our house, so I watch because he watches. Your post gives me much more to think about the genre. I will watch with new eyes :)

  9. I have never been a real sci-fi fan, but you might be starting to change my mind....

  10. I like your thoughts about sc-fi and its "realness". I think you are dead on. And the way each episode of Star Trek Voyager had the whole story (practically) starting over... I guess the episodic genre is just so different in its approach. I am a Star Trek (original) fan, though.

  11. Thanks for all the comments. To wake up and see them is quite a pleasure. I got up this morning 9 (ah, actually it was 1 P.M.) and shook my head, thinking, 'So this is what it feels like to have a clear head without fatigue.'

    Jo : Thanks for the applause. It was way better to wake up to than Gypsy's frown waiting to be fed.

    Kazzy : We original STAR TREK fans have to stick together. I'm glad to meet one in you. Yes, episodic TV is its own art form. But Ronald Moore was writer on both VOYAGER and BATTLESTAR GALATICA. The lapse of internal logic in the first series drove him up the wall. When he became the guiding force for BATTLESTAR, he tried to incorporate more internal logic into the series. And it worked.

    Betty : I'm glad to hear I have you considering Sci_Fi. As in mysteries, not every vechile runs as smoothly as another. BABYLON 5 was one of the best Sci_Fi series ever made. The creator, J. Michael Straczynski, had a beginning, middle, and end in sight from the start. Oddly enough, the best place to start is the 2nd season where the pivotal character, Captain John Sheridan {Bruce Boxleitner} is introduced.

    If you notice surface similarities between BABYLON 5 and Star Trek's DEEP SPACE 9, it is because Straczynski approached Paramount to fund his series. Years later, Paramount took his ideas and fumbled them into their own series.

    My favorite quote from BABYLON 5 is from G'Kar who does the voiceover for the cliff-hanger ending for the pivotal season, and one brave man has walked alone into the darkness and paid the ultimate price to fend off the shadows :

    "There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair.

    Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.

    No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.'"

    I have to cut my thanks in half due to blogger's demands. Roland

  12. Janet : I'm a huge fan of old Hollywood as well. In fact, the movie that shaped my idea of what it meant to be a man of God was Gregory Peck's first film, THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM. I watched it as a young boy late at night on one of those "Golden Oldies" movie marathons they used to have on the local TV station. And oddly enough, like Peck's priest, my best friend is an agnotic. She was an atheist, but she says I've given her pause for refection.

    Laughing Wolf : Yes, it irritates me. Hollywood brings in a "pro" and totally trash the initial concept. Making Mr. Phelps a traitor in the first MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie irked me to no end. It one bold stroke, Hollywood tainted a heroic, intelligent TV icon. Bah!! If I were Gypsy, I'd spit up a hairball.

    Jemi : Really glad to meet another Sci_Fi fan. You might try the BABYLON 5 series that I've mentioned earlier. Essentially, it was a novel written for TV, divided into five seasons. Start at the 2nd season {odd I know, but the 1st season is basically a prologue that strangely means more after you've watched the entire series.} At Amazon you can get it for $17. Not bad for one of the best series in television. And no, I haven't monetized my blog. The only reward will be the big smile I'll have when you write me you love B5.

    Anne : Your praise always means a lot to me. And thanks for the wish for good luck at the conference.

    Kitty : Yes, VOYAGER had so much promise and failed with it. I think you'll like MARLENE by her daughter Riva. It is long, but you get to know a fascinating person and the times in which she lived and prevailed.

    Carrie : Thanks for finding me back. I hope you enjoy the bio. It is an in-depth look, not only at Marlene, but at the puzzling, exotic, and fascinating world in which she lived and struggled with no sure promise of success -- just her indomitable spirit and her refusal to accept defeat.

    MissV : I'm glad you liked my autographed photo of Marlene. It is one of my happy possessions. I collect autographs of movie stars and authors that have influenced me.

    When I grew up fatherless, my mother would point out Jimmy Stewart {MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON} and Gregory Peck {THE BIG COUNTRY} in the late night movies and say, "They are heroes, Roland. Ones that deserve the name. Live so that those words might someday be said of you."

    I guess that is why I have autographs of both of those men. If I have a bit of their spirit within me that would be even better.

    Carole Anne : Thanks for urging me not to quit. Some nights after reading three rejections in a row, the thought had occurred to me. But what would G'Kar say to that, right?

    Everyone, remember about tomorrow's Flirt Blogfest. My entry is about a man who flirts, not only with love, but with death as well. Have a lovely weekend, Roland

  13. Beautifully written post. As always.

    As for Diana Krall, I just love her! My favourite female artist of all time.

    PS. As for quitting? Don't you dare!

    PPS. Hope the conference goes well, Roland :)

  14. Fantastic post!
    Love it- Hollywood PMS :)