Cool Gus says: The Reichstag Fire– a key piece of history that needs to be remembered

Because a similar event could happen again. In fact, it has. Putin blew up several apartment buildings in Russia at the turn of the century in order to consolidate power. Worked for him.

Sassy Becca agrees with Cool Gus. She’s lying there, thinking deep thoughts. Very deep thoughts.

The reality is that politics is a dirty business. War is an extension of politics by other means, some human named Clausewitz said (his dog passed that on). There are times when ruthless politicians wage war on their own citizens in order to further their own means. Cool Gus sometimes wonders if it shouldn’t be the other way around; dogs run things and humans just lay around and try not to make messes.

 

“You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”

This is the last line in the movie Sicario.

Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) says it to Kate Mace (Emily Blunt). From avenging assassin to FBI agent.

I re-watched the movie last night and it never gets old. I notice more details each time. As a writer, I know details are important. For example, when they stop during the convoy in Mexico, the missing women posters on the wall—those are Alejandro’s wife and daughter.

I think the movie wasn’t very popular because of the message; and because many people didn’t get the message in the first place, even though it’s clearly explained by Josh Brolin to Kate after they come out of the tunnels and she asks him what “Medellin” means.

The scene where Alejandro finally confronts Fausto Alarcon while he is eating with his family is one of the most stunning scenes I’ve ever seen. Fausto’s wife has a moment of clarity when Alejandro says “Don’t forget about my daughter.” At that moment, she knows her fate. The look on Fausto’s face after Alejandro takes action is perfect. A reality he inflicted on others but had never imagined for himself.

The movie is one of the most realistic portrayals I’ve seen of covert operations. How things really work. What’s interesting is that the last scene, before Alejandro says that line, he’s there to get Kate to sign a letter saying everything they had done was above board. They had to comply to the letter of the law. Of course, he puts a gun to her chin and tells her she will be a suicide when she initially refuses to sign.

We live in a country where the norms have gone out the window. Where common decency seems a lost art. Not among most Americans, but among the fringes on both ends.

Sicario was about the trade-offs made in the real world. Not the imaginary world where the lines between good and evil are clear cut. The world is gray. And those on the fringes of either end don’t see it as grey. They see it the way they want to see it.

That is a very dangerous thing. Because people who do that will deny fact. They will deny reality.

I see some tough times ahead. And most people aren’t wolves. But this is the land of the wolves now.

 

 

Writer Wednesday: On Being An Author

We covered idea last week, but this week, before we get into story and character and all that, let’s briefly talk about being an author. Because the craft of writing is only half the equation. If you want to be an author you need to understand the other half and here is an introduction to the program I use, Write It Forward. There’s a lot here!

Next week we’ll cover The Writing Process. How to go from being a craftman to an artist.

Happy 2nd of July. The 4th of July is Fake News.

In keeping with a popular theme making the rounds, I thought I’d point out that the 2nd of July 1776 was the day the Colonies actually announced our independence. The full text of the Declaration was accepted on the 4th of July, but the document was signed on the 2nd of August. John Adams truly believed 2 July was going to be Independence Day. What did he know?

There are terms I hate seeing on social media. Here are two: “Fake news” and “mainstream media”.

First, they were invented by a media outlet that produces the most “fake” news of all; that’s just a well researched and substantiated fact, not an opinion or a political stance.

But an important lesson was learned. Say the same phrase often enough, long enough, and it will become a catch-phrase. People will believe it.

I used the term fake news to make a point. A tripod is unstable. How many of us eat off a table with three legs? Better to have four, correct? The Fourth Estate, aka journalism, is needed for a reason.

The trend in our country now is for people to find a stream of “media” that fits their views and to stick with it. To never be challenged in what they believe. To have what they believe reinforced. And, more importantly, to have what they fear, pushed in their face.

There is extremism on both ends of the spectrum and it’s allowed out country to be successfully invaded. Not just invaded. We lost the cyber war. We’re not dead yet, but we’re teetering.

We’re not innocent in this; in fact we were one of the leaders in cyber warfare with Stutsnex. We attacked a country we are not legally at war with. We have our justifications, but they are our justifications. We are tremendously concerned, with good reason, with other countries developing nuclear weapons and also the ability to project that power at distances. What we must also remember is we have more nuclear weapons than any other country and the best means to project them. We also are the only country in the world that has shown the true willingness to use them; because we are the only country who has used them. Twice. We had our justifications.

The third phrase I hate is “Let’s make American great again.” I wonder when exactly that refers to? We’ve had some ups and downs in our history. As far as I know, no one who says that phrase has clarified exactly when they’re talking about. We’ve been good, but I’m not sure we’ve been great for an extended period of time. We’ve had moments of greatness. One that really makes me proud to be an American is the Berlin Airlift. We had our justification for it, but it also helped a lot of people and showed a determination that we can aspire to.

If I had to pick the greatness of America that sets it apart from almost all other countries it is this: we’re potluck. We’re a mixture of every race, religion, you name it, we got it. Anyone can walk down an American street and you simply can’t know if they are an American or a foreigner. There aren’t many countries in the world where they can’t tell who is local and who isn’t. (Native Americans might have a bone of contention here).

The past is done. What we must aspire to is to make America great. A more understanding country. A less belligerent one, even as we are still embroiled in the longest war (technically not a war, but something else, something as ill-defined as when we were great) in our history. We have combat troops on the ground in six other countries. Yet we are a country that wouldn’t tolerate another country’s combat troops on our soil for a nanosecond. We fly drones and use them to fire missiles over many other countries. Yet not for an instant would we tolerate that. We need to ruminate on that and consider what we’re doing. Is all this in our best, long-term interests? Is it in the world’s best, long-term interests.

Plus, we need to really reboot, because we just got our ass kicked in a war that is probably going to destroy the United States as we’ve known it. Never mind great. I’ll take survive.

I believe the vast majority of Americans are good people. With good intentions. Who are capable of greatness. But the fringe, on either side, has to be stopped. We have to beware of catch phrases. We can’t blithely believe things are clear cut. That there are easy answers. We have to listen to people we don’t agree with; with an open mind. Before we jump to outrage, let’s spend some time on understanding.

But the most important thing Americans have to do is stop being afraid. It is with our fear that we are being manipulated. Fear of strangers, fear of other religions, and the deepest fear of all: fear of change.

The world is changing. For good and bad. We have to face that with a core of courage and the willingness to do what it will take. We are on the precipice. Whether we fall or not is up to us.

Let’s make America great.

Cool Gus says: What do foolish humans have hidden at Area 51?

Don’t they know they can just bury secrets in the backyard? Like bones?

Why go all the way out to Nevada?

As foolish as Sassy Becca who always ends up on the wrong side of the door.

Some guard dogs have passed along Tails of what they were guarding out there. Cool Gus isn’t supposed to tell, but for bacon– sure. Why not?

BTW– Cool Gus has his own Twitter account, since he seems to be more popular than, well, moi. @coolguspub

In honor of Independence Day weekend, that book in the Time Patrol is FREE here.

Writer Wednesday: The Original Idea.The Heart of Your Story

Every Wednesday will be Writer Wednesday. I’m going to post a slideshow of material that I use when I present. These are slideshares and I’ll add tidbits here and there.

This one includes a video clip that I think is very enlightening for artists on a number of levels. It’s an audition; the person auditioning gets rejected, but quickly learns, adapts and does the hardest thing of all: change.

It all starts with an idea. Every story has a moment of conception. But idea is not story. There’s a big difference between the two. Some say every idea has been done. The big key to idea is that it cannot change while you’re writing, or else every thing must change. But you can keep the same idea and completely change the story. Make sense? Of course!

Talk Tuesday: Favorite Mini-Series?

Mine is Lonesome Dove with I, Claudius a close second.

My wife and I watch I, Claudius every year. It’s a thing. Not long ago I was in Target looking for a VHS player. The kid working there looked at me oddly, like “What’s VHS?” They had one. They we learned it had been updated to DVD so we bought that. I guess he wouldn’t know what 8-Track of Beta is.

Check out the guy with hair in the image. Serjanus.

The thing about Lonesome Dove is when I read the book, and I’ve read it several times, the casting fits the characters perfectly. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t even seem like Tommy Lee Jones. He’s Call. And Gus. Well, that’s why Cool Gus is Gus.

I’m sure there are more that would come to mind, but off the top of my head, those two really resonate. What are some of your favorites?

141 Years Ago Today– The Battle of the Greasy Grass- aka Little Big Horn

My first assignment in the Army was in the 1st Cavalry Division. A mechanized Infantry unit but they were still proud of their lineage to the cavalry. Gary Owen is still the unit song. The 9th and 10th Cav, Buffalo Soldiers, were celebrated. There is even a 7th Cavalry inside the division.

The first road trip my wife and I took, it was to Little Big Horn. I’d always wondered how that played out, but once I saw the terrain, as a military person, I understood.

Little Big Horn is an examination in leadership failure. And ego run amok. So what led Custer to lead half the 7th Cavalry to its doom? We have to look back to his time at West Point and move forward from there.

 

Fargo. Season 3. Thoughts?

Just finished Season 3 and it was a pretty interesting ride. The thing about this show is its combination of logic and outrageous coincidence. It strains credulity to the breaking point at times, yet also many parts make a strange sort of sense.

Season 1 and Billy Bob Thornton is my favorite. This season had some slow stretches and also a few jump the shark moments, but that’s part and parcel of the overall concept.

The ending also was morally ambiguous. And plot ambiguous.

So– what did you think?

Is the glass half empty or half full? Does it even matter because . . .

We don’t know what’s in the glass? Would you drink what’s left regardless? Could be poison. Could be the elixir of life.

This morning I woke to a comment on one of my Medium posts of: “Report on good news for once.”

I’ve been thinking about it and it echoed a conversation my wife and I had the previous evening. The ending of the movie Life was such a bummer. Very negative. A while back we’d watched Get Out. In the director’s cut, there was another ending. A bleaker one. And we both felt that the ending is what totally made Get Out. With the bleak ending, that movie wouldn’t have done anywhere near as well. The ending put it way over the top. Loved the ending!

Jordan Peele talked about the editing process of the movie. And that’s where that movie was made. Because he changed the ending that he’d originally written.

I read an interview with the director of Life and he talks about insisting on the ending as it was written and wanting it to be ‘noir’. Essentially he wanted to be ‘different’. And it was. Just not in a good way. People didn’t respond to it. Word of mouth was like the ending: negative.

Which, duh.

There is a difference between being ‘smart’ and being ‘clever’.

I was wrong, Jenny Crusie was right. When we wrote together I’d say the opening of the book is the most important part. And she said the ending was. My take was that the opening got people into the book. But that’s like saying the opening of a movie is the most important part. Well, duh, they’re in the theater already if they see the opening. What you have to focus on is what they’re feeling leaving the theater.

I am a product of negativity and also some tragedy in my adult life. That partially explains my instinctual negativity. Heck, I’ve got two books titled: Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. I’ve written three survival manuals. The first place my wife and I traveled to was Little Big Horn. See a pattern?

The ending of my first book, Eyes of the Hammer, was negative. It was a mirror of another book that came later, Clear and Present Danger. Same topic—Special Forces heading to Colombia and taking on drug traffickers. In Clancy’s book, besides a much smarter and better title, they win. And based on my experiences in Special Forces and also my innate negativity and the overall reality, in my book, at the end, the hero, Dave Riley, is walking the streets of da Bronx, my hometown, and sees a drug deal. The point was realistic. We will never win the war on drugs with guns.

But. Are you a sell out to have a positive ending? Note I say positive, not necessarily happy.

It depends on your goal. And I know I have not examined what my goals are in terms of emotion as deeply as I should. I should know better. Goals are the first thing I teach in Write it Forward.

The original screenplay for Pretty Woman was titled Five Thousand Dollars. At the end he goes back to NY and she goes back to the street. Would it have done as well? How would people have felt about that original ending? What would they have said about that movie? I ask those questions in one of my presentations. But I realize that’s not the real question. Would it have entertained as well? We are, after all, in the entertainment business. Robert Altman poked fun at that change in the ending in The Player with the movie inside the movie.

When I was binging The Leftovers, I asked my wife if this was going to have a “payoff” at the end? Obviously I had some expectation. As a writer, I have to grant my readers that they have expectations.

Either we have free will or we don’t. If we do, then deciding on positive or negative is a choice regardless of predilection. One can be a positive realist or a negative realist.

Given that choice, I’m going to start making different ones. In fact, given my freedom as an indie author, I can actually change things I did years ago. I’m going to change the ending of Eyes of the Hammer. Not the core plot, or even much. I always say you can change a book entirely with one sentence. So with a couple of sentences, that ending will change in tone, not in substance. My next book, Valentines Day (Time Patrol) is out with beta readers right now and won’t come out until 24 July. Plenty of time. I know what I need to do to adjust that ending and make it more positive.

That’s a choice and I choose differently. I will drink from the half empty glass and assume it’s the elixir. And that it will fill back up.