Stories

It’s Time to Play Everyone’s Favorite Game, BAD NOTE/GOOD NOTE!

Posted by on Jun 6, 2014 in Creative Writing, Stories | 0 comments

It’s Time to Play Everyone’s Favorite Game, BAD NOTE/GOOD NOTE!

“And welcome to the show everybody. I’m your host, the handsome and impeccably dressed Grandpa Hank. You know the rules by now. I’m going to give you a typical note you’re likely to hear about your story or screenplay. Your job is to tell me if that note is worth a damn. Let’s meet our contestants. Marcy is a homemaker from Yumblestown, New Jersey. Tell us a little about the stories you write, Marcy.”

“I write mysteries about dead lumberjacks.”

“Wow, that sure is a niche. Next we have Brad, a homemaker from Stinkputter, Louisiana. How about you, Brad? What do you write?”

“Well, uh, it’s kinda hard to describe. They’re sort of these metaphysical, slapstick films about Uruguay. And like mugs sometimes. I write a lot about mugs.”

“Fantastic. And our third contestant, Pat is a homemaker from Dumptruckville, Oregon. Tell us a little about….”

“Graphic novels about a team of alligator repairmen.”

“Right on. Well, let’s get right into it. Round one, each correct answer is worth a cool $7.25. Hands on your buzzers. Your first note is….”

I DIDN’T LIKE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER.

“Marcy, you buzzed in first!”

“Grandpa Hank, that’s a bad note.”

“Correct for $7.25. To double it, tell us why.”

“Because it’s a vague statement most likely based on personal preference and not on an actual flaw in the story.”

“Marcy, you’re in the lead with $14.50. Our second note is…..”

YOUR MAIN CHARACTER FELT A BIT INCONSISTENT, ESPECIALLY IN THE BOAT SCENE.

“Pat!”

“That’s a good note, Grandpa Hank.”

“You are $7.25 richer. And why?”

“Because it was specific. Someone noting that a character is inconsistent often means they gave your story more than a cursory glance. This gives you, the writer, the ability to go line by line, action by action through the boat scene to see what doesn’t quite gel with the character’s actions in the rest of the story.”

“And we have a tie at the top of the leader board. Marcy and Pat both with $14.50 and Brad sitting there like a nincompoop with nothing.”

“Hey, that’s a little harsh this early in the game.”

“Story notes are harsh, Brad. Buck up and deal with it. Your third note is…”

YOU SHOULD DITCH THE CAR CHASE SCENE AND INSTEAD HAVE THEM LIKE SITTING IN A CAFÉ WHEN THE BAD GUY SWINGS DOWN FROM A TREE AND LIKE THUNDERPUNCHES THE GROUND SO HARD THAT LIKE ALL THEIR COFFEE GOES ALL OVER THE PLACE. AND THEN THEY LIKE END UP IN THE SEWERS UNDER THE CITY AND IT’S ALL DARK AND DANGEROUS…

“Brad, thanks for buzzing in.”

“That’s a good, specific note.”

“Brad, you truly are a nincompoop. You’re at negative $7.25. The answer we were looking for is ‘that’s a terrible, god awful note.’ For Brad’s $7.25, Pat and Marcy, tell us why. Anyone… anyone… Marcy.”

“Because the note giver is telling you how THEY’D write your story. They’ve gone off on a completely unusable tangent. Not to mention that Hollywood has created this myth where you can just go traipsing around through the sewer systems of every major American city and that’s clearly not the case.”

“And Marcy with another $7.25.”

“Sewers are not that roomy.”

“Thank you, Marcy. No extra credit in round one. Note number four is…”

I REALLY THINK YOU MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A CONNECTION THERE BETWEEN WANDA AND HER FATHER.

“Pat.”

“That’s a damn good note.”

“That IS a damn good note. Pat, you’re tied with Marcy. To take the lead, tell us why.”

“Because it lets the writer know that their scene felt a bit incomplete and could’ve been much more powerful – all while giving the writer room to figure out for his or herself how to best accomplish it.”

“Pat, you’re in the lead! And our final note of round one is…”

AT THE END OF PAGE FORTY-SIX, I THINK YOU MEANT COMPUTER PARTS BUT IT SAYS COMPUTER FARTS.

“Brad.”

“That’s a bad note.”

“Brad, you really suck at this game. Clearly that’s a great note. Marcy and Pat, tell us… Marcy, you buzzed in first.”

“Because it’s an obvious typo that’s easy to overlook and the last thing you want is to send your manuscript out to an agent or producer when it contains something so ridiculous.”

“But what if you meant to say computer farts?”

“Computers can’t fart, Brad. What universe do you live in?”

“But what if you were writing a sci-fi picture about a society far in the future where computers could indeed fart like humans?”

“Well then you should’ve made it obvious enough in the script that your futuristic computers could fart like humans that the person giving the note wouldn’t think it was a typo. If your computers are farting all over the place and the reader didn’t notice until page forty-six, then it’s still a bad note.”

“I don’t know, but what if…”

“Let it go, Brad! And so at the end of round one, we have Marcy and Pat tied for the lead with $29 each and that knucklehead Brad way behind without a prayer in the world of catching up. He’s at minus $47,562.”

“Wait, how did I lose that much? Shouldn’t I only be at minus $14.50?”

“That’s a question a knucklehead would ask, Brad. It’s time for a break but when we come back, the always exciting ROUND TWO! Uh, sometime in the future when I get around to it and can’t think of a theme for the week. But now a word from our sponsors…”

We’ll buy your old gold jewelry!
No, WE’LL buy your old gold jewelry.
Don’t go to either of them, WE’LL buy your old gold jewelry. And some of your pants!

Just kidding, we don’t have any sponsors. Maybe I should work on that.

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A Grandpa Hank’s Story Sample Fragment Thingamabob

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in Creative Writing, Stories | 0 comments

A Grandpa Hank’s Story Sample Fragment Thingamabob

So after six months of writing this blog about writing, my sister (who does all the actual work for this site) suggested that I post a story or two so anyone happening upon this blog could get a taste of what I do creatively. That way, we could both stir things up a bit as well as let the readers have a chance to see if I truly know what I’m talking about. My first reaction to the idea was that it was somewhat dangerous – mainly because there’s a moderate to large chance I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. But being as I didn’t have much time to create something new this week, I decided to follow her advice, digging deep into my archives to find this little nugget. It’s from a novel that I started and subsequently didn’t know what to do with. I liked the character (who is basically me with a different name) so I just kept writing – hoping a plot would form in my head at some point.

Um, it didn’t.

I got about fourteen pages in, got distracted by other things and just sort of left it as an unfinished testament to incompleteness.

Anyway, the following is a snippet from that novel. I believe I wrote it sometime in the fall of 2006 while I was still trying to figure out what in the hell a railroad trash kid from Pittsburgh was doing wandering around Los Angeles.

Note: The following contains SWEARS! So if you are offended by particular letters arranged in certain orders, uh….I guess be prepared to mentally replace them with a BEEEEP sound or random characters like %&*#@&$!

Meeting

He sat down like he always did, chair scraping across the patio, plopping down without eye contact, pressing his fingers into the external brain he called his Blackberry. I studied him as I often did, smooth black shirt and stain-guarded Dockers, loafers and aviator shades that sat on a jet black haircut, one little gelled wave gliding across his scalp like it was about to swallow a body boarder. His thumbs did a dance as I drifted away, chewing on some sort of organic, new wave bread, and watching the traffic crawl down Sunset Boulevard. Everything around me was made of plastic or wishing to be.

“Jaaaaack,” he said, drawling out my name until he finished his email. “What’s up, buddy?”

“You good? You done there?”

“Hey, got shit coming at me from all sides,” he said, making an annoying clicking noise that always accompanied a more annoying wink. “Gotta keep rollin’, gotta keep moving or you’ll get eaten up. Here’s the deal. They love it. Love the script. And they want it. They’ll buy it. Mid-six figs. No kidding. Mid-six figs, that’s what they’re looking at.”

“I’m not turning the main character into a woman.”

“Hey, it’s mid six figs, let ‘em turn him into a fuckin’ monkey, mid-six figs.”

“It’s about my grandfather’s unit liberating Dachau.”

“Bianca DeBianca sells. You know this. I know this. She’s been looking for a World War II pic, huh? Rehab her image. Greatest generation and all that shit. Wanna get it in before they all die off. Check it, she’s an Italian nurse in war torn Europe. Hot little outfit. Falls for an American GI. Grenades and explosions – machine guns and shit. I can see the poster right now. Her and her giant fucking tits leaning over a dying soldier. “Sometimes we must liberate others to save ourselves,” some shit like that as the tagline. Fucking brilliant. And if that doesn’t get you worked up,” he tipped his glasses down and leaned across the table, reflecting the plastic woman with the plastic dog, eating plastic food behind me, “Mid fucking six fucking figs.”

I sat back, chewing on my hippie bread, in the first stages of realizing that my grandfather’s harrowing march from Sicily to Poland was rapidly falling into the cleavage of a twenty-two year old megastar who currently sat poolside at some Malibu rehab facility.

“Let me think on it, man.”

“This doesn’t come around every day. Right now you’re nobody. This makes you somebody. You wanna slum around stocking toasters your whole life?”

He had a point. I was twenty-eight with a Master’s Degree in Communication, stacking DVDs at Target, living in a converted garage behind my landlord’s house in Studio City with a Chinese undergrad that pretended not to understand me when I told him to get his fucking dishes out of the sink and quit pissing on the toilet flap. All for twice as much per month as Meaney was paying on his freaking mortgage back in East Pittsburgh. Cause after all, it’s a privilege to live in Southern California.

I chuckled. “I don’t just stock toasters ya know. I set a wealth of other products on top of each other as well.”

He didn’t hear my clever little joke. He was busy cracking his spine over the back of the chair, snapping for the waitress. “So you going home for Christmas? Hanukkah? Whatever you’re into there…” he said, one eye on his Blackberry. “Where you from? Philly? Right?”


“Pittsburgh.”

“Eh, cold… east coast. It’s all the fucking same.”

My eyes narrowed. Just long enough to put a mental fork in his eye. Calling me from Philly. Fucker was lucky he was buying me lunch.

The waitress strutted up like she was practicing for a modeling gig in that, “Hi, I’m an actress, may I take your order,” way that they all do, flirting with everyone that looks important on the off chance they’re actually important – waiting for the, “Hey doll, you got the face of a star,” that never comes. He patted her on the back and she leaned down, flopping her black-tipped blonde hair in his face so he could give her a kiss that flaunted his status.

“Hey hon, I’ll take a Heineken,” he said, flipping his shades on the table. “Have a beer, Jack. On me. Celebrate this deal, huh?”

The waitress perked up at the word, “deal,” her flirtatious smile only moving my direction upon realizing that someday I might be famous enough to direct. “And for you?”

“You don’t have Iron City here do you?”

It was like I’d just spit out Mandarin. Like all the other actresses I threw for a loop with that question, she answered with rote memorization. “We have Bud, Bud Light, Amstel,…”

“Sorry. It’s a Pennsylvania beer. Always ask on the off chance…”

He gestured across the table. “My man here’s from Pittsburgh. Ordering strange beers makes him feel at home.”

And here it came. I don’t know how her nose managed to shrivel up. Cartilage doesn’t typically have that property. “Pittsburgh? Eew, how do you even breathe the air there?”

And there it was. Smokestacks and open-hearth slag filled her eyes as the words fell from her mouth. I just looked up into the whitish brown haze that currently blurred the edges of the San Gabriels – the floating coat of varnish that was currently eating my lungs from the inside out. “Where are you from?”

“Glendale. But I live in North Hollywood now,” she answered.

My own nose shriveled up as I stared at the sky, trying to find where the clouds began and the exhaust ended. “I guess I’ll have a Heineken too.”

He twitched as she walked away, mentally slapping her ass, his eyebrows popping up as he nodded to me, the wrinkles in his forehead saying, ‘I could hit that if I felt like it.’

I sat through forty-five minutes of him bitching about the Lakers in that, ‘I don’t really know anything about sports, but I’m going to play general manager like I do’ kind of way. I nodded and chimed in every once in a while, thankful for the beer. He was an interesting guy in a flashy, LA sort of way. I often wondered what he was like back in Iowa City, before the tentacles of Hollywood sucked out his brain. Most of our conversations, I felt like I was trying to loosen the Vader helmet and find that last remaining glimpse of a soul. His name was Dominick Bates, a fact I’ve so far forgotten to mention.

Ok, back to reality. So that’s my novely snippet type thing for the day. I know, not an immensely satisfying ending, but hopefully it was at least mildly interesting. Sometimes you just need to create a character to give a voice to the confusion you feel about your current environment. Which is probably all I was trying to do at the time anyway.

And again, I apologize if you were offended by the swearing. Those characters did that all on their own with no prompting from me. I’m truly sorry. But for your troubles, let me offer you some better, more pleasing words to cleanse your mental palette.

Polite
Church
Genuflect
Children
Cooperate
Serenity
Nuns

Ah, there. That’s %^#*ing better.

photo credit: Jess Walters via photopin cc

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Grandpa Hank’s Twitter Novels

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in Stories | 0 comments

OK, so Grandpa Hank is on Twitter. I know, I know, it’s something that the old man in my brain wants to throw walnuts at and yell, “Back in my day we had honest to criminy discussions without any character restrictions whatsoever! And then we went and played NHL ’94 on our Sega Genesis. Sega Genesis! The controller only had three buttons!” But it’s true. I’m on the Twitter. In the Twittersphere. Or Twitterverse. I got me a Twitternship. Whatever.

But the good news should you choose to view it that way is what’s coming up from Grandpa Hank. Starting this Friday, follow Grandpa Hank for a month-long “Twitter novel.” One sentence a day for thirty days until we have something that more or less resembles a story. “More or less” being the operative part of the description. Actually “less” is probably the most appropriate word to highlight. Most likely, what we’ll end up with is thirty days of utter nonsense. But hey, if the right people interpret my nonsense in a certain favorable way, it quits being nonsense and becomes genius. That’s how the creative world works.

Eventually I’m hoping to get suggestions from readers and followers as to the first and last sentences of these “Twitter novels” as well as characters, plot ideas, and themes. For now, though, I’m just going to wing it and see what I come up with on my own. So if you’re interested and like some of the stuff we’ve come up with here on the site so far, follow us on Twitter and see what happens.

My only expectations can be summed up in two words.
Pulitzer – worthy.

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Grandpa Hank – An Introduction

Posted by on Aug 30, 2013 in Business Writing, Creative Writing, Stories | 0 comments

Grandpa Hank – An Introduction

All right, so this is my first entry into the “Grandpa Hank’s Writing Shack” blog o’ mystery. Why is it a blog o’ mystery? Mainly because it sounded somewhat interesting and quirky to me as I completed the previous sentence. Also in my head, things tend to sound better when narrated by a nice old Irish gentleman. At present, I have no idea the percentage of actual mystery that may actually appear in this blog. Fourteen percent? That sounds reasonable. I’ll aim for fourteen percent. But to be perfectly honest, the amount of mystery could end up at fifteen percent or higher. And looking back now on all the ups and downs over the course of this paragraph, all of this frightening unknown seems to have justified my feelings way back when I wrote that initial sentence two and a half minutes ago. It is indeed a blog o’ mystery. Personally, I feel much better.

What I’m going to attempt now is incredibly presumptuous. I’m going to answer some questions that absolutely no real human beings have asked me about this blog as of yet and pretend that the answers will somehow satisfy, you, a reader I’ve never personally spoken to.

Cue the completely made up confusion of people who don’t exist!

  1. Why a blog about writing? Aren’t there 3,493 other similar blogs out there? In fact, now that I think about it, four of my aunts have a writing blog as well.

Why thank you for your insightful question imaginary person with a moderately large family. I’ll be perfectly honest. The reasons are twofold. First, I’m about to be a stay-at-home dad. I get mind numbingly bored during the day and need something to occupy my mind when I get back from the gym. I can only watch so much NFL Live. Enter the blog.

Second, I make my living as a freelance writer and many of my clients have pointed out how difficult it is to find real, practical advice on writing that isn’t as boring as hearing about a third string linebacker’s ACL tear for the fourth time in a single afternoon. (Seriously, you can only watch so much NFL Live) I realized that many people who are incredibly skilled at their own profession, (business, marketing, education, fitness, etc.) are often called upon to step out of their area of expertise and into the writing arena. Whether it be print ads, brochures, press releases, a website landing page or any of the various other things that tend to pop up, all of them can be a bit hard to tackle for those who aren’t necessarily used to it. So I figured I’d attempt to share what I know in a comprehensive and fun way that will hopefully keep all of our minds from turning to gravy. Along the way, should anyone find this blog and ask specific questions, I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. What good is knowledge if we can’t share it?

  1. That’s great, chief, but what are your qualifications?

First off, Spanky, don’t call me chief. Man, I hate when my made up people with made up questions turn out so abrasive. The great thing about imaginary people with imaginary questions, however, is just how easily you can make them disappear. This dude is already buried out in the desert. But thanks for the question dead guy.

What exactly are my qualifications? Well to start with, I have a Bachelor’s in Communication from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, where I also minored in Creative Writing. I also have a MFA in Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California-Riverside where I won a Samuel Goldwyn Screenwriting Award in 2007.

On the creative side, my plays and films have been seen all over the country. On the business side, I’ve written a myriad of things from internal “new hire” videos for a large national bank to the alumni funding videos for a couple major universities. I’ve written articles for local and national publications covering things like local theater, national sports tournaments, and why powerlifters need dietary fiber. I’ve penned blog posts for online coupon companies, condo complexes, and businesses that make prepackaged meals. I’ve sent out press releases for art exhibitions and local films. I honestly never know what’s going to spring up next. Often times I’ve had to do the research myself to make sure I’m doing things correctly. In my head, I’ve definitely said things like, “Wow, I don’t understand the terminology this company has provided in their notes at all. What the hell is gastrointestinal microflora?” and “How in the bloody socks am I supposed to awkwardly cram these five Internet keywords into such a tiny paragraph?”

I’ve learned from my successes as well as the mistakes I’ve made along the way. My goal is to pass all of that information on so that it’s easier on others than it was for me. Groping around in a jumble of words hoping the right ones float to the surface is frightening enough even when you’re actually familiar with the format you’re working in. It ranks somewhere between moderately annoying and slasher-flick scary when you don’t.

  1. Ok, that seems reasonable. So why the creative side to the blog?

Thanks for the question. And thanks for being so pleasant. I’m sincerely glad that I didn’t have to bury you out in the desert like the last guy. The answer is simple – it’s my passion. While I do a lot of business and marketing writing to help my dedicated and amazing wife pay the bills, what I love to do is create characters and watch them grow and evolve. I also love helping others find the best way to tell their stories. For me, it’s fun. It’s my release from everyday life. But I realize that everyone with a story to tell doesn’t find it so fulfilling all the time. The plan is to talk about what’s worked and hasn’t worked for me, as well as what’s worked and hasn’t worked for my friends and colleagues. In the near future I expect to have conversations, interviews, etc., with many writers I know from all over the country. Some are well established – names you may recognize, and some are just beginning to navigate the silly maze of what will become their writing career. I hope to highlight both the similarities and the differences of what we’re all going through.

I’m not going to lie. The life of the writer is an incredibly interesting and frustrating roller-coaster of happily depressed semi-insanity. Sometimes other writers need to know the boatload of crap that other talented people are going through just to survive. The last six years alone have seen me teaching at UC-Riverside, unemployed, on strike, unemployed, counseling at a tech-school, doing uranium exploration, unemployed, throwing drunks out of a college bar, repairing my grandmother’s house, unemployed, and cleaning garbage out of rental cars. And I did all of it to support my writing addiction. I suspect I’m not the only one. Well, probably the only one with that particularly stupid career path, but not the only one sacrificing for their stories. Cool. We’re on the same page here.

  1. You’re not named Hank nor are you a Grandpa. What gives with the name?

This is a very insightful question and I’m glad you brought it up nondescript question-asker. And the answer is simple. It sounded cool.

As I tried to come up with a unique name that might actually reflect the tone of the website, I kept picturing these old guys I know in the south. They all seem to have a half dilapidated shack out back underneath a Magnolia Tree where they escape to find their passion. Whether it’s a brew shack, motorcycle shack or ol’ fashioned haircut shack, I swear every grandpa in South Carolina has one. I just envisioned this old guy in a hammock underneath a single light bulb, writing in dusty notebooks surrounded by his favorite novels, whiskey-stained rejection letters and rusty old tools. And I found that guy really interesting.

Since my name is actually Kevin, my original idea was “Uncle Kevin’s Writing Shack” but that just sounded like a place some weird dude would lure neighborhood cats. “Grandpa Kevin’s Writing Shack” didn’t sound quite right either since I have yet to meet a grandfather named Kevin. It’s going to be really weird in a couple decades when traditional grandfather names like Hank and Walt and Dick are replaced with Ryan and Brandon and Tyler. “Hey, this is my grandpa Justin,” doesn’t sound quite right. I think at 60, all guys from my generation should be required to pick out a grandpa name. And mine’s going to be Hank. So there you go.

So welcome to Grandpa Hank’s Writing Shack. Hopefully some of you will find the forthcoming posts relevant to your situation as well as fun to read. And I sincerely hope that clears up all but fourteen percent of the original mystery, which I intentionally left in there to justify my earlier statistic.

Thanks,

Cramer

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