The Big Lebowski

The Mojo Movie Review of The Big Lebowski

My girlfriend and I went to a drive in theater the other week and saw a double feature:

      1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
      2. The Big Lebowski

The Monty Python movie was, of course, as brilliant now as it was back then. But when The Dude showed up on screen, I realized I had not seen it since it first came out.

I’m going to assume you’ve seen it. If not, beware of spoilers.

So, there it was, up on the big screen again, and I only vaguely remembered it and had no idea what was going to happen, so it was like watching it for the first time all over again. Apparently, this is one of those movies you either love, or hate. But unfortunately I didn’t get to see the whole thing.

About a quarter of the way through my girlfriend was curled up in her seat, eyes closed. I assumed she was asleep, but she wasn’t. She was tuning the movie out.

“Are you okay?” I finally asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Did you want to go?”

“Do you?” she asked.

“Well, um…”

“If you’re watching the movie, it’s fine.” She curled up again.

“We can go,” I told her.

“Can we?”

“Of course. I take it you’re not enjoying it.”

“This is the worst movie I have ever seen,” she said.

And with that, we left.

Now me, I was totally absorbed because the characters are so completely fleshed out and interesting. The acting is superb. The story extremely quirky, just like I like a story, with all sorts of bizarre twists and turns that keep me guessing all the way through. But I had no idea how it ends.

So, last night, I finally broke down and bought it and watched it again, because it bugged me that I didn’t remember how it all turned out. And I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I bought it instead of rented it, because this really is one of those movies that you either love or hate, and unlike my girlfriend, I love it — and I’ll watch it again.

Some of the things that really caught me by surprise is how the story actually lets us, the viewer, in on some secrets during the movie. It literally stops the story at least twice and says, “Hey, look, contrary to what the characters believe, this is what is really going on.” It’s like the story winks at us and says, “Watch how this messes with the characters.”

Normally this would never work. It would ruin a story. But not this story, because due to all the twists and turns and confusion that the characters are going through, it’s a relief that we’re let in on a couple of the major secrets.

And it’s safe to say that none of the characters really know what’s going on. That’s a fun takeaway and one I hope to remember in my own writing.

I found it fascinating that they pulled this off so well. It’s also fascinating that The Dude has most of it figured out at the very beginning, though not quite, but as the story unfolds he doubts it and starts believing other scenarios, only to find out he was almost right all along.

And a note about the characters: I found them so fully realized that it was easy to suspend my disbelief despite some of their over-the-top actions or dialog. And some of the characters who you think are going to be major players turn out to be very minor, and some of the minor characters turn out to actually be major. And it’s all okay, because the story itself is so well crafted.

And so it’s no shock that, in the end, The Dude abides, and also does the movie, even after all these years.

Rediscovering Apple Pages on the iPad

Apple Pages is free for both macOS and iOS devices, and also is online at iCloud.com

I have used just about every word processor ever made, going all the way back to WordStar on DOS, and WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Scrivener, etc. (even one called IBM Writing Assistant on a PCjr), but over the last several months I’ve rediscovered Apple Pages, especially the iOS version that I use on my iPad Pro. This is one word processor I tried briefly years ago and dismissed, moving on to Scrivener.

But, as nice as Scrivener is, it’s a pain in the butt, and I’d always end up moving the project over to Microsoft Word for the finishing touches to get the manuscript ready for publication.

So one day I took another look at Apple Pages, because the one feature I knew about it was it outputted an absolutely beautiful final product.

Once I re-familiarized myself with the minimalist user interface I began to really appreciate the fine balance of simplicity and features. It can be used as a simple writing tool, but dig deeper and you find most of the controls you’d consider standard in a word processor.

It has a few quirks, but once mastered they are not a problem. It’s not perfect, but no word processor is. It doesn’t try to do everything for everyone — that’s the main flaw in Microsoft Word. It isn’t overly complex — that’s Scrivener.

I’ve found that if you split a screen and have Notes on one side, and Pages on the other, you have a nice and simple replacement for Scrivener that gives you just enough features but not too much, and the output is beautiful and ready to go without bogging you down with settings.

Apple Notes on one side, Apple Pages on the other… you’ve got yourself a free Scrivener replacement.

Add the new iPad Pro magic keyboard and you have one of the nicest writing machines I have ever used.

Plus it syncs nicely to the desktop version, and … one of the best features: it’s free.

FREE.

That’s a great feature!

Bravo, Apple. Well done. Five stars.

A Tale of Two Typewriters

Oh, hello! Hey there! Yes, I’m still alive. I hope everything is going okay with you. Having grown tired of taking pictures of birds and squirrels, and having lost interest in the new Animal Crossing game, I’ve doubled down on my first love: fiction writing.

Also, feeling somewhat nostalgic, I’ve invested in a couple of typewriters. Not for any real use (besides jotting an odd note here and there). More for inspiration and, well, for the current work in progress: research.

First, I lucked into the purchase of a pristine example of the favorite typewriter of both Ernest Hemingway and James Bond author Ian Fleming: the Royal Quiet Deluxe.

Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter
This is where James Bond began…

What a machine. A perfect example of how people used to build things to last and last. This typewriter is over 70 years old and still works perfectly. It’s as solid as the proverbial tank.

But why a typewriter? What the hell?

This is why: it’s basically a character in my newest novel. Or, for those familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s terminology, it’s the “McGuffin” for the story.

Not to be confused with a “McMuffin” which is what my word processor’s spell checker keeps trying to change it to.

The fantasy, set in 1982, features a protagonist who is a typewriter repairman, and is fated to fulfill a part in the gods’ plan to fix a problem created years before.

Let me just leave it at that.

But, if I’m going to write about a Royal Quiet Deluxe, I need one in my hands. I need to know what it feels like, how heavy it is, what all the parts do, how to change the ribbon, how to set the margins, etc. So, in my mind at least, I needed the genuine article in my possession for the sake of the story.

But that purchase sent me going further down the nostalgia rabbit hole. You see, way before word processors I used to write on typewriters, and for the longest time I used the venerable old IBM Selectric. But even before that I had the typewriter my parents gave me for my 12th birthday, way back when I had first announced to them that I was going to be a novelist. And that was…

1970's ad for a Montgomery Ward Escort 55 typewriter
Not the greatest typewriter in the world, but perfectly good for a 12 year old novelist.

I thought, hey, if I can buy the Royal Quiet Deluxe, just for fun I should see if I could get my old original typewriter as well. Not the exact one, mind you, but one exactly like it. The actual make, model, year, and even banana yellow color. However, this turns out to be a rather rare typewriter, probably because it didn’t hold up that well.

Because, you know … plastic.

My search turned up nothing, but at the very least I did set up an automatic search on eBay, just in case one ever did turn up. And didn’t cost an arm and leg.

About three COVID-19 seclusion weeks trundled past, and suddenly I get this pop up message on my phone from the eBay app. “Hey, we found your typewriter.” (It didn’t say that, exactly, but that was the gist of the message.)

I looked at it. Amazed. It was exactly like my original typewriter. It was in pristine condition. And it did not cost an arm and a leg.

Boom. Sold. Bought it on the spot. (eBay is dangerous that way.)

Montgomery Ward Escort 55 typewriter
It even has the stickers that I remember. It’s so much like the original that I sometimes wonder if fate somehow handed me my actual original.

This is a pure nostalgia purchase. I made sure it works (to my surprise it types nicer than the Royal Quiet Deluxe), but UPS was not kind to it during shipping, and I had to gingerly piece parts of it back together. Still, it works, and it’s mine, and now it sits next to the replica of my original Canon FTb camera.

So, guess what I did? I wrote it into the story as well. After all, the protagonist is a typewriter repairman, so why wouldn’t he have a Montgomery Ward Escort 55 typewriter sitting on his workbench?

As a bonus, that makes both of them a tax write off as well.


Birds and Squirrels

So like many of us all around the world, I am confined to my home, and I thought I’d be okay with this because I am far into the introverted side of the social spectrum. Being that my primary job is to update things on the Intranet, working from home has always been an option, but this is the first time it’s ever been mandatory.

I find that when it’s an option, it’s a pleasant treat. When it’s mandatory, it’s suffocating.

Here’s what I’m doing to keep sane:

  • Taking a lot of pictures of birds and squirrels out my home office window.
  • Watching the backlog of movies that I’d bought but never watched.
  • Finished the third draft of my latest novel.
  • Played a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons

But, mainly, I’ve been taking pictures of birds and squirrels.

March 2020 Updates

Half the people I know are secretly convinced they have Covid-19. Everyone around me seems to be sick. Hell, I’ve been sick for the past 9 days. However, in all the cases (including mine) it’s mild. Whatever it is.

Still, I am caught up in this collective feeling that this may be the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. And then I remember that every other year for the past 20 something years have felt that way.

And so, life goes on.

I’m most of the way through a rewrite of No Such Thing as Mermaids and kind of stumbled and fell on my face during the last two chapters. They simply don’t work, and so I tossed them out and am rewriting them from scratch. It was far too glib of an ending. The main character has gone through some major shit and he needs to be suffering from some PTSD.

This is a “realistic fantasy” I’m writing, after all, so it needs to be fairly realistic.

I think another thing that gives me echoes of the end of the world is this election we’re about to live through. People are so deeply divided that I feel that is the biggest problem facing us. Not health care, not taxes, not housing prices — the us vs. them mentality with no middle ground.

Yes, I lean very hard to one side, but I am still going to be friends with, and love, people who lean the other way. If we can all do that, then we can all maybe see our way to compromising, no matter who wins the elections. Compromise is the foundation of the United States of America. That’s why we have the word “United” in the name of the nation.

Without that keyword and concept taken to heart, I am afraid that the Divided States of America is headed straight for it’s second Civil War.

And my friends, that is exactly what certain other countries of this world really, really want to happen to us. They feel it’s time for this brash, blustery nation to get its comeuppance. They’re tired of us being “Team America, World Police.”

So that is the hard question this nation has to ask itself: do we want to be a divided nation — or a united one?

Sneak Peek (of the new book cover)

Because I’m horrible at keeping secrets, here’s the tentative first draft of the cover design for the book that hasn’t even seen a second draft yet.

After getting his dreams crushed in Silicon Valley and losing almost everything to patent trolls, entrepreneur and hacker Jack Gilmour takes what he has left, and goes back to his roots to open a small computer repair shop in a rural coastal town in Oregon.

He never imagined he’d fall in love with a witch, and he never dreamed he would see what he thinks he saw out in the stormy ocean outside of town. Because he knows … those don’t exist.

Begon, Demons!

I don’t know if you could exactly say it was writer’s block. I think it was just burnout. I’d produced three books in a very short period of time, and then I just felt like … I was done.

But I wasn’t. You see, I have a “story brain” that just won’t shut off.

My girlfriend brought this to my attention when she finally told me how much she loved it when I would narrate just about everything — from animals to inanimate objects — where I apparently project personalities on them and then offhandedly tell her what is going on. The salt and pepper shakers, you see, were plotting against the syrup bottle … or the cats were in cahoots to murder the dog. Or, as I would explain (and not really even realize what I was doing) the flies would all disappear because we’d pulled out a fly swatter, and they were hiding in a corner somewhere creating diagrams of how they would counter-attack when we were least expecting it.

Seriously, I was totally in the dark that I even did this. It was just how I made small talk.

Another seemingly unrelated thing was what I considered a very bad habit: my mind would constantly come up with the worst possible scenarios for everyday mundane events. These I kept to myself, because I thought I was going nuts. Villians, terrorists, deranged killers, monsters, demons — I would enter a restaurant and scope out the quickest escape, or the most logical counter-attack … not that I believed these things would happen, but the horrible scenarios would play out in my head like a TV show.

I wondered: How long have I been like this? Have I been doing this all my life? Did I do this as a child? It was horrible, and more than once I tried to get in to see a psychologist to find what was wrong with me.

But then, one day only a few weeks ago, I realized it had gone away. Completely. And the reason I noticed this is because suddenly it started coming back — and that is when I discovered why.

This bad habit of imagining horrible scenarios had begun after I’d stopped writing fiction. But in October of 2019 I started writing again, and then didn’t even notice this bad habit had vanished. That is, until I’d finished the first draft of the new novel, then it started up again.

That’s when I realized what was going on.

If I’m not plotting the next several scenes in a novel, my “story brain” has nothing better to do than to have a mad gunman invade McDonald’s, or have an airplane crash into my building at work, or have a meteor strike while I’m driving cross country — leaving me to figure out how exactly I’d survive.

It appears I need to constantly be writing fiction just to keep the demons at bay.

Giant Flaming Fowl

Gargantuan white ducks waddled down the road, their orange webbed feet large as small cars, and each impact released a thunderous tremor that could be felt miles away. We hid in terror at their passing, huddled behind broken signboards. “Quack!” said one. “Quack!” We covered our ears and trembled, sure each moment would be our last.

Jane, crazed by booze and her innate hatred for the lab-created monsters, broke free from her hiding place and raced out to the middle of the cracked pavement. She stood behind the last one, pointing a flare gun. I wanted to scream “No!” but didn’t dare. She risked her life, but I couldn’t risk everyone else’s.

The muzzle spit flame and sparks, and the projectile shot out, wobbling, and embedded itself into the massive tail feathers. It took a moment for it to register through the massive body, but when it did the giant duck gave a shudder and it opened its beak. A noise like none other raked the very air around us, and flames quickly spread along the oiled feathers.

Jane did a dance of vengeful joy and then scrambled to load another flare.

It was the last time we saw her alive.

SleepLink

Raymond’s phone emitted a crystalline chime. A message, he knew, from another world.

Swaying back and forth with the train’s motions, his eyes blinked open and he reached into his jacket pocket, feeling for the warm metal. Pulling it out, he held it in front of his bleary eyes and focused on the screen.

SLEEPLINK Message from Mary North – Ray I need your help! My hair has turned to metal! I think it’s like Brillo or something! Can you come home right now?

“Uhh yeah,” he whispered to himself. Thumbing the phone’s keyboard he replied, “You are asleep and dreaming right now. Nothing is wrong. Either wake up, or shift your dream in another direction.” He hit send then plinked the screen off with a push of a button, and then slid the phone back into his pocket. Oh man, he thought, it would be nice to be at home right now, asleep, instead of riding a stuffy crowded commuter train at 5 in the morning.

From deep within his pocket came another chime. Raymond gave a half-sigh, half-laugh. Why, he wondered, did we ever think this SleepLink service was a good idea? He slipped his hand once again into his pocket, finding the phone, pulling it out.

“I’m not the one dreaming, you are,” she’d replied.

“No sweetheart,” he typed back. “You’re the one logged into SleepLink, not me. Everything is okay.” He almost quipped something about making sure her Brillo hair didn’t get rusty, but he restrained himself. He was too tired.

Accessing the control app, he thumbed through the menu and chose something he was only supposed to do if absolutely necessary: RESET PARTNER’S DREAM. He knew he was supposed to try to talk her through a nightmare first, because using this was kind of like teleporting at random and not knowing where you would land.

The wheels hit a bump in the tracks, and the lights flashed inside the train. The jolt threw Raymond’s head against the window so hard he was amazed the glass didn’t break. It felt like it had cracked his head. He clutched it a moment, feeling a wave of dizziness, and after he recovered Raymond felt a warm body next to him in the seat. Glancing over he was startled to see Mary sitting with him.

She was in her pajamas. Her sexy pajamas.

“What the hell?” he exclaimed.

“Oh, you hit the dream reset!” she said. “Great. Just great. I’m naked in public. Thank you Ray.”

It took him a moment to find his voice. She wasn’t naked, exactly — though the nightie was pretty much see-through. What stole his voice from him was the fact that her head was festooned with a mass of dull gray steel wool instead of hair. “Oh crap,” he said, “I teleported you out of your dream!”

“No, stupid, you teleported me into your dream.”

“I’m not dreaming!”

“No? Then how do you account for me being here? Teleportation isn’t actually possible. And—” she pointed “—explain why there’s a Klingon sitting in the seat across from us.”

The Klingon looked over at them, bemused. “I’m heading to a Star Trek convention,” he said in a low, guttural voice.

“He’s going to a convention,” Raymond said. “See.”

“Of course he’s going to agree with you,” said Mary. “He’s in your dream.”

Something occurred to Raymond. “Wait a minute,” he said to the Klingon, “it’s five in the morning! What Star Trek convention is going to be open this early?”

The Klingon now had a third eye. “Meow,” he said. He smiled at them with long, sharp, pointed teeth.

Everyone else on the train turned around to smile at them. They all had three eyes and sharp teeth. Raymond and Mary looked at each other, and then both fumbled quickly for their phones, scrambling to open the DreamLink app and hit the reset button. Mary — lord knows where she had been keeping her phone — beat him to it.

The lights blinked, and instead of being on a train, they both floated in a kind of blue-violet void surrounded by large stuffed panda bears and Hello Kitties. “Oh no!” Raymond cried. “We teleported into your dream!”

Mary spun upside-down and smiled. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

“No!” Hello Kitties terrified him, and these were over 15 feet tall. He fumbled for his phone but lost his grip on it, and it went tumbling away into space. Raymond watched it in horror, especially as one of the giant stuffed pandas grabbed it and crunched it to bits with its very real, very non-fluffy teeth.

“Raymond?” said a voice that wasn’t Mary’s. “Raymond? You okay? Raymond?”

He sucked in his breath and lifted his head in one convulsive movement. Raymond found himself sitting at a table with a bunch of people who were all staring at him. His co-workers. The lights were dim and a PowerPoint presentation shown on the wall. His face felt wet, and he reached up to touch it, finding drool all over his chin and cheeks.

“Uh, yeah, I’m okay,” he said, his tense and breathless voice undermining his words. He had to put his hands firmly against the table to hold himself upright. He felt dizzy and disoriented.

“Are you sure?” asked his boss. She looked concerned.

Raymond’s phone, sitting on the table in front of him, chimed and the screen lit up. INCOMING SLEEPLINK MESSAGE, it said. Without reading it, Raymond grabbed the phone and turned it off, then shoved it into his shirt pocket.

Up on the wall, the projected PowerPoint slide depicted a giant Hello Kitty.

His three-eyed boss said, “Meow.”

Star System, Galaxy, and Universe are not Interchangeable Terms

THIS IS AN OPEN LETTER TO SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS, PARTICULARLY SPACE OPERA WRITERS, AND ALSO PARTICULARLY TO NEW WRITERS

You really need to get this hierarchy straight:

For the most part, planets revolve around a sun. This is called a Star System.

Stars (with their collective planets) are generally found in big collections called a Galaxy.

Galaxies all exist in a Universe.

YOU REALLY NEED TO KEEP THESE TERMS STRAIGHT.

To simplify it, think of it this way: If a planet was a house, then the Star System is a street of houses, and a Galaxy is a very large city. A Universe is the entire continent.

Also, a note about distances:

Planets inside a Star System can be very far away from each other, but they’re still within the gravity well of a star.

Stars are usually very, very far away from each other, so far away that it takes their light years — sometimes hundreds or thousands of years — to reach each other. That’s why we use the term lightyears as a unit of measure.

A lightyear is 5,878,499,801,210 miles.

Carl Sagan

That is also why we generally use the science fiction term “hyperspace” to cheat and jump from one star system to another, and to bypass the reality of a thing called “time dilation” which would make plotting any kind of fictional story a real challenge.

GALAXIES ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER. It takes light hundreds-of-thousands, or millions, or even billions of years to reach each other. Even using “hyperspace” you need to stress how in the heck you can go that far, even if it’s a simple statement that the technology pokes a hole in space to enable instant travel across ANY DISTANCE. If you establish that up front, you might get away with it, but … and this is a big point:

You must respect the vast distances between all these celestial objects, and have a grip on what they all are. Bonus points if you have a good knowledge of what a black hole is, and a quasar, and other exotic and strange things such as a neutron star.

You will never be able to look up into the sky and see something happening at that very moment to a star. If a sun is destroyed by a “Star Killer,” you won’t see it happen from a neighboring star system for years.

Major goof made in a recent Star Wars movie

You should also know that there are many different types of stars, ranging from giants to dwarfs, and various colors, and each color means something — and is an indicator of how much heat and radiation that they spew forth.

But above all, do not get star systems and galaxies confused.

If you do, your readers will laugh at you.