Meet Emmy Award Winning Screenwriter and Historical Fiction Novelist Alan Brennert

September 28, 2013

In one paragraph, tell us about your new book, Palisades Park.

Like my novels Moloka’i and Honolulu, Palisades Park tells the “history behind the history” of this renowned amusement park, as seen by young Toni Stopka, daughter of concessionaires, who dreams of becoming a daredevil high diver. Performers, pitchmen, the civil rights demonstrators picketing the gates, the underworld bosses meeting in secret across the street…all their stories are intertwined in a narrative that spans the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, up to the park’s closure in 1971.

What was your favorite novel or screenplay to write?

I enjoyed writing Palisades Park, but the novel I enjoyed most was Moloka’i. I got up every day excited to begin work on that book, because I was writing about a place that I loved—Hawai’i—and a little-known part of history that no one else had approached in quite this way. I did my research in the morning, wrote in the afternoon until dinnertime, and often went back to my computer in the evening if I had a problem that still had to be resolved or a if a new idea had occurred to me that I wanted to get down.

What do you see as the biggest difference between writing a novel and a screenplay?

A screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and my job as a screenwriter is to tell the story through action, dialog, and minimal scene description. But when I’m writing a novel I’m not just the writer, I’m the director, the actors, the location scout, the set dresser, the wardrobe supervisor—I have to create the entire world of the story in words. Each medium has its own challenges and its own rewards.

Tell us about winning an Emmy for your work on the television show, L.A. Law, in 1991. Did you get more satisfaction for this achievement, for the People’s Choice Award, or for winning the Nebula Award for “Ma Qui”?

The Emmy was something I had dreamed about winning since I was a kid—literally. Growing up, my idols were writers like Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Ernest Kinoy, James Costigan—the men behind the “golden age of television” of the 1950s (most of which I didn’t experience firsthand, being a bit too young, but discovered through reruns and movies). So it was quite a rush being up on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium when L.A. Law won for Best Drama Series. But I’m very proud of my Nebula Award as well, since that was a validation of, and my first award for, my literary work.

What authors or people have most influenced your writing career?

It’s an eclectic mix: authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Jonathan Strong and Ray Bradbury; playwrights like Robert Anderson and Thornton Wilder; and the aforementioned Serling, Costigan, et al. I’ve gone on to write in all those media—books, a play, film—and I like to think I continue to be influenced by good work in each field. (Moloka’i, as I’ve said elsewhere, was inspired by a fine novel called Consider This, Señora by Harriet Doerr, Honolulu shows influences of the work of Arthur Golden and Lisa See, and Palisades Park owes something to Larry McMurtry’s The Desert Rose).

I understand that you are transforming one of your first novels, Time and Chance, into a screenplay. As you revisit this work, where do you see your biggest improvement as a writer over time? Is reworking this novel like visiting an old friend?

I had the opportunity to bring Time and Chance back into print a few years ago, and in the process I found myself doing a fairly heavy polish on it. I didn’t change anything in the story, just polished or simplified the prose where it seemed too flowery or where the syntax was a bit rococo. I performed what I like to call a “semi-colonectomy,” deleting vast numbers of unnecessary commas, semi-colons, dashes, and ellipses that I would not use when writing a novel today. It made me realize that my prose style has evolved since 1990 (when Time and Chance was published)—it’s cleaner, leaner, smoother.

Do you enjoy book tours or writing more?

I’m essentially an introvert who can be extroverted when the occasion demands (you have to be to work in Hollywood, where you collaborate daily with so many people). So although I do enjoy book tours and meeting readers, I’m at heart happiest when sitting in a room writing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Alan Brennert. To learn more, visit his website (http://www.alanbrennert.com).


Verbal Mood: Subjunctive

September 24, 2013

During our WOTJ critique group, we discussed the use of the subjunctive verb as to whether the word “wasn’t” or “weren’t” was more appropriate. There was general agreement that the sentence in question should be rewritten because it is bound to seem wrong to someone.

At any rate, Elisabeth Tuck did a little sleuthing on the subjunctive. Here are the results:

In English, verbal contexts called moods can be one of three types (as noted in http://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/guide.html):
• indicative – simple statement or question (Jill picks up the ball.)
• imperative – a command (Jill, pick up the ball!)
• subjunctive – a statement contrary to fact, a wish, a mandative (command) statement (I request that Jill pick up the ball.)

The site, http://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/guide.html, goes into far more detail about words that may indicate the need for subjunctive.

The following quotes are from http://www.grammargirl.com:

“Use subjunctive for times when you’re talking about something that isn’t true or you’re being wishful.”

“Although it’s not always the case, sentences that start with “if” are often also wishful or contrary to fact.”

When to use “was”, not the subjunctive:

“when supposing about something that might be true, use the verb “was.”
Ex: There was a storm in Mexico. If Richard was in Cabo, he could have missed the call.”

“The possibility that it happened is what makes this sentence need the indicative mood and not the subjunctive mood.” Grammar Girl.com


Mysteries and Thrillers: An Interview with Rick Reed

September 16, 2013

Mysteries and thrillers – they make us tense, they keep us guessing and turning the page.  The intrigue can be even more compelling if the author is a former sheriff and police detective.  How much of this insanity is actually true?  Read on to find out how author Rick Reed crafts his books.

WOTJ: In one paragraph, tell us about your new book, Final Justice.

Rick: Final Justice will be released in September 2013. It is the third Detective Jack Murphy book, but all three books can be read as stand-alone. In this book, Jack’s ex-wife gets engaged to the Chief Deputy Prosecutor, who Jack knows as a skirt-chasing scoundrel. Then body parts show up at a landfill and Jack is definitely having a bad day. This book explores corruption in the criminal justice system and how greed and power can drive good men to commit evil acts.

WOTJ: How much of your fiction is based on your real-life experiences in law enforcement?

Rick: Almost all of it. I’ve had a very full and active career. I started as an investigator for a Circuit Court judge, then as a Deputy Sheriff, and finally as a Police Detective Sergeant in the Violent Crimes Unit. Most of the characters are built from bits and pieces of real characters I’ve known. Because I’m familiar with them I can give them their own unique voice and behavior.

WOTJ: Who is your favorite crime author?

Rick: There are several. Nelson DeMille is at the top. John Sandford is a close second.

WOTJ: There’s a substantial difference between the job skills of an author versus sheriff. What has been the biggest challenge?

Rick: I started my writing career when I was a police detective and captured a serial killer. Writing a true crime book about that experience was almost like writing a probable cause affidavit for court. When I switched to fiction it was a whole new world for me as a writer. My protagonist, Jack Murphy, would never be able to do the things he does if he was a real cop. He represents what I would have liked to be, but because of little things like the Constitution, I was unable to act on those feelings.

WOTJ: How do you handle negative reviews?

Rick: People who can’t write, complain. I look for ways of improving my writing, but you can’t please everyone. If someone brings up a valid point that I can address I try to learn from it. If they just want to rattle your cage, there’s not much you can do.

WOTJ: You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. Which genre do you prefer and why?

Rick: I will never write a true crime book again. A cookbook, maybe. But I prefer to write fiction. It lets you create an entire world, and escape into that world for a few hours each day. Nonfiction doesn’t allow that.

WOTJ: Does it rankle when authors get the details of detective work wrong?

Rick: No. There are many ways of doing an investigation. As long as someone writes a good story I don’t mind if they fire a six-shot revolver ten times without reloading. Shows like CSI are so farfetched that they are laughable, but the story is entertaining, and that’s what writing is about.

WOTJ: I see your book, Cruelest Cut, has been translated in Polish. Do you worry that some of the content will be lost or misconstrued during the translation?

Rick: It always is. The German edition came out last year and I received numerous bad reviews because of grammar and spelling from people that didn’t understand that I didn’t write the German version. Whoever translated is responsible for the correctness of the story, and that is hard to do sometimes because there may be a difference in nuance. I’m just happy that I have a bigger audience and hope they are forgiving of my poor Polish and German. Haha.

WOTJ: What is your favorite crime TV show?

Rick: The Walking Dead. Seriously, I don’t have one. I try not to watch crime shows because they cut so many corners that I don’t want to subconsciously do that in my writing. If they made my Jack Murphy novels into a TV series, I might watch that.

WOTJ: You were a co-author with Steven Walker on your nonfiction book, Blood Trail. What was it like collaborating on a book?

Rick: It’s very difficult, especially when one author is in Pennsylvania and one in Indiana. But despite the different writing styles, it was a very enjoyable experience.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Rick Reed. To learn more visit his website (www.Rickreedbooks.com or email Rick@RickReedBooks.com): eBooks and softcover are available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Blood Trail CoverThe Cruelest Cut_Demille Quote copyFinal Justice Ebook Cover (2)The Coldest Fear Book Cover copy


First Zerona Treatment

September 13, 2013

Today was my first no booze day in preparation for my Zerona treatments to begin on Monday.  Could I remain alcohol free while I received Zerona treatments three times a week for the next month?  Would I cave and have a cocktail anyway?  No chance that would happen, not after I had already paid the money.

At cocktail time, I poured myself a large glass of ice water and topped it off with the juice of half a lemon, plus a slice on the rim.  My glass looked festive and interesting, but had little kick.  Should have used a lime.

Dinner without wine?  More ice water with lemon plus a dash of fresh orange juice.  Not so bad.

Monday came and I arrived, booze free, at the Zerona office.  Signed in and waited in the spacious lobby.  Even though Miss Jocelyn assured me this cool laser process would not hurt, I had my doubts.

A polite nurse ushered me into a treatment room and explained that I needed to take off my blouse and everything below the waist.  For the required measurements, weight check, and photos, nurse indicated I should slip on the packaged pair of panties on the treatment bed.  The “panties” were tiniest things I have ever seen.  Little more than band of elastic the thickness of dental floss and a scratch pad sized modesty panel threaded through the elastic band.  No competition for Victoria’s Secret.

 After the necessary rigmarole, I stretched out the bed.  Nice nurse wheeled a machine toward me and began adjusting the four goose-necked lights to shine on key place on my torso.

 “Are you sure this isn’t going to hurt?” I asked.

 “Absolutely.  In fact, most people fall asleep during each one of the three twenty minute sessions.”

She gave me a pair of blue sunglasses to shield my eyes from any stray red laser beams.  I waited in anticipation as she turned on the machine.  Those, unlike the demonstration I saw on television, did no rotate but remained stationary.

“Well, how is it?” she asked.

“Don’t feel a thing,” I said. 

“See, I told you,” she said.  “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”  With that, she snapped off the lights.  There I lay stretched out on a bed, wearing only my bra and paper panties under the glow of the now purple-to-me lasers.  If this didn’t work, it would be one of the stupidest things I had ever done.

After another treatment in which the lasers were aimed at other areas, I flipped onto my tummy for the backside.  Then, nurse wheeled the Zerona machine away while I turned onto my back, ready for the massage I’d been promised.  She flipped on a massage machine while she slathered goopy gel on me.  The machine made noise like the faulty washing machine I’d gotten rid of years ago.  My massage was not the restful kind I received at spas in St. Helena. 

I dressed and moved to the desk in the lobby for my final instruction.  “Now, remember to use the Daily Firming Lotion both morning and evening.  Be sure to wear your compression garment all day.  Sleep in it, if you can.”

“Yep, I’ll do all that,” I said.  “Squeezing into that Spanx thing reminded me of the girdles we wore during the sixties.  I think those things were made of galvanized rubber.”  No laughter.

“It’s very important to drink all the water you are supposed to.  Remember.  Divide your weight by two and that’s how many ounces you must drink every day.  You’re your capsules twice a day.  The Niacin and Ginko Biloba helps the fat release.  And, you need to get at least thirty minutes of exercise as soon as possible after each Zerona session.”

“I’m on my way to the gym right now,” I said.  “Plan to use the stationary bike for at least a half hour.”

“Good.  We’ll see you on Wednesday.”

Was anything magic happening to my blubber?  Was I going to be a slimmer me at the end of these sessions?  What kind of enormous cocktail will I drink in a month? 


Adventure into the Amazon: An Interview with Paul Beaver

September 6, 2013

The Hedgecock family had the privilege of staying at Tahuayo Lodge in Peru this summer.   I was glad that I had read Paul Beaver’s Diary of an Amazon Jungle Guide, prior to our trip.  It truly captures the amazing diversity of animals and plants, the fascinating culture of native folks and the magical, mysterious world of the Amazon.

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Jill: In one paragraph, tell us about your book, Diary of an Amazon Jungle Guide.

Paul:  I started the Amazon’s first adventure camping company 33 years ago. I had so many crazy adventures, bringing people into a wilderness that contains the Earth’s greatest biodiversity. So many crazy and funny encounters of people, plants, insects, monkeys, snakes, etc. After 20 years of working in the jungle I found that I was starting to forget some of the crazy times people would recall to me. So I thought I had better start to write things down.

Jill: Your tales encompass a large number of expeditions and the material for your book took years to accumulate, but how long did it take you to actually write the book?

Paul:  Once I put pen to paper it just all poured out, 10 chapters worth in about a month. Seven years later I added another 3 chapters.

Jill:  Who is your favorite naturalist? 

Paul:  I’ll give you two, Charles Darwin, the father of modern biology and Steve Irwin, who shared such joy of nature in his Crocodile Hunter series; Darwin appeals to my serious nature and Irwin to my crazy, no-holds-barred sense of joy in wildlife adventures.

JillIf you were a jungle animal what would you be?

Paul:  People who have camped with me in the jungle say I remind them of a sloth.  I don’t know what to make of that exactly; perhaps because I’m always unruffled, even in tense wilderness situations, and always with an absent-minded smile.

Jill:  Your book touches on many interesting topics including the little known ruins, Kuelap, which you say is more impressive than Machu Picchu.  Do you think this site will ever achieve the same tourism popularity?

Paul:  It should, if the government ever invests in infrastructure like a good airport and roads.

Jill:  Your honeymoon camping trip in the Amazon was, shall we say, unique.  Did you ever take a more traditional vacation?

Paul:  Hah, let me tell you about that.  My bride, Dolly, was so uncomfortable and miserable, but I said to her that one day we would just laugh about it.  Well once every few years I’ll ask her if she’s ready to laugh about it yet. Finally after about 18 years she says yes, she’s finally ready to laugh.  Then just to make sure I ask her again today, and its back to no, it really isn’t funny.  Well, maybe in another 18 years….

Jill:  Your depiction of the riberenos culture is well done in the book.  Can you tell us about your wife’s efforts to improve the quality of life for these people?

Paul: It grew out of her compassion for her sister native women. She wanted to make sure they were not abused and had what they needed for their children.  From there it led to economic initiatives for the native women, then a medical clinic (it is probably the finest rural clinic in the Amazon), then educational initiatives and additional health care programs.

JillDo you have plans to write another book?

Paul: I hope to add another chapter in a year or two. I have been getting together with my old shaman friend, Cumpanum.  He is very old now, as I am.  We get together and talk over old times, every conversation starting with “remember when” and ending in gales of laughter. But these talks have given me more insight into his history and life, which I wish to share.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Paul Beaver.  Learn more about the Tahuayo River Lodge on his website:   www.perujungle.com.  Dolly’s nonprofit organization  (Angels of the Amazon) website is:  www.angelsoftheamazon.com.

The book is available on Amazon.com bookstore at http://www.amazon.com/Diary-Amazon-Jungle