Category Archives: ideas

Published: In Print or Online (A Meditation)

I struggle a little everyday with something.

It’s something that in the Grand Scheme of It All isn’t worth struggling with. You might say after reading this “Trig, look to the future, man!” and you’d be 1,000% right! Maybe it’s my five years studying to get a BA in creative writing, plus another two years at Brooklyn College earning my Master’s in writing poetry (’cause you need an MFA to write poetry), but whenever I get something published, it’s still a bigger deal to me when it’s published in print versus online.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Perhaps it’s as if by publishing a poem of mine in a print publication like the dozens I have on my shelves, someone is saying that my work is worth paying money to impress onto a page for sale at brick and mortar Barnes and Nobles across the country. Or maybe it’s that’s some editor sitting behind piles and piles of unsolicited manuscripts has sifted through the sop to discover a bioluminescent fish miles below the surface of Poetry and New Yorker verse which lighted on a treasure chest filled not with doubloons but a single sheet of poetry preserved until that deep-diving editor happened upon it.

But why would that be important? Why should it be important?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately. I recently got word from The Good Men Project that my poem “At Closing Time” is up on their site. And that’s awesome! What’s more awesome is that it’s not the first poem I’ve had published on this site; my classic spoken word piece “Old ’89” and “The Naked Kiss” which I’d written after watching Samuel Fuller’s 1964 classic of the same name, were also published at The Good Men Project. But after having it printed in Iodine Poetry Journal –– my favorite print magazine of poetry –– having “At Closing Time” –– my favorite poem I’ve ever written –– online didn’t feel as much of a big deal as it should have. Same for “Old ’89,” which was first published in Harpur Palate, Volume 8, Issue 1). But I was pretty stoked when “The Naked Kiss” was published online, partially because I never actually submitted that poem to any print publications.

Here’s the thing: I look at my aforementioned bookshelf where I keep journals like Iodine Poetry JournalConcho River ReviewThe Chaffin Journal, and the many others (I had to get up for a moment and walk to that shelf to look up the names of them all), and I wonder to myself: Who else has a copy of these wonderful print publications featuring my poems, and the poetry of talented other poets and writers like me? Truth be told, it’s not many. Probably some of the more hardcore poetry aficionados, maybe? Certainly a few Ph.Ded professors who actually still have subscriptions to Poetry Salzburg and Pennsylvania English. When you get a piece published in print, the best you can do to share is snap a pic of the cover or even the piece itself and post it to Instragram, then send folks to where they have to pay $8 to $12 for a copy of the magazine or journal. In today’s world, that’s two too many steps to ask of people.

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture "At Closing Time."

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture “At Closing Time.”

But online? Having something published online opens us writers up to an audience of infinite potential readers. With the click of a share button, I (and you) can send my poem to Twitter, Facebook, heck, even Pinterest if you know how to really use it, and possibly uncover more readers than you ever thought you could –– if the piece is quality enough to stand out from the countless others being shared every day.

I will say, though, that the Activia ad a mere inch below my heartrending closing of “At Closing Time” does spoil the catharsis slightly for me –– hopefully it won’t spoil it for you.

You don’t get that in print, either.

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What do you think about publishing in print versus online?

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Hitting The Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It)

In all my nearly twenty years as a poet and writer, I’ve never believed in writer’s block.

writers_block

And this isn’t a piece expounding on how I suddenly found myself staring into the blank Microsoft Word document glowing back on my laptop, how my fingers froze, or how some unfelt before fear from the Great Beyond had turned on the faucet and I started sweating profusely.

No, I still don’t believe in writer’s block.

But it believes in me, and it almost hit me nonetheless. Hard.

As many of you probably know, since March of 2013, I’ve been writing a series of mystery novels under the auspices of “Hipster Noir” on the PATH train during my morning and evening commute to work. Three novels later, over 200,000 words, and one proposal to pitch them all to an agent or publisher, I’m still going strong with my fourth novel, The Curious Case of Tomorrow (Or, The Trouble with Time Travel).

But this fourth novel, which is a direct continuation of the third, the way Quantum of Solace is a continuation of Casino Royale, started making me second guess some things. I would still get on the PATH train from Grove Street in Jersey City to the World Trade Center stop on the other side of the Hudson, and my fingers would still go to work with my iPhone music library shuffling between Tom Waits and Gin Wigmore, with an occasional Lykke Li ballad or Pearl Jam anthem cutting in over the seven-minute or so ride.

This time, however, felt different.

I knew that I was really searching blindly for a spark. Now I can’t get too detailed here because I’d have to divulge what my fourth novel is all about, and I haven’t even published any of the first ones yet, but this was the first time over the course of almost thirty-six months that the writing was not yielding anything that I was getting truly excited about, the way the first three novels had done.

Nonetheless, I kept going. I kept writing every morning and evening, just like I’d done for nearly three years. The only difference was that instead of having my characters, story, and all its plot twists, McGuffins and organically sprout from within, I was actively searching for that spark, yet never thinking to admit that I may have finally found what no writer has ever actively searched for:

The Writer’s Block. And yes, I capitalize it like a proper noun ‘cause it deserves a proper level of respect. Anything that pushes us to become better writers does.

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The way I see it, we are the ones who create the Writer’s Block, by pouring out so much of who we are and what we are in our writing. At one point, we run out of things to write. But as Tom Waits sings, “you build it up, you wreck it down…” in a song appropriately titled “Hold On,” that’s exactly I did. I gave it form, shaped the shapeless into something that, in time, and once I found its weakness, I could hope to break right through.

Back to my Curious Case of Tomorrow. Amid my searching within not one, but two separate timelines that this new novel has split into; after figuring out that what I was writing this time around was no longer a mystery novel, but a science-fiction spaghetti western (if there’s even such a thing); when I finally surprised myself one day riding that iron horse through those morning and evening tunnels humming with the electricity of possibility, I knew I had finally blasted right through that ‘Block.

I had found my voice. Again.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the first time this ever happened, but it was the first time I became aware of it’s happening. And I dealt with it.

The Writer’s Block isn’t a stumbling block, it’s an uncarved block. It doesn’t necessarily have to stop your creativity. It’s not the blank page we stare blankly at, but the page that stares at us and pushes us to shut up our minds and write anything, which proves to be the most frightening thing for us writers –– to write without purpose. Without saying anything.

Writing for the sake of writing. Of calling ourselves writers.

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The Uncarved Block, or Pu, as Taoist abstract art.

But at least we’re writing, and in doing so, we’re showing that ‘Block whose boss.

Not enough of us do this. We hit the ‘Block and we wait for the right words. We complain about it on Facebook. We may go out with our friends to forget about that blank stare for a few hours. And each of these may actually work (or seem to work) to get you back on track.

But to find the right words, you’ve got to write down the words. It’s the Taoist principle of Pu –– the Uncarved Block. Though this particular tenet tells us we should let the world carve us into what it wants. From a writerly perspective, we simply need to start with a vague idea and the raw materials of what needs to be said and then hack out the words that don’t add to it. This way, all we’re left with are the ones that do work, and which will resonate and be remembered long after they’re read.

They’ll also be the ones that will remind us why we started writing in the first place.

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37 Steps Toward My Thirty-Seventh Year

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it The 39 Steps, Trig?

Yes, The 39 Steps is the title of the Alfred Hitchcock film, but this month, I’m turning thirty-seven years old, and I wanted to write something with a meaningful title. Why am I not waiting for two more years so I can more appropriately title this blog post?

Because this blog post has nothing to do with The 39 Steps, as evidenced by the title.

But here's the poster anyway.

But here’s the poster anyway.

But what it does have to do with are thirty-seven “steps” that have helped lead me to this thirty-seventh year of my life. (Or thirty-eighth –– the math makes me thirty-seven this year, but I honestly feel as though I’ve lived two years for the price of one, which would make me thirty-eight.) Things that have benefited me in the short and long run, and things which I believe might benefit others. I’ve met a lot of great folks over the years, and I continue to meet a great deal of new people everyday, and once we start hanging out and they start to see my Zen approach to everything in life as evidenced by a Facebook status here or an Instagram photo there, they each ask me the same question. It goes something like:

“So what go you like… this?”

“Like what?” I ask right back.

“Like how you are –– always positive, energetic, excited about the simplest things in life.”

There’s so much that went into getting me this way, and instead of diving into an extensive blog post about that time I took a Comparative Religions course or how I wrote my master’s thesis on the train to and from Brooklyn College (apparently I’ve gotten a ton of writing done on trains in my short life), I figured I’d save time and just list out some of the things I believe have had an impact in teaching me how to enjoy everything this life has to offer.

So here they are: The 37 steps that each got me ones step closer to me (in absolutely no particular order, ‘cause that would be way too hard):

  • I haven’t eaten fast food in over ten years.
  • I enjoy my meals, whether I’m dining by myself, with my fiancée, or with a group of friends.
  • I always enjoy the company of others.
  • I’m honest with everyone, but especially myself.
  • I always do work that I enjoy.
  • I’ve created routines, and I’ve stuck to those routines up until this day.
  • I take vitamins and supplements; I haven’t been sick since the Blizzard of ’06.
  • If I can’t find the time in my day to do the things I really want to do, I make the time, even ten minutes at a time.
  • I start my day with some stretches, a little yoga, and some pushups and a sit-up routine like this one. (Actually, it is this one.)
  • I read a verse from the Tao everyday to remind myself to not take life too seriously.

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  • I’ve read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
  • I practice those four agreements every day.
  • When I fail at something, I still a triumph, so long as I learn something from that “failure,” which I prefer to think of as a near-success before the real success.
  • I’ve read (and re-read) Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces so that I could understand that (1) all fiction is written the exact same way, even yours and mine, and (2) our stories are just as scripted as the best and worst stories ever told.
  • I’ve watched every film by Stanley Kubrick. Every film. Even Fear and Desire, his very first feature-length film.
  • I drink a lot of water throughout my day. A lot!
  • I know what I have to offer others is valuable, so I make sure to offer it to everyone.
  • I erased the word “can’t” from my vocabulary a long, long time ago.
  • I focus on the task at hand. Or at least I try my hardest to.
  • I’ve found someone who compliments me in every way, and who “gets” me and all my qualities and quirks.
Love this lil' Lady of mine!

Marinell and I in Vienna in winter, 2013, with a “wiener” between us.

  • I cut off any negative people from my life immediately with no second thoughts about it.
  •  I never (okay, I seldom) spread myself too thin, and therefore I have learned the value of saying “no” when spreading myself too thin seems imminent.
  •  I never stopped being a kid, although I tried it once for about two years when I was seventeen, and it totally sucked.
  • I constantly listen to my “boys in the basement” and they’ve never steered me wrong yet. Thanks, Stephen King!
  • Like Dirk Gently, I trust in the interconnectedness of all things.
  • I treat myself to an affogato every now and again. And again after that.
  • I’m not afraid to ask others for help when I really need it.
  • I show support to the things that matter most to me, and which have had a part in making me who I am today.
  • If I don’t have anything nice to say to someone else, I’ll find something nice to say, ‘cause there is always something nice to say.
  • I still call people on their birthdays.
  • I eat breakfast every morning ––granola with blueberries, or sometimes a banana, with almond milk. (No more cow’s milk for me.)
  • Everyday, I strive to add a little bit of goodness into the world through social media and #IRL, too.
  • I keep my memories close, but Winnie-the-Pooh closer. (As well as The House at Pooh Corner, The Tao of Pooh, and Te of Piglet, too.)

winnie-the-pooh

  • I don’t drink soda, and I don’t add anything artificial to anything that goes into my body.
  • Whatever happens to me, positive or not-so-positive, I truly believe it’s always for the best.
  • I’m not (too) afraid to try new things –– the older I get, anyway.
  • I end every night with a poem.

And just in case I’m actually thirty-eight years old instead of thirty-seven, here’s the most important thing I do, which we should all remember to do every single day of our lives:

  • Just breathe.

 

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The Ninjas We Know (And Those We Don’t See)

Let’s face it –– ninjas are awesome.

I hadn’t thought about this fact for a while, honestly, but the majority of kids, men-children and adults are fascinated by these fully masked assassins who stalk in stealth and kill with a quiet katana-swipe to the throat, and vanish in a cloud of smoke. This is only one kind of ninja that the 1980s and ‘90s passed down to my generation, and I thought I’d take a little trip down memory lane outlining the ninjas I know, and a few of those I don’t.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo were an immensely important part of my childhood. If I looked long and hard at these heroes in a half shell today, I still might not be able to pinpoint exactly what it was about them that shell-shocked me to the point that I absolutely had to own every piece of TMNT merchandise I could get my allowance money on.

It wasn’t just the super successful cartoon that started in 1987 and signed off in 1996 after ten amazing seasons of Splinter, Shredder, Krang and the gang; it wasn’t just the Playmates toy line that complemented the series so well that I had to own every single figure, including Usagi Yojimbo and (gulp!) Panda Khan; and despite a pretty terrible first attempt at a NES game, I was in it for the win because I was a fan of the original Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comic book series by Mirage Studios that started it all off in 1984 –– and in bold black & white glory.

The first appearance of Leo, Don, Raph and Mike.

The first appearance of Leo, Don, Raph and Mike.

Ninja Kid. In 1986, Bandai released this NES title. I can’t recall how I got a copy, though it may have been a gift from my Dad or my siblings. All I remember is playing it nonstop once I got it. From throwing shuriken to getting stuck on some purple ooze dripping from a ceiling as you rode on a kite, Ninja Kid had to survive so he could defeat the evil forces of Demon Island. I’m not sure if I ever beat the game, but I’ve got a copy coming soon from Ebay, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ninja Kid "flying a kite" –– one of the coolest things about this game.

Ninja Kid “flying a kite” –– one of the most awesome things about this NES classic.

Ninjak. For those of you who remember Valiant Comics, you’ll remember Mark Moretti and Joe Quesada’s Ninjak, which will be brought back to comic shop shelves in his own series once again in this year. Much like Valiant Entertainment, Ninjak has gone through a renaissance from his initial appears in X-O Manowar and into the Unity story arc. But there was something about Quesada’s artwork that defined not only Valiant Comics, but the comic book art of the time. The Ninjak of the 1990s represents an entire zeitgeist of action-packed comic books. The Age of Image. The Valiant Era. It was all so meta it was scary, and we didn’t even have a word for it back then.

From Ninjak #1 (1994)

From the opening pages of Ninjak #1 (1994)

Jinx. Now if you were to guess who my favorite G.I. Joe action figure was as a kid and you guessed the obvious –– Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow –– you’d be wrong. I never even owned those two, especially since I wasn’t much a fan of G.I. Joe outside of the cartoon. But I did own Jinx, a crimson-clad ninja lady, who came with a hefty Reese Witherspoon/Wild-style backpack that held who knows what besides her twin katana blades. The wannabe Jinx from G.I. Joe: Retaliation? A far cry from the original Rawhide, that’s for sure!

The original Jinx in all her crimson glory.

The original Jinx in all her crimson G.I. glory.

Black Dragon & White Dragon. Do any of you remember the ridiculously short-lived 1986 cartoon Rambo: Force of Freedom from First Blood author David Morrell? If so, you’ll remember these twin ninja brothers: White Dragon, who uses his skills to aid John Rambo in the fight against S.A.V.A.G.E., and Black Dragon, who sells his skills as the world’s greatest assassin to the highest bidder.

Lady Shiva. While Batman Begins gave us a glimpse into the hidden world of the League of Assassins and Arrow plays around in this sandbox as well. I always go back to the original gangsta –– Lady Shiva. And I’m not talking about the latest incarnations, I’m talking about the Lady Shiva of the 1980s. To this day I have every panel etched in my brain of the fight scene between her and the Dark Knight in Batman #427, which still holds up in my mind as one of the best fight sequences every penciled by the Bat-master Jim Aparo.

Ah, the good ol' days when comics used sound effects.

Ah, the good ol’ days when comics used sound effects.

Now, there were some ninjas I didn’t have the luxury of knowing much about back in my younger days. I’ve already mentioned the most well-known ninjas of any toy line, but while I know Ninja Kid for the NES, I did not know about the more popular 1989 game Ninja Gaiden, released by Tecmo, which spawned two successful sequels each with some pretty rad subtitles –– The Dark Sword of Chaos and The Ancient Ship of Doom. And while we’re talking about NES, I think it only fair to mention Kid Niki: Radical Ninja, which was released by Data East in 1987.

Kid Niki Famicom box art. 'Cause everything's cooler in Japanese.

Kid Niki: Radical Ninja Famicom box art. ‘Cause everything’s better in Japanese.

And I think I owe it to my Taoist sensibilities to mention Zen, Intergalactic Ninja, which I was never much a fan of the comic series from the late ‘80s, and I never played the NES or Game Boy cartridges, either. But I did get to meet creators Steve Stern and Dan Cote at New York Comic-Con in 2013, where I picked up a 3-D issue that came complete with old anaglyph red/cyan glasses, and every image in that black and white book jumped to life beautifully, making me wish I’d taken this particular ninja a bit more seriously when I was a kid. I mean, looking back, the action figure wasn’t all that bad.

The action figure looks so much more serious than the comics.

The Zen action figure looks so much cooler than he does in the comics.

Why am I writing about Ninjas as my first post of 2015, you ask? Well, no reason, really, except that I just started writing a ninja assassin into my third novel, Sebastian Holden, P.I. in An Unlikely Liaison with the Living Dead. (Tentative title.) And I did so simply because late in December, I took a little trip to Video Games New York to browse around their amazing selection of NES, SNES, Genesis –– heck, just about every game you’ve ever seen on every system –– that no one seems to want. Well, I stumbled on Ninja Kid hidden in between Top Gun and Top Secret Episode. And when once my memories of this game had been completely taken from me like a ninja after hitting its mark, in that moment, all those lost memories came splashing back into me on seeing that cover.

That’s when it hit me.

I wanna write a ninja assassin into one of my novels, I thought to myself. Then I said it to myself out loud, ‘cause I have a tendency to talk to myself. A lot. I said to myself, “I wanna write a ninja assassin into one of my novels.”

So I did. ‘Cause you never know just where the right inspiration will strike. And you have to be prepared at all times to take it.

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These are my ninjas of yesterday, climbing the walls of my subconscious and slashing open the vaults they hid themselves behind without my knowledge. What are some of your ninjas? Jot them down in the comments below –– I’d love to read about them!

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This is What a “Hipster Noir” Novel Will Look Like

So I’ve written a novel. So what?

The question that perturbs me day and night is this: Can I actually be writing a novel without being an avid reader of novels?

Well, the answer I’ve come up with is yes.

And so what?

As you’ve recently read, the inspiration for my Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse stems from diverse source materials ranging from novels like Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series and comics like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT to classic Hollywood and international films and the music of the 1930s to 1950s –– we’re talking Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, that sorta big band sound you hear in most film noir pictures.

Don’t get me wrong, though –– I’ve read enough fiction to last me a lifetime between college prep high school English to majoring in two writing degrees, each requiring an onslaught of the written word be conquered before etching the first letters of one’s own onto the pages of a master’s thesis.

But today, I’m unveiling the very first image for Hipster Noir. No, this isn’t a comic book –– for that, be sure to check out Siren’s Calling over on Facebook –– and it’s certainly not a children’s book. It’s simply a book with pictures.

I want The Muddled Mystery to be words and images. Think back to those times you read A. A. Milne’s Winnie-The-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. A few pages of words go by, and there’s a nice little image by E. H. Shepard and Exupéry to aid in your imagination a bit –– an image that adds a little something extra to the standard storytelling and plot.

And yes, although those are children’s books, technically (you know you still pick up Winnie-The-Pooh from time to time more than J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan), I want to give readers of my Muddled Mystery to enjoy a sense of harkening back to their childhood while reading a very adult supernatural murder mystery, and also get them to see the world of Sebastian Holden how I see it.

“Holden Onto Heartbreak” is Coming Soon

In the next month or so, I plan to release to you all the first short story introduction into the world of Sebastian Holden, P.I. in “Holden Onto Heartbreak,” one of this hipster detective’s earliest adventures. And it will feature a more fleshed-out version of the following image, sketched by my friend and very talented artist Narciso Espiritu, Jr.:

Hipster Noir

Again, this is just a simple sketch from Narciso to get you all excited about what’s to come. The story itself will be a draft that is in need of your feedback, because what’s the point of writing a novel (or series of novels at this point –– I’m nearly done with book two!) if the audience doesn’t care to read it, right?

The bigger question for now is will I need to write my name as “J. T. Trigonis” once all’s said and published…?

 

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Still a GAME BOY at Heart: 25 Years in Eight Games

The other day browsing through my Instagram feed I discovered that April is not only National Poetry Month (I’d known this for decades, of course, being a poet since the age of thirteen), but that this year marks the 25th birthday of one of the most pleasurable aspects of my childhood: The Original Nintendo Game Boy.

 

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In all it’s bulky, black & white compactness, this paradigm of the portable game playing device absorbed hours of my life into mere minutes as I immersed myself in worlds both familiar and foreign, all the while migrating with the sun and stars through the day so I could play until the wee hours of the night.

At my game-playing fighting weight, I must’ve owned around twenty or so of the iconic Game Boy game cartridges, and kept them all in a black vinyl case until I gave it all to an ex-girlfriend when I prematurely decided that it was time to grow up. One of three times I’d told that to myself in my life –– thankfully, the growing up never quite takes.

NintendoGameBoyBox

I still remember the thrill in my heart when I unwrapped this baby at Christmas time, 1989.

But I did have a few favorites, which I not only played time and time again, but which also inspired me to get creative with telling my own stories.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

Kid_Icarus_OM&M_boxart

It must have been the Greek or the geek in me (or a little of both, perhaps), or maybe just the fact that I needed to know the origins of the strange Eggplant Wizard in the old Captain N: The Game Master series, that I picked up this version of the original 8-bit Kid Icarus game for the NES, which I never owned.

icarus

 

 Double Dragon

double-dragon-game-boy-rom-front

I’m a lot less violent now than I guess I was back in the ’90s, but I enjoyed kicking arse as Billy Lee and punching, side-kicking, and knifing my way through the scum-lined city streets, for which this black & white version shadowed a nice little noir aspect to it, especially when the contrast was adjusted just right.

Double_Dragon_GBC_ScreenShot2.jpg

 

Super Mario Land

Supermariolandboxart

Ever since playing the original Mario Bros with my dad, to elevating to Super Mario Bros., eventually falling in love with Super Mario Bros. 2, and having the Mushroom Kingdom culminate with SNES’s Super Mario World, there’s still a soft spot in my soul for Super Mario Land. It has a charm that the others lack. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mario flies in a plane and dives deep in a submarine and battles an all-new villain –– the evil alien Tatanga –– and rescues a different lovely princess named Daisy. I always wondered what Princess Toadstool thought about that. And where the heck’s Paula in all of this?!

Super_Mario_Land

 

Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

Castlevania_II_Belmont's_Revenge

With much better gameplay than the original Castlevania: The Adventure for Game Boy and the ability to whip while climbing up a rope, Belmont’s Revenge was a whip-cracking good time as I battled familiar monsters and a few gruesome new faces in four really interesting realms for Christopher Belmont to wander through before his final bout with Dracula ensues.

Castlevania-II-Dracula-Densetsu-II-Gameboy-Gameplay-screenshot-2

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

Teenage_Mutant_Hero_Turtles_-_Fall_of_the_Foot_Clan_(Front_US-NTSC)

By far, this is my all-time favorite Game Boy game. I could play a ton of others, but being an ardent fan of the heroes on the half-shell, owning all of the original action figures and loving the TV series more than any other cartoon series that came before it, I always slipped this cartridge into the back of my Game Boy and played for another hour or two. Even after beating The Shredder and Krang, I would simply restart and do it again, marveling at the graphics as I played each time as if it was the first time.

TMNT

 

Now, there were also a few games that, no matter how much I played them and how hard I tried to master them, I just couldn’t do much to get past a certain level on each one of these. But I still tried, and (most of the time) I still had a blast playing them.

 

RoboCop

robocop_11_box_front

Playing this straight forward side scrolling shoot-‘em-up, and I could never get past the level where it became first person, and Murphy has to save a screaming woman from a thug holding her at gunpoint by positioning the crosshairs and shooting him to save her. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I never become a cop.

robocopgb

 

The Final Fantasy Legend

ffl_boxfront

One of my favorite posters I ever hung up in my room was one for the NES Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy II for SNES quickly became one of my most played games ever, partly for the role-play factor (the Dungeons & Dragons geek in me), but also for offering an mesmerizing storyline that took a Dark Knight turned Paladin from terrestrial worlds and airships all the way to the moon itself! The Final Fantasy Legend for Game Boy, however, with its much slower pace, nameless characters, and lack of a solid storyline, didn’t make as lasting an impression on me, though I did keep playing it, but would oftentimes get bored by the wandering around and battling lame monsters.

gameplay

 

T2: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

T2

I never made it past level two in this game, in which players have to rewire the terminator into Schwarzenegger with shades. End of story. Before it ever begins.

T2f

 

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What are some of YOUR favorite (and/or least favorite) Game Boy games? Fill ’em in the comments below.

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Robots I Can Recall and the Robo Force I Can’t

I’ll be the first to admit it –– I had an amazing childhood.

Being the baby of the family, my Mom, Dad, and siblings always wanted me to have the best. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of family trips to the Toys R Us in the neighboring town of Union City (or is it North Bergen? –– There’s some weird border issues around those two towns) and picking up the latest Transformers or M.A.S.K. toys.

Other times, I’d go with my Dad to the dollar shop across from the Pathmark in Weehawken where my sister worked part-time as a cashier, and I’d spend some of the hard-earned money I made bagging groceries at the back of her aisle on Saturdays.   Spoiled? Perhaps just a little.

But last month while I was searching for some images for one of my upcoming blog posts, I stumbled on this poster:

roboforce1
I was propelled into my past. I remember sitting Indian-style in my playroom (formerly my brother’s bedroom) at the apartment where I grew twenty-six years tall and strong surrounded by cardboard boxes that once held Löenbräu and Carlo Rossi burgundies and instead held my Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and Secret Wars action figures, and fumbling around with these awkward-looking suction-cupped robots, with accordion-style arms, stickers on their chests, and ridiculous names like “Coptor” and “Vulgar.” My favorite was Hundred the Conqueror because of his evil slotted red eyes and the hidden guns that lay beneath his visor. I never really liked Maxx Steele the Leader simply because he was the one of the lot who just couldn’t hang upside down –– his suction cup was a bit “sucky” compared to all the rest (I had to…)

I don’t quite recall these bots being my favorite toys; they were a bit effeminate, with Hundred the Conqueror, in particular, looking very much like a bustier version of Rosie from The Jetsons; back then, this would’ve been reason enough to steer clear of the toy line –– during a time when boys were not interested in playing with girl toys; that is girl action figures like April O’Neil from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Playmates toy line or Wonder Woman from the Super Powers figures by Kenner. However, I did own Teela from Mattel’s Masters of the Universe, which was the closest to owning a Princess Leia figure I ever got back in those days.

rosie-thejetsons

Good ol’ Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, one of my favorite cartoons growing up.

But the interesting thing is this: I can tell you to this day where I got most of my action figures and vehicles, and oftentimes from whom, too, but I can’t, for the life of me, recall where the heck all of these Robo Force protagonists and antagonists came from! I remember clearly my sister Renee buying me the original first generation Optimus Prime Transformers figure and my Uncle Chris getting me the Millennium Falcon one Christmas in the early ’80s; and I can still see my brother and sister-in-law bribing me down the aisle on their wedding day with a brand new Whiplash figure and unwrapping He-Man’s Talon Fighter at another family gathering around 1885. But these Robo Force figures? I can’t even remember the packaging these things came in, and certainly not the family member who bought them for me.

What’s the deal with robots, you ask? Although I’m a fairly rabid science-fiction fan, robots were something that took me a while to fully appreciate. I mean, I only saw The Day the Earth Stood Still last week. To this day, I’ve yet to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica even though thanks to some good friends on Facebook I realized that a figurine I’d held onto for years was actually from the original TV series. As a matter of fact, the only TV show I ever watched show that featured a robot was Small Wonder. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Bionic Woman. No Star Trek: The Next Generation until I was much older.

But I am intrigued by the idea of robots, cyborgs, androids, and other forms of artificial intelligence, and even more so now than ever before since our own world is inching closer and closer to making these once staples of science-fiction storytelling an everyday reality. Drones are one thing, but other things like Google Glass and Oculus Rift, which allow the Internet to have an up close and personal seat in our psyches to control at the blink of an eye, is simply one step away from putting that Internet inside of us? Borg, anyone? For me, it’s a little too RoboCop for my comfort.

The only robot I had any remote liking to back in my younger days was C-3PO, and I think it was because, besides Transformers and even the GoBots, Threepio was all-too human deep beneath his golden shell. Then you have robots like the nameless one from Lost in Space, Robby from Forbidden Planet, and the Daleks from Doctor Who, which are not humanoid in any way, but intriguing in shape, function, or even its purpose for existence.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

So it doesn’t surprise me that I really can’t remember where these Robo Force figures from my younger years had come from. But I do remember playing with them on a somewhat regular basis whenever I tired of my SilverHawks flight laps around the apartment and the Ghostbusters adventures during my weekend visits to my brother’s house in Bergenfield.

And just as I don’t remember where I originally got this particular line of toys from, I also don’t remember how they left me, either. It’s as though they appeared when I needed some robotic buddies most, then exited through the gift shop just as mysteriously as they came.

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So remember that figurine I mentioned earlier? This it is: the small figurine that partially spawned this blog post. Thanks to my friends Ian Dangerfield, Geoff Mosher, and Patrick Boyle, we discovered that it’s an original 2-inch Cylon Centurion figure from Mattel’s Cylon Raider vehicle from 1978 –– the very year I was born.

Here's my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

Here’s my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

What vintage toy robots did you grow up with, that you either remember fully or vaguely. I’d love to know!

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What Exactly Is a “Hipster Noir,” You Ask?

Well, I’m happy to report that I’m finally able to tell you all what exactly a “hipster noir” is, now that I’ve finished the brief synopsis of my very first supernatural, metaphysical mystery novel.

What started out as a series of comic character sketches back in May of 2013 during my morning commute to work somehow took form and became my very first 60,000-word novel by January of 2014. I had been calling it Hipster Noir, mainly because my main character, a private eye named Sebastian Holden, was inspired by a noired-up fellow I saw while waiting for a table at Otto in NYC. He was dressed like an old school detective, complete with trench coat and matching hat. The only thing that struck me as off-kilter was his great bushy beard, straight out of a day trip to Williamsburg (or, these days, Jersey City).

If Fred McMurray here had a grizzly beard, he'd be a dead ringer for Sebastian Holden, P.I..

If m’man Fred McMurray here had a grizzly beard, he’d be a dead ringer for Sebastian Holden, P.I..

After a bit of crowdsourcing for a more proper subtitle for the actual story being told, I settled on a title that I think captures the mood, tone and quirky flare of Hipster Noir –– The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse. Special thanks to my Twitter pals @ABOVEtheLine, @fuegopazzo, and @peacepumpkinpic for some amazing suggestions and brainstormings on Twitter.

And now, here’s the official “Story in Brief” lifted from the proposal I’ve been putting together:

Blending nuances of noir with geek subculture in a supernatural, metaphysical mystery, Hipster Noir introduces us to the queerest holistic detective since Dirk Gently –– Sebastian Holden, P.I., a Jersey City hipster whose host of fine-honed skills helps him crack even the most cryptic of cases, like “The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse.” When muse for hire Annie Hathaway is murdered, the fuzz quickly pins the rap on her spoken word-spouting boyfriend in Williamsburg. But Sebastian’s trusty gut instinct tells him there’s more to this mystery than meets even his third eye, and he thrusts himself head-first into a bizarre Universe teeming with vampire cabals, orange-blooded androids from tomorrow, and a haunted beach house that holds a dark secret, which just might be the key to solving Sebastian’s most perplexing case yet.

With a sundry cast of unconventional champions and supernatural scoundrels that includes a suicidal vampire, a world-jumping monkey-spanker, Death, and The Devil himself, plus boatloads of Bogartian banter and enough esoteric references to superheroes, indie flicks, and Castlevania to sink your battleship, The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse will prove a hell of a whodunit that will scramble minds, steal hearts, and leave its readers eagerly anticipating further misadventures of the strangest P.I. this or any Universe has probably never heard of.

What do you think? Sound like something you’d be interested in reading?

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I Believe in Lonesome Rhodes: Dual Natures and Darkening Knights

Confession: I’m hooked on the 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a humble folk singer from the country who quickly becomes corrupted by the fourth estate of the media, in this case, radio and television.

One thing Elia Kazan’s masterpiece taught me when I first watched it was that influence is indeed power, –– of the individual and the crowd. Most importantly, it reminded me that “there ain’t nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the best side of you take over.”

But A Face in the Crowd also demonstrates how one’s own influence can corrupt oneself; how the ego, even when expelled from within, leaves a lingering trace of itself like a cancer waiting for an opportunity to rise again.

How there’s nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the dark side of you take over, too.

Perhaps the greatest show of filotimo ever.

Darth Vader: Perhaps the most conflicted character ever to grace the screen.

Those of you who know me well enough know that I love movies that dive deep into the duality of their protagonists. Films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and of course the original Star Wars trilogy (and those pesky prequels, too) are a few of my favorites.

My second time watching A Face in the Crowd was partly as research for a talk I’m giving this March, but it got me thinking, for some reason, about Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight. A single phrase kept knocking at my mind, which is repeated throughout the film, though the writers borrowed it from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s classic graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween:

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween.

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween.

Harvey Dent, former Gotham City District Attorney turned two-headed kingpin when he’s not behind the gates of Arkham Asylum. From the original Batman and Detective Comics to Batman: The Animated Series, Two-Face has fascinated me as a conflicted character, and Nolan’s Bat-film brought him to life in ways that make Joel Schumacher’s purple-faced fool in Batman Forever all the more laughable.

But let’s backtrack for a moment to A Face in the Crowd. At the beginning of the film, we find Lonesome Rhodes fast asleep in a small town jail cell and abruptly awoken by Marcia Jeffries, who hosts a little radio show called “A Face in the Crowd,” in which she discovers talent from the people of her own town. After hearing Rhodes rock the jailhouse, she invites him to host his own morning show. Immediately he’s a hit, charming listeners and viewers alike with his folky jams, fun anecdotes and stories of his days in his hometown, which may or may not exist. Soon after, he starts to realize the power he wields over the people of this small town.

Eventually, Rhodes becomes the host of a TV show, and his ratings soar. Soon enough he’s partying with industry players, hobnobbing with political influencers, and even teaches an unpopular Senator what it takes to connect with a younger voting audience. Drunk with his newfound power, Rhodes becomes filled with hubris, which does him in by the end, brought down by the same forces that set him atop the pedestal –– the crowd.

In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent is frequently referred to as “Gotham’s white knight” –– the counterpart to its Dark Knight –– the stereotypical “good cop” who can’t be bribed or brought down, and who will do whatever it takes to ensure justice is upheld.

Well, he’ll do almost anything.

But when Dent fails to uphold justice, and his failure costs him the life of the woman he loves, Two-Face takes over, and “the white knight” formerly known as Harvey Dent crashes and burns away by the very system he fought so ardently to defend.

No comment.

No comment.

Dent serves as a visual representation of the duality that all memorable protagonists have struggling within them, which makes for dynamic, three-dimensional characters, in which we invest more of our attention and ourselves. Instead of seeing the shades of gray, Two-Face makes life and every decision about light and dark, black or white, clean side or scarred side on the flip of his custom coin.

The interesting thing is this: with Lonesome Rhodes, as with Harvey Dent, as we watch their rise and fall, we never lose sight of their good sides –– the man with the laugh that encompasses his whole self and the white knight we want to believe still believes in justice, not murder on the edge of a coin toss.

By contrast, no matter how “dark” the Dark Knight becomes, he’ll never fall to the depths of darkness that envelope Harvey Dent. And similarly, no matter how much Lonesome Rhodes blights the color from Marcia Jeffries’ cheeks and dress, she still sees the shades between right and wrong, which ultimately gives her the strength to destroy the cancer that once humble folk singer has become.

That’s these two films teach us –– the test of true power: the ability to do right, so long as it doesn’t cost us our own selves in the process.

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Linklatering Perfekt, Plus Five Lessons to Perfect Your Filmmaking

Yesterday morning, my body instinctively woke me up at 6AM, which would normally be 7AM, but due to daylight savings time it was an hour earlier. And as I lay in my bed, I started thinking about the one film I made that I’m most proud of. It’s a short sex comedy called Perfekt. I shot this story about an aging Don Juan searching for his perfect match back in 2006, when I had only two other shorts under my director’s belt, The Coconut and The Hotel Edwards. What begins as a fun little sex comedy, with main character Matt (Bill Schineller) looking for the perfect woman, one who embodies everything he loves and who also happens to be a virgin –– culminates in an unorthodox confrontation with the near perfect Nellie (Kate Kenney).

Well, I’ve been gearing up to work with my girlfriend Marinell on shooting a book trailer for my good friend James Broderick’s book Stalked, his first work of fiction after a lifetime writing nonfiction like The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek and Now A Terrifying Motion Picture! For the trailer, I enlisted the aid of both Bill and Kate. Each of us go way back; Bill and I first acted together in a 1920s/flapper era production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and I’d met Kate when I was casting for my sci-fi themed rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, in which I originally chose her for my female lead, but she wasn’t able to accept. I was so impressed with her, I kept her contact info, and when I had my script for Perfekt, which back then had a very different original title, I reached out to Kate immediately and offered her the role of Nellie.

Looking back on all the years and other film projects I’ve worked on like my Indiegogo-funded Cerise and Mating Dome, no film contributed more to my education as a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker than Perfekt. The film is far from perfect, but the poignant performances from Bill and Kate, the visual story arced by Alain Aguilar, the poetry beneath the subterfuge of seemingly simple dialog, and Ventzi Assenov’s evocative score; and even the sexual comedy at the beginning that paves the path to a heart-rending finish –– all of it pulled together in a way that none of my subsequent works have yet been able to achieve.

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

And this is why I’ve decided to pull a “Linklater” –– to get the band back together in the spot where it all the drama went down for Matt and Nellie, and bring about a second installment of Perfekt.

And we’ll call it Perfect.

Of course, there are some definite things that will be different this time around; after all, it ain’t 2006 anymore. And like I said, as a self-taught filmmaker with over a dozen shorts under my belt, here are five lessons I took away from the making of Perfekt that I will perfect further when I start shooting Perfect in 2014.

5. Hire the right amount of crew with the right skills to do the job right. When I shot Perfekt, the budget had a hard stop at $5,000. With that, I was able to hire my first assistant director, sound recorder, boom operator, and a couple of productions assistants. Factor in Alain and myself, and we were a modest crew of around seven members. One thing I learned back when I shot Cerise with its larger budget of $15,000 and a crew of fifteen folks) is to always hire the right people for the right job. Oh, and always, always hire a producer.

4. Document the filmmaking process with photos, video, and (now) social media. It’s hard to think where I’d be without social media. I made Perfekt, Myspace was really just starting to be something. I didn’t know about Facebook, and there was no Instagram so you could easily and immediately share your on-set photos; I mean, we were still using digital cameras to take continuity shots, and not one of us thought to use that camera to take some shots of the crew working on the film. It was a vastly different time, and looking back, I’d love to have more than a tiny handful of photos of me on the set of Perfekt. So this time around, we’ll be documenting the process, and maybe even livestreaming the shoot, too.

3. There are many more factors than money involved in getting great audio. Audio prides itself in being the bane of every filmmaker’s existence, and it was no different on the set of Perfekt (or any of my other films, for that matter, with the exception of The Coconut, Speed Musing, and the Pepper Coat video, being silents.) Back then, I thought that if you put most of your budget into audio and hire a good sound guy, Hollywood-caliber sound will abound. Not so. There are many more factors at play in the battle for quality sound, like location, electricity, airplanes, and the like. This time around, I’ll be factoring them all into the shooting of Perfect.

2. Shoot the most important scenes first, especially when in an uncontrolled environment (like a bar). One hefty mistake I made while shooting Perfekt’s many bar scenes was shooting certain less important scenes before the most important scene in the whole film –– the climax. We were shooting at Bar Majestic in Downtown Jersey City, now a lovely spot called Razza, and we had the entire bar to ourselves all morning until 4PM, and I chose to shoot various quick scenes during that time, thinking we’d have plenty of time. By the time the clock struck four, the bar opened to the public, and I had to shoot the finale, a long, Woody Allen-esque conversation between Matt and Nellie, with a roomful of bar patrons having conversations in the background. We made the most of it, though, and still managed to walk out of the then Bar Majestic at a little after midnight with some solid shots and slightly subpar sound.

1. Be more organized in the editing room. This is the biggie, and if I were the kind of person who held onto regrets, this would be the only one: Not having a single copy of Perfekt in digital form to date. See, when I was prepping the film for delivery to Ouat Media, distribution was more about physical copies back then (evidenced by the $90 DigiBeta tape I had to ship to Canada), and because I had secured distribution for Perfekt, I couldn’t show it anywhere online ‘cause they had the rights for three years. Flash forward a couple years, when I swapped my MacPro tower for a MacBook Pro, but never loaded all of the files that pieced together Perfekt in a single location; there were files on every hard drive I owned, internal and external. So when I finally tried to make a digital file to share with friends, there were gaps in the original cut of the film because I simply couldn’t locate all the missing files. The good thing is that by the time Perfect is shot and ready for your eyes, it’ll only be available in digital form, and you can bet the farm that all those files will be in a single location.

Now that I’ve recapped what not to do in the filming of Perfect next year, and I’ve got my two actors 100% onboard, it’s time to start writing the script!

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Filmmakers –– What are some lessons you’ve learned from shooting your previous films that you’ll be sure to steer clear from when shooting your next? List them in the comments below –– perhaps I’ll be able to add a few more lessons to my utility belt.

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