Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aspiring Writer Seeks Sci-Fi Agent

Let it be known that I am in the market for a good, reputable, sci-fi agent.  I have a book ready to sell named Escape From the Planet Justice.

Thomlin Hywater is trapped on the prison planet Justice for a crime committed by his twin brother, Darond.  He wants to escape and exact revenge.  He struggles with other inmates and even with himself as he learns that escape is impossible.  Then when he discovers the planet's darkest secrets, he learns what he must do: put an end to it all.

The link above contains the first three chapters of this fast-paced sci-fi action novel resembling the styles of Isaac Asimov and Orson Scott Card.  If you're an agent who's interested to work with me, I'd love to send you the entire manuscript.  Just send me a note, and I look forward to working with you.

Melvyn R. Windham, Jr.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

After the Lot - Zach Lipovsky

A couple of days ago, I posted three videos by Zach Lipovsky.  These videos were featured on the short-lived reality show On the Lot in 2007.  Since Zach only made it to 5th place, he didn't win the coveted job at DreamWorks.

What has he been doing after the Lot?  He's been working on commercials in France, Canada, and the US.  He's also working on a couple of feature shorts.  They're still in production, and can't wait to see them.

Here are three of his commercials.  These first two are in French.  The gist is that the younger guy wants to go the rescue, but the older guy says to relax - it's already being taken care of.  (I think.  I don't really listen to French that well.)

Antibiotics One from Zach Lipovsky on Vimeo.

Antibiotics Two from Zach Lipovsky on Vimeo.

This next commercial is very interesting.  I don't think they'll ever show it in the US, but it's my kind of humor.

Canal+ iPhone from Zach Lipovsky on Vimeo.

If you like these, there's more at his website.

Fixing Social Security - The Private Lockbox

I wouldn't go so far as to say Social Security is broken, but it sure could use a few improvements.  Some say that funds collected for Social Security should be stored in a lockbox to ensure that people receive payments when they retire.  Others say that funds collected should be invested in risky private ventures so as to increase the rate of return.  What I propose is a mixture of these two ideas: the Private Lockbox.


Let's do a simple test.  For this exercise, all you need is the latest Social Security Statement the government sent you.  (It's usually a four page document with green lines on it.  It says "Your Social Security Statement" at the top.)

I've created this spreadsheet (created on a Mac - no viruses) that will allow you to type in your information and see how well Social Security will perform for you.  The spreadsheet presents an alternative scenario where: instead of your money going to the government, it is placed into an interest bearing account.  When you retire, the account pays your benefits.  This alternative scenario allows you to compare.  If you run out of money before you die, then Social Security as it stands now is the better deal for you.  If you don't run out of money, then you would be better off investing your money yourself.

Here's how to fill in the spreadsheet.  (Note that this spreadsheet isn't meant to be printed out.  If you really want to print, you will have to setup up the print layout yourself.)
  • In cell B1, type the year you were born.  (Don't lie - no one's going to see this but you.)  
  • In cell B2, type how old you want to be when you retire.  You only have three choices: 62, 67, or 70.
  • In cells F3 through F5, type the promised Social Security monthly benefits as spelled out at the very top of page 2 of your statement (Retirement section).  You should see different benefits for ages 62, 67, and 70.
  • In cells C9 and down, type the "Your Taxed Social Security Earnings" numbers from the very top of page 3 of your statement.  Copy those numbers exactly as they appear, and be sure to match up your wages with the correct year.  The spreadsheet starts at age 14.  If you worked before then, just leave out those early years and fill in your wages starting with the year you turned 14.
  • In cell J1, type the wages you made in the last year listed on your statement.  This replicates their assumption that you keep making your last year's wages until you retire.
  • Finally, check cells C9 and down again.  It should show that your last year's wages continue until you retire.  If it looks messed up, copy and paste the correct numbers and/or just type those wages until it looks right.
Now that you have the spreadsheet filled out, are you ready to have fun?  Let's start off with 0% interest.  In cell B4, type 0%.  And for retirement age, let's type 67 in cell B2.  With 0% interest, you simply put money in the bank.  It doesn't earn any interest, and you start taking the money out when you retire.  Column F shows the balance in your savings account at the end of each year.  When that goes negative, you've run out of money.

In the example that comes with the spreadsheet, this poor person (we'll call him Bob) runs out of cash at age 80.  When I type in my personal numbers, I run out at age 79.  I suspect that you will find in your situation that you would run out of cash about the same time.

I don't know about you, but I intend to live older than 80 years.  I wouldn't want to run out of savings.  At 0% interest, Social Security is the better deal.

Now let's change the interest rate in cell B4 to 1%.  This is a decent interest rate.  When do we run out of money?  Bob runs out at age 83.  I also run out at age 83.  This is probably right at the life expectancy of someone who makes it to 67 years old.  Though I want to live beyond 83, this looks like a breaking even point.

How about 2% interest?  Bob runs out at age 89 and so do I.  This is starting to push it.  I don't want to get too wrinkly.  The savings account is starting to look better than Social Security, but not by too much.

Now let's try 3% interest.  Bob and I run out at age 103.  There's no way I'm living that long!  I'd definitely choose the savings account alternative.

Something funny happens at 4% interest.  Go ahead and type that into cell B4.  After Bob and I retire, our savings account is GOING UP.  This is because the interest alone on our savings is enough to support the benefit payments.  We will never run out of money!  Do I think I could find a safe long-term investment that can return 4%?  Um ... yeah!  Social Security is left in the dust.  (Watch that some of you comment to me that your personal numbers don't show this.  Just let me know and I'll stand corrected.)

Finally, if you keep in mind that the average long term returns on the stock market are 12%, go ahead and type that number into cell B4, and see what you get.  Bob becomes a multi-millionaire!

From this exercise, I estimate that Social Security's rate of return is somewhere between 1% and 2% (and that may be a little generous).  I don't know about you, but I think I could do much better on my own.

I feel as if the government has forcibly taken a few talents from me (excuse my Bible reference), and have buried them in the ground. If I live long enough, I'll eventually get them back.  But what good will they be?  There's no way I'll be able to live off of my Social Security check alone when I retire, and it feels like I've put so much into it.

Though Social Security promises a steady monthly check, it's my opinion that as it is now, it is an inefficient solution to providing security for our elderly.


There are two main solutions which would work.  #1) Do away with Social Security altogether.  OR #2) Introduce higher returns.

Solution #1 just isn't going to happen.

This leaves Solution #2, which means investing in the private stock market.  That's the only way to get higher returns.  However, this introduces risks.

For example, during times of plenty, Grandpa Sam could be rolling in the Social Security dough from his investments and come out a millionaire.  And then when the next market crash comes (and it will come), Grandma Julia loses all her benefits.  This doesn't seem fair, seeing how they put the same amount of their hard-earned cash into Social Security taxes.

We can have both the security and the high returns by using a plenty/famine approach, much like the story of Joseph and the grain in the Bible.  During seven years of "plenty," Joseph collected grain from all sources.  Then when seven years of "famine" came, he was able to distribute the stored grain (at a profit - no doubt) and help everyone survive.

Likewise, let's say that the stock market earns an average of 12% a year in the long-term.  Let's choose a guaranteed return of 6%.  When the stock market's doing well, the government would store the excess earnings in a very large contingency reserve (a fancy term for lockbox).  When the stock market crashes, the government would dip into the contingency reserve to pay out the same level of benefits.

Could we use a 6% return on what the government takes in Social Security taxes?  Let's look at Bob's situation.  If he retires at 67, he's only going to get $1,250 a month.  That doesn't buy very much.  At 1.5% interest, the savings account scenario runs out of cash at age 85, which is well beyond the life expectancy.  At 6% interest, Bob's benefit can be raised up to $4,700 a month to get the same results.  Now that's something I could live off of when I retire.

If the government could somehow guarantee an 8% return, then Bob could raise his benefit to a whopping $8,500 a month.  Wow!  At 12% (unreasonable and too risky to guarantee), the benefit goes up to $28,600 a month.


This analysis of mine is nowhere near perfect.  There are other concerns I don't consider, such as the idea of government controlling private stocks.  This could be somewhat offset by disallowing voting rights to government entities.

Also, there's the issue of having such a large Social Security contingency reserve while other funds are suffering.  I could see a large temptation to dip into the reserve to fund other projects.  This could be offset by setting an upper limit on the contingency reserve.  If the reserve ever gets tapped out, the excess "excess funds" could be allowed to go to other budgetary needs.

Even if we were to begin now with such a plan, it could take decades to build up the contingency reserve.  If a large market crash happens too soon, the government could be looking at a major loss.  This risk can be easily mitigated by easing into higher returns.  That is,  now we're getting around a 1.5% return.  We can raise that to 2% for a couple of years.  (Everyone's benefits go up.)  If the stock market's doing well, then we can raise it to 3%, and so on until the contingency reserve is sufficiently large to support a 6% return (or whatever the magic number is).

Also, my analysis includes the employer-paid portion of social security taxes.  Not only does this represent the total money that the government collects, but it also represents (in a perfect market) the higher wages the employer would pay if no Social Security taxes were taken out at all.  In actuality, if Social Security were to disappear, your employer probably would not pass on the full 6.2% savings to you, but rather give you a slightly lower raise.

Finally, this proposal does have the added benefit of putting more money into our economy through investing in private businesses.  This has to be a good thing, especially if it produces more jobs and even higher returns.  Sure there would be a lot of fine details to iron out, but I'm sure the fine men and women of Congress could figure it out.  To me it seems a no-brainer that this proposal is the way to go.

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    On the Lot: Short Films by Zach Lipovsky

    About four years ago, Burnett tried a new kind of reality show where aspiring movie directors competed for a job working for DreamWorks.  This show was On the Lot.

    This was one reality show I didn't want to miss.  I am fascinated by the whole movie production process.  In fact, one of my dreams is to be involved in producing a blockbuster - working with the pros and adding my own touch to the movie.  I could either write a script or compose the music.  If I had enough money, I could even be a producer.  (Forget directing or acting - that's not my department.)

    The show On the Lot was a good idea - a fun way to expose us laymen to the movie production process.  However, the concept was poorly executed.  The first couple of episodes were extremely boring.  They changed the format, and it was a little better - but then they made the mistake of announcing the losers in a manner similar to how it's done on American Idol.  (You stand over there.  You go over in that group.  Now if you're in back, you're gone... etc. etc.)  It was a very undignified way to punish hard working artists.  They quickly changed that format as well.

    Despite the show's execution, I thoroughly enjoyed the shorts the directors produced.  Over the next few weeks, I'll showcase some of these films.  I hope you'll enjoy these (without all the reality showness attached).

    Today I showcase three of Zach Lipovsky's films.  Early on, Zach was favored to win the whole event, due to his ingenuity in creating special effects with a low budget.  However, the audience ultimately decided to go with directors who incorporated more human elements into their films.  Zach won 5th place.

    Here are the films:

    Die Hardly Working from Zach Lipovsky on Vimeo.

    Sunshine Girl from Zach Lipovsky on Vimeo.

    Danger Zone from Zach Lipovsky on Vimeo.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Conference Report - Workshop - Promoting Yourself

    I'm almost done reporting on the Fall Conference I attended last November.  What's left is to give a quick report on the three workshops I attended.  I'll report on the first one tonight.

    Workshop #1. Promoting Yourself by Linda Rohrbough.

    Linda gave an inspirational workshop.  Her main goal was to get us out of our shells so that we can go out there and promote ourselves.  The only hard part for me was that most of what she discussed are things you do after you've published a book.  So I'm going to have to wait to incorporate most of what she taught.

    She did discuss building your internet presence.  That's something I can do right now.  I have this blog, which you're now reading.  I also have a web page I put together a few years ago, but haven't been keeping it up.  (I'll have to remedy that over the next month.)  I have videos on YouTube.  I'm on facebook (more for personal networking), and I've also started networking more (professionally) with LinkedIn.

    Linda advised to "give something of value away," and that's exactly what I'm doing while at the same time building my internet presence.  Of course I'm getting nowhere near being able to sell a book, but it's all a beginning.  I have a few other avenues available to me for expanding my internet presence, and that sounds like a good blog topic for later.

    That advice (to give something away) was one of six principles Linda taught us.  Another principle was simply: "The Rule of Threes."  This part of the workshop was the only frustration, as the phrase was never defined.  Everyone else seemed to know what it meant, so I was too doggone embarrassed to ask.  That phrase came up again later in my other two workshops.  What does it mean?  Will somebody tell me?  Will I ever know?  Who is John Galt?

    From context, I assume it means that you do things in threes.  Like when you list examples in a sentence, you usually pick three things to write.  In an essay, you usually have three main points to deliver.  But what does that have to do with promoting oneself?

    Other than that, the presentation was well delivered.  Check out her website, and you can read several articles on how to do different things.

    Oh, and did I mention that Linda taught this workshop even though she had recently undergone some kind of leg surgery?  If she could find enough strength to deliver a 1.5 hour workshop, surely I can find the strength to do what it takes to get my books sold.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    A Short Tribute to My Father

    My father taught me a lot.  In particular, he taught me prepositional calculus before I was six.  It literally taught me how to think, and with such a solid backdrop I was able to excel in my classes (well, except for social studies and biology where logic seems lacking).  He was a musician like me, an aspiring writer like me, a handsome man like me, a mathematician like me, etc.

    I laugh whenever I follow in his footsteps.  (I am named after him.)  While he played the trombone, I picked up the trumpet and the french horn.  We both played the piano.  While he was a great dancer, and well ... I tried.

    He was an aspiring writer just like me.  He would type his stories.  When he took breaks, I would sneak on to his IBM Selectric and type my own stories.

    He never got published.  Like most aspiring writers, he just didn't know how to get through the gatekeepers.  I hope I can succeed where he didn't.  Perhaps if I get published, I can get some of his stuff published as well.

    What brings this all to mind is that I follow in his footsteps yet again this week.  I've just now started writing my book reviews on  If you Google "Melvyn Windham," you may chance upon one of my father's reviews.  He has eight reviews in total, and you can read them all here.  I never thought I'd join him, but here I am, yet again!  Don't get us confused.

    There's so much more I could say about him, but like I said in the title, this is a "short" tribute.  I'm sure I'll bring him up several times in the future.

    Happy writing,
    Mel, the younger.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Aspiring Writers Can Deduct Business Losses

    There's a first time for everything.  Since I put in sufficient money into forwarding my fledgling writing career in 2010, I can actually deduct business losses.  This is a good deal for the starting aspiring writer.  (But also keep in mind that once you start making money, the IRS will get their payback through self-employment taxes.)

    And since I'm an actuary, I chose to do my taxes on my own (as I do every year).  I had to learn how to fill out these new forms: Schedule C (Profit or Loss From Business) and Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization).  It took me several hours this week to figure it all out.  Perhaps some of the knowledge I've gained can help you fill out your own Schedule C/Form 4562 more quickly.

    This article gives the best advice I could find on the web.  It contains general tax advice geared directly to freelance writers.

    Okay, let's look at Schedule C.  I put my name and SSN at the top.  I enter:
    A) Freelance Writer (you can put whatever title you want here - just make sure it sounds business-y)
    B) 711510 (the code for artists/writers)
    C) blank - I am my own business.
    D) blank
    E) blank
    F) Accounting method = Cash.  This means that I will account for all income in the year that I receive it (instead of stretching it out over several years).  For expenses, I'll do the same, with some exceptions noted below.  "Accrual" is meant more for people that buy and sell a whole bunch of stuff.  Most writers will use "Cash" accounting.
    G) Yes, I materially participated in my business.
    H) I just began my business (started getting serious/going to conventions/etc.), so I check this box.

    Part I) Income - I didn't receive a dime for writing in 2010, so this section is one big fat zero.  (Warning, if you go five years without reporting a profit in at least three of those years, the IRS may come after you and try to make you pay back these taxes.  Hey, if I don't start selling to magazines/etc. by then, they can have their taxes back!)

    Part II) Expenses - Okay, everything above this section was easy.  To fill out this next part, you just need to know what all your expenditures were, and what category you want to put them in.  (There seems to be a little variation as to where different people put things, but it all adds up to line 28 in the end.  Just be consistent where you put things year to year.)

    This is where I put stuff:

    #8) Business Cards.
    #9) Mileage for using car (I only put in mileage to the conference I attended.  It wasn't worth it to include the 1 mile trips to the post office - but if you keep track of that kind of stuff, this is where it goes.)  This year, the mileage rate is $0.50 per mile.
    #13) Depreciation - see instructions for Form 4562 below.
    #18) Postage and paper supplies.
    #22) Other supplies (like the cool moleskine my wife bought me).
    #27) See Part V below for a list of "Other Expenses".

    A note about line 30: Most of what I found on the web seems to indicate that writers don't take the time to calculate the business use of your home.  It's a lot of work for very little return.  I just put zero like all these other folks.

    #32) A confusing line.  Most of us will check 32a (all investment at-risk), which is what you're supposed to check unless you happened to invest your money in certain not-at-risk investments (listed in the IRS instructions).  Chances are, none of us will ever do that in our writing business.

    Part III) Skip.

    Part IV) Since I claim mileage expenses in line 9, I answer all the questions in this part.  I estimate my total 2010 mileage on my car.  I write down the conference round-trip mileage, estimate commuting to my day-job (52*5*round trip mileage) and subtract to get "Other".  About the commuting miles, I considered writing "0", as I don't commute to my writer's business.  But since the IRS instructions say, "commuting is travel between your home and a work location," I take that to include my day job.  In either case, it doesn't affect the deduction.  Only the business mileage is deductible.

    I answer questions 45-47b all "Yes".

    Part V) There are certain expenses that don't go into the Part II categories.  Here I list:
    Conference Fees
    Membership Dues
    Subscriptions to Trade Magazines

    I could also add books that I've bought for "research", but I have to admit that I bought those three books for fun.

    Note that since there is no Income for me, I end up with a negative number in line 31.  I have a business loss, which directly reduces my AGI on 1040.  That's good, as it means less tax liability and a bigger refund (or lower payment).

    Okay, now let's look at Form 4562, which you need to fill out line #13 above.

    Now, this is the hard form.  This is the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life.  This is what makes even the smartest actuaries cower like little babies before going down to H&R Block.  What's pretty sad is that the math behind the form is pretty basic stuff.  It's just knowing where to put the stuff that's so hard to figure out!  I still don't know where everything goes, and I know just enough to help out with my specific situation.

    There are certain expenses where you are forced to use the "Accrual" accounting instead of "Cash."  That is, if a certain asset you buy has a useful life over several years, then you need to stretch that expense over the useful life.  This includes computers, software, cars (if you buy a car specifically for business transportation), houses, offices, etc.  In my case, I have two types of expenses I can claim:
    #1) A computer which is used 10% of the time for the writing business.
    #2) Computer software bought this year used 100% for the writing business.

    Let's see how I fill out this form.
    Part I) Section 179.  This is a special exception that allows you to claim the full amount of the expense during this year.  If you skip down to line 11 and 12, you'll see that no business income means you can't claim Section 179.  That describes me, so I leave this section blank.

    Also, the website I mention above advises against using Section 179, as you're probably better off deferring the deduction to later years when you start making a bigger profit.  In other words, if you claim 179 now when you're not making as much, you may end up paying more self-employment taxes later when you have bigger profits.

    Part II) The IRS instructions say that computer software (not claimed under Section 179) goes into line #16 using 3-year straight line depreciation.  This means you simply take how much you paid for software this year and divide by three.  You also claim this the next year and the next.  If I were to buy more software in 2011, then I would keep track of everything in a spreadsheet.

    Part III) I don't have anything that falls under MACRS Depreciation.  (Run for the hills!)

    Part IV) This adds everything up, including Part V which we've haven't gotten to yet.  Really, IRS, have you ever heard of linear processing?  I hope you guys never write a sci-fi novel!

    Part V) The IRS instructions define what's included in "Listed Property".  This includes the computer I mentioned above.  Note that I could have claimed Section 179 on the computer and the software, if I had a profit and if I chose to do so.  Since I didn't use Section 179, the computer has to go here in Part V.

    Since I only use that computer 10% for writing, I must put it in line #27.  Here's what I put in each column:
    a) Computer
    b) Date when I started using it for writing
    c) 10% business use
    d) the full price of the computer
    e) 0.10 * the full price of the computer (yes, I only get to deduct a tenth of the price - bummer!  I could tell the kids, "Sorry, no more computer for you.  You didn't eat your broccoli."  Hmmm....)
    f) recovery period = 5 years (always use this for computers)
    g) S/L for straight line depreciation
    h) divide (e) by (f).

    I get to include this over the next four years as well.  Note that I can change the % for business in later years (especially if the kids don't eat their broccoli).

    I left Section B blank, as that info is contained on Schedule C and I only have the one car I use for writing business.

    Part VI) I left this blank.  This appears to be for something else - one of those sections where you'll know if you have to fill it out.  The examples I've seen have all left that section blank.

    Okay, there you have it.  If you've gotten this far, then I'm a better writer than I thought.  Who else could captivate an audience who hopefully never has to fill out any of these forms?

    And if you have to fill one of these out yourself, happy tax filing!

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Actuarial Speculative Fiction (featuring my story)

    Every other year, the Society of Actuaries holds a Speculative Fiction Contest.  Any actuary can submit a short story featuring some future view of actuarial applications.  This year they received 23 entries.  You can read all of them here.  My story is the first one on the list, called "Actuarial Weeding."

    Anyone (even you) can vote for the best story to determine who gets the "Readers' Choice Award."  I invite you to read through some of these stories, and then send in your vote to Gary Lange (his email address is on the website).  If you happen to vote for my story, I wouldn't mind.  :)

    Whatever story you do think is the best, I hope you enjoy looking into the minds of actuarial writers.  You will never be the same again!

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Review - John Hartness - The Chosen

    Today I'll review a self-published book - the first that I've ever purchased and read.  In an earlier blog entry, I described meeting John Hartness at the NCWN Fall Conference.  He sold me an autographed copy of his book, The Chosen for $10.  Now, here is what I thought of it.

    In the spirit of Christopher Moore, John Hartness's The Chosen takes the story of "Adam and Eve" and tells us what really happened.  It turns out that Moses didn't get it quite right.  This book is irreverent and hilarious.  While doctrinally problematic, Hartness shows our current life in a new light.  He reveals a few "true" concepts that most Christians continually struggle to understand.  While many may find the book offensive, it's worth reading to the end to see how Hartness's stirring of the pot is resolved.

    Adam and Eve are immortal.  Despondent over Abel's death, Eve has separated herself from Adam for many millennium.  Throughout Earth's entire existence, these two characters have led separate lives - marrying others and even producing children.  They always adapt to the then-current culture.

    The book begins with Adam playing blackjack in Las Vegas.  He's visited by Lucky, aka Lucypher.  Lucky lends Adam his bike (hence the key chain on the front cover), and a fun road trip ensues.  On the way, Adam runs into several characters, including Eve, Cain, and the archangel Michael who had kicked them out of the garden.

    Each character has his or her own motives and desires.  Hartness runs the gamut in the interactions between each character, leaving no stone unturned.  The result is a hilarious read.

    However - and this is my biggest complaint - each character is practically the same.  As in the one Christopher Moore book I've read (Lamb), it becomes necessary to apply the same ridiculous character traits to everyone in order to make the humor work.  Thus, this flaw becomes one of the book's biggest curses, but at the same time it's one of its biggest blessings.

    Everyone, except for the archangel Michael, is a redneck burdened by almost all vices imaginable: gambling, drinking, foul language, getting into bar fights, having a selfish mean spirit.  (For some reason, there's no smoking.  I didn't mind that, as smoking kills.)  Michael is different, because ... well ... he's an archangel.  He comes across as a prude who no one likes.  While character distinction is lacking, this setup makes for hilarious situations.

    Hartness does demonstrate in Chapter 27 that he really can write different characters when he takes a break from the humor to tell a touching story.

    My advice: If you're in the mood for an irreverent, yet thought provoking story, and if you don't mind the swearing and the other vices, then buy this book.  It is definitely worth the $10 I paid.  The e-book version is considerably cheaper.

    One final word on the editing: As a self-published book, you may find a few errors, such as misspelled words, wrong words, missing quotes, etc.  It reads like a good fourth draft.  This book could use the love of an editor who has incentive to profit from its sales.  A little more editing could help this book go from being great to being downright awesome.

    However, with publishing houses closing left and right, there are fewer authors making it through the traditional routes.  I see a lot of potential in John Hartness, and I look forward to reading his Hard Day's Knight.  One day I hope that a traditional publisher will recognize his talent and help him produce the kind of books he is capable of writing.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Weekend Rental Review: Pirates 2, Inception

    Here goes another movie rental blitz.  This time, we watched 2 movies: Inception, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

    Inception was as much fun to watch a second time at home as it was to see the first time in the theater.  I had the English captions on just so I could better understand what was being said.  That actually helped, and the movie made a little more sense ... well, kind of.

    The movie is known to have different interpretations as to what really happened.  Since I intend for this to be a "before you watch" review, I'm not going to discuss any of the prevailing theories.  But I can say that I'm convinced that no one theory consistently fits the movie itself, as there as some fundamental flaws in the science and the rules Nolan attempted to establish.

    In other words, sit back and relax.  Make of the movie whatever you want to make of it.  You're probably right, as long as you don't discuss what you think with other Inception freakazoids.

    This is a movie I wouldn't mind watching over and over again.  It's easy enough for most anyone to understand, yet complicated enough to get the brain moving.  Plus, it has some fun action and some breathtaking scenes.

    Dom Cobb is a thought thief.  He goes into people's minds when they're asleep and extracts information.  This becomes a challenge when the dreamer is trained to counterattack such intrusions.

    The movie is a little slow to get to the real action, but once it gets there, it's worth the wait.

    Once you've seen the movie, you may enjoy the following clips.  The first shows how one animator believes the movie should have ended.  (The whole series of movie endings is hilarious!)  I like this particular rendition, because it points out some of those fundamental flaws I mentioned above.  (It's just a movie!)  Oh, and if I didn't say this already - don't watch until after you've watched the real thing.

    And here's another cool clip to watch if you've already seen the movie.  You'll appreciate it once you click on it.  Note how the timing doesn't work out just quite right...

    Next comes Pirates of the Caribbean 2.  This was my second time watching the movie - both times watching a DVD rental.  I'm a little embarrassed to say that both times I found myself snoozing off.  There's something about Bruckheimer movies that do that to me.  They're usually full of action.  They're usually long.  They usually have some kind of plot that's impossible to remember beyond a week.  And they're usually long.

    Pirates 2 is a fun continuation of Pirates 1.  As I reported last week, the first movie had a lot more murdering than I remembered.  I had also forgotten how gross the second movie is.  I happen to like gross sometimes.  It's really fun to say "Ewwww!" when something really over-the-top happens.

    In other words, I think my boys enjoyed it more than my girls.

    Pirates 2 is the movie in the middle of a trilogy.  So just like in The Empire Strikes Back, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Matrix Reloaded, and Back to the Future Part II, you should expect the typical middle movie ending where everything's in dire straits.  Some big reveal will happen and set the stage for movie #3.  The world will be all messed up, and you will have to wait till Part 3 for anything to get resolved.

    Isn't that the truth?  In all five of these series (except for Lord of the Rings), the first movie was made as a standalone.  Then a couple of years later (after gauging the success of the first movie), the second movie was made with knowledge that a third movie would be coming in the near future.  It's little wonder that each movie ends in a big cliffhanger.

    Despite the long-ness, and the impossible to remember plot, and the unresolved endings, and the long-ness; it's still a fun movie to watch.  Johnny Depp always gives a fun to watch performance, no matter the character.  It must be something in his eyes!

    Finally, for those of you who have already seen the first two movies, you can watch this spoiler "how it should have ended" rendition:

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Conference Report - Who Was There - Part 3

    See Part 1 (Overview).
    See Part 2 (The Booth People).

    In this final post of "Who Was There" at the NCWN 2010 Fall Conference, I will showcase the "other people" - that is, those among the other "me"s that were there.  Each of these people are at different stages of their writing career.  Just like me, they all have something to say.

    I'll start with one person who seemed to stick out from the others - most likely because he is a sci-fi/fantasy writer like me.  (I don't know why I tend to like people like me!)

    This person was Charley Pearson.  As I reported in my Day After Report, we were excited to meet each other.  Charley said, "Another genre writer!" when I told him I did sci-fi.  Charley was the one at open mic who went before me.  He did the entertaining dragon ballad (a poem for people who hate poetry).

    He may also be one of the more successful authors I met at the conference.  He's published four short stories (two of which count toward SFWA membership - I'm not sure about the other two).  I also notice that he hasn't gone the self-publishing route - something I'll bring up in an upcoming blog.

    Next is DJ Everette, the CEO of a company called "The Power Of One, LLC".  I ended up eating lunch at her table, and socialized with her further during Happy Hour.  I believe she's the one who brought her husband.  (I may be mixing up stories here - with me writing so late after it happened!  Whoever brought their husband - he had a fun story to tell, too.)

    DJ has a fascinating story to tell about the history of Wilmington, NC.  She brought with her all kinds of pictures and newspaper clippings, showing that she's done a lot of research and has written much of the story already.  She says that she's revised it several times.  It's clear that she wants it to be perfect when she takes it to a publisher.

    Unlike me, who has millions of ideas waiting to be written, DJ seems driven by this one story.  It's one of her missions in life - to get the story out.  I wish her luck.

    At lunch, I also met Kurt Naas, who is working on an action/thriller book.  He described a little of the book, but not too much.  We authors don't like to give too much away until the book's published.  It sounds like he's getting close to sending this book off to publishing companies.  I wish him luck!

    Let me point something out before continuing.  There were only three of us at that table during lunch.  DJ is a CEO.  Kurt is a VP.  And who am I?  I'm just an aspiring.  No, that is not a grammatical error - it's just an appropriately omitted nominal predicate that happens to have an participial adjective.

    Both of these people were outgoing, yet business-like.  I wonder if all CEOs and VPs aspire to write books.  I can think of several.  Dale Carnegie comes to mind.  First they become successful at work, and then they write about it.

    It just shows what different backgrounds we all come from.  Writers, writers, everywhere!  Let's see - who's next?

    During one of the breaks I came across these two people: Kathleen J Dolan and R L White.  I ended up talking with them for nearly fifteen minutes.  They are both self-publishers.  It was so interesting to hear all about the process.

    Kathleen published her book, "I Need A Face Lift! (Spiritually Speaking)" through  You can see her picture on the cover of the book.  She also runs her own workshops to promote the principles inside the book.  Here's a news clip featuring her book:

    R L White took another route. He puts together copies of his book himself.  He prints off the pages, and puts them together with comb binding.  This is appropriate, as the title of the book is, "Bric-a-brac: A hodgepodge of rough-cut poems, lyrics, and prose."  Sure enough, on the inside it has a lot of poems and other things.  I wish I could have looked at it for longer.

    He gave me a laminated bookmark, which also serves as a business card.  His main drawback, which I've discovered, is that you can't find anything about him or his book on the internet.  Kathleen, on the other hand, has her book available on Amazon, and is making an effort to have an internet presence.

    It takes a lot of work to put together a book.  But once you have something, you still have to sell it.  I think Kathleen has the better chance to sell her book, while R L needs to find other ways to get noticed.  (Well, so do I!)

    Next is H. D. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.  This is another writer who's pretty successful in his day job.  He's a forensic psychologist, and has written a novel based on his work.  He showed me a copy of Alienation of Affection.  It looks like a good murder mystery.  It's another self-published book, which causes concern for me.  If H. D. and all the other people above are experienced in their respective fields, and they must resort to self-publishing, then what chance do I have but to self-publish?  (More of this in an upcoming post.)

    H. D. was a fun person to talk with.  We talked during dinner.  He told me several aspects of his work, and I was intrigued.  He also asked me what I write, and he listened intently.  I joked and asked if he was pulling any of that psych stuff on me.

    I hope this gives you a good summary of the different types of people I met at the Fall Conference.  In Part 1, I mentioned that if an established writer was there, he or she was a presenter at the conference.  In Part 2, I went over the people who ran the booths.  In this third part, I finished describing the rest of us.  We all have different backgrounds.  We have different goals.  Some of us want to write millions of books.  Others just want to get that one story told.  Some of us are struggling to get that first book finished, while others are trying to get any one of many published or recognized.

    We all have one thing in common, though.  We all have something to say, and we won't stop until we've run out of things to say.

    Happy writing!