Saturday, April 26, 2008

Frenzied Winner

I won Script Frenzy today as my screenplay edged over 100 pages. Wow! I wrote a 100 page screenplay in under 30 days. For writers, this is like an Olympic sport. The discipline. The endurance. The thoughts grinding away in my head. It's some small satisfaction for me at least. I think I enter these online writing contests to nudge myself into action. So many people say they're going to write something and eventually don't. The key to being a writer is writing.
At a comic book convention in 2002 I met Kevin Smith. Fanboy geek I am, I waited in line for him to autograph a copy of his screenplays for Clerks and Chasing Amy. I told him I was writing a screenplay and he encouraged me.
"Do it," he said.
He told an audience of aspiring filmmakers and Smith fanboys that whenever he has writer's block, he just writes through it. That's really all you can do. Just write through it or plan a scene in your head or think about a detail or aspect of it. It's better than just doing nothing and talking about something you're planning to write.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Yes, I'm still writing my screenplay for Script Frenzy. Yes, I've written myself in a hole. But on the positive side, I'm at 78 pages. Not too shabby. And at a week left to go, the pressure is on.
It's a political story called "Release the Dogs". It's based on the 2006 Senate race between Tom Kean Jr. and Robert Menendez. I actually interviewed Kean and found him to be...Let's just say I know why he's not in Washington today. I liked the guy, but there was no oomph there.
The son of a noted politician running for higher office and feeling uncomfortable in his own skin, having to dodge the press while sinking in the mire of dirty New Jersey politics? Yeah, this is a good story. Sign me up to write it!

Monday, April 14, 2008


I'm not a regular church-goer. In some societies I might be regarded as a heathen for not attending. This Sunday St. Gregory The Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church had its groundbreaking ceremony for a $1.8 million "Founders Hall", much-needed space for the church, which was built in 1966. My family, incidentally, helped lay the cornerstone of that church. The new "Founders Hall" facility will have classrooms, a large multi-purpose room and be an asset for the growing church community.
I've struggled with religion all my life. When I was a kid, my dad read to me from one of those children's Bibles. You know the ones: large, colorful illustrations of Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark and Jesus but strangely no mention of Sodom and Gomorrah. I guess the illustrator had trouble drawing that. Anyway, dad read me the story of Noah's Ark and got to the part where the Lord rained upon the Earth for 40 days and 40 nights and not a spot on Earth was dry. Now my small brain wasn't stupid. I knew about the Himalayas. I knew about Mt. Everest. I knew that 40 days worth of rain wasn't going to cover the snow-capped peaks over 29,000 feet.So I disputed it. My dad's response, like any suburban father's when his son started questioning anything was "Do you want to argue with God?"
So that was it. Shut me up through fear. Kinda like what the government is going now. No discussion, no talking logic, just flash the vengeful, supernatural Lord's wrath at me and frighten me.
Growing up in the Armenian Apostolic Church is a weird experience, because nobody outside the church knows what it is.
"Is that like Greek Orthodox?" they ask.
It isn't. It's got more in common with Coptic Christianity than Greek Orthodox, but who cares?
That's the trouble with Christianity in general - it's like the Baskin-Robbins of world religions: several different varieties and everyone has their own favorite flavor.
It was difficult to attend that church because the services are in Armenian and if you don't understand Armenian, you just sat there confused. It's like listening to Charlie Brown's teacher rattling on for two hours: "Wah, wah. Wahhh, wah, wahhh, wahh, wahhh..."
During college I joined a Unitarian-Universalist Church. For those of you who don't know who Unitarians are, they're like the Woodstock tailgating party who parked their WV Microbusses in a field and just formed their religion. Unitarians were a Protestant branch that thrived in New England and are very liberal. How liberal are they? If you are a pantheist lesbian midget you'd fit right in. I met a lot of good people there, but sometimes the politics got in the way. Like discussing the policies of the Clinton years at a wine, cheese and hashish party following the service.
When I lived with my wife, we attended Catholic church. There were a few things I liked about it, namely the inspirational music and artwork showing Jesus' ministry. There also were a few things I hated, namely everything else. I know the Catholic Church has its controversy with the sex scandals, but it was this "holier-than-thou" attitude and hypocrasy that turned me off. I mean, if the Catholic Church was so great, why did the Protestant Reformation happen? Martin Luther's "Fuck You, Rome" speech in 1517 was the first time anyone stood up to the Pope. Now the church is in damage-control mode and spinning itself as progressive. They just released their new slogan - "The Catholic Church - We Haven't Tortured Since the 17th Century".
My spiritual journey is far from over. I take wisdom where I can get it. I thank God privately every day for being alive, but I still don't attend church regularly. I get whatever grace, lessons and enlightenment from books, nature or other people.
And if that means going to an Armenian Church for a day and hearing people who talk in a foreign language or going to a Catholic Church and listening to some priest who probably diddled a fourth grader, or even meditating in the lotus position and asking Buddha to smite my enemies like the vile dogs they are, then I feel spiritually whole and connected with a divine power.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rejected and Ejected

I was thrown out of a meeting for the first time in my career.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation are building a new causeway and bridge into town and part of the project includes a new entranceway for the city. Ocean City's Welcome Center, already on the causeway, will be redesigned as part of the new causeway. In the meantime, a temporary welcome center will be constructed in town as part of the entranceway. The business administrator told me representatives of the DOT would show the plans for the temporary welcome center to members of the chamber of commerce on Friday and asked if I was going to attend. I took this as an invitation, because I spoke to the executive director of the chamber of commerce and she told me the same thing.
I get to the meeting and after ten minutes the business administrator takes me aside and sheepishly admits that the DOT was "nervous" that I was there and that it was a workshop meeting to discuss the plans before introducing the final design to the public in May.
With that he suggested I leave the meeting.
Thing was, members of the chamber of commerce and a zoning board member who is also running for city council were allowed to stay. So other members of the public could stay but a reporter made the DOT representatives "nervous".
Shouldn't the business administrator know that it was a workshop meeting, closed to the press. The DOT had several renderings of the project the public might be interested in.
Before being ejected from the room, I snagged an agenda from the so-called "Aesthetics Task Force Meeting".
Here's what they talked about: a brief overview of contracts A and B, the aesthetic elements for Ocean City, which includes a revised retaining wall, landscaping, sidewalk and crosswalk treatments, street and parking lighting, bridge pier lighting and a glare/privacy screen. The task force also discussed the temporary visitors center, permanent visitors center and public information center.
Not that the state wants anybody to know about it because the press wasn't allowed to see this.
This is the first time I was thrown out of any meeting before, and with such a flimsy bullshit excuse. The DOT was "nervous" a reporter was in the room? What about the chamber of commerce or the council candidate? Why were they allowed to stay?
I was close to fighting it. I was close to staying put and not leaving and anchoring myself to one of the chairs.
Yet I didn't. I just left the room and didn't want to cause a fuss.
So I told my editor about it and he's going to editorialize about it next week, which is a good thing. The city's administration touts itself as having "transparency in government", yet it's far from transparent. The city does what all governments do: shields the truth from the public.
When I started working as a journalist in 1994, the State of New Jersey worked with the press. I could call any department head or staffer and get an interview. That changed six years ago and now the press has to deal with communications departments and spokespeople who don't return our phone calls until days later. If anyone wants to muzzle press inquiry, it's the state.
I'm not surprised the DOT was uncomfortable with me being in the room. Bureaucrats are a pretty spineless lot. What amazed me was the city's business administrator didn't let the community's newspaper stay.
I guess the state isn't alone in muzzling the First Amendment.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Script Frenzy

I'm participating in Script Frenzy, an online competition founded by the same people who created National Novel Writing Month. With Script Frenzy, participants have the month of April to write a screenplay, stage play, comic book script or TV script with a limit of 100 pages in 30 days. I'm working on a movie screenplay. The only catch is you have to use screenwriting software. I'm using Movie Magic Screenwriter, industry standard software that's really excellent. I used it to write a stage play and the versatility and learning curve are admirable.
So for the next month, it'll be me in front of my computer, cranking out my script. I'm on page 12, so I have a long way to go.