Michael Clayton

I finally saw MICHAEL CLAYTON…it was my test drive using the Amazon Unbox to rent a movie on my TiVo (a service which I liked). If you haven’t seen the movie, you can stop reading now, because I’m going to spoil some things.

I thought George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Sydney Pollack were terrific and some of the dialogue really crackled, but  the simple plot was inexplicably and needlessly hard to follow at times and there were some logic flaws that pulled me right out of the movie, ultimately ruining it for me.

The bad guys did a slick and professional job of killing  Wilkinson’s character and making it look like a suicide, thus establishing them as formidable opponents. But then they put a  car bomb in Clayton’s Mercedes.  Why!?  Why not stab him  in an apparent "mugging gone bad" or run him over as he’s crossing the street? Why kill him in a manner that will draw an enormous amount of attention — the exact opposite of what the bad guys wanted? It was stupid and sloppy writing, made worse when Clayton is able to fool them (and apparently the police) into thinking he’s dead even though there’s no charred corpse in his car… just his wallet and his watch. Did his body get vaporized?

There was also one niggly detail that bugged me, too. At one point they say Clayton was born in 1959. Then, a few scenes later, Clayton says that he’s 45. The math just doesn’t add up (and the movie clearly takes place in 2007, sine he’s driving a brand new SL).

I also don’t get how Tilda Swinton got nominated for an Oscar, much less won the thing, based on her small role…

Our Worst Script

I published the post below on this blog in July 2006…and forgot all about what I said I’d do at the end. Now I am following through…

Ken Levine writes today about the worst script he and his partner ever wrote.

In 1993 my writing partner, David Isaacs and I did a short run series
for CBS called BIG WAVE DAVE’S starring Adam Arkin and David Morse. It
ran that summer, got 19 shares, kept 100% of MURPHY BROWN’S audience
and was cancelled. At the time CBS had starring vehicles in the wings
for Peter Scolari, Bronson Pinchot, and the always hilarious Faye
Dunaway so they didn’t need us.

We were given a production order
of six with three back-up scripts. We assigned the first two back-ups
to our staff and planned on writing the third ourselves. When the show
was cancelled we put in to CBS to get paid for the additional scripts.
They said fine, but we had to turn in the completed scripts. Gulp!

Rabkin and I had almost the exact same experience on SEAQUEST. We’d
already turned in the outline for  episode 14 when we got canceled.
But in order to get paid for the teleplay, we had to write it. We did
it in one day, while we were packing up our office. I still live in
fear that some sf fan will stumble on a bootleg draft at a scifi
convention, post it on the net, and people will think we actually write
that bad. I’m in Germany now, or I’d post an excerpt. I’ll try to
remember to do it when I return.

UPDATE March 8, 2007:
  Okay, here’s an excerpt from "About Face,"  the script Bill and I wrote in a day to get our script fee. We knew no one would ever read it. All you need to know to follow along is that Piccolo a man with gills and Darwin is a talking dolphin (I’m not kidding).

Read more

Absent from Duty

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately — I’ve been working hard on my seventh MONK book (due April 30th) and a couple of other projects, which hasn’t left me much time for the blog (or The Bog as Paul Guyot used to call it). What’s nice is that now I can call Bill Rabkin and my brother Tod and whine to them about meeting my deadlines. I was doing that before, but now that they are also juggling tie-in writing assignments with their other work, they know first-hand what I am going through. I am looking forward to this summer, when Tod and I will both have new books out and can do signings together, and next January, when Tod, Bill and I will all have books out at the same time. It should be fun… certainly more so than hitting the signing trail alone.

Lying is the New Truth

An author of a holocaust memoir admits she made the whole thing up

"This story is mine. It is not actually reality but my reality, my way
of surviving," Defonseca said in a statement released by the lawyers.
"I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed."

An author of a highly-praised memoir of her struggles as a gangbanger on the streets of South Central Los Angeles turns out to have been raised in an upper-class suburban home in Sherman Oaks and educated in elite private schools…

“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my
opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms.
Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you
should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk.
Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good
that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to

[…]“I’m not saying like I did it right,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I did not do
it right. I thought I had an opportunity to make people understand the
conditions that people live in and the reasons people make the choices
from the choices they don’t have.”

A celebrity chef on the Food Network admits that he didn’t actually cook for the Royal Family or U.S. Presidents…

"I was wrong to exaggerate in statements related to my
experiences in the White House and the Royal Family," Irvine said
in a written statement. "I am truly sorry for misleading people
and misstating the facts."

And an elected official on the Three Valleys Water Board in Pomona, California admits he didn’t win the Medal of Honor or serve in the military as he claimed…

[Xavier Alvarez] didn’t deny claiming to have received the Medal of Honor. People
routinely say things at board meetings “just to entertain the public,”
he said.

The federal charges are the work of his political opponents, Alvarez
contends. When asked to specifically address the charges, his response
was disjointed.

“There’s people who go up there and say, ‘Oh, I’m homosexual. And I
belong to the homosexual community.’ I don’t say anything about that. .
. . I’m a rookie at this. You get nervous.”

But not one of these brazen liars, just four among many outed in recent weeks, actually admits to lying, merely living a different truth, or miss-stating facts, or "exaggerating," or being nervous, or speaking for the downtrodden, or being "directionally correct" but factually wrong (whatever the hell that means). 

Apparently, in today’s society, it’s okay to tell lies as long as you don’t get caught doing it…but, if you do, it’s imperative that you apologize without actually admitting to being a liar. Some are even saying that lying is a constitutional right. Take the Medal of Honor liar, Xavier Alvarez, or example. He is being prosecuted for violating the Stolen Valor Act of 2005:

In a motion
filed last month, Alvarez’s court-appointed attorney stated that his
false claim is protected under the First Amendment.

are not outside the realm of First Amendment protection, and therefore
restrictions on false statements must be supported by a strong
government interest and must be directly related to that interest,"
says the motion.

Is it just me, or are we seeing more and more of these outrageous cases of lying in the last couple of years? It’s even more amazing that this is happening during a time when it’s getting easier and easier to check up on people’s claims using simple search engines. But even the people who should be checking facts aren’t doing it, like Riverhead, the publisher of Margaret Seltzer’s memoir:

Ms. Seltzer’s sister, Ms. Hoffman, 47, said:
“It could have and should have been stopped before now.” Referring to
the publisher, she added: “I don’t know how they do business, but I
would think that protocol would have them doing fact-checking.”

What is it that drives these people to lie very publicly about their lives — medals of honor they didn’t win, diplomas they never received, presidents they didn’t cook for, etc. — and not expect to get caught doing it? Is it simply brazen arrogance? Rampaging stupidity? Or is it a profound laziness, a desperate desire to have accomplishments without putting in the actual work to achieve them?

Sisters-in-Crime Wrestles with POD

Now that anybody with a credit card and the email address of a Print-on-Demand company thinks they can call themselves a publisher or a published author, professional writers organizations have been forced to carefully define what it means to them to be a "publisher" or a  "published author" to deal with the issue. Now even Sisters-in-Crime is acknowledging the problem.

It seems that the abundance of POD titles in the Sisters-in-Crime’s annual  "Books-in-Print" catalog has rendered the publication useless to the booksellers and librarians it was intended for. As a result, Sisters-in-Crime is changing their rules about which titles can be listed in the publication. 

According to a member mailing by Sisters-in-Crime president Roberta Isleib, from now on only books that meet "marketplace standards" will be included in the listing.

Following are the criteria for a book that meets marketplace standards:

Is returnable.

Is offered at standard industry discounts

Is available through national wholesaler, such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor

Is competitively priced

Has a minimum print run of 1,000 copies

(We believe that the minimum print run of 1,000 copies shows a publisher’s intent to place the book in the marketplace. It is the same number used by Authors Coalition to determine a ‘published book.’)

Any titles that do not meet one of the standards may be petitioned on a case-by-case basis, so long as all other requirements are met.

[…]POD reprints of titles that met industry standards when originally published will be included in the print BIP.

The Mystery Writers of America enacted guidelines this year that excludes print-on-demand "publishers" from their Approved Publishers list. There was, predictably, a lot of foot-stomping in the blogosphere among the POD crowd, who predicted a mass exodus of members from the MWA as a result of the changes. In fact, the exact opposite occurred — the change actually resulted in a surge in membership renewals and new memberships. We now have more members than ever before.

But unlike the MWA, Sisters-in-Crime has a much more flexible membership policy and includes among its active members many people who’ve had their manuscripts printed using a POD press and consider themselves "published authors." Expect an uproar.