Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Hey, That's My Name Too!

Never, ever use your password this way.

In my current work in progress (WIP) all of the main characters have nicknames. Since they're computer hackers it's not unusual that they would be hiding behind an alias to keep their true identity secret. In the story, all of the names were assigned by the alpha hacker in their group. Behind each name, is a short back story as to how they wound up with it. These backstories tell you a little about the person given the moniker and the person who handed out the names.

When I was thinking about this part of the story, my mind drifted to the nicknames I'd been given over the years. The first name I can recall being was tacked on me at summer camp when one of my fellow staff members began to refer to me as Socrates. For some reason, I was mouthing off philosophical platitudes in the name was slapped on. Given that I was in eighth grade at the time, I'm not really sure how I came about any level of wisdom.

There was also a span of time between sixth and eighth grade when I chose to go by my middle name rather than my first name. We'd just moved to Oklahoma from South Carolina and it was a good time to make that sort of change. Looking back, I can't remember why, I just that I did it. 

By the start of ninth grade, I was back to using my first name, but my friends were still calling me Socrates. It was okay, I was hanging out with guys named Duck and Peabody -- it fits. A move to Virginia allowed me to shed all nicknames.  I didn't pick up another until I was in college.

The TV show MASH was popular at the time, and my offbeat sense of humor led me to be called Hawkeye. The nickname stuck through college, my first few years in the Air Force, and I eventually used it to sign artwork I created during that time. Once I set the name down, I didn't pick up another for many years. I still have college friends who call me Hawkeye, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm just glad that after all these years we're still friends.

At this point in life, I no longer have any nickname, but I do have a nom de plume I use for my fictional writing. I created it primarily to prevent confusion with software and technical books I write under my real name. It also allows me to me hide behind the curtain while I play with the knobs and levers that control my characters as they perform on the stage.

Just wait until you meet Lynx, Spyder, and a few others.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Desktop Parking Lot

The four stories that made up POMSILv2 came to me simultaneously. That’s not to say the tales were fully fleshed out, but I had the basic storyline and the hook in mind before I ever sat down to put the first one on paper. Of course, not all of the stories lend themselves to needing or being able to obtain a prop to serve his muse. Still, one story, in particular, did, Beyond AM Radio.

The story’s protagonist is a government employee, Cordeil, who locates an extraordinary radio sitting on one of an overstuffed and forgotten warehouse shelves. The radio had been there for decades. It was the exact radio he needed to complete the restoration of a 1947 Cadillac Series 62 convertible given to him by his grandfather. When I started writing the story, I didn’t have a specific car in mind. However, I knew what I wanted the radio to look like, which led me to begin looking through pictures of old cars.

The radio wasn’t the only thing required about the car, but it was the starting point. I also wanted the car to be a convertible for no other reason than I like convertibles. Finally, I wanted the car to be a model worth being handed down through generations. There are many incredible vehicles worthy of collecting, but this one had to be special to the original owner. Something he would’ve obtained after World War II as a treat for having survived. As I continually narrowed down the choices, I eventually decided on a Cadillac. It was the car my father considered the one you buy when you want to treat yourself to the lap of luxury.

I was surprised to find Cadillac, rather than naming their cars during this period, simply numbered them. As I started looking through the various models they had available, the Series 62 caught my eye immediately. With the choice being made, I wanted to get a close-up view of the car. Unfortunately, in the middle of COVID I couldn’t go to an automobile museum. A model would have to be the stand-in, and I found one that was part of an estate sale being conducted on eBay.

The model’s doors, hood, and self-lowering antenna were all movable. So I could move things around and look more closely at details as I wrote the story to make sure the story remained authentic. I also got in touch with the Jose Gomez of The Cadillac & LaSalle Club, who helped me with technical specifications and guidance on the intricacies of the car.

As I wrote, I imagined myself as Cordeil sitting in the car and going through the motions of the story. Opening and slamming doors, crawling underneath, and eventually installing the radio acquired from the warehouse leads to the story’s climax.

Now, the model sits on my desk. I still pick it up and play with it occasionally, so it’s not gathering too much dust yet. But every time I look at it, I’m reminded of the story, and I smile.

 Here's a full description of the Beyond AM Radio,

When Cordeil starts a new job, he discovers an antique car radio he needs to finish restoring his 1947 Cadillac. It might be perfect, but it is stored in a strictly controlled government warehouse, and taking it would be a federal crime. Over time, Cordeil convinces himself that since the radio has been sitting there for half a century untouched, stealing it will do no harm. Unbeknownst to him, he will not realize the true cost of his decision until he powers it up for the first and possibly last time.

Beyond AM Radio is one of four short stories in POMSILv2, available in AudioBook, Paperback & eBook.



Monday, May 2, 2022

Roll On Thunder, Shine On Lightnin'

If you ask a person what their favorite movie is, the answer would probably change in ten years. It is not disloyalty; naturally, your evaluation of a particular film will change over the years. Sometimes it gets remade, sometimes it doesn’t age well, and sometimes a movie just hits you at the right point in your life to make a significant impact. Nothing else ever really matches that level ever again. For me, that movie was Phantom of the Paradise. I am warning you upfront this entry about this movie, released in 1974, may or may not contain things you consider a spoiler. Since the film has been out of theaters for almost fifty years, it is beyond the time when that should be a concern. 

Winslow Leach

Because I was a military brat, it is not surprising that this movie, like most others, was seen in the base theater. Like most installations I lived on, the theater on Fort Eustis was located within walking or biking distance of the housing area. Because I went to this movie with a larger group of friends, we walked en masse to the theater rather than taking bikes. As I remember it, Phantom was the Saturday late-night movie which meant there weren’t very many people in the theater. Like many movies I saw during that time in my life, I had no idea what I was walking into. Usually, by the time a movie made it onto the base, it was a year or more since it’d been released off base. All the advertising was gone, and back then, the base theater didn’t show previews most of the time.


Phantom of the Paradise is, in the simplest of terms: Faust, mixed with Phantom of the Opera, and a dash of Dorian Grey set to Rock & Roll from 50s to metal with an intro and epilogue by Rod Serling plus a villain/hero with stainless steel teeth....the whole thing is presented in classic Brian De Palma split-screen. But that is the simplest of terms. To me, at age fifteen, it was so much more.

The hero of the story is a composer named Winslow Leech, who is having a rough time getting his music heard. His current project, a retelling of Faust. The person who controls the entire music industry is an egotistical villain named Swan. He hears Winslow’s music and decides, rather than buying it, to steal it. When Winslow tries to get his music back, he meets an attractive singer named Phoenix, auditioning for his cantata that Swan is now producing. Naturally, she has the perfect voice for his songs. After several attempts to confront Swan about the theft of his music, Winslow ends up jailed and accidentally, through a quirk of fate, has his natural teeth replaced by stainless steel. Admittedly, that is a strange sidetrack for the plot to take, but there it is.
The Phantom

Eventually, due to his superhuman strength when angry, he escapes prison. He attempts to destroy the factory producing an album of his music, sung by Swan’s house band (whom Winslow loathes). It does not turn out well as he ends up being maimed and left voiceless by the record printing machine he is attempting to destroy. Swan creates a rock ‘n’ roll venue called The Paradise (Not the one Styx sang about). Winslow sneaks in, steals a costume, and becomes the Phantom, causing mayhem in the theater to prevent the opening of the Faust cantata. Are you with me so far?

After the Phantom takes out Swan’s band, they meet and make a deal. Swan gives Winslow an electronic voice. He will produce the Phantom’s cantata -- the price, as usual in fame and fortune contracts, his soul. Phoenix appears at an audition and is selected at Winslow’s urging. Swan locks the Phantom away in a studio vault so that he can complete Faust while feeding him a variety of pharmaceuticals. Once the music is finished, Swan bricks the Phantom into the studio a’la Cask of Amontillado. He then selects a male lead, Beef, for the show but leaves Phoenix as a background singer. The Phantom’s immense anger allows him to break through the brick wall, and then he kills Beef on opening night, which leads to Phoenix taking over the performance. Later that night, the Phantom witnesses Swan’s seduction of Phoenix, breaking his heart.

I won't give away the ending.

If you followed all of that, you could see how it’s a short jump from that story to one of any average teenage males growing up in America in the mid-70s. I was at a point in my life when I saw the movie that I had been through several Phoenixes and had been blocked and torn down by a few Swans. Short of selling my soul to the devil, I could identify with all of the emotion and lovelorn helplessness of the Phantom.  

When the movie finally showed in the base theater, the first home VCRs were still five years from release*. Once the film was gone from theaters, there was no way to see it again until it appeared on TV years later. At this point, I had seen the movie once, and it made an impression. What solidified it was a bit of chance. 

A long time ago, radio stations would give away things based on what number caller you were when they told you to call. A few months after seeing the movie, I was the correct number caller to win a free album of my choice at a local record store. Guess which soundtrack had just arrived when I came to pick up my free album? Ain’t kismet neat?

I listened to that album over and over and over. I knew all the words to both the serious ballads and a playful number about a rock musician who committed suicide to pay for his sister’s operation (more details on the impact of that particular song here, see the Umleitung). 

Paul Williams, although not a great vocalist, is a fantastic songwriter. His lyrics are excellent and managed to say things in rhyme and metaphor that most people can’t say plainly. As I listened to the album, I found more parallels between the movie and where I was in life. Every adolescent does the same thing. Like movies, it’s just a matter of which album hits you at the right time. There wasn’t a single line from the album that didn’t somehow fit into what was going on in my life for at least the following year. I guess I had enough innate optimism to see their hope, even if some were meant to be melancholy. Jessica Harper had a beautiful voice that blended so well with the emotion-filled lyrics being sung.

The movie was nominated for several awards, including an Oscar, but it became a victim of timing. The same year Phantom of the Paradise was released, Tommy came out. Tommy was a good movie, and it had a stellar cast: the Who, Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson, and Ann-Margret. There was just no way this little movie would win over Tommy. Phantom was the better movie with the more meaningful soundtrack of the two.

...years later, and every now and then, when I find myself needing a little something – – I head off to the Swannage to watch a film about a sound. The search for that sound -- the man who made it, -- the girl who sang it, -- and the monster who stole it.

*Home media side point: Phantom of the Paradise was never released on VHS and didn’t come out on DVD until September 4, 2001. In August 2014, it was finally released on Blu-ray. While in Okinawa, during a typhoon evac from Guam, I came across a copy of the movie on VHS in 1983, complete with forced Japanese subtitles. The tape was lost during one of my many moves.

This was the last thing Rod Serling ever recorded.

Full Trailer