Pop-up Fact #6 – Unsung Writer – Romeo Muller

The holiday season is almost wrapped up. I for one got to watch my chillun become enraptured with the Rankan-Bass stop-motion extravaganzas of the 1960s.

The what?

Remember the effin Bumble? Yukon Cornelius licking his pick axe? Hermey the Elf dreaming of being a dentist? I’m only talking about the most popular holiday television special of all time, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We all know the song, but that claymation flick took the song and the story, and did mad science to it. King Moonracer soaking up the Aslan vibe? WTFuckery is this? Romeo Muller happened is what, and that was just the beginning.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman. This guy penned the script to my every snow day wish. And he wrote, oh, a few dozen more films including the animated Wind in the Willows flick, and Puff the Magic Dragon. So, this guy has been amping the childhoods of at least two generations, but why is a scifi site happily flogging his legend?


Peter Jackson did not inflame our mortal minds until 2001. Until then, all a
nazgul-ridin’, longbottom leaf smokin’ dude had to watch was the late 70s animated version of The Hobbit and The Return of the King, which Romeo adapted. Every geek worth their bantha poodoo needs to watch these two with their kids (especially the scary parts). It’s worth it just for the songs.

Hail the unsung writer: Romeo Muller (1928-1992).

PS. For something that speaks to the true holiday spirit, I need to relate a story behind the story. Rudolf was created by one R.L. May, then an employee of Montgomery Ward (MW), the Walmart of the first half of the 20th century. A scrawny, oft-picked on child, May found a job as a copywriter at MW during the depression. He married, had a child, but then his wife got cancer and died near X-mas, and May, too poor after the medical bills to afford any presents, gave his daughter a story of a plucky misfit reindeer.

MW was looking for a story to sell at Xmas and bought it for peanuts. It became so popular, that industry types wanted to make songs and movies, so the retail giant gave the rights back to May, and he remarried and became wealthy. (In the 1940s, May’s brother-in-law wrote the song everyone knows and the legend grew.)

Can anyone imagine Walmart, or Wall Street, or any Big Music Label giving the rights back to the creator? A lost time, you say? Only if we let it be lost. I think it’s time to channel some plucky misfit reindeer, and take the country back from the Bumbles in Washington and Wall Street. And I don’t mean Tea Party rage. I mean better government, not an absence of government. Oops, I’m getting political. I better stop before I go all post-apocalypse on you.

See you in 2012. Sincerely, The ScribbleNinja.

Pop-up Fact #42 – Unsung Writer – Albert Pyun

Born in 1954 during a zombie moon, suckled by rabid ferrets, he would grow up to be the best thing for film since Ed Wood and the House of Hammer. As a teen, he was sponsored by legendary Japanese actor and cinema samurai, Toshiro Mifune, and worked under the shogun of all directors, Kurasawa. Then he took that auspicious beginning and did mad science to it.

1982 had seen Conan bulge into the box office. Pyun struck while the riddle of steel was hot, and rammed Sword and the Sorceror into my teenage brain, where it quivers still like only a three-bladed sword can. When Pyun helmed Cyborg in 1989, and showcased Van Damme in the best post-apocalyptic-combat-chase scene ever, I knew scifi had found its true master.

Who else could rule over the B-movie kingdom with such verve? Who else could scramble for every camera lens, and shoot two movies at once? Pyun! Who could write, direct and sometimes edit his own films? Pyun! Yes, he gets massacred by executive producers, but only Pyun could work with supermodel Kathy Ireland and Snoop Dogg. Only Pyun could put Christopher Lambert and Ice-T in the same movie. Only Pyun could reuse the sets and props from the aborted He-man sequel and use them in Cyborg. Only Pyun could put “heroic” Andrew Dice Clay with hottie Teri Hatcher in 1993’s Shaolin monktacular masterpiece, Brain Smasher.

He’s got 47 movies to his credit, and it will probably be 50 before I finish writing this post. Here’s to you, Mr. Pyun. At least you’re not Uwe Boll.

Pop-up fact #36 – Know your BAMF – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

How many scientists take the axiom “sound mind in a sound body” and crush it into little bits before feeding it into a satellite bound for the nearest black hole? Answer: none. Until Dr. Tyson was born in 1958 and achieved off his ass in wrestling, dance, and astrophysics.

Yes, he was anointed our next Astronomer King by no less a luminary then Carl “Billions and Billions” Sagan, but maybe he’s no fun at parties, you say. Stephen Colbert doesn’t think so and neither should you. In fact, Dr. Tyson is a nationally recognized booster for science in general, and it is a proven fact that your IQ goes up after having a conversation with him.

So, the man can rock a unitard, a dance floor, and kill a planet. That’s right. Tyson killed Pluto. They say modern science finally had to reclassify the runt celestial object, but really, between you and me, it was Dr. Death Star.

When he’s not rearranging the cosmos, he’s trying to launch the human race out to the stars, and inspire us (and Congress) to make space travel and science as popular as the Kardashians.

To see an awesome video of Dr. Tyson waxing poetic about the universe, and what objects in it might smash your head someday, click the YouTube link beside the pic, or go to the Hayden Planetarium’s site.

Dr. Tyson, a BAMF for science. Now you know.


For Writers – Rant #18 – How many drafts will it take to finish?





“As many as you need,” the wise published author says.

Very true. Nooooot very helpful though. Let me break it down ScribbleNinja style.

First, is what you have worthy of a novel? What do you have now? A scene? A premise? A world waiting for a story? A protagonist waiting for a push? A need to seem witty or important (or drunk in a café talking about your theme)? Let’s just assume you have a worthy idea, but you haven’t yet committed. After all, we’re talking about 9-12 months of your precious waking mind.

This is what you do: Draft Zero.

I call it an Outline, but if that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then call it Draft Zero. The Outline will quickly tell you what you have, and save you scads of time and frustration. You got half a page of outline? That means Short Story. Couple ‘o pages? Novella. More than ten pages? Novel. Twenty pages. Epic Fantasy. More than twenty? Stop masturbating on the page, and write the damn story already.

By the way, you can absolutely drink during Draft Zero (or smoke wacky tobaccy in rolled up 1862 Confederate scrip, if that’s your thing). Murdering your darlings in Draft Zero can wipe out whole characters, entire plot arcs, or even transform the snarky minor character into the Great Anti-Hero Champion of the Metaverse Guy (or Girl). You get the picture.

See my other essays for more outline-a-palooza.

Draft One has only one ironclad rule: don’t get it right, get it written.

Can you write shitty? Show us. Use caricatures, clichés, poor grammar; anything to put ink on the page. The next day, read what came before to pick up the thread, edit if you must, but don’t “polish.” Have fun with your strengths and ignore your weaknesses. Don’t agonize. Progress now, perfection later. “But, but,” you stammer. “I’m writing literary dingleberries and all my writer buds are dripping sonatas out of their butts without trying.” Hush there, suffering scribe. You are learning about your characters, and fleshing out your world, and discovering new plot wrinkles—so how dare you polish an unfinished thing. Michelangelo did not start by polishing his block of stone. He carved first. And crudely. That’s Draft One.

[One of my own weaknesses is grammar, particularly commas and the devil’s mark, the semi-colon. If in any post, you notice grammar errors, please comment immediately, which will make my penis shrink. I will notice this and correct said offending post.]

Where were we? Ahh, yes; poor besotted Draft One. Listen close. Some people fizzle out at about 50 pages. At page one, you can only go forward, but at page 50, you have enough in place that you could go sideways, flashback, skip forward, and basically get lost. Is this you? No? I bet you used an outline.

At the 50 page mark, give or take a chapter, and only if you feel comfortable, analyze what’s before you. If the thought makes you woozy, then read these next few items, but wait until you’re done with Draft One to implement them.

You, my lovely writer, want to achieve Balance of seemingly opposing things.

  • You want characters that are larger than life, but flawed.
  • Their goals must be clear and their progress to climax (!) must drive the story.
  • The villain’s goals should also be clear, and their progress to anti-climax, drives the hero nuts.
  • The stakes must also be larger than life, but still relatable. If the stakes are beyond normal ken, then the character themselves better be relatable (i.e. she’s trying to save the world from utter zombie annihilation, but she’s also trying to impress a boy she likes).
  • Finally, are the characters innovative and two twists from normal, or simply paint-by-number heroes?

Some other items that need attention in either Draft One or Draft Two are the following. I list them separately because if you can manage them in Draft One without slowing your momentum, then do it. Otherwise, they’ll wait until Draft Two.

  • The tempo of the story must Balance delivering information about the characters, their goals, and the world without stopping the action. I love 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but Verne wrote that 140 years ago when it was fine to describe fish for five whole pages. I don’t want to read a buffet of maritime wonders, I want Nemo to disembowel authority figures. Do not infodump on your reader unless you can make words slide down like caramel butter. Sadly, I have not achieved that beyond a few lines.
  • Even in the most ape-shit, everyone’s-a-flying-alien-wizard story, there are rules. Superman has Kryptonite and a code of honor (otherwise we would all be his bitches). Your plot must flow organically based on the character’s bobbing and weaving around the obstacles that the villain/unholy fate places in front of her. The best obstacles are surprising and obvious, and reveal the character’s best and worst features.
  • So, Balance the fresh take with the known archetypes. Balance the larger-than-life setting, hero, and problem with small, gristly bits that make them human.  Superman also gets coffee spilled on his shirt and has people take the last pumpkin donut after he stood in line for ten minutes.

So, you’re done with Draft One. Yea! Drinks all ‘round! Did rereading Draft One put a smile on your face a few times? A moist eye? A tingling in your nethers? Good. Tighten your helmet cords, punchy, ’cause you’re going back into battle. Time to move on to bulldozing your lovelies. (If you didn’t finish the items above then your Draft Two list just got bigger. Suck it up, java-monkey!)

Draft Two: separating the professionals from the palookas.

You thought writing “The End” in Draft One was satisfying, didn’t you? Liar, liar,
pantaloons on fire. You should have wrote “The Beginning.” Of Pain. Oh, did you
place two chapters from the villain’s point of view back to back? (Thanx, Brenda). Space them out. Did your minor characters take over? Did you skip Draft Zero? Do you want to start over? No? Perhaps, you can move some dialogue to the protag’s mouth. Nothing is unfixable. Find the inconsistencies, plug the plot holes.

Identify the characters who only seem to exist to be a foil to your protag. Give those minor characters their own goals, make them real. Better yet, make their goals contrast with the protag’s. Force multipliers, baby! You can move chapters, and add or delete sections. You are the beautiful, cruel god. Get to work.

On one page (8 pt font, if you must), I like to write a one sentence synopsis of each chapter and designate the point-of-view character. Now you can see a flow, a tempo, and adjust whole chapters as necessary. If your sentence reads like this: “stuff happens,” then you need to sling some outrageous arrows at that sumbitch.

Let me mention a pet peeve: after a hundred pages, if your protag is still at home, YOU HAVE FAILED!

Sorry. Let’s continue. All those times you wrote: add scene here (who would do that?!) – now you have to scribe that scene. Maybe there was a reason you skipped it. Was it relevant? It better be. Are your existing subplots still relevant? How’s the pacing? Are you getting bored by your own writing? My god, throw some giant fighting robots in there or something (Thanx, Liz). Is it epic fantasy? Draw a map. Every scene should be a step forward for your hero, or your villain, or should be revealing character. Mix the high drama and the fights with the lighter moments. Mix the stirring emotional inner monologue with—crap, I hate inner monologues. I also hate protagonists who whine. If your character has a beef, do it in dialogue. Be funny if at all possible.

Now that you have the ending and the beginning in front of you, you can line them up like the snake eating its tail. Do they feel simpatico? If you paid for them, show us those MFA skills. Have you read your scenes aloud? It’ll help you find the rhythm. At this point, your tale should have shape. Hey, Mike, your marble masterwork looks like a big naked dude holding a beach towel.

Do you need specifics? Hearken:

  • Can you tell who’s talking? Ignore your high school English teacher, and use “said” 97% of the time for your dialogue tags.
  • Make the slow parts faster, or funnier.
  • Fix all the weasely word choices you allowed the first time. Find the right word, but don’t agonize. Not yet. All the bones and muscles must work before we focus on the skin.
  • No passive voice. It is better “to kiss” then “to have been kissed.” (Thanx, Gemma)
  • No pointless scenes. Really. Don’t spend time on something your reader is going to skim.

Draft Three: Flavor … and Agony.

All the big holes are filled. Now we must smooth over the rough spots, no matter how small. Do it now, or there will be a Draft Four. Do you want that?! So, agonize. Sweat the small stuff. Punch up the word choice and description. And I don’t mean describing your villain’s eye color, unless they are Cockroach Brown because that hits me sweetly.

Each character should have a different voice, a different way to say “damn the man,” or “come in for a drink?” Each scene must have someone not getting what they want, or getting it after all, but it was not what they thought. Each transition must flow, and make your dear reader avoid sleep and laundry. You must be the merciless killer of clichés. Slap putty on your weaknesses. Find your poet. What would Bill Shakespeare do? Billy it up!

The first sentence, paragraph, and scene should be pristine and jaw-dropping in some way. If you describe the weather, I will slap you with a rainbow trout.

Yes, you’re completing Draft Three but the-book-which-eats-your-life is hateful now. It is the barrier to the next cool project, and perhaps seeing your loved ones, or bathing. The only thing that keeps the ScribbleNinja on task is the future dream that one day – One Day! – I will only have to write three drafts. If I keep practicing that word-after-a-word-after-a-word-thing, and use my outline.

You’re breathing hard now, I know. You enjoyed using the big brush of the outline in Draft Zero, but it still did not save you from getting bogged down in the Swamp on page 150 of Draft One. Still, you persevered, gave your romantic interest a goal of her own, and you were back in business. This is a marathon and you lost your big toenail when you cut out the slow scene with the best sentence you ever wrote in Draft Two. You threw some Gatorade on your head and kept stumbling forward. Finding another way to say world-ending, ab-rippling, soul-kiss almost severed your will to live, but you did it.

You did it! Draft Three is in the tank. Are you done? Welllll, it depends. Anything after Draft Three enters the …

Valley of Diminishing Returns

One can only polish so much. Draft One put the thing that was in your head on the page, but unless you’re the neurotic type, only about 50% of it was worthy. Draft Two got you to 75%, but that’s for pikers and Vice-Presidents. You want the brass ring, dammit. Draft Three got you to 87%. That’s good enough for most. Anything else depends on your life situation and your inner judge. Draft Four will get you to 93%. That’s stellar. That’s award-winning. Stop. Do not do a Draft Five. At best, you’ll get the manuscript to 97%. Not worth it. Submit that eager puppy. Let someone else pencil-whip it.

There you have it. Use an Outline, and you’re in and out with 3 drafts. Spare the Outline, and you’re looking at 4+ drafts in my humble opinion.

Sincerely, the ScribbleNinja.

Pop-up Fact #66 – Know your BAMF two-fer – Buster Crabbe and Jimi Hendrix

How much testosterone bulges your sack when you’re cast to play Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan. Despite the birth name of Clarence Crabbe, Buster persevered, renamed himself, and had enough manjuice in his system to win two swimming medals at two different Olympics. Then he starred in over 100 movies, and is most remembered for playing the scifi alpha males of the 1930s. He even did a cameo as a retired pilot in the 1979 Buck Rogers and snapped witticisms with Gil Gerard: “I’ve been doing that sort of thing since before you were born.”

How does Jimi fit in? Hendrix kept a trunk full of scifi books with him, and adored Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon serials. He even drew scifi art as a kid and used “Buster” as a nickname.

Jimi’s scifi roots don’t end there. Night Of Light by scifi writer, Philip José Farmer, features sunspots that disorient a distant planet’s population (similar to a hallucinogenic drug effect), and it inspired “Purple Haze.” In fact, Jimi wrote pages and pages of lyrics for “Purple Haze,” originally an epic tale of the history of warfare for the control of the planet Neptune. Reminds me of Flash’s adventures on Mongo.

Both men are sadly gone (Jimi, way too soon), and both are Scifi BAMFs. Now
you know.

Pop-up fact #87 – Know your BAMF – Harry Dean Stanton

Stanton is famously laid back and clearly it works since he’s in his 80s and has no less than 4 movies or shows out this year alone. He’s been quoted as saying that he plays himself as totally as he possibly can, “his own Harry Dean Stanton act.”

Now let’s go to the legendary chest-bursting scene from 1979’s Alien (YouTube has it). The actors were, as all geeks know, not informed of what would happen, and most of the actors react with shock or alarm. Stanton? He manages to slightly raise an eyebrow. The android shows more motion.

I’m not sure what sort of rough childhood Stanton had, but what sort of man reacts to that without flinching? A BAMF, that’s who. And now you know.

Pop-up Fact #25 – Synchronicity – Noah Hathaway

Was child actor Noah Hathaway the secret center of the 80s genre universe? He played Boxey, Apollo’s son, on the original Battlestar Galactica. Then he played the young hero, Atreyu, in the Never Ending Story. Then he played Harry Potter in Troll. That’s right, kids. Harry Potter.

So Hathaway starred in a seminal scifi show, an awesome fantasy film, and a cult horror-fantasy flick all before he was 16. Now his subconscious influence spreads as there is a metal band named Atreyu, and another tiny series about another H. Potter. Rumors abound about his return to TV and film. Can we handle it?

Judging by his current extreme incarnation as tattooed-motorcycle customizing-muay-thai-warrior guy, perhaps not.

Pop-up Fact #11 – Unsung Writer – Stanford Sherman

Sherman was a TV writer in the 1960s who contributed 4 episodes to the James-Bond-inspired spy show, The Man from Uncle, and a whopping 18 episodes to the cult camp favorite Batman. Then he presumably set himself on a spiritual walkabout and came back refreshed for the 80s season of post-Star Wars scramble that would result in Krull (1983) and Ice Pirates (1984).

After climbing to the pinnacle of fantasy and scifi, the Sherm disappeared. One can only guess what vampire madness his twisted brain will manufacture when he returns again to ride the Twilight wave. And he will return, resplendent, like King Arthur, answering the siren call for derivative celluloid that stays in your brain no matter what you do.

Hail the unsung writer, Stanford Sherman.

Pop-up Fact #14 – Know Your BAMF – Pat Roach

Who beat up James Bond, Conan, Red Sonja, Robin Hood, and Indiana Jones (twice in the same movie)? Pat Roach, that’s who. A 6’-5” English BAMF who was most memorable as the bald, barrel-chested guy who punches Indiana like a ragdoll on the tarmac while a plane spins menacingly nearby.

What roles did Roach play when he was not laying the hurt on heroes: oh, just nightmarish generals and Greek gods (General Kael in Willow, and the Greek God Hephaestus in the original Clash of the Titans).

When you needed your protagonist to get pummeled by the best, you got Pat Roach. Now you know.

Pop-Up Fact #23 – Know your BAMF – Bolo

Bolo was one of the top bad guys in Bruce Lee’s 1973 flick, Enter the Dragon. I encourage you to do a YouTube search for anything with “Bolo” and the movie’s title. BAMF, right?

Now search YouTube for “Bloodsport – Final Fight!”   Same guy!   15 years later and Bolo is even bigger, and delivers the ultimate, crazy-eyed, air-pumpin’ smackdown to poor Van Damme.

Bolo Yeung. BAMF. And now you know.