Here’s the cover I’ve worked up for the pair of short stories that soon will on sale at Amazon, Big Brother and Cellphone Girl.
Dear Hollywood producer, I know how to make Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into a film.
I first read the Robert Pirsig novel about a quarter century ago. Over the years, I’ve gone back to it again and again, re-reading it, then re-reading it again, every time drawing new insights from it. I’ve surely read the book more than a dozen times, I don’t know, I lost count; at one point, I was reading it once a year. I also read all, I think all or most of the books that Pirsig references in the book: Walden, Tao Te Ching, Plato’s Phaedro and The Meeting of East and West, a philosophy book by a little known Yale professor, FSC Northrop, that Pirsig mentions only once, but notes it was a critical book for the narrator. I found it by chance in a used-book store. Took me nine months to read it; it literally was the densest book I’d ever picked up. Very time-consuming, but valuable read. So you can see I’m serious.
I also spent a lot of time trying to write screenplays. For some odd reason, I thought this was a realistic career path for me. I probably wrote ten or so. Never sold any of them, didn’t try hard enough reckon, but I did learn at least how to write a screenplay.
All of this makes me the perfect person to tackle a Zen screenplay.
Now, Zen is one of those books that seem impossible to translate onto the screen. Indeed, any filmed version of this novel would fall short of the book itself, unless you wanted to make a 12-hour film with endless flashbacks and exposition. But I do think there’s a way to make a good, solid, even commercial film out of the book that would do justice to Pirsig’s story and philosophy (I know Pirsig himself isn’t interested).
I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the spare time to actually write this screenplay, so I might as well just flew out my general ideas here, for posterity’s sake.
William Shatner made a surprise appearance on my show, The Markets Hub (wsj.com), last year. He was in the Wall Street Journal newsroom taping an interview for his new (at the time) book, and one of our producers thought it would be exciting to have him walk onto our show live.
You can watch the video here; Shatner comes on right at the 16:00 mark, and if I don’t seem all that surprised, trust me, it was just because I was keeping cool. Capt. James Kirk was a childhood hero, and to have the guy who played him come onto my set unannounced was an out-of-body experience.
Also, and much to his credit, he actually talked about the markets with us.
Anyhow, as you may imagine, I had Capt. Kirk on the brain a lot after that appearance. I started thinking Kirk deserved a better send-off than the one he got in Generations (as a truly deranged Trekkie, I will watch just about any Star Trek story if I come across it on TV, but Generations is pretty lame when you think about it). I started thinking if J.J. Abrams could screw with the Star Trek universe to launch his silly re-boot (see my take on that one here), then why couldn’t we redo Kirk’s finale tale? That’s when this Kirk story started forming in my mind.
Here’s an excerpt from a short story I’m working on, Cellphone Girl. It’s about a nobody girl who wakes up one day and can receive phone calls to her cell phone in her head. Once her story goes viral, she becomes a sensation.
Feedback’s welcome. I’m planning to publish it soon, as a pair with another short story, on Amazon, as a Kindle Single. We’ll see.
Anna’s cellphone woke her up. A little mechanized version of a currently popular song – one that received no airplay on commercial radio stations but had become a massive viral hit on the web – droned on incessantly inside her head. She was lying on her back on her bed, and the four walls of her small bedroom seemed a bit smaller, seemed to hover over her. Outside, the rain was falling steadily, pelting her single window.
Her head hurt, payback for last night’s cocktails, and the music was making it worse. She tried to roll over, but like a beetle on its back, it was just impossible. She opened her eyes, looked around her spinning bedroom. For a moment, her eyes got caught on a picture on her wall, something she’d cut out of a magazine, an image of a society woman in a fur hat and boa. The phone wasn’t by the picture, or on her nightstand. It wasn’t on her dresser. She wasn’t sure, in fact, where it was.
“Oh, God,” she groaned. She rolled over and pulled a pillow over her head. “Where’s the phone?” The synthesized ringtone stopped playing.
“Anna?” Anna heard a voice say. She recognized the voice.
“Hey, what’s up? How you feeling? You talk to Ben yet?” Anna bolted up, looked around. A wave of pain washed over her head. She winced, look around again. Jen wasn’t in the room. Nobody was. Yet, she could hear Jen. It could be a dream, but she didn’t feel like she was dreaming. She felt like she was hung over. She blinked. She rubbed her eyes. No Jen.
“Jen, where are you?”
“In my kitchen. Why?” Anna was fairly sure she wasn’t sleeping, and she was completely sure she wasn’t in Jen’s kitchen.
“How are you talking to me?” Anna asked, looking up toward the ceiling, as if Jen could possibly be hanging above her. I must be dreaming, she thought.
“The phone. Ever hear of it? Jesus, how drunk were you?”
“Must be,” Anna mumbled incoherently.
“Well, call me back when you wake up. I wanna hear about Ben.” The disembodied voice of her friend disappeared. The pain in Anna’s head grew sharper; her eyes burned. The events of last night materialized in her mind: the club, the pink lady’s, Ben and his inscrutable immaturity, the pink lady’s. How many had she had? Many, judging by the pounding inside her skull.
“Getting up early,” she mumbled. “Makes you stupid.”
I have an iPhone. I use it. A lot. Definitely too much. I totally get this New York Mag rant from Kevin Roose:
Today, as you mayhave heard, is the iPhone’s fifth birthday. Five years ago today, eager fanboys lined up for miles outside of Apple stores, fawning and frothing and damn near trampling each other in order to get their hands on the product Steve Jobs promised was “revolutionary.” Since then, the iPhone has become a behemoth, a $100 billion annual revenue generator that has made Apple the world’s largest and most profitable tech company and enlisted hundreds of millions of people in the smartphone army.
It has also, quite possibly, ruined all of our lives.
If you’ve ever stood in a pod of five people, who are all talking to each at the same time as they’re playing on their phones, or, worse, talking to each other through their phones, you should read the piece. Then go talk a walk, without the phone.
It strikes a theme that I’m attacking in two short stories I’m writing, and plan to publish as a pair on Amazon. Big Brother and Cellphone Girl. I’ll post some excerpts here first. This is an experimental thing, I have self-published anything online like that, but I’m curious about the prospects.
“The Amerigo was the big time,” Randy said. “The Dorsey Brothers, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, everybody played there.” He arched his rough, scarred hands across the wheel, one over the other, easing the truck into a turn, shifting the cab’s three occupants leftward. Each man braced just a little, to avoid too much physical contact.
“I never heard of it,” Chris said. Sitting in the middle, he had the fresh, tousled look of somebody who hadn’t heard of a lot of things. The truck rumbled down an empty two-lane highway, winding through the morning mist and green hillside dense with green oaks and sycamores, and pines and walnut trees, the sun just poking through the leaves.
“They turned it into a rock club when I was growing up,” Bruno said from the passenger seat. A good 35 years Chris’s senior, he sat with one hand slung out the window, already warm from the July sun, the other holding a styrofoam cup of coffee. He had smooth hands, office hands. “The Amerigo-go, they called it. Just local bands, nobody very good. But I saw Springsteen there in ’72.”
“You don’t say,” Randy said. He was a burly man, with deep-set dark eyes, a heavily creased face and a thick black and gray beard. Wiry hair escaped from under a rumbled, blue-striped seer sucker baseball cap on his head that looked completely out of place up there.
“I say,” Bruno said, sipping his coffee. “Maybe a hundred people there. Great show. He autographed my ticket stub.” Randy, given the dearth of oncoming traffic, took liberties with the truck, taking wide turns that pulled them onto the other lane. The truck was battered, dented, with a deep gash running along the right side; “Randy Rattner,” it said on the sides. “Masonry, Contracting, Roofing,” and next to that, in a slightly different color and font, “Salvage, Resale.” They passed an old ramshackle red house, half the house’s contents seemingly spilled out onto the front yard. Randy eyed the yard, looking for anything of particular value. It was a habit.
“Who’d come out here for a show?” Chris asked. “It’s creepy.”
The ground was hard. It was October. The leaves were dying and falling, the days were getting shorter and cooler. The Indian Summer had abruptly ended, and the earth turned cold and rough.
“I’m a little cold,” Lori said. Jake pulled off his jacket and put it around her. “Thanks.” They sat on the brittle ground in a hillside clearing, the town laid out in neat little rows below them, lights dancing, the stars splayed across the sky above them. A line of trees loomed behind them, disappearing into the blackness that covered the hillside. The air was cool and clear, the stars brilliant and filling the sky. The dusky Milky Way stretched across the celestial ceiling like a canyon.
“It’s quiet up here,” she said. “Remember the first time you took me up here?”
“Course,” he said.
“You were very proud of yourself,” she said, smiling, “thought you’d found such a great spot.”
“It is a great spot.”
“It is a great spot. But you didn’t discover it.” Continue reading “Fast”