Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tiger is in repose...

I have been blank when it comes to writing anything, the last week. It's hard to even do this much. Not sure why...just feel like being a lazy kitteh...

I'm not doing least, that's what I tell myself. Have done research and some reading. Found a place in Scotland that has a map of Derry from 1955, he says. It's on its way. Still overwhelmed at the thought of trying to write this book...and currently truly hating my job. Not all of it, just the office part. Seems I get sniped at and manage to fuck up at least once a day.

Good thing is, I'm off to Berkeley and Seattle, next week. Maybe Bedford Hills. Who knows, on that part? Be gone a week. Get me away and another break from here and kick me around a little, I hope.

Something's gotta change because this is driving me nuts...but what it is, I have no idea.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

37 books left...

I'm reading the books I have on Northern Ireland, right now...whenever I'm not doing the usual writer avoidance thing, like shredding old papers and making potato soup...and I counted the number of books I have left to peruse. I'll be reading the rest of my life.

I've gone through 21, so far, not including rereads of Sister Kate and Reflections of Derry, and I'm a bit frazzled and still overwhelmed at the task I was chosen to do. Brendan's family has expanded, thanks to this. No additional brothers and sisters, but I'd had his father being an unknown entity from Belfast about whose past no one knew anything much. All very mysterious and movie-like...and total bullshit.

He'd have family from his Da's side and from his Mother's...and I also need to find out when mothers started being referred to by Mammy instead of Ma. That's the term used on the messages dealing with the images posted on Derry of the Past, and it reminds me of Al Jolsen and his blackface routine. It's disconcerting.

Irish families spread out through several levels in this town, from aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and marriages and close living quarters. That's half the reason they survived -- lending here, borrowing there, finding a hundred ways to make use of something before it's tossed aside. It's amazing. I had Brendan's family pretty much on their own and that is NOT how it would have worked.

I'm still looking for images of the insides of homes like those on Nailors Row, though I've a decent enough description of them, I suppose. But I'm a visual person and like the image to help settle it in my mind. Like this one.

This was Lundy's Lane, across from the Gasworks. It's now a small park with stairs up it and a memorial, and the Gasworks is a community center. I walked up here when I was in Derry, not knowing this; I just wanted to see what the memorial was for. I'll have to dig through my photos to find it and post it, later. Show some comparisons.

And keep working at building my own map...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

One size will never fit all...

One of my triggers smacked me up side the head, day before yesterday. One of those idiot memes along the lines of "You have no one but yourself to blame for your lack of success." It came just minutes after hearing a white, middle-aged woman who was chairing one of Trump's campaign headquarters tell the Guardian News, on camera, that there was no racism prior to Barack Obama's election and blacks "had only themselves to blame for their lack of success." The exact same phrase -- one meant to pump people up, the other meant to put a group of people down.

I'm not going to get  into the non-stop racism that's been part of this country since its inception. Millions of words have been written about that in ways far better than I could ever think of doing. Nor will I tear that stupid woman apart for being so deliberately blind to the reality of the world to people not like her. It would make no difference to her or those like her because they will not listen. If someone does not want to hear what is being said, they just plain won't and it's a waste of breath to say it.

No...this is all about me and my reaction to that fucking phrase.
-->It's a nice thing to think if you're lucky enough to have had a somewhat normal life that merely wasn't great...or if it did have adversity it was not of the kind that destroys a part of you. And it seems to make sense because there are people who can rebuild a new life after soul-destroying events -- like Alex Minsky, for example, and other veterans like him.  Men torn apart in a war they didn't want but still went to fight. But that phrase completely ignores how far too many get caught in events that are completely out of their control.
Like the girls stolen by Boko Haram in Africa, and gay men being thrown off buildings to their deaths by Daesch, and cops shooting black men who did exactly what they were told to do by the cop, and suicide bombers slaughtering men and woman and children in shopping bazaars or mosques, and actions like the fouling of water by fracking concerns who own legislators and congressmen or stupid politicians who ignore science in order to save a couple of pennies on the backs of people who can't fight back. The preferences and decisions of those affected by these actions did not factor into what happened; instead things no one would have wanted were forced onto them.

Some of my choices were made by others. I did not want them and would definitely have chosen differently had I been given the opportunity, but those choices have colored everything in my life, no matter how much I tried to take control of them and diminish them or redirect them. And hearing this simplistic kind of nonsense being presented as something meaningful really angers me, because it minimizes my scars and presents them as just another bump in life instead of a prison.

With me, it's like I have a leash on me that holds me back. I can get to a certain point and then I'm stopped. Like slamming into a brick wall. It's completely psychological and beyond my ability to correct...and I really have tried to get the damned thing off. I've done therapy. Taken seminars. Classes. Fought against it, tooth and nail...hell, even tried drinking. Nothing works. I get to a point in a situation and I stop. I will not move forward.

This has hurt me in film, because reality is -- you can't stop. You have to force people to appreciate your work or they won't even pay attention to it. They've got too much else going on. But I can't do that. I push more than I normally do, trying to get my scripts out there and get people to believe they're worth the attention and money to make them...but I still hit the wall. And it doesn't matter how many classes I take or seminars I am part of or what manner of promotion I attempt...I get to a certain point...which is always a slightly different one...and I stop. Freeze. Believe it's not worthwhile to continue.

And then I see this obnoxious meme that says it's all up to you as to how much you can succeed...and while I know it's bullshit, it sends me spiraling into despair and apathy. Which it did, again. And which I have to fight my way out I am, again. And then I rant about it on my blog or in my journal or in the fucking shower or something, and like a broken record, skip back to one to start my obnoxious music all over, again.

There are seven billion stories in this world, no two of them alike...and yet people still act like one size idea or plan or suggestion will fit all...and that's not only preposterous, it's impossible.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kia is not Chrysler

I'm driving a Kia minivan for this job, and today I decided I don't want another one. I usually got Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Caravans when doing jobs where I drive to do the packing and moving. I like the stow-and-go seats, the flat floor space, the massive room, and they ride nice. But this time all Avis had were this Kia thing...and it's okay...but it's got issues.

First off, the middle seats fold up against the back of the driver and passenger seats, don't disappear like on the T&C. And one section has hooks that jut out, so it you put a box next to them, it's likely to get punctured. Nor is there nearly as much room. And what's worst? The side doors are half-blocked by the folded up seats, so it's hard to load anything through the side. Whoever designed this did not think it through.

But I got all the boxes in -- a massive archive of paper for binding and printing -- and saw some things that were amazing. Especially the sheets and sheets of Kirie e Japanese paper cuts. Intricate designs are cut into paper by hand then ink is swiped over them onto silk or more paper to make beautiful designs.

This video gives you an idea of what it's all about. Some of the ones I saw were for the same general design but each sheet was for a different color. They would be laid onto a sheet of rice paper, then something like red ink would be swiped across the design...then once it was dried, another would be laid down and yellow ink would be swiped over...and this could be done a dozen times until the paper was finished. Amazing work.

Of course, I also handled paper that was made from kangaroo shit -- it's called RooPoo, and it is for real. Same for elephant dung and bat guano. All you need to make paper is I guess you could also make it from Shredded Wheat. Before it's eaten...AND after.

I'm transporting these back to Buffalo to be shipped out. Worked out easier, that way. And boxes that would have taken up half a T&C filled the back of the Kia.

Dunno why anyone would ever want one.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Another road trip

Off to Boston, tomorrow, in a last minute packing job. I'm just setting archives into boxes and bringing them back to Buffalo to decide on how to ship them, it's so sudden. Which I don't mind. I like driving and this 1000 mile round-trip may help me time sort out issues about P/S in my brain...because as it currently stands, I'm close to scrapping everything I've done and starting over.

I really do not want to do that.

And, truth be told, I'm overstating the case. What I have for the part in Houston is okay, as are sections of the bit in Derry between 1966 and 1972; it's mainly the chapters leading up to the Battle of Bogside that are in serious question. I'm looking at this world through too American of a lens.

For example, I thought it was rough having 8 people living in a 2 bedroom flat; reality is, it was commonplace for more than twice that many to be in such a house. Mostly kids but more than a few adults. With no indoor pluming or electricity, and cooking over a fire in the hearth...unless you were well-off enough to afford a small gas ring to put on top of a cast iron oven next to the fireplace.

Philip Cunningham's book is proving to be both helpful and intimidating, because his life on Nailor's Row was over by 1952, while Brendan's not even born till 1956. I would think things were a bit better by the 60s. But then again, redevelopment was wiping out huge sections of The Bogside and streets that once held dozens of homes were vanishing while the inhabitants were moved to new, sterile housing in the Rossville Flats or up around the Creegan Estate instead of updating anything. Today's map of the area looks very little like the old maps I've been able to find.

This map is from 1972, and you can see Friel's Terrace is already gone; it was the area just above where Walker's Statue was. In fact, most of Nailor's Row has been have the two rows of similar houses that were just down the hillside from it. But the Free Derry house is still up; now it's just a wall that is used for whatever cause is popular, that day.

I've begun working up my own map, based on descriptions from his books and others...and who knows how accurate they will be? But I need something to anchor the action to. I can't make up the whole damned city.

But then again...maybe I could...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When feeling unsure, ask Tennessee...

This is from Tennessee Williams' essay Marilyn Monroe Got What She Wanted...only part of it...but to me, the most important, at this moment in my time on earth...

Let me explain something to you: No one owes any of us anything other than respect, some courtesy, and the amount of time they deem necessary to hear our story, see our dance, judge our gifts. That is all. I operated for many years under the common delusion that artists are sensitive creatures who require husbanding, cossetting, extreme care to function in the brutal world. This is utter bullshit: all human beings thrust into the act of living require the same amounts of love and kindness and patience, and I came to see that when I adopted the pose of the walking wounded, when I referred to myself as an open scab walking the mean streets, I was asking for forgiveness for the multitude of sins for which I was guilty: ugliness, laziness, a lack of discipline, the inability to make the words and the women that came to me work fully.

I was asking for a break I did not deserve at all. You either are a good person or a good writer or a good actor or you are not. You cannot then apply a collage of sickness and neuroses to your person and ask for exemptions. It is unfair; it is dishonest.
Make this decision today: Will you be a good and honest writer, or would you rather be famous, loved, noticed? Tell me, because there are different paths for these two divergent goals. The decision to be a true artist is lonelier and slower, but it will lead to better work and, I think, a better life. Very rarely you will be a good and honest writer and also know a little comfort and some attention and the well wishes of a crowd.

This is very rare.

The rest of the essay is a beautifully-written dissection of Marilyn; if you want to read it, click here.

I needed this because my brain went into gridlock, today, and none of my usual tricks to get around it worked. I had just about decided the problem was me using darkness in my writing as a sort of cavalier way to flip off the world...something I've already as much as said...and needed to pull back.Go for something nicer. Easier. More prone to financial success. And so I watched The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie and its magical realism and loved the movie and its tenderness...

And then happened on this quote from one of America's greatest playwrights. Which gave me a good kick in the ass. I was getting scared, again. Afraid I was going too far. But that's not possible if you're doing what the story and the characters want. They will take you where you need to go, if you trust them.

IWY is my test case...and I damn near flunked it. The story plays with the audience. It's all told from the perspective of an unnamed stalker, using video clips recorded surreptitiously of a young couple expecting their first child. For the first 6 pages, it seems the object of the stalker's obsession is the wife, Claire. Then it reveals the stalker is a woman and her focus is on the husband, Tony.

He's the maitre d' at an upscale restaurant, and he doesn't know it, but his kind treatment of her during her birthday dinner at that restaurant is what brings her focus onto him. And her parents' rudeness towards him is what brings her to kill them and make it look like a murder-suicide. That's about page 11. The rest is her arranging to kill Claire in a situation that goes horribly wrong.

But that's not where the story ends...even though the script does...and I was going to pull it back from that. Not what the story wanted or the main character.

Not cool...just an act of cowardice now banished.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A flash of insanity...

I have no idea why I did this...or even if it's anything more than just an exercise in futility and deliberate avoidance of PS...but I pulled out an old short script I'd written to polish up. It's called I Watch You, and is a story told from the POV of a stalker obsessed with a young couple about to have a baby. It was already pretty dark, but I made it darker. I dug into it as deep as I could. And cleaned up the through line, a bit.

Now instead of 2 murders, there are 4...and I think the first one is a real shock. But it intensifies the story a lot, considering that it's uncalled for except in the narrator's mind. It'll be interesting to get a response to this.

I'm doing it because that horror site -- 13 Horror -- is having a horror script competition for both feature and short. I sent them Killing Moon just to see if they really are into horror or if they're the usual poseurs; I Watch You is in the same vein. "Let's see just how serious you really are."

It's got sex. It's got violence. It's got innocent people getting offed in cruel ways. It went from 14 pages to 18, and I used the French-Dutch version of The Vanishing as my template.

That movie scared the crap out of me, because it's something that really could happen. Silly shit like Silence of the Lambs and Friday the 13th and Halloween and Scream and the like are nothing but roller-coaster rides meant to thrill more than chill, because none of them even begin to approach reality.

But when you watch a gentle man who's done something good wonder if he can do something just as bad...and set about testing himself in a way that is both methodical and clumsy...even as he learns from each mistake he makes in his plan...its very quietness and adaptablility added to the fear. What was worse is, the ending was perfect...and scarred me for life.

That's what I want I Watch You to do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Got it...

I received a copy of Philip Cunningham's Derry Down the Days and it is exactly what I needed for Place of Safety. He lived on Nailor's Row for 15 years as a child and it's a treasure trove of discussion about that little strip of homes facing the Derry Walls. I already knew the toilet was outside; I didn't know the running water was, as well. And his home was a two-up-two-down situation, with the front room used as an additional bedroom and the kitchen-back room referred to as the living room. 18 people lived in that place, and this was a family where the father had a decent enough job. They wound up moving to Creegan Estates in 1952 or so.

I'm still digging to find out when the buildings were vacated for demolition. I know some were still around as late at 1971, but no indication as to whether or not they were inhabited. Of course, that doesn't really matter in a fictional book. I'm making up a small section of the area to keep from having to deal with the people who actually lived there. Philip was in the Friels Terrace section.

Since posing the question of just how dark do I want to go, some interesting thoughts have made themselves known. After witnessing a horrific bombing, Brendan goes into what I was calling a catatonic state...but that felt rather 1940s to me. which reminded me of some old movie where the heroine had what was referred to as hysterical blindness. Which led me to find out that term hasn't been used in decades; it's now called Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder, and there is still controversy over whether or not it's a real psychological or physiological condition.

Don't care. It suits my goals and gives Brendan's family more excuse to shuttle him off to Houston, so he can be treated. And he just overstays his years...and it sets up a fun dichotomy that is also a parallel to his life in Derry.

Which is where some serious darkness has begun to grow...

Monday, September 12, 2016

Busy week and all

I've spent most of the last week working out my finances and catching up on paperwork...and letting Place of Safety do its own adjustments in the back of my brain. A lot needs to be reconfigured on the book, and me sitting at a laptop trying to figure out to say at this particular time is a total waste. So I'm letting Brendan and company do their thing as I do mine.

I hopped down to NYC to see a friend, Brad Rushing, cinematographer extraordinaire, and got slammed by NYC's typical summer heat and humidity. 90+ and sweltering. Used up a lot of cash on cabs to get around, made worse by the usual traffic tie-ups due to parades and construction and asshole drivers, all worked out well. I even enjoyed a vegan dinner...with is NOT at ALL my bent.

Brad did an interview with Honeysuckle Magazine that was fun to watch and listen to, and I met a couple of cool people -- Ronit and Sam, who publish a very professional-looking mag that spits in your eye. I perused a couple of issues, and my favorite article was a remembrance of Dirk Shafer, who was Playgirl's Man of the Year until he was confronted about being he chronicled in his mockumentary, in 1995. I knew Dirk slightly and always found him to be pleasant and forward thinking, and was sad he died in 2015 even though I hadn't seen him since I left LA in 2008. Reading that article cemented my already positive attitude about the magazine's aims -- darkness with humanity.

Needless to say, I can get pretty damned dark in my thoughts and attitudes, not to mention complaints and rants. The fact that my first book has a straight man raping men and telling his story from his own self-justified viewpoint as he destroys lives...yet who still winds up a sympathetic killer at the pretty indicative of how far I'm willing to go into the night. And I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if I can go farther.

I wonder if that's what the hesitation is about PS...that I either want to go too dark...or won't go far enough?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Quick note on "The Alice '65"

I had a nice but odd letter from The Austin Film Festival telling me the script made it as a Second Rounder but did not advance, yet on the same letter was a handwritten note saying the readers thought the concept was fun and unique and it had a strong narrative. Makes me wonder why it didn't advance farther, then. I don't get feedback on this, so I have no idea what that might really mean.

I guess I'll just be happy with what the script got and assume romantic-drama-comedies just weren't the choice of the day.

Got home and now am sorting through it all...

I've got so much I need to sort out, non-the-least regarding my financial condition and how much this trip set me back. My main concern was making sure I hadn't overdrawn on my bank account. Seems used bookshops in Derry don't take credit cards, so I went through my allowance on the first day. And I did wind up buying another copy of a book I already had...dammit. I should've taken a list. And don't get me started on the number of copies I paid for off the microfiche.

But this trip has solidified a number of issues in my head about Place of Safety. To start with, I'm still approaching the first section, from 1966-1972, from too American a viewpoint. The societal and family structures are much more expansive and encompassing than I was allowing for, so I have aspects in what I've written that would work fine in the US but are completely wrong for Derry...for Ireland as a whole.

However, some parts do work well, now. Like when Brendan's at the October 5th Civil Rights March in Derry, starting on Duke Street and planning to cross the Craigavon Bridge to go to The Guildhall, and it's attacked by out-of-control policemen with batons and water cannons before they even really begin -- I got all of that right. Along with the location of the Foyle Street Bus Centre at the time.

I also got how hundreds of Unionist reactionaries were holed up in The Guildhall to try and keep the Civil Rights Marchers from reaching there, on the January 1969 walk from Belfast, but according to news reports at the time, there was some serious fighting and push-back going on by most of the Catholic crowd outside, so that the constables were overwhelmed and the Unionists had to pretty much defend themselves. This is barely referred to in most of the books I have, if at all.

So there's a lot of work ahead, but it's not like I'm starting from the beginning...I just need to expand on some things.

Expand on favorite phrase when it comes to writing.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The things you find on facebook

So...I spent most of yesterday in the Derry Public Library, again, digging through old copies of The Derry Journal, trying to find out a few things -- like what the weather was on certain days and the price ranges of goods and what was actually being said in the paper about various events, including opinion pieces -- and reminded myself of the major limitations to microfiche.

To start with, they're usually bad scans of papers that are hard to read. But...after a bit of trial and error, I figured out how to make prints from them in ways that I could at least read what was being written. And the pricing of things like cars and blouses and shoes and meat were mainly pre-decimalization, so I have to go back to my notes to remember what 40' 6d is (I think that's 40 schillings and sixpence...but don't hold me to it.) However, I do know what movies were showing -- "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Dirty Dozen" on Brendan's 12th birthday -- and that an Irish girl named Dana, who lived in Derry, won the Eurovision Competition in 1970.

But no luck on the weather conditions or any information about where the bus depot -- bus centre was in the later 60s. Until I was at the station. I asked the people working there and got a big shrug. One said, "It's always been here, hasn't it?" Which was contradicted by his co-worker with, "No, this area but this centre wasn't built till recent." Which sort of fit into my memory from the first time I came here, in 2002; I took a bus up from Galway and recall the station seemed new, at the time.

However, I noticed Ulsterbus had a sign suggesting you go to their facbeook page to leave a comment -- and when I did that and followed a link to Foyle Street Bus Station and looked through the photos, there were some that were from the late 60s showing the place was right where it's always been, but entrance was straight onto Foyle Road and not the boulevard behind it -- the dual carriageway, as they call it.
My new photo isn't a very good one (I'd pretty much rejected it), but it does show that the buildings right behind the bus, this side of Guildhall in the old photo, are gone and the area made into a park. Dunno if that was from bombings or just redevelopment, but it's an interesting change.

Now I know one section I wrote -- when Brendan and his buddy, Colm, go to get some money off Colm's father and he sees Joanna, again, is all right. He's gotten dirty helping Colm's father fix his taxi, and for the first time starts thinking maybe it's a good idea to keep clean and neat, in case he sees her, again. Wants to make a good impression.

Which he does, later...which leads to major life changes...

Thursday, September 1, 2016


I'm exhausted, but this has been a fruitful visit to Derry, so far. I've been to the Tower Museum, Free Derry Museum, Gasworks Exhibit Hall, Derry Library, The Guildhall...and Burntollet Bridge. And aspects I'd described in the story are close but too many are not quite right. This is why it's good to actually see the places you're setting your story in.

For example, I walked (and got rained on) the full 7 miles left to get to  Derry on the A6 (after the attack at Burntollet) and they are almost like what I said...but on the side of the road where traffic is headed to Derry, there's a sharp drop. Not a cliff but like a steep hillside covered in foliage. Something you can't see from maps or Google views or even a neat little video on YouTube that shows the full drive. This photo is proof. I took it head on and the road slopes down at about a 30 degree angle.

And wandering around the Bogside en route to the Gasworks, I found the logistics I was using for Brendan to get home, get a gun, and go searching for some men who beat him is too wide-spaced. For it to work means it has to be tightened or changed, completely.

Got lots of pictures of stuff just for me. Ran the battery out on my camera and damn near did the same thing on my phone. But here's one of the city from halfway up Fountain Street. That damned thing is a definite 45 degree slide down. You can tell by how the homes are practically stacked on each other, to the left. Needless to say, it's a one-way street going down.
The great thing about the library was finding books in the reference section that I want, getting their ISBNs and finding them online to buy. And the second-hand bookstores are also a treasure trove.

I'm hoping the airline won't weigh my bag on return...