The Writing Life

My Photo
Name: Andy Foster
Location: Houston, Texas, United States

writer, webmaster, photographer, videographer and video editor by night; space program contractor by day

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Moving The Writing Life

I've been using Blogger to build and publish my blog, but rather than use their servers for hosting I have been using FTP to publish the blogs on my own site (The AndyZone). Recently, Blogger has decided that they are investing too many resources into maintaining FTP so they are ending that service as of March 31, of this year. Rather than surrender my content to their servers, I am switching to Wordpress and continuing to host the blogs on my own site. This notice will be the last entry made at this address.

To make WordPress work with my site, I had to make a small change in the blog's URL. This blog's new address will be: Please bookmark the new address.

Thank you for your patronage.


Saturday, May 14, 2005

Backstories are Just Bad News

Like everyone else, I’ve struggled with Hayden Christenson’s weak, whiney portrayal of Anarkin Skywalker in Star Wars’ Episodes I and II. This week, I read an article in the Houston Chronicle where Christenson revealed that he played the role not the way he wanted to but the way Lucas wanted him to. Lucas, as it turns out, had written those movies as well and admitted during this interview that he was not a good writer and had really not wanted to write those movies. His pick to write them had been Lawrence Kasdan, and Mr. Kasdan had been tied up with another project. Essentially, Lucas admitted that the flaws most people were fussing about could be attributed to bad writing…or, at least, writing that was not the best.

Likewise, Star Trek Enterprise finally collapsed under its own weight this week. While I felt some of the episodes were well written, too many were not. The producers of both Enterprise and Voyager tried to offset poor storylines with visual gimmicks and grim futures that were train wrecks compared to the original Star Trek formula, the one that worked so well for the Original Series and Next Generation.

Besides, there is a bigger common thread between the two that, in my opinion, set up the movies and the series to be written badly. Star Wars Episodes I and II and Star Trek Enterprise were backstories.

Backstories are handy within the timeline of a story, movie, or television series; but unless the writing and plotlines associated with them are exceptional, they are almost always doomed to fail when on their own. In the case of Star Wars, Lucas said he had this story in his mind all along. That may be true. But movie and cultural history would have been vastly different if he had shot Episode One first. It would have taken strong “word of mouth” and a very much improved Episode Two to overcome Episode’s One lapses, if you could have gotten anyone to finance a second episode in the first place. Wisely, Lucas chose to start his public exposure with Episode IV, an episode full of youth, hope, conflict, and myth. Episode IV was not perceived to be a back-story but was a beginning of something all to itself, Lucas self-proclaimed intentions to the contrary. And this was not the only Lucas movie where back-story turned out to be not quite so interesting. I didn’t find the Indiana Jones youth stories to be all that interesting, and I don’t think the general public did, either, because the movies and series didn’t last long.

Bigger Than Life

I was out on our exercise bike at about 3 a.m. listening to Madonna’s “Ray of Light” album via my iPod. The music carried me up into emotions and a moment that was bigger than life. For one brief moment, my life WAS the movie…the bigger than life experience we all go to the movies, or television, or books to experience.

When any of us are living from the creative experience, we are, at the moment, bigger than life. And as we engage in that creativity, expanding our world and perhaps the world of others, we transform that bigger than life experience into the fabric of our lives, making them bigger than they ever were before.

In the world of physics, there may not be a perpetual motion machine. In the world of creativity, there is nothing else.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Yea for the Press!

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 12 other news organizations including the Associated Press filed court papers supporting the on-line rumor sites Apple recently sued to have them disclose their sources. A circuit court judge in California had ordered the rumor sites to come forward, and the sites filed papers asking the judge to reconsider his decision. The court filings from the press support the request for that reconsideration.

While this may have no impact on the judge’s decision, it’s still a great day for journalism. Early reports that the mainstream press might support the subpoenas as a means of discriminating against freelance journalists are now unfounded, even though I’m sure there are individuals within some news organizations who would support the effort. Wisely, the organizations have seen that there is a bigger issue at stake, the overall principle of freedom of the press itself. That’s no small thing.

I don’t blame Apple for taking action to stem its leaks. But the way they’ve chosen to do it stinks and smacks of bully tactics. Their argument they’ve suffered damage is non-sense. While the leaks may be illegal, the information was leaked so close to the actual unveiling that a competitor had no chance to use it. In fact, the only purpose the leaks served were to heighten interest in Apple and what would emerge. In light of that, the issue appears to be one of control, and Jobs appears to be trying to control what gets published on the Net about his company. If there is anything that is an example of trying to control the uncontrollable, that is it.

If Apple continues with actions like this, it will soon gain the heavy, dark reputation around the world Microsoft has. Indeed, one has to wonder if they ultimately are more alike than not, despite the appearance.

Think different? It doesn’t appear in this matter Apple knows how.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Apple’s Legal Course-Asteroid and the First Amendment

A check of the Apple rumor and news sites this morning shows that Apple won a court injunction to seek materials concerning the sources of the leaks surrounding an upcoming Apple product named “Asteroid”. Unlike what was first thought, Apple does not seem to be prosecuting the websites right to publish the leaked material but is going after the sources who leaked it to them. Apple certainly has a right to seek disclosure of those sources; after all, they undoubtedly broke the non-disclosure agreements they signed. The question that will push on the First Amendment is whether the websites can be compelled to disclose sources.

The bigger question in all this is whether web bloggers, writers, and editors deserve the same First Amendment protections journalists or writers at a newspaper would receive. I’d like to ask: Why not? The First Amendment does not simply guaranteed the right to free speech—and writing, no matter how it is presented, has been a cornerstone of that right since the country was first founded—based on the equipment or means the writer uses to present those views to the public. Nor does it specify that the only recognized journalists are those employed by a business or institution. To do so, and for the courts to only recognize those, would be to say that First Amendment protections are only for an elite class. The other argument I’ve heard, which I consider largely a version of sour grapes, is that web writers and journalists don’t have the same type of training or maintain the same journalistic standards, and therefore don’t deserve the protection. In neither case does the Constitution make such a distinction, i.e, the rights are inherent with being a citizen, not a journalist or an employee.

Every blogger or writer who posts his words on the Internet is taking a personal and legal risk. The recent stories of people fired over their blogs (and I may have been denied a job position because of it as well) and the Apple lawsuits prove that this groups’ risks are no different than any other journalists’ or writers’. They deserve the same protections if they’re writing inside the boundaries of this country as any other writer or journalist. Only the means of presentation and ease of access have changed. The messages, responsibilities, and risks have not.

Let It Go

I was reading in the Houston Chronicle about how Enterprise fans were rallying to protest the demise of the show, as all Star Trek fans have done with the cancellation of each and every series. I have three words for them:

“Let it go.”

Frankly, Enterprise, like Voyager, never got my attention. Deep Space Nine almost did. I consider Star Trek, The Next Generation as the best of the Star Trek series with the Original Series as a close second. I’ll sit down to watch episodes of either of the latter two even though I’ve seen nearly every one a dozen times. But Enterprise I only watched when I had nothing to do; and after trying to get into Voyager, I abandoned it shortly after it aired.

There is a formula to Star Trek that works. Take a multi-faceted crew; weld them together with wit, animosity, and love (yes, I said “love”); throw them into adventurous situations, and keep projecting them into the future and you’ll have a winner. Don’t get lost and don’t go into the past. (Even Lucas has barely gotten away with backfilling a storyline. The current crop of Star Wars releases is doing well largely because they are being released while the generation whose imaginations and hearts the originals captured are still alive.) I predict that the next Star Trek winner will be a crew 50 to 70 years ahead of where ST:TNG left off.

Those folks trying to keep Enterprise going are simply keeping Paramount and the Star Trek franchise distracted. Give them a rest and an opportunity to come up with the next great thing in the Star Trek line. It’s too lucrative a franchise for them to drop entirely or forever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Big Bend Gazette

Every now and then I stumble onto an interesting read. The Big Bend Gazette, gathered during our stay at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas is one of those.

The Gazette is the child of publisher John Graham Waters and is a compilation of local news (“Derailed from the Information Highway”, a story of how SBC is bypassing Marathon, Texas despite hints to local officials it would not do so), personal essay (“Tracking the Lost” by Sharon Collyer, a personal essay about search and rescue in Big Bend National Park), advertisements (Terlingua Auto Service, Quicksilver Branch Bank of West Texas National, Motel Bien Venido, etc.), a few national issues germane to the local area (“Wal-Mart’s Manifest Destiny by Tim Sullivan, a story about Wal Mart’s plans for expansion and how communities are fighting back), local events (“Lajitas to Host 4rth of July Parade, Concert, Benefit for Fire Department”), recipes, and whatever else seems to strike John’s or editor Marlys Hershey’s fancy. The issue we picked up contained 20 pages and could be had for the outstanding sum of $17 per year. That’s a third of what it costs to get the Houston Chronicle for three months.

What I love about the paper is its voice. I know I’m not reading a machine but the honest to God voice of people, of journalists, who still believe in both serving the community and their own need to be heard. The main office of the paper is in Terlingua, a small little town of the edge of Big Bend National Park and that is known for its festivals, river runners, and beer. Not necessarily in that order. (I would say something about Terlingua being known for its beer drinking goats, but that was over in Lajitas, a short distance away. The most famous goat was Clay Henry, who sired two more generations of four footed alcoholics before the last was castrated at the hands of an outraged Jim Bob Hargrove, who caught the goat drinking on Sunday, Which just goes to show that the axiom “alcoholism kills” is true, no matter how one gets there. BTW, Jim Bob was prosecuted for animal cruelty and Clay Henry III, the hapless victim, survived the castration but died in 1996. I can’t find what killed him. I bet it was cirrhosis of the liver.)

It’s too bad I can’t share with you more stories from the paper, but if you’re ever in the Big Bend area, look for it. Me, I plan to subscribe to it to offset the flood of information my wife is getting in her subscription to the Houston Chronicle. Keep it simple, I say. We’ll see which one of us reads his/her paper all the way through.

Monday, June 21, 2004

What’s in a name?

Ray Bradbury is the writer I most admire. I grew up reading his short stories and novels, and I still check the store shelves every now and then to see if, by chance, he’s published anything new. That said, I’m having a hard time agreeing with him about Michael Moore’s play on Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. Moore’s film, entitled “Fahrenheit 9/11” and about the Bush administration’s handling of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, hits the theaters this week. Bradbury has made the papers by protesting that Moore did not ask his permission to use the name.

He didn’t.

We seem to have lost any grasp of what copyright and trademark law was entitled to protect. One of the first things you learn as a writer is that copyright does not protect ideas or titles. Mr. Bradbury needs to pull out his copy of the “Writer’s Friendly Legal Guide” published by Writer’s Digest Books. My copy is a bit old, but I don’t think copyright law in this area (published works in print) has changed that much. On page 69 it asks: “Does the new copyright law give copyright protection to titles? …” and answers it with: “It is not possible to copyright titles..”

In short, Mr. Moore did not need Mr. Bradbury’s permission.

True, it would be an artistic courtesy to seek it. But what do you do if the author or artist does not then grant it? Pressing ahead is nothing short of an insult, truly a Hobson’s Choice in many ways. This might be a good case where it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, especially when it seems the law is on Moore’s side.

Does that mean Bradbury won’t sue? No. The courts these days seem to lean toward celebrity or large corporations without regard to whether an average reader or viewer, apparently regarded to lack any intelligence or discretion, can tell the difference between the title, trademark or names between any two entities, products, or projects when they are similar. God help us if this trend continues because the art of writing will be massacred, doing away with any right to simile or satire while trying to make a point.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Best Machines to Write With

I’ve said elsewhere on this web site that Macs and OS X were the machines and operating system for writers. I’m not the only one who feels that way; a recent article in Macworld and posted on its website discussed why Macs are loved by screenwriters in Hollywood.

The best writing machine out there is the flat panel iMac. The machine is very quiet, and the design of the machine, especially the way it allows you to place the screen directly in front, makes the computer disappear. It leaves you with only your writing; and, in the end, that’s that’s what’s important. I feel like the most intimate writing experience is had with the 15 inch iMac, but the 17 and 20 inchers have their joys as well.

Another configuration that is beautiful to behold and use is a Apple PowerBook hooked up to any of Apple’s ADC LDC monitors, an Apple keyboard, and your favorite mouse. It has the advantage of keeping your work in one place, especially if you travel from home to workplace or workplace to workplace. No file transfers are required; you simply close up the PowerBook, take it to where you want to go, and power it back up again. iBook’s also will work like this, but you’ll have to spend more for adapters that will drive larger external monitors. You can, of course, use monitors with VGA or DVI inputs with no adapters. See the specifications for your machine, or perspective machine, whichever the case may be.

If you’re determined to run Windows, then I have only one word for you if you don’t build your own PC's: Dell. If you’d like a small notebook that has nice performance, look into the Dell Latitude D400. It’s got a sleek design and is very portable. If you’re going the desktop route, pick a Dell not only because they’re good values but because they’re very quiet.