Thursday, December 3, 2015

Space Madness another chunk

National Novel Writer's Month is over. 50K target reached! Below is another chunk of the story. It's not contiguous with the first one. Enjoy!

SX Corp was lifting off when Rick Waylor's phone buzzed. He sighed when he saw who it was.
"Skip." he said when he had pressed the ANSWER icon.
"Rick," Skip said. "I know I put you in a tough spot earlier. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry I couldn't have been more help, mate." Rick said.
"Well, I want to believe that." Skip replied.
"Sure! Listen, you know if it was in my power to help, I would! C'mon, don't be a wanker about it."
"Really? You'd help if you could?" Skip asked.
"Oh, shit." Rick said. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?"
"The Russian cosmonaut on the station can broadcast to him." Skip said excitedly.
"I heard." Rick said. "I was told to get up there and end this mess right quick. And, if I were you, mate, I'd make myself scarce."
Skip rubbed his chin. That was probably the best advice he had heard all day.
"Listen, Rick. Yuri Potenko,"
"The Russian guy, yeah?" Rick asked.
"Right." said Skip. "He's telling Steve to pressurize his suit and jump out of the capsule. I want your guys to pick him up."
"Pick him up? In orbit?" Rick asked. "Are you crazy? If he doesn't run out of air a half a minute before we get there, how am I supposed to 'pick him up'? Just open a window? Jesus, Skip, this is in orbit, not the corner drugstore."
"I know, I know." Skip said. "Your guys are equipped with the latest pressure suits, right?"
"Yeah, but," Rick said.
"And they can depressurize the cockpit for cargo loads and unloads, right?"
"Skip, this is a dangerous game you're playing. Any number of things can go wrong with this scenario."
"Listen," Skip said. "If you see him, pick him up. If not, no harm, no foul. If the whole thing goes sideways, slam the hatch and fire away. Yeah?"
"Jesus H.... Okay, okay," Rick said. "You own me big, pal. And my crew, too."
"First round's on me." Skip said.
"All the rounds will be on you, mate."
"Done." Skip said. Then, "Hey, Rick."
"Yeah, Skip." Rick replied.
"Thanks, man. I appreciate it."
"Yeah, I know."
Skip pressed the icon and the call was ended. He let his hand holding the phone drop to the desk. He looked out the window into the clear blue sky. Skip looked at his phone again and found Molly's number in his contacts list. His finger hovered over the number for a moment. He closed the list and slipped the phone into his pocket. He hoped that he could call her with good news in about an hour.
His phone buzzed. Skip knew, without looking at, it who was calling. He ignored it and walked back toward Mission Control. He thought about his sister in Omaha. It's probably a good time to go for a visit, he thought. Maybe tomorrow.

Rick walked to the SX Corp. Mission Deck and pulled open the glass door. Inside, among the two dozen desks, each with a monitor and operator staring into it, stood a short redheaded woman. She was watching one of the large screens on the wall. In one hand she held a clipboard. In the other, a styrofoam cup. Rick guessed that it was at least half full of cold coffee.
Amanda Hamilton turned as he came in, and nodded. Rick nodded back.
"She's up." Amanda said, gesturing toward the screen with the hand holding the coffee cup. Rick followed her raised hand to the screen, which indicated that the blinking light was just breaching the upper atmosphere.
"How far up?" Rick asked.
"About two hundred fifty kilometers." Amanda said, turning back to the screens. They'll be in range in fifteen minutes."
"Get me a line to them." Rick said.
Amanda turned. Alarm was clear on her face. "You're not pulling them back, are you?" she asked. "No." Rick said simply. She waited for an explanation.
"The line." Rick said.
Amanda sniffed. Rick could tell that she wanted to know more, and on any other day, he would have told her. He knew she would figure it out when he spoke to the crew.
Amanda waved a hand at a desk operator that was watching her and waiting for a signal. He bent his head, and looked up at her a moment later. He held up two fingers.
"Line two." she said.
Rick stepped over to the podium, and tapped the button for line two.
"Centaur shuttle crew," he said. "This is Rick Waylor at the Mission Desk. Come in."
"Centaur here, sir," the voice said. "Captain James Smith."
"Captain," Rick said. "I know you have a unique mission ahead of you,"
"Unique." Captain Smith replied. "Aye sir, that it is."
"Well, I'm about to make it even more exciting."
"Can't wait, sir. The crew and I are all about the excitement."
Rick noticed that Amanda was suddenly next to him at the podium. She was looking at Rick in a very unfriendly way. Rick knew that Amanda hated surprises, as any good Flight Ops commander should.
"I have a request from our friends in the G.O." Rick said. Amanda placed her hands on her hips. "You are to keep an eye peeled for a man coming your way."
"Roger that," Captain Smith said. "What kind of craft is he in?"
"He won't be," Rick said. Amanda's mouth opened a little. "He'll be floating toward you in a pressurized flight suit. If you see him, de-tank and pick him up."
"Pick him up, sir?" Captain Smith asked. "Say again."
"You heard me, Captain," Rick said.
Amanda put a hand over the tiny microphone hole in the podium top. "What is this, Rick?" she asked. Her eyes blazed. Heads at the desks began to turn toward them. She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Are you trying to get this crew killed?"
"Believe me, I didn't think it was possible. I still don't. But, I promised Skip Mann I'd help if I could." Rick replied. Amanda's mouth dropped open. "You don't mean to try and save that civilian NASA put up there?" she asked incredulously.
"I do, if we can. If not, we blow the whole thing and head for home, just like the flight plan says."
"I strongly urge against this course of action." Amanda hissed. "You know how many ways this can go wrong! You want them to depressurize the cockpit to grab this guy and pull him in? What if there's a malfunction? What if they can't get the cabin pressure back up? None of them will have enough air to get back on the ground. If this goes south, you'll kill them all."
"Duly noted." Rick said. "I mean to explain that." They locked eyes, and Rick held her gaze until she moved her hand away from the microphone. "Captain, you reading me?" Rick asked.
"Aye, sir. Reading you now."
Rick explained the idea. He laid out the scenario and told the captain about Amanda's concerns, as well as a few of his own. Rick wasn't giving out orders. He was making a request.
When he had finished, the captain of the Centaur explained a few of the details to his crew.
When that was completed, Captain James Smith addressed his boss. "Sir, Centaur will pick him up if possible."
"Roger that," Rick said. "Keep us in the loop, Captain."
"Aye sir."
"And, Captain?" Rick said.
"Yes, sir?" Captain Smith replied.
"Thank you."
"Aye sir. Centaur out."
Rick watched the big screen for a few moments, doing the calculations in his head. It would take a miracle to time this right, he thought. This Hurburt guy had better have an angel on his shoulder today, Rick thought.

He turned and headed back through the glass doors. Amanda was close behind him.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Snippett from my NANO WorkInProgress

November is National Novel Writers Month. Writers are tasked with writing 50k words in 30 days. I've got a week and about 12k to go. Below is a chunk from "Space madness" (working title). Enjoy.

Steve thought about his parents. His father had passed away about ten years ago, and Steve had never made his peace with the old man. They hadn't been able to see eye to eye since Steve was a teenager. Time and miles just made it worse. Steve was in Connecticut, holed up in a cheap hotel, trying to finish his first novel when the old man passed. He made it to the wake, but he was a little drunk and his mother knew it.  That didn't sit too well with her. he didn't really speak to her much, these days. Molly would call and then make him talk to her now, but if not for her...

Molly. Another tear formed in his eye, pushing the first one down his cheek. She had taken a lot of crap from him. Mostly, it was just arrogance and small ball nonsense. But, that stuff had a way of building up. Steve thought about every mean or thoughtless thing he could remember saying, and how she would look at him with that smile that she had. It was like he was a puppy that a child had to have, only to leave the real work of keeping it with the mom of the family. It was a smile of resignation. A smile in spite of all of his bullshit. A smile of "I love you, anyway".

Steve didn't know why or how he had become lucky enough to find Molly, but he was glad for it. Maybe he needed to learn how to be a better guy, and she was his teacher. He chuckled over the fact that the more likely scenario was that she needed to learn some lesson, and he was her penance for something she had done in a former life.

The tears flowed more freely now. Both eyes.

He realized that he loved her. He was sorry for all of the times he had pushed her away, or made her sad, or angry. He felt terrible as he watched, in his mind's eye, all the times he had said something that he thought had been funny, but, it had just come out mean. Or spiteful. Or just plain rude. She would look at him in that indulgent way and shrug it off. And, love him anyway. He didn't deserve her. She deserved better.

He knew that he was sorry for all the missed moments and pride that kept him and his parents apart. His mom was alone now. Probably bored. Most likely scared, facing the looming end of her life alone. Her husband gone. One son gone. Another a sarcastic button-pusher with an axe to grind against any and all comers. If not for Molly, she could disconnect from life and it would be days, or weeks before anyone knew.

Steve's brother Michael had died in Lebanon with the Marines twenty years ago. The American public didn't even know he was there. His death hit the family hard, and became one of the wedges between them. Steve wanted to burn down the government in his rage. His parents just wanted to grieve. Steve saw their acceptance as weakness. They watched his rage in sadness. His father had tried to tell him to let it go. "It'll tear you apart." he had said. Steve didn't care. He thought the old man was just weak, and scared and tired of living.

He knew now that that had all been true. But, his father was trying to save him from becoming a cynical, critical, petulant mess that no one could love. And, Steve had pushed him away.

He knew he was scared about getting into that rocket. He was going to leave the planet tomorrow morning. It was a fairly reasonable assumption that he wouldn't be coming back.

Sure, he had been training. Hard. They all had. He was as ready as he could be after four months of intense, break your brain knowledge acquisition. He was a different person. More understanding of the many sides of a situation. More focused on solutions than problems, but still...

He really wasn't a different person. He was thinking differently, but how long could that last if he went back to his old life, his old ways? Maybe those news anchors and reporters were right. Maybe this was a pipe dream. Maybe this was just a way for the government to get their column inches and glory posts from their internet shills. Maybe they didn't really care about the folks they put in harm's way, as long as they could secure public acceptance in the long run. Maybe, maybe...
Maybe he was going to die up there. He had no business going up into space. He was a danger to his crew and all they had worked for.

Steve looked at the door. That's all it would take. He could just get up. Go through that door and not look back. He could manage this. Tell the press that there was no way that he was ready. He would have to throw a few trainers under the bus, but they would recover. None of them would care what he thought anyway. In a year or two, he could write another book. This time it could be a scathing expose on the waste that NASA had spent on training a nobody like him, trying to get him ready for a real job with real responsibilities. What were they thinking?

He imagined walking through the front door. He imagined telling Molly that he had quit, just before he had made a fatal mistake. He imagined the look on her face. The sadness of knowing that her worst fears were true all along. That he really wasn't worth the trouble. That he was a loser, just like her friends had told her.

The muscles behind his eyes squeezed like a fist. He could feel his sinuses closing up. Big, fat drops were rolling down his cheeks now.

No, he told himself. No. I signed up for this and I will do my level best. I will not quit. I will not fail. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

New Guy 6

Editor's Note: The following is a post relating to the author's being in a play. 

We all knew it was coming. I knew it would be here soon and I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about it. Well, that's not really true... I knew. I knew I would be grateful for the time off, but I would miss the work, the people, the feeling of belonging to something larger than myself.
And then, it happened. The last show day arrived.

After a long week and a double, (matinee and evening show), the day before, Sunday came. With it, the realization that this was the last time I would be in this costume, this show, with these people.
I'm really going to miss it.

From the first notes of the opening number, I knew that it was all over. It was unique and it would soon be gone. This cast came together and made it happen. Now, I know that every cast is like this at some point, or at least, each cast has its moments, but this one was truly lightning in a bottle.

A few veterans, a few first timers, a few "I've done a few shows" types, and lots of folks who have big talent were all thrown together to create something that would be a good start to the season for this theater. At least, that was the plan. What we got was two weeks of sold out, standing-room-only shows, standing ovations and huge laughs in all the right places. Smiles, hugs, and lots and lots of really happy theater patrons
The 2015-16 season for this theater is off to a great start.

I learned an awful lot on this show. Among the coolest things I learned was the fact that good actors make it look easy. They make you think, "Well, sure... I can do that." But, somehow, you just don't. Because good acting is hard, and it takes more than just balls and desire. it takes practice and experience. It takes time, and people willing to see that with time and practice you can do it, too.

It takes tech people who do their jobs so you can do yours. It takes set designers, builders and painters that care about the details. It takes lighting folks and sound folks and stagehands and costumers and choreographers and directors that give a shit and want to create something magical.

It takes all of your functioning brainpower in the beginning, so that by show time you can do these lines in your sleep. But, you don't, because it also take high energy and a willingness to go out and give it your all. Your A game, every time.

Theater is different than any other brand of acting. On film, you can craft your character, build nuances and be subtle as you create a persona. Need a retake? Sure, as long as your director has time. The more influential you are, the more chance you have to get it just right. In musical theater, it's the opposite. The better you are, the more you are expected to hit your marks every time. Nail your lines every time. Be nuanced and subtle, broad and boisterous and everything in between as the character demands, every time. You had better be ready when your cue comes. Be ready to step out into the light and deliver. Every time.

It's tough. It's sweaty, hard and demanding work. But, no one demands more from you than you do from yourself. That's what makes it great. That's what makes it magical. That's what makes it worth it for someone to leave the house and come to a theater to see a live show.

I'll still write. I'll still create art and direct short films and do voice-overs. But, acting...
Yeah, I want to be in another show.

Any show. Every time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Guy 5

Editor's Note: The following is a post relating to the author's being in a play. This, after moving to another part of the country from New York. There will be more posts as the show develops.

An eye-opening experience.

In the show I was in immediately before this one, I had the great fortune to work with a director who was also a teacher. What this meant, for me, was two months of free acting lessons. In exchange, all I had to do was memorize my lines. Each nuance was crafted as I imagined the character, but it was always under the watchful eye of the director. The fact that he was also the writer of the play afforded everyone in the cast the opportunity to learn exactly what the characters were supposed to be feeling. What I brought to the character was approved before it saw stage time.

This theater is a different animal. Here, the show is outlined, the director blocks the scenes and offers their insight, and that's it. You are expected to bring your A game, develop your character, and turn up for the audience. Feeling unappreciated? Tough shit, do your job. And look around. Everyone else is making it happen without having their hand held.

I was unprepared for this level of freedom. It continues to be an eye-opening experience. I do feel more prepared now for another show, even while prepping for the final week of shows on this one. I only wish I had not succumbed to neurotic self-doubts, which put me on the roller coaster of "Am-I-Doing-This-Right?", like I've never had before. I've experienced many emotions in my life, but self-doubt has never been an issue before. I'm glad I shook that off, glad I'm back to being me.

We've been playing to sold-out houses, and getting standing O's across the board. I'm not taking any of the credit for that...  there are people in this show that can sing and dance, and act their asses off. I'm just trying to hold up my end. But, the bottom line is that we are doing a good job of entertaining the people that come to see the show. They smile, they cheer, they laugh at the funny parts and applaud like they mean it. They shake my hand and tell us all how wonderful the show was. Not much else in life can be better than that.

I auditioned for this show so that I could share something with my son, (he's an up-and-coming star, and he gets more amazing with each show). Serendipitously, I get to stand next to him during curtain call. That makes all the neurosis worthwhile. He may forget this experience as he moves up and up and up, but, I never will. Before I know it, he'll be going off to college and finding his own way. Even so, we'll always have this show, this time in our lives.

 In the blink of an eye he's grown from that kid in the children's theater troupe to a young man who's star has just begun to rise. I'm proud-to-bursting, glad and thrilled about so many aspects of his journey. Not the least of which was watching him 'get it' in rehearsals, try hard, and make it his own. I asked his advice on more than one occasion. His council was always dead-on.

As we look to the next show, and the next and the next, I have nothing but confidence... in him, in me and in the shape of things to come.

It has been an eye-opening experience.

Monday, August 3, 2015

New Guy #4

Editor's Note: The following is a post relating to the author's being in a play. This, after moving to another part of the country from New York. There will be more posts as the show develops.

One of the simplest things in the world is to walk to a certain spot, and then stand there. Slightly less easy is to be told to do that in a certain amount of time. Slightly less, but, still... ridiculously easy. Ever since I lifted my baby self up by the corner of the coffee table all those years ago, I have been walking. And standing.

Sure, as a baby, I was unsteady. I got better. Then, in my 20's, (for reasons that shall not be discussed here), walking began to get difficult again. Only this time, it was usually between the hours of midnight and four a.m. Seeing was also not always good. Punching was okay. Getting punched was do-able, too. But, walking... not so much.

Broken furniture and bruises aside, walking is something us humans can do relatively well. Yes, I know that some people can't, either because of sickness or wounds or born-that-way-ness, but the typical human walks rather effortlessly.

Then why, I ask myself with frightening regularity, can I not hit that mark, on time to say my line? I can get there early. So early, in fact that I get to stand there rather stupidly, waiting for the music to catch up. I can get there late. That is really not a problem. I sail through the air, landing close to my mark in just enough time to functionally attempt the choreography. But, hitting it perfect? Hmmm. Nope.

So far.

I'm told that I'm too hard on myself. After learning the whole six minute routine over the course of two hours, I expect my brain to have it memorized. I expect to do this perfectly. I practice in my head. I wake up in the middle of the night, obsessing over the timing. I want this to be effortless. But, it isn't. It is rather demanding of effort. Demanding that I put forward more and more until I get this right.

 If I was in the audience watching someone like me, I would surely scoff at their lack of ability. I would mutter contemptuously, "He has no business being up there." And, then I would sniff and chuckle and feel mildly superior. Did I mention that it feels like everyone else is thinking that about me, too?

As with anything, perfection comes with practice. And, I am determined to not be the guy who doesn't do this stuff well. So, I practice. I count beats. I listen, and watch, and hopefully learn.

So, when people tell me what a great job I did on stage, I'll believe them.


Ok, I won't ever, but, you get the idea.

Friday, July 31, 2015

New Guy 3

Editor's Note: The following is a post relating to the author's being in a play. This, after moving to another part of the country from New York. There will be more posts as the show develops.

There's no way I can say all of this in 5 counts of 8. I said to myself. No matter how fast I delivered it, it just didn't work. I would have to burn through a line like, "Give yourselves a round of applause." in order to make it fit into the music break. And that was without waiting for the applause! No, I thought to myself, this will just not work.

I called my son up to my office, and asked him to try it. He's a veteran with over thirty shows under his belt. If he couldn't do it, it couldn't be done. If he could do it, then my worst fears would be confirmed. I'm just a noob with no business being in this show. (Actors and their neuroses... sheesh!). I then realized that just feeling that that was a possibility made me a noob anyway. I had to shake myself and remember that I was chosen for this part.

My son listened to the music once through, and told me that half of my lines in this particular scene came before the music even started. I felt as though a great weight was lifted. I had plenty of time to deliver a nuanced and brilliant performance. Now, all I had to do was make that happen.

Rehearsal went well. I pointed out the music thing, and found that I did indeed have a ton of time to do it right. So much time, in fact, that I could slow it down a little and really get into it. It was a blast.
 There are still a few things I need to work on, (like, everything about my performance), so, work I shall. But, I feel so much better about the chance I have to do well in this show.

Now, if I could just nail that vocal part in that song in act two...

Full act rehearsals start next week, and we still have a few small incidental roles that, to my knowledge, haven't been filled yet. I wonder who will have to double up and jump in to play the cab driver, the TV reporter, etc.

The set is really coming along and looks wonderful. I have designed a few backgrounds for shows, so I can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into these things. It really does look great. I can't wait to see the lighting design with this set. I'm sure it will be truly a sight to see.

Twenty days. Twenty days until we open for a ten show run. The clock is ticking. I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Guy 1

Editor's Note: The following is a post relating to the author's being in a play. This, after moving to another part of the country from New York. There will be more posts as the show develops.

"1-2-3-and!". Flap, flap, flap. "You have lines here." Flap, flap, flap.

That sound was me frantically flailing at pages in the script, trying to find where we were. I had been doing that for a while by this point, but the music coming from the piano had been masking it. Now, as the Musical Director was waiting for me to catch up, it became somewhat more apparent to the other fifteen people in the room. I didn't realize that the lines I had rehearsed so diligently came in the middle of a song. As I know now, that's why they are written on a page where everything else is in all caps.

Not knowing how to read music is a bit of a hindrance, but certainly not a deal breaker. I do know how to count, after all, so it doesn't take much for me to fall into line. However, when things get hectic, when songs are sung in a round, where conversations occur while there are, "whoo!'s" and "yeah!'s" going on, it doesn't take much for me to fall out of line.

Thankfully our Musical Director is patient.

Like when he says, "Someone is changing keys on the second line." Well, thanks for the cover, but we all know that it was me. Or, at least, it feels like everyone knows. I feel like I'm sitting on the ledge of a building, watching myself down below. Watching myself enshrine my amateur status for all the world to see. In my head, I know that I'm no amateur. Seeing and hearing what's coming out of my mouth, though...

Blocking is easier. This part I understand. Enter from stage left. Cross to center, speak. move around to here, speak. This I get. I know my lines cold for this scene. I have a system for learning and remembering lines. I won't bore you with my personal approach, but, suffice to say, I've got this. I love this part! I get to try out different inflections, different ways of emoting.
"Okay, say your line and exit stage right."


The upshot is that there are some really talented people in this cast, and I can see from the way they approach things that it will be a pleasure to be a part of this show. I was lucky enough to run lines with one of the actors with which I share most of my scenes. She is utilizing a clipped, haughty accent, which is perfect for her part. When I remarked that it would be difficult for me to not slip into the same kind of accent, she remarked, "No! I like the New York thing you're doing."

I didn't realize I was doing a New York thing. I guess I have no choice but to do a New York thing.