Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Monday, October 17, 2005

In Memory of Jesse

We lost Jesse this last Saturday...he was over 15 years old. Here seen with his lifelong mate, Twilight. The two of them were rarely apart; feeding time was the exception. She was with him in the den near the end. She left only when Sandy, EFBC's general manager and 'Momma Cat', arrived to sit with Jesse during his last few minutes.
Jesse had a big heart...and a bigger mouth. He was one of the cats I could always count on for a handwashing when I hopped the fence to visit. He could also frequently be counted on to mark his territory by way of spraying unwary visitors. His crowning achievement in this area was the afternoon he got eight people in one sweeping spritz. I told them they should feel honored. Jesse was extremely pleased with himself that day.
Proud father of three litters of cubs, Jesse was a grandfather. His daughter Annie gave birth to two cubs, Pancho and Rosa, with her mate Nacon.

I share these sentiments from Brian: "Jesse was one of the oldest souls I think any of us had ever been privileged to know among the big cats. He had patience, grace, and best of all a wonderful ability to lead his targets when he sprayed.I'm glad he was around long enough to sniff the air, twitch his ears at the distant sounds from the newlyweds, and maybe, just maybe know he was a grandpa. Even more so, I'm glad Twilight was able to wash him, lay down and warm her mate, and nuzzle him along to the next great territory, with no boundries, no hunters, abundant peccory and caymen, where the still warm air carries a cough and call forever and a day, and the occasional shedding allspice bush blooms to liven the lazy days in the sun."

Jesse will be sorely missed, not the least by Twilight...and all of us who were privileged to spend time with him at EFBC. All pictures by Nancy Vandermay

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Patience...Boy, am I tired of waiting for it!

Whenever I hear someone say that patience is a virtue, I think, no, it isn't! It's a friggin' survival trait!

I'm so tired of waiting for things. I'm especially tired of waiting for other people to make decisions that will affect my life and/or livelihood.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time querying editors, agents, publishers, production companies and producers about my work. Contrary to what you might think, the more time passes without a response, the less chance that they're interested in the work. The times I've gotten the rare, 'yes, we'd love to see your completed script/book/story' have usually been within two weeks of the submission date. After that...well, it's only a matter of time (usually a LONG time) that the ubiquitous SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) makes its way home, a rejection letter tucked inside. A form letter more often as not.

Email queries are even more frustrating. You'd think that the ease and cost-effectiveness of email would make people more likely to reply on a timely basis. Not the case. I've sent many email queries. If they're interested, I hear back within a day or two. If not...nothing. I have gotten exactly one email rejection, six months after I sent the original query. I suppose I could do a spin doctor job on this by saying that the positive responses (approx. 6) outnumber the negative (1) , but that would involve ignoring the other 50 queries that received no reply.

I know, I know... Glass half full. Glass half full. I pretty much go through life with a glass half full of something (usually red wine), but it does wear me down.

Then there are the positive responses with caveats: We really like your writing style, but feel that there's (??) wrong with your work. We would be happy to look at it again if you're willing to do a rewrite.

Sure, why not? I've got nothing better to do. So you do the rewrites and resubmit the material. Worked for me with one of my short stories, You'll Never Be Lunch In This Town Again. Even got paid for it. The book, Mondo Zombie, however, has been in publishing limbo for the last six years. It's been with three or four different publishers, settled with Cemetery Dance Publications, and has been available for advance order since 2002. Those folks that ordered it back then? Talk about patience...

Done the same thing with scripts. Rewrite after rewrite, all on spec (which, to those of you unfamiliar with the lingo, means no money up front), sometimes involving an option (which , to those of you blah blah blah, means that you give someone the right to shop your script and find financing within a set amount of time). The option, while it can involve money up front, usually doesn't when you're an unknown quantity. I've waited over six years for options to pay off.

Let me rephrase that. I'm still waiting. And I'm extremely realistic about the time element involved with getting a project greenlit in Hollywood. On the other hand, I'm continually amazed by the movies that are not only greenlit, but actually produced. 'Appalled' would also be a good word to describe my reaction, especially when I watch Sci Fi Channel original movies such as Chupacabra, or Python versus Boa (or Boa versus Python), the shark movies (Megaladon comes to mind)...oh, the list goes on. Marked by bad special FX, pedestrian to horrible scripts, and the presence of one or more of these actors (Anthony Sabata Jr., Fernando Lamas, Dean Cain, John Rhys Davies) playing cardboard heroes, and with interchangeable silicon Barbie dolls as leading ladies, these truly lousy movies are seemingly the best that low-budget filmmakers can do. Hah. Watch the original Alligator, directed by John Sayles. Funny, edgy, suspenseful, decent characters, and all on a shoe-string budget. It can be done.

But I digress.

I've had just enough success as a writer to keep me going. I've had screenplays produced, albeit low budget (budgets so low that you have to scrape 'em off the floor), short stories and essays published, and one of my screenplays, co-written with T. Chris Martindale, is being optioned for the second time. I even have a meeting on the Universal lot next week. Lunch at the studio commissary and everything. So I'm talking just enough encouragement to make me think there's the possibility of validation in the form of money at some point in my future. So I'll keep writing and querying and giving out those free options in the hopes that that mythical day may come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Reign of the Rat

Reign of the Rat is a fun read, all about a 'super leprosy' plague loose on the world. Lots of fun, gory details, with plenty of action, romance and a twist of mystery tossed in for good measure. It got a positive endorsement from Robin Cook (Coma, Terminal), king of the medical thriller. Published by Adlib Books, an independent publishing company, it's already gone into its second printing. You can order it off the Adlib website, Amazon.com, and many local booksellers.

The author, Gil Smolin, is a Bay Area local (and was also one of the favorite guest speakers ever at the San Diego Mystery Club). So if you like a good, fun read, buy Reign of the Rat and support a local boy (if you're from the Bay Area). And more importantly, support new and exciting authors and independent publishing! Save us from the evil Airport Book Rack Triumverte of King, Koontz & Clancy!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Reality Check

I walked home from work yesterday, something I do on an average of once a week, sometimes more. I take different routes, depending on my mood and how long I want to walk.

The quickest way I've found so far involves taking the Muni from Embarcadero Station to Church Street & Market, then walking up 17th (at least 20 minutes straight uphill) to Stanyon, cutting over to Parnassus (which turns into Judah), all the way west to 44th Avenue, and then south for 11 very long blocks to my house. This particular route takes about 2 and a half hours. Sometimes I cut south before 44th and take different streets towards the ocean, just to vary the view.

I love walking when I have the time because I get a chance to see things that I wouldn't if I were on the train or driving my car. San Francisco is a beautiful city, with gorgeous and intricately detailed architecture. It's filled with eclectic stores and intriguing cafes, and oddities like the Chinese Holocaust Museum, which I noticed yesterday while walking down Lawton. It's funny 'cause I know a lot of people in other parts of the country think of Los Angeles/Hollywood as a sort of Shangri La, a place where dreams come true. Everyone is gorgeous, there are movie stars on every corner, and all the women look like Playmates (some of 'em do, of course, but there are plenty of normal and yes, even ugly people, in Los Angeles too). Everyone wants to come to L.A. Well, I lived there for over 15 years and to me, San Francisco has always been a sort of unobtainable goal. The place I'd love to live, but couldn't afford to, it wasn't practical. We'd visit once in a while, and those visits were always magical and memorable. But like Brigadoon, San Francisco would vanish into the fog as we drove across the Bay Bridge back towards Los Angeles.

Yesterday I stopped in Roxie's Market on Kirkham & 9th to pick up some black and white pudding (oh so bad for you, but oh so good...) for the weekend. When I came out, I looked down 9th Avenue and caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge rising up behind the green expanse of Golden Gate Park. And it suddenly hit me...I live here. I'm not visiting. This is my city now. I made it into Brigadoon! Now if I only had legs like Cyd Charisse...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Joys of Snail Mail

Mo doesn't drive; she took lessons in high school, but admittedly had problems differentiating between the accelerator and brake pedals. She has a VCR, but hasn't made the switch to DVDs and probably won't until such time as her little TV/VCR combo gives up the ghost and forces her to buy something new. So when Mo bought a computer a few years back, I was sure that it was a sign of the coming apocalypse.

At my and Brian's recommendation, she bought a used iBook, an old clamshell style (I think it looks like a toilet lid) ones. She bought a printer to go with it. We helped her set up AOL, showed her how to open MS Word and save a document, and which plugs went where. Brian was a better teacher than I was; I had way too much fun teasing Mo about her lack of technical savvy. And I tended to talk to her in the kind of patient yet condescending tone someone would use if dealing with a two year old. To be fair to myself, sometimes Mo acted like a 2 year old while learning computer skills. A fractious, grouchy two year old.

The printer is still in its original box, tucked away in Mo's shed, but she did master the basics of email, Internet use, and MS word. And since we lived in different cities, email was a convenient way of staying in touch. But back when I first moved away from San Diego to Los Angeles, Mo and I wrote a lot of letters. Whenever I went back to Michigan for vacation, I'd write long letters describing all of the food I was eating and the fun of being in a place where the changes of the seasons were marked by falling leaves, thunderstorms, and snow. We both loved buying and sending eclectic cards and postcards - I had a picnic hamper full of them, as well as most of the ones that Mo sent me over the years.

Email changed that for me. I got out of the habit of sending snail mail. The cats peed on the hamper and I had to toss a lot of the cards I'd been saving for just the right person and occasion. Mo and I called one another or exchanged emails. And that was fun too.

I mean, email is a wonderful tool for staying in contact with old friends, as well as developing new relationships. You can find out a lot about someone through daily correspondence, as much (and sometimes more ) as you can getting to know them in the flesh. This is, of course, going by the precept that the person you're corresponding with isn't a crazy stalker, compulsive liar, or one of the many loser men trolling the likes of Yahoo personals, trying to get laid. But psychos and jerks aside, the written word is a powerful tool for developing and maintaining relationships. When you only see someone once a month or so, email conversations save you the the necessity of having to spend those rare occasions playing catch up. But never assume that it becomes less potent just because you see someone on a daily basis. And also don't make the mistake of thinking that email can ever replace the fun of getting a card or letter in the mail.

Recently Mo's email access became sketchy (she's on a dial-up modem with AOL, so what else can you expect?) and our schedules made catching each other on the phone nearly impossible. So we've reinstated snail mail. I've been buying cards again, printing out copies of postings on my blog for her to read, sending her bad writing samples, keeping her up to date on my life in San Francisco. Lots about food and wine, of course. I've been making my own stationary with images found on the 'net. She's been sending me slice of life letters written on Nancy Drew stationary (stationary/envelopes that look like the old Nancy Drew book covers), telling me about the trials and tribulations of being a hot nanny in La Jolla (she's known as the 'nanny with the legs'), her latest home and garden decorating projects...and lots about food and wine, of course.

I find this return to a more traditional method of communication very comforting. A sign that as much as things change, some things remain pleasantly familiar. Like the fact that Mo and I will always refer to each other as 'Dude,' no matter how old we get. And that we'll always be entertained by the minutiae of each other's daily lives.

Especially the parts about food and wine, of course.
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