research

August 10, 1982

August 10, 1982

1982 was the year when Time Magazine honored the PC, rather than a human, and declared it Machine Of The Year.
1982 was the year when Time Magazine honored the PC, rather than a human, and declared it Machine of the Year.
Typical layout of a Computerland store allowing customers hands-on access to the computers
Typical layout of a Computerland store allowing customers hands-on access to the computers

Little did I know the degree to which the personal computer would come to dominate our lives – much less, how much cheaper they would become.  The machine we bought that day used a DOS program (which I insisted on pronouncing like the Spanish word for “two” which drove J crazy) and big floppy discs. It was possible to play word games on it, but graphics were far in the future. Even so, “The Adventures of Zork” was so enticing CD taught himself to read overnight to play.

Typing on my blue Selectric
Typing on my blue Selectric
The IBM Selectric Typewriter
The IBM Selectric Typewriter

Screen-writing software didn’t exist – nor did the mouse. If the internet was out there, I was not informed. The transition from my electric blue Selectric typewriter – a prized possession purchased over two years of monthly payments – was painful. The Selectric seemed so much easier and faster than the computer.  Ultimately, I had to give the Selectric away to force myself to learn this newfangled thing.

Learning Curve

Today, it’s hard to remember the days when adding or deleting a paragraph meant typing the entire document again. Making copies meant smudged carbon paper or a trip to a copy store. Changing a font meant buying another IBM bouncing ball – in those days, a pricey thirty dollars a pop. I loved to change fonts and accumulated several.

IBM Selectric bouncing ball fonts

You were required to check your own spelling.

December 7, 1977

December 7, 1977

David Ward (copied from imdb)
David Ward (copied from imdb)

 When I read that Best Screenplay Oscar-winning David Ward (for “The Sting”; nominated again for “Sleepless in Seattle”) wrote a spec script about  Sontag and Evans – the California outlaws I was contemplating writing a non-fiction book about – it gave me pause, but not for long. Something I learned quickly – which all aspiring writers should learn – is don’t worry if you find out another writer is working on a script that sounds strikingly familiar to yours. You won’t tell the same story. When I can give ten writing students the same writing prompt, no two of them will approach it the same way.

In 77, I was far away from a writing career and membership in the WGA.
In 77, I was far away from a writing career and membership in the WGA.

As it turned out, I never finished my non-fiction book anyway so stressing about a potential overlap would’ve been an exercise in futility. Still, I was curious about how David Ward approached the subject matter. As luck would have it, I met him at a small screening of a friend’s film (that he’d written) a year ago and got my chance to ask. I told him I’d asked similar questions years ago when he was a guest speaker at a USC writing class. Not surprisingly, he did not recall the evening with the same crystal clarity I did (read, not at all.)

Writing in "the hamburger" - which is what CD called our oh-so-seventies trendy bean-bag chair.
Writing in “the hamburger” – which is what CD called our oh-so-seventies trendy bean-bag chair.

What I should have asked him but didn’t – then and now – is, did you ever feel like you arrived? In 1977, my impression was he radiated confidence. It’s possible he did – I’d radiate confidence if I wrote “The Sting” –but now that I’m older and wiser I wonder. Based on the highly successful people I know well enough to ask personal questions, none feel like they’ve “arrived”. And maybe that’s for the best. Isn’t the journey the point?

 

November 18, 1995

November 18, 1995

Brad Wigor
Brad Wigor

What’s not to love about travelling to research a writing project? For starters, producers must fly writers First Class – something my Midwestern roots won’t allow me to do for myself.  It’s superficial, but it made me feel important. Another benefit, for some – free alcohol.  All I know is, the diet Coke they serve in first class tastes the same as it does in economy.

Kathleen onboard

In the early days, I fantasized jetting to Paris for a true-life story but apparently very few Parisian lives are MOW material, (link to Movie of the Week). The stories I got hired to write unspooled in tiny Texas or Louisiana towns where the top hotel stood side by side with the local slaughterhouse.  This is not to knock small towns or southern states; I’m from rural Iowa myself (Graettinger and Estherville, anyone?)  However, as quaint and charming as Kickapoo, Kansas, might be, no one will ever mistake it for Paris.

With my cousins at the tiny Spencer Iowa Airport
With my cousins at the tiny Spencer Iowa Airport

I liked everyone I interviewed except the cold-blooded killer in the high-security Texas prison. Getting to know the people made the job fun. What made it hard was their desire for their stories to be told truthfully, like they happened in reality. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that regardless of how dramatic and compelling their tale might be, inevitably “a true story” dilutes to “inspired by a true story” or, worst case scenario, “inspired by a concept based on an idea related to a possibly true story.”

A real life business trip - Brad Wigor was one of the producers on this movie.
A real life business trip – Brad Wigor was one of the producers on this movie.

This particular tale of young love in the bayou was not produced, which was disappointing but not surprising. In those days, maybe half the scripts a network developed got produced (which is still a significantly higher ratio than feature projects in development).  What did surprise me was my sympathies shifted from the love-struck kids to the Mom.  A tad troubling, since I built my career on angsty teens, not their uptight parents living lives of quiet desperation. Was it possible my struggle with my rebellious teen son was turning me into one of “them”?

Yeah, I think so. About time, too.

May 5, 2012

May 5, 2012

Hollywood Bowl1
It was thrilling to explore a legendary venue like the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, any casual visitor to LA can explore its exterior – the site is neither gated nor guarded. Tourists can park in the lot, stroll up and down the shell, even take the stage if they choose on off-season days when no one is doing a sound-check or performing.

13 Daisy Dell

Backstage, of course, is off limits. That and its exclusivity endows it with irresistible mystique, at least to me. I’ve been backstage at a few rock shows (notably Bruce Springsteen, Motley Crue and Kiss) but on those occasions I was so in awe of the performers that specific details about the surroundings were a blur.

Dressing room, Hollywood Bowl
Dressing room, Hollywood Bowl

The tour Michael arranged was perfect. Our guide, who’d worked there for years,entertained us with anecdotes about the rich and famous and we could take our time. I took a lot of photos, many already in the clubs and venues section of my site, some reprinted here.

View from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl
View from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl

Why my interest in the inner workings of the Hollywood Bowl? I’m writing a novel about a defunct rock’n’roll band, famous in the sixties. One member went on to success beyond his wildest dreams. My hero did not. The book – half of which takes place in the 60s – is about their attempt to reunite 25 years later. Will the secrets and betrayals that shattered them in the seventies resurface in 2000? Have any of them really changed?

Hollywood Bowl Empty Seats

March 30, 1976

March 30, 1976

 My MFA program at USC required a non-fiction book as well as a novel and a screenplay. I don’t remember who told me about Sontag and Evans but their story fascinated me. Basically, Chris Evans – a family man – and his buddy John Sontag became central California folk heroes by repeatedly robbing the hated Southern Pacific Railroad. The story everything – exciting robberies, a noble cause, escapes from jail, mountain communities aiding and abetting the outlaws and a shootout at the Stone Corral!

Off to research Sontag and Evans - or something.
Off to research Sontag and Evans – or something.

My in-laws invited me to make their home my research base and I stayed with them for several weeks. Most of my destinations were less than thirty minutes away.  Today I could do it all faster on my laptop but in 76, I had to drive to actual locations, scroll through microfilm and handle old newspapers. It was hard work but to my surprise I loved it.

Tracking down obscure leads.
Tracking down obscure leads.

I wanted to focus on Evans’ oldest daughter Eva, seventeen. Eva broke them out of jail and married bachelor outlaw Sontag. Their union was brief because Sontag died from his Stone Corral wounds.

Where the heck is the Stone Corral?
Where the heck is the Stone Corral?
Now you know
Now you know

Information on Eva was hard to come by but I believe I discovered a few things nobody else knew. So why can’t you find my Sontag and Evans book at Barnes and Noble? Why didn’t I go the extra mile and write it after all that research?

Why am I not working on Sontag and Evans?
Why am I not working on Sontag and Evans?

Ironically, all that research sunk the project. I fell in love with how much I knew and got mired in minutiae. The smallest detail had to be accurate and corroborated. The net result?   My first paragraph required seven footnotes. Nobody wants to read a pedantic tome like that.

7 footnotes?I put the project aside, intending to resume when my research was less fresh in mind. That’s where it sits today, in cardboard boxes in our garage.

 

 

March 25, 1970

March 25, 1970

Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.
Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.

It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?

Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.

My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage - the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage – the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957

Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.

Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.
Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.

Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley.  I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.

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