Friday, July 5, 2019

Bring on the Empty Horses - a review

The Classic Film Reading Challenge –
Report #3

Bring on the Empty Horses

By David Niven, c. 1975, Dell Publishing.  Paperback edition - 352 Pages.

     Imagine you’re at a classic Dinner Party, and it’s after the meal.  Relaxing with Coffee and what have you, you find yourself sitting with David Niven, and you ask,
 “David, tell me how it was Hollywood, just a few stories, please?”

     In this book, Niven does just that.  For those of you who do not recognize the name, David Niven was an actor from 1932 to 1982, the year before he died.  He started out as a film extra, including a part as an uncredited “Able-bodied seaman” in the 1935 “Mutiny on the Bounty”, a role also shared with Jimmy Cagney, and one which starred his fishing buddy Clark Gable.  He rose thru the ranks, mainly thru a contract with Samuel Goldwyn Studios, and appeared or starred in such films as “The Bishops Wife”, “Dawn Patrol”, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”, “The Guns of Navarone”, as the title role in “The Pink Panther”, and the 'original' James Bond in the 1967 version of “Casino Royale”.   He was also supposedly the only British Actor in Hollywood to put his career on hold to go back and enlist in the British armed forces when world war 2 broke out.  

This picture, originally shown in his autobiography, shows Royal Marine Comanndo Lt. Niven in Normandy soon after D-Day.

      Niven's autobiography, “The Moon’s a Balloon” was released in 1971 and sold over 5 million copies.  There are a couple of anecdotes that I recognized from the autobiography, but most of the content in “Empty Horses” is brand new.  It should also be known that are two chapters (‘Our Little Girl’ parts one and two) where care is taken not to reveal the identities of the main subject.  The second of the two a harrowing story of Niven being dragged in to care for an actress undergoing a full-blown mental breakdown, since the publication of this book sources have revealed the actress to be Vivian Leigh, suffering a bipolar episode.

     David doesn’t hold back. There of Chapters of joy and chapters, such as the two mentioned above, of sadness.  He reveals a softer picture of Clark Gable, the joy of Fred Astaire, and the sadness inherent in the life of his close friend Errol Flynn – “He was not a kind man, but in those careless days he was fun to be with, and those days were the best of Flynn.”

     But of what this makes “Bring on the Empty Horses” enjoyable for me was when I was reading it, I could hear Niven’s voice in the words  (and if you buy the audio version you can too!).  I highly recommend this book for the behind the scenes stories of Hollywood from the 1930s to around the mid-sixties.  There are stories about the system, Hearst Castle (although to be fair, the stories of Hearst Castle are funnier in “Harpo Speaks”), and the celebrities of the time – oh, the celebrities, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, and Humphrey Bogart are just of few you will find sections on, not to mention a cameo by Candace Bergen.  You will visit the Brown Derby and Romanoff’s, and visit with Hedda and Louella. 

5 out of 5 stars for me. 
And now I find I’m halfway thru the #ClassicFilmChallenge!

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Twitter Romance - a short short story by Walter von Tagen III

Come to my Parlour –

…Sounds like you have a lot of stuff. 
You place decent space for you?

3 bd 2 bth large master bedroom
Holy moley
I thought you moved
 into a small mobile home.

Size is relative.
 I estimate about 1200 to 1500 sq ft.
 All I know is it’s smaller than the house
 I lived in and larger than the other one I own.

Where is your other house?

In a “senior” community, 2 bd 2bth
about a thousand square feet. Cute,
but too small for me
It brings me in spending money : )
That’s good.
At least both places are paid for,
and the profit I make on one
 pays for the space rent on the other
How was Monday for you?
Good.  My kid was with their
 father while I woked.


That’s good.  Beginning to restock
the pantry. Have enough to at least
 offer you a hot chocolate the way you like it.
Need to go and restock the liquors as well.
Now when you say shots, is that
from a shot glass or a tumbler?
Not this moment, or course.
How is your night going?

Well, the only thing that
 would make it better is
if you were here ; )
And you?
Good, the kid is finally asleep
Ah, What are you going to do now,
 or should I ask…

Probably fall asleep,
way too tired for that.

LOL.  You just don’t have
 the right motivation…
or should that be stimulation? ; )
Plans for the rest of the week?
Nothing much. 
The kid will be
with the Dad…
Hope your day is going well

Thanks. Boss is on my back,
I’m starving. 
Getting a sandwich today.
Can’t wait.
What kind of sandwich?
Italian Deli. 
Only one I ever get.
Ever try turkey with cranberries? 
Good for you.
No, I don’t usually try new things.
Really? We’ll see about that…
When do you get lunch?
About 12ish, depends on if patients are here.
Of course
Unless we put them into rooms, say
“The doctor will be here in a moment”
 and close the door.
Then off you go –
: )
Wish it were that easy.

Good morning,
Any nice surprises on your end?
Maybe? Are they from you?
Maybe  : )  Why would you think the flowers
are from me, just because it’s Wednesday
or something?  How many people do you have
sending you stuff anyway?
Thank you, they are beautiful
Like you.
No need. Just like
making you feel special
I do now.
You just made my week
Wait until the weekend.
: D
So you going to send me a picture?

Message size: 32kb DOWNLOAD
: D Thanks.
Promise not to show it to anyone.
  Just doing what we’re doing could
cost me my job.
Don’t worry. I keep secrets very well.
            Hi -
You spying on me?  : )  Just got home.
Yes actually  : )
Don’t tell me, you snuck a peek at my
 med record to get my address.
All you needed to do was ask.
No, I put a GPS on your car.
: )
Lol – well, that’s all right then
Feel like sneaking over and cuddling
 in front of the fire?
Kinda hard when I have
 the kid all week
I know, maybe next week.  Besides, I thought
 you were going to be surprised
I even had a fireplace!
I was guessing it was a fake
It’s a real electric fireplace, not a fake.
I love my fireplace.
Real?  Wood or gas burning?
Real. Both.
 I hardly use the gas lighter
What’s your place like, since we discussed
 Mine last time?
And thus we enter the realm of
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
I already showed you mine.
And a nice view it was
Ever read “Fifty Shades of Grey”?
No, but I want to.
Do you think that’s something you would be interested in?
Sorry, Boss needed me
Don’t you hate being interrupted from
 phone flirting to actually have to do work?
Phone flirting?!?!
Well, some of what we do could be considered flirting
I suppose so.
Never answered my question.
No, I haven’t, have I? HaHaHa
How’s it going? Busy day today? 
Was thinking about you.
Awe.  Thanks.
Been really busy at work.
Exhausted right now.
What would be good for you is a
light dinner and a nice backrub
 after a warm bath.
So, bath, with or without bubbles?
You can start a fire that wa
With bubbles and candles

I can, how?  And what type of fire
 are we talking ? : )
BTW – never mentioned candles.
But thanks for the idea. 
So, no bubbles but candles?
Yes, Candles
What about those real looking
 but battery operated candles?
Umm, no, I need the smell.
Scented Candles, check. Favorite scent?
 I like to smell the mountains
Anything beach for me.
Ah, like dead seagull, beached whale,
that sort of thing ; )
I love the scent
 of the ocean myself.
Me too.
Ok, making a note of it.
Hi, still awake?
Barely.  I fell asleep for
 a bit earlier tonight.

I have a little bit of whatever for you…
: )
Good morning!!
You’re spying on me again. Just woke up.
Got to sleep around 3
I hope I didn’t wake you. I wanted
to wait until you were up.
You can wake me whenever you want…
Tapping on the shoulder works nicely, btw

15th already.  Time to change the bedding.
Just establishing I’m not one to change bedding
Only every 3 months or so.

HaHaHa – you seem pretty clean.
At least in body  : )
Shopping with you in mind
Uh oh. What are you shopping for?
; )
Your eyes, hazel, right?
Thought so.
You never told me what you were shopping for.
No, I haven’t, have I? ; )
Hi – sorry I haven’t texted you. Busy.
Understand. You’re busy.
How was your week?
I wish I could say if you were here
We could be quiet together,
But truth is we’d probably,
Hopefully, be laughing or talking
Or…something together
Wish mine was

I’m still hoping to sneak
 away for the weekend.

I think it would not be too quiet
How far do you want to sneak?
What do you mean?
Do you want to stay here or go to say,
Into the City or somewhere around there for dinner?
I figure we could just
 stay at your place
Sounds fine with me  : )
I have to confess I’m a bit restless.
Don’t know if it’s about you or work.
Because of me?
 How do I make you restless?
Nervous, I suppose. Don’t want to screw things up.
That kind of thing
Don’t be nervous,
I’m a pretty easy going person

Another thing is we have this
weird type of affair
type thing going on.
I know.
But instead of a husband
we have to make sure
your work doesn’t find out.
I find that a little bit exciting,
Do you?
Me too.
Can’t wait to see you,
although the first couple of minutes
might be awkward.
HaHaHa  probably.
I mean do we hug, kiss??

Did you just try and call?

Hey –
You did try and call last night, yes?
It was an accident. Hit the wrong button.
Freudian slip more likely.
About the text,
it made me feel uncomfortable
and awkward
I guess we just wing it
Ummm yeah
Ummm okay
I now have the ingredients for a sexy Santa, btw
Sexy Santa?!?!
A drink, like Sex on the beach
 but with peppermint instead
 of peach snapps.
That’s good.  I’m not a peach
or grapefruit fan
When you sneak up here,
what would you like food wise?
Cheese and Crackers?
Something sweet?
Hot or Cold?
HaHaHa I have no idea.
That’s a big help. : P
Depends on my mood.
It’s raining here.
Love the sound of raindrops
Yeah, it’s quiet.
One of my favorite sounds
Mine too.
Cheese, sharp or mild?
No cheese
Don’t like it unless its melted.
Mmm…melted, Used to love melted
 cheese on toast
What am I saying - Still do.
Ok, cake or pie?
Be more specific-
Wait, I know.
Chocolate Brownies, no nuts!
With a dollop of whipped cream
Pie or Cake. I said it depends.
Cherry or Pumpkin pie,
Cake…not a huge fan,
but I do love chocolate.
Cherry, never got the taste of
Pumpkin, mmm…chocolate.
So cherry or pumpkin,
or does it matter which?
Told you I love them both.
I’m not an Apple fan.
So you use a PC?
So I’m looking at your address
 and have no idea how to get there
Just take the main street exit off
 the freeway and turn left
towards town.  Take the first left.
 Drive into the parking lot
there and call. I’ll come and escort you.
HaHaHa Escort. 
I thought that is what I was!
You? An escort?  Is that a fantasy of yours?
Kinda. Getting paid to have
sex with someone.
I know it sounds wrong.
The fantasy, right?
HaHaHa yeah
Not wrong at all.  It’s a fantasy.
Depending on how things go with us,
I would be happy to fulfill the fantasy
With you.
How much do you think I’m worth?

For one night.
The whole night?
Yeah, being forced to do
 whatever you wanted.
More than any amount
 of money anyone could name.
: )
Just wondering.
So, if /when we do your fantasy,
I’ll have to come up
With one to compliment it
I like role play.
Ok, I can work with that.
Just to be clear, we’re not
Talking Dungeons and Dragons, right?
Have you done much?
Not much at all.
If you want to try it, okay.
: )
So what kind of escort do you want to be?
I didn’t know there were different types
High class, street hooker, schoolgirl type
Businesswoman… Lots of types
How do you know all this?
I read a lot ; )
I’m going to say goodnight,
I don’t want to fall asleep on you.
I sent you a link – did you get it?
Yeah – can’t talk right now
Okay, let me know when
Hi, still there?
Yes.  For you, of course.
: ) so many choices on here.
Well, it’s your fantasy.  Pick out a dress,
 don’t forget stockings (suggest thigh highs),
 shoes – you can get from the site
 or just go down to a thift store in town.
Might also consider a wig if you want.
I don’t think I can afford all of it.
Just tell me what you want and
 I’ll get it for you.
Consider it part of your price ; )
HaHaHa  Okay.
What do you think of
 the monthly special?
What about the low cut gown
 on the first page of dresses?
In black or red?
Which would you  like?
For you? Black.  Go with the basics
Use fake eyelashes.
Ok. Can I change up there?
Of course, you can then go
 out and the back door and
walk around to the front if you want.
Not sure what to do then
Don’t worry. We’ll work it through

I think we need to talk about limits
What you like and don’t
And we should talk about being responsible partners

A hush falls over the conversation -

You there?
Sorry about earlier…
No, it’s okay
I realize a lot of what I wrote
 may have made you uncomfortable
 but I believe communication
 is important
I feel asleep last night
? Is that like the feeling
 you’re walking in a dream?
HaHaHa I ment fell silly
Yeah, kinda figured that
So, any questions?
The website.
Yeah. What about it.
Going to look at it more tonight.
Your fantasy?
Mine?  Mmm.
What about the Cardigan schoolgirl?
Thought you’d like that one.
You know I usually don’t date older people
I’m not that much older.
Yeah, it just feels strange.
Hey, nothing ventured.
I mean, you don’t think I’m too young
 for you or anything
Still going to come up?
I will. I promise.
: )
The package arrived

Wow. So we’re doing this.
So, Saturday?
Do we need to talk before that?
Well, I don’t take credit cards,
so it will have to be cash
I’m at the parking lot.
I can see that
Where are you…
You caught me off guard.
Usually I make the first move.
I thought you had.
Anyway, the important things
 are the move got made,
and whether you enjoyed it.
Well…what do you think?  : )
If it makes you feel better,
You can make the first move
 next time.
[ The end. Done as a writing exercise - comments welcome.]

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Novel Casting Call?

Hi there -

     I was recently at a gaming convention, playing an RPG (role-playing game) where we were super-heroes.  When asked to describe who we were, the GM (game master, the one running the game) asked us a simple question:

“Who would you cast in the movie?

     Which leads me to this question - Should you cast your novel?

     There is a tendency with some writers to describe their characters by comparing them to a well-known film star or politician in one respect or another.  Even Ian Fleming, writing way back in the 1950’s wrote that one of the main characters of the short story “The Hildebrand Rarity” had the voice “of the late Humphrey Bogart”. 

      But is this a bad thing?

      Casting your character can give you guidance when writing, as long, and this is my belief, you don’t go out of your way to point it out in the story.  By having a clear view of your character, it helps you with such mundane things as nose shape, height, build, etc.

     For example, I’m currently editing a mystery that I wrote last year.  When trying to envision what a character looked like, I thought to myself who they would look like, who, if this was ever made into a movie, would I ideally want to play the character?  

     Now, the nice thing about this is you can cast anyone from any time or place.  I’ll give you an example.

     Most people, especially with the recent death of Adam West, are somewhat familiar with the Batman television series or any of the films that have been done over the years.  Well, what if Warner Bros. had decided to do a series of Batman films in the 1940’s.  Who would they cast?  Who would you?

     Here’s the list of main parts I want you to think about –

Bruce Wayne/Batman                                       Dick Grayson/Robin
Commissioner Gordon                                     The Joker
The Riddler                                                      The Penguin
Harvey Dent/Two-Face                                    The Catwoman

Think about it a moment before going on.

Ok, have you cast it yet?  Here’s mine below–
Batman – Errol Flynn.  Has the dash and derring do.

Robin – this is a tough one, may have to get Jackie Cooper for it.

Commissioner Gordon – if you have Errol Flynn as Batman, this is the role for Alan Hale (Sr.), a frequent co-star.

The Joker - Conrad Veidt.  I’m cheating on this one.  Take a look at this picture from his silent film  The Man Who Laughs (1928)

( Conrad was the original inspiration for the Joker.)

The Riddler – now, this might be the Frank Gorshin influence talking, but I’d cast Jimmy Cagney.

The Penguin – mainly because of his looks, I’d give it to Edgar G. Robinson.

Catwoman – Ida Lupino, one of the Femme Fatales of Warner’s lot.

     See, it helps to visualize your characters.  As for me, for the character in the book, I went with Helen Slater in her mid-thirties.  If you say to yourself “who?” that’s even better. 

     By casting your novel as you create your characters it helps you visualize your book as you write.  Visualization is a powerful tool, fueling your imagination and helping you in the creative process.

     So, your main character, who would you cast in the film?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Writing Resolutions...

Now, what did I mean by that? 

Is this a blog on how and why and when you should write New Year Resolutions? (hint:  On or right before New Year’s Day, btw)

Or is this a blog on my personal resolutions regarding writing?

If you guess the latter, you’re right.
But there are so many things that could be on the list, and surveys say the longer the list, the less likely anything will be accomplished.  So I’m going to keep this year’s list fairly short, aim for the sky type of list.
Here goes;

Dear me –
You’ve been laxing in your writing ever since the election.  It’s over. Get over it and get back to writing more!  My number one resolution for you is this:

1.       Write five days a week.  Write at least 1500 words per week.  That’s a measly 300 words a day, and if you write more than that, I’d be very proud of you.

Next, let’s discuss what you’ve accomplished so far.  You have four novels in your editing queue, plus a 5000 plus word short story.  We both know the short story is done and finished (I hear you saying “But there’s that one sentence I want to massage…”  SO MASSAGE IT ALREADY!  
You have two novels you’re sharing with your writing group that you edit a chapter each week.  That’s fine, but here’s your number two resolution:

2.       Find three publishers to submit the novels to, and contact them to see if they would give you a look.  Remember your goal is to NOT self-publish, but be published.  And that short story?  Contact two magazine publishers (you can do this online) that would fit the genre and submit the story.  You may only get less than $300 for it, but hey, it makes you a published author. And don't be upset if you get rejected the first time around. It happened to the best authors, so why not you?

Lastly.  The number three resolution is simple.  You have a minor roadblock that needs to be attended to before proceeding on the next book -

3.      Learn how to better outline a novel before starting the story. 

That’s my top three writing resolutions, what’s yours?

Wishing you happy writing in the New Year!

- Walter

Monday, December 12, 2016

From Popcornbytes * - Creating a Character: Six things I look for.

They say Character is everything.  A good character drives the story forward, almost telling the writer where to go next.  So the creation of a character is something every writing deals with.  Here’s a look into the process I go through when creating my cast of characters for a story.
1.  What is the character’s function in the story?
Is this the main character?  A major – but not main- Character?  Good guy or bad guy?  I tend to spend a bit more time getting to know the main characters then a minor or one scene character.  Some can just be a generic title.  “The salesclerk”, “the Traffic cop”, “the waitress”  can all be generic – however –
1A.  If a minor character, how minor, for how long?
Let’s take, for example, a servant girl I had written in to serve as a minor obstacle for the main characters in my story “Sidestepping Home”.  I gave her a name because she would appear in at least two scenes, or chapters, of the book.  So I thought.
I gave what I thought would be a minor twist and suddenly found my main characters with a new servant girl.  The minor obstacle had been elevated to almost sidekick status.  So instead of writing about a party of three in the household, I now had a foursome.  And the servant girl became important for the end of the novel.
2.  What do they do in the story? What’s their “job”?
The Hero has a job.  What is it?  Knowing their job helps you to figure out their breadth of knowledge.  An accountant may not know how to hot-wire a car, but a spy could hot-wire a car and be lousy when it comes time to do their expense reports.
  1. What’s their backstory for the last two months??
I don’t need to know who their first pet was, what their Grandparents did (unless it’s crucial to the story), or the name of the first person they kissed.  I do want to know what’s happening NOW in their lives, what type of mindset and mood they’re currently in.  It gives me a jumping point in the story for them.
  1. What’s their motivation in the story?  Is it to woo the fair maiden?  Avenge a great wrong?  And why is it important to them?
Once I have these four things, I can flesh out other details as needed, starting with
5 & 6.  What’s their name and age?
As I said above, I usually take my time with my main characters.  The name of the character sometimes being most important, as it is something you’ll be writing down a lot during the course of your story.
Age becomes important because it also helps set how much knowledge they may know, as well as social attitudes.
If I know their approximate age, I can find the top 25 names for their birth year (assuming you know the current year your story is taking place.) by using Google or another search engine.  Last names can be more difficult.  But there I have a resource –
This is a great site, as it can give you names from around the globe, as well as for names for fairy, myth, biblical, or fantasy.  One of the best features it the random name generator, where with a few clicks will deliver you a name.  Don’t like it?  Click “generate another”.  You can even decide you like a first name, then generate another and take the last name you decide upon.  A great writers resource.
Speaking of resources, check out Popcornbytes on Pinterest.  I have writing and writing research boards with many articles for your perusal, and of course, there’s the

*to be fair - Popcornbytes is my twitter handle, as well as wordpress name. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Opening phrase

     The crowd and the music in the background was blocked by the earbuds the writer wore.  He stared at the blank screen on his laptop and set the large ice tea down to the left of it.  He placed his fingers on the keyboard and began to type -
 "The crowd and the music was blocked by the earbuds the writer wore....."

     My name is Walter, and I'm a writer.  I have written four novels of over 50,000 words each, my preferred genres are thriller/spy novels and science fiction.  But that's not to belittle the mystery I wrote this past year.

     When I was growing up, I read quite a bit.  I love to read, read all the L. Frank Baum Oz stories, Tarzan, Swiss Family Robinson, a lot of the classics of youthful reading.  Still have some of them.
Ok, I lie.  I have most of them still.  I dreamed of growing up and becoming a writer.

    Then something happened.  I found the James Bond stories by Ian Fleming and started reading those, and when I got older I read them again, seeing how much the Bond of the books was different from the Bond of the movies.  And how in the end Fleming managed to weave a continuity throughout most of the series.  Although Moonraker draws quite the discussion on when it took place.  I'm a 1952 man myself.

    Life went on and I eventually found myself in film and television, mainly behind the scenes.  My interest grew as did my knowledge base.  And then came that fateful day I found myself out of work and unlikely, at the old age of my early fifties, of finding another job quickly.  I was in a marriage that was about to enter endgame, and I wondered what to do.

     Somewhere I read about NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month.  A self-challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in one thirty day period at a rate of 1667 words a day.  It took me 25 days to complete.  My novel, now in the rewrite/edit stage, is called "Eton & Windsor".  It's a thriller, part mystery, part travelogue, part spy novel.  I wrote from ten p.m. to midnight from the seat of my pants.  My then wife thought I was up to something else because I dare not tell her what I was up to, for fear she would say something negative that would just make me stop trying.  But I did it.  I wrote a novel.

    The ones that I have written have been a mixed bunch, and I hope to share stories behind them with you.

So hello, nice to meet you.  My name's Walter, and I'm a writer.