Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of the Book Beat 2008-2010

Somehow I have read over 150 books in the last three years.  As it may be my last serious attempt to read 50 books a year (which takes a lot more concentration than you might think), here is my highly subjective list of my favorites since 2008:


Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami 

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The City and The City by China Mieville

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

On the Book Beat 2010

For three years running I have managed to make my goal of reading 50 books a year; so I guess I have that one knocked down and perhaps it's time to try some new challenge (although I will continue to keep counting on this blog).  I did vow to read a little smarter this year, though I still read a mountain of trash and pulp.  But I read some really good books, and here are my favorites:

1.  The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

2.  The Keep by Jennifer Egan

3.  The City and The City by China Mieville

4.  Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

5.  The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


6.  Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

7.  Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

8.  Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick

9.  Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem

10.  The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

As always, happy reading!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Who Draws The Crowd and Plays So Loud

Showing off my axe skills to thunderous boos on my new Wii, the first game system of my own since my beloved Atari (and even that one I shared with my brother).  I have been playing this game with the family for several straight days (which seemed like half an hour) and I think it might catch on with people--it's called "Guitar Hero."  It's no "Asteroids" but it might have some staying power.  Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa's Helpers

Wrapping presents and watching movies on Roku.  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sketchy Heroes

When I did my first 24 Hour Comic, Bad Eggs, I used an online random superhero name generator to come up with these characters, then quickly sketched what I thought they would look like.  Some of them show up in Bad Eggs, The Vow, and other places.

Friday, December 03, 2010

More Sketchy Comics

A frank depiction of what it was like to play Marvel SAGA RPG with me and my friends some years ago.  I used to doodle little sequences and write various quips people spouted off as we went, and if I am reading this account correctly Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye and Iron Man face off against the Hulk, Ultron, and Loki.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

From the Sketchbook

So I was watching "Dateline NBC" and they had a show all about Real Life Super Heroes and people who supposedly had super powers.  They had a guy that liked to glide, a guy who liked to climb buildings, two women who wanted to be mermaids, a smart guy, a person with great cold resistance and a person with a lot of running endurance.  I wondered what that would look like as a superhero team so I doodled this up and got my answer:  pretty lame.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

From Rome With Love

The annual Thanksgiving edition of Axis and Allies played with my son and brother.  This is the new Axis and Allies: Europe 1940 Deluxe edition and comes recommended.  I rather whimsically decided to play Italy and found myself dominating the Mediterranean and then helping my German allies repel the invasion of France.  After four hours we declared a stalemate.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And Glowed Like Burnin’ Coal

People keep tagging me on these Facebook memes and this one caught my fancy so I thought I would try it.  It is supposed to be a list of the 15 most influential writers in your life, off the top of your head.  Here we go:

1.        E.M. Dalton—my wife has published short fiction and poetry, so how can I not list her as the most influential writer in my life?  We have been together since I was 20 and just celebrated our 23rd Anniversary.  I think it is one of the great injustices of the world that I have been paid more to write piranha and frankenstein and bigfoot movies than she has to write fiction that could influence the human condition.

2.       Robert Heinlein—I am afraid to go back and reread these books but as a kid I read and reread his novels, like Have Spacesuit Will Travel and Rocket Ship Galileo especially.

3.       Mickey Spillane—my fevered teen years were spent discovering these, especially loving My Gun Is Quick and Kiss Me Deadly and Vengeance is Mine.

4.       Joseph Heller—solely based on Catch-22 which I reread often as a teen and probably most influenced my writing now.

5.       Cornell Woolrich—wrote haunting noir like Rendezvous in Black and The Bride Wore Black and was the sole ripoff/influence for my senior Honors Thesis at Ball State University, Deadlines, and my first attempt at an adult short story, Dead Wong.

6.       John Lennon and Paul McCartney—especially Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Let It Be and Abbey Road.

7.       Chester B. Himes—I found him as an adult and loved his political, allegorical noir and would someday like to write something as good as The Heat's On or The Real Cool Killers.

8.       David Gilmour and Roger Waters—especially Wish You Were Here, Meddle and The Final Cut.

9.       Bob Dylan—especially Blood on the Tracks and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

10.   Philip K. Dick—a raging genius who when great is untouchable;  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Scanner Darkly and Clans of the Alphane Moon and The Man in the High Castle and Martian Time-Slip just the tip of the iceberg.

11.   Joe Bob Briggs—in the early 80s I saw his funny movie reviews in a college newspaper that we used to  receive in the newsroom when I worked at the Ball State Daily News—I think it was The Daily Texan--and had no idea who he was (for the longest time I thought he was a student—this is before the internet), but immediately tried to emulate his writing style.

12.   Michael Tolkin—when I was trying to learn screenwriting I read a lot of bound screenplays that I checked out from the library, and really was influenced by the commentaries that he included; much later in life I blogged about this and was surprised to get a nice email from Michael Tolkin, and I have never forgotten him reaching out to me.

13.   Samuel R. Delany—I am coming to him later in life but only wish I could write as imaginatively as him;  Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand I think is a great novel that I wish I wrote but Nova ain’t slouching either.

14.   Roger Ebert—when I was a kid I actually thought he was at the local PBS station in Muncie, Indiana; I worked there later and never saw him around.  He is only growing in influence with his writing.

15.   Haven Kimmel—I have to end where I began, with a writer I actually know, my wife’s best friend growing up and the first friend of hers I met when we married.  She is a bestselling author who, strangely and possibly to her own detriment, has always cheered on my humble screenwriting career.

There’s fifteen, and if I did this again tomorrow I might juggle it a bit and include Terrence Rafferty, William Goldman, and Steve Gerber, but this is awful close.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

To Telepath Messages Through the Vast Unknown

Following up on my last post, I know there is no way I am going to hit 50,000 words on NaNoWriMo this year, nor am I even close; but I have had fun working on some writing again with Johnny Demonseed, and I have already done well in the Nerd Olympics this year.

For the third surprising year in a row I have met the challenge of reading 50 books in a year and this time I finished with a month to spare.  I think I'm going with The Boy Detective Fails as my favorite book that I read in 2010, and that's not just because I happened to meet Joe Meno in a small, spooky town called New Harmony down in southern Indiana and got to ask him what the hell he was thinking during the writing of this strange, magical work. 

I also liked The City and The City by China Mieville, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick, Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks, and London Boulevard by Ken Bruen, to name a few.

On my second try I managed to visit six ballparks this summer, beating my old, inadvertent record of visiting five in one summer.  When I concentrated last year I only hit four so I decided to zen it out again this year and ended up at six. 

I went to my hometown Richmond Riverrats in Richmond, Indiana a few times; saw the Evansville Otters in the ballpark featured in A League of Their Own on a very hot summer day; saw the Dayton Dragons for a friend's birthday, probably now one of my favorite ballparks; went to see the Reds with my dad and got a Chris Sabo bobblehead but also got walloped in the eye either with a fist or a foul ball, I'm still not sure which; caught the Durham Bulls for the second time with friends and ate great Carolina barbecue; and, on the last day of the season, went to see the Indianapolis Indians with my wife and daughter, who surprised me by asking if I wanted to go and break my record at my other favorite ballpark, which they were happy to join me at if I would buy the beer.

But writing again must have put something in the karma bank because I have spent the weekend helping judge the United Kingdom's National Student Film Association's Screenwriting Competition.  It was very flattering to be asked, but I felt sorry for these poor youths who obviously got turned down by every legitimate screenwriter on the European continent and thus were forced to forage in America's Heartland for another judge.  But it was cool for once and probably for only to be mentioned in the same breath as BFI and BAFTA.

Until later I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mugen Punch

So I have more or less been in self-imposed exile from screenwriting and associated activities for a while.

I took all of 2006 off when I changed jobs and cities and then promised my new boss I would take six months off when I changed careers again in April 2009.  But I haven't started back up again.  Since then I have turned down three or four screenwriting jobs and numerous offers to take up review writing again; though I could not turn down my old friends in Palatine Illinois and judged the new Blue Whiskey Film Festival this summer.

I have to say that being hired to write 20 screenplays in 10 years has a nice round ring to it.  And I wish that a few old friends like John Polonia and Ivan Rogers were still on the trail with me.

I've been thinking for a while that there was a new model coming and I think it is still emerging.  As the neterrati like to say, free is the new black.  How that will work for writers, actors, directors, and so on to make money I'm not sure.

I used to like saying that a lot of my career was in the long tail, and now it seems like the long tail will be part of that new model.

I keep thinking it might be time to get a recharge by doing some different kinds of writing.  Conveniently, there's NaNoWriMo.

I last tried National Novel Writing Month way back in 2004.  You can click here and follow my adventures for the entire eight days I tried it before throwing in the towel.  I'm contemplating giving it another stab this year, if nothing else than to maybe get the machine running again.  As longtime fans of my blog know, I have been a fan of Nerd Extreme Sports, having done a 24 Hour Zine and two 24 Hour Comics, Bad Eggs and The Liberator.  And I made my goal of visiting six ballparks this summer, so who knows?

Until then I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Polonia Day Redux

The lunatics at the Cult of Polonia, the Polonia Brothers Fan Club, declare today (the filmmaking twins' birthday) a national holiday.  Head prophet Tim Shrum usually bakes a cake in honor of the day, and naturally I have had a special fondness for two of them that  happened to be based on scripts I had written for them.  And people say that my screenplays are hard to swallow!

I think Polonia Day has been dimmed somewhat in recent years by John Polonia's untimely passing. I might suggest renting Monster Movie on DVD and watching the tribute to John as part of the extras, in which I was glad to be asked to have a small part.

Of course I am partial to the movies I worked on-- Among Us and The Da Vinci Curse/Dead Knight/Army of Wolves favorite among them--but the movies that I had nothing to do with that I enjoy include Dweller, The House That Screamed 2, and the original cult classic Feeders.

Check out the party here!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Go Engineers!

A pal from Worcester Polytechnic Institute sent me this nice t-shirt.  WPI has campus-wide role-playing gaming and once hosted a sci-fi convention.  Had I known this school existed when I was looking for colleges, I could have gone there and been among my people and perhaps been Homecoming king, except I think you also have to be smart.  Now I will have to settle on being its president one day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

From My Screenwriting Journal

I was looking for some of my old homemade comics and was surprised to find a screenwriting journal that I kept for a few years before starting this blog.  Here is an entry marked January 21, 2002.

Yesterday I made a more or less impromptu trip to Indy to meet with Ivan Rogers in a brainstorming session on "The Payback Man."  We just chatted for a little while and then got into a real idea session, moving all around, writing in my notebook, adding to the synopsis on Ivan's PC, and on and on, bolstered by Diet Coke and then wine.


After a few hours Ivan asked if I liked BBQ.  So off we went to Ivan's old downtown neighborhood, and a legendary spot called BBQ Heaven.  And was it.  Just past the bulletproof glass were steaming trays of ribs, collared greens, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, sweet-potato pie, and plenty of white bread to sop it up.


Then Ivan took me next door to a shuttered and dark VFW.  We went around back and Ivan hit a little buzzer.  There was an eye at the peephole, then we were in--a little backroom after-hours place, awash in Aretha and James Brown, everybody dressed in Sunday best and dancing, everything you wanted to drink at the bar as long as it is a shot and a beer.

We stayed for a few minutes and then Ivan said, "This place should be in the movie."  And I think it should be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Remembering Ivan Rogers

I found out last week that an old friend, filmmaker Ivan Rogers, passed away.  He was a private person and wanted to go out without any ceremony, but somebody did update his IMDB profile and I'm sure he would have liked that.

For my part, I knew Ivan for more than twenty years.  I was a young associate producer at WIPB, a PBS station in Muncie, Indiana, when one day Ivan showed up to appear on a minority public affairs program the station produced.  I later learned he was in the area working on pre-production for "Caged Women 2."  I ended up running studio camera on the show and after asked if he would meet me for coffee so that I could pick his brain about filmmaking. 

I had heard of Ivan and knew that throughout the 80s, Ivan had been writing, directing, and starring in his own theatrically-released action movies (and sometimes distributing them) as well as appearing in other people's films.  At the time he was the only person I knew who had even brushed against the hem of Hollywood.

He was very gracious and spent a few hours with me, and surprised me by keeping in touch later.  I began to hatch a plan to write a screenplay for him, and set out in the evenings to write it out longhand.  It was an old-school action movie called "Grindhouse" that I later sent to Ivan, and he was kind enough to loan me MovieMagic Screenwriter so that I could learn properly formatting.

After I sold my first screenplay I bought MovieMagic Screenwriter for myself, and until this summer used the mower I also spent some of this first money on. The freezer I used the remainder on is still running.

Surprisingly, Ivan was always interested in this very first script, and over the last ten years I rewrote it several times for him and others under various titles, including "Red Puzzle," "Heat of the Lash," and "Hands Down."  Ivan asked me to send this script to a friend of his just a month or two ago. He always liked it, but we could never get it done.

However, we did work on several projects together.  When Ivan was in post-production for "Forgive Me Father" he was having trouble getting the editing done.  He had transferred the 35mm to SVHS, then was going to use the open edge numbers on the SVHS edit to cut the film.  I was a pretty good cut bench editor at the time and so I offered to cut one scene for him.  He ended up liking that scene and ultimately I ended up cutting about 40 minutes of action scenes for the film.  I basically never saw any of the characters alive until I went to the premiere at the Hollywood  Bar and Filmworks in Indianapolis.

In lieu of pay, I asked Ivan to help me shop some scripts.  Although this did not result in selling any of my own scripts, Ivan was good to his word and got me set up to work on another project called "Player in the Game."  Although this movie never got made, it did appear in the listings in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, which I believe ultimately led to all of the rest of the work I have done since.

Several years later I worked through about ten drafts of "The Payback Man" with Ivan before he went another direction with it, but we continued to keep in touch.  Even as his health began failing in the last few years he had a lot of plans and ideas.

Ivan acted in other people's bigger movies and was involved in larger scale projects to leverage his own movies that he controlled from top to bottom. Not everybody liked Ivan's movies, but he did what a lot of people just talk about doing. And he gave a young unknown a few hours of his time over coffee many years ago, which has led to a long writing career.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Glitter on the Hallway

Biltmore House, 100 degree day, Asheville North Carolina.  People love to flock to this shack but it kind of got the socialist up in me.  Stuff like you find out that they had one of the first private bowling alleys, and by the way some servant dude had to hang around behind and stand the pins back up every time.  Good Carolina BBQ served in the converted stable, though.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Live from Blue Whiskey

My brother Eric and I making another journey to beloved Palatine Illinois, this time for the first Blue Whiskey Independent Film Fest.  Lots of good films in store.

Filmmakers' Breakfast at the BWIFF


Billy's Pancake House and the Filmmaker's Breakfast, a great tradition reignited in Palatine.  The legendary Meat Lovers Skillet is always offered up as a challenge, and has over the years broken many a strong man and woman.  This year a young couple took it on together and are splitting a double bypass later.

Dinner Bell at the BWIFF


Dinner break at the Blue Whiskey Film Festival at a local microbrewery.  I have said before, you'll never go hungry in Palatine.

Live from BWIFF

Super-talented young filmmaker Matt Meindl and I got to meet up again at the BWIFF.  He always hunches over a little so I don't look so short.

Getting Spunky at the BWIFF

No trip to Palatine is complete without taking the uninitiated to Spunky Dunkers, a legendary 24-hour donut place where you can meet a lot of interesting people in the middle of the night (some pictured here).

Awards at the BWIFF



I saw a lot of top-shelf work at the Blue Whiskey Film Festival, so it was a tough night of judging after a twelve-hour day of screening Saturday.  Best of Fest went to a really crazy neo-noir called The Scenesters but Annabelle and Bear and Driver's Ed Mutiny also grabbed multiple awards.  Above is a guy who drove all the way from Detroit and, not knowing better, wanted me in his picture.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SPACE Men

Finally got done reading a great, and great big, stash of stuff I picked up at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo a while back.  I went with my trusty sidekick and actual cartoonist Tom Cherry for the second time together, my third overall. 

I would have to say I like the new venue even better, and the show has continued to grow.  I talked to several artists whose work is breaking into the mainstream but continue to return to SPACE as it is where they got started.  It's a good sign.  And there are plenty of young guns still coming up through the ranks.

I'm a longtime fan of John Porcellino's King Cat, and was glad to pick up new stuff from him there.  I have been a fan of Indiana cartoonist Pam Bliss for many years and enjoy talking to her and seeing her work.  Some new stuff I enjoyed--for art or storytelling or both--included Blue Wraith, Silver Comics, Imitari Project, Haunted House Heroes, Ten Gallon Tomb Raiders, Cragmore, and Gulatta.

Far and away the find of the show was Jim Rugg's lunatic Afrodisiac, a pitch-perfect send-up of 70s comics of all stripes.  Tom picked this up for me and is now my new BFF.

Next year I think Tom and I are going to try to have our own table there, where I will attempt to draw another 24 Hour Comic, I think. 

Even sooner you can catch me at the Blue Whiskey Film Festival in beloved Palatine, Illinois, where I will be a festival judge.  I always enjoyed visiting during Microcinema Fest there and shockingly haven't seemed to wear out my welcome yet.

Until later I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ruff and Reddy

I wish I could say this was a fake picture, but I was taking a little nap on the floor on Father's Day and Bonnie sidled up next to me for some snoozing as well.  My wife was responsible for this blackmail photo.  Sweet Dreams and Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 18, 2010

You Are Number Six


Two labyrinths in New Harmony, Indiana.  Spookiest place I have been in since I visited Salem Massachusetts a few summers ago.  I really can't put my finger on it except to say that the whole place kind of reminds me The Village from the classic show "The Prisoner," although I think the food and coffee is better here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Road to Utopia

Twilight at the Roofless Church in New Harmony, Indiana, the former site of a Utopian colony way down in the toe of the state.  My fear of getting hit by lightning entering a church greatly increased here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The House the Otters Built

Checking out the Evansville Otters at Bosse Field, the third oldest ballpark in America (after Fenway and Wrigley).  Otters lose a heartbreaker but I make my second stop on my quest to break my former record and visit six ballparks this summer.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Live from the Queen City

Taking a break from a weekend trip to Cincinnati to read along with my daughter's college Young Adult Lit class.  Stayed in a cabin, boated, camped, ate ribs, went to Jungle Jim's and Ikea.  Feeding my head.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Boy and His Dog

Reading "When Zachary Beaver Came To Town" at Whitewater Memorial State Park over Memorial Day.  Wife and daughter swimming down the beach, dog contemplating the mysteries of life.  I am reading "Zachary Beaver" and the rest of the syllabus alongside my daughter who is taking a Young Adult Lit class in college this summer.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Man in the High Castle

Our annual Thanksgiving Axis and Allies game, a few months late as my brother couldn't make it this year.  My butt-whipping forestalled.  My brother and son teamed up to knock out the Axis on their second try at a D-Day invasion.  Always fun even when I go down in flames.

The Pacific, Hoosier Style

My brother and I tried the "Axis and Allies: Guadalcanal" game for the first time.  My Japanese air force got wiped out early on but held strong for a while; eventually, it ended up pretty much like you see on HBO's "The Pacific."  I don't mind losing when I'm the bad guys, though.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Live from SPACE #1

The dudes from Mean Goat Comics giving my 24 Hour Comic The Liberator some props at the Small Press and Comics Expo in Columbus Ohio.  See their own stuff right here.

Live from SPACE #2

Me and Pat Lewis, whose minicomic Thankless Job I've admired for a long time.  His other stuff is pretty good, too.  More of him here.

Live from SPACE #3

I've followed Indiana cartoonist Pam Bliss for a long time.  She told me when she googles her name, the last picture I took of she and I always comes up first.  Here's a fresh pic for her and me from the Small Press and Comics Expo in Columbus Ohio.

Live from SPACE #4


Me and Tom Scioli, whose The Myth of 8-Opus burned my brain about ten years ago, at the Small Press and Comics Expo in Columbus Ohio. Check him out here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

David Letterman and Me

I was asked by the Department of Telecommunications at Ball State to write an essay about my experience as a Letterman Scholar.  This is what I sent them.

1987 was a great year of my life.  In January I would go on a blind date with a young woman who had read my columns in the Ball State Daily News.  That summer I went on the Far East Exchange with Ball State and stood in Tian'anmen Square, a year before the tanks rolled in.  That October I married the girl I went on the blind date with, and we are still married today.

And one fateful Spring day I won a Letterman Scholarship.

I was an aspiring scriptwriter who was a fan of the radio dramas NPR was running at the time:  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars.  So I sat down and began writing West Coast Campus, a radio drama featuring a college newspaper reporter who was a smarter, funnier, and better-looking version of me.  I wrote it in longhand, then rewrote it while typing it up.  I wrote several episodes and ended up with about 100 pages.  Then I wrote a detailed synopsis of several more.  

But the day before the project was due I was afraid I didn't have enough heft in the submission so I wrote one more episode straight into the typewriter.  About 4:45 p.m. the day it was due I called the TCOM office and let the department secretary, Pat Hensley, know I was on my way.  She was willing to wait until I got there.  Then I jumped on my bicycle and raced to campus, delivering the 135-page project just in time, in true Hollywood style.

Fast forward to the Scholarship announcement.  Back then there were still faculty around who had known Letterman, like the formidable Dr. Darrell Wible.  He was in charge of the scholarship and was hosting. All the entrants had clips from their projects shown.  As I was the only script project, Dr. Wible lifted up my project in one hand and said "and here is a script project, West Coast Campus, by John Dalton," and dropped it on the podium with a flat, deflating slap.  I felt myself shrinking.  The common belief at the time was that video or film projects were going to win the scholarships.  I was the first person to submit only a script.

Back then you actually got a check for the scholarship, distributed each quarter.  Mine was $3,005.  With the first $1,000 check  I bought a 1980 Mercury Monarch.  With the second I paid for my own wedding.  With the third I actually paid for school.  With the leftover $5 I bought a pizza.

I also got a nice letter from David Letterman, with a collapsible cup, a sponge, and a cap.  I gave those things to my new brother-in-law, a big fan of the Letterman show.  But I kept the letter and the offer for tickets to the show.

 I was  given the number to the show's office and just called ahead for tickets.  I doubt they just give out that number today, but it was a different world then.  My new wife and I drove to New York for the first time over Spring Break 1988, with my younger brother and his friend in tow to split expenses.  We stayed in New Jersey and took the PATH train to Manhattan, getting off at the World Trade Center.  We went to the Statue of Liberty, looked for Woody Allen at the Carnegie Deli, took a trip by carriage through Central Park.  We were too afraid to hang around Times Square too long, a much different place then.

Late that afternoon we went to the show.  There was a long line to get into the little studio.  We strolled right to the front and told the guy we wanted the VIP line.  In world-weary New York fashion, the guy said "That IS the VIP line." 

We just scraped in.  We saw Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons.  Terrence Trent D'Arby sang a song.  Larry "Bud" Melman was there.  Chris Elliot popped out of a hatch in the floor.

My time as a Letterman Scholar did not end there.  As a conversation piece, I believe it gave me entry into my first job at WXOW in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Having later worked at Ball State for sixteen years, I got to know and befriend other Letterman Scholars, an elite group. I have always been proud of the fact that I was the first person to win with a writing project, opening the door for others to feel they could win on merely writing alone.   I have gone into two colleagues' offices and seen similar letters from David Letterman hanging on their office walls.  It is something I still talk about with people today, even though it happened over twenty years ago now.

I sold my first screenplay in 1999.  Since then, I have been hired to write numerous Direct-to-DVD movies, available on Netflix, Amazon, video store shelves, film festival screens, and in dollar bins across America.  But I always say that David Letterman gave me my first paycheck, and the confidence to continue to work on my creative writing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

But As If To Knock Me Down, Reality Came Around

Knocked out by a sinus infection as winter slowly releases its grip on the Heartland of America.  Dwelling on happier days seems to help.  And, despite what was said on a recent episode of "Parks and Recreation" about time-shares in Muncie (yes, I am still vigilantly watching for slights against my hometown, Amy Poehler, and I died a little inside) we are hoping for sunshine soon.

A recent search on Bing, neighbor's daughter shows up at my door with debris from oak trees screaming, has to be an all-time classic and I'm sure has a complicated story all its own.  But sometimes people come here with questions about other John Daltons who have done much better than me in life.  But, as a public service, I will try to answer these questions as best I know how.

how tough is a hickory stump?
 I've had to pull a few stumps in my day, and there's no such thing as an easy stump.

 great criminal detective books?
So many, but here's five off of the top of my head:  The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler, The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich, The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett, The Heat's On by Chester Himes, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block.


unusual or whacky eating establishments in indiana?
I've tried many, but what comes to mind right away is Maid Rites just across the border in Greenville Ohio.

what other accompelments did john dalton have in his career?
Well, in addition to my sordid life in b-movies, I also like to draw comics.


Until later, I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Life In A High-Rise Can Make You Hungry

We keep hearing that the Arts in Indiana are in trouble, and perhaps the evidence is finally here; I have been asked to serve again on the Media Panel of the Indiana Arts Commission and will be once more judging the Phantoscope Film Festival.

I enjoy judging Phantoscope. It is a regional high school film festival hosted in the town where I work It's great to meet the future filmmakers who are going to kick me off of the narrow precipice I stand on.

Since judging this Fest, I have seriously met one pretty talented young filmmaker and one insanely talented young filmmaker. And loyal readers know I was talking up this dude about five years ago (now he's in Sundance) and gave this young lady her first chance at play-by-play announcing (now she works for Fox Sports). So despite my other shortcomings and failings, I do have a good eye for talent.

I'm not sure you can say the same for Knopf Publishing, who apparently think I am a great and powerful blogger of note. They sent me a nice proof of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest as a thank you for hosting a contest for his last book. I am not normally one of those bloggers who try to grab freebies with both hands (which are plentiful in the blogosphere) so the only thing I can figure is Knopf knows how much I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and that have told many people that with no hope for reward. Strangely, I was just finishing up Arnaldur Indridason's The Draining Lake when this showed up in the mail and I have jumped right into it. Thanks to Knopf for bringing great Scandinavian mysteries to these shores and cheering up my long winter nights.

Until later, I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Stars That Fell From The Sky, Living Up On The Hill

Loyal readers of my blog know that I spent a few summer vacations working at the Microcinema Film Festival in Rapid City SD and later in Palatine IL; now that beloved Palatine crew have launched their own festival right here. These folks ran a nice fest, and I always enjoyed my visits to this lovely Chicago burb, so any of my filmmaking peeps reading, submit away.

We are finally coming out of a long cold sucko winter. It was so bad I actually felt better after watching The Seventh Seal on cable. I think I put a nail in winter's coffin after coming back from Fort Myers Florida yesterday, visiting my in-laws in a retirement community there. Feeling the sun on my face meant so much it doesn't even bother me that I got food poisoning and vomited one night.

I don't have a lot of wisdom to offer, but one thing I know is that you have to keep your mouth closed when you fill the water softener and change the cat litter. To this list I can also add that you should never eat at a seafood place that is adjacent to a flea market.

Speaking of microcinema, an old pal, Canadian filmmaker Jon Ashby, answers some of my earlier philosophical rants here (at least I think he wrote this after reading my blog).

I too hope I am coming out of a long hibernation. For the second time in the last five years I made monumental changes in my day job and took a year off from the freelancing world. Somehow, the direct-to-DVD market and Fangoria Magazine survived my absence. But that year is almost up, marking a triumphant return to a world that didn't notice I was gone.

More later; until then, give me a shout at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Canned Heat

Edison-Ford Winter Estates, Spring Break 2010. Who knew Henry Ford liked square dancing so much?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Beat

My latest column for POMP AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, the magazine for the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference:

LONDON BOULEVARD by Ken Bruen
Low-level thug fresh from jail lands a handyman job (of sorts) with a fading stage actress and her mysterious butler in Ken Bruen's London Boulevard.
Ken Bruen is a hard-boiled Irish crime writer whose novels about quasi-detective Jack Taylor I have enjoyed for a while; but they are so relentlessly cold-blooded I usually like to leave a little space between reading them.
In perhaps Bruen's only nod to whimsy (that I'm aware of), this stand-alone novel is based on one of my favorite films, Sunset Boulevard, recast for the hard-bitten underworld.
Strange as it sounds, it works, and allows Bruen to riff on other pop culture references from books, movies, and music, giving this noir a looser feel.
A good entry point to Ken Bruen and an enjoyable read overall.

9 DRAGONS by Michael Connelly
L.A. police detective Harry Bosch investigates a convenience store robbery that seems to have triad connections in Michael Connelly's latest thriller 9 Dragons.
I have been a longtime Connelly fan and find his Harry Bosch series one of the best contemporary mystery series (along with Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins stories). After a bit of a lull, his last several novels have come back strong.
This one is a real change of pace, as Bosch's ex-wife and daughter, now living in Hong Kong, get caught up in the action when the daughter goes missing. Bosch immediately takes off for Hong Kong and ends up on a nightmarish journey as the clock ticks and the bodies pile up.
9 Dragons is especially high octane, and I have always enjoyed Connelly's clipped journalistic prose. A good jumping on point for thriller readers, but more rewarding for longtime fans.

THE LONG FALL by Walter Mosley
Extremely tarnished P.I. Leonid McGill tries to go straight (or at least less crooked) when he gets wrapped up in multiple revenge plots in Walter Mosley's The Long Fall.
Mosley is one of my favorite contemporary mystery authors, and I have found his Easy Rawlins novels consistently good. In that series, Mosley traces the adventures of an L.A.-based quasi-detective from the end of World War II through the Red Scare and to the Watts riots and beyond. The political and social milieu of the Rawlins series adds much to the storytelling.
Here McGill is a contemporary detective, on the other side of the country in New York. And where the Rawlins series is shot through with hints of Chester Himes and Ross Macdonald McGill is much more Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Mosley's writing is equally admirable here and I thought this was a great start for what I hope is a new series.

NEMESIS by Jo Nesbo
Oslo's crumpled cop Harry Hole is back in Jo Nesbo's Nemesis, in which our troubled hero tries to get out of the frame for an ex-girlfriend's murder while tracking a murderous serial bank robber.
Nesbo's first Scandinavian thriller translated into English, The Redbreast, was one of my favorite books of the last year or so. The Redbreast dealt with the emotional and political repercussions of Norway's Nazi involvement in World War II. This new one picks up a lot of themes and characters from his previous novel but, lacking the historical context, doesn't have quite the dramatic resonance of the prior outing.
That being said, Nemesis is a crackling good thriller with a great protagonist that reminds me favorably of Michael Connelly's notable series detective Harry Bosch. I like moody Scandinavian thrillers as a change of pace from American writers, but find that Nesbo has more the stylings of his U.S. counterparts with breakneck storytelling, linear action, and sardonic humor.
Recommended, with the caveat that you should read The Redbreast first. I am looking forward to Harry Hole's next adventure.

ROAD DOGS by Elmore Leonard
A paroled bank robber readily slips into his old life with a fake psychic and her crime lord boyfriend even as the police have him in their sights in Elmore Leonard's easygoing crime novel Road Dogs.
I have been a longtime fan of Leonard, but in the latter part of his career he has been a bit hit and miss. This is a good novel for longtime fans, though, as it features a handful of characters from previous novels (including the George Clooney character from Out of Sight). However, for three quarters of the novel they stand around and assess each other's coolness and tell stories; only during the last bit of the novel does the story come to life with double and triple crosses and bursts of violence.
Overall an enjoyable tale, though again not at the top of Leonard's admirable bibliography.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN by Jonathan Lethem
Frank Minna is a former minor criminal trying to become a major private eye in Jonathan Lethem's detective novel Motherless Brooklyn. But Lethem always bends genres and upends expectations, so Minna is dispatched in the early going, leaving his sidekick, an orphan suffering from Tourette's Syndrome, to find Minna's killer.
Very fine, offbeat novel from Lethem, paying homage to Raymond Chandler the way some of his other novels are nods to greats like Philip Dick (Gun, with Occasional Music), Steve Gerber (Fortress of Solitude), and so on. I enjoy how Lethem always writes a fully-realized worldview featuring Brooklyn past and present, which adds a lot to his work.
I am a big fan of Lethem and liked this novel about as well as I thought I would. Recommended.

CITIZEN VINCE by Jess Walter
On the eve of the 1980 presidential election, a semi-reformed criminal in the Witness Protection Program makes one last attempt to bury his past in Jess Walter's darkly comic crime novel Citizen Vince.
With its engaging characters, spot-on dialogue, and sense of time and place (early 80s Spokane) Walter brings to mind some of the best work of Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Ed McBain.
Really fine writing--especially in creating a parallel story between our protagonist's troubles and the Reagan/Carter race--gives Citizen Vince a more literary bent.

FOUR KINDS OF RAIN by Robert Ward
A broke but noble activist and therapist decides he's sick of both titles when he sees a chance to steal a priceless work of art from an unstable patient in Robert Ward's riveting modern noir Four Kinds of Rain.
I haven't found a lot of noir that I liked since the great Gold Medal era of pulp writing, but Ward's novel belongs on the list of contemporary classics. It compares favorably to another modern favorite of mine, Scott Smith's A Simple Plan, which features literary writing with genre trappings.
And Jim Thompson himself couldn't frown upon the unreliable narrator depicted here, whose vast narcissism and cold rationalization of his actions cause the events to unravel in the bloody final chapters.

HOUSE DICK by E. Howard Hunt
The house detective in a big Washington hotel helps a damsel in distress and ends up in the middle of robbery, extortion, and murder in E. Howard Hunt's muscular noir House Dick.
I am a fan of the Hard Case Crime line, which brings back forgotten pulps with lurid new covers, the perfect place for this story of the lost world of house detectives, hat-check girls, newsies, and lunch counter short-order cooks.
In the stranger than fiction category, this one comes from the pen of E. Howard Hunt, Watergate conspirator and very competent and prolific genre writer (under a number of pseudonyms). I have picked him up wherever I come across him and have always found his writing solid.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK Straycation

Westcott House, Springfield Ohio. I always had heard Frank Lloyd Wright was odd but I didn't realize he was truly wacky until I saw his work firsthand.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Disco Ball Is Just Hanging By A Thread

I'd like to ring in 2010 by giving a quick shout-out to my pal, Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula.  Quite a few years ago now myself and some pals ran a site called Microcinema Scene which dealt with the emerging grassroots DV movement.  At that time we got probably 5 to 10 tapes and DVDs a week from all kinds of filmmakers from backyard horror directors to true auteurs.

But there was nothing quite like Red Cockroaches, a Shakespearean-sized sci-fi epic shot in NYC for $2,000 that looked like two million (with a priceless storyline too baroque to go into here). We realized then that we had found microcinema's first true rising star.

In 2004 I was a judge at Microcinema Fest in Rapid City, South Dakota, as well as taught video workshops at the Dahl Arts Center with Boston-area filmmaker Jason Santo. Santo connived to get Red Cockroaches screened at the Fest, which basically blew the face off of Mt. Rushmore and the minds of everyone in a several-mile radius. But I did Jason one better by conniving to share a dorm room with Miguel at National American University during the Fest.

Ah, how young and full of hope we were then; I was just getting going as a screenwriter in the direct-to-DVD market with Among Us hitting the shelves and Miguel had just finished his first major feature. And today, Miguel has a movie playing at Sundance and I...well, perhaps it's better to dwell on the success of friends.

Strangely, it has been almost ten years since I gave myself, on my 34th birthday, one year to break into screenwriting. And every year on my birthday I take stock and decide whether I want to keep going one more year.

In between, I was hired to write or re-write twenty screenplays: PLAYER IN THE GAME (Myriad Entertainment Group), MECHANIZER (Sterling Entertainment), AMONG US (Polonia Brothers Entertainment/Intercoast), BURNING GROUNDS OF THE UNDEAD (Polonia Brothers Entertainment/Intercoast), PETER ROTTENTAIL (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), RAZORTEETH (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), GIZZARD GUTS (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), DEMONS ON A DEAD END STREET (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), DEAD LAKE (for producer Bob Dennis), SEX MACHINE (Asphalt Planet), THE PAYBACK MAN (for producer Ivan Rogers), DEAD KNIGHT (Cine Excel), COWBOY (for producer Terrence Muncy), SPLINTERHEAD (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), PRIMAL (Sterling Entertainment), NEW JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), MENTAL SCARS (for producer Richard Myles), and three scripts under nondisclosure.

Twenty screenplays in ten years has a nice ring to it, really.
You can buy or rent or see on TV or see at a film festival six of these (MENTAL SCARS just came out this December on DVD). They are on Amazon and Netflix and ebay and available in dollar bins on DVD double features.
One other came out without any of my rewrite. One I think is still stuck in post-production. Two started shooting but never finished. The rest...well, you just never know what might happen.
Somewhere in there I found time to write a few specs, including HANDS DOWN, ONIBOCHO THE DEMON KNIFE, RING OF THE SORCERESS, ROOK, and my modern dress/original prose adaptation of Shakespeare's TIMON OF ATHENS (yes, you read that right). Three of those five have had interest at one time or another, but nothing has really happened on them to date.
For aspiring screenwriters, that's right; nobody has ever bought one of my specs, which I mostly wrote for fun anyway.
I have been proud of everything that left my keyboard and I have never used a pseudonym, two things I promised myself I would hold to all those years ago.
Part of the reason I haven't blogged much lately is that on 2009's birthday I just flat didn't know what to do next.
I took a lot of 2009 off from freelancing. I had done it once before, for the entire year of 2006, when a lot of personal and professional changes warranted it. This year, I changed jobs again and thought I would take six months off, which more or less turned into a year when I turned down two mockbusting jobs knocking off TWILIGHT and 2012. The good thing is that every time I take some time off there are still people that want me when I come back.
Way back in 1999 I thought the direct-to-DVD market was going to blow up and need content in the same way that the rise of mom and pop video stores launched the VHS boom a decade or so before. So I was able to position myself to be there when that was needed.
When I started seeing the grassroots DV movement taking off, I was lucky to be able to turn it not only into freelance work but an actual job. But about a summer ago I declared that grassroots DV was dead and it was time to usher in the next incarnation if I could only figure out what that was.
I spent a lot of time looking into social media and certain interesting not only philosophical but technological trends, such as the idea of truly free information and entertainment (like via Creative Commons). Strangely, I worked so hard at it as a freelancer that I got myself another real job doing it and all of a sudden was talking to other people about it.
I am still thinking about what that next-gen model is and how I can get involved in it as a freelancer. If 2010 brings less talk about rubber-suited monsters and more on these philosophical subjects, I apologize in advance. It will take something special or of great interest to me to keep doing what I have been doing for the past ten years on the freelance front. But time will tell.
Give me a shout at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Nerd Roadshow

Found by a friend's mom in the attic and given to said friend who was eager to just throw these relics of his childhood in the trash, rescued at the eleventh hour by yours truly. Yes, that's some 60s Silver Age Spider-Man, X-Men, Daredevil, Nick Fury Agent of Shield, Batman, Adventure Comics featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes and an admirable slice of Gold Key Turok, Doctor Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter and more. Not to mention all the stuff I didn't care to take a picture of, like old Harvey comics, Uncle Scrooge, and a ton of Archie comics.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

52 Weeks, 52 Books

This was the second year in a row that I vowed to read 50 books in a single calendar year. Somehow I was able to squeeze in 52. In retrospect, I had several snowbound days and a handful of beach days that helped up the numbers a bit. I could have used a few more beach days and less snow days but all's well that ends well.

After swearing off at the end of 2008, I think I will go for a hat trick and try to read 50 books again in 2010. I am one of those people that have four or five books going at once and I don't see that slacking off any. I ended 2009 reading Assignment Treason by Edward S. Aarons, The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick, House Dick by E. Howard Hunt, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and Tamar by Mal Peet (which hopefully will all give me a good head start on 2010).

In the meantime, here are my five favorite books that I read in 2009 and five honorable mentions. If I were to write this list again tomorrow, the top three would probably stay the same but everything else would undoubtedly be up for grabs.

Top Five Reads of 2009:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis.

The Murderer Vine by Shepard Rifkin.

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe.

Five more:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec.

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter.

Missing by Karen Alvtegen.

Real World by Natsuo Kirino.

As always, happy reading.