Movies You Missed: Duel

Duel is the third installment in my Movies You Missed series. You can also check out my takes on Sweet Virginia and Miracle Mile.

If you compiled a list of directors who have movies lost to time, Steven Spielberg probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list. There are probably some of you reading this who instantly thought “Hey, I remember that movie!” For others, the thought may have been more like “What the hell is this?”

Fear not because I’m going to tell you.

Duel, a 1971 made-for-TV movie, marked Spielberg’s feature-length debut and, to be perfectly frank, is one of my favorite movies. I seem to recall that every New Year’s Eve I could find this movie playing on TV and I made sure to watch it every time. I would scan the channels looking for it; once I found it, I was locked in, no matter what point the movie was at.

Then, in the early (or maybe mid) 2000s, I found that it had been released on DVD. I was ecstatic and snagged a copy, heading home to watch it for the first time in years.

Over the years, I’ve been a bit surprised at the relatively few I have talked to who are familiar with the film, despite the famous auteur behind the camera. That said, let’s take a look at Duel and why I think you should check it out.

Just a Business Trip

Duel

Duel opens with POV shots from the front of a car as it pulls out of a driveway in a quiet neighborhood. The subsequent shots move through crowded city streets, onto the freeway, and eventually on to a two-lane highway.

The driver—David Mann—is driving to meet a client. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Along his drive, Mann finds himself behind a slow-moving tractor-trailer. He passes it up, only to have it retake the lead soon after. It’s an annoyance, but little more.

Our protagonist stops for gas, ruminating in the car as the attendant fills the tank. His train of thought is broken when the same truck pulls into the station. We don’t see the driver, who impatiently sounds his horn to get the attendant’s attention. We do, however, get a glimpse of the man’s boots as he walks along the far side of his rig.

Mann walks inside to call his wife, and it’s here that we get some insight into the character. His wife talks down to him and David makes no real effort to stand up for himself. He’s meek; weak-willed.

Back on the road, he continues his trip, free of traffic. Soon enough, the truck is back, coming up fast behind him. He’s overtaken before the truck drops back down to a much slower speed. Muttering in disbelief and growing agitation, David begins looking for an opportunity to retake his place in front of the lumbering behemoth.

Begin The Duel

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) watching carefully is his nemesis approaches

The truck driver extends an arm out of the window, signaling to David that he’s clear to pass. Pressing down on the accelerator, he swings into the oncoming lane only to find a vehicle barreling towards him head-on. He quickly slides back in behind the truck, shaken and wondering just what the hell is going on.

His concern growing with his agitation, David sees a dirt path that serves as a loop road and swerves onto it. Accelerating as quickly as his Plymouth Valiant will allow, he’s able to rejoin the highway ahead of the truck. The unseen driver, in a show of displeasure, lays on the horn.

Things settle down, though only briefly, as David notices a sign advertising a place called Chuck’s Cafe. Soon enough, the truck is back on his bumper. Not content to continue their game of leapfrog, the driver bumps him.

With the enormous vehicle filling his rearview, David begins to panic, his eyes flitting wildly from the mirror to the road ahead. The truck continues to bump him, leading David to drive faster and faster. With the cafe approaching, David turns hard off of the road and skids into a wooden fence.

An old man leaving the cafe comes to check on David who says he’s fine. He tries to tell the good samaritan that the truck driver tried to kill him, drawing an incredulous response from the old man.

The Inner Strife

David makes his way into Chuck’s Cafe, shaken but okay. He cleans up in the restroom, musing over the strange turn the day has taken, before heading to a table. A glance out of the window stops him dead in his tracks: there, in the dirt lot, sits the truck.

David sits down as paranoia begins to really take hold. He scans the cafe patrons, paying particular attention to their footwear. His anxiety ratchets up as he tries to understand the situation, intent on identifying the homicidal driver he believes to be in the restaurant.

Trying to calm himself, he reasons that the driver may not be there to wait him out and continue terrorizing him. His theory? It’s lunchtime; perhaps this is the only place nearby to grab a bite. Unfortunately, his mind refuses to cooperate. He contemplates finding the driver to apologize for raising his ire, again showing the weakness that has ruled him.

Eventually, a man leaves the cafe and walks towards the truck, running his hand along the bumper before disappearing behind it. He’s not the driver, of course, and a moment later we see him drive away in a pickup.

Following this, David spots a pair of boots that seem to match the ones he saw earlier, leading him to approach the man wearing them. He confronts the man, who has no idea what this strange, nervous man is talking about. Things escalate and the pair scuffle, David taking the brunt of the abuse.

As it tries to collect himself, David hears the truck start and sees it pull back onto the highway. He attempts to chase it down on foot, his mania reaching a new level.

The Next Encounter

A disheveled David rejoins the highway, soon coming across a stranded school bus loaded with kids. After talking to the driver, he gets volunteered to use his car to try and push the immobilized bus. This, naturally, doesn’t go well and his front bumper becomes lodged underneath the rear bumper of the bus.

While the driver helps David free his car, we see the truck approach slowly before stopping in a tunnel. David gets out of his car and we’re given a great shot when he sees the driver, his truck shadowed in the tunnel, turn his headlights on. Yes, sir, I see you too.

The truck approaches slowly while David frantically tries to free his car. He makes his escape, looking back long enough to see the truck pull behind the bus and push it free. David is left confused, though hardly believing the driver’s benevolent display.

A short time later, David is held up by a passing freight train when he feels a bump.

Guess who.

The truck is back, pushing the red Plymouth towards the moving train. David cries out to the mystery driver to no avail and, as the train passes, he crosses the tracks before driving onto the raised shoulder. The truck passes, it’s horn once again honking as it drives away.

A series of wide shots, filled by the sounds of nature, show David once again progressing on his journey. A great low shot shows him crest a hill, followed by a close up showing his reaction when he finds the truck plodding along ahead of him.

Instead of trying to pass again, David pulls into a small gas station to use the phone. The truck driver, fully engaged in his game of cat and mouse, pulls off onto the shoulder. David walks around the building to use a phone booth (they used to exist!) to call the police. As he tries to explain the situation, the truck turns around and barrels into the booth, nearly hitting David.

It circles around a few times, horn blaring before David is able to get back to his car and drive off. Naturally, the truck continues its pursuit. Faced with the increased danger, David turns off of the highway, going down an embankment to find refuge on a side street out of the truck driver’s view. Determined to let the truck make up as many miles as possible, David drifts off to sleep.

The Final Showdown

Close encounter with a psychopath

David wakes up abruptly thanks to an air horn, only it isn’t the truck; to his relief, it’s only a train. Satisfied that enough time has passed, David resumes his course, though he soon finds the truck waiting along the side of the road. Seeing this, David skids to a stop before pulling onto the opposite shoulder.

David floors it though he is quickly cut off by the truck. David turns back, returning to a perch on the shoulder. Likewise, the truck backs up and off the road. David gets out and walks to the asphalt, staring at the truck intently and he walks towards it.

He’s finally snapped and you can’t help but feel relief at the fact that he’s saying to hell with fear. As his footsteps speed up, the truck pulls onto the road and drives away, covering a short distance before stopping again.

David flags down an elderly couple for help only to have them flee in terror when they see the truck accelerating in reverse towards them. With the rig backing towards his own car, David retreats up a hill, watching as the truck stops before returning to its original position on the side of the road.

The message is clear—come on, pal, let’s get back to our game—and David obliges, returning to his car and slowly approaching the truck. Again, we see the driver’s arm, once again waving David past.

With the truck looming behind him, David pushes his car harder and harder as they approach a mountain pass. Naturally, the rig won’t be able to maintain its speed through the climb, a fact that David tries to use to his advantage. It’s a solid plan, and it seems to work until his car finally gives in to the excess wear and abuse its been submitted to.

With the summit in sight, steam pours from the wounded car’s hood and grille. David, adrenaline on overload, screams at the car, willing it to reach the top. It’s a frenetic moment, framed with close-ups that perfectly encapsulate the claustrophobia that’s present despite the vast expanse of the land around the combatants.

I won’t give away the ending. A summary is one thing, and I don’t believe that anything I’ve written will detract from your enjoyment, but the ending is off-limits. Believe me, it’s worth it.

Why You Should Watch Duel

Duel side mirror

The two biggest selling points I can use are that Spielberg directed and the screenplay was written by the incomparable Richard Matheson (based off of one of his short stories).

Perhaps that’s not enough to sway you. Okay, have it your way. The film comes in at 90 minutes (for the theatrical cut; the original TV broadcast was 74 minutes) and that runtime is devoted to the story. There’s no filler to be found. It’s a simple story that’s told incredibly well. The cinematography is excellent, as is the score.

Dennis Weaver is outstanding in the lead role, selling Mann’s journey from a meek, unremarkable man to someone that is transformed by being forced to face probable death at the hands (wheels?) of a psychopath.

Where To Watch Duel

As of this writing, Duel is available only streaming on Prime Video ($3.99). If you prefer, you can buy a physical copy instead (DVD, Blu Ray, or VHS).

Trailer

ACX: Turn Your Novel Into An Audiobook

As writers, we are—among other things—always looking to reach new readers. Well, perhaps markets would be a better word because today I am going to talk about a medium that doesn’t actually involve reading.

Make sense? I thought not.

Moving on.

In previous blogs, we went over KDP Select and Draft2Digital, two ways to distribute ebook and paperback versions of your work. Today, we’re going to take a look at ACX, which gives authors the ability to publish audiobook versions of their books.

What Is ACX?

In the simplest terms, ACX is a marketplace that connects authors to audiobook producers. Once the audiobook is completed, ACX also makes it available for sale through three major platforms: Audible, Amazon, and Apple.

That’s the absolute basic outline.

Steps 1-4 of the ACX process
Steps 1-4 of the ACX process

How Does ACX Work?

Like most legitimate creation and distribution channels, it’s pretty straightforward. You create a free account and add your book in much the same way you would through KDP, Draft2Digital, or any other sales platform.

There is one additional item that you’ll need, namely an audition script. Ideally, you just need 1-2 pages from your manuscript, preferably a collection of scenes featuring different characters and moods. Using this approach will give potential narrators a better feel for your work while giving you a better idea of their range.

Once you find a narrator that you want to work with, you make them an offer (we’ll look deeper into that shortly) and let them do their thing. Once they submit a first 15-minute check-in, you can review it and submit any feedback that you have. If you give your blessing, they will continue until the entire audiobook is created.

Pretty straightforward, right?

Let’s take a deeper look at a few things, shall we?

Finding the Right ACX Narrator

There’s no way around it: the right narrator can make or break your audiobook. Talent and production quality are huge factors, however, they aren’t necessarily the final word in selecting the voice of your book.

You need to find a narrator who fits your book.

I don’t think I need to elaborate on that, but I will. Briefly. Your book has a tone, a mood. Maybe it’s light and carefree. Maybe it’s dark and brooding. Whichever category it fits, you want to ensure that the voice carrying your words to the listeners’ ears matches your creation.

Enter the audition process.

ACX gives you two primary options for selecting a narrator. You can browse existing samples and find one that fits the bill. Taking this approach opens you up to a wide variety of voices but is no guarantee that you’ll be able to land the one that you want.

Narrators in high demand may present a backlog of existing projects, pushing your anticipated release back further than you would like. Of course, this may not be a deal breaker for you if you really love the narrator’s work, but it is something to consider.

The second option involves uploading your audition script and opening it up for auditions. This route involves narrators looking for projects, so it’s critically important that you categorize your project accurately. Once a narrator submits an audition, you’ll be able to review it and contact them.

Whichever route you chose, be sure to pay close attention to the type of offers that the narrator(s) you like accept.

Types of Offers

Before we delve into making an offer to a narrator, it’s important that we take a look at the types of offers available via ACX:

Pay For Production

This method involves you paying the narrator directly. When browsing narrators, you’ll see the type of offers that they accept and you may notice something like $30 PFH. What does this mean?

PFH means Per Finished Hour, meaning that the narrator will get paid their base rate for every hour of your audiobook. As an example, my first novel is 94,354 words, which equates to 10.1 hours. Had I hired a narrator at $30 PFH, I would have paid them $303 upon my approval of the finished project.

Don’t fret if you’re unsure about the total hours of your project. Once you complete the information, ACX will estimate the total time, so you can estimate what hiring a particular narrator will cost.

Pros: greater flexibility in choosing a narrator; ability to choose to distribute via ACX’s sales channels as well as additional channels you choose, all royalties belong to you (40% if distributed exclusively by ACX; 25% if you choose to go non-exclusive)

Cons: you foot the up-front cost of paying the narrator

Royalty Share

Many narrators also accept Royalty Share offers. Under this type of agreement, all royalties are split 50-50 between you and the narrator, meaning you each receive 20% of sales. ACX also has a Royalty Share Plus program which is sort of a hybrid of the two plans. You can read more about that here.

Pros: no up-front cost in hiring a producer

Cons: only available with an exclusive agreement (your audiobook can only be distributed via ACX); reduced royalties (20% vs 40%)

The Herman Ingram Series

What Comes Next?

Once you’ve selected your ideal narrator and they accept your offer, they’ll set to work on production. As stated earlier, they’ll submit the first 15 minutes to you to review. If everything is kosher, they’ll continue working.

It’s important to maintain communication through this process. Be open and clear with your narrator: if there’s something you want to be done differently, let them know! Likewise, you should expect feedback from them, usually in terms of seeking clarity on something. Remember, they’re not mind readers. This is a professional relationship and should be treated as such.

When they’ve completed the audiobook, you’ll be notified that the project is ready for review. Personally, this is my favorite part because I get to hear my book brought to life in its entirety. I recommend keeping a notepad handy (or using a notation app on your phone or computer) in case you find anything that you would like to be changed.

Once you’re happy with the finished product you submit it to ACX for the final step: Audio Review. They will check for consistency in sound levels, distortion, clipping—basically anything that can impair the listeners’ experience.

After the Audio Review is complete (and keep in mind this can take some time), your audiobook will be available for sale! That’s one more avenue set for distribution of your book and a new audience within your reach.

Things to Keep in Mind

This is just a quick overview designed to do two things:

  • Make authors aware of an easy way to turn their books into audiobooks
  • Give a basic rundown of what to expect

I’ve had pretty good luck with ACX so far and I absolutely believe that it is worthwhile for other writers to look into. It’s a very good tool that can expose you to a new audience, and that’s never a bad thing.

A few other items to bear in mind:

  • Pricing: ACX determines pricing based on length; the longer the audiobook, the higher the price
  • Cover: your audiobook cover MUST be at least 2400×2400 pixels and MUST be a perfect square; for a full rundown, you can view the cover image requirements here
  • Freebies: each title gets 25 promo codes per market (US and UK); these codes are good for a free download of your audiobook; they can be great promotions for loyal readers and nice incentives for new readers; find out more here
  • Preview: part of the production entails the narrator creating a sample; this can be used in a trailer (or other promotional use) to create excitement for your audiobook release
  • Bounty: if your audiobook is the first purchase of a new Audible member, you’ll get a nice bonus ($75 if you utilized Pay For Production; $50 if you used Royalty Share); you can find more info here

Have you tried ACX? If so, what are your thoughts? If you hadn’t heard of ACX before now, how likely are you to try them out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Draft2Digital: Going Wide Made Easy

In my last entry, we talked about the pros and cons of going exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select program. Today, we’ll take a quick look at Draft2Digital, a company that makes it easy to publish your book(s) to several marketplaces.

So, You Want to Go Wide

You’ve decided that you want to make your work available on several platforms. Maybe you feel that it’s the best route for more exposure. Maybe an exclusive distribution isn’t an idea that appeals to you. Whatever the reason, you should know your options before you jump in.

You may be wondering what the benefits of a wide release are, and you should. This is, after all, your business and you want to make the best decisions for that business. That said, there are a couple of obvious reasons to consider this approach:

  • Go To the Readers: yes, Amazon is a massive marketplace and gets a ton of traffic each day. There are, however, people whose preferences lie elsewhere. Maybe they like Barnes and Noble or perhaps they’re die-hard Apple supporters. Remember, going wide doesn’t prevent you from listing your book on Amazon, it just prevents you from enrolling it in KDP Select.
  • Hidden Benefits: a little extra food for thought
    • Barnes and Noble is a well-established bookseller and one with a large base of loyal customers. They also have their own line of e-readers, the Nook.
    • Apple has some of the most ravenous fans on the planet. Millions of readers have either an iPhone or iPad, if not both, and they all come with Apple Books, the company’s e-reader/ebook service.
    • Kobo currently has a partnership deal with Walmart, meaning your ebooks show up in searches for people looking for content like yours. Walmart, like Amazon, is a hugely popular (for better or worse) retailer, meaning more eyes can find your work.

Okay, So Why Draft2Digital?

Excellent question!

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the distribution partners that Draft2Digital works with:

  • Barnes and Noble
  • Apple
  • Kobo
  • Amazon (yes, you can also publish to Amazon via Draft2Digital if you don’t already have a KDP account)
  • Scribd

Yes, you can publish to those platforms yourself. As a matter of fact, I used to that myself. What swayed me? It’s simple: having to log in to multiple sites to check sales and royalties was a pain in the butt. Now, I just log into my Draft2Digital account and access everything from there.

They also create Universal Book Links (UBLs) that you can use for marketing. A reader clicks on the link and is then given the option to choose their retailer:

Bermuda Universal Book Link page

I like that you can edit each book’s UBL to include additional sites (I added Amazon since I publish there directly) and that you can add links to any audiobook versions. You can also label books as First in Series, Series Finale, and Latest Release.

Pretty cool.

On top of that, you can choose to make any books that you publish through Draft2Digital available to a quarter of library services (OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Baker & Taylor, and Hoopla).

Another cool feature is that once your book is uploaded and prepared, you’re given the option of downloading the formatted ebook in a trio of formats:

  • Mobi (full book or sample)
  • ePub (full book or sample)
  • PDF (4.5×6 or 5×8)

I’m a fan of the sample downloads since they make for excellent promotional material.

How Does It Work?

Another great question!

Once you set up an account, you upload your work in a similar manner to KDP or any other service. Draft2Digital currently allows you to upload manuscripts in the following formats:

  • Word (.doc or .docx)
  • Rich Text Format (RTF)
  • ePub

It’s important to note that, while you can upload an ePub, using this file type will not allow you to utilize their formatting tools. This isn’t a make-or-break rule, for me at least, but it’s worth noting.

Once everything is up to snuff (you’re given ample opportunity to preview your progress) you can publish your book to whichever outlets you choose or all available.

My only real gripe is that publishing to some outlets can take a few days, though that can’t be pinned on Draft2Digital. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor pain. That is, of course, assuming you plan ahead for releases that you have scheduled (you can also edit your UBL to show a book as Available For Pre-Order).

Note: Draft2Digital has a new feature called D2D Print to give you another option for creating physical copies. It’s currently in its Beta phase and, while I’ve registered for it, I have yet to use it, so I can’t offer any insight there.

The Herman Ingram Series

What’s This Going to Cost Me?

There’s no upfront cost when using Draft2Digital, so no need to stress there. Like most ebook retail outlets, they do keep a percentage of each sale (roughly 10% of the retail price).

When you consider everything that they offer, it’s a pretty good deal, at least in my estimation.

Draft2Digital: Should I Try It?

The only reason I would say not to try them out is if you’re having a ton of success running exclusively through a lone retailer (likely Amazon). After all, there’s no reason to mess with a good thing.

That said, if you are interested in having your book(s) available from many top ebook retailers, give Draft2Digital a look. I’m a fan of having a single dashboard that gives me a full sales breakdown and I absolutely love the UBLs.

Check out their website and give them a follow on Twitter.

Speaking of social media…

Until we meet again…

-Jeb

KDP Select: Yay Or Nay?

Self-publishing can be a daunting endeavor, regardless of your level of experience. Amazon is a huge, trusted marketplace—and a powerful search engine—with global reach and a large footprint in publishing. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?

If you’re an author, chances are you are familiar with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s publishing platform. If not, swing by there and take a look around. Considering Amazon’s reach, it makes perfect sense for any author to want their content available to such an enormous market.

Let’s take a quick look at what KDP offers.

The Benefits of KDP

We’ve already touched on the biggest benefit of utilizing KDP: access to Amazon’s worldwide customer base. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that your book will sell but, if you present a quality product with a solid description and hook, your chances go up exponentially.

Amazon also offers a free program called Kindle Create, designed to allow authors to format and preview their work in ebook form. This includes basic design tools as well as the ability to easily export your work into KDP. This can be a timesaver as well as an additional layer of quality control.

KDP also gives you the ability to create paperback versions of your works. Believe it or not (and, if you’re an author, I have no doubt you believe it) there are tons of readers out there who prefer physical copies of books. Yes, e-readers are a fantastic bit of technology, but nothing matches the feeling of opening up a new—or used—book.

The good news? Your ebook file from Kindle Create can also be uploaded to create a paperback. No separate editing, just upload the same file, create a cover, set your pricing, and you’re good to go. Your work is now available to millions of readers!

The Herman Ingram Series

What About KDP Select?

First, let’s go over what, exactly, KDP Select is.

The standard KDP program is non-exclusive, meaning your can sell your ebook through Amazon and any other platform(s) you like (Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo).

KDP Select, however, is an exclusive agreement between you and Amazon that states your book(s) can only be sold through Amazon for as long as your book is in the program.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • The enrollment period is 90 days; you can select to auto-enroll your work at the end of each enrollment period if you like.
  • During this time, your ebook can ONLY be available for sale via Amazon; this not only includes other major retailers but your personal website as well; Amazon doesn’t play around and can remove your books from their site for non-compliance.
  • This only applies to ebooks; any paperback, hardcover, or audiobook versions can still be sold through other retailers.

The Benefits of KDP Select

So, given the restrictive nature of this agreement, is it worth it?

That, unfortunately, is a tricky question. As I said earlier, there’s no guarantee of success. However, if you spend time putting out the best book possible and spend some time (and money) on marketing, KDP Select does have its benefits:

  • Access For Kindle Unlimited Readers: Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that gives members access to millions of books, including any of yours that are enrolled in KDP Select. No, you don’t get the direct royalty of a sale, but you can reach a wide audience which opens you up to more readers and more reviews. Plus…
  • Earning Money From Page Reads: Amazon tracks the number of pages read across all of your books. Page reads from your KDP Select books generate revenue each month, though to see noticeable gains you’ll need many readers to finish your works.
  • Access to Price Promotions: All books enrolled in KDP Select are also eligible for two distinct price promotions:
    • Kindle Countdown Deal: these promotions allow you to run discounts for a limited time. Potential readers will see the regular price as well as a countdown clock showing the time remaining for the discounted price. Currently available for US and UK markets only.
    • Free Book Promotion: just as the name implies, these promos allow you to offer a book for free for a limited time (up to 5 days per 90-day enrollment period). These can be invaluable for gaining new readers (don’t forget your back matter!) and getting reviews.
New Bermuda Merch

So, Should I Do It?

Honestly, the best advice I can give is to try it, just make sure that any books you want to enroll aren’t available anywhere else first. There are many authors who make good money via Amazon and Amazon alone. Conversely, there are those who do well selling their books through many different channels. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so give it a shot and see how you feel about it.

Another idea is to enroll one of your books and keep the others wide, though having a series available in KDP Select can prove to be lucrative. Like many things with self-publishing, it comes down to experimenting, trial and error, and tracking results.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Are you considering KDP Select? Do you already use it? How is it working for you?

Also, consider giving me a follow on the following platforms:

Writing: The Art and The Madness

I felt compelled to do something a bit different today. Namely, I’m going to provide you with a glimpse inside my writing process and—by extension—my mind.

Buckle up.

Plotting Vs. Pantsing

When it comes to writing, there are two primary camps: plotter or pantser.

Let’s address the first issue: pantser is a funny word.

Plotter is pretty self-explanatory. A plotter will come up with an idea and create an outline, laying out story beats and ideas to ensure that they include everything they have in mind for their story. Maybe they use a slideshow program; maybe they have a Pepe Silvia-level mass of photos and post-it notes.

That’s not judgment. Whatever works, works.

A pantser, well, that one is pretty clear, too. A pantser writes, perhaps starting with a concrete idea or maybe only a vague one. Things can change on the fly as new ideas pop up and old ones get either discarded or elaborated on.

Now, time for an admission: I am a pantser.

Phew, I feel so much better now.

I’ve found that hammering away at the keyboard gets me rolling more than creating an outline. Part of it comes from me wanting to let things develop in a natural way; part of it comes from the thrill of chaos. It’s a rush.

The Herman Ingram series on Amazon

What’s Your Major Malfunction?

The true test with this manner of writing is discipline. It can be easy for an idea to get away from you, often once you’ve committed hundreds (if not thousands) of words expounding on it. Deciding to excise a passage that you’ve spent hours fleshing out is never easy and it can be incredibly deflating.

The flip side of that is the amount of work that’s already been put in can sway you to leave in material that may not serve the story. It’s akin to balancing on a knife’s edge and deciding which limb you’re willing to sacrifice.

When it came to Bermuda—my first full-length novel—I was inspired by a dream. There were key points in the dream that I could remember and I filled in the story around it. It flowed. It was (relatively) easy.

Then came the follow-up, The Hangman’s Soliloquy. Once again, I had the story in mind. The characters were there, the main beats were there, so it should have been easy, right?

Spoiler alert: it was not.

During the writing of that book, a very bad habit of mine took hold: over-thinking. No, I didn’t endlessly analyze every page or chapter; I did it to every sentence, sometimes getting hung up over single words. It was exhausting; it was frustrating. I had written a book where everything flowed and was now knee-deep into one where every thought required pushing a mental boulder aside.

It was such a draining experience that I’ve hardly re-visited the material since the final edits were completed. The exception is the upcoming audiobook, which sounds amazing!

So, Did You Change Your Approach?

Nope.

Fast forward to now: I am working on wrapping up my third novel and still battling the urge to overthink. It’s not as bad as it was but it’s still there, still a hurdle. Just like the last time, it’s not due to any shortage of ideas. Instead, it’s small details.

What I try to boil everything down to is two questions:

  • Is this a big deal?
  • Does it have a negative impact on the story?

If the answer is no—which it usually is—then I push it aside and press on. It can be difficult, but I know the story I want to tell and I believe in it so I have to trust myself. Yes, sometimes it takes a bribe (no further comment), but if I don’t believe in what I’m writing, why would I expect anyone else to?

Maybe for the fourth book I’ll try an outline.

I probably won’t, but I might.

Regardless of that, I’d love to hear your thoughts. While you’re at it, be sure to connect with me on social media for more inane ramblings, like this:

Movies You Missed: Miracle Mile

Welcome to the second installment of Movies You Missed; you can check out the first installment here.

Miracle Mile, the second feature from director Steve De Jarnatt, only hit my radar a few years back. That’s unfortunate because this 1988 suspense-thriller seems tailor-made for me.

The prospect of nuclear war has always fascinated and terrified me. I’ve also always been fond of films that take place over the course of a single night. Miracle Mile captures both of these elements and delivers a product that is completely engrossing.

That said, let’s take a look.

Miracle Mile: The Lore

This film is a good example of how long the process of moving from screenplay to film can be. The screenplay (penned by De Jarnatt) was named one of the top ten unmade screenplays in 1983. The writer’s unwillingness to compromise on the film he wanted to make kept the project in purgatory for years.

De Jarnatt eventually optioned the script himself and struck a deal with Hemdale Films. With the backing of a studio that didn’t seek to neuter the stark tone, production began in March of 1987.

Meet Harry

As the film opens, we’re introduced to Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards), a musician who is currently in Los Angeles. While visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, Harry meets—and falls for—Julie Peters (Mare Winningham). The two hit it off and the two spend the afternoon together.

The pair plan to meet up after Julie’s shift ends at midnight but a power failure leads Harry to oversleep. Once he wakes up and realizes the time, he rushes down to the diner where Julie works only to find out that she’s long since left. Using the payphone outside (remember, this was 1988) he calls to apologize and is met with an answering machine.

As he turns to head back into the diner, the payphone rings, and Harry answers. The caller, a young military man named Chip who is stationed at a missile silo, frantically states that they are 70 minutes from all-out nuclear war. A confused Harry dismisses it as a joke; Chip, who misdialed while trying to warn his father, pleads with Harry to tell his family.

Harry hears men enter and question Chip as to what he is doing, sending the young man into a panic. Gunfire erupts and another man comes on the line and tells Harry to forget what he’s just heard.

Dazed, Harry goes back inside the diner, where his behavior grows increasingly erratic. He eventually gets the attention of Landa (Denise Crosby), a mysterious woman who appears to verify what Harry is saying. What’s more, she has connections that can ferry the handful of people at the diner to Antarctica, possibly the only safe haven after a large scale nuclear attack.

Last Night

The group—using the diner’s catering truck—set off to meet Landa’s associates. Upon realizing that they are driving away from Julie’s apartment, Harry jumps from the vehicle. Another car approaches and he quickly holds the driver at gunpoint.

Reluctant to tell the truth to the man, named Wilson (Mykelti Williamson), Harry opts for a story involving a meltdown at a local power plant. After a few miscues, the pair reach Julie’s apartment complex. Harry tells Wilson to wait in the car until he returns. Wilson protests, saying that he has to get his sister, but ultimately relents as Harry sets off.

Harry finds Julie and the pair warn her grandparents of the impending danger. They then find out that Wilson is gone, leaving them without a means of meeting the others at the airport. The pair set off through the streets of Los Angeles and Harry begins to wonder if he’s played the role of Chicken Little.

With the sun rising and more of the city’s inhabitants begin to wake, panic escalates. As Harry and Julie rush towards salvation, they’re met with rising chaos in the streets. Civilization is unraveling at a frightening speed.

Why You Should Watch

If you have any interests in films depicting nuclear conflict, this is definitely one worth checking out. The tonal shift once Harry answers the fateful call can be jarring but the film ultimately pays it off.

Edwards and Winningham do very well in their roles. The rest of the cast can be hit or miss, the acting never diminishes the experience. The biggest shortcoming is that De Jarnatt’s script is so ambitious that the film’s $3.7 million budget proved inadequate.

That said, the film stands on its own and tells a compelling story, one wrought with suspense, romance, and worldwide apocalypse. I won’t give away the ending aside from saying that it ties everything up and does so in a satisfying way.

Where To Watch

Miracle Mile is currently available on Prime Video and iTunes.

You can check out the trailer here:

Until we meet again…

-Jeb

Movies You Missed: Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia, the second feature film from director Jamie M. Dagg, caught my attention shortly after its release in 2017. The trailer—which you can check out below—drew me in immediately. Then again, I’m a sucker for indie films with strong stories and characters.

That said, I only got around to watching it last week.

I know. I’m a bastard.

The important thing is that I did watch it and I did enjoy it.

Sweet Virginia

The film opens with three men (Tom, Lou, and Mitchell) engaged in an after-hours poker game in a bar owned by Lou (Garry Chalk). A strange man enters and, despite being told the bar is closed, sits down at a table near the entrance.

Mitchell (Jonathan Tucker) approaches the man, reiterating that the bar is closed. After a conversation in which the stranger threatens Mitchell by name, the man leaves and the game resumes. Shortly thereafter, the man returns and kills the three card players.

The following morning, we meet Sam (the excellent Jon Bernthal), a former rodeo star. Now the manager of the Sweet Virginia Motel, Sam is portrayed as meek and mild-mannered. Adding to this are the physical impediments—a limp and weakness in his right arm—he suffered during his bull riding career.

Sam is also shown to be a compassionate and caring man, evidenced by his relationship with Maggie (Odessa Young), an employee at the motel. Sam serves as a father figure for the young woman, whose relationship with her own father is strained.

An Intertwining

Sam attends a gathering for Tom—one of the three bar victims—and we learn that Sam has been involved in an affair with Tom’s wife, Bernie Barrett (Rosemarie DeWitt).

A late-night liaison leads the pair to a discussion of Tom’s place in the afterlife. The conversation sparks regret in Sam over his relationship with the recently-widowed woman.

We then meet Lila (Imogen Poots), wife of the late Mitchell McCabe, as she meets with the man from the bar. It’s revealed that Lila hired the man, named Elwood (Christopher Abbott in a very creepy and unstable performance—and I mean that as praise), to kill Mitchell in exchange for $50,000.

The pair initially argue about the conspiracy’s execution. Lila wanted Mitchell—who she accuses of infidelity—dead and questions why Tom and Lou were killed. Elwood blames her since Mitchell hadn’t left the bar by the time she stated.

He then asks for his payment, a request that leaves Lila unsettled. She informs him that she’ll have his money at the end of the week, pending a meeting with Mitchell’s lawyer.

Complications

Elwood, who is staying at the Sweet Virginia, heads to the motel office to extend his stay when he meets Sam. Elwood appears to recognize Sam from his rodeo days (going as far as saying that his father was a huge fan), kicking off a would-be friendship, one that Sam is reluctant to engage in.

At a meeting with her husband’s lawyer, Lila learns that Mitchell, an entrepreneur, was broke. She initially refuses to accept this information and is told that he was actually being sued by two business partners. When she asks about his insurance, the lawyer informs her that the policy paperwork she saw was fraudulent and that no money would be coming her way.

She seeks solace by spending time with Bernie and the pair form a kinship. Both women are troubled; Lila by the fear of what the killer will do to her and Bernie, who has been plagued by nightmares of her dead husband. Paranoia eventually consumes Lila, who plans to head to her mother’s house.

Elwood pounces, attacking her while she packs. To save herself, Lila tells him that she knows where he can get the money. Satisfied, Elwood leaves and recruits a young man named Paul (Jared Abrahamson) to assist with a robbery.

The following night, we see Bernie grab a bottle of wine and prepare for a bath. The camera lingers on the window and we see two black-clad figures cutting across the yard towards the house. These events lead us to the culmination of the film’s story.

Why You Should Watch

Sweet Virginia is a strong, noir-ish film with a solid story and well-written characters. Not only are we given insight into Sam’s mindset, we learn more about the supporting characters. We see the progression of Sam and Bernie’s affair and the realization of Lila’s fears. While we don’t get any concrete information on Elwood’s past, we see explosions of the anger that’s boiling just beneath the surface.

It’s a slow burn, though it’s never boring. With a sleek 93 minute runtime, the film never wastes a frame, instead opting to advance its story. From the cinematography to the sound design, everything fits the movie and its tone.

It’s not a film for everyone. As a matter of fact, I have seen a few people decry the ending, and that’s fine. Endings are, after all, tricky. They don’t always work however, in this case, I think it fits the story. That’s what really matters, isn’t it?

At the time of this blog, Sweet Virginia is available on Netflix. If you have a subscription, I recommend you check it out. If you do, let me know what you think.

And, as promised, here’s the trailer:

Until we meet again…

-Jeb

If You Have Ghost

How Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge and his band of Nameless Ghouls earned my respect and fandom.

I love music.

Yes, many of us can say that but let me reiterate: I love music (and making it).

I listen when I’m driving; I listen when I’m showering (TMI?); I listen when I’m writing. If we found ourselves in a dystopian future where music was outlawed, I would protest for nuclear war.

Okay, that’s a bit much, but the sentiment is true. Music brings us together and allows us to communicate on a deeper level. How many of us have made mixes for someone else? Want to show a special someone how you feel? Burn them a CD (or make a Spotify playlist, whatever the hell goes on these days).

The older I get, the harder it gets for me to find new music that I enjoy. Also, Jesus, that sentence put me one step away from shaking my fists at the sky and yelling at clouds. Anyway, when I find a band or artist that really resonates with me, I dive headfirst into their work.

That’s exactly what happened with a theatrical little band from Sweden.

A chance encounter

I was later than many when it came to Ghost. While the band released their debut album—the magnificently atmospheric Opus Eponymous—in October of 2010, it would be a half-decade before they came to my attention. Sure, I had seen images of the band online and on magazine covers, but I was unfamiliar with their work and apparently too busy to educate myself.

Then, on a late summer afternoon in 2015, that changed.

While on a thrift store outing with the family, “Cirice” came on the radio, immediately grabbing my attention. From the menacing opening guitar to the thunderous drums to Forge’s—I mean Papa Emeritus III’s—unmistakable timbre, I was hooked.

The problem was that the song was wedged in the middle of several others, with no identification supplied. Who was this band? What was the name of the song? I had no idea; thankfully, the band was exploding in popularity and I was quickly able to find the answer to both questions.

I began checking out their then-newest album, Meliora, before working my way back through their catalog. Their style—both musically and theatrically—hooked me and bought a copy of everything they had produced.

I was a fan, no two ways about it, but something was missing.

The connection

Months passed, weeks stacked upon weeks of me listening to (almost) nothing aside from Ghost. Their cover of Roky Erickson‘s “If You Have Ghosts” had worked its way to the top of my favorites list. Its place there was cemented in mid-March of 2016.

I was out, running errands while the aforementioned song played in the car, when my phone rang.

It was my mom; my grandfather had passed.

To say that it was a surreal moment doesn’t do it service. The health issues he had been dealing with over the four years leading up to that moment didn’t stop me from believing that he would always be there. There had been scares, including one that brought out family from Maryland and Colorado, but he had pulled through.

Now, just as his health seemed steady, he was gone.

I drove towards my hometown, playing the song on repeat. It gave me comfort, gave me a sense that things would carry on, even if they would never be the same. I don’t associate the song with the tragic news; instead, I associate it with the sense of strength that we all need when we lose a piece of ourselves.

That is the power of art. Whatever form it takes, it accentuates our sense of being. Perhaps it relaxes you; maybe it inspires you. Whatever the case, it enriches us.

For those interested, here is the song in question:

Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts” as covered by Ghost

And, if you like, you can check out Ghost on YouTube or visit their official website.

Until we meet again…

-Jeb

Say It Ain’t So, Johnny

Quick note: I have struggled for hours on how to word this and concluded that there is no right way; it would take a novel to convey the full weight of what this man means to the fans of this team.

You can check out my last hockey blog here.

Okay, 2020, you can knock it off. Please.

I’m not going to run through the myriad of tribulations that the year has thrown at us; one has only to browse social media to see that (along with a host of undoubtedly expert commentary).

No, I’m focusing on something that—while not national news—no Carolina Hurricanes fan wants to think of.

The (seemingly imminent) departure of the best play-by-play man in the NHL, John Forslund.

To be clear—and despite the title of this blog post—I do not lay any blame at Mr. Forslund’s feet. He has dedicated decades of his life to not only the Hurricanes franchise but to the City of Raleigh and the team’s fanbase. The truth is, John Forslund is as big a part of this team and its history as any player, past or present.

Memories

When car trouble—I still curse that 93 Plymouth Sundance—kept me from attending the Hurricanes’ first regular-season game in North Carolina, I was properly introduced to Forslund’s presence. Two things were immediately evident: the man is incredibly knowledgable about the game and he loves it.

When former goaltender Tripp Tracy was brought in as the color commentator for the 1997-98 season, the pair began to form an endearing and enduring bond, one that Caniacs cherish dearly. Whereas Tripp is the younger brother, often relishing in the silly and absurd—and that is said with love; never change, Tripp—John is the voice of the Hurricanes. He’s been with us through the bad (oh-so-much of it) as well as the good.

Now, 23 years since the Whalers moved south, we have an entire generation of Caniacs who’ve grown up listening to him call nearly every milestone in team history. More than just tradition alone, his voice and visage bring us comfort.

On the occasions he’s been summoned for (well-deserved) appearances on NBCSN, his absence is noticeable. That’s no slight towards Jason Shaya—a very talented broadcaster himself—but rather a nod towards the discomfort felt when a beloved routine is broken. Everything just feels…off.

The First Scare

We got a taste of this last year when both John and Tripp were up for new contracts. There was a collective sigh of relief when the pair inked new pacts, though eyebrows were raised when it was learned that these were only 1-year deals.

Then, when news broke that the deadline for an extension had passed, Hurricanes fans the world over went into a panic. Tripp Tracy had signed a new deal, which is great news, but his golden-throated straight man was still a free agent.

Some of that panic turned to anger, almost all of which was focused on the team’s majority owner, Tom Dundon. While I’m the first to admit that there has been significant employee turnover during Dundon’s tenure, I’m not here to vilify (or lionize) him. The man has been very successful in life and one needs only look at the turnaround the Hurricanes have experienced since he came aboard.

The thing with Dundon is that he is hyper-focused on need and value. Allow me to elaborate: when hall of fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton was let go, you could assume it was because Dundon didn’t see the need of paying a dedicated radio personality.

People cursed the owner and called him a tightwad with shallow pockets. I disagree, and I do so because I can see the reasoning behind the decision, whether I agree with it or not.

You Cannot Put a Price on Talent

When the Montreal Canadiens signed Carolina’s star center Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet last summer, we saw Dundon’s willingness to spend. The crux of the offer sheet wasn’t yearly salary; the issue was the bonuses, structured in a way that Montreal thought would cripple Carolina’s ability to match.

If you were to assume the manner in which the owner looked at this situation, matching is easy. Aho is young, he’s incredibly talented, he’s shown year-over-year growth consistently, and his teammates and fans love him.

The salary isn’t cheap but is well below what a player of Aho’s talents could land on the open market. The term wasn’t ideal, but it guaranteed that the Finnish star would remain with the team for a half-decade.

The needs and the value made sense, so the trigger was pulled.

Perhaps Dundon doesn’t readily see the wisdom in paying the play-by-play announcer more than a certain amount. Maybe, in his eyes, there are several people who could fill the role and do so for less money. The truth is that we don’t know what the reason is, and likely never will.

The Voice of the Carolina Hurricanes

What I—and many of you—do know is that John Forslund is irreplaceable. That’s not a knock on anyone. No, it’s just the truth. In hockey, there’s always talk about “the intangibles”, the qualities that aren’t always shown on the score sheet. Well, John Forslund not only has the talent and knowledge but those same intangible qualities.

Whatever comes of this, he’s earned the right to decide what he wants and what he’s worth and, if those two things aren’t met, it’s in his best interests to go to where they are.

In reality, this is just speculation on my part. I don’t know the inner machinations of the situation (nor should I) but I realize what a huge shift this represents for fans of the Carolina Hurricanes. The prospect of not having him in the booth for Canes’ broadcasts is not something any of us want, but this isn’t up to us.

Based on his comments, he doesn’t want to leave the franchise that he’s been the voice of for 25 years. Unfortunately, with the way things have played out so far, he’s prepared himself for that eventuality.

So, Mr. Forslund, if this is the end of your time in Raleigh, I wish you nothing but the best.

That is exactly what you’ve given us for over two decades.

And, Mr. Dundon, I respect all that you’ve done for this team, sincerely. I trust in your acumen, but John Forslund brings more to this team that any number in a spreadsheet. You’ve done so much to restore the faith of the fans, don’t gut them with this. I promise it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.

For those interested, a petition has been started—not by myself—that you can sign here.

In Appreciation of Scott Darling

Goaltender Scott Darling with the Carolina Hurricanes
September 29, 2017. Carolina Hurricanes vs Washington Capitals, PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC. Copyright © 2017 Jamie Kellner. All Rights Reserved.

The end in Raleigh

On June 30, Scott Darling was shipped off to the Florida Panthers—who promptly bought out his contract—ending his tumultuous tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes. Just over two years prior, Darling seemed poised to step in as the Canes’ savior between the pipes. The dark age of inconsistent goaltending would be over.

Early on, it became obvious that wouldn’t be the case. Something was off: the focus didn’t seem to be there, his confidence was MIA, and he was slow-moving. It’s well-known that he showed up to his first camp with Carolina overweight. Perhaps he felt that he had already achieved his goal of becoming an NHL starter.

That, of course, is pure speculation.

Offseason hope fades

After a disastrous first season, Darling spent the summer of 2018 training with Bill Burniston, Carolina’s head strength and conditioning coach. He came into camp in better shape and looked ready to fulfill the hopes that had been pinned on him. Early on, it looked like he might do just that.

While his preseason play wasn’t flawless, Darling looked like a much more focused goaltender and his movement and reflexes a step ahead from the previous season. Things seemed to be on an upward tick for the 6’6″ goalie until an injury in the final game of the preseason put him on the sidelines.

With the regular season fast approaching and the Hurricanes in need of a goalie to compliment the newly-acquired Petr Mrazek, GM Don Waddell claimed veteran backup Curtis McElhinney from the waiver wire. The tandem played well enough that Darling was squeezed out and placed on waivers before being reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. Despite still being under contract, the Scott Darling era in Carolina was effectively over.

A deeper look

Now, that could be the end of this blog; a high-level overview of the past two years of Darling’s career. That would be a disservice. I have a hell of a lot of respect for what Scott Darling has accomplished in life and his time with the Hurricanes has done nothing to lessen that.

Darling endeared himself to fans with the story of how he reached the NHL: struggling at the lowest levels of professional hockey, battling alcohol abuse and declining self-confidence before making a strong showing in the AHL and landing his first NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2014-2015 season. He cemented his place in Chicago legend with a stunning playoff performance against the Nashville Predators in 2015 and became the first Chicago-area native to win the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks.

That alone is a story worthy of a Hollywood biopic, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

The human side

Having struggled with mental health throughout my adult life, Darling’s refusal to give up constitutes the root of my respect. He easily could have walked away from the game and into hockey obscurity when he was at his lowest; Darling could have embraced his problem with alcohol at the expense of all else; he could have pitied himself and pouted, believing that he was owed a fate greater than where he found himself but he didn’t.

Darling did none of those things. Instead, he sought help for his problems and worked his ass off to get to where he wanted to be. For a guy who has embraced the image of the Phoenix and the motto “Luctor et Emergo” (struggle and emerge), it should come as no surprise. After the trade to Carolina, Darling penned a heartfelt letter to the fans of the Blackhawks, the team he grew up rooting for, and the team that gave them his shot at the NHL. It was a classy move and one that further cemented the admiration that many hockey fans feel towards him.

I urge all of you to read the full letter. If you’ve read it before, read it again. If you are struggling with anxiety or alcoholism, read it now. Maybe you’re a perfectly well-adjusted human being. Read it anyway, because it is phenomenal.

Throughout his time in Raleigh, I would find myself relating to the mindset of fighting to push through the darkness. Because of this, I never lost hope that he would find his footing in the NHL again. I still have that hope, even though it won’t be with the Hurricanes. More than that, I hope that he’s in a good place and that he’s okay. I hope he continues to grow as a person.

So, here’s to Scott Darling. I wish you all the best. Keep writing your story!

suspense-thriller author