Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Two Title Reveal (But You've Gotta Work at it!)

There are still a few months before the follow up to My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain will have an official launch, but the time has come to reveal the title...and a few details!

First, the details: here's a short teaser:

It’s bad enough to embarrass yourself in front of your friends.
It’s worse to embarrass yourself in front of the entire school
It’s horrible if someone records your humiliation on video and posts it online.
It’s a disaster if that video goes viral...

But it’s the comments on the video that can really send you over the edge...

As for the title, I've created a word scramble (remember those?) to offer my readers an opportunity to take part in the reveal (thanks to Greg's Gourmet for the idea).

As we reveal more about the book (including the cover) in the coming months, there will be more opportunities to take part—and even win some cool book-related gear!

Complete the word scramble above (don't worry, there are instructions if you'd like to cheat!) 
 If you would like to work from a PDF, there's one here

For more news, follow me @rickflix

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Today, I had the opportunity to visit a location which features prominently in my book, My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain. As part of an interview (premiering soon) I did with longtime YouTuber Curt Phillips - we'll talk about the challenges of living in Los Angeles—and about the book itself.

One of the conscious decisions I made when writing the book was to avoid too-specific descriptions of Alexander's school. My hope was that the reader would visualize the school based on their own experiences, and so make the story more personal.

Naturally, the book was inspired by my own experiences, and I did have Portola Middle School (then, it was called a junior high school) in mind. We stopped by the front gate this Sunday, a location that features prominently in the novel. It's a place of perceived danger by Alexander, and the site of a climactic confrontation.

Of course, since I walked daily through those gates, generations of kids have come and gone—and I'm sure that Alexander has been among them in an entire series of variations. Some things, including unfounded fears, are universal to kids of a certain age.

Still, as I stood there, I felt that I not only shared those experiences with all of my predecessor and successor students, but with Alexander as well. I could, if pressed, take you on a walking tour throughout the grounds of the school, and map out precisely where every action in this fictional book took place.

If you've written fiction of this sort, you'll understand: Now, this is very much Alexander's school, too!

"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," and a short story featuring Alexander, "Why Do You Think They Call It a Ghost Town" are available from most online retailers. I'm currently working on a follow-up novel. Thanks for you support.

Follow me on Twitter @rickflix

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Remembering World War II

Since I had the opportunity to visit several World War II-related sites in the UK last summer, and especially since the recent D-Day Commemorations, I've had a heightened interest in the history and personalities of World War II. I've watched a few recent documentaries, in particular  "The World Wars" a recent three-part series on the History Channel, which takes an overall look at the entire period from before the first War to the end of the second.

In addition to the traditional newsreel footage and academic interviews, this program features richly produced and somewhat melodramatic reenactments featuring pivotal moments in the lives of Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt and Tojo. It also includes perspectives from recent political figures, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain and former British Prime Minister John Major.

While I find it fascinating to explore (or rediscover) the personal stories and motivations of historical figures, the reenactments seemed almost absurd at times: A long, slow push into the glaring visage of Adolph Hitler; the almost Hitchcockian profiles of Winston Churchill; the contemplative Roosevelt sitting alone in his wheelchair, or Stalin moving dramatically through a smokey environment. The symbolic moments were so frequent and over-produced that they distracted from the story at hand. Perhaps the inclusion of modern politicos offers a perspective that few share, but other than offer star quality to the program, I wonder if their true value to relating this history is a bit exaggerated, compared to their appearance in the program. Only John Major, perhaps, can at least share the experience with Winston Churchill of having been the British Prime Minister.

There are endless other documentaries, of course, as well as narrative films, that more effectively tell the story of a struggle that today seems barely comprehensible. There are almost an infinite number of human stories—of soldiers and civilians—that it's impossible to ever fully understand what it was like to live during that era, unsure if there would even be a future. The politically charged threats and doomsday scenarios that sometimes dominate our domestic world today are nothing compared to the very tangible international threats of that era.

Some interpretations might be better than others, but it's worth the time, I think, to honor the memory of that fading generation by occasionally revisiting their legacy.

The Battle of Britain Monument in London.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


The long-distance Metrolink trains that travel throughout sprawling Los Angeles County and surrounding areas include a designated "Quiet Car," allowing passengers the choice of riding in peace and quiet to their destination.

I have mixed feelings about the policy. If I take an early morning from Santa Clarita to downtown Los Angeles, I'm climbing aboard a train that's more than an our into its journey. Some passengers already on board are completely covered with blankets and/or sleeping masks, while others are bleary eyed and still struggling to wake up for the day ahead.

Even in the non-quiet cars, conversation is light at this hour, but I suppose I can understand the desire of drowsy passengers to have a reasonable environment in which to travel.

On the afternoon train, the conversation is much more energetic. People are happy to be done with their day, and some meet up with their friends and celebrate. Loudly. I've sat down at a table like the one in this blog, only to be joined by a mom and her children, and their chicken dinner. Awkward, to say the least.

So, I can also understand the desire of afternoon riders to simply ride home peacefully, and perhaps catch a little rest.

The concept seems odd, but sadly symbolic of a time in which conscientiousness has to be given a special, separate place all its own.  There are even sheriffs and security personnel who occasionally wonder the Quiet Cars and police the rule. Talk loudly on your cell phone, and you can be banished to the Loud Car. Come on board the Quiet Car with a child, and be banished as well. Play a game on your tablet without muting the volume, and get a stern lecture.

I guess you could say that they're the Polite Police...

Some Gamers Hate Me

This is a last minute post (I'm a touch late, but I make the rules, so it counts!), so I think I'd share with you some of the more amusing messages I've received in what's essentially only ongoing venture into online gaming on the Playstation 3. I play just one game - James Bond Legends, and often play it in multiplayer mode, which puts me in competition with other players worldwide, either on a team or independently. For ten minutes, we shoot, are shot it, are killed and respawn to play again, all in various James Bond-related environments.

James Bond Legends, however, isn't a very popular game, so even a fairly awful player like me, if I play long enough, can rise up to the top of the overall game statistics. I'm currently 13th in the world, which might sound impressive at first, but since there may only be two or three hundred players left, it might not mean all that much...

Of course, with great success comes great detractors. I've been condemned in a YouTube video for my choice of weapons (the video creator guessed that I must be a thirteen year old who gets stuffed in lockers all the time - I wonder if he read my book?),  and I sometimes receive messages that aren't very friendly:

I think his question was rhetorical.

The so-called "benladengang" is currently the top player, so I'm
in good company! I'm a bit concerned about those "guys on the internet," though...
This is the guy who created the YouTube video.
He's not very happy with me.
I'm "Rickflix" on PS3, by the way. And I'm Richflix on Words With Friends—I'm not nearly as hated over there...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rich in the Stockade

Here I am in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, when I was about ten years old. If I don't look particularly happy, there was a reason.

I have borderline traumatic memory of this trip. Amongst the authentic buildings, crafts and costumed actors, the venue also offers a traditional stockade, which guests can choose to try if they wish.

Most of you are familiar with the stockade in which your head and hands are secured in a wooden restraint (see the example below) . It was a pretty simple matter to stick my head and hands through the stockade and slip them out again.

A traditional stockade.
However, there is another stockade in which a prisoner's ankles were secured.

In my questionable wisdom, as I wandered on my own around Colonial Williamsburg on a late afternoon, I decided to try out the ankle stockade.

Somehow, I got stuck.

I was a little guy at the time, and though it seems as if anyone could slide their feet right out of the restraint, I couldn't. Perhaps, being small, my foot was at an odd angle. 

I just knew I was stuck.

I tried to reach forward and lift up the stockade, but my arms were too short. I was afraid that if I leaned forward too much, I would fall off the small bench I was sitting on and somehow break my ankles. 

At first, I just sat there and pondered my predicament. A couple of people walked by, but I pretended as if everything was fine.

This is the same ankle stockade I tried
out in Colonial Williamburg. Borrowed
from another blog.
But it was getting dark, and my parents were expecting me to meet them. When you're a kid, asking for help from strangers because of what you perceive as your own stupidity is...well...humiliating.

Ultimately, though, I had no choice. I had to gather my courage and call out to a total stranger and admit I was trapped. To make matters worse, the stranger I had to call on was a costumed actor. He kind of looked like Ben Franklin, I thought.

He stared at first, unsure what I was trying to say. Apparently, just saying, "I'm stuck" wasn't enough for ol' Ben. He stared as if I were speaking another language entirely.

I pointed at the stocks, "Could you let me out?"

It was as if he'd heard his cue. Instantly, he was in character, chattering with a Colonial English accent and skittering over to me, "Why certainly, young man! You've done your time!"

I was the only one there to see his performance. I waited patiently, but I really wanted to ask him, "is this really necessary?"

He lifted the stockade and I was free.

I mumbled a quick "thank you" and rushed off to find my parents, and leaving ol' Ben to fly a kite.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review: Boyhood, Directed by Richard Linklater

I had the opportunity today to attend a screening of Richard Linklater's latest film, Boyhood, which tells the story of a boy growing up from age six to eighteen. It captures the ups and downs, and growing maturity Mason and his family over a period of twelve crucial years in his life.

What is truly exceptional for a narrative film is the fact that the production was actually shot over a period of twelve years. The young boy we see in the first shots of the film is the same young man—the same actor—we see in the last image.

Linklater shot the film for a total of thirty-nine days over those twelve years, shooting every 9-18 months or so, and developing the story with the input and real-life experiences of his actors. In the film, for example, Mason develops a serious interest in photography, which reflected the developing interests of actor Ellar Coltrane. As Linklater explained in the screening I attended, if Ellar had become a wrestler instead of a sensitive visual artist, the film and its structure would been altered, and the fundamental experience would have been entirely different.

Boyhood is an extraordinary, non traditional film that has the rare feel of authenticity.  Few narrative films have managed to feel simultaneously epic and intimate. While the details of your own childhood may be entirely different, you'll identify closely with Mason's emotional roller coaster.

Boyhood, Directed by Richard Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater (Richard's daughter) will be released in the United States by IFC Films beginning July 11th.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Meeting World War II Veterans

 Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a 70th Anniversary D-Day commemoration at the Port of Los Angeles, and met some of the remaining World War II veterans, all of whom are about ninety years old (one female vet was one hundred and four).  They were all in their late teens and early twenties then, but still, when asked, feel the loss of all of those friends and comrades they lost so many years ago.

Nine of the attending veterans received the Legion of Honor, France's highest award, for their service in restoring freedom to that country. Some could still stand as the French Consul General pinned the medal on their lapel, others received their award in their wheelchair. Unfortunately, this may have been one of the last opportunities to honor these veterans directly.

I'd shaken the hands of World War Two veterans in the past, but shaking their hands this time took on a special significance.

In a few years, they will have faded entirely into history. I'm grateful that I had this last chance to acknowledge the enormity of what they did so long ago. Today, we know that D-Day succeeded. I think we sometimes forget how uncertain the outcome had been. These veterans didn't know they would be returning home.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during the War, prepared this statement, to be issued in the event that D-Day had failed. It's a sober reminder of what have been.

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Dark Truth About the Platform People

Though I take the train only occasionally, I generally travel on the same morning train into Los Angeles. I buy my ticket from the automated kiosk and join the closest line. Without fail, I'm preceded in that line by the same group of regulars; individuals that have shared their place on the platform for years. They've become great friends. They share family adventures, discuss their favorite television programs, and even engage in playful teasing. They'll observe other lines up and down the platform, speculating on the lives of their fellow travelers. On rare occasions, their association has reached beyond the platform to birthdays and other family events. 

There appears to a curious limit to their friendship, however.

One of them, though clearly a part of the group, retreats to her favorite, albeit less social, queue  a few minutes before the train arrives.

For those who remain at their traditional platform position, their association appears limited to the station.  Once they climb aboard the train, they say their goodbyes and go their separate ways. They don't appear to have independent onboard social groups. The car they choose to board each morning is the "quiet car," designed to discourage the sometimes raucous conversation they typically enjoy together.

It almost seems as if they need the independent time to cool down from their free, true selves, to their more repressed professional personas. There's no greater symbol of that transition than their enforced route as they step off the train, then walk down a crowded ramp and into a narrow concrete tunnel. Fellow passengers shuffle slowly through the passage, anonymous cogs in a mindless machine.

Those last few moments on the platform in Santa Clarita, perhaps, offer them a desperate last gasp of humanity before darkness descends. 

That's my theory, anyway.

I could be wrong.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Train Writing

One of my most productive writing environments is on a Metrolink train on the hour-long trip from my home in the Santa Clarita Valley to downtown Los Angeles.  I don't think it's because of the the lack of wi-fi, however. I suspect it's the inevitable journey's end that creates an urgent, immovable deadline. At either end, I might not have the time or energy to find the quality time to create—it’s now or never.  On the train, particularly in the enforced silence of the "quiet car," I can't be disturbed. I can’t talk on the phone or with other passengers. I wrote a good portion of the my first book during these commutes, and I'm writing this blog on the way home at end of a long day.

Though I'm sometimes fascinated with the passing scenery, it also can prove somewhat hypnotic, allowing me the opportunity to concentrate on my work without the chance of getting distracted too long by a passing curiosity. 

I've played with the idea of taking a longer trip, perhaps cross-country on Amtrak, to discover what I might create with that opportunity. I actually have in mind the perfect concept–another thriller—to accompany me on the journey...

...but that's for another blog!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why I'll Blog Every Day

In January, as an experiment, I wrote a blog every day for the entire month. It was a major struggle, but I worked to create content that might be of interest to my assumed readers—writers, filmmakers and those who have supported my writing projects. As the end of the month, my blog readership was at an all-time high, and I suspect individuals in my compartmentalized life were a little more aware of the range of my activities.
Cool by Osmosis

Having said that, I was relieved to return to my occasional blogging schedule. My posts since then have had a higher readership than my posts previous to the January experiment. Content choices and increased awareness of my work both have played a part. Blogging every day, and disciplined social media sharing also helped sharpen my skills in creating responsive content.

Why do I blog?

Writing a novel, at least for me, is a long, complicated process. I can't often bring new content to my readership. Posting blogs allows me to connect with readers much more often. and expand that readership. Selectively sharing my blog entries on Facebook and Twitter have especially been useful in widening my interaction not only with readers, but with resources as I continue to learn my craft and develop my marketing skills.

I've come to the conclusion, though, that for this blog to be truly effective for my goals and objectives as a writer and storyteller, then it's an all or nothing proposition. With that in mind, I'm returning to my daily posts. I'll be sharing my thoughts about writing in general, my own work, marketing and media creation.

I'll also define those goals. I'd like to develop a healthy readership of course, but I'd also like to use the experience of writing and marketing my work to generate the opportunity for some new adventures. I'll be sharing those thoughts, too.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Follow me on Twitter @rickflix
Visit my website at

Friday, June 6, 2014

Teasers, Trailers and My Books...

I recently created a book trailer for Ours, a book I haven't written as yet. It's been in the back of my mind for a very long time, but it's still at least a year away from publication, at best. In fact, I'm in the midst of rewriting my second book (the follow-up to My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain), the title and plot of which I haven't revealed.

So, why do it?

I work as a video producer/editor, and I'm in the midst of transitioning from Final Cut Pro editing software to Avid Media Composer. I created the Ours trailer as a goal-oriented exercise in becoming more familiar with Avid. Simply following exercises in a manual or video isn't very useful, as far as I'm concerned. Creating real-world content is much more productive and motivating.

At the moment, I don't have the time or resources to actually shoot content for a trailer, so I started to browse for ideas on, an affordable subscription-based stock video/audio site I use frequently. A month before, I had used the site in much the same way to create a new trailer for My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain. Since I'm not ready yet for the reveal of Food Chain's follow-up novel, I searched for content that could serve me in other ways.

The trailer for My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain

I found stock footage of an abandoned school (and/or office building - it's hard to tell), and thought immediately about Ours. Since this is a teaser, rather than a full trailer, I could afford to be somewhat mysterious with my imagery and effects. A teaser generally provides less information, and is intended to keep the plot line an intriguing mystery, rather than provide the more in-depth expository of a full trailer.

As I continue to ponder and struggle with the question of proper marketing, I'm hoping that his teaser of my third book will help me develop legitimacy and a long-term readership as I more toward completion of my second book. Creating an audience and raising awareness demands a long term plan, and trailers, teasers and other videos, I believe, will be useful building blocks.

Ours, incidentally, is a thriller aimed at an older readership than the middle grade audience I imagined for My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain.  Text in the trailer, interspersed with all-American images of kids and teens in idealistic settings and a long-abandoned building, reads, "For three years, they lived their lives as if they had nothing to hide...but they did." Down a hallway in the abandoned building, we hear a light knock, and an attempt to open a locked door....

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Literally Racing Along

There's been a great deal going on lately in the My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain world lately.

I was interviewed on the Layered Pages blog, as part of my B.R.A.G. Medallion recognition. I think it came out fairly well - I'm hoping to book more of these interviews in the coming months leading to the debut of the second book in the series.

I released a new book trailer. I'm much happier with this than the original version. It's a very simple tease that I think catches the spirit of the story.

The book trailer (and the landing page linked above) was the center of a Facebook Ad campaign I recently concluded. My primary gain in the campaign was a higher profile, rather than outright sales. The ad itself received numerous likes (which I hadn't expected), and I added more followers to the Facebook Page. To be perfectly honest, the trailer and the campaign didn't translate to sales, at least as far as I can see at the moment (for some markets, sales reports might take up to a month or two to appear). I still haven't quite worked out right approach to turn interest into results.  There are so many factors at play(subject matter, audience reach, ad timing, advertising materials, for example), and it's going to take time to understand exactly how to make this work more effectively. Independent reaction to the book has been positive—but I'm still working on the marketing learning curve...

In the meantime, I'm moving on with the second book in the Food Chain series, and have now delivered a draft to my editor (The Book Scrubber). If my last experience was any indication, we'll be working on this for the next couple of months to further develop and finalize the book for publication. I'm hoping to launch it this fall. I think it captures the spirit of the original, while it moves Alexander's story forward in a fun new direction.

In the next few days, I'll be sharing the title of the new book, and a few plot details. Check here, the Facebook page, or Twitter @rickflix for the latest. Reviewers interested in an advance copy should let me know as soon as possible.