Sherlock: “The Sign of Three” (Initial Thoughts)

We have devolved into self-parody and fan fiction. Not that it much matters; if you feed ravenous dogs only three times every two years, they’ll eat whatever you give them and nevermind the taste.

I hoped “The Empty Hearse” had been meant as a nod to the fans and then we would get on with the show, as they say. And there was a promising enough start in which Lestrade was about to arrest the Waters (no connection to Brook? is it a theme or merely a lack of imagination?) band but was drawn away by a text from Sherlock begging for help. Anyone who had heard about the episode knew Sherlock’s plea would be about the best man speech for John’s wedding, but whatever. Even if a show can no longer surprise viewers it can still sometimes delight.

Still, when I see three writers listed in the credits, I know something is very wrong.

Were there good moments and good lines? Of course. But the episode felt interminable; I could practically hear the guests (extras, rather, or based on recent [lack of] casting, probably just the cast’s friends and family) at the wedding groan, “Oh, God, we’ve become a frame story.”

Where do I, personally, draw the line? Oh . . . Putting Sherlock with a kid (how precious, and not in a good way), Sherlock and John drunk and then attempting to take a case, fart jokes. And the need to have Benedict vault over set pieces in every episode. (Also, if we could refrain from standing on rooftops. I know that was last week, but still . . . Sherlock Holmes does not equal Batman.)

Yes it did all eventually come together, which tells me there was a good story in there somewhere that got crowded out by . . . Whatever the fuck the rest of it was. More fan service, I guess.

Look, leave fan service to the Internet and keep the show the show.

Of course, we all know Mary dies at some point. So is all this angst (Sherlock mourning John’s defection—funny when one considers Sherlock defected first) really just akin to yanking our chains? Actually, I almost want Mary to have been planted by Mycroft so as to get John out of the way. But that’s probably going a bit far.

And of course they set up—in quite clumsy, obvious fashion—the final episode of the series (“season” if you’re American; don’t panic there is supposed to be more at some point): “His Last Vow” . . . Let’s hope this series ends better than it’s begun.

Do remember this is merely my first impression, walking away after only one viewing. If I bother to watch again, I may feel differently. But I do find it interesting that I’ve re-watched the first series a number of times and yet have not even taken the plastic off my Series 2 DVD. Hrm. I’d say, based on my feelings about these past couple episodes, the trend is not a good one.

ETA: I had additional thoughts about this episode the following day. They are here.

Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse” (Initial Thoughts)

For all my coverage of Series 2, click here. It’s a bit of a rabbit’s hole to fall down, but . . .

It’s a terrible thing when a good show becomes too aware of its fans. It’s a worse thing when the show makes fun of its fans.

Remember the good ol’ days when Anderson was kind of an asshole? He’s now been reduced to pseudo David Duchovny, running a fan club conspiracy group called “The Empty Hearse” that theorizes that Sherlock Holmes is not really dead. Members gather and come up with increasingly complicated ways that Sherlock might have survived the fall from St. Bart’s. Lestrade figures Anderson is motivated by guilt, that he doesn’t want Sherlock to be dead because it would mean Anderson (and the rest of the police) was part of the reason Sherlock jumped. And that’s a valid psychological argument, but here it has been reduced to a poke at the audience, many of whom have spent the show’s hiatus coming up with the same kinds of scenarios as Anderson’s club.

(And no, I’m not angry on my own behalf. It’s not difficult to figure out how it was done—and he knew John would go that way because John is left handed—and I have better ways to spend my time than on Tumblr and Reddit. But I am angry on the behalf of Anderson’s character, which has been butchered here on the altar of fan service.)

As for the question of whether Mycroft was working for or against Sherlock, the answer appears to be somewhere in the middle. The rivalry continues, and Mycroft goes to the trouble of saving Sherlock in Serbia, but there’s still a sinister undercurrent. It seems Sherlock is Mycroft’s pet sociology/psychology project, and Mycroft puts his brother to the test by abducting John and putting him in danger—namely a bonfire. Is Mary trustworthy, btw? She sure jumped on that skip code quickly enough.

We got a glimpse of the Holmes parents as well. “Ordinary,” they are called. I’d say ordinary is one thing and prosaic another, given the parents’ dialogue. It was an odd moment and didn’t seem to fit. Was it just more for the fans, to answer some lingering Internet speculation? What a waste of scripting. Unless it comes back later?

As for the paper thin plot, something to do with a terrorist threat in London (which is why Mycroft went to the trouble to fetch his brother back) . . . I realize they mean to set up something bigger, of course. And is it possible Moriarty’s syndicate is not yet completely exterminated? Or that Mycroft is testing Sherlock on ever grander levels? But the bulk of the episode really went to all these interactions—Mycroft and Sherlock playing Operation—and while I understand the the character development, such as it is (and Mycroft is the one who is not changing; he is the bulwark), some of it was muddled here. Anderson, as I’ve mentioned, and the bizarre relationship between Sherlock and Molly, and finally the joke on John in the bomb carriage. It didn’t work for me. I mean, I like to think Molly has moved on, but the Almost Sherlock (aka Tom) merely puts Molly right back at the bottom . . . And then cutting the legs out from under John’s heartfelt words by having Sherlock trick him . . . I know Sherlock can be a dick, but he still needs to be likable, at least a little. Toying with Molly’s affections (is she really the one who “matters most”?) and laughing at John doesn’t play. It seems like one step too far in every direction. And for once, you know, it would be nice to see Molly and/or John get an upper hand.

Then again, maybe they have the upper hand and don’t realize it. If emotions make Sherlock uncomfortable, he’s going to hide them in order to keep his vulnerabilities hidden. And the best defense is a great offense.

So then we’re back to Mycroft’s curiosity about how his little brother would react to John being in mortal peril. Hmm.

I don’t mean to be down on all of it. Some of it did work quite well. I enjoyed John repeatedly choking Sherlock. And even Sherlock’s attempt to be playful by masquerading as the waiter. That was cute. I liked that Sherlock has John’s voice in his head when he’s working. But it was so obvious those basement skeletons were fake; I knew the minute I saw them, how could Sherlock not have done? (Well, it was either that they were fake or the art department had done an abysmal job.)

This is all just off the top of my head having just watched the episode. Maybe I’ll have more to say once I’ve slept on it. Maybe not.

Oh, and I know you’re going to ask about the Moriarty moment on the rooftop. More fan service, yes. The rule is to give the audience what it wants—or thinks it wants—without ever actually giving it what it wants. Right? (It’s the reason my “Martlets” script begins with Sherlock and John lookalikes in bed together. See? I did the lookalike thing already, back before Series 2. Get with it, boys. You’re behind the times.)

Where I Got the Idea For . . .

There is an ongoing joke that many writers touch on, the whole being-asked-where-you-get-your-ideas bit. And often the answer is as ephemeral as the creative process itself: “I just sort of came to me” or something of that ilk. For example, I couldn’t tell you where I got the idea for St. Peter in Chains. I can’t remember whether the chicken or egg came first there. But for some of my stories and scripts, I do remember what spawned them.

In this post I’ll tell you were I got the idea of my “Society of Martlets” script (well, and it was a story first). A couple things happened, and maybe synchronicity is a writer’s friend. In this instance I was reading a book about Queen Isabella and Edward II, and about the accusations that Edward was homosexual. That became a starting point for my story, and originally I was going to have the fianceé be in on the murder plot. But then I read about how Isabella’s father, Philip IV of France, persecuted the Knights Templar and the story took another turn. At the same time, I had noticed my family coat of arms (I mean, obviously I’d seen it before but now I really stopped to look) and the martlets featured on it . . . And I thought martlets were kind of cool, and it was also just a cool word, “martlet,” so . . . Those elements resolved themselves into the story.

In future posts I might tell how I came up with 20 August and The K-Pro. While neither had quite such concrete beginnings as “Martlets,” I can trace parts of their origins. Funny how one constructs things from bits and pieces . . .

“A Society of Martlets” Makes Quarterfinals in Final Draft Big Break

So very excited to be able to say my Sherlock spec has made the Quarterfinals in the Final Draft Big Break Contest. The QFs represent the top 12% in each category (feature or television). Just utterly floored, utterly honored to be counted among their number.

Many people know I have a particular love of Sherlock Holmes stemming from my childhood, and my readers are still clamoring for more of my Holmes stories—they remain my best-selling books. (I’m actually formulating a new story, the possible sequel to “Last Line” now.) So this little boost is especially close to my heart, because Holmes is especially close to my heart. Thank you so much, Final Draft Readers and Judges, for this acknowledgement!

The Good and the Bad

The good news I got this week: Three of my scripts made it through the preliminary round of the Creative World Awards. 20 August under Drama, St. Peter in Chains under Short Screenplays, and Sherlock: “A Society of Martlets” under Television (Existing 1 Hour Drama, even though Sherlock is 90 minutes). These are all the scripts I submitted, and I sent them at different times, which is why two are under one name and the other under another. Ugh. I can’t keep track of myself any more.

There are lots of hurdles yet to jump in this competition, however: quarterfinals, semi-finals, and finals. Only after all those will winners be announced. But I’m happy to have made at least one cut—and with all three scripts no less, when I honestly only hoped at least one might get through. Still, I’d be pretty happy to continue advancing . . . Quarterfinalists will be listed next week.

Also, there’s a chance a major producer might be interested in the St. Peter in Chains script, once I’ve finished doing the full-length draft. The one drawback being they think it’s a little slow and “needs more action.” Oh dear. I’ve stumbled into the Hollywood machinery. I’m willing to compromise to some extent, but I don’t know if I’m much of an action writer. Haven’t really tried it yet. Anyway, I need to focus on finishing the draft before going back to tinker with action and pacing.

And now the bad news. I was supposed to hear from Sundance about whether 20 August had made the second round of their Screenwriters Lab “no later than August 16.” But I didn’t. And then someone at AFF mentioned that an e-mail they’d tried to send me had bounced back to them. Huh. So I began to worry that the Sundance e-mail might have bounced, too. I e-mailed Sundance to ask them, but didn’t hear back. So this morning I called my e-mail and web hosting service, and sure enough, they found the Sundance e-mail in the spam filter.

Now let me explain the backward way this hosting service works. (By which I mean it doesn’t work at all.) Instead of giving ME access to my spam, so that I can see if/when stuff accidentally gets filtered when it shouldn’t, they have a net THEY create that catches spam and automatically deletes it, ostensibly saving me the hassle and saving their servers from any malicious intent. So while they were able to see that an e-mail had come from Sundance (which they had marked with a “high spam content score” even though I’d never blocked them), it had been immediately deleted when the server/program decided it was spam. It could not be retrieved. “You’ll have to e-mail the sender and ask them to re-send,” I was told. “And we’ll put them on the list of safe senders for you.”

Really, Assholes? YOU decide what I can and can’t receive? And then, when YOU fuck up, there is no recourse for me except to go begging the sender for a redo? I am livid. And will be changing my site host and e-mail service. So if this site goes down for a little while, please be patient while we relocate it. And use my gmail for any correspondence until I have new mailboxes set up. Thanks.

Meanwhile, I wait on Sundance to hopefully re-send the e-mail. Good news or bad, I just want to know.

Secondary Characters Bloghop

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This bloghop (go here to join) is about those characters that steal the show from the main act, either in books or movies. Which are your favorites?

I’ll start with the easy ones, by which I mean ones I wrote. When writing The K-Pro I originally only conceived of Alfred, Mac, and Craig as so much wallpaper, and Liz in particular was only going to be “in passing.” But they took on lives of their own! Alfred laid the groundwork for his own plot twist long before I consciously realized who he really was. And I was amazed when, in feedback, my readers loved Craig.

It’s happening again in my current WIP, St. Peter at the Gate. A character that would have been someone Peter just passes in the lobby has become central to the story. It can be fun when these things happen, but frustrating too when they necessitate major changes . . . Though I’ve found more often than not that these characters step up to give the story depth and actually make things easier in the long run.

In terms of others’ work, I think the examples are legion. Snape and Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books are just two. It’s interesting to me the way people sometimes rally around potential villains like Snape, or Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Well, and Anne Rice’s Lestat is the supreme example of the villain becoming the hero. In Interview with the Vampire, he’s certainly not sympathetic (though at the end he is pathetic), but he refused to leave Anne alone until she told his story . . . Many times over.

But this isn’t meant to be an academic exercise, and if pressed to name my favorite secondary characters, I would say Louis (from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles) because, though he was central to the first book, he was sidelined most of the others, and I always loved him best. And, oddly, Polonius from Hamlet, whose homilies were amusing even if his character on the whole was a bit irritating. I also always wondered how fucked up Horatio must’ve been after all that . . . I like Marcus Brody (played by Denholm Elliot) in the Indiana Jones movies, too. And the romantic figure of Ashley in Gone with the Wind as the sort of grail Scarlett could never obtain, though that makes him more of an object than a character. Prince Lir in The Last Unicorn. Jareth in Labyrinth.

I don’t know that I’d say any of the above “steal the show,” though. Lestat does in Interview, certainly; Moriarty as depicted by Andrew Scott tends to take over any scene he’s in, as does Rickman’s Snape. It’s easier to steal a scene when you’re a villain. You’ve got a bit more freedom to act (though Snape goes the other way in being repressively cold).

I suppose the pinnacle of this would be Ricardo Montalban as Khan in the second (classic) Star Trek movie. I watched that film over and over as a kid, that one and #3 (which I also loved for some unaccountable reason, or maybe those were the only two we had on tape). No, I haven’t seen the new film. Yes, I know the “secret.” Which makes me slightly more reluctant to see it, actually, since Montalban looms so large in my childhood memory. He was, for me, the ultimate scene-stealing secondary character.

The Subjectivity of Screenplay Scorecards

As many of you may know from previous posts, my short screenplay St. Peter in Chains won Table Read My Screenplay last month. And yet yesterday I received a scorecard for it from another competition that gave it only a 7.5 out of 10. Though the judge felt it had great marketability, he didn’t like (of all things) the dialogue. His final verdict was “undecided.”

Just goes to show you how important it is to find the right reader and audience for these things.

And today I got a similar scorecard for my Sherlock script. This poor script hasn’t been able to find a foothold anywhere, and yet! This judge really liked it! Rated it a “consider.” His reservation? That it was too long. Because, as he notes, “an hour-long drama is about 54 pages, so trim 30 pages.” Um . . . Has he seen an episode of Sherlock? It’s a 90-minute show. My script is 85 pages.

On the plus side: “There is definitely good commercial potential in this episode.” And, “Overall the writer has done a wonderful job of capturing the basic Sherlock style . . . We feel like we are watching Sherlock.” They liked my characterization and felt the dialogue was good, too. They just wanted more of a mystery to the plot. I can see their reasoning. It was actually very helpful feedback. And I’m pleased, on the whole, that they liked it. (Curious parties can find the script posted as a writing sample on my Stage 32 page.)

But again, it does come down to who reads it, doesn’t it? Same as when submitting to agents or producers . . . It’s like archery. Except you can’t see the target, just have to hope the arrow lands somewhere in the vicinity of your goal. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my aim.

2012 in Review

I always thought 2012 might be a big year for me, and it was in many ways, though somehow it feels less significant than I hoped it would be. I realize this sounds foolish, ridiculous even, given the huge life changes this year brought, but . . . I don’t know. Maybe because I expected the year to be important, the fact these big things happened seem small because I was waiting for them all along. Almost as if taking them for granted even before they occurred.

Here are the major milestones of my 2012:

The Move

This past March saw me moving from Massachusetts to California. I’d lived in Massachusetts for more than twelve years, but it had never felt like home to me. Meanwhile, I had been supposed to move to California back in 2001, so here I am, a bit tardy, but better late and all that. And I love it here. I now live someplace I’m glad to return to after traveling.

Which brings me to

Travel

Besides the move, which was travel in one direction, I did take a couple round trips this year. I went back to London over Easter, spent ten lovely days there to write and see a couple shows and an old friend from uni. And I visited family in Houston before attending the Austin Film Festival, where I also took the opportunity to see old friends from that area. Really good trips.

There was also a weekend away in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.

I love to travel, am already planning a return to London in summer 2013.

“Warm Bodies”

My first play, only ten minutes long, but a success on various fronts. It premiered in February in Enfield, Connecticut, as part of the annual Lab Works, where it was a finalist. Then it got picked up for the Source Festival in Washington D.C. It would have had a showing in Texas, too, except my Source contract eliminated the possibility (because the Texas show would have been in May, and I agreed to not have it produced again until after Source, which was in June). Still, on top of all this, “Warm Bodies” was selected for publication in an anthology, which is supposed to come out some time next year.

I’m excited by this modicum of success, though I’m hoping it wasn’t just a fluke. I don’t want to be a one-woman show one-show woman.

E-Books

I put out five e-books this year, starting in late June, and they’ve done moderately well. I’ve had close to 13,000 sales and downloads in the six months since my work has been available, and my Sherlock Holmes stories have been particularly popular, were even the #1 & #2 Sherlock Holmes stories, respectively, on Amazon for a while.

Truly, I resisted self-publishing for a while, but though I was getting encouraging feedback from places that liked my style of writing, no one was taking that step to publish me. (Though, as an aside I will say that I did have four flash fiction pieces accepted to an anthology.) And it seems that these days the publishing industry is somewhat backward, where the agents and publishers want to see whether you can sell before signing you. They only publish two kinds of writers now anyway: big names and lowest common denominator trash—the stuff that sells to the masses regardless of how badly written it is. The “middle class” of writers has fallen through the cracks, and self-publishing seems to be the net that has caught a good many of them.

In any case, I’ve been pleased to get my work out there and have it find an audience. And I’ve enjoyed the occasional fan e-mail, too.

Scripts

I was prepared to write off 2012 as a bad year for my screenwriting. Though I’d had a couple agency nibbles for my Sherlock spec, they came to nothing. And I spent the entire summer fielding rejections from various screenwriting competitions. Then, in October I got one really positive read for my short film script St. Peter in Chains (based on one of my novellas), and just a few days ago it made semi-finals in the Table Read My Screenplay competition. I have not been able to get anyone interested in actually making the film yet, but I’m still hoping it might happen. In any event, the year in screenwriting ended better than it began. Perhaps my strength is in prose, and maybe a little bit too in playwriting, but I’ve wanted to work in film and television since I was a child, so it’s tough to let go of those dreams.

***

. . . And those have been the major features of 2012. I’m not sure what to think about 2013; I’ve had 2012 in the back of my mind for so long, always knowing it would have some weight, I haven’t thought ahead to anything else. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe going in with no expectations is better than being disappointed in the long run.

A Dialogue

PERSON A: You have Asperger’s.

PERSON B: You’re an idiot. (beat) We are playing a game, right? One in which we state something obvious about the other person?

PERSON A: No . . .

PERSON B: No you’re not an idiot or no we’re not playing a game? I really require specificity to thrive. Oh! We could play “Idiot, Not an Idiot.” (pointing to PERSON A) Idiot. (pointing to self) Not an idiot. (beat) We need more people.

I sort of see this as happening between Anderson and Sherlock, though I’m not sure what the circumstances would have to be to prompt such a conversation . . . Though I’ve actually participated in this dialogue myself (as Person B).

Dear Jim

We do not have the Elf on the Shelf. We have Jim.

Of course, Jim is sort of the antithesis of the Elf on the Shelf in that he actually causes trouble as opposed to preventing the children from being naughty. Jim is the naughty one, and each morning the kids delight in informing me where they’ve found him and what he’s up to.

He’s been known to ride my daughter’s bike . . .
. . . and to hide in my boots . . .
. . . to climb the light fixtures . . .
. . . and hang out in the kitchen . . .
. . . and even attempt to disarm the security system.

Jim, as you see, is quite the rascal. I am greeted many mornings with, “Mom, we found the bad guy!” (This is what the children call him, though I’ve also heard “Mor-dee-ar-dee” which makes me think he manufactures canned pasta.) The children consider it their duty to keep an eye on Jim; it would never occur to them he might be watching them.