A film review of B. F. E.


Last Monday night I saw the Seattle International Film Festival premier of B. F. E., a very good low budget film by actor-writer-director Shawn Telford.  His first feature film,  the move demonstrates Telford’s gift for direction and complex storytelling in the vein of Robert Altman. Shawn is particularly adept at casting and getting the most out of a string of talented young actors and several older ones as well. Ian Lerch and Kelsey Packwood performed beyond their years as the principal lovers. Both Hans Altwies and Abby Dylan were very credible as well.
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Odysseus and Calypso

Odysseus and Calypso
Odysseus and Calypso.
Red-figure vase. Clay.
Paris, Louvre Museum.

I’ve been writing a lengthy middle-grade sci-fi novel for almost two years now that I think of as an odyssey. It’s the tale of a modern girl whose city has been horribly changed be someone stealing her parents’ time machine. When the machine returns to her, she and her best friend must use it to go back three-hundred years and undo the damage.
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A sabbatical with a month in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Door

Thanks to the generosity of my employer, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, I am currently in the final month of a three-month writing sabbatical. Half of the time I’ve spent at home in Seattle. My wife Springer and I have just spent the middle portion on a trip to Santa Fe.  I’m very happy we drove. The trip from the rainforests of the Northwest, through the Canyon Lands of Utah and the majestic Rocky Mountains of southern Colorado, to high desert of the New Mexico was an inspiring one.  A painter herself, Springer got as much out of the trip as I did.

We rented a comfortable house for the month of September in the Ft. Carson area of Santa Fe. Each day I wrote for two hours in the early morning. The two of us then had breakfast followed by a couple of hours experiencing the beauty and art of this remarkable four-hundred year old city.  After lunch most days I wrote for two hours, played my guitar for an hour then had a brief workout and walk through a lovely, shaded arroyo that runs through the city.

I chose Santa Fe, not only for its warmth and beauty, but for the successful coexistence between its native and immigrant peoples which has been an inspiration to my currently 108,000 word children’s novel. I recommend everyone visit this city to experience the hospitality of the kind people who live there. Anyone will find the cordiality and easy pace soothing.

By the time Springer and I left Santa Fe, I had made significant progress on my story, become a little better guitar player and wrote the beginnings of a song I plan to finish this month. I will post a link to some photos I took on the trip and eventually a link to the song I’m working on, appropriately named “Santa Fe County.”

Backstories of Backstories

Every story has a backstory. Every time machine story has two.

The backstory of the Pirates of Time, my current effort, is the love between pseudo-pirate Captain Swiftfoot Darkrunner and Blue Leaf, princess of the Nighthawk People.  This love is vital to my main character Erin Isabelle Spotsworth three-hundred years later.  Though only obliquely related to my tale, Pirates of Time could not have been written were it not for a number of fiction and non-fiction books I read as a child. This post is an attempt to honor these stories in enriching my story and indeed, my life.

Pocahontas and John Smith

The history of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith


Peter Pan and other related works of J.M. Barrie


The novels of L. Frank Baum


The rich literary history of forgetful professors such as Per Lindroth’s book.

Chuck Berry – American Poet

I was talking about Chuck Berry’s poetry recently to someone recently, who laughed and asked, “Poetry? Really?”

For those of who associate 50’s poetry solely with the Beat poets like Ginsberg and Ferlingetti, I say, open your mind. No one supasses Chuck for the poetry of sexual, political and racial freedom.   If ever there was a man, to quote Bob Dylan, who “danced beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,” it was Chuck. He bolted through life with his eyes wide open, expecting to be cheated (as he often was), daring the authorities to stop him from living his life as a free man.  He paid the price with three prison terms, none of which broke him.  Like O’Henry, he wasn’t the first poet to make mistakes.  A great humorist, story teller and poet of the open road in the tradition of Mark Twain, Robert Service and Jack Kerouac, Chuck served his poetry straight-up.

Before reading Chuck’s lyrics as poetry, I suggest you put away your prejudices – all of them – and see the film Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll. Then read  Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, do so as soon as possible.

From the new time travel manuscript

Sea Battle

With Sophie sleeping comfortably, Erin decided to venture above for the first time since the battle. The deck was bathed in bright, tropical sunlight. The Mansions of Night was on a port tack heading west south-west several hundred yards behind Velocity.

Erin found Mera at the stern rail watching a lone British frigate following from halfway to the horizon.

“That’s Insuperable,” Mera said solemnly. “She was on our heels when we left Sugar Bowl Bay. We’ve put three miles on her since.”

“I’m surprised your mom doesn’t join with Velocity and attack. It’s two to one.”

“Mother thinks Triumph and Lucy B are just over the rim, or they wouldn’t risk stalking us. Lucy B has jib damage and Triumph is holed below the water line. When they’ve made repairs, they’ll likely start closing on us. They’ve more sail than our ships.”

Erin stared across the heaving sea imagining the three frigates drawing closer every day until their twenty-four pound “bruisers”, as Jennie called the British cannons, could “punch us through at thousand yards.” Nell and Darkrunner would certainly turn and attack, as they had before. But there would be no surprise this time. Just smashing long shots followed by a broadside brawl which Jenny didn’t believe the pirate ships could long stand.

“Don’t fret too much,” Mera said watching Erin’s face. “We’ve still got the best captains on the Deep Blue Sea.”

Erin tried her best to smile, but couldn’t help but worry at the odds.

[Thanks to Chris Hunt for providing reference to image:  Battle of Quiberon Bay: the Day After (Richard Wright 1760)]

research on the action sequence of firing a cannon

Gun Drill aboard USS Constitution

I am at the scene in my pirate novel where my heroines, who have just been made midshipmen (yes, midshipmen), need to be trained in how to fire cannons called 12-pounders.

As I mentioned before I’ve read several of the Master and Commander book series by Patrick O’Brian. There is a detailed description in the fourth chapter of the book by that title. But even after having read it several times, I still found it difficult to visualize what the mechanisms looked like and exactly how the crew performed their tasks. The best representation I found was a youtube video of the crew of the USS Constitution running through the identical drill. The ship is of a later date than my Velocity, and the cannon is a 24-pounder, but the process is exactly as O’Brian describes it. Cannon technology didn’t significantly change until the advent of the breech loaders in the mid-nineteenth century. Click on the image below to see the video.


Climbing Pitons

I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland last week. For those of you who don’t know of it, it’s my favorite.  The three-day conference has excellent speakers and is very well-managed. What it offers that is of special benefit to me is direct access to industry people willing to listen to one-on-one and group pitches.

One of the seminars I attended was a talk on writing memoirs by Jennifer Lauck. I plan to begin a memoir in about eighteen months, so I was keen to learn something about a subject which has puzzled me for a long time.  How does one write truthfully about what happened long ago? I have my memories of course, and plan to talk to people I knew at that time. But how does one construct something real from the muddle and mist that momories oft are?

I don’t want to give away too much of what Jennifer had to say. (I did that at a conference once and the lecturer let me know he didn’t appreciate it. It was, as he said, his “bread and butter.”) I’ll just leave you, however, with a helpful quote she gave us from Bernard Cooper, the American novelist. The quote states, “Only when the infinite has edges am I capable of making art.”

With that in mind, I plan to find those edges in my story that I know are the most real.  I do have some records of these edges, namely half a dozen songs I wrote during that period, photographs my wife took and, most importantly, eight hours of audio with one of the principles in the story. My idea is to drive these certainties into my tale like the pitons climbers use to secure their ropes to, as they ascend.  Climbers, I would imagine, don’t view a distant and unfamiliar mountain face and know how exactly they will climb it. It is only as they approach the rock and study its gross formations, that they rough out their possible routes. And it is not until they are literally face to face with the mountain, that really decide which paths are to be trusted, and which not.  Surrounded by the infinite, they feel their way to the summit along these edges using little more than their intuition, fingertips and shoe leather.

A piece of art that to me embodies this of an infinite with edges is John Lennon’s “Across the Universe.”

Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Images of broken light, which
Dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe.
Thoughts meander like a
Restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai Guru Deva.
Jai Guru Deva.
Jai Guru Deva.
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Here are a few links that relate to this post.

Jennifer Lauck:  http://www.jenniferlauck.com/
Bernard Cooper quote: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/bernard_cooper
If you’re considering going to a conference next year, I urge you to get on their mailing list: http://www.willamettewriters.com/1/join.php .

Call – Song

Song - Call

I wrote this song. The music came out of a dream that woke me up at 4 AM. In the dream, someone I loved wouldn’t return my call. She was on the run in some way, in a car “inside the rain.” She felt like she had done something wrong and wouldn’t come home.

Humming the tune I went down to my basement and played it in the key I heard in the dream. I only had the melody of the verse and the opening few lines. I added the chorus over the next few days and the other verses by the end of a month.

This video was done soon after I wrote it. The song brought me back to songwriting after decades of rarely touching a guitar.

©2010 Sperry Hunt

1. Call – I can’t call you, please
Call – I’ll be waiting for your
Call. From the darkened lane
In your car inside the rain.

2. If you call me, I’ll be there.
I’ll whisper “Baby” in your hair.
Feel my arms around you.
Pull me inside. Call.

I know why you run.
From what you might have done.
But this is not your world, my girl.
No one saw this heartbreak come.
No one saw this heartache come.

3. They’re empty days since you’ve been gone.
And every night is just so long.
Please don’t stay away.
I’ll bring you home with what I say.

4. I am the moonlight on your breast.
You are the stars in my chest.
Ten thousand miles from home
You don’t have to be alone.

[Repeat Chorus]

5. My arms are strong. My eyes are bright.
I’ll keep them open for the night.
If you feel the same,
You will call me name.

6. I wait and wait for what is real,
For you to tell me how you feel.
A braver girl would say it all,
But she would call.

Seattle Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

I had a wonderful time at Seattle Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night last evening.  There’s little else that can better remind me of the truths in life than Shakespeare’s comedies.  I had forgotten what a wonderful play this is.  There is no fool like a wise fool, and none is wiser than Feast very ably played by Chris Ensweiler, who pokes great fun at the Puritans who, in Shakespeare’s time, waited in the wings with their sharp knives to fall on the bard’s ideals.  Ensweiler, Carter Rodriquez and Sean Patrick Taylor made wonderful music on stage with dueling Spanish guitars and a lyrical mandolin. Ray Gonzales was terrific as Sir Toby Belch.  He reminds me a bit of the able Powers Boothe, who could not possibly have done a better job.  Gonzales captured Belch perfectly by affording him all the dignity the sod imagines he possesses.   Everyone was wonderful, but most especially Susannah Millonzi whose heartbreaking earnestness brought my entire front-and-center row to tears in the last act.  An uproarious comedy that can make the audience cry is a comedy indeed.  Thanks once again, Seattle Shakespeare.

A change in direction









I’ve decided to take a change in direction in chosing my next piece.  Having completed the first novel in the Inventors’ Daughter Series and written an extensive chapter-by-chapter outline of  the second, I feel confident that I can take a haitus and return to the series when I am ready.  This feels natural to me, as I try to rotate my crops between whimsical and serious works.

In the meantime, I’m going to write a 5000-10,000 word story about myself and my friends when we were seventeen and eighteen.  It’s a sad story I’ve wanted to tell for many years now and feel I am now able to tell it truthfully.

The pitfalls of mixing first-person and third-person narratives

Last month at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Western Washington monthly meeting we heard a very interesting talk on plot and pacing from Elana Roth, agent with Caren Johnson Literary Agency. I got a lot out of Elana’s talk that I would like to share, but her first point was that we restrain from blogging about the specifics of her talk. Let me say only, that if you have a chance to hear or read her comments, please do.

During the Q & A I asked her a specific question about the book I’m currently working on:  Is it okay to mix first and third person narratives.  Her answer shocked me.


What I’m writing is a crime/sci-fi novel for middle graders, with a heavy emphasis on the crime genre.  It’s nearly noir for kids.  In order to make it interesting I must write scenes out of the protagonists POV.  The technique gives the Harry Potter novels much of their tension.  The reader feels a doubling of urgency when the villains are on stage, as it were.

My first draft was written in the third person and was pretty good.  The major problem was that it was difficult for me to give authenticity to the main character, an eleven-year-old girl, while staying in the third person.  So, I studied books that use the first person to create a more vibrant character (The Postcard by Tony Abbott, for one).  Then I rewrote the novel, making the main character’s POV first person.

The story was definitely improved by my being able to give my character an inner voice.  She could not only comment directly to the reader, but in a real, humorous and appropriate way. But I was troubled by the mixing of the first and third person narratives.

Alana was adamant in her opinion.  It just doesn’t work, she said, and you won’t find good examples of it – unless the mixing was very organized and predictable.  That wouldn’t work for my book.

I relented and returned to the third person.  I did keep many of the access points by using the classic “she thought” technique.  In doing so, I believe I’ve improved my access to the character, and so my telling of the tale.  I do want to thank Alana Roth for helping me through this.  I might have made a serious misstep had I – not only heard – but taken her advice to heart.