Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Friday, December 16, 2016

ChristianCinema's Top 100 Bestselling Films

I am pleased and grateful to announce that eight films I wrote made the Top 100 Bestselling Films of 2016 at  One of them, the always reliable "The Encounter," co-written by the mighty Timothy Ratajczak, made the Top 10.  Additionally, a film I edited but did not write also made the list.  Also, when you consider that I did some ghostwriting on another one of the films, which shall remain nameless, I had my hands in ten percent of the films on the list.

I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to work on these films, and I want to thank all of the talented people involved.  Film making is a collaborative venture,  No one person can take all the credit, or all the blame, for a film.

Here are the titles:

#9.  The Encounter.

#20.  Revelation Road 2:  The Sea of Glass and Fire.

#32.  Hidden Secrets.

#49,  The Encounter: Paradise Lost

#56.  Marriage Retreat.

#70.  The Black Rider: Revelation Road.

#78.  Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End.

#88.  Sarah's Choice.

Here's the additional film I edited:

#39.  In The Blink of an Eye.

If you liked any of these films, you will love my memoir published by Touchpoint Press.  Be sure to check it out:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Unlock Your Inner Screenwriter

This weekend, I have the honor once again to be a guest at the Churches Making Movies Christian Film Festival in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  On Saturday, between 1pm and 2pm, I will be delivering a dynamic workshop that will vault the participants to screenwriting success -- or at least that's what the brochure says.  The workshop will take place at the Courtyard Marriott, 87 International Blvd, Elizabeth, NJ  07201.

I think everyone had a great time at last year's seminar so come on by.  I will also be attending the Red Carpet Gala on Friday night.   Feel free to introduce yourself.

Here's the website for the festival:  Churches Making Movie.

Also, be sure to check out my book.  Click for a free preview:

Monday, September 26, 2016

RIP Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis with my wife Deborah Lynn Murphy
Many years ago I helped edit the film Jimmyo Burril's "Chainsaw Sally"starring April Monique Burril and Mark Redfield.  The true highlight of the project was the opportunity to meet horror icon Herschell Gordon Lewis, aka The Godfather of Gore.  I rarely venture onto the sets of films I edit, but I did go to meet Herschell, who turned out to be a really nice, unassuming guy, who, like myself, spent most of his career working in advertising.

I have been a fan of horror movies all of my life and I have always respected Herschell as an innovator.  His low-budget exploitative film "Blood Feast" initiated the "gore" subgenre and paved the way for films like "Night of the Living Dead."  Generally speaking, I am not a fan of gore for the sake of gore, but I really enjoyed Herschell's film "2000 Maniacs," a twisted version of the musical"Brigadoon," about a Confederate town that reappears 100 years so that the inhabitants can take revenge on Yankees.  Herschell infused the film with a certain goofy, maniacal gleeful charm that kept the proceedings entertaining throughout.

Rest in peace, Herschell.  I'm glad I had the chance to meet you.

You will find considerably less gore in my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" than Herschell's films.  Be sure to check it out:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"The Company Man" Wins Three Emmys!

The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter, recently awarded "The Company Man" three Emmys.  The film won Best Director, Tom Feliu, Best Photography, John St. Ours, and Best Program/Special.  This brings the total of Emmys won by films I wrote to six.

Yours truly with one of the previous Emmys.
"The Company Man" was made by Rocket Media Group and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  It was directed by Tom Feliu, produced by Ward LeHardy, Tom Feliu, Jarett Melville and Dean Chappell III, and written by your humble narrator.  It is a narrative short depicting the very real threat of economic espionage at the behest of foreign powers.

The film is based on an actual case of attempted economic espionage that was successfully thwarted by the joint efforts of the targeted company and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Some names and details were changed in the film to obscure the actual identity of the company itself.

"The Company Man" might be my favorite project for the FBI.  As a screenwriter, I was really drawn to the case.  It was very Hitchcockian.  The story revolved around a mild-mannered everyman who reluctantly finds himself in the center of an international game of cat and mouse.  In order to catch the foreign agents, the FBI needed to use an employee at the targeted company as bait because it was easier to teach the engineer the necessary spy craft than it was to teach an FBI Agent the detailed engineering knowledge.  The film is told from the perspective of the courageous engineer.  It was a great story with a great result:  Thousands of American jobs saved.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this film.  I always enjoy working with Rocket Media and the folks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Each project has given me great insight into serious problems facing our country.  I am hopeful that the films will be part of the solution.

And, despite whatever National Public Radio thinks, they are not propaganda.

Here's the film:

Have you read my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking to God" yet?  If not, what are you waiting for?  Check out this free preview on Amazon:

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Company Man: Featured on 60 Minutes

This Sunday's episode of the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes" used footage from my FBI film "The Company Man" in their story Collateral Damage, about Chinese-American scientists falsely accused of espionage.  The point of the story is that the Justice Department is throwing too wide a net in their attempts to combat the state sponsored theft of intellectual and scientific property.  All I can say is, based on my research, the problem is very real and very damaging to the United States.

Our film, "The Company Man," which was produced for the FBI by Rocket Media, was based very closely on an actual case.  I am very proud of it.  Here's the trailer:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"The Coming Storm" on Fox News

Yours truly on the set of "The Coming Storm."

"The Coming Storm," a film I wrote for the Federal Bureau of Investigation was discussed on Fox News a few months ago.  I recently saw the clip and decided to post it here.  Despite Shepherd Smith's snarky comments about the musical score, it is a pretty favorable story.  Watch here if the player below doesn't work for you:  Slick FBI video trains first responders.

"The Coming Storm" is the fourth film I wrote for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  It was directed by Tom Feliu and produced by Ward LeHardy and Skip Coblyn at Rocket Media Group.   The film depicts an active shooter event at a college and the chaotic aftermath as law enforcement and first responders and victims try to come to grips with tragedy.  Unlike my other films, I don't think this one will be released to the general public.  Although the story is told dramatically, and I believe it carries an emotional punch, it is a little more training oriented than my previous films.

This, however, is the first of the films I appeared in.  My wife Deborah and I play worried parents.  I think I even see us blurred out in background periodically....

My wife Deborah and myself with our star Elliott Bales.
I really love working on these films for the FBI.  Great, dedicated people.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prince and the Nexus of Music and Memory.

This poster was my introduction to Prince.

I heard about it before I actually saw it. It was 1981. My girlfriend was getting a new dorm mate at college.  The new girl proceeded to hang the large poster on the wall over her bed.  My girlfriend was repulsed. She thought it was disgusting, and quickly told me as much later that day on the phone.  It would be weeks before I finally got to see the poster myself.*  It was my introduction to the late Prince Rogers Nelson.

I had never heard of him before seeing the poster, although I soon would.  I would become a fan.  Not a big one.  I bought the iconic "Purple Rain" album -- who didn't?  I later got a greatest hits package that filled in most of the remaining blanks as far as I was concerned.  Yet, despite my lack of devotion, Prince's death really hit me hard and I think I know why.

When you're young, I think you are attracted to music that speaks to your immediate emotional needs at the moment. You seek out performers whose words and music impart something into your life. It also helps you build a sense of community with others. You instinctively feel that other people who are attracted to the same music must share your background and needs. Music reinforces your feelings and helps you find your place in life.

It's different when you're older. Popular music from the previous decades speaks to you differently.  It is no longer about what the recording artist imparts to you through the words and music. It is about what you impart onto the music.

Generally speaking, I hated the music of the eighties during the actual decade itself.  I found it gimmicky and over-produced and too heavily-laden laden with synthesizers and electronic drums.  Ick.  Now I love it.  It's amazing how songs I once viewed with disdain can illicit a deep emotional response from me.  Why?  Because the songs themselves no longer matter in and of themselves.  The emotion comes from the context in which I heard them originally.

For example, when I hear Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," my mind races back to a fun company party held at the home of two of the executives at a company where I worked. When I hear "Raspberry Beret," my mind goes back to a sunny, carefree Saturday morning when I first saw the video. It put me in a chipper mood for the rest of the day.  Prince's original intentions with the music are irrelevant to me.  Now the songs serve as little audio time machines -- transporting me back to bygone days.

When I wrote my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," I found pop music to be one of my most effective tools.  I created massive playlists of songs from each of the years depicted in my book.  And, for example, when I wrote a chapter about 1980, I only played randomly-shuffled songs from that year.  I was shocked how much emotion and memory those often lame AM-oriented Top 40 songs packed. They recaptured a time frozen in the past.

And that is why I mourn Prince. There was a time when he was positively ubiquitous. His voice rang out from every television and radio and turntable and boom box. Even if I didn't deliberately seek out his music, Prince was always there providing the soundtrack to a sad, crazy, exciting time in my life.  His sudden death serves as an unwelcome reminder that the past that he provided a steady beat for is also gone forever.

I guess the poet John Donne summed it up best when he said: "Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."

I do mourn Prince as a person. My prayers go to his family and loved ones. But I also realize he takes a little of me with him. And I know I will soon follow.

Until then, Let's Go Crazy:

*Funny, I never noticed the cross in the poster until I looked at it again after Prince's death.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Girl at the End of the Road: Book Review

I don't read many novels.  Not anymore.

Since I became a working screenwriter, I take less pleasure in novels.  I have a hard time enjoying them at face value.  I always find myself stepping out of the action as I consider whether the book would make a good movie.  Fortunately, I didn't have that problem with "The girl at the end of the road" by Kathryn Hitchins.  I found the book riveting from the start, and it kept me hooked despite the fact that I thought it would make a great movie.

I actually read the book prior to its publication.  I found it on the now defunct website Authonomy.  Authonomy was a writer community set up by the publisher Harper Collins.  Writers were invited to post their manuscripts to be read and critiqued by fellow writers.  The most highly-rated manuscripts would then be considered by the editors at Harper Collins.  I joined Authonomy because I was hoping to have a very early draft of my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" considered by the publisher.  Therefore, I had to get some ratings.  The best way to get them was to read and critique books by other writers.

I thought it would be a tedious process.  Both fortunately and unfortunately, most of the books I read were very good.  I say fortunately because it made it easier to read them.  I say unfortunately because it showed the extremely high level of competition in the book world.   "The girl at the end of the road" was easily the best novel I read on the website.

The book tells the story of a high-flying, young financier named Vincent who seems to have it all:  money, a great apartment in the city, and a high-class girlfriend.  Unfortunately, Vincent loses his job in the economic collapse and, much to his humiliation, he must return to his parents' small town home to regroup.  While using the internet at the library, he becomes reacquainted with Sarah, the eccentric assistant librarian.  She was his first crush in school, and, although she remembers him, she treats him with utter indifference.  This is a blow to Vincent's ego, since he views himself as more successful (at least temporarily) than any of the people who stayed in town.  And because, once upon a time, he felt there was a real bond between them.

Vincent works hard to impress her, but his efforts always back fire.  Her constant rejection of him makes her all the more desirable.  Eventually, he finds a hook into her life.  She needs to learn how to drive and he offers to teach her.  They slowly begin to bond against again as Vincent tries to unravel the mystery of Sarah Penny.  So does the reader.

(Spoilers.  You've been warned.)

Sarah Penny is a wonderful creation.  Fresh.  Unique.  Intriguing.  A truly vivid character that, like Vincent, I found myself quickly falling in love with.  I found her so fascinating that I questioned why the author didn't tell the story from her point of view, but I believe she made the right choice by letting the reader uncover her secrets along with Vincent.  What is her secret?  Autism.

Fascinating.  The problem with romances is that there are so few obstacles between people in our carefree world today.  This was a great one.  Once Vincent begins to understand Sarah's autism, he realizes she will never fit into the life he envisioned for himself.  His shallow, materialistic friends in the city would never accept her, nor would she accept them.  Vincent would have to leave his world and enter hers if he decided to love her.  It is a decision that will change his world.

It is a great story, but, more importantly, it is also an illuminating depiction of autism.  Kathryn gives us a compassionate but honest portrait of an autistic person.  I later learned after talking with the author that she has an autistic daughter.  I was not surprised.  Such a detailed portrait needed a real subject.

I loved the book.  And, since I am a screenwriter and a producer, I wanted to make a movie.  I contacted Kathryn and asked her if she was interested.  She was.  I wrote up a treatment in conjunction with her.  I changed the location from England to America and simplified the plot a bit.  My first thought was the UPtv network.  I had previously done the feature-length series pilot "Brother White" with them and I thought this story suited them very well.  Since PureFlix had ongoing relationship with the network, I called  David A.R. White, and, despite my exceedingly strained relationship with the company, asked if he was interested in pitching the story.  He was.  Off it the network.  A few weeks later, in what would prove to be my last phone call with David, I asked what the network thought of the treatment.  David said he hadn't heard back from them yet.  He added that since PureFlix was concentrating on theatrical features now, they weren't interested in making any more films with UPtv anyway -- although they subsequently made Gabe Sabloff's "Dancer and The Dame" with the network.

I approached another producer, Pamela J. Bertsch, with even better connections with UPtv.  She sent in the treatment and we got a response in about two days.  They declined because they had just done a movie with some superficial plot similarities which didn't touch on the autism angle.  Now it was time to go elsewhere.  I thought it would be great for Hallmark, but I couldn't approach them with just an unpublished book unless I had a completed screenplay.  Sadly, I was too weighed under by assignment work to write the script, and Kathryn was too busy trying to get it published.  Fortunately, she succeeded and I couldn't be happier for her.

Now it might be time to reconsider writing the script....

And maybe it shouldn't be a cable movie after all.  Top flight actresses will definitely want to play Sarah....

PS.  I am not reviewing the book because of this little blurb on the back cover.  (But it doesn't hurt.)

After reading "The girl at the end of the road," be sure to check out my book ,"The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," available on Kindle and in paperback from TouchPoint Press.  (I recommend the paperback.)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

My Ancestors: Kristina Bednar Kostohryz

Kristina Kostohryz, seated

(Since immigration seems to be all the rage in the news today, I have decided to honor a few of my immigrant ancestors.  First in a series.)

Kristina Bednar Kostohryz was my 2nd great-grandmother. She was born on February 25, 1865 in Klouzovice, Bohemia. The midwife was Anna Stork from Chejnow, certified. She was baptized by Fr. Soukkup, chaplain. The godparents were Vaclav Holesovsky, a merchant, and his sister, Josefa Holessowka.

Her father, Jacob Bednar, was a tailor. He was born on July 07, 1802 in Klouzovice, Tabor, Bohemia, and died on September 07, 1870 in Chejnow, Bohemia when Kristina was only five-years-old. Her mother was Jacob's second wife, Terezie Kratoska, the daughter of a farmer.  She was born in February 01, 1830 in Kozmice, Tabor, Bohemia, and died on June 03, 1897 in Chynow, Bohemia of old age. Kristina was their only child together. In a sense, Kristina was a bit of an anomaly. Terezie gave birth to her at the age of thirty-five. It was very rare for a woman at that time to give birth to a first child at that age.

I have often wondered why my ancestors left their homes and traveled to America. I think the answer is relatively clear in Kristina's case. The year 1891 seemed to be a pivotal one in her life. On June 30, 1891 she married Jan Nepom Kostohryz in Chynow, Bohemia. On August 19. 1891 she and her husband arrived in Baltimore, Maryland aboard the SS Stuttgart which sailed out of Bremen, Germany. Then, on October 18, 1891, she gave birth to her first child, Maria Theresa Kostohryz, who later died of cholera on July 24, 1892. Was her emigration to America designed to disguise the fact that she was obviously pregnant before she was married? That certainly seems plausible.

The Kostohryz home in Bernartice.  Seems nice.
In Bohemia, Kristina worked for a German countess who gave her fine letter of recommendation that she brought with her. In America, she worked a series of menial jobs, i.e., maid, washerwoman, while raising her family. Sometimes, during harvests, she and her entire family who travel out to then rural Westminster, Maryland, to pick crops. She had eight children. One boy. Seven girls. Only three of the children lived to adulthood. The others were killed by diseases which, due to the wonders of modern medicine, no longer prey on American children. One can only imagine the emotions she felt as she buried five children.  Every time I hear some one going out about the evils of vaccinations, I picture Kristina and Jan standing over the graves of five of their children.

One of Kristina's Bohemian documents.
By all reports, Kristina was tiny woman. No taller than five foot. She and her family lived in a small row house at 905 Duncan Alley. When they originally bought the house, it had neither electricity or indoor plumbing. That entire block of homes has recently been demolished by the city to control urban blight.  I wish I had taken a picture of the building before they tore it down.  Sadly, however, Duncan Alley is very narrow and seemed to be overpopulated with drug dealers.  I never got the feeling they would appreciate me parking out front and taking pictures.

 Kristina would often get lost while walking around Baltimore. Whenever she did, she would try to find Johns Hopkins Hospital because she knew how to get home from there. She never learned to speak English. She retained a European-style manner of dress throughout her life. She wore long skirts and blouses with the sleeves rolled up. She kept her hair in a bun and usually had it covered in a babushka.  Her grandchildren remembered her being very kind.

Later in life, she kept the house of a politician and furniture store owner named Klecka who lived on the 800 block of Covington. Aside from her housekeeping duties, during Prohibition she also provided her home brew to the family. After the death of her husband, she took boarders into her home Duncan Alley.

Kristina, right, with my great-grandmother
Kostohryz Rosenberger.
Kristina died of pneumonia on January 02, 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was laid out in the home of her daughter, and my great-grandmother, Mary Anna Kostorhryz Rosenberger at 2207 E. Biddle Street. She was buried alongside her husband Jan at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

My 95-year-old grandmother Rita is probably the last person alive who actually remembers Kristina.  When my grandmother finally goes to her reward, which hopefully won't be for another five-or-ten-years, Kristina will pass forever from living memory.  Her presence in this world will be reduced to a few fading photos, some lines scribbled on various church and governmental documents and some bones in a box under a fine but rarely visited tombstone.  And, of course, her DNA.  Her blood lingers still in my veins.  She undoubtedly had a genetic influence on me, but that is invisible to the naked eye -- mixed up in jumble of genes from all of those who came before me back to the dawn of time.

That said, I have still learned from my 2nd-great-grandmother Kristina.  When I think of her, I see a woman who experienced all of the joys and passions as well as fears and sorrows that I have.  And they probably seemed as fresh and unique to her as they do to me. All things seem new with each suceeding generation, but the human experience remains stubbornly the same regardless of our technology.   I also admire her bravery:  Her willingness to leave Bohemia for a strange land where they spoke a strange language she never learned.  I doubt I could have done that.  I've never lived more than a few blocks away where I was raised.   However, the biggest lesson Kristina taught me concerns sorrow.

Every morning before I go to work, I have the opportunity to play with my little granddaughter Mara.  She is such a delight.  I couldn't imagine losing Mara, yet Kristina lost five of her little children around Mara's age.  It must have been unbearable for her.

People wisely say that life's pleasures are fleeting.  What is said less frequently is that life's sorrows are fleeting, too.  Somehow, Kristina moved beyond her sorrow with a kindness that still brings a smile to the lips of her 95-year-old granddaughter Rita whenever she talks about her Baba.

I'm glad I took the time to learn about my great-great-grandmother Kristina.

You are not forgotten.

Grave of Jan & Kristina Kostohryz
Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

ParaTruth Radio Interview with Yours Truly

Wanna see a long, Skye interview with me about writing, Christian films, my book and tons of other stuff?  Justin Cancilliere of ParaTruth Radio just made it happen.   Here it is:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Writing Tip #14: No Means No!

No means no isn't just for dating anymore.  It's for screenwriters, too.

Screenwriters without agents are totally dependent upon the good graces of producers, directors and development people in order to ply our craft.  (Truth be told, so are screenwriters with agents.)  It is essential to remain in their good graces.  The best way to do that is to understand that no means no.

When someone at a production company requests to read your script after receiving your query, they are paying you a great compliment.  They delete hundreds of queries for every one to which they reply.  When they request your script, they are treating you like a professional screenwriter.  Don't prove them wrong.  Avoid the temptation to make obvious mistakes that hurt all your fellow writers chancing of being read.

1).  Do not send the script itself with the query.  Bad idea on a number of levels.  It is considered rude.  It is a slap in the face of companies that might have read your script if you signed their legal release first.  It's also likely to have your email diverted directly to the spam folder because of internet security concerns.  It also throws off your metrics.  Say you send out a blind query to 100 companies with the script attached.  You have no idea who is actually reading it.  One of them?  Twenty?  All one hundred?  You have no way of knowing,  That's why I want them to request the script.  I want to know which emails are active, and who is actually reading.

Once I send it, I....

2).  Do not check on the status of the script.  I don't care if it's been one day, one week, one month or one year.  Never ever.  Here's the bottom line, if they don't like the script, you will never hear from them.  Silence means they didn't like it.  Period.  Some people can't accept that.  They think it is rude.  Oh well, that's life.  Learn to deal with it.  Pestering them will only get your future queries sent to the spam folder.  The last thing any thinking writer wants to do is alienate a production company person willing to consider unsolicited queries by bugging them.  That's just crazy.

However, if they do bother to send you a rejection....

3).  Do not ask why they didn't like the script.  Usually, most people will only send a rejection if they feel you deserve professional courtesy.  Sometimes, if they really liked the script, they will say encouraging words about it.  Sometimes, if you really impressed them, they will ask if you have any other scripts they'd be interested in.  However, if you write back and ask them why they didn't like it, they will immediately realize you didn't deserve the professional courtesy they offered you.  Why?  Because you are not giving them proper professional courtesy.

Development people tend to be buried under a deluge of work.  They spend all day fulfilling the mercurial whims of their bosses, then they have to carry a stack of scripts home with them every night and on the weekends.  They don't have time to walk you through your second act mishap.  There are multitudes of professional script reading services available.  Asking the development people to do it for free is simply insulting.  Bam!  Guess who has been relegated to the spam folder?

The only proper response when someone read your script is:  "Thank you for your consideration."

Feel free to pitch them your next script, but, whatever you do....

4).  Don't ask them to read the rewrite of the script they already read.  You only get one chance with a producer or a production company.  That's why you have to make sure it's perfect the first time.  And, in all honesty, your rewrite probably wouldn't change the script enough to overcome their problems with it anyway.  Let's talk writer to writer.  When we make revisions on our own, we tweak a scene here, a character there, etc.  We think those changes are significant, but, a jaded producer probably wouldn't even notice them.  Plus, irrregardless of the changes you make, they will not ask to read it again.

Let me give you an example.  I wrote a comedy mystery called Judy with director Lee Bonner.  I pitched it to a producer.  He said he liked the script, but felt we had missed some great opportunities.  He left the door open for me to call him so I did.  (A very rare occurrence on my part. I am a writer.  I prefer to be judged by my words on paper rather than my sparkling repartee and Baltimore accent.)  The producer gave me his thoughts on how to improve the script.  He had some very good ideas -- but they entailed fundamentally changing the script.  I called Lee afterwards.  He liked the producer's ideas, too.  So we took a week and completely rewrote the script, top to bottom.  Afterwards, I called the producer again.  I told him we had made all of his changes.  I asked him if he was interested in reading the new script.  He said nope.

Insane, right?  Why would he spend over a half an hour on the phone telling me how to improve the script and then not read it?  Because you only get one shot.  Those are the rules.  What did I do?  Well, I certainly didn't try to guilt trip him into rereading the script.  Why?  Because now I had an open door to pitch him future scripts.  And that's worth a lot.  Over the years I have slowly accumulated a number of emails of people who actually read.  They are a very valuable resource!

As an addendum to this rule, I do want to say that I have no problem querying a person more than once about a script -- provided they hadn't actually read it.  If I come up with a better logline, or if the subject matter somehow becomes topical, I do not hesitate to re-pitch people six months to a year later.  I've gotten some good reads that way.

I know many of you will find these rules frustrating.  Personally, I don't.  I expect the "no"s and the silences.  They don't bother me.  Why?  Because a "no" can't hurt you.  Your life is not materially changed when someone says "No!"  Only a "yes" can change your life.  But don't expect it to change it too much.  Remember, you'll still be the same person after you sell your script that you were before you did!

Also, I have to admit that the "no"s can be fun.  Over the years, I have sent email queries to the producer Don Murphy.  He's a genuine Hollywood big shot who has produced a ton of blockbusters.  He also has a reputation for being difficult.  That doesn't bother me.  I say let he who is without sin throw the first stone.

You might think it would be difficult to get his email, but you'd be wrong.  It is readily available.  So a couple of years ago I sent him an unsolicited query.  He wrote back:  "This is NOT how it's done."  Okay.  I get it, Donnie.  A few years later I queried him about another script, and got a smarmy response back.  Okay.  I'm fine with that.  I recently queried him with my script Life-Like, and I was treated to the volcanic mother of all rejections.  He laid into my query letter the way the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 laid into Gamera movies.  He gave it a scathing line-by-line critique.  It was hilarious.  I only stopped laughing long enough to wonder why the producer of the Transformers series would take so much time responding to a nobody.

Needless to say, he didn't request the script.

Am I going to query him about my next script?

You betcha!  Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

God Told Me To Write It

Since the bulk of my work has been in the faith-based market, I am often approached by other writers trying to succeed in the same field.  It is not unusual for them to excitedly announce to me that God told them to write something.  Then, a year or two later, they approach me again to express profound disillusionment because their creative enterprise was not produced or published.  How could that be?  God told them to write it...

I'm actually a good person to discuss this issue with.  I believe in God, and I firmly believe God still communicates with people.   In fact, I wrote a book, "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," about something God told me would happen that didn't.  How can that be?  God cannot lie.  Right?  Right. Therefore, the error must be found elsewhere.

Before we go any further, I first recommend that you endeavor to find out whether that still small voice you are hearing is indeed God.  I am not going to go into all of the Biblical passages, but be a good Berean and test the spirit against the word of God.  Let's just leave it at this:  If the voice is telling you to do something wrong, it's definitely not God.  If the voice is encouraging you to do something you've always wanted to do, it's probably not God either.  That's probably just you.  God doesn't need to break the fourth wall, as it were, to tell us to do something we're already dead set on doing.  From my own experience, I can say that God has never encouraged me to follow my own desires.  More often than not, He's the voice that says no.  Or beware.  And, when He did send me on a path I was happy to travel, He did so by pointing me in a direction I never would have taken myself.

Back on point.  Do I believe God told me to write something?  Sure.  In fact, I credit my entire screenwriting career to His will.  To explain how, here's an excerpt from my memoir, "The Promise or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

     I remember driving to work one day soon after I got the job at Smith Burke & Azzam. I was long gone from Amway, but I maintained some of the goal-oriented mentality. While I was driving, I remember proclaiming to God my five professional goals. Then I heard the voice again. “Now I know your goals,” He said. “Are you interested in mine?”
     He didn’t tell them to me, but after that, I never set goals again. I have tried to live my life on a day-to-day basis, ready to respond to the prompting of the Lord. And such a prompting came rather quickly.
     A couple of months later, I was driving to work praising the Lord. It was a beautiful day, and I was very happy. Then I heard the voice again. He said: “Sean, you’re going to get fired today.”
     That stopped the praise pronto.
     The agency had just lost a major account. The previous week, we went through a Black Friday. Lots of good people were fired. Those of us who remained assumed we were safe. Advertising agencies usually fired everyone at once in those circumstances to calm the rest of the staff. Otherwise, people they intend to keep might get antsy and jump ship. 
     I was crestfallen. I liked having a real job. Real responsibilities. Real money. I didn’t know what I’d do.
     The Lord sensed my mood. He said, “If you’re afraid, I won’t have you fired, but it will be better for you if you are fired.”
     The last time God gave me a choice, I followed my own desires. This time, I was willing to trust him. “Fire me,” I said. 
     Around eleven-thirty, I was paged and told to report to the comptroller. I went to her office smiling. Sure enough, she fired me, but gently and with compassion. I left her office with a smile waiting to see what the future would hold.
     I made no immediate effort to find another job. I spent a day or two watching movies. I don’t remember what film actually inspired me, but at some point I said to myself, “I can do better than that.” I turned off the VHS player and walked upstairs to my typewriter.
     I wrote a police thriller called Forty-Four, about a retiring detective on the hunt for a serial killer on the streets of Baltimore. It was a little short and predictable, but the words came easily. Late Sunday night, I typed: Fade Out. The End. I couldn’t believe it. I wrote an entire feature length screenplay in less than a week. And it wasn’t half bad. It was only about forty-eight percent bad.
     The next morning I awoke to a ringing phone. It was Smith Burke & Azzam. They wanted to hire me back. After only a week. After only as long as it took to write that script…
     Then it struck me. The Lord had given me a forced furlough from my advertising job for that very purpose. He was pointing me in a new direction. He wanted me to write, and I wasn’t going to let Him down.

So do I believe that God wanted me to write the script "Forty-Four?"  Yes, I do.  Granted, the timing could have been a mere coincidence, but given my relationship with the Lord at the time, I don't believe it was one.  My eventual success in the field also confirms my thoughts on the matter.

Therefore, the film got made, right?


Well, it's gonna get made one day, right?  After all, God wanted you to write it....

No, I don't think it will ever get made.

Then why did God want you to write it?

Because He wanted to point me in that direction.  And He wanted me to learn the craft, and, trust me, I had a lot to learn to successfully compete with the professionals in Hollywood.

The second most memorable line I ever heard from the ultimate hyphenate, actor-writer-director-producer David A.R. White, the Tom Cruise of Christian films, was uttered at the Boston Christian Film Festival.  A budding writer came up to him and said, "I want to become a Christian screenwriter.  What should I do?"  David wisely replied, "If you want to become a Christian screenwriter, the first thing you've got to do is learn your craft because God deserves your best."

So true.  After all, if you felt God told you to become a doctor, you wouldn't immediately buy a scalpel and start operating on people the next day.  No.  You would realize that you have to go to medical school.  Then why do you think that your first script will or should be produced?  To think you can succeed as a writer without any training or even practice shows utter contempt for the field you feel inspired to enter.   God deserves your best.  Take the time to learn your craft.

And, while you're at it, learn to gauge your success on God's timetable, not your own.  Did God tell you that your inspired script would sell on a specific day?  If He did, and it didn't sell on that day, then you have a problem.  And that problem is probably that you mistook an inner yearning as the voice of God.  How can I say that?  Easy,  God doesn't lie.

If God didn't give you a date when the script or book would sell, you have no right to complain just because it hasn't happen yet.  If it is truly God's will, He will work it out in His own time.  I just shake my head when someone says their script failed because it's over a year old and that the five people who read it rejected it.  Really?  I don't even begin to think I've given one of my scripts a fair chance until I pitched it to about 900 people.  (That's not an exaggeration.)  As for timing, my script "I, John" was just optioned and will probably be produced this year.  It was written ten-years-ago.  Another one of my scripts, "Then The Judgement," was also recently optioned.  It was written twenty-eight-years-ago.  I'm glad I didn't give up on either of them after a few nos.

My point is that just because God tells you to write a script or a book, it doesn't mean it will be produced or published.  It just means He wanted you to write it for His own purposes.  You might never know why in this lifetime.  However, if you think He wanted you to write that script or book so that you could become rich and famous, then you probably weren't writing it for Him in the first place.  If it is truly God's script or book, He will use it in His way in His time.  Be patient.  Just do the best job you can and move on to the next project.

If you want to learn more about how to respond to the voice of the Lord, read my book:  "The Promise or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

Monday, February 29, 2016

In Memoriam: Louis DiGiaimo

I was saddened to see Louis DiGiaimo listed in the In Memoriam section of the recent Oscar telecast.  He was primarily known a legendary Casting Director whose credits included The Godfather, Rain Man and Donny Brasco.

However, aside from being a Casting Director, Mr. DiGiaimo was also a producer.  More importantly, he was a producer who wasn't afraid to read over the transom screenplays that interested him.  Over the course of a couple years, he read a few of my screenplays.  He had kind things to say about my aging mafioso in love screenplay "Candido."  He said he liked it, but he rejected it because he said it would never find financing because the leads were too old to be bankable.  Being young and cocky, I disagreed.  Then he patiently gave me examples of similar films that languished in development because they relied on older casts -- including a project of his own based on a Broadway play that had four Oscar-winning women attached.

I often think of Mr. DiGiaimo, especially when young writers or filmmakers seek out my advice, and then shoot me down when I disagree with their vision.

Thanks for the reads, Mr. DiGiamo.  And thanks for taking the time to impart your wisdom to a hard-headed young screenwriter.

Rest in peace.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"I, John" Optioned

I thought I should share this little announcement from the InkTip Preferred Newsletter about my 2012 Kairos Prize winning script:

Julie Lynch Options "I, John"
Julie Lynch with Sandalphon Entertainment found "I, John” on InkTip and optioned it from Sean Paul Murphy. Julie's credits include "Dark Desire,” among others. "I, John” tells the story of a homeless holocaust survivor who inspires an atheist surgeon and a disillusioned minister to believe that he might be the beloved biblical disciple John. Sean is a Kairos Prize-winning writer who joined InkTip five years ago, and this is his third success through InkTip.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Writing Tip #13: Writing About Yourself

Yours truly with comedienne GL Douglas at churches Making Movies
Last year, I was invited to give a seminar about screenwriting at the Churches Making Movies Film Festival in Newark, New Jersey.  It is a great organization, and I was only too happy to do it.

I spent the weekend talking screenwriters, both actual and aspiring, and the question I was asked most often was:  "How do I write a script about my life?"

The question wasn't really surprising.  I believe most people who write do so to work out some deep inner turmoil or reveal some inner truth.  That was certainly true in my case, and I believe it is a positive impulse.  As I said in my earlier blog, Make It Real, I strongly recommend that you reach inside and find that kind of emotional truth every time you write.  Still, my answer was the same to everyone who asked me about turning their life into a movie:  "Don't."

Many of these people had very compelling stories, often involving some youthful trauma that they were able to overcome.  Some of the stories would probably make very interesting films.  Still, I recommended against it.

Why?  Because screenplays are the wrong format.  Godard famously said "Film is Truth at 24 fps."  Well, that might be true of film, but it is certainly not true of screenplays.  Screenplays are inherently artificial.  Short of haikus, screenplays are perhaps the most highly-structured form of writing imaginable.  They are certainly more structured than life itself.  As a published memoirist, I can tell you that you have to be fully prepared to followed the truth of your story where ever it goes.  That isn't always possible in the screenplay format when you must adhere to a three act structure and hit certain plot points at certain times.

One of the reasons I never seriously considered converting my memoir to a screenplay is because I knew I would have to compress time in some areas, extend it in others, combine characters into composites, etc., to make it fit the format.  Every little change would detract from the truth, as I remembered it.  I was not prepared to make that sacrifice.  I knew many people would be skeptical of the events I was about to relate, so I didn't want to change them just to fit an arbitrary format.  (That said, I did change some names and places to protect the identity of people.)

So should you write your story?  Certainly.  I have talked to a number of memoirists since my book was published and they all found the process liberating. However, I would recommend writing your story as a book first.  In the pages of a book, you will be able to follow the truth more freely.  And who knows....  If your book gets published, someone might actually pay you to turn it into a screenplay.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

2016 Kairos Prize Finalists

Being a 2012 winner of the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays, I always follow the contest and I want to congratulate this year's ten finalists.  It is a great accomplishment, and, if you're like me when I reached this stage, you are now feverishly googling the competition.  I wish you all the best. Hopefully this will be the beginning of an exciting ride for you.  MovieGuide treats the winners well!  Check out my blog to read more about my experience:   Winning The Kairos Prize.

Donald Driscoll for SHOWDOWN AT DAMASCUS
Marlon Jones for MISDIRECTION
Harry Kleinman for WIND AND A PRAYER
Christopher Lovick and Wayne Sable for HEAVEN’S MESSENGER
Steve Lucas for THE WEEDING
Birgit Myaard for THE HAND OF A WOMAN
Mary A. Quigley for MACY’S GRACE

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Short Story: To Die A Hero

     Pressing assignments have forced me to neglect my blog, so please allow me to continue to entertain you with some old writing.
     Most of my early writing was comic in nature.  I have been finding bits and pieces of skits and plays and even comics (with my own illustrations) as I search through an old chest of papers.  Most of my writing was fragmentary.  I have very few completed pieces prior to college.
     The following story was my first serious attempt to write a short story.  It was written during as an assignment at in Dr. Carl Behm's creative writing class at Towson State in the Fall of 1982.  As my memoir relates, my estranged girlfriend Kathy found the tone of the story dark and suicidal. She called to express her concern about my mental health. I don’t think I was suicidal at the time, but, in retrospect, this story might have been a harbinger of things to come.  (I originally planned to include this story in my memoir as an appendix, along with other writings contemporaneous to the events I described, but, fortunately for the sake of my readers, I didn't do so!)
     I have made no effort to improve or correct the piece.  This is, more or less, the assignment I turned in for class.  Sadly, I forgot the grade.


     It was rush hour. The right side of the street was filled with cars leaving the city. The left side was practically empty. Melvin Calcunn, bookkeeper, stood quietly on the bus stop observing the world around him.
      Melvin noticed a mother and daughter across the street from him. The mother looked a little frazzled. From the expression on her face and the packages in her arms, he could tell that she had spent the entire day shopping with an active child in tow. The little girl was cute and appeared to be five-or-six-years old. She had long blond hair and was wearing a yellow jumpsuit and jacket. She was happily bouncing a little red ball on the sidewalk as she stood near her mother.
     Melvin watched the child bounce the ball up and down. He watched the ball bounce into the street. He saw the girl walk, unnoticed by her mother, into the street to get the ball. More importantly, he saw something neither the mother nor the little girl saw. He saw a speeding car appear over a rise in the street.
     The car was moving fast, at least fifteen miles over the speed limit. The little girl, walking towards the ball with her back to the car, was going to die. Melvin sensed this all and made his move.
     It was a strange sensation. It was as if everything in the world slowed down except for his mind.
     His black vinyl briefcase seemed to hang in the air for a moment after he released the handle before it began to slowly drift to the ground. Melvin knew he was running as fast as he could but it seemed an eternity between each echoing thud of his feet hitting the ground.
     His eyes inspected everything.
     The little girl, who was just beginning to pick up her ball, still had her back to the oncoming traffic. Her mother’s eyes were on a store window across the street. She didn’t know her daughter was about to die.
     Melvin looked to his left. Two cars, almost side-by-side, approached him in the northbound lanes. The two cars didn’t concern him. He knew he would be out of their way long before they reached him. Looking into the faces of the drivers, he knew he had frightened them more than they frightened him. He only hoped neither of them over-reacted and endangered them all.
     Melvin looked to his right. He began to study his adversary. The car was a beat-up, multi-color Ford Pinto. It was an early model which was showing its age. It was moving fact, around forty-five-mile-an-hour in a thirty-miles-an-hour zone. The long-haired teenager who was driving the car had just caught sight of the child. He didn’t start applying the brakes yet, and the girl was only about sixty-five feet in front of him. No, Melvin thought, he couldn’t stop in time.
     Melvin’s eyes once again returned to the little girl as he continued to move slowly towards her. Her back was still to the car, but she was beginning to turn as a loud screeching noise filled the air. Melvin turned his head to the right and could see that the driver of the Pinto was beginning to apply his brakes. It’s about time, Melvin though as he realized that the car had advanced much closer to the girl while his head was turned. He could see the sheer horror in the drivers’ face. He was just probably realizing that he would not be able to stop the car in time.
     Suddenly, Melvin’s ears were filled with various echoing sounds. His ears shuddered under the blaring noise of the horns of the cars approaching from the south. Melvin knew that they were over-reacting. He had already passed over the double yellow line. In front of him, the air was filled the sound of screams. The little girl had completed her turn and began a loud, shrill scream as she froze rigid with fear. There was another scream too. Melvin glanced to the mother to see her packages drifting slowly to the ground as she screamed. She was beginning to move too, but Melvin knew she was too far away to do any good.
     The car, skidding and sliding as the tires tried to grip the street, was now about fifteen feet away from the child. Melvin knew that there was only one thing that he could do to save the child. He felt his weight being thrown forward and his feet lifting off the ground as he stretched his arms. He felt himself flying, actually flying.
     He felt a tremendous surge of emotions as he flew with his arms outstretched to toward the helpless child. However, the emotions did not stop his mind from realizing what was bound to happen. He realized that he was quickly losing altitude and would land directly in the path of the skidding car. He only hoped he hit the girl with enough force to knock her out of the way. He prayed he would die a hero.
     As he drifted through the air, he tried not to worry about the outcome. There was nothing that he could now one way or another. Everything depended upon the laws of physics and gravity. The car, which was sliding gently to the right, was locked into place by force and momentum. The child was locked into place by face. Melvin knew he was locked into his course by gravity and momentum. His destiny could not be changed.
     The world returned to normal speed.
     Melvin’s left hand crashed into the girl’s shoulder and he violently pushed her out of the way of the oncoming automobile. She would live, he though as he felt the impact of his body against the surface of the street. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the right tire of the approaching Pinto.
     There was a smile on his face as he died.
     Melvin rolled over on his side as a loud buzzing noise rang in his ears. He opened his eyes to see a sliver of the early morning sunlight entering his bedroom between a gap in his drawn curtains. With a yawn, he reached out and turned off the alarm clock. He felt good, really good.
     Melvin got and sat lazily on the side of the bed and tried to recapture the dream. He wanted to relive it again before it melted and dissolved into his unconsciousness. It was drifting away. He could see the details blurring but he knew the sensations he felt at the heroic moment would never leave him. He had died a hero.
     Melvin glanced down at the clock again. He was shocked to see that thirty-five minutes had passed since he woke up. Leaping from his bed, Melvin began to hastily remove his blue, cotton pajamas. He had to hurry, he was more than a half-an-hour behind schedule.
     He was in a hurry, but he felt uneasy rushing his daily personal hygiene. Personal hygiene was a matter that he had learned to take very seriously. He knew that one personal hygiene error in the morning could be responsible for an entire day of embarrassment. More than once Melvin found himself sitting next to a person on a bus who was breathing noisily or sitting less than placidly, which made him wonder if he had used the proper quantity of deodorant. In a case like that, he would rush to the men’s room at the office as soon as he arrived to check himself.
     After a few hurried, but carefully orchestrated, minutes in the bathroom, Melvin rushed to the closet to choose the day’s apparel. He did not worry about his style of dress. He was a good dresser, almost too good.
     He had seven dress shirts, all of them white. It wasn’t like he had a shirt for each different day of the week. He didn’t have a Monday shirt, a Tuesday shirt or a Wednesday shirt. However, he made sure he didn’t wear a shirt twice until he wore all of them once. He washed all of the shirts on Friday. Friday was his washing night.
     Melvin knew he was a good, proper dresser. He read a book which told him what colors, fashions, and styles a person should wear for business and acted accordingly. He had three suits and six ties. His suits were the recommended gray, blue and black. All of the suits had stylish thin lapels, of course. He stopped wearing bowties because the book said the wimpish Wally Cox look was definitely out. He had six narrow ties, all of which had at least a touch of red.
     Melvin knew he didn’t have to be embarrassed by what he saw when he looked into the mirror. He didn’t always have that confidence, especially not before his boss, Mr. Dedzen, complimented his appearance in front of the entire Records Department. Mr. Dedzen said he wished everyone presented as favorable impression as Melvin did. Melvin was happy to receive the compliment. However, the next day began a gradual process of toning down his appearance. He did not want his fellow workers to think that he was trying to out dress them.
     Melvin glanced down at his watch and realized he would not have time for his usual sparse, but wholesome, breakfast. However, he did have enough time to look through the morning paper. He quickly went out of the door of apartment and got his newspaper. After pouring himself a small glass of milk, he searched to see if anything interesting had happened in the world.
     He skipped the first and second pages of the newspaper which tended to be devoted to international and national affairs, as well as politics and the economy. Those subjects did not interest him. He went to page three where the human interest stories could be found. This was his favorite section. He scanned the headlines but he didn’t find any stories worth reading.
     Next he flipped to the local section of the newspaper. For the most part, Melvin was less interested in the local news than he was about national news, but he sometimes found worthwhile stories in the local section. On the fourth page, he found a story that did interest him. It was about a local house fire.
     It was pretty much a typical fire story. A tenement apartment house in the worst part of the city caught on fire, trapping two children on the third floor. Before the fire engines arrived, a man rushed into the smoke-filled building to save the children. The man, an unemployed janitor, was rushed to the hospital as a result of smoke inhalation and released later that day. Both of the children were unharmed.
     Hero stories interested Melvin. In fact, he kept a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings of various heroes. However, this story did not fulfill the prime requisite of all the stories in the scrapbook. All of the heroes in his scrapbook died saving the life of another person.
     Glancing at his watch again, he knew he would have to leave immediately to catch the seven-ten bus. Grabbing his overcoat and briefcase, he left his apartment and walked briskly to the bus stop. The bus stop was only a half a block away and he got there a full minute before the bus arrived. 
     Usually Melvin caught the six-forty-nine bus. The seven-ten was usually so crowded that he couldn’t even sit down. When the bus did arrive, Melvin suspected he would have to stand until he got off to transfer to his second bus. Days like this made him wish he still drove his car to work.
     He owned a spotless ‘seventy-nine Nova. He kept it in a garage about a half a mile away from his apartment. Once and a while he would drive out to one of the large shopping malls in the suburbs, but for all intents and purposes, he hadn’t used the car for years.
     Driving was easier and safer, he wouldn’t deny that. However, that was also the problem. When he drove, he had total control over his environment, and regardless of how hard he tried, he found it almost impossible to resist the temptation to remain in his comfort zone. He had to leave his comfort zone if ever intended to be more than what he was now. Taking the bus forced him out of his safe world.
     The trip was uneventful. As he had feared, he had to stand. Actually, he didn’t mind standing too much. Standing gave him a better view of what was going on in the bus. Melvin scanned his fellow passengers. They were male and female, black and white, well-dressed and not so well-dressed. A variety of people filled the bus, but none of them looked like a homicidal maniac about to strike. When he finally reached the skyscraper where he worked, he left the bus the same who had stepped on it. Maybe tonight, he thought as he stepped down onto the sidewalk.
     Another day, another dollar, Melvin thought as he entered the building. The same thought entered his head every time he entered the building. There was a time when he would consciously try not to think that, but he always did. After a while he stopped trying.
     Melvin was at work minutes after the elevator door opened to reveal the large room filled with desks. He didn’t spend the first half-an-hour of the day talking and gossiping like the vast majority of the people in his department. In fact, he rarely conversed with his co-workers, except within the line of duty. They were just a bunch of middle class idiots who would never do anything with their lives. They would never be anything more than what they were now. They would live until the age of 67.5 years then just die. The only who would go to their funerals were the people who had to. Looking around the office, he could see a vast number of people who have two car funeral processions. He used to hate them, but now he only felt pity.
     He was called a book keeper, but, in reality, he was little more than a book comparer. All of the accounting and book keeping chores of the huge bank he worked for were done by computers. However, for legal reasons, the bank kept physical records. Melvin worked eight hours a day, five days a week, comparing the computer printouts and the accounting journals to make sure their were no discrepancies. He hadn’t found an error in five years. Over the course of his thirteen year career, he had found only two mistakes.
     Lunch time. The office was deserted. Most of the people were eating at the cafeteria or at nearby eateries. Melvin ate lunch at his desk, as he always did. He was eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he had prepared the night before and packed neatly into his briefcase.
     Melvin was munching on his sandwich when a door to the office opened. Raising his eyes, he saw Bea Allenson enter the office. When she saw him, she smiled and waved. Melvin choked on his sandwich. She continued to walk toward another exit. Before she left, she turned and said, “See you on the bus stop tonight, Mr. Calcunn.” 
     “Okay,” Melvin answered feebly as he watched her smile and walk out of the office. Melvin cringed. If he had known he was going to see her, he would have prepared something better to say.
     Bea Allenson, a secretary from the Investments Department, was the closet thing to a girlfriend that Melvin had. She was pretty and always nice to him. He knew that she was single but also knew that a woman as charming as her had to have a steady boyfriend. He was tempted to ask someone in Investments about her, but he was afraid it would get out that he was interested in her. If she found out, she would probably get mad and stop talking to him on the bus stop after work. He couldn’t jeopardize that.
     After work they would take the same bus. She did not take the bus all the way to her home, where she lived with her mother. She had a car but she parked it on an inexpensive lot about a mile and a half from the building. The moments he spent with her on the bus were priceless. Too bad that she had to have a boyfriend somewhere.
     The afternoon passed more quickly than usual. As page after page of ledgers and computer printouts passed in front of him, Melvin was ashamed to realize that he had spent most of the time thinking about Bea. He tried to stop thinking about her, after all, there was no reason on earth to believe she was thinking about him. Why should she? On the outside, he realized that he was little more than just another bland book keeper. How could she possibly know that he was going to be a hero one day?
     After work, Melvin waited for Bea between the entrances of their bank’s main branch and the corporate offices. He tried to act calm and nonchalant. When she came out, he did not want her to think he was waiting especially for her. He wanted it to look like a coincidence. Finally, he decided that it would be less obvious if he waited in front of the building closer to the bus stop.
     It was two minutes before Bea stepped out on the street. She was almost at the entrance of the bank branch when the first shot rang out.
     The sound stunned everyone on the street. It was not until the second shot that Melvin realized that the sound was coming from inside of the bank. Shaking off his shock, Melvin moved away from the building where he stood. He was in the center of the sidewalk when the first gunman ran out of the bank.
     He was a big dude dressed in an Army jacket and wearing a stocking over his head. He had a pistol in one hand and a brown shopping bag in the other. He was heading directly for Bea, who was frozen in terror.
     Melvin stopped for a second to determine his strategy as the second gunman burst out of the bank doors. He was smaller than the first man, but dressed in a similar manner. As he was leaving the bank, the third and fourth shots rang out. 
     Melvin saw the smaller man knocked forward as if he were hit by an invisible sledgehammer. As he fell forward, it was as if he had been hit in the center of his back with the same sledgehammer. The man hit the sidewalk with tremendous force. He didn’t move. He was dead. Melvin had never seen a real dead man before. His eyes were glued to the corpse until he heard a strangely familiar scream.
     Melvin’s eyes moved upward and he saw a sight that shocked him to his core. The big gunman had grabbed Bea and was using her as a shield. With his back to the street, the gunman told everyone not to move or he would shoot her. Everyone on the street froze, afraid to breathe.
    Melvin saw what he had to do. He decided to do it.
     Screaming louder than he thought he could, Melvin began to run toward the gunman. Hearing the scream, the big man turned sideways and pointed his gun at Melvin. He shouted a warning, but Melvin did not stop.
     Melvin saw a burst of light erupt from the front of the pistol. The light was immediately followed by a hard, burning sensation in his shoulder. He had never before experienced anything like the searing pain, but he did not stop.
     Again, the gunman squeezed the trigger. Melvin felt a tremendous jolt to his ribs, practically doubling him over. He went blank for a second but he did not lose his balance and continued toward the gunman. Opening his blurring eyes, he saw that he was only a few feet away from his opponent. Screaming again, he forced himself onward.
     He felt himself colliding with the gunman. He did not know whether or not Bea had broken free, but he knew what he had to do. At once, both of Melvin’s hands groped blindly for the pistol. When he thought he found it, he struggled to point it toward the gunman while he squeezed down on the hand. The pistol fired again. Both of the men fell to the ground afterwards.
     Melvin was barely conscious of the activity around him. He could hear people hovering around. He could feel hands touching him. Most importantly, he could hear Bea’s sobs and feel her arms around him. As he felt the life drain out of him, Melvin smiled.
     Suddenly he heard a clear but confused voice. “Melvin, Mr. Calcunn, are you all right?” he heard Bea ask.
     Melvin opened his eyes and discovered that he was still standing next to the building. He was confused for a moment before he realized that it had all been a dream.
     Damn it, why?
    “I’m okay,” Melvin said, regaining his composure. “I was just thinking.”
     Bea smiled. She looked so good. “Okay, but we’ve got to hurry or we’ll miss the bus.”
     They got to the bus stop right before the bus arrived. The bus was crowded so they stood together and talked. Bea did most of the talking, as usual. Melvin was content to listen. He liked the sound of her voice. She gave him a big smile before rang the bell and got off the bus.
     Melvin watched her from the window. The bus began moving slowly again in the heavy traffic, staying slightly behind her. Melvin noticed that a man seemed to following her. A tall, lean man. A dangerous man.
     Bea turned into the alley between two buildings and walked toward the lot where she kept her car parked. Melvin watched the lean man reach into his pocket as he turned to follow her. As the bus passed the alley, Melvin thought he saw a glimpse of metal in the man’s hand.
     Melvin dropped his briefcase and rang the bell.
    The bus driver stopped the vehicle and glanced into his mirror. No one moved. No one even bothered to meet his eyes. After a moment, the driver muttered a curse and pressed the gas pedal.

To find out if I was indeed trapped in a suicidal spiral at the time I wrote that story, check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.