My 9-11 memory

Cloudless blue sky, comfortable temperature, low humidity. The kind of day that when you walk outside, you place it on your mental, Top-10 days of the year. That’s the way my Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 had started. That’s the morning everyone in my town, fifteen miles due west of midtown Manhattan, started that day. We live within view of the iconic New York skyline, so close we took it for granted, we believed that since it’s always been there, it always would be.

At the time, I worked for ADT as a Systems Manager. That’s a fancy name for the one in charge of large integrated security and fire alarm installations. We had been at the Sheraton hotel across from Giants stadium for a couple of weeks. The hotel is ten miles from New York.

One of my guys told me that a plane had hit one of the towers. We thought it had to be small plane, like a Cessna, anything bigger would be impossible. The TVs in the hotel lobby were switched to a local news channel and the reporters were trying to make sense of it. No one could confirm what size plane had hit the tower, but from the smoke and flames, we all knew it had to something bigger. It occurred to me that we would be able to see it from the roof. The hotel is 21 stories, there are none taller between it and New York. From the roof, there is an unobstructed view to the city.

We took the elevator up, then climbed the two flights up to the access door. We reached the east corner and saw the smoke, could make out licks of flame from the edges. I called my wife, she worked at a building in Newark that I thought might also have a clear view. I regret this, because she too saw what happened next.

My call-waiting beeped and I saw it was my boss from the ADT office. I hung up with my wife and picked him up. He said they had rigged up a TV with rabbit ears and although the reception was grainy, they were watching the news cameras of the fire. He told me that the news report was that it was a big plane, a jet out of Newark airport. We talked about how crazy that was, how there’s no way that could have been an accident. In the distance, south of where we stood, I saw a jet flying toward the smoke. I began to narrate on the phone what I saw.

“There’s another jet coming.

He’s heading toward NY. Maybe he’s trying to get a better look. Not that makes sense but why else would he be going that way.

He’s still going that way, he’s heading right toward…”

I fell to my knees, I’d always seen that in movies and thought it was a contrived reaction, but I couldn’t hold up my own weight. My brain couldn’t handle what I had just seen.

A jet flew into the side of the second tower, and a ball of flame came out the other side.

You’ve seen the video, or maybe watched it happen live on a newsbreak on a small screen with just the plane and the building. We saw it in context of a beautifully clear day, the sun on our shoulders standing on that roof  with the rest of the New York skyline in view. A panorama of peaceful beauty framing the senseless horror of innocent people being sacrificed for what we didn’t know.

The next day my boss told me that he had put me on speakerphone so everyone could hear me and my voice reminded him of the reporter narrating the Hindenburg exploding. He said they felt the emotion and the whole office was in tears.

I looked behind me and my three coworkers had split as soon as the plane hit. They were getting out of the building. I stayed. I watched.

I called my wife and she was in tears, she had seen it too. I wish I hadn’t called her, maybe nobody there would have told her to look, maybe she wouldn’t have it engrained in her mind the way it is in mine. Maybe her dreams would have been spared.

I told her to go home. I was going to wait. Worst case I could walk home from there, only five miles, that’s nothing on such a beautiful day.

From other calls to and from my boss, I learned that there were other planes, other targets, other deaths. The FAA ordered all planes down wherever they were. Which means something unique about where we live, this close to three major and several minor airports.

You know how in movies that want to show how the future skies around big cities have spaceships flying to and fro, as though these aircraft have taken the place of earthbound vehicles? Those depictions crack me up, because that’s already our present. At any given time, we can look up and see no fewer than four, sometimes as many as ten airplanes and/or helicopters zooming along. We don’t even need to look to know they are there, even on the cloudiest of days we hear their rumbles, sometimes right overhead, other times off in the distance like a faraway thunderstorm. The sound of them is ever present. Mix that sound with NJ State Route 3 less than a mile from my house, it’s a main highway between the Lincoln tunnel carrying thousands of cars a day in and out of New York City, and the entire country to the west, and it’s never quiet here.

Except on this day. Silence. I remember thinking that must be what it’s like for most of our country on any random Tuesday afternoon. I’m not one for clichés, but in this case it’s appropriate, the silence was deafening. There were no planes, no cars on the highway, people didn’t know where they would strike next so nobody was on Rt. 3.

I watched a helicopter try to take off less than mile from where I stood, from out of nowhere a fighter jet swooped down from the sky forcing the helicopter back down. As swiftly as it appeared, it shot straight up and was gone into the clear-blue sky. It vanished.

Then the first tower fell. Collapsing into itself as flames, smoke, dust cascaded up into the sky. I knew there had to be firefighters and police in there. They would be trying to put it out, trying to save those trapped. When the second mimicked the first, I left. There was nothing left to see, no hope of the smoke suddenly stopping and then everything would be okay. And I was still standing on the tallest building for miles.

They burned for two weeks, we saw the smoke every day, when the wind was coming in off the Atlantic we could smell it. I knew guys who were there, I wanted to go, to help. But I knew there were men more qualified than I helping, and I suspected that the news reports that claimed the air was safe were bullshit. I have friends who went anyway, they’re all gone now. Victims of mysterious cancers and lung infections, years after they went to help people they didn’t know.

I had a couple guys in a training class in California who were supposed to come home later that day. With all flights cancelled indefinitely, they drove their rental car back. They called Hertz and said that’s what they were going to do, the agent told them they couldn’t, to bring the car back. My guy told me he said, “Sure, it’ll be in New Jersey tomorrow, go get it.” They drove straight through in a day and half.

Since then, we’ve learned who did it. The heroes who perished in New York, DC and in a field in Pennsylvania. Ten years later we got the man behind the attacks, but we’re still fighting, our boys are still dying. Two days ago a 29 year old neighbor, a veteran of Afghanistan, killed himself in his backyard. His mother found him.

I heard an NPR report that said the people in charge think this may go on for another ten to twenty years. Two more decades of our children and children’s children fighting to overcome this threat. There’s got to be another way.

Peace to you all, never forget.

Thoughts on screenwriting

I have a friend who is a movie producer. I’ve known him since grade school, (close to 50 years.) When we were young, we made Super-8 movies and waited patiently for them to be developed so we could watch and learn from our mistakes in order to make the next one better.

 

He went on to work in TV and movies, and I went on to acting, and although I had to give that life up to pay the bills, I kept writing in order to keep my muse happy.

 

A few years ago I decided to start sharing the stories I had written and try my hand at getting published. One of the things that helped my story telling, was my decision to enter short story competitions. Several of my stories won rounds, received Honorable Mentions, and have since been published–including my first fully paid-for story.
Having succeeded at that goal, I’ve decided to try screenwriting.
When the desire to begin writing for film hit me, I did the same thing. I entered a NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. (You can read my first screenplay here, A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT)

Although as of the time of this post, I’m still awaiting the results of that entry, my decision to learn and build my reputation by this method, turns out to be a pretty good idea.

My friend–remember him from way back at the top of this post?–sent me an article to read about the business of screenwriting by Chris Salvattera, an executive with HBO and someone who began his career by writing screenplays.

 

If you’re at all interested in the business, or wish to try your hand, read the article, it’s very informative.
The quote that prompted me to write this post.
“One way to help get your script in people’s inboxes is to do well in a reputable screenwriting contest. It’s a level of vetting your work, especially if you don’t have representation.”

NYCM Short Story challenge 2016 feedback

I’ve placed 5th with my story, Quid Pro Quo.
These are the comments I received from the judges. They echo those I heard from readers after my submission.

Thank you to all for their comments.


”Quid Pro Quo” by Miguel A. Rueda – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – …………………Interesting story. I love this bad-ass female cop. I enjoyed following her around as she invetigated the boy’s death. Nice job……………….You displayed very good pacing in disclosing the complexity of Laura Cole’s nature: tough & imposing initially, then missing her late, loving Dad, then her ethnic make-up and personal exposure to bullying: well done! You also did a fine job juggling a large cast of characters without reducing any of them to stereotypes. I was left with sympathy for her isolation and plight, but also a measure of faith that she’d prevail…………….The engaging and powerful dialogue distinguishes the different characters and really carries this piece. There was some serious drama going on here–well done, overall…………………….……………………………………………………………………………………………  WHAT THE JUDGE(S) FEEL NEEDS WORK – …………………I felt the ending could have been stronger. I would have liked to see her prevail somehow. ………………Make your log-line more enticing by turning it into a question: “Can a U. S. Senator secure a future for his daughter by trading favors?” I was at a loss as to how Detective Cole had connected the dots between the suicide-donor and the girl: I assume during investigation of the boy’s death, but include that piece. Finally: I thought the parents were over-the-top arrogant for a political couple who’d be skilled in spinning things to prevent scandal. In fact, let the father reveal the daughter’s nickname BEFORE the detective asks. You should make the couple more slick at first; then, when the daughter spills the beans re: her online bullying they can show their truly venomous natures…………….This is one of few pieces that might actually benefit from slightly more exposition. The ending wasn’t as strong as the rest of the piece. …..

Movie, television, and music reviews

I’ve been writing reviews for Cryptic Rock, here are a few that I’ve done.

Born To Run. 40th Anniversary retrospective.

Movie retrospective. 25th Anniversary of Flatliners.

Album review: Brian Setzer Orchestra. Rockin’ Rudolph Christmas album.

Album review: Mick Abrahams. Revived. Killer R&B record.

TV: Series premiere. Ash vs Evil Dead

Movie: 25th Anniversary of Graveyard Shift.

Album review. The Kinks. Sunny Afternnon. The Very Best of.

TV: Season 2 premiere of, The Strain.

The Strain. Season 2 recap-review.

Movie: Preservation

Movie: The Visit

Feel free to comment whether you agree with me or not.

The Ledge Theory

The ledge theory of storytelling.

By Wayne Hills

Put your main character on a precipice so that if they fall, they’re dead.

That cliff could be real, a physical or imaginary height. The fall would maim or kill them, or in the case of an emotional or fiscal abyss, ruin their life.

Your reader will have that thought in their mind throughout the story, always knowing that at any moment, it will be over for the character.

Good or evil, the story will be carried by that momentum.

Big John

My step-father passed away recently. I felt compelled to write this piece.

______________________________________________________________

I had a dad for the first ten years of my life; I don’t remember much of the man.

He was tall, granted I was a child so everyone was. He had a permanent 5 O’clock shadow. He kept a collection of electric razors next to his mahogany-red leather recliner, he’d sit in the chair buzzing away at the stubble whenever he was home. And he drove a dark blue ‘66 Corvette, which sparked my love of muscle cars. I remember riding in that fast, loud, sports car as he sped through a toll booth and threw change at the basket without slowing down.

That’s about it. Not much to go by as far as fond memories of my father.

When he passed away in 1970, he left our mom alone with six children, three older, two younger. For the next seven years our mom raised us without help.

During these formative years, we had a lot of unsupervised time to ourselves. I for one, and I don’t think I’m going out a limb when I say I was not unique, did things that I’m not proud of. Made a lot of dumb choices, went down some roads that I wouldn’t have if there were a strong male figure present during my teenage years.

When I was a junior in High School, our mom adopted a boy who needed a stable home. We already knew him, and he was my age, so he fit right in. What’s one more when you’re raising six already? Seven teenagers, one house, one parent working full time. Although we did bicker and play hard, we learned to look out for each other.

That’s about the time our mom met John. He had two children of his own, (cue the Brady Bunch theme music here.) The youngest of the pair, a boy, was named after him. So we, the wise-asses that we were and continue to be, called the son, Little John, and our mother’s new beau, Big John. A name that stuck with him for the next four decades.

A paragraph ago, I mentioned that we were a group of seven fatherless children growing up in the early ‘70s. Let that sink in for a moment. The 1970’s in the United States. There was a lot going on in this country back then. When mom and Big John met, we were a rock and roll, authority thumbing, foul-mouthed group of teenagers. Although we loved and feared our mom, each of us at some point realized that we were bigger than her, a stern smack on the butt no longer held us in check. I should also point out with some personal embarrassment, that I began to like the taste of soap. That punishment no longer worked either.

Big John worked for the telephone company in a management positon. I don’t think we ever knew what he did for a living. Whatever it was, that job wasn’t the relevant information to a bunch of wild long-haired kids. Big John’s previous job was. He was a Drill Instructor for the US Marine Corps. (Cue the Halls of Montezuma music here.)

You can see our dilemma.

“Feral, (in a suburban neighborhood kind of way,) teenagers, meet, (stereotypical symbol of authority,) USMC-DI Big John. Our first few years were not smooth.

Despite the rough introduction, this was the family that Big John met, and still decided to marry into. A year later, we had an addition to the family when mom and Big John had a baby of their own. In a way, our little, ‘Buglet’, pulled us together. But this story’s not about her, or us.

It’s about how a man, who after devoting himself to our country, devoted his life to a woman with seven children, to our family. And as we learned more about what drew our mom to him, we found out that his desire to help others extended beyond our combined home.

Big John was a volunteer fireman in our town, and an active member in the BPO Elks, serving as the Exalted Ruler in the local lodge. He was a good man to all who knew him.

He was our step-dad for longer than my father was my dad, four times as long. He was with me through the years following high school when I was deciding what to do with my life. Helped me go to a trade school, without which I wouldn’t be where I am today. Introduced me to slow, odd-looking Swedish cars. I’ve owned six Volvos since then, and was proud to show him every one of them.

When any of us got married and had children of our own, he was the man they knew as grandpa. When we lost the youngest of our original six in a car accident, he was there for our mom. And when we lost our mom to cancer, he was there for us. And we were there for him. Mom took care of all of us, and when she was gone, Big John needed us to help him. He was more than just a step-dad or Big John, as endearing as that nick-name had become. I’m sorry now, that I never said it to him, but he was my dad.

Big John passed away this morning. We’ll miss him in our lives, and keep him in our hearts.

Rest in peace dad.

John J. Kmetz, 04/20/1939 – 02/11/2015.

Anything Goes Anthology. This contributors perspective.

Anything Goes book
Late last fall, a submission call came up on the Facebook page for the, Fictions Writers Group. It was for an anthology asking authors to participate in something new, a collaborative project for short stories that all the writers would work on their tales with the help of the others in the group.
 This is the official mission statement of Anything Goes:
The goal of this workshop is to give the participants an opportunity to share honest, friendly feedback that can lead to a well-critiqued and edited anthology to be proud of. Remember – Your work may never be seen by the devoted readers, agents or publishers who are looking for good writers, if their attention is lost before they get to your story. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other have fun and create stories the readers can’t put down.
 Now that the book has been published, I believe it was a success.
 Renee’ LaViness was our point person, den mother, hand holder, and soother of frayed egos. She did a phenomenal job keeping the 21 writers from around the world on track and informed of what the next steps were.
 We were encouraged to share our stories as they progressed from raw notes, through first drafts, collaboratively edited and critiqued, to finished book. Each of us not only responsible for completing the story we were going to have included, but for assisting with the, seemingly never-ending, job of editing and fine tuning the work of the others. I learned so much in the eight months we worked on this anthology, it would have taken me years on my own to gain the knowledge all successful authors must master. Proper tense use, punctuation basics, story flow and so many other things that I really thought I knew. It was an honor to be included in the group, I hope everyone else was able to learn from me at least one small thing in repayment for the wealth of knowledge I got from them.
Thank you FWG for encouraging new independent writers. Without the support of the entire family of talented people in the group, I wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly as I have.
 I’ll be posting my thought process on how my inclusion, Natural State, grew from the seed of an idea, to the fruition of a finished story.
Wayne Hills (Miguel A. Rueda) July, 01, 2014.
Links to the anthology: