Films for Writers on Netflix


NOTE:  This list has been updated in a more recent post, HERE – UPDATED: FILMS FOR WRITERS ON NETFLIX


What follows in the original post from December of 2012. 



A common complaint about streaming Netflix movies is that they have so much crap. It’s true, there are a lot of horrible movies out there to watch, and Netflix seems to be that low spot where they all settle.

Still, there is a wealth of documentaries of interest to literary students and writers. These are films that don’t have wide distribution. I bet some of these movies never even went to DVD, but are nonetheless commendable, in my humble estimation.

If you toss $7.99 a month to Netflix for streaming video, and you aspire to write, these might appeal to you, too. I’m not going to point you to feature films like Freedom Writers or Finding Forester that made the rounds in the theaters. Those are wonderful, motivational movies in their own right, but they are also well known.  I’m going to flag the obscure, buried and virtually unknown – surfaced for your viewing pleasure.

TalesfromthescriptTales From the Script – Dozens of acclaimed Hollywood screenwriters discuss their successes and failures, share amusing anecdotes and insider insights. It’s brilliant and a glimpse into a world I never see.

Hardcover Mysteries – In this series, best-selling authors discuss the real-life cases that inspired their best-selling novels. I particularly enjoyed the episode with David Baldacci, but the whole series is well done.  Due to the subject matter, it’s also dark, so go into it with an open mind.

The Beat Hotel – Return to 1957 Paris, where a rundown hotel attracted American Beat expats such as Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Brion Gysin. The interviews with residents are priceless. I loved the part about Burroughs using the cut-up technique.  Priceless.

Bukowski: Born To This – This intimate portrait of writer Charles Bukowski reveals a tortured man who survived years of abuse to produce some of the most influential prose of his generation. I admit that I had not read Bukowski until after I saw this documentary.  After reading him, I feel immense empathy.

Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth – Ellison has produced over 75 books and more than 1,700 classics of fiction and non-fiction, banged-out on one of his Olympia manual typewriters. Ellison calls it as he sees it. A consummate New Yorker, and a brilliant SF author.

With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story – This documentary explores the life of Stan Lee from his Depression-era upbringing through the Marvel age of comics. A tribute to an icon of the comic industry.

gonzoGonzo – This documentary looks beyond Hunter S. Thompson’s wild antics to focus on the pluck and principles that made him a groundbreaking writer. Awesomeness.

Mark Twain – Exploring the life and work of writer and humorist Mark Twain, this documentary draws from a wealth of material that includes archival photographs. I dig Twain, and Tom Sawyer was one of my favorite books from high school, so this documentary was fine, but a bit textbook and academic.

In Search of Shakespeare – Shakespeare’s adventures during the 16th century and his inspiration for his work are performed in part here by the Royal Shakespeare Company. A little light for a true reader, I thought this was a good primer on Shakespeare and his more popular works.  It’s a slow-pitch, 4 episode series.

Woody Allen – A Documentary – Iconic director-writer-comedian Woody Allen granted unprecedented access for this profile of his award-winning career and controversial personal life. If you are a fan of his quirky style, this is for you. I like some of his movies.

PKDThe Gospel According to Philip K. Dick – Legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick is the fascinating subject of a documentary that plumbs the dark corners of the tortured writer’s life. This dragged on at times, but I am such a fan of PKD’s work that I hung in there.

Helvetica – This unique documentary introduces us to the history of Helvetica, the most popular font in the world. More about art and design than writing, I still thought it was interesting.

Merton: A Film Biography – The work of writer-philosopher Thomas Merton has had a lasting impact on society, inspiring debate over still-relevant social and religious concerns. Made in 1984, this film is dated but has merit, following the American Trappist Monk and his influence within the Catholic culture.

CNBC Titans: Hugh Hefner – Hugh Hefner has become one of the most famous entrepreneurs and advocates of free speech in our time. Love what he does or hate it, Hef has furthered free speech in America more than any other person in our lifetimes.

James Elroy’s Feast of Death – Best-selling author James Ellroy takes viewers on a dark journey through the grisly underworld of American murder in this documentary. It’s a disturbing and long look at disturbing things I don’t want to look at for this long because they are disturbing.

howlHowl – This documentary centers on Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” and the widely publicized obscenity trial that followed its publication in 1957. Those were the days of Bohemian poets.

Biography: Charles Dickens – Charles Dickens was forced to leave school at a young age and work to support his family. His bleak memories are evident in many of his works.

Lemon – Three-time felon, one-time Tony Award winner Lemon Andersen is a poet whose deeply personal art reflects his rough upbringing.

Note: All of these were available as of the writing of this article (December, 2012). Netflix sometimes removes movies for an unknown reason, so if the flick isn’t there, I’m sorry. Try to find it somewhere else, because I really do think they are worth seeing.


You don’t need all of the advice you think you need

There are many books about writing and all have advice about how to write better, create engaging characters, develop plot, build suspense, hook the reader, sell your novel to an agent, publisher or sell it independently. It goes on and on.

I’m going to boil down the list of mandatory books about writing to a solitary, thin volume, and two optional books; one “must have,” and two that are “nice to have.”

I am of the belief that every writer should own and reference Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

This small tome is the yard stick which all other books on the subject compare and come up short. Own it, use it, love it, hate it, need it. You handicap your writing by ignoring the instruction on the pages of EoS.


An optional book I recommend is because it helped me. It may not help you at all, but I’ll tell you about it anyway: Stephen King’s On Writing offers succinct, grounded guidance for the struggling writer. The first part of the book is an autobiography – a good read but not necessary. If you only want the nuts and bolts on writing, skip ahead to the chapter, What Writing Is and start there. Even if you don’t like Stephen King’s books, I think you can benefit from his advice on the art and business of writing, and liked or not, he has genuine experience. Papal, almost.

The second optional book I recommend is How Literature Works, 50 Key Concepts by John Sutherland. This bluntly-worded volume will pound you over the head with writing concepts you think you understand. It has helped me appreciate why I enjoy some stories and not others. It’s ostentatious, but move past that and you’ll find the guidance is academic and well-founded.

Please don’t misunderstand me about this – every person who aspires to write should also read. They should read a lot – more than the average person, and I think it’s good to read books that are outside of the genre you write, as well as everything you can in your genre. Read, even when the writing or story is bad. By seeing how it is done is the best way to learn, and I learn more from the badly written books than from the good ones.

I think it is an affliction to have the desire to write, and I am sick to the marrow. The likelihood of success in the field is on par with winning the lottery, and talent is essential but having talent is far from a guarantee of anything but obscurity. If you have this Writing Disease, and it exists in your bones to the point that you cannot separate yourself from it, the very best we can make of it is: try to do it well.

These three books may help ease your suffering.

© 2013, Mitch Lavender

The Next Big Thing Writer’s Blog Hop


blog-hop-the-next-big-thingEarlier this week, Marion Clarke (of the seaviewwarrenpoint blog) tagged me for a writer’s Blog Hop called The Next Big Thing. The tagged writer then answers ten questions on their current WIP, and then tags two other writers to do the same.

While it all sounds a bit like a pyramid scheme, no one has asked for my bank account number or credit card, so I’m in. Thanks, Marion.

I nominate the following two writers, who are both passionate about their WIP: 

Luke Cameron Manion – Blue 88
Christa Simpson

I hope they play along, because they have some pretty cool stuff in the works.

Here are my responses:

1) What is the title of your next book?

a) I have two novels in the editing phase. The one I am currently working on is Find My Baby.  The other is Undertaking Hartford.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

a) Find my Baby is loosely based on real-life experiences my wife and I had in 2001 when we adopted our son in Ukraine. I also work in IT and have cred to back up the part of the story that deal with computers, network security and viruses.

3) What genre does your project fall under?

a) It’s an epic puzzle story, delivered in three acts and twelve chapters. Find My Baby is a popcorn thriller, all the way.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

a) Brad Pitt for the MC and Angelina Jolie for his wife. If you are going to dream, dream big – and they both are certainly not new to the international adoption process. Plus, Brad Pitt looks exactly like me, don’t you think?

5) What is a one sentence synopsis of your work?

a) Zachary and Lucy Foxborne just wanted a child and they expected obstacles navigating the legal and bureaucratic maze of international adoption, but never thought Russian hackers and the translation of a six-hundred year old, arcane text would determine the outcome of their future, or the future of an innocent child.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

a) I have self-published books before and not adverse to it, Find my Baby will be represented by an agent.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

a) I wrote the first draft (~41k words) in three days, during the 3-Day Novel Contest. It’s like Nanowrimo on steroids.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

a) I don’t like the question, but it’s because of the answer: Anything by Dan Brown.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

a) I had kicked the idea around for years and finally decided to write it. The 3-Day Novel Contest gave me the perfect opportunity. I spent weeks on the outline but only three days to write the first draft. Wild!

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

a) The main character, Zachary Foxborne, is an antivirus specialist and former hacker. He and Lucy fall in love with a two-year old boy in a Ukrainian orphanage, but during the adoption process, are crossed by a brilliant but cruel Russian hacker who has a bone to pick with Foxborne and manipulates his online records. The story escalates to grand proportions, with everything Foxborne and his wife care about hanging in the balance. To borrow from Lennon and McCartney, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Seeing Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven through Gustave Dorés Art

With the Poe revival going on – namely, the 2012 movie, The Raven, starring John Cussack as the tortured writer, Edgar Allan Poe, and more recently, The Following, a FOX TV series about a serial-killing cult with a strong Poe influence, I had a new interest in rereading some of Poe’s classics.

Of course, I started with The Raven, originally published in 1845. I was reading from “The Selected Works of Edgar Allan Poe,” a serviceable but unillustrated anthology, and was intrigued by the use of “Night’s Plutonian Shore.” Off I went to Bing to research it, and along with the likely meaning of Night’s Plutonian Shore, I stumbled across a number of engravings by Gustave Doré – illustrations created for The Raven.

Eagerly I wished the morrow

The moody, dark and weird engravings are absolutely beautiful, a perfect fit for The Raven, a poem of mourning for the lost love, Lenore. The images, wrought with angels and skeletons hiding in the periphery, brought the poem to life. I had a new appreciation of this work, and I studied each image meditatively, along with the accompanying verse from the poem.

I have since learned that Gustave Doré is renowned for his work, and the engravings done for The Raven, in particular. After seeing the illustrations online, I sought out and bought a copy of the over-sized, hardcover reprint that features Doré’s artwork, along with The Raven, and some of Poe’s other poems. It’s one of those books I pick up again and again, and each time I do read it, I get some new detail or nuance I had missed before. It’s become one of my favorite books.

The raven never flitting still is sitting

I found a loving recreation of the format at

The Raven by Poe, illustrations by Doré.

Here is a wonderful reading of The Raven by Vincent Price, featuring Dore’s artwork.

The Raven, read by Vincent Price–engravings by Gustave Dore.

Here is The Raven in its entirety, without the illustrations:

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” –
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
 Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
 Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never – nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore:
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
 Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
 On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
 Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting –
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Typewriter Pron – Part II

About a year ago, I blogged about “Typewriter Pr0n” with some of my favorite pictures of typewriters collected from around the Internet. I wrote:

“A typewriter is the icon that conveys dedicated literary life so much more clearly than say, a computer keyboard.  Outmoded and antiquated to be sure, the typewriter still epitomizes writing today. The typewriter is romantic.”

I then followed with pictures and ads for antique typewriters.

It has been one of the most popular posts on this blog, though the searches that brought people to the blog were querying on “pr0n” and I imagine I  led a number of these typewriter fetishists astray. How disappointed they must have been, seeing images of Royal typewriters… with very few girls.

So here, for your amusement and enjoyment is a different take on Typewriter Pr0n – with girls.  I credited the models if I knew who they were.

While these photos are no more sexy than the cover of your average bodice-ripper romance novel, there are a couple that show a little skin and might fall into the NSFW category.  Proceed at your own peril.


This is Alice Denam, who has the distinction of being the only woman to publish an article in the same issue of “Playboy” that she posed in. A query for her name in Bing or Google will turn up nude pictures of her.  I think this picture is far more enticing.

Yes, this is from the 1940 movie, His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. What is she showing to Cary Grant?
“See what I typed?  It says, ‘We know you are gay.’” 


She is very intent, eying that typewriter ribbon. I guess you can imagine she is thinking of how she can tie you up with it. Lunch hour is only 25 minutes away, after all.


What an amazing picture. So many things come into context and I can’t read the subtext in the lower right corner, so the who, when and where may always be a mystery.  Personally, I am really interested in what might be in that briefcase, propped against the wall.


Easy guys, easy! She’s married, see the ring? Doubtful that she knows how to use the Underwood typewriter she is modeling with,  but how often do you get to see so much exposed throat? Sexy.


The implausibility of this picture makes it funny to me.

“Oh my goodness, you caught me typing on a suitcase as a makeshift desk, and I just happen to be wearing garters with my blouse undone, and… where did my skirt go?  I am prepared for whatever punishment you decide I deserve, Master.”


She is flexible and looks happy, dressed in her gold-sequined bikini – typing out her literary follow up to Jayne Eyre, no doubt. If she is happy with these working conditions, I have no room to complain about my office cubicle.


I wonder what she might write about. Will it be a non-fiction piece about the  sexual exploitation of women, perhaps?

We may never know.

© 2013, Mitch Lavender

Creative Caption Contest – Win a copy of Office 2013!

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes.

The phrase emerged in the USA in the early part of the 20th century. Its introduction is widely attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, who published a piece commending the effectiveness of graphics in advertising with the title “One look is worth a thousand words“, in Printer’s Ink, December 1921. The true origin of the phrase is unverified, but is often attributed to Confucious.

For our latest contest on Life64, I’m only asking for a 101 words or less. Caption this stunning photograph, courtesy of `faestock’ on


In a 101 words or less, make your caption serious. Make it funny. Make it surreal, weird or even romantic. Most of all, make it creative and original. 

A higher resolution version of the image is available here.

clip_image004The best entry (as determined by our judges) wins a single license copy of Microsoft Office 2013 – Home and Business, retail value: $219.99. Note that this is the full version (not the cloud-based subscription version,) and it includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook.

I am also throwing in a well-used, paperback copy of Stephen King’s On Writing.  I recently bought a hardcover copy of the book, so am passing on my old paperback one.  All the good parts are marked. 😉

And finally, the real deal – the winner get a copy of my book, Untrue Stories, Volume One.  😉 😉 


1. Submission must be sent via email to

2. Caption must contain 101 words or less.

3. Only one submission per household, please.

4. Submissions must be received before 12 AM CST, April 1st, 2013.

5. By entering, you agree and allow your caption to be published on

6. IMPORTANT: Entrants must live the USA or Canada, since the license for this copy of Office can only be distributed to USA and Canada.

6. By entering, you agree to the disclaimer, below.

Contest Disclaimer (legal crap)

No purchase necessary. One entry per person. Incomplete entries will be disqualified. Entries arriving after the contest ending date will be disqualified. Entries that do not include a valid email address will be disqualified. Contest entrants must be residents of the USA or Canada.

Mitch Lavender is not responsible for lost, misdirected, or delayed entries. Entries received by telephone, fax, courier, or personal delivery will not be accepted. Personal information submitted will NOT be sold or made available to anyone outside of Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet staff. Prizes are not redeemable in cash and must be accepted as awarded. Decisions of the contest judge(s) are final – no substitutions will be available.

Deadline: 12 AM CST, April 1st, 2013.


Thompson’s Book Store (Ft. Worth, TX), I Miss You

Logansrun-WGWhen I was a teenager in the late 70’s, I would take the bus downtown. Downtown Fort Worth was just beginning a rebirth, not the least of which included the Water Gardens, where scenes of Logan’s Run were filmed. Thompson’s Bookstore was nearby, and this was always my first destination, with the Water Gardens being my second.

When I came with friends, which happened from time to time, we would enter the store and I didn’t see them until it was time to leave. It was a place to go and be surrounded by the books and the stories and the characters. It was… special and intimate. It was for me, and I didn’t share it with anyone else.

I have a very fond memory of buying a paperback copy of Logan’s Run at Thompson’s and then going to the Water Gardens to read it. Sitting in view of the Active Pool where Logan and Jessica surfaced in the movie, I opened the book.  Under the shade of a large conifer, I was immersed in William F. Nolan’s story, the ambient sound of artificial waterfalls lulling me deeper into Logan’s dystopian world.

Thompson’s Bookstore was a book-lover’s dream. I didn’t even know I was a book lover at this young point in my life. A confused boy, I knew I hated school and that I loved learning, two things that could not have been more at odds. Within the reverent quiet of the bookstore, I was lost – completely engulfed in the thousands and thousands of possibilities that surrounded me on the shelves.

900 Houston Street – The building was constructed around 1910. It had once housed a hotel and the upper floors had later been used for offices. On the street level, a pharmacy had followed, and then a clothing store and a coffee shop. Wards Cut-rate Drugs was a tenant for a long time, but in 1973, Thompson’s Book Store occupied the space. And then it stopped, sometime in the late 80’s.

Thompson’s Book Store is not well documented on the Internet, except by this site: My Violated Memory

What I want to convey is that Thompson’s Bookstore represented something to me. To walk through its doors, I knew I was left to explore and discover on my own, in the multiple rooms and levels of the store, all filled to the ceiling with books. Even the smell of a bookstore like that feels like home to me.


Now, it is gone.  I have Amazon. At least I can browse Amazon in my underwear. That is something I couldn’t do at Thompson’s Bookstore, so it’s not all bad. I guess.

Did you have a special bookstore that is no longer there?

What happened to it?

How did that make you feel?