Latest Work Completed! Read the Opening Scene

My apologies for not updating in a while. I have been very busy with latest writing work, taxes, job hunting, etc. Eh, it’s a life.

My latest screenplay has finally reached Draft 1. I’m very excited about this because it combines two of my favorite subjects: MAGIC and NOIR. I was a huge fan of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and RPGs like “Justice, Inc.”  that combined detective mysteries with the fantastic. Here’s the opening description I wrote for the one-sheet (the query usually sent to agents and producers):

Inspired by BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and GRIMM comes a cheeky tale of a Hollywood detective whose world is full of magic and murder. In a 1948 Los Angeles, movie stars and ordinary folks rub elbows with the Three Arcana: the Craven (vampires, succubae and things that live on the life force of others), the Fey (elves, dwarves and other fairy creatures) and Demons (you don’t want to go there).

In celebration, here are the opening scenes for my latest screenplay. Enjoy!

(PARENTAL WARNING: The language of this excerpt is rated PG-13)

MURDER BY MAGIC — by Anthony Russo


A huge CROWD in front of the theater stands behind velvet ropes. They cheer MOVIE STARS as they head inside. Dazzling camera flash bulbs POP while searchlights stab at the night sky…




An exhausted JESSIE COOPER (22) climbs out of her beat-up rust bucket of a car and retrieves a brown sack of groceries from the back seat. Her arms full, she heads for the front door of her rented bungalow, FUMBLES with keys from her purse.

A can of soup falls from the bag. CURSING to herself, she bends down, picks up the can and pushes her way inside…



Jessie kicks the door closed with her heel. More fumbling as she fights to find the light switch on the wall. The place is tiny but comfy: a few pieces of furniture face a kitchenette while a tiny hallway leads away from the living room.

She sets the sack of groceries down on the counter. The same can DROPS to the kitchen floor. Jessie bends down, picks up the soup can and GROANS. The can is dented.

She leaves the sack, hangs her coat and purse from the back of a chair, kicks off her heels and disappears down the hallway…


At waist height, the CAMERA emerges from behind the sofa and traverses the living room. Trade magazines are on a coffee table. A copy of DAILY VARIETY is left open with jobs circled.


CAMERA checks purse hanging from chair.


CAMERA ducks inside the kitchen, behind swinging door.

Jessie reappears wearing only a bathrobe. She goes to her purse, finds pack of cigarettes and lighter, then heads back down the hallway. Shadow of bedroom door swings closed.

CAMERA examines the dented soup can on the counter. A tiny hand swaps the can with … a used left shoe.

Moving back into living room, CAMERA spots TV remote control on sofa arm. Tiny hand swaps remote with … a used left shoe.


CAMERA moves down the hallway, passes partially-opened closet door. Door OPENS further, revealing an electric iron on shelf. Tiny hand steals iron and replaces it with … a shoe.

CAMERA moves past closet door to bedroom door. Bedroom door is pushed OPEN wider…


CAMERA examines bedroom: bed, side table, lamp, closet door and door to bathroom. There is a window and a patio door on the far wall, both are covered by blinds.

CAMERA moves around bed, walks up to TICKING alarm clock. Tiny hand is about to steal clock, but is slapped by another hand.

CAMERA turns around. Jessie’s clothing is scattered on the bed. Tiny hand takes brasserie and replaces it with … a used left shoe.

CAMERA moves to bathroom door. The door is pushed open, revealing bath fixtures. The shower is running and there’s a dark shape behind the translucent shower curtain. Steam FLOATS about the ceiling.


A tiny hand grasps the shower curtain and pulls it back.

It’s not Jeannie, but fully-dressed private eye CAVANAUGH (30s). He’s holding the shower sprayer in his hand.

CAVANAUGH: Looking for Alfred Hitchcock?

He turns the sprayer on the CAMERA.

A trio of drenched tiny little MEN screeches in high-pitched voices and stumble out of the bathroom.

GNOME 1: (clutches face) Oh! I’m melting! Melting!

CAVANAUGH: Gnomes. I should have known. Come back here, ya little twerps!

Cavanaugh climbs out of the bath to go after them. One of the gnomes sticks out his foot at the doorway and trips Cavanaugh. He falls like a tree on the floor. Little legs hop over him.

GNOME 3: Scram, fellas! We’ve been had!

Getting on his knees, Cavanaugh grabs one gnome by the leg and lifts him up in the air by his foot.

GNOME 2: Put me down! Put me down!

CAVANAUGH: (snatches stolen bra from him) What the hell are you doing with this?

GNOME 2: This is little people abuse! (bites Cavanaugh on the wrist)

CAVANAUGH: Ow! You want abuse? Try this! (ties bra around gnome’s head and heaves him down the hallway)

Cavanaugh knocks the other two gnomes right off their feet.

CAVANAUGH: And he makes the split!

The gnomes shake their heads and get up on their tiny feet.

GNOME 3: Get him! He’s just one guy!

GNOME 2: (holds up gun) I got his gun! I got his gun!

CAVANAUGH: (comes down hallway) Hey! Be careful with that thing.

GNOME 3: Ventilate him!

Gnome 2 aims and pulls the trigger. The gun is a cigarette lighter.

GNOME 2: What kind of dick are you?

Cavanaugh takes a few steps and kicks Gnome 2 in the gonads with his shoe. SCREAMING, he goes soaring into the kitchen.

CAVANAUGH: (picks up lighter) The kind that kicked the winning extra point for Oklahoma State.

Gnome 1 leaps from the top of a bookcase in the living room and lands on Cavanaugh’s back. He scratches and bites him on the neck.

GNOME 1: You kicked Kenny! You bastard!

Cavanaugh grabs the gnome from his back and tosses him. The little acrobat lands on the sofa, does a victory jig and gives Cavanaugh the middle finger.

GNOME 1: Screw you!

Cavanaugh snatches a fake Oscar statuette off the bookcase and knocks the little dancing man off the sofa.

GNOME 1: Ow!

CAVANAUGH: And the Best Choreography award goes to the little jerk with the splitting headache.

Cavanaugh scans the room. A WAIL of pain comes from Gnome 1 on the floor. A CRASHING sound comes from inside the kitchen. That leaves Gnome 3…

Way stronger than his size suggests, Gnome 3 rips the rug out from underneath Cavanaugh’s feet. Cavanaugh performs a somersault and hits the floor with his chin. Dazed, he MOANS.

CAVANAUGH: Great. Spade gets a case about a black bird. I get the Three Stooges.

GNOME 3: Come on fellas, let’s get the hell out of here!

Gnome 3 helps up Gnome 1. They almost make it to the front door until …

Gnome 3 is FLATTENED by Cavanaugh wielding a fly-swatter. The gnome staggers and drops to the floor, knocked cold.

Cavanaugh NAILS Gnome 1’s gardening overalls to the wall with a thrown letter opener. His legs dangle there, helpless.

CAVANAUGH: (rubs his chin) I’m going to add you two to my dead cockroach collection.

Cavanaugh STORMS into the kitchen.

Gnome 2 points a carving knife at him.

GNOME 2: (snarling) Come at me, flatfoot! I dare you! I’ll cut your nut sack off! And I’m just tall enough to do it!

Cavanaugh yanks the knife from his hands, hoists the gnome up in the air and throws open the door to the newest kitchen appliance for 1948–a microwave.

CAVANAUGH: (tosses him in, slams door shut) You’re about the size of a Cornish game hen, aren’t you Larry?

GNOME 2: (throws hands against glass door) No! No! No! You wouldn’t!

CAVANAUGH: My finger’s on the fricassee button. Are you going to behave?

GNOME 2: Yes! Yes! We give up! Don’t do it! Oh the humanity!

Cavanaugh opens the microwave door.

The gnome gives him an angelic expression and offers up his wrists for handcuffs.



End of The Year — Mile Markers

As the end of the year makes its appearance and the holiday seasons turns into the gray season of dread (January), so too comes the awful Best Of The Year lists that appear on web sites promoting everything from Most Buzzed-About Tweet to Worst Use of a Spatula Outside the Kitchen. I thought I’d post some things I managed to accomplish and some things in the hopper.

1) That Publishing Deal — This is, of course, one of my favorites. Divertir Publishing stepped forward and said they wanted to put my work in print.  Much appreciation goes out to  Ken Tupper and Jen Corkill-Hunt for taking that chance. Happy dance commences. So the book has a title change and an editor, who is still working diligently on it. So I am both hopeful and a little daunted by the edits that will soon come my way. Look for Darkest Hour sometime in 2015.

2) A Completed Brand New Book — I am extremely pleased to announce the completion and posting of The Last Empress (currently available for free on Wattpad). This is a brand-new series of stories about the last Romanov princess set against the backdrop of a steampunk Russian Revolution. Its all very exciting stuff.  I am contemplating self-publishing this work, but it needs a strong edit and perhaps a rewrite because of (3) down below.

The Last Empress
The Last Empress

3) Screenplays! — Yes, I adapted Zak Corbin; Master of Machines and The Last Empress into the visual world. I entered Zak Corbin in the PAGE International Screenplay Writing Competition and made Quarter Finalist (not bad for my first script and its first contest). Since then, Zak has been haunting The Black List web site and I’ve entered the screenplay into the BlueCat screenplay competition. Speaking of screenplays, I wrote The Last Empress as a 1-hour TV pilot. I’m looking to create the next Game of Thrones here, so the results of recent pitches and an entry into the Celtx Screenwriting Felllowship competition. The winners get to sit down with producers and agents in Los Angeles. (I’m packed and ready to go)

4) Up and Coming — I have some work that is on the slate. I am still pondering the second and third book of the Darkest Hour series because of edits and revisions to the first book. It’s kind of a Catch 22 here.  There is the chance of submitting new work to an anthology from Dark House Books, giving me the chance to dust off my sci-fi skills and return to the retro-futurism of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Then, of course, I have the next book of The Last Empress to write. I already have a title and the plot running through my heads.

5) Life, The Universe and Everything — So I’m living in my new digs on the shore of Virginia. It’s a very pleasing place to be, even in the winter. I’ve made some wonderful new friends, reached out and made some important contacts, had a great birthday dinner, traveled all around the area, and look forward to a happy and productive new year as a writer.

Hope your year has been merry and bright too!



Writing The Last Empress and Doing The Research

My newest work-in-progress is THE LAST EMPRESS, a steampunk historical fantasy that takes place during the Russian Revolution and is coming, one chapter at a time, to Wattpad.  Check there often for updates and new chapters.

The Last Empress
The Last Empress

This new story is an experiment for me.  It has the trappings of steampunk, a genre of science fiction and fantasy that covers the Victorian era. There are airships, of course, and a nod to one of the great classics of science fiction: The Island of Doctor Moreau by  H.G. Wells. There will be nods to other classics as well in future books of this new series.

There is a historical aspect to the story as well. The main character is Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, an integral part of any story of the period.  Doing the research proved helpful in deciding the type of story I wanted to tell.

Anastasia Romanov, circa 1914 (Wikipedia)
Anastasia Romanov, circa 1914 (Wikipedia)

The real story of Anastasia is quite tragic. She was the youngest of four daughters of the powerful Romanov family, last of the Russian tsars. As Russia’s armies were thrown in retreat during the First World War, social revolution and an overthrow of the monarchy took hold. The Romanovs were forced out of power and into exile. Put under house arrest by the Bolsheviks, they were moved from Siberia to a house in the city of Yakaterinburg. In July 1918, not long after Ana’s seventeenth birthday, the Romanovs and their loyal servants were sent to a room in the basement and told to wait. Red Guards entered the room and executed all of them. They were buried in an unmarked grave and only recently were all of their remains possibly identified.

Ana’s story became legendary. The circumstances of the Romanovs and their deaths led to speculation that Anastasia and other children somehow escaped. A famous impostor surfaced in the 1920s, claiming to be Anastasia but was a Polish woman with suspected mental health issues.

Most people’s experience with Anastasia comes from two sources. There is the famous movie: Nicholas and Alexandra, which featured the courtship, marriage and final days of the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family in Russia.  The other is an animated musical by Don Bluth (creator of Fiefel the Mouse in An American Tail) called Anastasia.  The full-length Nicholas and Alexandra is the better and more historically accurate of the two. The animated movie rewrites history, badly, and completely glosses over the revolt of the Russian people, the incarceration and exile of the Romanovs and their execution.

The execution and the cloak of secrecy behind it led to stories of Ana’s possible escape. One of the interesting facts was that the Romanovs had jewels and other valuables sewn into their traveling clothes. The royal family thought they would be released and hid the treasures in their clothes to barter for transportation and other necessities. Shot at almost point-blank range, many guards testified they found some Romanovs were still alive (protected by the valuables in their clothes) and had to bayonet them to finish them off.

Another rumor to the deaths of the royal family comes from Great Britain. King George V, first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, wanted to help the royal family. It was speculated that the head of Britain’s intelligence service was asked to develop a plan to rescue them. But the rise of socialism and hatred of monarchies was spreading to England, and the king’s advisers told the king to stay out of Russia’s problems.

These interesting side-notes helped forge the story line of The Last Empress.  I hope you discover how I integrated facts with fiction and follow along as new chapters are posted to Wattpad.





ZAK CORBIN Clears 800K Reads on Wattpad

Something wonderful happened over the past couple of days, ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES cleared 800,000 reads. Wonderful stuff!

Zak Corbin on Wattpad
Zak Corbin on Wattpad

Thanks to all for making ZAK such a popular book. And yes, the screenplay is available and out there trying to generate some interest. A link to the PDF is here, if you’re intrigued:

Zak Corbin and The Master of Machines by Tony Russo


DO NOT ENGAGE: The New/Old Way Writers Deal with Readers

An interesting article first appeared on my Facebook timeline, then crept slowly into Salon‘s website,  about an author going beyond the norm concerning a blogger who gave her book a 1-star review on the Goodreads website.  I thought I might discuss it here because it does concern writing and the folks you hope will be reading.

The author, Kathleen Hale, went into detail in an article posted on The Guardian about her battle with the internet troll who gave her YA book a 1-star review on Goodreads. Now if you’re not familiar with Goodreads (and yes I’m a member too), it’s an Amazon-owned website where readers can identify popular books and review them.

In the new order of publishing this is a good thing; reviews are what drives folks to buying and reading a book for themselves. But the sword is double-edged. Goodreads has come under scrutiny not only because its owned by a web giant whose own website reviews can cause mayhem to an author’s perceived sales  (Amazon Vine readers, anyone?) but there are incidents of authors demanding reviewers who post poor reviews to take the comments back or remove them. The reviewers mounted a campaign of their own, stylized under the initials ABB (Authors Behaving Badly), where a collection of reviewers would trounce an author’s book and the writer to get even for authors who engaged with them.

Hale didn’t like the one-star review she received. On Goodreads (and other places), the YA market is tight and its fans can propel some titles into bestseller status simply on the nature of reviews.  So Hale turned obsessive: trying to figure out the reviewer’s name, get her address and meet with her personally to make the blogger take those wrong things back. The Internet stalker was being stalked, so to speak. Hale even reached out to other authors who experienced this form of trolling to see if anything could be done. One author made it quite clear (although Hale completely ignored the advice):


So this (and you should read Salon’s article, as well as the original in The Guardian to get all the details) took me on a thought-drive in the park. I’m a writer. I have a self-published book on Goodreads and Amazon. The book has reviews, some good, some middling. However it never dawned to me that I should NEVER EVER SPEAK WITH THESE PEOPLE. This is one of the “suggested” rules of authorship on Goodreads. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH REVIEWERS. There is a button that says comment (and the site knows you are an author commenting on a review of your book) that delivers a huge warning that tells you THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

But aren’t we supposed to engage with our readers? Are we not told to blog, write, give out freebies, do reviews, host blog chains and chat with readers on Reddit? I get comments on Wattpad all the time concerning ZAK CORBIN. I engage with these readers,if only to say Thank you or to answer a question. And readers have questions … they want to know when the next book is coming out, what will happen to this character, etc. Yes I get mean-spirited comments. I get “this is stupid” comments. I get comments from readers who just want to argue or incite me. I click on the report button and let Wattpad deal with them. Wattpad too has issues with readers and writers tangling up in their forums and comments sections. They have moderators who take stuff down and even block certain users.

This is the new engagement with readers, but it’s also the old engagement. Writers used to be  isolated and  wary of readers who contacted them (try Stephen King’s MISERY for an example of a fan who goes too far). So today’s published author must not only cultivate a social media presence (blogging, Twitter, Facebook … I have them all) but a hide of steel. Once an author puts their work out, they must leave it up to the consumer to decide what to think of it.

Should authors engage with their reviewers, or not?