The Great Internet Detox

sorry-no-internet-today-1

So in December I did what I call an “Internet Detox”. I put my Twitter account on hold. I installed a nifty comment blocker on Firefox that effectively killed the comments section of every website I visit. I didn’t create a Facebook profile.

A month in, I have to say going back to my old internet habits may be impossible. In fact I’m wondering just how little internet one can get away with in this connected age.

I need to keep Twitter because, as the only social media I’m on, I kind of need to have some sort of online presence as a writer (and soon-to-be-published author) other than a lightly trafficked, infrequently updated website. That’s going to be an ongoing battle.

But I realized I don’t need to be online nearly as much. In fact of the many sins one can lay at the feet of the Great God Twitter is that too much connection to the world’s triumphs and tragedy is a net negative. I couldn’t tell you what the key points of outrage were through the last month of 2015 because I didn’t hear about them. The fact that whatever they were have faded from view in the first week of 2016 tells you just how much oxygen outrage sucks out of a room.

The comments are another story. We all know comments, we all despise them yet we all indulge them. And why not. There’s entertainment there, along with outrage and incoherent ALL CAPS rants with lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!!

Out of mind, out of sight.

I now limit my recreational internet to my iPad, with the “reader view” of the Safari browser engaged. Not only does reader view eliminate comments it also un-junks the experience, eliminating the popups and sidebars and links to other articles and content designed to keep you clicking through the website as long as possible to gin up their numbers so they can charge more for ad space.

So, how did it all go? Let’s just say almost three weeks later I still haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, and still remained spoiler-free. I’m also more than halfway through the big Magicians Impossible rewrite and that’s after one month of a three-month schedule. That includes Christmas and New Years and being a stay-at-home dad.

I often wonder what kind of effect the internet is having on our world and ourselves. There’s been some good, but a part of me thinks it’s been more negative than positive, especially as it comes to political discourse. It’s like we’re living in an internet message board 24-7. That inability to see both sides of an argument, that need to “win” by the number of retweets and FB likes.

So my challenge to you – and a nifty new year’s resolution to boot – is this: I challenge you to detox your internet/social media experience. Shutter those Facebook and Twitter profiles. Leave the phone or tablet at home. Install the comment blockers.

Try it for a week. See how it goes. Maybe go longer; January’s pretty dead work-wise anyway so take advantage of it. You’ll see the difference, believe me. And maybe if enough of us do that we can build a slightly better world in 2016.

Spooktober

Can’t believe we’re into late October already. Since I last checked in I finished the first draft of MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE, MIXTAPE #1 returned to comic book stores, and I took a very much needed break from work to focus on being just “dad”, which has been awesome.

But I’m, back on the clock now, editing Magicians, clearing some old projects off my desk, and hoping to update this website with a little more frequency. To be honest, balancing being a stay-at-home dad with being a stay-at-home writer has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated. Something was going to fall by the wayside, so no surprise it was blogging that took the hit.

So, hopefully you’ll see more activity here soon. And as a picture is still generally considered to be worth a thousand words, here’s a quick 3K

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Yes, that’s 150 signed copies of Mixtape #1, now available through Space Goat Publishing’s official store http://www.merchgoat.com

So … if you’d like a signed copy, there you go!

What Was Going Through My Head

So I’m back.

Yes I took a break from the website thing and had planned on publishing this piece at the beginning of this month (being September) or the end of last month (being August) but life got in the way. I had a major deadline on a Big Project at the end of August, and that was tied into the 10 day business trip I had to take up to Toronto. And no, I’m not saying what the Big Project is because I’m superstitious about that sort of thing, and because we’re so early in that process it’s anybody’s guess where we wind up.

So when teacher/writer Kristen Capaldi tagged me in something called The Writing Process Blog Tour back in August I thought “sure, I can put something together”. And here we are mid-late September and I’m just getting around to it. So sorry for the delay Kristen – but I’m sure this isn’t the first time some has gotten their homework in to you late.

So without further delay: My Writing Process Blog Tour:

What am I working on?

Did you not read my intro? I said I can’t talk about that!

I’m a screenwriter by trade. I’ve been writing professionally since early 1999 and am coming up on 16 years in “the biz”. To put that in perspective if my career was a human it’d be at the age where it’s flipping me off while stealing cigarettes and asking to borrow the car. And one thing my IMDb page doesn’t specify is the pile of projects I wrote and was paid for that were never made and that was AFTER talking them up. So I’m a little twitchy about talking about my film work, but in a non specific-way I’m currently working on:

3 TV series (one limited, three ongoing)

1 Webseries (actually nearing completion)

3 Screenplays (one in rewrites, one underway, another being outlined)

2 Novels (both completed, both in need of rewrites and/or publishers)

3 comic book projects (outline stages on 2, scripting on one)

There’s also Now You Know, a children’s series I wrote five episodes of, which will air (in Canada at least) on TVO in early 2015.

And there’s Mixtape, the first Volume of which just wrapped up. I’ve commenced scripting the second Volume, but you won’t see that for a bit which is why you might as well buy Vol 1.

So yeah, I’m a little busy.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Genre is a dirty word in my house.

Having just returned from Canada where I got my start, I reconnected with many friends and colleagues, talked shop etc. And the one constant among all of us working in the biz is diversity of projects. Because in Canada the fact is there’s not much work to go around, and if you specialize in one genre, you starve. I’ve done Sci-Fi, Horror, Comedy, Children’s TV, historical, drama, thriller – a pretty decent body of work if I do say so myself.

Contrast that with America, where you’re pretty much forced to write a “type” of story. If you start out writing horror, be prepared to write it for the rest of your career. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how careers are made and legends are born.

I waver back and forth on which system is better. If I was just a horror guy I’d probably work more, but only in that genre. Fact is I like experimenting and working in different genres, as much to prove to myself I can do it, as to show to others I can do lots of things. The fact my most acclaimed work is a character-driven comic book series about teenagers and their feelings would seem to bear that out. But my most successful work financially have been in the SciFi genre. Which means if I crack a project about teenagers and their feeling set in a Dystopian future we have ourselves money in the bank.

(And yes, I DO actually have a project about teenagers in a SciFi setting thanks for asking, please see my agent about that)

So how does my work different from others in the “genre”? Because I’m the guy writing. My voice, my perspective – ME.

Why Do I Write What I Write ?

Because it’s my job. People pay me to do what I do and the fact I still am doing it would indicate I know what I’m doing and people are happy with my work. And if that sounds mercenary, it totally is. I do what I do because it’s my job. But that doesn’t mean I do it for money. Believe me I’ve had more projects fall apart than produced, I’ve been ripped off, I’ve frequently been without money more than I have been flush with it. And yet I still drag myself to my desk day after day and write.

As for the “why” … it really comes down to story.

If it’s a personal project, what we call “on spec” it’s because I got the idea for a story and think there’s an audience for it. I figure out what audience – movie, TV, comics, fiction – and either work the story into that format, or maybe pursue an idea that can only be told in a certain way.

If it’s something I’ve been approached to write, it gets a little trickier. Someone has a concept, maybe a logline and pitch or maybe even an outline, and asks you to write it (and offers to pay for your work) you say yes. That said, there still has to be something in the story that appeals to you. It can’t just be a paycheck. You’re going to be devoting most of your waking hours to writing this project, and it could take up a year or more of your life. If you don’t give a shit about anything but the paycheck, it will show up in the writing and chances are they won’t hire you ever again.

You also want to put something of yourself in the story you’re telling. It may be their concept but the POV is yours and that POV is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Write like everyone else, they might as well hire everyone else. But write like yourself you give them something nobody else can; YOU.

Mostly I’m a fan of writing that rings true. That feels like the characters are living breathing people and not words on paper. if there’s one thing I aspire to it’s that truth; that these are lives lived before you read the story. And that’s why I write; because I have these characters and voices in my head and I want to get them out of there

How Does My Writing Process Work?

To understand how my process works, go watch The Good The Bad And The Ugly (aka Brad’s favorite movie). Pay particular attention to the scene between Al Mulock and Eli Wallach that appears later in the film. Tuco (Wallach) is taking a bath in a bombed out hotel (don’t ask). Elam (Mulock) has tracked Tuco down to exact some payback, having been wounded by Tuco before. Elam has Tuco dead to rights, and starts monologueing, telling Tuco how he took Elam’s arm and he taught himself to shoot with the other and so forth. Tuco listens for a moment, then blasts Elam with the gun he concealed beneath the bathtub soap bubbles. Tuco shoots Elam again, killing him outright, and quips “If you’re going to shoot, SHOOT – don’t talk”

Now replace “shoot” with “write”.

That’s my process. Because the world is filled with people who tell you what they plan to write, or are writing, or hope to finish. They talk about it, they blog about it and Tweet about it and you wonder where they’re going to find time to do the actual writing part of it. If that’s what they need to do to finish, great. But I’ve always been the ditch-digger type of writer. I have a story to write and a deadline to meet I put my head down and dig write. No online stuff, no emails, no internet, no anything.

Head down. Hands on keyboard. Write.

Because I write professionally I have the luxury of time to do is, but that doesn’t mean I can allow myself to be sloppy. I keep a regular schedule, 3 hours in the morning, break for lunch and go for a mile-long walk through my neighborhood, return and the next 3 hours I revise what I wrote that morning. Come 5pm I’m done. I switch off completely and don’t think about writing until 9am the next day where I pick up where I left off. I re-read the previous day’s work, make changes and edits, then plunge into the next day’s work.

And no, I don’t write every day. Monday to Friday is good. Weekends are for family and to recharge the batteries so when I plunge back into work Monday morning I can attack it with a critical eye. That’s where I review everything written to date on the project in question, and resume the writing.

I am also one of those writers who still works from an outline, because once I write I don’t like to stop and wonder where I’m going. I have an outline, I can take a detour if I want, but I always try and have a destination in mind. I’m not one for just “jumping in” and seeing where the muse takes me. Plus I’m frequently called on to work on multiple projects with multiple deadlines and an outline helps keep me on track so they’re not all taking the same path. believe me that can and does happen. Character names get mixed up, climaxes become really similar. If I outline I avoid that mess.

One thing I do use that not a lot do though is music, in that I’ll create a mix tape or playlist on iTunes or Spotify geared to whatever project I have going on. Let’s face it; starting every morning can be a challenge, but I’ll load up my songs, all picked because they relate (in my mind at least) to the project I’m drafting. I’ll sit and listen, sip my coffee, and read the work to date and soon enough the words start flowing.

For screenplays I aim for a solid 5 pages a day. For prose, a solid 1000. And by “solid” I mean “good, tight, proofed, edited”. I am free to go over that goal in either case, and can knock out 10 pages of script and 2000 words a day easily enough. But I try and keep a foot on (or at least close to) the brakes and make sure every word, comma, and space are exactly where I want them to be. It saves a lot of work down the line – time best spent revising the story, not correcting errors. To me writing isn’t a race nor should it be, which is why I shy away from the “write a novel in a month/write a screenplay in 6 weeks” challenges that are popular among many. I know a lot of you like them but they just aren’t for me. Write however you feel comfortable, but write. Form a plan and stick to it and if a deadline hasn’t been imposed on you, impose one on YOURSELF.

So this is the part where I’m supposed to tag people so they blog about their process. But because I’m way late in getting this out the door and am sure everybody I could tag has already said their piece. So why not give some of my contemporaries a look (and maybe buy one of their books too while you’re at it):

Kristen Falso Capaldi – writer, teacher and musician.

Ally Malinenko – author of “This is Sarah” and “Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb”

Kate Garrett – poet and all-around badass

Jovanka Vuckovic – Serbian she-wolf, author, filmmaker, editor. A triple threat

David Buceta – Writer/artist/publisher

Ken Epstein – Owner/publisher of Nix Comics

Monica S. Kuebler – Author, spoken-word artist, poet

Susanne Saville – Caffeinated author/Lovecraftian horror

 

 

 

1994

Time. When you’re younger it passes so slow. Summers seem to last forever until you’re back at school come September wondering if summer actually happened at all.  Your life is organized into school, then weekends, then holidays.  And post college it’s work, weekends, holidays and — if you’re lucky to have them – paid sick days.

Then a decade passes. Then another. And despite vowing never to be nostalgic for “the good old days”, you can’t help but let your mind drift back. Your brain filters out the not-so-good and paints everything else in a golden glow where all is well. Time seems to move faster and memories get jumbled, merged or disappear altogether.

You never appreciate the good moments, and those rare bits of transcendence  when they’re actually happening.  Except once twenty years ago when I *did* realize things were changing, and I was living through one of those final rare moments of true freedom I would ever have.

This is a story of the last carefree summer I ever had. It was 20 years ago. And it changed everything.

***

Summer 1994 began for me on Friday April 29, after completing my last exam and facing four months in Toronto. I had opted to remain in the city and work there thru the summer rather than go back home. Home had become awkward with my parents’ divorce and I just couldn’t handle being back in a place called home that didn’t felt more like Santa Mira after the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. It looked the same but wasn’t the same. Plus, year 2 of university had been a long hard climb to recover my GPA after my grades nosedived in the back half of my first year when my parents announced they were getting said divorce.

Pictured: my soundtrack

Pictured: my soundtrack

So to me this summer meant freedom. Of course I had to work, but a confluence of events meant I had the freedom to be free (to do what I want any old time). I had money left over from the school year that was – enough to pay my share of rent and bills on the house I was living in with five others. So, I worked, crewing music videos, paid under the table, five days of intensive work followed by a couple weeks off. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I worked but only enough to feed myself and fulfil my obligations. There was not much room for fun, with the exception of the money I’d saved to buy my ticket for the 1994 installment of Lollapalooza. That happened in early July and while I didn’t know it at the time, it ended up being the last big outdoor festival I ever attended.

Plus, it rained.

Yours truly (L) seeks shelter under a Pizza box

Yours truly (L) seeks shelter under a Pizza box

The show ended and I went back to Toronto, staying a couple additional days at my friend Mark’s place, making plans to return to my place downtown and … do nothing basically. And at one point Mark asked “why go back?”  Rent was paid, bills were taken care of, and I had nothing to do down there.  My next paying job wouldn’t be good to go for a few more weeks, and with Mark’s family away on a cruise for the next few weeks the house was basically empty.

Plus it was summer and they had a swimming pool.

Why yes that is Daily Show Correspondent (and my then roommate) Jason Jones talking to my friend Pete (in army helmet -- don't ask)

Why yes that is Daily Show Correspondent (and my then roommate) Jason Jones talking to my friend Pete (in army helmet — don’t ask)

So I stayed there for almost three weeks. The day began the crack of noon with coffee and donuts, we’d rent movies, hang by the pool, barbecue for dinner, pile into the car and cruise the city streets all night, return for a swim and turn in as the first rays of dawn streaked the sky. Parites were thrown, parties were attended.

My roomates wondered what the hell happened to me. In typical fashion I left for Lollapalooza and said I’d be back early the following week.  But once I realized “hey, nobody knows what the hell happened to me,” that necessitated a trip to my place to grab some fresh clothes and let the world know I was in fact still alive.

This was life for those three weeks that felt like an eternity even back then.

Pictured: Me, sort of. Kinda drunk.

Pictured: Me, sort of. Kinda drunk. Also 1991.

And I knew – we both did – that things would never be this relaxed, this carefree ever again. And they weren’t. I think that’s why we recall this period with such fondness. Because we knew it wasn’t going to last. We knew we’d have to get our shit together sooner than later. It really felt like our last hurrah while it was happening. In fact we’d talk about that fact while this was all happening, like we were narrating events as they happened, like in a movie.

And we both decided then and there that we had to start getting serious about the future. Mark had dropped out of college but was already making moves to return early the following year. I was at the rough midpoint of my college life and in hindsight I should have scrounged up more work. I should have been more responsible, but I also knew this was the last chance I’d have IN MY ENTIRE LIFE to be so carefree.

And 20 years later I’m glad I was irresponsible because I never did experience that freedom again. The following year was a tough one for school. My education, which had been paid for by my parents thus far was now my sole responsibility (hello student loans). My parents’ divorce turned nasty as all divorces do.  Summer 1995 I worked 5 days a week at a home electronics store. I worked, I had weekends and the occasional day off. I saw friends and hung out on occasion but much of that summer was work. But it was after that summer of 94 that I really got a sense of the person I wanted to be.

Because it was over that summer that I realized what I really wanted to be was a writer.

Pictured: Writer, not as drunk

Pictured: Writer, not as drunk

Routinely I’d wake up early while the rest of the house slumbered — the place being a flop-house for our friends over those weeks — dig out my notepad and pen, and write. Journal entries, short stories, the scribblings of what would be my first screenplay.  I still have the notebook too and looking through it I glimpse the person I was twenty years ago.  A person who was still young and still naïve, but also a person who was on his way to becoming the person he is now. Some people took a year off to see the world, travel, find themselves. But for me it was those three weeks in 1994 that made me picture the future I wanted for myself, and made me see what I needed to do to make that future happen.

In 1996 I graduated and scraped out a living saddled with student loan debt and barely kept my head above water. But I stayed focused on writing and being a writer. All because of that aimless, listless summer of freedom where I had time to ask myself where I wanted to be. On graduating I I gave myself five years to make my career happen.  It happened in 2 and a half years.  Exactly five years after Sumer 1994 I was working on my first big job as a screenwriter. Twenty years later, I’m still here and still doing what I decided my career would be.

***

That’s the story of my last carefree summer. And on reflection it wasn’t carefree; I was becoming the person I am now.

But that’s not my *best* summer. No, my best summer was 2008 when I moved to NYC to marry my beloved wife.

But that’s a story for another day.

 

Girls To The Front

PROLOGUE: I almost didn’t bother posting this because I figured everything I was saying had already been said by more well known people than me. I didn’t think I was offering anything new, and worried that it would look like I was just jumping on a bandwagon. But then I realized this is an ongoing conversation, and at the urging of a fellow writer decided to post it anyway. Because remaining silent is worse.

***

Okay, I’m back. Back from Tribeca 2014. Back from parties and screenings, and networking and meetings and seminars and more screenings. I’m exhausted and am staring at the pile of work sitting on my desk — a script that needs rewriting, a series pitch that also needs rewriting, a chapter and outline that need to be drafted, and a TV pilot in need of some light polishing.  So naturally I’m updating my blog to look and feel busy without actually tackling that scary work pile.

Pictured: my desk

Pictured: my desk

But a thing happened at Tribeca 2014 that got me thinking about a lot of things. This is something that I found after three days, and six screenings.  I thought about it on my way home Saturday, when on returning I hit up twitter and tweeted the following:

“I’d really like to see the end of “pregnancy as character motivation/plot point” in movies. Female ≠ “baby maker”.

To clarify; of the first six movies I saw, five featured a female character who was pregnant, or expecting, or discovered during the course of the movie that they were, in fact, pregnant.  The sixth movie did not feature any pregnant females — save for the one who tells her lazy slob boyfriend she wants to have babies, prompting a break up.

So here comes the part where I “go off.” Because the “your female must be facing a dilemma and the best way to illustrate that is by making her pregnant” is the surest sign a sign of lazy and just plain bad writing (IMO), because clearly no woman character can be interesting or passionate or believable without having the requisite bun in the oven. It’s a trope I’ve been told to put into my work to make my female characters more “sympathetic” because it’s more important for a character to be sympathetic than “interesting”.

Look, I get the urge; not the child-making urge as it pertains to real life. I’m talking about fictional characters. I’m talking about needing to get the audience on-side with your hero and heroine. When you have 100 minutes to tell a story you have to economize, set up your characters quickly and efficiently, and give them some sort of central dilemma to complicate matters for them and to give them an extra motive to survive whatever challenges are thrown in their way. And frankly you do this with all characters; male female, old, young, major, minor. But five movies, all in a row, where the female characters main defining trait was “having baby”?

I wondered why I was reacting to this. And it reminded me of the debate that’s been raging through other media, particularly comics.

Shameless plug alert

Shameless plug alert

If you’re at all into comics you’ll know we’ve seen an uptick in both female writers, artists, letterers, editors, and especially fans. The fastest growing demographic in comics is female. Heck, the fastest growing demo for Mixtape is female. It’s a sign of how vital and wide-ranging a medium comics are, to see so many female fans and creators involved. Way more, it seems, then when I was in my formative comics fandom years (aka the 90s). Back then the only guys you saw in a comic book store were guys.

Naturally the comic bro douche contingent is trying to derail that. Because women are supposed to be submissive, to be rescued by strong heroic men, to want to be mothers, to breed, to perpetuate the line, to nurture et cetera. And if they’re none of these things then they must have big boobs. And heaven forbid you’re a female fan at a convention where there’s always the threat you’ll be grabbed and groped, and then threatened with rape if you go public and complain about it.

[Oh, and you want to talk about angry stereotyping? Describe your typical male comic book fan as being fat, greasy, covered in zits, living in mom’s basement and hammering angry screeds on the internet with Cheeto-stained fingers. Do that and wait for the angry retorts that is a “stereotype”]

Send your complaints here

Send your complaints here

The contingent who seems hell-bent in telling this large and growing group they’re not welcome do this because they’re afraid, and they’re weak, and they know it, but that doesn’t make their words and actions any less poisonous. Every comic shop proprietor who looks down his nose at a girl perusing the shelves, every comic bro who demands a girl know the intricate history of Wonder Woman or Green Lantern before she can say she’s a comic book “fan” and the creators who fail to stand up and call bullshit on that behavior are all part of a larger problem.

Despite the fact that female comic book readers are the largest growing audience in a field that has seen diminishing sales for years, it’s not about sales. Let me repeat that; It’s Not About Sales.

It’s about a thing that happened to me more than 25 years ago.

I lived for a time in North Carolina. I was the “new kid” in a school of new faces. I felt out of place, partially for being a young teen, also for being a Canadian relocated to the South. So I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I had my comic books and in a way they became my friends.  During lunch I’d often sit in the corner of the cafeteria, eat my lunch and flip through whatever comic book I was reading at the time. Nobody ever commented on this at school, but one day returning home, I got off the bus and walked up my street and as it passed me a kid in one of my classes leaned out the window and shouted “Go home and read more comic books you fucking spaz.”

I just … stood there as the bus sped away. This kid had never spoken to me at school, once. I didn’t cry or didn’t really do anything but flip him the bird and hoped he saw my act of defiance. And beyond that I can’t remember much of the rest of my day, any other run-ins I had with him or anyone else at school. I still read comics — I probably read them after I got home and finished homework. But the point her is I lived in NC for a year, and that part is one of the few specific memories I have of the time.  Being called a “fucking spaz”.

That’s what this is all about.

It’s about all those other “fucking spazzes”, now in a position of power and authority, turning around and calling women “fake geek girls” and other terms I won’t sully this page by repeating. Acting like the jocks and the preps and the popular kids who insulted them for being comic book fans.  Like they need to get “back” at people who hurt them by hurting people who never did them any wrong. “Fucking spazzes” who have become the same people who bullied you when you were younger, smaller, weaker, all because you liked things they didn’t. It wasn’t cool when you were on the receiving end, and it’s not cool when you’re the one dishing it out now.

You have become that kid on that bus.

That’s what this is all about. It’s about setting aside all that petty bullshit that prevents comics fandom (or indeed any fandom) from being anything less than 100% fun for everyone. Because if you can’t do that; if you can’t treat other fans the way you want to be treated, you don’t deserve to call yourself anything other than the villain.

HT: Ty "The Guy" Templeton for this bit of brilliance

HT: Ty “The Guy” Templeton for this bit of brilliance

***

EPILOGUE: As I mentioned I wasn’t going to post the above but was convinced, ultimately by fellow writer JC Piech.  You can follow JC on Twitter @JCPiech, or on FB.

Also, buy her book