About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Self-Punisher

If I had a nickel each time someone told me how hard I am on myself, I could probably go on tour as a self-punisher.

Last week was bad enough with two stories falling apart.  I tried reigniting my desire to write an alien invasion story, something I've wanted to do for about fifteen years, but it felt like my brain was clogged up.  And when that happens, one think never changes: you feel like shit, and question even your own literacy.

What's the hardest part of writing?  Finishing the first draft.

What's harder?  Getting the damn idea!

It's great when an idea pops into your head, something so cool you get chills thinking about how enthusiastic you are over it.  That's how I felt when I started tinkering with my screenplay idea, which, in a nutshell, is 2001: A Space Odyssey meets The Thing.  I thought, Wow!  This is awesome.  I have no idea how to make the science of it work, but who cares?  It feels right.

But sometimes the right idea isn't doesn't click as well.  One of my collapsed stories from last week was called Rock Is Undead about a group of vampire friends who reunite for a concert.  Sounded pretty cool.  People like music (at least, I like music) and vampires are in these days.  Except the story just didn't click for me.  As I wrote, I thought, Okay, these guys are going to a concert.  They're vampires.  So what?  What's so special about this concert, and what do I care about vampires?

And with twenty pages of meandering nonsense and no direction, I gave up on it.  I just didn't know what to do, Peggy Sue.

I'm mostly venting frustrations here, but I think it's a universal problem with writers.  We all want to be special little butterflies, creative juggernauts with an all-access backstage pass to the Muse (no, not the British band).  And it might be even more frustrating when you don't have other writers on hand to bounce ideas off of.  On average, I get to see my writer friends about once a month, and when I do, I'd rather not selfishly pick their brains over my work.  I'm much more interested in how they've been and how the holidays are treating them.

What's harder than getting the idea?  How about getting over your own self-loathing?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dumb Dumb

Today's been a bittersweet one on the writing front.  On the one hand, I added a few pages to my sci-fi screenplay, and I feel pretty good about that.  The screenplay began a little hazy and uncertain even with an outline.  And not about twenty-five pages in, I feel like it's really finding its feet.

But then this afternoon, TWO other stories collapsed, and that sort of double-whammy did not inspire much greatness in moi.  One of those stories, by the way, was almost as long as the screenplay, and dealt with a scenario I thought was pretty good.

The problem with one was that I didn't care as much as I thought, and the other kept meandering.  Oddly enough, plotting has also been my enemy up until now.  Roar Shack wasn't plotted until at least the second or third draft.

This isn't uncharted territory for me.  It's me revisiting the magical land of Hey-You-Screwed-Up-ia, a tyrannical kingdom at war with both Utopia and Dystopia.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Organizing Projects

A couple of months ago, I began using Trello while finishing my internship, and it impressed me so much that I began using it not only for weekly to-do lists, but also writing projects and even job searching.  It's a wonderful and intuitive organizer and you can also using it for group projects too by sharing a board with other members.  Basic service is free, but even then it's a very powerful tool.

If you have a lot on your writing plate, I strongly recommend thins, and in this post I'll show how it can help keep you focused on multiple things at once.

Here's my writing board on the site...



In Trello, you can make a number of boards, each one consisting of columns called lists and a number of tabs or cards in each list.  I use one card per project or story.  Each list helps organized by the kind of work being done, so I've got nonfiction and long and short fiction as well as a "Business" list for general housekeeping stuff and "Research" to help keep track of progress on the Document.

You'll notice that some cards have colored accents on them.  Trello allows you to color-code cards, and I use this to tell at a glance what stage each project is.  You can customize these labels in the sidebar to the right under "Menu."

Below are the different stages I assign to a project at any given time...



I don't know if this is included on other operating systems, but I use Yosemite on my MacBook Pro and it lets you tag files with different colors.  I mention this because those are the same colors available to you in Trello.  Personally, I find that very helpful because it lets me mark the projects directly based on their status.

If an project has been published, it has no color assigned to it because there's no additional work to do.  Of course, sometimes stories can be reprinted or retired pieces can be polished off later for publication, which doesn't delete them (although you can permanently).  Instead, archiving a card hides it in the sidebar to be retrieved later, making it a convenient vault for past work.



The cards aren't idle either.  In fact, they have a lot of helpful features.  Below is a card for a film review I'm working on for Carpe Nocturne...


The orange box contains the all-important due date or deadline, which can be edited on the right hand side.  If you're withing twenty-four hours of your deadline, it'll turn yellow as a warning, and red if you're pass due.  The green box contains the description in which I write the logline of the project I'm working on to quickly refresh my memory on the story.  And the red box, which is a convenient way to track progress over time; so you can write a quick comment when you finish a draft, submit a piece, or hear back from a publisher.  There's also the attachment button in the black box so you have the option of uploading and removing different drafts as you go along.

All in all, Trello is an amazing organizer, and once you make it part of your routine, I think you'll start wondering how you managed without it.  Steve Dotto in Canada has a good demo for it on Youtube.  And if you're part of a company that does a lot of collaborative work, I highly recommend the demo from Trello's developer Fog Creek Software.

Don't Quit

This week has had its ups and downs, especially the first half, but as I got ready for bed tonight, an old plaque on the wall caught my eye.  It's the kind with a poem written on it.  I forgot it was even there.  I read the poem, and it seemed to be just what I needed lately, so I thought I'd share it with you.  It's called Don't Quit:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside-out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Paperless

I've slacked off on the Document lately, that compendium of knowledge that's meant to be all the research notes I'd ever need for any project, so tonight I decided to chuck the hard copy into the trash and sift through the files I have saved on dropbox.  Besides, I had a project in mind and wanted to make sure some of the notes really were as complete as possible.

Horror of horrors!  As I began the reprinting, my printer's ink cartridge finally ran dry.  Because ink is pretty pricey for me (yes, I'm trying to cut the fat from my expenses that bad), a friend of mine recommended I check out Cartridge World in Pasadena, which does refills at a fraction of what a shiny new replacement would demand.

So there I am going through these files anyways, and it suddenly popped in my head: why the hell am I printing this out?!

I mean, the whole point of the document, really, is for me to print out what notes I needed and then mark and annotate them according to the project at hand.  So even if I've got this master copy set aside, it's just going to gather dust because it's not meant to be marked up.

There are some notes I do need printed.  For example, I have a quartet of fictional towns in California that I'd like to set a number of stories in.  As I mark the maps with various locations, it's unrealistic to print out a fresh copy with those handwritten notes on them, see?  But with the rest of it, I ought to think less about printing out notes and more about printing out an annotated table of contents so I can look up each item by category along with a brief summary of how it's helpful.

In my defense, I'm a moron, but as Socrates says, the greatest knowledge is knowing you know nothing.  Which also means Jon Snow is a freakin' genius.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Drugs Like Me

So Lars von Trier recently confessed a number of things.  First, he admitted he was undergoing treatment for drug addiction.  I commend him for this.  Second, he admitted he's attending AA to get a grip on alcohol problems.  I hope he sticks with it.  Third, he admitted he's afraid sobriety will cost him his creativity.  I...wait, what?!

I've had my own problems with drinking until the day came when my family and friends voiced their concerns and frustrations.  They were worried about my health.  They were embarrassed by my actions.  Like a number of artists, I felt like I had to drink ravenously in order to get in the zone.  But reading this article about von Trier had me feeling about as much an expert on addiction as Sean Hannity is an expert on politics.

So I asked my friend Patrick O'Neil - friend, writer, and tormentor of TSA agents - to chime in.  Patrick has written extensively on his own addiction and recovery, and his response to von Trier was mind-blowing:

"This is a fear that a lot of us in recovery have had.  Not just with creativity, but with our entire lives.  If we stop using and drinking will we still be the same persona?  Will we be able to still do the creative things that we were doing?  And of course the answer is yes.  You can live your life anyway you want.  Yet when von Trier says he'll never be able to make a movie again because he stopped taking drugs and drinking like a fish, it's pretty fucking lame.  So you have to be shitfaced to make a film.  Really?  That's a drastic stance and the reality is you might not be able to make the movies that you are currently making, but you'll make different ones.  And isn't that what artists do?  They evolve and in turn the personal internal changes are revealed in their work.  My addiction took me as far away from being a creative artist as I possibly could go.  I went from a filmmaker/musician to a street junkie/armed robber and it has taken me years to get back to being that creative person I was before the drugs took over.  Von Trier is actually lucky he didn't have to fall too far from grace before getting help with his addiction.  And of course we're hearing this from him in a very short time clean and sober - the brain's chemistry hasn't even leveled off yet.  It's all a big mystery at this point.  It'll be interesting to hear what he says in six months or a year."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Scheduling

Every Sunday, I plan out my schedule for the next week, and as I do the weekly ritual today, I decided to try something I heard Scott Lang does; he heads Silver Springs Networks, which develops smart grids.

Lang was one of a few CEOs interviewed for an article on productivity.  He said, "On an average day, I'm only 50% scheduled, though it occasionally gets as high as 80%.  That's imperative because often something comes up out of nowhere."

I had a hard time getting my head around it at first because I used to think having holes in your schedule means you've got nothing to do.  Isn't being productive all about getting things done?  Well, yes, but when you sit back and look at Lang's logic, there are benefits to it.

First, there's flexibility.  Working in entertainment, I've learned that meetings inevitably get rescheduled - sometimes a few times - and it's a nightmare when they do because you have to hunt for a slot that works for everyone.  I personally like to be as accommodating for everyone as possible, so by doing this, I can guarantee perhaps two or three spots for last-minute things.

It still doesn't sound impressive, huh?  Setting up only half your day for work?  Not unless you take some perspective.  If you work an eight-hour-per-day job, then you're right; committing four hours a day to getting things done doesn't blow wind up my skirt.  But I have a somewhat workaholic brain, so any time not spent sleeping is time I have for work.

In other words, I have a 19-hour day.  Half of that is about ten hours, more than the average workday for most people.  About 15 hours if you think about Lang's 80% max.

It does require an early rise.  That's the one kick in the butt.  But it also means you're able to allot enough time for work and play.  Let's take a look at my busiest day next week (Wednesday) and I'll show you what I mean.
  • 5 AM...I spend an hour and a half for exercise, shower, and breakfast.  You could think of it as an informal meeting; Ruba CEO Mike Cassidy does, and so do I.
  • 7-9 AM...I work on writing a screenplay I've spent the last few months developing.
  • 10 AM - 12 PM...I'm brainstorming the next story to write with fingers crossed that it won't suck.
  • 2-5 PM...I'm job-hunting whether it's in entertainment or a freelance writing gig.
  • 6:30 PM - Midnight...I head to West LA for a screening I got invited to.
Altogether, that's 14 hours.  Pretty meaty.  And yet, I still have three hours free plus a couple more in case I want to go out to lunch.  So it's busy, yes, but not overwhelming.

And what can you do with that free time?  Lang says, "If I have a free block and nothing presents itself, I catch up on industry reports, self-education, and big-picture thinking. In a packed schedule, those things can get neglected.  They shouldn't be."

Translated to a creative business like writing, those are times you can go through the latest issue of Writer's Digest, research for a project down the line (though I like having a set research hour anyways), looking up reading venues, or reflecting on your career right now in relation to a more long-term goal.

Don't forget to make time to relax with friends and family too.  I'm not kidding, I've done this with my own schedule, especially on the really busy days.  That's not about forcing your spouse to make an appointment with you (God help you if it gets to that point).  It's more about you making a dedicated effort on your part to not burn out.  It's about you saying to yourself, "I need to put the brakes on for my own good."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Uphill Week

The blog has lately become something of a neglected child, and I feel the need to apologize for that.  The fact is that working in entertainment, especially over the last month or so, has really sapped my energy.  In fact, the other night, I came home, stretched out on my bed for what I thought would be a thirty-minute nap, and then woke up at 5 AM the next morning when my alarm told me it was time to get ready for another day at the office.  Writing in general - and I feel really bad admitting this - has taken a back seat.

I'm still getting a little done here and there.  I submitted a new review to Carpe Nocturne yesterday.  I think I mentioned that the magazine was sold to a new publisher, with changes to the magazine and is submission methods, I'm keeping an eye on how that's all working out.

That's all I really got for now.  It's November, so I hope those participating in NaNoWriMo are having a good month so far.  You're halfway there!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jacked Up and In

I think it's safe to say that I was looking for just about any excuse to procrastinate this week.

This week, and especially this weekend, I had to give my computer a real deep cleaning.  It hasn't been upgraded since I got it in 2009, and that lag cause email problems for me at work.  By the way, I'm really digging Mavericks.  I also looked up numerous ways to up my productivity, which isn't bad per se, but it can get to a point where you're focused more on how to do your job than actually doing your job.

One brilliant idea was trying to get rid of my junk-filled personal email address in favor of three - a personal one, a more professional one, and a writing-exclusive one - but an exec at work said I was giving myself more headaches than it was worth.  In the end, I ended up with a helpful tip to just archive everything, which clears up your mailbox without deleting your messages.  I also figured out how to use Mail on my Macbook to check all my email accounts at once.  So in that case, I will say it'll probably help me out in the long run.

I did get some writing done this week on a new article for Carpe Nocturne, and I'm still plugging away on the screenplay idea, but I'd really like to set aside some time to develop a new fiction piece.  I still feel a little bummed out about giving up my "one story a week" ambition, I also think it's taken a huge weight off my mind.

So I'm ready to take on the coming week.  Are you?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Implosion

On Monday, I woke with the energy of a Friday.  On Friday, I woke with the energy of slime mold.  Hell, it took me the entire day to read just one script!

I knew I was burning out.  I canceled development of a short story, and chucked another that I was behind on getting the first draft started.  Carpe Nocturne called.  My screenplay was neglected.  Computer problems at work and fights with my phone company weren't helping.

The times need a-changin'.  Hell, I've even taken to using iCal on my computer in earnest because my trusty desktop calendar book just doesn't have enough hours in the day for me to schedule.

One of my coworkers told me it's okay to say no every once in a while, and as we left the office, my boss said I shouldn't kill myself doing twenty things for twenty people.  I'm not kidding when I say I wish I had a dollar each time someone said I needed to go easy on myself.

So what am I doing about it?

Well, for starters, I dropped a volunteer readership with Sundance Institute.  That wasn't an easy choice to make.  It was the first time someone in entertainment reached out and cold-called me.  And it was a big opportunity, but the timing was such that I simply could not handle it.  My contact at Sundance understood my position and there were no hard feelings.

I'm also giving up my plan to start a new short story each week with the intent of finishing in a month.  Doing so meant taking on four times as many projects at once, and while revising is pretty swift, I'm a slow drafter.

And...something, something.  I dunno.  See how fried I am already?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Publications - Carpe Nocturne (Fall 2014)

Hi, everyone.  There will be an update soon on why I've been so quiet, but in the mean time, the fall 2014 issue of Carpe Nocturne has been released.

My earlier review of Kate Maruyama's novel Harrowgate was reprinted.  I think that might have been a little slip-up as the magazine goes through a change of ownership and a new publisher.  I'm not complaining, although I did try resubmitting several previous reviews I was really proud of.  I think I might just retire those pieces, wipe the slate clean, and start fresh with the next issue.

So yeah...enough of my bitching, and enjoy the new issue.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Art and Life

Hi, folks.

This hasn't been my most productive week.  I mean, I've been busy like hell, but the writing output's taken a beating.  Between increased hours at my internship and moving house, I suppose it was bound to happen.  There are only 24 hours in a day, and mine have been action packed for the last few.  As such, one short story in development got derailed, and I cancelled the first draft of another one that had stalled as I dealt with everything else.  On the bright side, I've been on track revising a third story from a week ago, and should have it ready to submit by the weekend.

But the truth is that I couldn't help feel a little ticked off being forced to clear off one day of writing after another.  Even though I'm running on fumes and waking up tired, I felt bad.  I'm also rereading Stephen King's On Writing and got to the part where he talked about his drug and alcohol addictions.

He ended the section with this: "Life isn't a support-system for art.  It's the other way around."

I'm not a drug addict.  Never tried the stuff.  And it's been a few months since my last drink (a celebratory shot for Roar Shack's publication), and, geez, I think over a year since I got really tanked.  But I understand what King's really getting at with that quote.  Life has a tendency to happen.  People move.  Babies are born.  Bills have to be paid.  In the 24-hour day we all get, the plate sometimes gets so full and we have to sacrifice time somewhere.

Hopefully, there's not too much sacrificing, more like moving around the pieces, because every writer has to deal with this, and all of them from Stephen King to JK Rowling are able to produce new works.  Even the ones who had a lifetime of full day jobs like Wallace Stevens made it happen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hey! Wha' Happened?!

Hi, everyone.  I have a few minutes to spare this morning (it's a little too quiet at the office), so I thought I'd deliver on that long-promised update on what's been going on lately.

Writing-wise, a lot's been going on.

I just finished my TV writing class at UCLA and it's already having a positive impact on how productive I've been, especially with my new desire to submit a short story weekly.  It's a four-week process.  The idea being that I develop an idea during Week 1, write up the first draft in Week 2, let it simmer in Week 4, and then revise and submit in Week 4.  And because different stories are expected to be in different stages at any given time, it should allow me to make weekly submissions.  For example, if I'm writing the first draft of Story A, that same week, I'm outlining Story B to be written the following week, and then start the process for Story C the week after.

Originally, I thought about doing two stories per week, but with internship, job hunting, and other projects, that's just not possible.  Still, a story a week adds to 52 annually, and that doesn't sound too lame.  You know what I mean?

I'm still writing for Carpe Nocturne as well.  The last issue was a quiet one for me because it was steampunk-themed and none of the reviews I had fit it.  But I have a few reviews lined up to write for the next issue.  I'd also like to branch out a bit and try submitting an essay on the horror genre at least once a year.  I'm actually not originally a horror guy.  I converted only several years ago, so I figure these essays would give readers an interesting look at the genre from the perspective of a late-bloomer.

I'm also working on my first screenplay, but I'm not ready to go into detail on it yet.  It was an invitation from my boss at the entertainment company I work at, a chance to build up my writing portfolio.  He was pretty encouraging after reading a rough synopsis, so I'm plugging away at it when I can and we'll see what becomes of it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Outlines Actually Are Necessary

Stephen King is going to disagree with me, but...plotting and outlines are totally necessary.

I don't feel 100% thrilled to say that.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for letting the floodgates open.  I agree with Mr. King on at least his friendly criticism of fellow writer John Irving; I don't want to know the last sentence of a story.  That sentence is going to change.  But hey, to each his own, right?

Plotting isn't something I advocate for all fiction.  A short story or flash fiction can work without it, especially with flash fiction when you're writing the whole thing in one sitting.  My short story Roar Shack was done without a plot.  I just meandered from one monster to the next.

However, The Coast - the novella I recently killed off - could have used a stronger outline.  How do I know whether or not a story needs an outline?  My cork board.  If I end up plotting a story on a cork board, chances are it's going to be a longer work.

Even on the cork board, it's still a rough cloud of note cards.  I did write a beat sheet for The Coast, but at the time, I had no idea what a real beat sheet was.

The UCLA class I'm taking - Beginning Writing for the 1-Hour Spec Drama: Building the Story and the Outline (that's a mouthful) - has shown me it's hard work developing a story outline, but once it's set, the rest is just a matter of connecting the dots.  I'll write another post at the end of class next month to give you guys a better idea of the process (since I'm still learning it from start to finish).

The bottom line is that it's easier to find and fix plot problems when you see the bones of the story.

"The Coast" is Dead

I gave up on The Coast today.  It's been dragging for too long.  I lost interest in it.  And since there's no agent or editor eagerly awaiting it, I figured I had no obligation to stick with something that was slowly becoming a chore for me.  Whenever I find myself coming up with excuses not to work on a piece, that's when my subconscious is telling me it's time to move on.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hump Day

If ever there were a Wednesday that truly feels like Hump Day, it's today.  I started a second round of internship at the company I worked for earlier this year followed by work on the Document in the afternoon, and finally class at UCLA in the evening.  And yes, I am in class right now...because I'm a rebel like that.

Yeah...

There's been very little room in my writing schedule for other work this last week, which happens too often in my opinion.  But that's life, and if you don't like it then you're in the wrong species.  I think I'm feeling bogged down right now because I burned through a lot of energy early in the day with the internship.

Maybe I'm just letting my brain run its mouth so I don't accidentally nod off in the middle of class.  And if I do, thanks, guys, for putting up with me.  On the other hand, maybe it's a good thing.  Maybe it's a lesson for everyone else.

One of my bosses - and really, when you're an intern, everyone is your boss - but one of my bosses very unsubtly gave me some pointers, the biggest one being to never put stuff off for later.  The people who excel in the entertainment industry are the ones who get things done as quickly as possible, because you never know how much work you'll have the next day.  So, writers, get through all you can today.  It's one less story to edit, to brainstorm, to hound your friends for feedback over tomorrow.

Following that is another piece of advice, which is drive.  When I first met this particular boss, he seemed very hyper and all over the place.  Then again, he was also trying to get three months of work done in the month he had before leaving town.  Now, I don't think he necessarily enjoyed being under the wire so much, but I do think he enjoys the drive.  "I wake up every day with this pent-up energy," he said.  "I need to do something with it."

That started catching on to me this morning.  I must have spent five or ten minutes being lazy in bed, but that was it.  I got my ass out of bed, worked out, and drove to work early enough that I was actually one of the first ones there.  I waited another ten minutes or so before calling my boss to double-check on where everyone else was.  Those ten minutes felt pretty odd because sitting around doing nothing suddenly began feeling uncomfortable.

So even though I do feel tired and ready to drop, I also feel pretty satisfied with how productive my day's been.

*Pause*

How've you been?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Document

Anyone who knows me knows I hate research.  I like learning about new things, sure, but gorging on a white whale of info is like saying I'm going to sit down and listen to every Rolling Stones album.  It's fun at first, but I'll go nuts after the first few albums.

What gets me cringing about research in particular is the repetition of it.  Starting a new story, if there's research involved, I'll likely end up reviewing half a dozen documentaries I've seen many times before.  Again, not fun.  Doesn't even have the illusion of fun.

I don't know why it took me this long to realize it, but I've finally figured out the best thing to do is to do all the research I would ever need for every project at one time, a compilation of all my notes into a master document that I can refer to as needed.  And I've given this the very imaginative title of...the Document.  Spoken of in hushed tones as if it's the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So far, the Document's reached about forty pages, and there's a lot more to come.  Part of me isn't really looking forward to it, but if I brace myself and get it done now, I know I'll be thankful for it later.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Planting My Posterior at Panera

It's Sunday, which means I'm at Panera in Burbank for my weekly writing group.

I haven't mentioned much about this group.  It started just a few weeks ago, but I really like it.  A lot more than the no-talk one I was in.  It's more sociable and relaxed, and though we don't spend the entire three-hour session chatting away (because then we wouldn't really be working), the atmosphere doesn't make it feel like work at all.

The one downside is that it's not a critique group.  As one writer told me, the secret to good writing is good editing, and the secret to good editing is getting good feedback.  On the bright side, sharing work in this group is an optional thing, which means there's no pressure to deliver.  On the other hand, I kind of miss that pressure.  It reminds me of my Antioch days when we had weekly check-ins throughout the semester.

I don't want to be the first guy to volunteer for this, especially if others don't want to bring their work to the table; it's best to be a give-and-take sort of thing.  Regardless, it's been enjoyable hanging out with other people getting their writing done.

The only thing that really does suck is the wifi.  Oh, God, does Panera have shitty wifi, which in turn makes research sessions move at a snail's pace.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Publications - Roar Shack

I'm pleased to announce that Roar Shack is available on Amazon, both in print and Kindle form.

Pick up a copy.  Read it, absorb it, and let the parasitic eggs feast on your brain-meats.

Friday, July 11, 2014

This Week's Been a Hurricane

Wow!  This week's been quite a ride.  I again have a lot on my plate, especially with creative work, and it's gotten a little overwhelming.

In addition to Roar Shack's acceptance, I started a new class at UCLA.  This one if for television writing, particularly fleshing out the story and getting it to the outline.  It's surprising the journey an episode has to go through before it gets to the first page of a script.

I've also got two flash fiction pieces: Q & A and Where It StartsQ & A is out for submissions, and I'll start revising Where It Starts this weekend.

Revisions continue on my novella The Coast, and I'm plotting a new longer story that I think will be a screenplay.  With all the literary work I've done, a script sounds like a nice change of pace.  Plus, a few of the friends I made during my internship as a reader earlier this year encouraged me to give it a try.  One of the executives said he'd be happy to give it a look even though I don't have an agent.

"Yeah, send something over when you feel ready," he said.  "Lord knows you've earned the right to."

"Roar Shack" has a Home

I'm happy to announce that my short story Roar Shack was accepted this week by The Horror Zine.

This story about a young boy chased by monsters in Echo Park is one I've been working on for some time with revisions continuing even after acceptance.  I'd like to thank Horror Zine's editor Jenni Rector for the valuable feedback she gave in polishing up the story, as well as my friend Ashley Perez who gave me a first reaction on it way back when.

Roar Shack should be out in print in the next few weeks.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The List

This week, I felt that my new short story Q & A was ready to hit the submission meat grinder.  Well, I'm not 100% sure it's perfect, but I think it's ready enough for at least a first round of submissions to a few places.  I'm like that sometimes; send out a piece and if it's universally rejected then it needs a little more fine-tuning.

I entered the story on Duotrope and started searching for publications that might be a good match.  The website said it had none.  Not one.  Now that's odd because Duotrope has thousands of markets listed.

A few years ago, a grad school friend of mine sent me a link for the markets list on Poets and Writers Magazine's website.  It's not nearly as extensive as Duotrope, but I think it's helpful if you want to do a broader search.  You can search by genre, subgenre, format, and payment type.  They tell you whether or not a market allows for simultaneous submissions, and most of them on this list do.

Duotrope is still the #1 search platform for me, but the Poets and Writers list is a pretty solid Plan B.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Simply Complicated

Next week, I'm starting my television writing course at UCLA, one of a few courses in the medium I've got planned ahead.  Eventually, there's a course I'd like to take called Anatomy of the Pilot.

I have the syllabus for the pilot course printed out, and one of the assignments looks to be coming up with at least two series ideas to pitch.  I figured, What the hell?  Why not do some brainstorming for it now?  That's more sluggish my brain gets, you know?  If I think something's coming down the road, I want to get a jump on it as soon as possible.

I've got one idea that's sort of an apocalyptic version of Peter Pan's Lost Boys, but another idea I got is a blend of War of the Worlds with the format of American Horror Story, which is to keep things unpredictable by having different stories in a shared universe.  I don't think I've ever seen a shared universe featured in a TV series before, so it feels like an interesting little experiment.

But, as if the case with each alien invasion attempt I've tried in the past, I'm already feeling overwhelmed by the research for it.  Because it's not like writing a single piece of fiction where you can revise the whole thing for continuity.  For example, if you have the invaders presented in a certain way in one set of episodes, you can't come up with random and disjointed ideas later on because you can't go back and revise those shows that have made it to the air.  I'm thinking of the best case scenario, of course, imagining what would happen if - God help me - I make a pitch and it gets the green light.  It's a concern that I feel valid enough to roll over.

So yeah, I've got a big ol' list of research materials that I could review to come up with some ideas, but I still feel like I'm about to bite off more than I can chew.  The one thing I keep telling myself is to keep things simple.  Take it slowly and don't go off in a mad rush, because that's how you get lost in the woods.

God, I hope I know what I'm doing...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Monsters at Home

American Horror Story co-creator Brad Falchuk had this wonderful phrase to describe the show, saying it's all about "the monsters at home."  For example, even though the first season was a ghost story, it was really about the breakdown of a marriage.

Most people correctly refer to horror as a genre of fear.  If it's got vampires, monsters, or serial killers hacking away young naked people at a summer camp, it's horror, right?  Wrong.  I think we need to accept that horror is a little broader than that, more fundamental.

Monsters are a subgenre of horror.  Fear is the main point, and even those that we might label more as thrillers are, I think, horror stories.  They say that horror is meant to induce terror while thriller is all about the suspense, but it's very difficult - almost impossible - to distinguish between the two.

If you look at the Denzel Washington film Man on Fire, you can't help but wonder about all the terrible things that might be happening to that little girl the longer she's missing.  The same thing can be said of the film Taken; the first one, not the insanely unnecessary sequels.  You want Liam Neeson's character to find his daughter.  You see her friend dead from a forced drug overdose and worry that the daughter has suffered the same fate, maybe even something worse.  You can go ahead and add the monsters and the supernatural on top of those stories, but the core premise remains the same.

You can also do the reverse and interpret horror in the more conventional terms of a thriller with the same results.  Dracula is basically the story of a serial killer.  In fact, Bram Stoker once compared the crimes of Jack the Ripper to those of a vampire.

Fright Night is another great example.  I'm referring specifically to the 1985 original when audiences didn't know what to expect.  The thing that frightened me about it was that Chris Sarandon's Jerry Dandrige didn't initially come off as a monster.  For a while, you think that Charlie Brewster is just letting his imagination get the best of him, because thanks to POV shots, it really could all be in his head.  On its surface, Fright Night is a monster story, but the real fear underneath is the notion that something terrifying can infiltrate your neighborhood.  It could be a vampire, a serial killer, or an abusive father.

In fact, a lot of times, when someone recommends me a book or a movie that they say is a horror story, I often ask what's the Jerry.  What part of the story is simultaneously terrifying and mundane?

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ideal Reader

Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Write to please just one person.  If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."

Lots of writers - Vonnegut among them - talk about the ideal reader.  Usually, this is a construct to sum up the kind of people, the category of readers, you're trying to reach.  I find even this to be too broad and overwhelming.  If someone told me to write for fellow writers...well, heck, I know plenty of writers with varying personalities and tastes.  I'm back to square one.

No, when I think of my ideal reader, it has to be a specific person in mind.  That person changes from piece to piece.  Roar Shack and The Coast were both pretty much written for me.  I didn't really have anyone in mind that I was trying to impress.  However, this ghost story that I've tried to plot?  Yeah, I can't write that for myself.  I'm starting to warm up to the ghost story genre, but I'm still not such a dedicated fan that I'm trying to write for myself.

Enter Tatiana, a friend I've known since I was six (fuck me, I'm old!).  Tatiana and I had lunch about a week ago.  She asked how writing's been going.  I told her what I had on my plate and about this ghost story that was giving me a hard time.  I gave her the brief on the ghost story.  She cringed appropriately, so it got me thinking that I absolutely must write that story.  Some way.  Some how.

In truth, I have no clue how I'm going to make that story work.  The beginning and end are the parts kicking my ass.  Still, because I have that ideal reader in mind, writing the story isn't much of a choice for me.  I have a need to deliver.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Farewell to the Website, Part 2

Well, that just happened...

I called up Homestead today and had the Heavenshaker website Old Yeller'd.  Not that I really have any remorse being a "it's not you, it's me" kind of deal.  I will say that if any of you do have need for a website, I highly recommend Homestead.  It's very user friendly and quite affordable; again, if you've got the material to justify it.

Anyways, it's down to the blog, Twitter, and the Facebook page.

A Farewell to the Website, Part 1

Whew!  So I just revamped the blog to incorporate the major elements of the Heavenshaker website, and the renovation took some wind out of me.  The worst part was posting links and updates on material that's been printed in the last year so they're included in the "publications" tab.  But I actually like it.  I like it a lot.  It's clean and organized, and I feel it combines the purposes of a blog (to engage with the audience) and a website (to inform and promote new work).

This means that, yes, I will shut down the Heavenshaker site soon.  I'm going to call Homestead Technologies - the company that hosts the site - to double-check on a couple of things, but I think it should be a smooth exit.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Publications - Carpe Nocturne (Spring 2014)

Earlier this year, a few other reviews of mine got published in the Spring 2014 (Vol. 9, No. 1) issue of Carpe Nocturne for the films Dark Skies, Mama, and Warm Bodies, as well as Kate Maruyama's novel Harrowgate.

Publications - Carpe Nocturne (Winter 2013)

Last year, I got a film review published in the Winter 2013 (Vol. 8, No. 4) issue of Carpe Nocturne for World War Z.  Just, you know, FYI...

Publications - Moving Pictures

And Andrew Ursler, Part IV: Moving Pictures.

Publications - Chocolate

And Andrew Ursler, Part III: Chocolate.

Publications - Grind

Here's the link for Andrew Ursler, Part II: Grind.

Publications - Are You Proud of Me?

So as part of my effort to revamp the blog and consolidate my web presence, I'm starting a new publications feature used to announce the printing of a new piece, which means I have to go through my CV and post about them.  Suck because it feels like I'm tooting my own horn.

Anyways, here's the link to the first installment of the Andrew Ursler series: Are You Proud of Me?

Is a Website REALLY Worth It?

Lately, I've been having this feeling that my website might not be worth keeping around.

It just feels like it's sitting there out among the inter-weeds of the inter-webs, you know?  Either I need to give its existence some serious reconsideration, or give it a major overhaul.  It seems that I don't have enough material to warrant a website.

Maybe if I figure the layout just right, I can consolidate the blog with the website.

Maybe...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Announcing "The Coast"

Hey, folks!

I hope you're all having a pleasant Memorial Day with burgers and barbeque and other things that begin with the letter B.

A quick announcement: I've got a new short story in the works called The Coast.  It's a science fiction story completely different from the ghost story that I've dropped hints on.  I started working on it a couple of months ago, and it's been a few weeks since I finished the first draft, so I think I'll start editing it in June.

The Coast is set decades after an alien invasion where only scattered bands of humans remain.  In one community, Tom Daniels is chosen to lead a trading caravan to an alien stronghold on the Californian coast.  There, the invaders issue a demand that could result in disaster for his town.

I'm really excited about this piece and looking forward to how it ultimately turns out.  It's more plot-oriented than some of the work I've done in a while.  I'll keep you all posted.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rushin' Problems

This new story I've been mentioning - a ghost story - has been kicking my ass for a while.  I started it maybe a couple of weeks ago, but haven't made it pass the 2,000-word mark.

I really do want to give it a shot, but I think the problem stems from rushing through it.  Yes, I did plot out the story on a day when I unexpected had a lot of free time before work.  But as that time shortened, I felt like I had to hurry to finish things up.  The result was me going into a project without much of an idea of what I was doing.

I'm giving myself this next week to try plotting the story out more fully.  If I can get it done by the end of the month, perfect.  If not, I think I might drop it for now and try something else. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Weight

Chances are I'm going to have to fall off the radar for the next couple of weeks.  There's a lot on my plate right now as I finish up my script reading internship, start searching for work elsewhere, revise Roar Shack, and try finishing the first draft of my another story all by the end of the month.

Ugh!  Just typing that felt like a toil.  I wish my time management skills were a lot better.  I know, I know.  I've blogged about that before, but sometimes I have trouble following my own advice like being an early-riser, eating a more healthy diet, or, hell, just putting on my pants.

I'm starting to sleep with my laptop again.

Wait.  That sounds salacious.  What I meant to say is that I'm working late enough into the evening that I inevitably end up passing out at my computer.  Which, you know, isn't the best thing to but it happens.  I guess that's going to be one small little sliver of goodness from finishing the internship.  I'll have an opportunity to slam my foot on the breaks and reset.

Not too long a vacation though.  I really don't want to lose the momentum I've built over the last few months with script reading.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Divorce

I've given up on this writing group I joined a couple of months ago.  It did nothing for me, just people sitting around and locking themselves up in their own little world for a couple of hours.  Plus, because of my tutoring schedule, I'd find myself available for just the last half-hour of each session.

I'm not saying it's bad people in a writing group to focus on the work.  I mean, that's the primary point.  What I am saying is that the silence is not golden.

I like getting to know other writers and shooting the breeze.  It makes the work feel less like work.  It's a chance to exchange tips, give encouragement, and occasionally play a round or two of professional one-upmanship.

Oh, fuck me!  My grad school experience is really biting me in the ass now!  Antioch's sense of community, you truly have infested my bone marrow and wormed your way into my brain meats!  *Shakes fist at no one*

But yeah, I just couldn't stick with the group any longer.  Some might say the silence has a serene church-like quality.  I say, when's the last time I've gone to church?  I still want to be in a writing group.  I know I can't hide in my own corner forever.  It'll drive me nuts.  The long hours.  The mounting doubt.  I need a way to cope with that.  Writing is a lonely career, but manageable with group therapy.

I'm hoping to find another group to join soon, or I might get in touch with some writer friends who live in the area and see if we can do a hangout every other week; order up some pizzas, bitch about how the first draft is kicking our asses, and then plow ahead regardless. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

And Now...A Little Sunshine...

I don't really have anything to post about writing today.  It's been a slightly slow week as one story is on break and I'm plotting another.  Okay, maybe it's a little weird to say plotting is a slow activity.  It's slow on the writing front, but fast and intense on the brain-meats.

So I guess today I have little in the way of literary pearls of wisdom...

...but I do have an observation about crappy soap operas.  Oh, yes.  I do.  Don't snicker.  Soap operas are a great way to learn what NOT to do in storytelling.

So there I am cooking up lunch, and the TV is on in the kitchen.  And General Hospital was on.  I've caught a little of the show while channel surfing before, so I've gathered enough to assume a few things:

  • There is no hospital, just rich people with problems.
  • If a character has a thick, phony German accent, she's evil.
  • Apparently, you're still allowed to breathe if you're dead.
  • While we're at it, you can blink while laying in the casket at your own funeral too.
  • There is no hospital.
  • Everyone's screwing someone.
  • Everyone's cheating on someone.
  • There is no hospital.
  • Even little kids can be scheming sons of bitches.
Sorry, folks.  I know Wayne Gretsky and Rick Springfield are fans, but yikes!  You could bit into the melodrama and think concrete were as soft as butter.

Here's what I don't understand, and I'm hoping someone out there might be able to answer: why do melodramas stay on the air for so long?  As the World Turns and All My Children have gone, but what makes shows like Days of Our Lives or General Hospital go on for almost half a century?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Plowing On

This last week was a really good one.  I got quite a bit of progress done on this new short story I'm working on and brainstorming a new piece for Carpe Nocturne.  I kind of dragged my feet a bit on script reading.  I was sent a pretty beefy novel that took a while to get through.  The week was tiring but I didn't lose my optimism.

The weekend felt completely different.  I had a script that seemed to take forever for me to get through; it really didn't take any longer than usual.  I signed up for a new class at UCLA on television writing that cost a pretty penny or two.  All in all, I just felt like I was in a total funky state.  I still got some writing to do and a little reading, but that's pretty much it for tonight.

Roar Shack got rejected from Penumbra a few days ago, but I didn't check my email and get the news until yesterday.  A writer friend of mine, Wendy Fontaine, kept telling me a while ago that for each rejection I ought to send a story out to two other publications.  I ended up sending Roar Shack to three magazines.

I've heard that editors don't really like simultaneous submissions, and I can understand their reasons why, but the taboo be damned!  I remember submitting a story to Tor once.  It took them a year to get back to me.  There's no way I'm sitting on ass waiting for anyone to get to me.  I'm not saying that to come off like a prima dona.  I'm saying it because I could wake up dead tomorrow.

However, if it really does bother you to send a piece to a publication that's against simultaneous submissions, you can search Duotrope for places that allow it.  There are a surprisingly large number that do.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Just Five Minutes

This has been a busy week, so busy that I didn't get a chance to get any writing done until yesterday.  Even then, it wasn't much.  I feel pretty lucky that I got in fifteen minutes.  So far, I've written for fifteen minutes today, and I've got my fingers crossed that I'll get more in.

This is one of those "write whenever you can" kind of weeks.  Life outside of writing keeps going, especially my script-reading internship.  I won't get to the script until tonight, but when I do, I think I can allow myself a five-minute break every quarter of it.  During that time, I'll write my with all my cold, black heart.

It feels a little weird explaining that, but basically, I'm rewarding myself with writing time.  Each time I get through part of the script or the following coverage, in the back of my head, I say, "Congrats!  You did it!  Take a quick breath before moving on."  Plus, I figure it'll give me an hour of writing between the reading and the major sections of a coverage.

In Parks an Recreations lingo, taking little writing breaks is a way to treat yo self.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Being a Better Tweeter

Someone on my grad school's Facebook page posted today about Cosmopolitan's fiction opening.  And yes, I did consider applying, but the deadline is in a few days; too short a time for me to plan out a year-long project.

Something in particular about the posting caught my eye: it included three Twitter posts per day from the protagonist's point of view.  It got me thinking about how could better manage their Twitter.

Consider this: Twitter, like all social media, requires that you actually use it.  But there are extremes to this.  On the one hand, you could say nothing and have a pointless platform that ultimately serves no purpose of any kind.  On the other, you could inundate the world with meaningless gibberish about every little thing you're doing.  In polite society, the latter are known as Twitter whores.

So I don't recommend being on Twitter every minute of the day, because, uhhhh, you should really have a life beyond that quirky little bluebird.

Daily, I would suggest a minimum of three to four posts: one bit of advice, one bit of encouragement to others in your field (writing or otherwise), one bit of randomness to jazz things up a little, and one work-related update perhaps every other day at least.

Furthermore, I would also suggest tagging someone once a week in a post.  For example, letting your followers (that sounds cult-ish) know about a friend's new publication in case they'd like to follow that person, or promoting another friend's upcoming reading.

In the end, I think going this route helps a writer stay active enough on their social media to keep others updated while also giving them some distance in order to get back to work.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Does Hemingway Work?

Not long ago, I heard about this app called Hemingway.  It's an algorithm designed to make a writer's style more like that of Ernest Hemingway.  You copy and paste a piece of writing, and the program will tell you which sentences are hard to read, which sentences are really confusing, where you have too many adjectives and adverbs, and where you're using the passive rather than active voice.

Turns out it doesn't always work so well.  There was a news article about how the program found errors when faced with samples of Hemingway's own writing.

Is the Hemingway app trustworthy at all?  I say yes, with some fine print.  Hemingway is not designed to make you a better storyteller.  Sorry, folks, but you still have to provide the brain sweat.  What the program will do is help economize your writing.  Its creators stress that the program isn't designed to know when you intentionally break the rules, when you really do want that adjective.

I've used Hemingway since I first heard about it in February.  It's helped me trim the fat on projects that have a specific word count such as reviews and short stories.  I've also noticed that it's got me thinking more about active than passive sentences, though passive ones still slip through from time to time.

It is just a tool, and it's feedback is no different than suggestions you'd get from the spell-check on your word processor.  You have the luxury of using it or ignoring it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Word Trackers

We need to talk word trackers because I think they will help keep you on target with your projects.

Between tutoring and internship, I had the idea this weekend that all I really need to get my work done is to keep an eye on how many hours I need to spend weekly on writing.  The words would just fall into place, right?  Wrong.  See, I tried that this morning and found myself writing only about a hundred words in the span of an hour.

Time doesn't make a story.  Words make a story.

Word trackers are a great tool to have because they compare your target quota and progress and compare them to your deadline.  That's key because even if you don't have a set-in-stone deadline by an outside client, you still need one if you're doing freelance work.  For example, I wrote my new short story Roar Shack for Penumbra Magazine, which had an April 1st submission deadline.  The editors weren't hammering at my door for my own material, but I imagined that they were.  In turn, that motivated me to hurry up with the story.

Even if you don't have a market in mind - if you want to write a story and submit it to wherever - you still need a deadline to keep you on task.  Think of it this way: markets pay on acceptance or publication, which means they need to get your work to make a call on it, which means you need to get that work written and in their hot little hands.

I think Svenja Liv has the best word trackers, and you can find TONS of them on her website.  All the formulas are programmed into the spreadsheet so you don't need to waste hours on them.

Personally, I think her 2012 spreadsheet for NaNoWriMo was the best of the best.  It's very user friendly, easy to customize, and has all kinds of extra features to help with plot and character developments.  I mainly use the word tracker and progress chart to keep taps on my deadline.  The novel info tab is good if you've got multiple projects and need to refresh your memory on which story you're working on, and you can adapt the chapter page into a beat sheet if you wish.  I also hold onto the character list just in chase I need a quick glance at who's who.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Alpha and Omega Sentences

John Irving said he needs to know the last sentence of his stories before he can start them.  They give him a target to aim for.  That makes sense, but as I began a new short story earlier this week, I started to think that Irving's logic is in reverse.

I need the first sentence, something to build off of.  The last sentence is always a problem because it's the culmination of everything that came before it.  And even if you're a plotter and got your story roughed out on note cards, the finer details of the story - tone, specific events, little hints planted earlier, etc. - might not match up to that perfect finale.

Put another way, Irving's method is like building a house before laying the foundations.  I'm not saying he's wrong.  What works for him works for him.  I'm just saying that I don't understand how you can expect to reverse engineer from a single sentence.

I guess John Irving and I could settle the matter with a wrestling match.  On second though, scratch that.  Irving may be in his seventies, but I'm pretty sure he could still kick my ass.