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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Essential Bits

It happened again: a story I was working on caved in.  Yeah, we've been down this road before, haven't we?  I know it.  You know it.  Your momma's Aunt Celeste knows it.  It sucks, yeah, but I've been down this road too many times to really let it have an effect on me.  I just suck it up and try figuring out what went wrong, hoping to not repeat the same mistakes next time.

To be perfectly frank, I think I might be taking the wrong advice from a most revered source: Stephen King.  I know some of you are probably thinking, "But the King can do no wrong!  Silence the Eye-talian!"  While I do think King can do little wrong, it's no impossible.

For a while, whenever I have a problem coming up with a story idea, I've tried King's trick of starting with a situation and letting things flower from there.  The logic behind it is that life is plotless, so fiction ought to be as well.  You can revise later for depth and meaning.

I can't work like that though.  A situation is a starting point, but I can't jump from that straight to the first draft.  The situational route - also called high concept by them movie folk - is something that reads like a headline (vampires invade a small town, alien probe passes through the Solar System, etc.).  King could probably write stories off of those headlines, and has; small-town vampires is 'Salem's Lot.  That's not enough for me.  For now, I don't like outline - time spent outlining is time not spent writing the fucking story - but I think there are some ground rules springing from that initial situation that could help me work within certain boundaries.


Just as theater needs a stage, stories need an arena in which to play out.  They can be as simple as a grocery store or as vast and elaborate as Middle Earth.  A room is just as room, and the one I'm thinking of has furniture here and there (mostly chairs), moving boxes galore, and a disco ball having from the ceiling.  It's a nice room, but it's not a story.  It's a snapshot.


Movies need actors, even really shitty and overpaid ones.  Stories need characters to act out the drama, voice the audience's concerns and emotions, and lash out against them.  Everyone's got their opinion of how to flesh out a character.  Some have elaborate biographies and detailed physical descriptions.  I dislike these because they give way more info than is needed.  I don't need the details on every skin mole, and it takes a lot of spontaneity if I know all their quirks beforehand.  I could (probably should, one day) get in deep on how to flesh out character, but for simplicity sake now, I group characters into three categories: main, secondary, and minor.  Minor characters are little more than background actors.  Secondary characters have more weight, but are made on the fly.  The main characters are the ones I have in mind when I sit down for the first draft.  They're they folks I want to write about.  Above all else, I need to know what they want, what they're hiding, and what their relationship is to the rest of the cast if any.  I need this for secondary characters as well.  It's a little foggier with them because they're so impromptu, but because they have the potential to turn into main characters in the telling of the story, it never hurts to cover my bases.  Those secrets, drives, and relationships are important for the next part...


Say what you want about Jar Jar Binks, but George Lucas was right about drama.  It's all conflict.  Whether it's wars of office politics, people fight not because any one is bad, but because their values and goals run contrary to others.  I firmly believe there's no such thing as an evil character.  Take a look at the first season of Breaking Bad, particularly the interactions between Walter White and his brother-in-law Hank.  There's a scene where the two talk about the legality of meth.  As a DEA agent, Hank has a very strong anti-drug stance.  We've all heard that drugs are bad and so we agree with him.  Walter is struggling to provide for his family and sees meth production as their big meal ticket.  We all know bills need to be paid, future need to be secured, and we agree with him for wanting that and trying to justify his actions.  On their own, each man is right, but the friction and conflict comes when they interact and there can only be one victor.

Personal Connection

This is the shakiest element of a good story.  It's the part where I ask, "Do I even care about any of this?"  And it' a question I've asked again and again in my time in the entertainment industry as a story analyst.  I've read stories with fresh premises, wonderful characters, and terrific conflict, and I've tried to be as objective in my critique as possible.  But what can sometimes work against a story is simply a matter of me not being a fan of a particular genre or lacking an interest in a particular topic.  I tell this to clients all the time: "This story is great.  It's not my thing, but it could still work."  That's fine because as an audience member I can't expect every storyteller to appeal to me.  But it takes very little time to read a story compared to the time that went into making it, so as a writer, I'd better be interested in and care about what I'm working on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Limits of Research

When I was in grad school, Percival Everett visited for a Q & A session.  This happened years ago, and I've since forgotten nearly everything from that session, but I do remember asking when he knew he was done researching for a story.  His answer was, "You just know."

It was a little underwhelming at the time.  Recently, however, I've realized you really do simply sense when enough is enough.  I've had an idea for a novel in my head for the last year, and have been researching in earnest for the last few months.  I've done research projects in the past that produced great volumes of material with little actual progression.  We know that kind of research, the one where you think you're being productive but are actually just procrastinating.

I knew I didn't want to get into another quagmire, so I'd decided that research would be finished no matter what by New Year's Eve.  It was documentary screening too, each program usually lasting about an hour, so even though the list was long, I knew I had X number of hours that could be scheduled over Y number of days.  This could be done.

A couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to stop.  There are two things that'll tell you when you've reached the finish line.

First, are you bored?

I researched wars, natural disasters, you name it.  I even had a documentary series on my to-do list featuring interviews with the last World War I veterans.  I'm sure the material I had yet to screen was fascinating, but I was simply worn out.  If I wasn't doing my day job, I was at home screening.  My weekends were swallowed up doing this.  I was sacrificing my personal life, and professionally, I wasn't coming up with any new stories.

Second, do you have enough?

Each program I screened yielded two to five pages of notes.  Longer and more informative programs could be three times as productive.  Each piece alone doesn't seem like much, but then I looked at The Document and history was the largest section; somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 pages with about 120 interviews directly quoted.  If each page of notes translates to two pages of story, that's a novel right there purely on regurgitation.

I'm sure there will be follow-up research, ideas will pop up in my head and I'll have to go back and look at some topics a little more thoroughly.  But I at least sleep easy at night knowing most of the heavily lifting is done...and because I'm exhausted.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The 5 Best Pep Talks

Being stuck with a day job at a gardening center far from anything remotely literary, I often think my life has taken a wrong turn.  This happens at least once a week, usually just before my weekend begins when I'm exhausted and vulnerable to negative thoughts.

I was out for a walk yesterday reading an article by Sara Benincasa about writers (or any artist, really) needing day jobs to support their craft.  It seemed to do the trick of lifting my spirits at just the right moment.  Benincasa's tone almost said, "Yes, you hereby have permission to not get yourself down for doing what you have to do to pay the bills."  And in case you've been feeling like you're taking a similar vacation to Funkytown - the bad part of Funkytown, the part without Cynthia Johnson - here are five successful individuals give you the pep talk you need.  I know their words came along when I really needed them.

Neil Gaiman

I'm a writer, so obviously those of my ilk are getting the first shout-out.  Gaiman's Make Good Art speech at the University of the Arts was so well-received that it was later published.  Unpretentious and with an almost child-like sense of honesty, Gaiman reflects on advise he ignored from Stephen King when Sandman became a hit: "This is really great.  You should enjoy it."  But at the time, Gaiman didn't enjoy it.  He couldn't when he was so worried about what his next writing job might be.  He must have had all the questions many of us would have.  How am I going to pay my rent?  How am I going to pay for groceries?  What if this is all a one-time thing and I've peaked?  I can't blame Gaiman for this because, as an artist, you've got to keep producing new material to stay in business, and I think he might have been worried that he wasn't as creative and action-packed with ideas as the public might have thought he was.  But the first lesson is this: Enjoy yourself.  Have fun with what you're doing.  If you're too focused on the bottom line, you're not focused on telling a good story.

Max Brooks

This is part two of a great interview Brooks gave at Mansfield University.  The whole thing is about an hour, so if you have some spare time, I highly recommend it, but fast forward to 15 minutes and 20 seconds.  Brooks is asked for writing advice.  He looks straight at the camera and gives the audience a no-bullshit answer: "if you want to be a writer, just write.  Don't worry about being a great writer.  Don't worry about being a prolific writer.  Just write." For Brooks, there's no substitution for the work.  A lot of writers say the same thing, and a lot of us think that's a lie, but it's not.  If you want fame and success and all that, fine, but the success will never come if you never do the work.

Bryan Cranston

Yes, Mr. Say My Name.  But in spite of achieving success with two television series - Malcolm in the Middle and the more critically acclaimed Breaking Bad - Cranston admits his only goal was "to be a good, respected, working actor."  For Cranston, like Brooks, it's about the work.  A lot of people say an actor showing humility is just an act.  Maybe, whatever.  I think it's genuine for Cranston.  Cranston gets it that you've got to spend years working boring, mind-numbing day jobs in order to do what you really want to do.  And don't feel like you've got to apologize to anyone else for that.  You don't.

Henry Rollins

If Gaiman understands the value of fun.  If Brooks understands there's no substitute for the work.  If Cranston understand working the job you hate to do the job you love, then Henry Rollins understands you have to be focused.  I wasn't very focused as a kid, and I've had to pay for that, but Rollins, having worked that day job managing a Haagen-Daz, knows that talent isn't enough.  If you don't have the discipline to work your potential to the max, you're just wasting that potential.  Yes, you could say that Rollins is a workaholic, but he has to be. I think he'd agree with me when I say that once you've hit your lowest point, or when you've moved on to better things, you never want to regress.  Success can go away.  I remember talking to a film executive earlier this year after temping for his company.  He'd actually just been hired after a period of unemployment, so he knew the boat I was in quite well.  And I told him that you can't experience a recession like this and come out of it taking things for granted.  Of all the people on this list, Rollins is the one I turn to when I feel like I need a kick in the ass.

John Paul DeJoria

I can't write this list without giving props to DeJoria.  The man went from homelessness to founding two very lucrative companies: Paul Mitchell and Patron Tequila.  Not only that, he got out of his predicament without sulking.  I'm sure it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, but the way he's able to present himself with enthusiasm and diligence, even happily admitting that Paul Mitchell should have gone out of business on a weekly basis when it began, all of it leads me to one conclusion: everything gets better.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

National Novel Research Month

It doesn't seem to want to end, almost as thought it's achieved a measure of self-awareness and now has the sole purpose of driving me insane.  Of course, I'm talking about my research list.

National Novel Research Month doesn't exist.  At least, I don't think it does.  I've been researching for this book idea I got stuck in my head.  The idea's been floating around for about a year.  I've been doing hardcore research for about a month now.  And because I don't want it to drag on and on, I've given myself a New Year's Eve deadline, so I've still got about a month and a half to finish it all.

A lot of that research is history-based.  Looking at The Document the other night, I was surprised to find that the history section is about 130 pages long.  If each page yields three pages of fiction, I've got a novel right now.  But I'm still pressing forward like a maniac.

By my guess, I've got about 67 hours of documentaries to screen still.  Part of me really doesn't want to do it.  Part of me thinks it's just a little while longer.  Part of me wants to hire someone else to take notes, but the rest of me says, "You can't afford a research assistant, moron!"

I wish I could ignore job-hunting for a teaching post or a story analyst position.  I wish I could call in to my day job with a fake illness.  But I know I can't.  I think the only thing I can do is reserve the evenings.  The evenings are the one part of the day when I know I'm afforded writing time to myself, even if I stare at a blank page for a couple of hours.

Shit, I guess it really does come down to that, huh?  Slow down and be the tortoise when I'd rather be the hare?  I'm rambling out loud, of course.  Or in writing.  Or whatever the bloody equivalent of stream of consciousness is.

All I can really think of right now is how in over my head I'm feeling.  67 hours.  Even at only two hours a day, I can meet my deadline, but geez, it seems like such a hill to climb.  If I do get through it, I swear my New Year's resolution will be to set aside a day and veg out.

Friday, November 13, 2015

I'm Breaking Up With Facebook (Sort Of)

For a while now, I've been wondering whether or not it's worth having a writer's page on Facebook.  It was originally started because I thought my friends were getting sick and tired of seeing me link blog posts on my personal page.  Basically, it was intended to keep separate my writing life from my personal life on Facebook.  Or something.

But the fact is that the Facebook page no longer interests me.  I've done nothing with it for at least a month.  It's stagnating and I often ask, "What's the point?"

So let me just put it out there and get to the point: my Facebook page is slated for deletion, and should be gone in about two weeks (around November 27th).

I got the idea for a writing Facebook page in an edition of Writer's Market a few years back.  It had an article on how writers can best use social media.  Twitter was the go-to method of quick social engagement with audiences.  Blogs are how you showcase yourself like the ladies do in Amsterdam's red-light district.  But the Facebook page?  I never quite grasped it.  I just assumed it had to be done.

Here I am three years later, and the only activity I do on the page is when a new blog post goes up.  The torrent of activity has all but died, and I felt bad about it, almost guilty, like a fellow who should take his grandmother off life support but can't seem to justify it.

Seeking a solution to my issue, I stumbled across this Huffington Post article tonight.  In a nutshell, you don't need a Facebook page.  It's really aimed for people with a considerable following.  Hundreds at the least.  Thousands for sure.  Millions?  Well, if you've got millions of fans and still question the need for such a page, then you need your head checked.

Tech Dependency Sucks

My computer froze.  Nothing, not even the cursor on my track pad responded.  This has happened a few times in the last month, so I hold down the power button, let it cut off, and tried rebooting the machine.  I have a Macbook, so usually there's a progress bar during start-up before I log in with my name and password...only two and a half hours later, I still waited for the computer to ask me for this info.

I got my Macbook midway through grad school, around 2009 or 2010.  There have been just three major repairs needed in the last year or two.  The first was when the display started to deteriorate.  The second was a battery swap.  Today, the technician told me it was time for a hard drive transplant.  Virtually all of my files are on Dropbox.  He hooked up my computer to his store-provided laptop so I could email myself a few files that I absolutely needed.  Half an hour later, I was upgrading my operating system (they reverted me to Mavericks; I've been working with Yosemite), and then I realized that Microsoft Word and Excel hadn't survived the transplant.  These are among my most frequently used programs.  Almost all of my files are from one or the other, so all I can really do is write notes on Google Docs and hope I can borrow my brother's copy tomorrow when I see him.

But what really bothered me about all this is that it brought to home how utterly dependent I am on technology.  I like to brag about how I can unplug.  A couple of times, I've thought about chucking my laptop to the trash and getting a typewriter.  Yeah, that's it.  Hammering out stories like Hemingway used to do it.  Old school.  That's the real shit.

Romantic as this is, it's impractical.  I mean, when you unplug, you start to realize just how just about everything you do is reliant on computers.  Want to submit a story to a magazine?  Most take submissions online only these days.  Need to get a manuscript to a friend across the country for feedback?  Email's the fastest and surest way.  Did your manuscript get lost or destroyed?  Print out a fresh copy.

From where I'm sitting, the sad fact is that you're not nearly as productive on a typewriter as you are on a computer.  Now you can make some arguments against that.  I was surprised when George R.R. Martin told Conan O'Brien that he writes on an old DOS computer.  I didn't even know those computers were still around.  But Martin's essentially doing what I've just described with the exception that his manuscript can be saved.

Part of me would love to get my hands on a Smith Corona or an Olivetti typewriter.  A mechanical typewriter works simply though a series of levers.  And before you accuse me of being too old-fashion, I've never seen one myself.  We had electric typewriters in my youth.  But the other more rational side of me knows it's about as practical as using quill and ink.

And so, I remain heavily addicted to technology.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Creative Death

It happened again.  The story I began earlier this month fell apart.  I didn't mean for it to fall apart, you guys, it just happened.

Acorn was a science fiction story about an alien spore germinating in a small town and infecting the townsfolk.  Cool, right?  And it was...for a while.  Inevitably, what happened to all my failed stories is the same thing that happened to Acorn.  I got tired and bored with it.  And I guess I can partly blame the day jobs for it too.  I'm so tired at the end of the day that I pass out rather than write, and I sleep through my writing session the next morning, barely even having time to down a mug of coffee before heading off to work.  When I do get a chance to catch up on my days off, so many days have gone by that I'm struggling to get up to speed on what the hell was going on when I left off.

I'm not making up excuses.  I'm just telling you what went down.  Focus and time management are critical in anything you do.  But there's the fun factor as well, isn't there?

A novel is the longest piece of writing you can do.  Stephen King says it shouldn't take longer than a season, or about three months, and I heartily agree.  But I also agree with him that you have to have fun, otherwise writing becomes a chore you hate and something you feel obligated to do rather than looking forward to.

In that regard, if three months is the time limit to get to the finish line, one should be the limit to telling if there's really any potential in the story.  If you lose interest within the first month, then you should go write something more enjoyable.  Unless you're contact-bound to finish it.  Then you just have to suck it up and write.

This offers no cozy solution, I know.  This is one of those "trust your gut" posts.  As I write this, a friend of mine is telling me, "Sometimes ya gotta push through."  I feel like that's too simple.  I feel like I need a constant kick in the ass.  A writing group.  An accountabilibuddy.  A word pimp.

Or maybe I'm just in the throes of a panic attack.  Probably both.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Writing vs. Research: An Epic Battle to the Death!

For the last two or three weeks, I've set aside time almost daily to do some additional research, mostly in preparation for an ambitious writing project I've got in mind.  I've also gotten a whopping nothing done on the writing project I'm doing now.

Part of the problem, I know, is time management.  I wake up a little too late most mornings to get an hour of writing in before I have to go to my day job, and in the evenings, I feel too exhausted to commit to another two hours.  When I began planning out this week, I allocated my two-hour evening sessions towards research.  Surely, I thought, that's still time used productively, right?

Wrong.  Well, sort of.

On the one hand, this future project does need the research.  I can't deny that I can already tell it's too ambitious to go in blindly.  But I also can't deny that the primary job of a writer is to be a storyteller, not a researcher.  And given, that I have an end of the year deadline on the first draft of this current project, the research, productive though it may be, is also a potential procrastinator.  That's got to stop.

Today, I adjusted my schedule to fill my evening sessions with active writing time come hell or high water, and consolidated my research into a several-hour block on one of my days off.  It's easy to sit down to a documentary, but if I spread more blocks of writing time throughout the week, it should make it easier for me to stay committed towards reaching my deadline.

Or something.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Crazy Random Stuffs

Fact: I suck at blogging lately.  Or rather, I suck at staying committed to it.

Another Fact: There's been a lot going on in my life lately, and I haven't really had time to write a new post until now.  So I don't have commitment issues, just "sit my ass down at my laptop and pump out a post" issues."

In any case, I didn't even realize until now that a month has gone by and I've all but vanished from the Inter-Webs.  So it's time for the usual prescription: a big ol' update...

Personal Life

I moved about a month ago, and I'm still sort of settling in.  Love the new place, especially the home office at my disposal.  It's pretty much the office I've always wanted and never had the guts to ask Santa for.

The Day Job

Anyone who knows me will tell you that 2015 has just plain sucked work-wise.  One company I worked with for a few years let me go without telling me until a month after the fact (nice!).  Temp work was sporadic and short-term.  Great interviews fizzled out into the abyss.  Now, suddenly, I'm working steadily again, hard at it like an animal, and I couldn't be happier.  My two biggest jobs right now are laborious with a gardening center and a moving company, but I think Stephen King will always win the "worst day job" game with New Franklin Laundry.  I've had way, WAY worse jobs than these, so I really have no right to complain.  Additionally, I'm reliance script-reading while taking the advice of many friends from grad school to look for a teaching post with local colleges, which brings us to...

The Writing

Yes, I am finding time to write, just harder to stick to it when you're so exhausted at the day's end you want to (and often do) pass out.  Right now, I'm working on a new science fiction story.  I'm not ready to talk about it, but I plan on having the first draft ready by the the holidays.  I'm also doing research to expand the Document.  This mainly involves screening documentaries, which is time-consuming and I can't wait to be done with it.  A friend of mine in the entertainment industry also suggested I turn my story Unholy Spirits into a short script.  He said it looks promising, but I know better than to get my hopes up on its future.  The Unholy Spirits script is really meant to be part of a portfolio I'm assembling to submit to agencies.

And that's pretty much what I've been up to: working and writing with sleeping and eating mixed in to shake things up.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

It's All Been Done

I recently saw the trailer for the film The 5th Wave based on Rick Yancey's 2013 novel.  The story is set during the 5the wave of an alien invasion; subsequent waves have been increasingly devastating.  In the first wave, the invaders (called the Others), shut down our power grid.  In the second wave, they use kinetic bombardment to destroy heavily populated coastal regions with tsunamis.  In the third, they unleash a lethal virus.

I've seen this story before.

In 2011, the Discovery Channel series Curiosity had an episode on alien invasions hosted by Michelle Rodriguez.  It featured interviews with physicists and military analysts.  They believed the first strike would be an EMP to knock out our electronics.  The second would be to bombard the coasts with heavy objects to generate tsunamis...

Yeah, I've seen this story before.  I recognized it the instant I saw The 5th Wave's trailer.  My immediate reaction was to say that Yancey was unoriginal, talentless enough to base his premise on something from TV.  However, I'm not entirely innocent of this myself, something I'll tell you about another time.

I have no real reason to sneer at Yancey's story, especially because I haven't even read it.  And if the premise comes from a documentary series, so what?  The battle plan he follows is sound, but the story is more important.

The Battle of Stalingrad is another example.  Harry Turtledove reimagined it in his World War novels with the Battle of Chicago putting Americans against invading aliens in a house-by-house fight to the death.  It can be said that the opening scenes of the series Falling Skies showing human survivors desperately struggling to survive in post-invasion Boston was inspired by the same event.

My point is this: just because someone discusses a topic in a documentary series, doesn't mean it's untouchable territory.  For the record, Yancey's fourth and fifth waves perpetrated by the Others has brainwashed human children hunting down survivors.  Curiosity didn't have that.  I know I'm starting to nitpick at it like the debate between McDonald's and McDowell's - the Big Mac versus the Big Mic, and the golden arches versus the golden arcs - but the matter comes down to what a writer can do with a particular idea and how they can spin their own blanket out of the same yarn.  If Yancey and I both approach that same Curiosity episode, we'd come up with different stories set in that same predicament.  If we both were asked to write an Apollo 13-like tale, again, we'd have too different stories.  I definitely wouldn't write for the young adult crowd.  I'd want to give the elderly nightmares.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Hook

I sat down to start reading SM Stirling's The Sky People.  Actually, it was my third reading.  The first time I saw the novel in a bookstore, the title grabbed me.  "Sky People" was a term used by the Na'vi to describe humans in the film Avatar.  The green cover showed two rifle-armed astronauts in a jungle with a triceratops and a saber-toothed tiger on the periphery, and the summary on the back - an alternate history story set during the Cold War in which Venus and Mars are habitable with their own native civilizations - sounded pretty cool.

The furthest I've gotten into The Sky People was about a quarter of the way through the book.  I think I got through the first couple of chapters in the first reading.  But tonight?  I got through chapter one, and put it down.  This is not a condemnation of Stirling's novel, or of Stirling himself as a writer.  I love science fiction.  I love alternate history, and I love stories set in a fictionalized Solar System when many other writers choose planets light-years away.

The Sky People has a lot going for it when it comes to world-building.  It realistically forces the Space Race into overdrive.  Stirling shows us a lush and identifiable Venus; Mars doesn't appear until the sequel In the Courts of the Crimson Kings.  We've got NATO-run Jamestown and Soviet-controlled Cosmograd.  Bronze-age natives clashing with Neanderthals.  Hell, there are even Encyclopedia entries describing this alternate Venus along with initial exploration decades earlier.

What The Sky People lacked - for me, at least - was a strong hook.  World-building is a great creative exercise, but the first job of the writer is to entertain and tell a good story.  A hook is the first step to draw in the reader.  Story world isn't a hook.  It's a stopper, a term I learned during a short stint as a charity fundraiser last month.  Yes, I was one of those guys on the sidewalk raising donations for charity.  People passed by me all day long, and a stopper is designed to do just that: stop potential donors (potential readers in this case).  You next give a quick icebreaker and an introduction to the pitch - remember, folks got places to go and people to see - but then you have to give them a problem or a crisis.

This is the real hook, a central problem so jarring that readers keep with the story to find the resolution.  Soviets put nukes into Cuba, and we want to know how America will dodge a nuclear war.  Flesh-eating zombies surround a house, and we wonder how the occupants inside will escape.  Claudius takes Hamlet's birthright, and we wonder how the prince will regain what was stolen.  I believe the crisis Stirling is trying to give us is that the Soviets were smuggling guns to Venus that got into the hands of the Neanderthals.  It's a good crisis with echoes of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Prime Directive of Star Trek, but unfortunately it didn't grab me as much as I would have liked.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


For my birthday, a friend of mine gave me an iTunes gift card.  I used it a couple of days ago to get an audio recording of Stephen King's On Writing.  I've listened to audiobooks before, but only a small handful.  The first one was an abridged Seamus Heaney recording of his Beowulf translation.  The small number might stem from me growing up thinking reading is a visual act (looking at words on a page) rather than an auditory one (listening to words on headphones).

Now, for the record, I do have a hard copy of On Writing.  Which writer doesn't?  But I also take daily walks ranging from thirty minutes to an hour or longer.  I usually listen to music, but August has been a very stressful month, and I felt like I needed a different kind of company besides Marilyn Manson.  Audiobooks are great in that they you can multitask to a degree while listening.  Walks and drives are the best time for them, I believe.  I'm also a slow reader, so listening to a book means I can fit more of them in my year.  If this sounds like you, $20-30 downloading recording might be worth your while.

I'm not saying I'm abandoning printed books altogether.  Some of the books on my shelf had personalized messages in them.  Others are just too damn good to part ways with.  If you want my cope of Harry Turtledove's Tosev novels, you'll have to pry all eight of them from my cold, dead Eye-talian hands.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keeping Your Emails Clear

I'm technologically schizophrenic, guys.  That doesn't mean I'm really schizophrenic, but I do have four email addresses.  Four!  And I sometimes feel like I've got to take on a different persona when I'm using them.

I call these Personal, Jobs, Writing, and Bullshit.  Personal is the one I use the most.  It's the one my friends have to reach out to me.  Jobs is for when I'm hunting for day jobs or registering with online job boards.  Writing is similar but for writing resources and when I'm submitting stories.  And Bullshit, frankly, is for relatives I don't want reaching out to me, but they don't have this since I don't keep in touch with them anyways.  I think I use it for miscellaneous registrations, but I'm not even sure about that.  Give me a break.  This was all set up before I knew about filters.

I think I'm beyond hope in consolidating these different faces out of fear that closing one might lead to unintended consequences like, "Oh, crap!  I forgot to update my info with this site and now I can't log in to do so because that email address is no longer valid!"

I want to express this to writers because if I can make this mistake, others can too.  Case in point: I sent the draft of a script to a friend I'd like to direct.  Because it's a writing project, I used my Writing address.  No worries.  But then I sent the same script to an actress friend to see if she'd be interested.  I sent it to her via the personal one because she has it.

It felt weird.  It felt like sending classified information from your home computer instead of the government-issued one (like that would ever happen).  But the "send" button had been clicked upon and there was no going back, only moving forward.

Another instance occurred when I emailed a freelance proposal to a potential client with the Jobs address.  We tried setting up an initial meeting but not all of my messages got through because I would sometimes switch between Jobs and Writing.  Bad move, Mario.  It's never good looking like a scatterbrain to a client.  At least, it wouldn't look good to me.

I do encourage writers - anyone, really - to have different email addresses depending on different, specific needs.  You can sync them into one mailbox, and forwarding and filtering makes things more organized.  But you have to be clear about the face you're using with each.

After tonight, my new rule goes something like this: the Writing address is for submissions and freelance proposals only.  It's also attached to a Google Voice account that serves as an office number; I don't like just handing out my cell phone number.

I might sound a little anal here micromanaging little things like this, but I also believe it pays off in the long run.  If you're about to hit the pavement for a job and talk to a recruiter, you're likely to hear that you need a professional-sounding email address rather than partydude666@hotmail.com.  The same goes for submissions.  Even if there's a rejection heading my way, it's best to put on as appropriate a face as possible.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Boiling Frogs

They say that if you want to kill a frog, you put it in a pot of cold water and slowly bring the heat up to a boil.  The danger is gradual and the frog doesn't notice it's dying.

Last night, AMC gave us the pilot episode of Fear The Walking Dead.  Because I'm on the Left Coast, I saw the reviews before the episode, and felt a little nervous sitting down to it.  A slow pacing was the greatest criticism, that it didn't jump into the crisis as fast as the pilot episode of The Walking Dead had done back in 2010.  This is true.  In the entire hour, we see only four zombies, two of them up close and one of that pair really up close at the end of the episode.

However, we need to take a step back and look at what the series is trying to achieve in a broader sense.  We're seeing the early days of the apocalypse, and if every episode can be summed up in one line, last night's pilot is: "We have a problem."  Fear The Walking Dead will, I believe have more in common with the Max Brooks novel World War Z than Robert Kirkman's comic books, especially the early parts of Brooks's novel where the crisis unfolds slowly.

This gives us a good dose of reality.  I remember the start of the Swine Flu Pandemic in 2009 with a few news reports here and there coming out of Mexico.  It didn't seem like anything to worry about at first.  But then more people died, things got tense, and for a while, people worried whether or not it would be the next Spanish Flu.  Ultimately, 200,000 died from it.  Relatively small compared to 1918, but still a large number.

History lesson aside, I think audiences need to be patient with the show.  I don't mean, "Oh, let's wait for them to find their footing."  I mean we know there's at least one season lined up.  Let's see what the writers can pull out of the bag.  I will concede the show has an uphill battle ahead.  As one reviewer put itFear The Walking Dead "can't rely on the huge popularity of its big brother to keep it afloat.  It has to prove that it's a show worth watching on its own merits."  But we still shouldn't discard it simply because of slow pacing.  Let's not forget the first season of Guillermo del Toro's The Strain.  Sure, it had more vampires than AMC gave us zombies last night, but society stayed in denial, and things spiraled out of control by the end of the season.

I'm thinking of the Fear The Walking Dead trailer here: scenes of people rioting, of police shooting zombies in the streets mingled in among the crowds of innocent people looking for safety.  Complete and utter chaos.  I've said it before.  I'll say it again.  This isn't a show about finding answers.  It's about the shit hitting the fan, and the chefs boiling their frogs.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Anthology Series Matter

Some writers will tell you that television is not a gadget to have around the house.  It's definitely not something to have in the office when you're trying to get things done, but I really have a hard time imagining any house today that doesn't have one or two.  Like everyone else, writer's like to have some downtime between their stories to relax and recharge, and TV isn't such a bad way to spend it.

Justin Cronin, author of The Passage, once said that really good television has retrained us to enjoy long novels.  Referring to his youth in the 70s, Cronin added, "The question of 'what are you shows?' would be like 'what kind of heroin do you prefer?'"  It's true.  Since The Sopranos for sure, the landscape of television has changed, and strong narrative arcs are pretty much required even in comedies and sitcoms.

My earliest experience of television was cartoons after kindergarten, especially Looney Tunes.  The very first time I ever saw long-term storytelling on TV were the "who shot Mr. Burns" two-parter on The Simpsons and the week-long green ranger saga on Power Rangers.  Since then, there have been many other greats, but I find anthology series to be really good for writers.

Some of the best ones are listed here...

The Twilight Zone

My God!  Rod Serling was such a master storyteller.  The Twilight Zone ran for five years.  Granted, he was contractually obligated to write most of the series and grew tired of it after so long, but he was always as sharp as they came.  Censorship, racism, the threat of war.  These were some of the issues that gnawed on Serling's mind, so much that he was one of the first major TV writers to fight over them with studio executive.  The Twilight Zone was his outlet.  The episodes he wrote weren't just wonderful social commentary, but covered many different genres.  There have been two remakes of the series since the 60s, and while there's some debate over their quality, they are pretty good in their own right too.

Notable episodes include Time Enough At Last from the original run, A Little Peace and Quiet from the 80s revival, and Sunrise from the Forest Whitaker remake.

The Outer Limits

This one's considered by some to be The Twilight Zone's close cousin, but aimed more at science fiction than anything else.  The Outer Limits first ran in the 60s with The Twilight Zone, but it was the 90s remake I first found, and I guess my opinion is a little sentimental.  Guest starring on the show was like the adult version of a guest spot on The Simpsons.  Each episode attractive an impressive cast.  The 90s version was also notable in that it had numerous crossover episodes and story arcs in which certain characters such as time traveler Nicholas Prentice reappeared.

Notable episodes include The Sandkings with Beau Bridges, Second Thoughts with Howie Mandel, and Simon Says with Joel Grey.

Tales From the Crypt

Okay, look, the Cryptkeeper has never really been scary.  I mean, yes, he looks scary, but then he gets carried away with the puns.  Tales From the Crypt was a great horror-centric companion on the air to The Outer Limits.  The stories were frightening, but with just the right amount of humor to diffuse the tension.  And if The Outer Limits got amazing guests, so did this show.  Bob Hoskins.  Brad Pitt.  Ewan McGregor.  Daniel Craig.  Demi Moore.  It's very impressive seeing all these A-list names on what was really a B-list show.  Their best episode, I think, was Yellow starring Kirk Douglas and his son Eric.  Robert Zebecks directed this World War I drama about a general forced to execute his son for cowardice.

Along with Yellow, notable episodes include Top Billing and Only Sin Deep (not to be confused with the sixth season's Only Skin Deep).

American Horror Story

If the three series so far have been short story collections, then American Horror Story can be compared to a set of novels with each episode serving as a chapter.  That format really surprised people.  Now, with True Detective and the upcoming American Crime Story, it seems to have set a new standard for television.  I was personally impressed with how creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck were able to get my interest in the kinds of stories I don't usually gravitate towards such as ghost stories and witches.  More than that, they're writing stories in which the horror is the icing on the cake.  There's something else at work on a deeper level.  Season 1 - Murder House - is about infidelity.  Season 3 - Coven - is about the pressure of being a teenage girl.  I'm really looking forward to season 5's Hotel, and my gut's telling me it's not going to be a rehash of Psycho or The Shining.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lessons from Andrew Ursler

My Andrew Ursler series wrapped up with Arts Collide this week.  I never wrote a series before, nor have I ever tried writing romance.  So it's a good thing it's over because now I have some time to reflect on it.

Have a reason to write in the first place.

I would say that Andrew Ursler is about 80-90% true.  I began writing it a couple of years ago when I thought I was going to get back together with an old flame of mine.  It didn't happen, and how a lot of that played out is pretty much what you get in the stories.  I did drunk dial her after hanging out with a model like in Grind.  We did get together at a coffee shop like in Chocolate.  That date in The Feeling That Something Ain't Right was almost verbatim.  To borrow from Bon Jovi, it's all the same, only the names were changed.  That said...

Make sure it's something you enjoy.

When "Charlotte" and I didn't get back together, my enthusiasm for the stories quickly cooled down.  I didn't want to keep dwelling on it, and I didn't think Andrew should either.  However, I couldn't just call it quits.  The train left the station.  I was on board, and had to keep going.  It's dangerous to jump off a speeding locomotive.  I think the disinterest shows in the writing towards the end.  It got a little rushed as though I wanted to get it over with.  And that means you need to...

Have a plan.

Andrew Ursler was originally going to be a whopper of a series.  Even if things didn't work out for him romantically, I had planned for him to get the other parts of his personal life back together.  But again, when I lost my enthusiasm for the story, I didn't want to see anymore.  The problem is I had no trap door.  This was my biggest mistake.  A trap door is something I heard about from the 1990s sci-fi series Babylon 5.  If an actor wanted to move on to another project, the writers had an exit ready to go without causing too much disruption in the series.  Because my series had no trap door, and because I'd written myself into a hole, I had no choice but to keep going and try writing myself out of it.  In doing so, I struggled to...

Keep up the momentum.

Good fiction is all about raising the stakes.  Andrew drunk dials Charlotte?  Now he has to save face with her.  She agrees to go out on a date with him?  Now he has to ensure he's got her interest.  She wants to break things up?  Now he has to try salvaging the situation.  These are logical progressions, yes, but they fly in the face of having an exit strategy and winding down the story.  A story without a denouement doesn't work.  Even a cliffhanger has at least some answered questions.  Because I wanted the series to have some sort of ending, I prioritized that over momentum, which leaves it feeling unsatisfying.

I hope this all made sense, and helpful too if you're writing a series of your own.  Sure, because the series is online, I guess I could ask Arts Collide to take it down.  No harm, no foul.  But I really can't because the fact is that these stories have been put up.  People have read them, and taking them down won't change that fact, so why worry?  The only thing I can do is learn from my mistakes and move on.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Publications - The Feeling That Something Ain't Right

And here it is, y'all!  The revelation of my secret southern accent.

But really, it's The Feeling That Something Ain't Right, the final installment of the Andrew Ursler series on Arts Collide.  Thanks to editor Ashley Perez for being cooler than pre-CGI Star Wars.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Publications - Conversations in a Dark Truck

Hi, Everyone.

Conversations in a Dark Truck, the penultimate installment of my Andrew Ursler series, is up at Arts Collide.  One more story to go, and we'll see if this drunken lowlife artist is going to live happily ever after.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

My Neglected Child

So at the end of the day, I don't have any Jon Snows running around, but I do have a science fiction project that I've wanted to do for years: the alien invasion scenario.  And in spite of my most careful time managing, I never seem to get around to it, which leaves me feeling all kinds of pissed off.

I've been working as hard as I can lately looking for clients to freelance for; even beginning to sacrifice my personal life for it.  I'm also looking for work wherever I can get it, and writing stories to send out to publications, so finding time for my passion project is always an issue.

I think I need to refigure my priorities, and maybe put all my energy and attention into work.  Because, really, what's the point of having a personal life when you can't even pay the bills?

Monday, May 18, 2015

So What Have I Been Up To?

Hi, everyone.

I think it's safe to say I've neglected the blog.  My mind's been all over the place the last couple of months, so I'm going to try organizing my brains as much as possible.

I've been focusing a ton on job-hunting lately.  I did some temp work for Mandalay Pictures over a month ago, and worked on a short film for the New York Film Academy in early-April. Right now I'm temping for the American Film Institute.  I started that last week.  A video production company in Van Nuys also hired me, but they laid me off after a day because there wasn't enough work to go around.

While all that went on last week, I took a break from my daily-job-hunt.  I'm trying to get back into the routine of it, but it's surprising how out of shape you feel after just a week.  I've been spending most of today get reorganized to jump back in.

Aside from AFI, I'm developing a film I'd like to do with a guy I meet during the NYFA short.  He was the props master, but we got to talking and learned he wants to direct as much as I want to produce.  It's in a very embryonic state right now, just as far as me working up some ideas and pitching them to him.  I'm also working on some demo reels to expand my skill set.  Currently, I'm working on a color correction demo, but I'm also going to do a VFX compositing and post sound design demo down the line.

Now, as far as writing goes...

Okay, I actually did toy with the idea of flat-out quitting - I have no short stories in the works since Unholy Spirits in January - but some of my friends have urged me not to.  As far as new fiction pieces, I really can't churn them out in an assembly line fashion (though I've tried).  If something new comes up, then something new comes up.

In the meantime, I'm making a devoted effort towards freelance ghostwriting, which is something I'm no longer ashamed of because work is work.  I joined Fiverr and Elance recently, but Elance is much easier in terms of finding people looking for writers to work on their projects.  Elance sends me a few recommendations a day, and I really just need to sit own, sift through them, and write proposals for the ones I think I could do well on.

All in all, I just have a lot on my plate right now, but I don't like neglecting the blog.  I solemnly swear I'll do at least a new post each week.  Seriously.  Scout's honor.  Even though I was never a boy scout.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Publications - Horse Sense

Hi, everyone.  It's been a long time since I've posted anything, but I wanted to let you all know that a new Andrew Ursler story has gone up at Arts Collide.  There's one more that should be published soon as well.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Taking a Break

Hi, folks.

It's been quiet on the blog, a little too quiet, and I think I owe whoever reads this an update.

A friend of mine recently asked me if I've been getting any writing done.  I replied that I was getting a little bit in here and there, but not too much.  And on top of that, I haven't felt very creative lately.  On top of that, job-hunting like a mofo and focusing more on entertainment and production work has taken up more and more time.

So here's the deal...

I'm not quite giving up on writing, but I am putting my foot on the breaks some.  I know I do have a few more Andrew Ursler stories to be released soon through Arts Collide.  I also want to give more brain power to a science fiction project I've wanted to do for years but haven't had as much willpower to give it until recently.

I really wish I had a better explanation, but the bottom line is that I've got to give more priority towards career development at the moment.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sick Boy

Holy F-ing God!  I haven't been sick like this week in a long, long time.  It got so bad that I thought I was going to head to the ER last weekend not because of the illness but rather because I was worried I'd overdosed on medication.  Remember, folks, you can take only so much Tylenol and Theraflu before it works against you.

But now that I'm better, I need to get my ass back to the task of writing, and that includes revisions on a new short story that I hope to have out on submission runs by the end of the month.

I've also begun reaching out to LA venues to give readings of Unholy Spirits.  Out of five that I emailed on Friday, one wasn't looking to do repeat performers just yet and another has quite a backlog at the moment.  Roar Shack has me down for October - perfect timing for Unholy Spirits - another venues is reviewing the story, and a fifth one still needs to get back to me.

I've also got about a dozen or so other places to reach out to.  For now, I decided to start things off by reaching out to places where I at least had a contact name.  We'll see where those lead.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Screwy Screenplays

I don't know if it's the cold talking or what (sick twice in one month, folks!), but I just haven't had my heart in this screenplay I've been working on for some time now.

Quick recap: last summer, when I met my boss at the entertainment company I interned for, he suggested I submit my own material, even without an agent.  "Lord knows you've earned it," he said.  At that point, I'd covered about 70 scripts, 150 by the time I left in November, and had shown a solid understanding of what makes a good and a bad script.  Even came up with a little shorthand for my reports; if my comments began with "there's no sugarcoating this..." then chances are it sucks.

It wasn't until August a few months after that first meeting that an idea came to mind that I thought would make a pretty decent screenplay.  I sent the synopsis and later the outline, and then I got to work writing the first draft.  I figured it can't be as hard as writing fiction, right?

Wrong.  It's harder.

Writing a screenplay and enjoying a screenplay are two different things.  Of course, I used to say the same thing about writing fiction.  Screenwriting was decidedly never an option for me until recently, the logic being that that, growing up in Los Angeles, I knew that everyone had a movie to peddle; even your grandparents' cat Muffy wrote one.  The earliest stories I wrote were terrible, but I got better at it over time.

So am I abandoning screenwriting?  Not exactly.  I am going to abandon this screenplay I was working on.  My heart hasn't been in it for a while.  Instead, I'm taking a step back and hacking away at smaller scenes to build up my muscles.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Brainstorming Sessions

Coming up with ideas has always been a problem for me - always - and I don't think it gets any easier with time.  At a reading of my story Roar Shack, the other writers in attendance and I were asked where our particular stories came from.  In the case of Roar Shack, it was basically an assignment.  The monster theme came from Penumbra in a list of themes they were covering before they closed their doors.

That's the easy way to get an ideas, but there are others.

Every story begins with an idea, and to have any hope of being a productive and prolific writer, you need to keep the ideas coming.  I'm speaking for myself, of course, but I think an hour a day at least a few times a week should be spent on brainstorming.  Even if you're busy with a bunch of projects, I'd rather have something rather than nothing.

Here are some things you can use for your own brainstorming sessions...

Get out of the office.

This is something I heard from independent filmmaker Ryan Connolly who hosts an entertaining and informative Youtube program called Film Riot.  Couch time is exactly what it sounds like: you stretch out on a couch running ideas through your head.  Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran says, "Go outside.  All the big ideas are on the outside.  You'll never have a creative idea at your desk."  The bottom line is you need to get out of the office.  You might not come up with your next story in this brainstorming session or that, but by getting away from the desk, you're telling Serendipity you're available.

Notebooks are good.

Stephen King says notebooks are the best way to preserve bad ideas, but I also suspect he's got a psychic connection to Todash Space; he might not be willing to admit it.  King says that everyone's method is different, so while the notebook might not work for him, it could work for you.  I keep one of those composition books on hand and just jot down whatever comes to mind, especially when I'm working through particularly difficult brainstorming problems.  No one might read it.  Even I might not read it.  But writing things down has always been how my brain works.  I kept about a dozen journals in college, never looked back on most of them, but I can still remember a few good ideas that bubbled up.  I also keep a little pocket notebook in my pocket when I'm out and about.  If I'm working on my MacBook Pro and something comes to mind, I have got the stickies app to make a quick note of it.

Talk to friends (real or imaginary).

An idea might sound good on paper, but it could fall apart when spoken out loud.  If I have a chance to brainstorm with a close friend of mine, I'll do it.  It's hard to get out of your own head, so having someone else with you is a good way to get a new perspective on ideas.  I hung out with a friend of mine the other day and bounced ideas off of her on an alien invasion story (something I've wanted to do for a long, long time).  A lot of the ideas I had for specific story elements had been in my head for a few years.  At the very least, it was a chance for me to ask, "Does that make sense?"  It could make all the sense in the world to you, but bouncing ideas gives you the audience perspective on it.  If you don't have someone to talk to, think out loud.  Tell your idea to your houseplants, and then be the devil's advocate.  Sure, people will think you're crazy, but if they know you're a writer, they'll probably think you're crazy anyways.

Put on some music.

Along with couch time, it's hard to think of listening to music as part of the workday (unless you're in the music industry).  Not only does a particular song help set the tone you might be aiming for, but every now and then, your ears might pick up on a particular line in the lyrics that could stir an idea.

Some imagination goes a long way.

When all else fails, there is one instance where you could brainstorm in your office: imagine you're in a writers' room.  I used this when I began work on my screenplay after taking a TV writing course on building stories and outlines.  I also worked at an entertainment company at the time.  Basically, I imagined my boss calling me up one morning saying, "Mario, Studio X wants a story about Theme Y.  Think you can come up with something?"  Theme Y is whichever topic I'd like to write about and gives me a starting point.  Then I come up with ten one-line ideas revolving around it.  I develop the most promising half into a short paragraph, and then pick the most promising of them.  I go right into drafting from that.  If it becomes a novel, great.  A short story is the least I can hope for, but one can dream.  I'll turn the idea into a page-long synopsis and then and outline if I'm working on a screenplay, but only because I've learned writing for the screen is a different animal than for the page.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Publications - Unholy Spirits

Happy Sunday, folks!  My new short story Unholy Spirits came out today on The WiFilesUnholy Spirits is about a man who does, goes to Hell, and finds it's not all about fire and brimstone.  In fact, as AC/DC says, Hell ain't a bad place to be.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Getting Out of Creative Black Holes

I recently finished the Document, my big ol' stack of research notes.  And we're talking about notes!  126 documentaries, and I know I watched more that ultimately didn't prove so useful.  But know that my brain's swollen with knowledge, it's time for me to get back to the serious task of actually writing.  After all, these notes are useless unless I can apply them to some good stories.

As useful as the Document is, part of me really did use it as an excuse not to write.  I feel like I've hit a creative slump recently, and was too afraid to admit it to myself.  I was afraid because then it meant I'd have to roll up my sleeves and *gulp* work to come up with new material!

That doesn't sound fun.  Let's spin it into something pleasant.

Okay, next week I'm not going to work towards coming up with new story ideas.  Instead, I'm going to hook my brain up to jumper cables, defibrillate my neurons, and scream, "It's alive!"  Muahahahahaaaaa!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dealing With Distractions

I live with family.  It's true.  Gallup polls show I'm not alone.  That's not to say I'm sitting on the couch all day watching The Walking Dead.  I'll have you know I've been out of the loop on the last season, so please don't ruin it for me.  I don't want to hear about how Shane was really Judith's father or how Daryl and Michonne are having a little of warrior babies.

Writers can work at home.  So can translators, virtual assistants, web developers, and travel agents.  And there's no shame in working from home either.  The way I see it, I've got two jobs right now: writing and finding stabler work.  And I'm happy to say that my family understands a lot of effort goes into these two things.

That said, even with a cozy little office (or scary if the dim lighting freaks you out), I still have to deal with distractions.  This is probably the bane of the worker-at-home's existence.  People think, Well, he's home, so he can help me put together my bookshelf or run some errands with me.  No, sorry.  If we had clones, sure, but we don't.

Here are a handful of tips I've tried out lately.  Some have been more successful than others, but on the whole, it's pretty solid advice I can give so you can get the most out of your day without being a douche to your peers.

Work when people aren't around.

The first tip sounds the most obvious: get your most important stuff done either early in the morning or late in the evening.  Either way, the goal is to hammer through it when everyone else is asleep.  I personally advocate getting things done early in the morning so you don't feel pressed for time late at night, which, of course, you would be.  Besides, why would you want to spend you nights working when you could be with friends and family?

Clue people in.

No one's a mind reader except Professor X.  You're going to have to sit down with your family or housemates and tell them, "Listen, I don't mean to be antisocial, but during the day, I do have to get X, Y, and Z done."  If you do work from home, distractions could mean lost income.  If you're job hunting, distractions could mean missed opportunities, which is just as bad.  The people you live with (hopefully) want you to succeed, so you need to give them a chance to help you, even in a passive way.

The Doors.

Doors aren't just an amazing band, they're a great thing to have in your office, and I'll go so far as saying half the reason you should have an office is just to have a door.  I have a nice little code with my family.  If the door's open, come on in and bug me.  If it's halfway open, bug me only if it's important.  If it's closed, I'm pretty much not at home.  In exchange for this understanding, I try to keep the door closed as little as possible so they don't feel I'm shutting them out 24/7.

Headphones are code for fuck off!

I'd say use this as a last resort, but nothing says "I'm busy and can't talk right now" like a pair of headphones.  I have a pair of earbuds, but I've noticed over-ear headphones are back in vogue.  Plus, they have the benefit of being not-so-subtle.

Accept that you WILL be distracted.

You should just make peace with the fact that you're going to be interrupted no matter what.  If a kid breaks a leg while you've got the door closed, your spouse isn't going to give two shits about your private time.  Fingers crossed, that won't happen, but the point I'm trying to get across is that people got their own lives too and things to do.  Sure, they'll try giving you as much space as you ask for, but if they do need to butt in, there's no sense in being bitchy over it.  Take a breath, be a grown-up, and accommodate them.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Setting Goals

When 2015 began, many people came up with resolutions for the new year.  I went the other way and elected to come up with a new resolution each day.  Yeah.  Suck it, lack of willpower.

I don't take much stock in New Years resolutions, but this last week, I did realize I needed to set some goals for myself in the future, targets to aim, otherwise I'd wander around without even the vaguest idea of a plan.  And it sounds cliched to explain why goals are important, but it's only a cliche if it's true so much of the time.

I think I began taking goals seriously when visiting my buddy Seth once and seeing he had his written down with various deadlines from months to years.  I have five deadlines: lustral (that is, a five-year deadline), annual, monthly, weekly, and daily.  Some are kind of vague with only a fixed time frame in mind like starting a film production company by 2020 or paying off most of my debt this year.  In writing this post, I should probably take some time to break those down into more manageable pieces.

But let's say I want to publish a novel by 2020, which I do.  That means one of this year's goals should be getting a first draft done, and within that year, this month's goal could be as simple as coming up with an idea and perhaps and outline too.  From there, I can break things down further by weeks and then day-by-day.

People are quite visual.  We see something shiny and we want it.  We merely think of something shiny and, eh, we'll get around to it one day.  But if you have your plan written out and in front of you, I think it'll go a long way towards motivating you to take steps to achieve them.

So if nothing else, making tangible goals should be your New Years resolution.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Platform AROUND Writing

Most of us start the new year with resolutions whether it's losing weight, giving to charity, or planning a trip around the world.  I've decided to try out a new resolution each day, but there is a year-long commitment I'm aiming for, and that's better management of social media.

Social media is something I love and hate in equal measure.  I love it when people reach out to me through Twitter, for example, and I love reaching back to them.  But it can be a notorious chrono-leech sucking time from my day, especially when you're striving for multiple posts throughout the day or week.  The three pillars of my platform are this blog, my Twitter page, and my Facebook page.  The problem of staying on top of social media is therefore tripled.  Even one outlet like Twitter can be a headache because you have to stop what you're doing to make a post just to keep the service effective.

Wouldn't it be great if you could just schedule everything?  Wouldn't it be great to make all you promotional tweets for that reading or your blog posts in advance, get it out of the way and not have to worry about it?

Well, you can.

I recently started using an online app called Buffer.  I stumbled onto it after reading an article about a guy trying to become more of a morning person.  He used Buffer to schedule embarrassing tweets early in the morning.  In order to avoid the embarrassment, he has to get up by a certain time and postpone the tweet for the next day, and then repeat.

It hasn't been ironclad - I'm still getting used to being a better early riser - but I have found Buffer to be an amazing tool in handling my Wednesday Wisdom posts and scheduling announcements on my upcoming reading this month.  It's like that rotisserie oven Ron Popeil advertises.  You really can set it and forget it with Buffer.

Blogging is another thing I want to do better on.  Right now, I try getting a new post out once a week, usually on Sundays when I'm prepping for the next week.  About ten minutes ago, literally, I saw Blogger's scheduling feature allowing users to write posts and delay their publishing until a later time.  That's great because you can spend one day writing several posts for the week ahead and not have to worry about being consistent.

One thing I haven't figured out is how to schedule links to the blog.  It's a common practice for me to post the links to articles on Twitter and Facebook.  As far as I know, this can only be done after the post is published, which means I can't schedule them on Twitter and Facebook via Buffer.  The only remedy for this seems to be spending a few minutes each day to post those links manually.  Ooooo...there's five minutes!

All in all, I think this is a really great thing for any writer to have.  It lets you take care of the busywork associated with social media and devote larger blocks of time to storytelling, but still gives you the freedom to make impromptu posts like when you spot a 25-pound gummy bear while window shopping and have to share it with the world.