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.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Corner of the Catacombs Has Moved to WordPress

Hi, everyone.

It's been a while since I've posted, I know, but I've been swamped lately and felt I needed a bit of a break.

I have, however, started a new website on WordPress and will continue My Corner of the Catacombs there.

It's been a pleasure writing here on Blogger, but I've felt for a while that this page is feeling crowded with various widgets from archives to the bio to the Twitter feed, and I believe WordPress will allow me the flexibility to include all these features without giving a claustrophobic impression.

Thanks, everyone, for reading, and I'll catch you on the flip side.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Will Horror Be Like in 100 Years?

It's unfortunate that a lot of early horror films are considered lost.  A number of Lon Chaney films were lost, I've heard, because Universal Studios intentionally destroyed the reels in order to recover the silver used in their manufacturing.  But like fossils and artifacts, the films that remain tell us a lot about the industry and the horror genre of the time.  The earliest horror film I can think of is 1922's Nosferatu, which itself is lucky to have survived after legal disputes with Bram Stoker's estate resulted in a court order that the film be destroyed.

The cinema of the time was very imaginative, exploiting black and white to great effect with shadows.  If you look at The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a lot of the sets are clearly drawn and painted.  The fiction of the time was just as evocative.  There's a story by Lord Dunsany called Thirteen at Table.  It's about a fox hunter who stays the night at a mansion.  He goes to dinner.  At the table are him, his host, and the host's daughter, along with thirteen seemingly empty seats.  These, says the host, are inhabited by the ghosts of people he's wronged.  The hunter entertains everyone with wonderful stories, but eventually begins worrying that he is offending the ghosts, and slips into madness.  In reading it, I imagined The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, particularly the ballroom.

As I see it, horror has evolved over the last hundred years to up the shock value.  The limitation of horror is that it frightens you on the first exposure, but you're desensitized to it over time.  Unless, of course, it's something you've got a genuine phobia of.  For example, I still can't watch Arachnophobia because I have a fear of spiders - large spiders, in particular - and there's a shot in the climax where you see Jeff Daniels reflected off the many eyes of the spider queen, and I just can't deal with that.

I think it used to be that shock was used merely as a tool in the genre.  When The Walking Dead started off, Frank Darabont said the zombies were just the icing on the cake, and that the real story was about the fragility of human society and nature.  I've noticed a number of writers and filmmakers who intentionally try to shock and disgust the audience, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.  What worries me about that is that as more people become used to it and steel themselves in preparation for the next gore-fest, horror in a hundred years' time is going to become more graphic, and maybe even border on the snuff film.  If it serves a larger purpose in the story, wonderful.  But if it's there just for the sake of being there, then I think it means there's a psychological problem in the audience that needs to be addressed.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Biggest Problems in Horror

I don't just write horror.  I'm a fan of the genre, and I get this delightful chill down my spine when it's done right.  However, horror films exist with a certain stigma about them.  Along with science fiction, it gets many nods for technical achievement at the Oscars, but little respect when it comes to the big prize of Best Picture.  That tends to be reserved for heavy, inspiring, social problem-solving films.  The Exorcist is still the only real horror film ever nominated for best picture, though there's some debate about whether The Silence of the Lambs qualifies as horror or thriller (it's both, actually).

Genre bias aside - really, the Oscars nowadays exist only to give actors and directors a pay raise anyway - critics often dismiss horror films as mere popcorn flicks.  This is unfair, but with so many horror films released of late, there's an increase in movies of poor quality.

Here are some of the biggest problems.

Too much torture porn

Torture porn is a subgenre of horror heavily reliant on gore to shock the audience.  This is when you've got a deluge of violence and mutilation, which has it's value in horror but only if it advances the story (as every other element ought to).  A film like Braindead does have use for excessive gore because it's used in a comedic fashion.

Not enough originality

I'm not talking about only the remakes here.  A lot of times, I see a horror film that follows the same old formula: filling the first half with most of the big scares and addressing and resolving the crisis in the second half.  That's fine.  In fact, that's the plot structure horror films are expected to use.  But I often see films that merely fit the mold without trying anything new with the material.  It Follows was a nicely original film in that the entity pursuing the characters was one I'd never seen before, and Inner Demons was a great departure from other tales of demonic possession by having drug use be the girl's method of keeping the monster at bay.

Not enough evocative atmosphere

I think most people forget that monsters aren't enough, and they don't realize that until they're presented with a situation where they're overwhelmed by the visual of a creature.  A lot of times, horror can be even more effective with proper lighting, shadow, and sound (or silence).  Anyone questions that ought to take a look at the Eric Bana film Deliver Us From Evil, which is about a cop investigating a string of demonic possessions in New York City.  It does have the monsters, but also makes great use of songs from The Doors, especially during a very atmospheric scene in which Bana pursues a possessed man through the basement of an apartment building and the demon keeps playing People Are Strange in his head.

Seeing only one side of the coin

John Carpenter said that horror goes back to tribesmen gathered around the campfire explaining to each other where evil came from.  One explanation is that evil is beyond the fire, outside of the safety of the tribe.  In the modern sense, this is the serial killer stalking the alleys, the zombies lumbering out of the woods, the vampire arriving from his castle.  The other explanation is that evil is something found within everyone's heart.  We have this protective boundary, but the monster is already inside that fence among us.  This is the monster who beats his wife and kids, the monster who steals her grandmother's medication because she's a drug addict, the monster who says she loves her boyfriend but then constantly cheats and berates him.  While we have plenty of external monsters in horror, the internal ones often get overlooked, and the cream of the crop in the genre are those films that feature both.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Reboots & Reimagining

Entertainment Weekly recently released a image of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa in the upcoming Power Rangers reboot.  Some people like it.  Some hate it.  I think I'm one of the few people who said good job for not giving her the Madonna cone bra.

I don't know how the Power Rangers reboot will do, but I do know it's among the latest in a long string of reboots pumped out by Hollywood.  The reboot of Ghostbusters is just around the corner.  Godzilla and RoboCop were just done.  And yes, folks, Hanna-Barbera is about to compete with the Marvel and DC universes with their own shared universe starting with S.C.O.O.B. in 2018 (guess who that's about?).

I'm not saying any of this is necessarily bad.  Worst-case scenario is that you've got a crappy movie that helped pay rent for a very hardworking crew.  However, it's so easy to pick a piece of intellectual property for production rather than original material that I think we need to take a step back and understand what the point is of a reboot or reimagining.

A reboot takes the source material and starts from scratch, treating it as a brand new concept.  For example, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy shows us Bruce Wayne building himself from the ground up in a world where Adam West is probably around but did something else during the 60s.  Maybe he and Burt Ward were in a army sitcom called Major Danger.  A nice little side note, by the way, is that the animated series of the 90s had a wonderful homage to the 60s series by having West voice the Grey Ghost, an old TV crime fighter that Bruce Wayne idolized as a child.

A reimagining is a different kind of reboot, taking the source material and then seeing how it could develop in different ways.  The JJ Abrams Star Trek films takes what we know about the original series - Kirk, Spock, tribbles, the Kobayashi Maru test, KHAAAAAN - essentially, the same ingredients, and makes a new recipe out of it.

So why reboot a film at all, especially now?

To answer the second part of that question, I think a good story goes through cycles of roughly thirty years.  Dracula is a great example of this.  The novel came out just before 1900 and then you saw Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Gary Oldman play the character in the 1930s, 60s, and 90s respectively.  Luke Evans's 2014 portrayal of Dracula may not have been a straight adaptation of the book, but the character is still someone audiences are drawn to.

I think Dracula's cycles began with cost-effectiveness.  The Lugosi film as actually adapted from the 1927 Broadway production written by playwright Hamilton Deane (starring Lugosi, in fact).  The Broadway Dracula was considerably different from the decrepit creature in Stoker's novel, more gentlemanly, less violent, and already more in line with the taste of audiences at the time.  When Hammer Films started doing Dracula with Lee in 1958, moviegoers were okay with more blood and sex.  Yes, I'm talking to you, Melissa Stribling's nightgown!  That trend continued with Oldman's Dracula.

As of now, I have heard nothing about a Dracula film for 2020, the next of that thirty-year mark, but I won't be surprised if it happens.  The concern I have is that it would be more action-oriented in the wake of Evans's Dracula Untold, which is intended to be part of Universal's - you guessed it - planned cinematic universe of their classic monster films.

Speaking for myself, I'm just waiting for Rob Zombie to do a remake of The Blob.  I know he's reportedly turned his back on that project, but I can still have my precious nightmares.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What Will Fantasy Be Like in 100 Years?

In 1915, Edgar Rice Burroughs published a novel called Pellucidar, which was about a fictional realm beneath Earth's surface.  Tarzan ended up visiting it, I think.  But fantasy fiction existed long before then.  We tend to think of the genre in Tolkien-esque terms since The Lord of the Rings was so influential.  Hans Christian Anderson wrote fairy tales.  Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected folklore in their native Germany.  Shakespeare's The Midsummer Night's Dream features the fairies Oberon, Titania, and a number of servants.

Today, I see a lot of adaptation in fantasy.  The 2007 novel Beastly, for example, is merely a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I don't even know where to begin with Tim Burton's monstrosity of an Alice in Wonderland series.  But there are original works out there.  George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire might be in the medieval European style of Tolkien, but has a degree of realism that even Tolkien didn't reach.  J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was extraordinary in taking a fantasy world and weaving it into the present day.  Even Vin Diesel's latest film The Last Witch Hunter, while never Oscar-worthy from the start, at least had the balls to try doing something that hadn't been done before in putting witches in the modern world.

We live in a world of science, logic, and rational thought (at least, until you bring out the crazies during election season).  The world is smaller.  We've got satellites mapping everything on and off Earth.  We can design our children, build computers with increasingly complicated lines of thought, and use atoms as calculators.  Magic seems to have no place anymore.

This juxtaposition of science and magic is where I think the future of the genre lies.  I think we're going to see even more fantasy fiction mixing the ancient and the modern.  For one thing, it makes it a world more identifiable to the audience.  We might not understand everything about orc culture, but we can understand Thrall, CEO of Orgrimmar, Inc., because we have mega-rich corporate executives in the real world

I think this will ultimate be a wonderfully unpredictable path for fantasy fiction because of how unpredictable and crazy science has advanced.  You can expect certain things to happen in what I like to call archaic fantasy - the medieval kind - because we have history serving as a reference.  Nobody had heard of ISIS five years ago.  In another five years, will the Kingdom of Faolith rise from an elven insurgency?  Maybe.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Where Should I Publish?

Recently, a friend of mine completed a new story.  Big ups to her.  But now she's got the matter of finding places to submit her work, and she asked me for an opinion on places that would be a good fit.

Short answer: send it anywhere and everywhere.

But considering how many markets there are, large and small, that's a crap answer, so let me elaborate.

Duotrope is the first place I turn to, and while some might not like the idea of shelling out $50 annually for the subscription, it's totally worth it.  And, really, that comes out to just over $4 a month, so the fee isn't grumble-worthy.  It's got a fantastic database of markets that you can narrow down by type of work (fiction vs. poetry, for example), length, genre, and subgenre.  It also has a handy submission tracker to keep tabs on what's out and when you can expect a response.  I have my own submission tracker already, but that redundancy helps ensure I'm not overlooking anything.

Be advised, there are a other submission databases and trackers such as Submission Grinder and The Writer's Database.  I have not used either of these, so I can't endorse them.  They could be good, bad, or virtually the same as Duotrope, and now that I think about it, I might set aside some time to check them out and report back.

Writer's Market is another great resource.  It's non-digital, so perhaps a little more time-intensive flipping through it than an online search, even with the convenient table of contents.  I mostly refer to Writer's Market for the articles at the front end of the book.  The selection is also still a bit limited since it's a printed document.  There are only so many names you can list before it stops being a book and starts being a something you club a seal with.

Also, don't wait to look around for markets until you've got something to submit.  I try spending a little time each week seeking out various presses to include in a mental rolodex.  For example, Kelsye Nelson, founder of Avasta Press, recently followed me on Twitter.  I hadn't heard of her or Avasta before then (sorry, Kelsye, but it's true).  Would I disregard Avasta right off the bat?  No.  I would look into their catalog of books, get a hold of and read a few that caught my attention, and see if I've got anything down the road that might interest them.

This goes for any publisher you have a chance encounter with.  I came back from AWP with a stack of business cards so thick it turned my wallet into a boulder, and a stack of books from each of them so large and heavy that I've got back pain.

I do this personalized approach for a few reasons.  First, I like meeting new people.  Second, I like fostering relations with editors and publishers because it makes me stand out to them as a writer, and just as important, it makes them stand out in my mind when I have material.  Third, those relationships help me get a better understanding of the overall publishing process so that, when I approach other markets for the first time, I'm not going into the situation cocky and ignorant.

When you're ready to submit, remember that markets, editors, and publishers are not the destination.  Getting your words into print for the masses it the destination.  Look at editors and publishers as potential partners towards that goal.

And if you never write something they'd consider publishing, who cares?  It costs nothing to be nice.  Being an asshole requires effort.

Monday, April 18, 2016

No Better Place for Aspiring Writers

I recently saw a tweet from Writer's Digest saying, "There's no better place for an aspiring author than New York City."

It was promotion for an annual conference and not intended to be interpreted as, "This is law according to us ivory tower gnomes," but there was something about the tweet that really bugged me.

It used to be you had to be in a certain geographical location to have any chance of success in certain artistic fields.  Wanted to be a filmmaker?  Go to Los Angeles.  Wanted to be a country musician?  Get your ass to Nashville.  And if you wanted to be a writer, you had to make at least one journey to New York.  That's where the publishers were, the agents, the editors.  Hell, even that xenophobe HP Lovecraft worked up enough courage to make the move.

The major publishers - names the likes of Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster - will still be around for a long time.  They will still be working primarily in New York City just as Warner Brothers, Disney, and Paramount primarily work in LA.  But there's no denying the power and presence of the small press.  At the AWP conference last month, I saw no publisher considered a household name.

Then there's the impact of technology and the ability to self-publish, which has a new recognition today than ten or even five years ago.  Companies like Lulu have partnerships with online distributors Amazon and Barnes and Noble that allow self-published works to be printed on demand and reach a wide audience.

So no, a pilgrimage to New York is not required for a literary career.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Managing Multiple Projects

Looking at my writing board, I've got five projects either in development or revision.  Six projects if you include this blog, and I do.  Plus, I'm trying to get more into freelancing, so that's seven.

So how do I juggle through all of them?  Careful time management.

I always try holding an hour or two each day for drafting new material, and I rarely draft more than one project at a time.

I try keeping my drafting time in the morning so that, no matter what else happens in the day, I've at least gotten some new material down.

Two nights a week are spent working on development, either new projects coming up in the near future or adding more ideas to my idea pool.  Three nights are spent working on freelance proposals and client searching.  These are just for the weekdays, by the way.  I prefer keeping my Saturday and Sunday evenings free to relax unless I absolutely have to catch up on something from earlier in the week.

Saturdays are mostly spent on revisions early in the morning and in the middle of the afternoon, with a writing group session and lunch in between.  And then I do submissions on the last Sunday of the month.  It can be a piece of flash fiction I wrote the previous week or a short story I've spent a couple of months working on, but if it's ready to go out into the pipeline, it'll happen on that final Sunday.

That's basically how I keep my writing schedule in order.  If I label a block of time simply as "writing," it doesn't work because I have no idea what I'm supposed to focus on.  Now, I don't always stick to this, especially given my resurgent writers block lately, but the important thing here is simply having time set aside for writing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Refresher Tips on Blogging

Blogging is one of those things where you start off really excited and then you're running out of steam before you know it and start asking, "Well, do I REALLY have to write this post?"  And of course, the answer is, "Yeah, genius.  It's not going to write itself."  I've had these ups and downs myself with some periods where I'm writing almost a post a day and others where it's a month between them.

Add that to the fact that the blog evolves over time.  I just realized I started this blog five years ago this summer.  When I did, I had some clear ideas on what I would and wouldn't do, and greatly limiting the potential value this blog could have to readers.  You start looking for ways to stay relevant to your ready, and you start losing sight of basic principles in that search.

A lot of what I've learned about blogging came from Robert Lee Brewer's article Blogging Basics: Get the Most Out of Your Blog, which appeared in the latest edition of Writer's Market.  It's been included and excluded in different editions over the years, and I'm glad it returned in the 95th edition last fall.

Most of what follows is distilled from Brewer.  Some tips I've picked up on my own.

Finding Ideas

This is the most difficult part of blogging, especially when you feel like you've exhausted every possible article idea.  You haven't.  I agree with Brewer that you've got to be relevant and helpful to the reader.  Sometimes, I'll post announcements about my latest work getting published, but I never go over the top on this.  HubSpot's Blog Topic Generator is a recent discovery that I've fallen in love with.  You enter a few key words for what you'd like an article to focus on, and it'll generate potential titles and narrower topics.  I stumbled on this yesterday and I've already got article ideas for the next two weeks!

Frequency of Posts

The more you write, the more you'll post.  Brewer suggests starting off with a weekly post to get into the swing of things.  Some writers published way more posts than that.  For example, I subscribed to Chuck Wendig's blog, and will wake up some mornings to find two or three new posts, but he usually writes a post per day.  I limit myself to three posts each week.  I feel it keeps readers from being overwhelmed with new content, and it's a slow enough pace that I can enjoy personal time in between and weekends.  It doesn't take long to write a post - maybe an hour - but with the amount of work I've had lately, even an hour can be a real good breath of fresh air.

Link to Social Media

If I relied on the blog to sustain itself, it wouldn't last long.  I'm more active on Facebook and WAY more active on Twitter, and so whenever I have a new post, I always mention it on these platforms.  Likewise, I also have my Twitter feed linked back to the blog so if readers like a particular post and sees something they like on the Twitter feed, it's very easy for them to follow me.  I also post about non-writing stuff on social media and interact with others in a way that's more humanizing and satisfying, which leads me to the final point...

Remember to Have Fun

I think Stephen King said, "If it ain't fun, it ain't good."  Coming up with topics is the most serious side of blogging for me, but once I arrive at an idea, I don't agonize over it.  Most of my posts are first drafts reviewed only to ensure spelling, punctuation, and grammar are on the level (it'd be embarrassing if my posts had mistakes like the smell hanging off a dead skunk).  I blog because Twitter limits me to 140 characters, and my friends on Facebook would go mad if I talked about writing nonstop like a one-dimensional cartoon character.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Counts as New Material?

I'm going through revisions on a couple of projects, one of them a short story and the other a novella, and in my effort to return to my "write everyday" habit (yeah, there have been speed bumps), I find myself asking what counts as new material.  For instance, if you're going through revisions an writing a new draft, does that count?

I ask because it was a question brought up by a non-writer friend of mine who wanted to know if revisions was a way of me cheating my own goal or was it legit.  Material written in a first draft is definitely new.  Duh.  But when it comes to revising, I think it depends on how drastic the changes have become.

For example, the short story that I wrote is pretty straightforward and it's just a matter of adding and subtracting certain details.  The general narrative has been established.  It is not new material.

The novella I'm working on?  The first draft was an elaborate brainstorming project, and I quickly realized that there was so much work to be done with it that I'm starting from scratch with the second draft.  I've got a clearer idea of what needs to happen, but everything needs to be redone.  I don't even want to keep the good parts of the first draft for fear that some of the bad parts might slip in.  In this case, my rewrite is brand new material.

These are two extremes, and like I said, there's so much grey space in between that you have to consider it on a case-by-case basis.  I just wanted to illustrate this real quick for those of you who might be wondering the same thing with your own work.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Downward Spiral

At the beginning of the year, I resolved to cut the crap and make 2016 the year of hard work, constant writing, editing, and submission of stories out to publication.

That worked for January.  January was a strong month with new material written daily.  February became sluggish with a few missed days and a lot of failed projects.  March was a disaster!  Almost nothing was written.  It was a rough month in which I lost almost any interest in writing due to personal problems.

So basically, this is me coming out and admitting what a lot of die-hard writers loathe to admit: life sucks enough to get in the way and here's my declaration to stomp my feet into the ground and say that I'm done screwing around.  Come hell or high water, I'm going to pump out a thousand words a day.  Yeah!

*Wakes up with hangover.*  Oh, man.  My head.  What happened?  Did I turn into a werewolf?  *Sees Moon is not full.*  Did I go on a rant?  *Sees the above written.*  Yup.  Ranty goodness.

So when I say that March was a disaster, I mean it was a real shit-storm.  Aside from AWP, there was nothing about that month that I enjoyed.  There were some very heavy personal issues I was dealing with that kept me from writing for about fifteen days.  And those fifteen days were in the middle of the month, so it felt like the beginning and end of March were just as unproductive.

It's been a long time since I've had someone hold me accountable for my progress.  The first time was when in grad school with weekly check-ins.  The second time was as a producer's assistant with one of my co-workers.  At my writing groups, I've recently taken to just asking others how the week has been work-wise, and the solution could be as simple as me getting back to marking an X on the giant calendar above my desk for each day of writing.  Whatever the method, I'll get back on the horse.  It's probably just out grazing somewhere.

I'm also curious to know what you guys and gals do to regain focus on your writing.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

AWP 2016: Day 4

So here we are at the end of AWP.

The first panel of the day - I actually got up early for this one! - was on publishing without agents.  If you think this panel lays out the road work for getting published without an agent, you're wrong.  There's no real path to publication anyways, with or without an agent.  It doesn't just happen out of the blue, but it's not as established as the career path of a physician either.  Sort of how the lit crawl panel a couple of days earlier was a series of fond recollections, this was four authors telling you how they did it and leaving the takeaway up to you.  It also included a very in-depth look at a writer's relationship with the agent and encourages a breakup if it's not working out.  It's a business partnership, not a marriage.  All the panelists were great, including Wendy Ortiz who I've known since I was a grad student at Antioch.  You guys should read her work.  It's got the smooth rhythmic hum of a Depeche Mode concert, and reaches out and touches you like Personal Jesus.

The next panel I attended was on the influence of Los Angeles in writing.  This was the only craft-y panel I attended at AWP.  Everything else was on sustaining work, giving it momentum, and nourishing your community.  I grew up in LA, and as much as I hate the heat, the traffic, and the hundred thousand doe-eyed wannabes who are all going to make it (seriously, guy, ALL of them), it's home and I can't imagine growing up in San Francisco, Houston, or Denmark.  I also grew up in a fairly sheltered suburb of the city and always try finding a way of giving my stories a sense of small-town intimacy, not easy considering this is the second most populous city in the country.  But the interesting thing about LA is that there are so many culturally distinct neighborhoods that you can life totally separate lives in Venice versus Pasadena versus Los Feliz versus Beverly Hills.

The last panel I went to was on alternative careers for creative writers.  Of all the panels, I wanted to go to this one the most because despite all the work and revisions and submissions (with occasional acceptance), I still struggle to make ends meet off of a skill that I love and am good at.  Teaching has been the default option, but there are only a handful of colleges you can apply to in LA, and you need special certification to teach high school.  This panel exposed a variety of avenues demanding the skill of a creative writer: slush pile reader, proposal writer, ghostwriter, copyeditor.  Most of the panelists agreed that tenure-track teaching positions aren't just wrong, they're immoral.  Jesse Waters was one of the panelists.  I'm not going to say you should read his work (because I haven't read it either), but you should just sit down and chat with the guy.  He had a terrific no-bullshit attitude, and if you have to write lyrics for commercials or children's poetry about how the US Forest Service works, he'll probably be the first one to encourage you on it.

That was virtually it for my final day.  I spent a little time in the book fair between the panels, but after the last one, pretty much everyone at the fair was dismantling and getting set to go home.  There was a run for the Red Hen Press table when their books were all marked down to a dollar.  I helped a couple of friends pack up at the Zoetic Press table, got dinner with an Antioch alum who came out here from Tennessee.  Then I went home, looked forward to my one day off this week, and passed out.

AWP 2016: Day 3

Day 3 dawned.

I was way too tired from the evening before to attend Antioch University's alumni breakfast near the convention center.  Growing up in LA, you know it goes against the laws of physics to get from Glendale to Downtown in fifteen minutes.  I'm sure it was a wonderful breakfast with delicious conversation and great food, but sometimes you have to obey your brain first, and my brain said, "Minion!  I require a goblet of coffee!"

I went to two panels today.

The first was on managing the writing life.  It was a bit of a pep talk encouraging writers to seek out tangible opportunities for their work and celebrate each publication, no matter how small.  It also reminded me not to give in to despair and envy, which is an easy thing to feel when it seems like all your other writer friends are announcing a new teaching gig, publishing a new novel, or participating in a new panel, and you're looking at your work wondering, What the hell have I been doing lately?  Eating pumpkin pie?  In fact, going back to the networking for introverts panel I mentioned in the Day 1 post, celebrating the accomplishments of others was one of the themes I kept seeing in AWP for a few reasons: 1) it's good for the soul to give praise without calling attention to yourself, 2) you don't look like some a-hole trying to get a buck out of the audience, and 3) when it comes time to celebrate your achievements, those friends are going to want to pay back the karma.  I admit that celebrating the accomplishments of others is something I have to work on primarily because I've been so busy lately that even retweeting can feel time consuming.

The second was on building your writing business.  This was a good panel in terms of breaking down the nuts and bolts of publication.  I remember my first lecture in grad school was on the publication process.  It still takes about a year and a half between selling a work and seeing it hit bookshelves, and the panelists mentioned a few more PR steps that writers take on before the release date.  It covered a little bit on copyrights and the key relationships a writer has to maintain - with readers, booksellers, and editors and publicists.  Representatives of the Author's Guild were there as well with a lot of helpful information on the guild and what it can do for members and nonmembers alike.

There were snack meet-ups and lunch with friends, including a return to Tom's Urban because I required some fresh-baked pop tarts.  In the evening, I went to a reading presented by The Rumpus and Rare Bird Lit that hosted by Antonia Crane and featuring J. Ryan Stradal and Rich Ferguson.  You should read Antonia, Stradal, and Ferguson's work.  Antonia's work is as beautiful as purple smoke you try catching with your hands.  Stradal's will make you laugh and hungry at the same time.  And Ferguson's reading was part-rock concert, part-poetry slam, and all-awesome!

And to top off the entire day, I actually managed to get a night of sleep!  Apparently, that's not supposed to happen at AWP, but when have I ever done what I was told?

AWP 2016: Day 2

Day 2 of AWP (as well as the rest of the conference) was the exact opposite of Day 1.  I had five panels lined up back-to-back that I planned on attending.  By the end of the day, part of me thought, "Aw, you had a plan?  That's cute."

I got to the convention center just before 9 AM.  There was a panel at the Marriott on overcoming writer's block that interested me, but my coffee hadn't kicked in, so I said to hell with it and went to the book fair.  There's really no way to properly describe the fair.  It's packed with about a thousand tables and booths featuring publishers and MFA programs.  I'd been warned that you can't check it all out and that I should have gone through an aisle or two each day.  I went through half of the whole thing.  It can be done, and I circled back to a lot of the tables that kept grabbing my interest, including one for my MFA program at Antioch University.

There were two panels I actually went to.  The first was on networking for introverts.  It got me rethinking how I use social media and better present myself in public - especially when giving readings.  'Cause here's the fact: as confident as I might seem, it all stems from me being terrified, sucking it up, and getting on with it.

The second panel was on lit crawls, which are like pub crawls but with words.  This panel left me feeling just a little disappointed because I went in expecting to learn more about the finer points of getting a lit crawl off the ground.  I live near North Hollywood where the annual lit crawl means this lecture doesn't really apply to me, but I was interested in learning how the whole things gets started.  Instead, the panelists told us fun stories about past lit crawl events.

There was more of the book fair, and a conference party at the Monty Bar in downtown.  This was perhaps the one event in the entire conference I regretted going to.  I don't drink nearly as much as I did at Antioch.  I've become a total lightweight for it, and being surrounded by a hundred, hundred-fifty drunken writers just wasn't my kind of scene anymore.  I really should have gone to a reading where a friend of mine, Patrick O'Neil, presented a section of his memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon.  You should read Patrick's work.  The man's seen some shit, and expressed himself with poignant humor.

I got home fairly late in the evening.  I had a slight buzz earlier in the evening from the one drink I had at Monty, but it wore off hours earlier, and the only thing I was good for at that point was crashing on my bed.  And trying to sleep before the next day's arrival.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

AWP 2016: Day 1

AWP began yesterday.  It's the first time I've gone to the convention, and I've been planning to go to this one in Los Angeles, specifically, for the last five years.  I don't really have the money to spend on traveling throughout the country each year, so when we found out the 2016 conference was here in LA, my friends from grad school kept telling me there's no excuse for me not to go.

This first day started off feeling underwhelming.  I got to the LA Convention Center around noon for registration, which was scheduled to go until 7 PM, and had my badge in the first half-hour.  Apparently, AWP is using a new computerized kiosk system this year to cut the processing time down by a whole lot.  Well, congrats, AWP.  Mission accomplished.

I ended up lunching at Tom's Urban, a sports restaurant just a stone's throw away from the convention center.  The food was good, the atmosphere was chill, and during the quiet period when I got there, the bartender and I had such great conversation that I dropped a 90% tip.  Lunch was basically three hours of eating, watching old school music videos, and chatting.  There was another fellow named Max in town for AWP and we got to talking about everything from how overpriced MFA programs are to writing methods to whether or not you can consciously write comedy versus letting it come out spontaneously.

The evening events were where the action was at yesterday.  The AWP kickoff party at Barcito was so loud, crowded, and overflowing with a terrific vibe that you couldn't hear the hosts even when they were on microphones.  In fact, you couldn't hear them even if you were standing right in front of them.  It was that jam-packed.  Afterwards, there was a reading closer to my neck of the woods at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park.  A friend of mine, Seth Fisher, was one of the featured readers.  You should read Seth's work.  Man's got the writing chops that make more household names look like a pack of illiterates.

But now I'm tired and need to hit the hay before AWP really kicks off tomorrow.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

When You Miss Your Writing Time

For the last month and a half, I've written fresh material every day.  It feels good doing that and knowing that I'm making a little progress at a time.  It feels good when I'm looking up at my calendar above my desk and have a visual reminder too.  I estimate I've got at least 200 pages that weren't around last December.

Until the dreaded 18th came along.  I was so busy with my day job that the only thing I was looking forward to was Skyping with an old college friend.  It had been a while since we talked.  Her family was going through a rough ordeal, and I wanted to see how she was doing.  By the end of the call, it was about 11 PM and I was ready to wind down for the night.  I thought if I got out at least a page, I'd be okay.  That's happened before where even a hundred words is all I can muster in a day.

I stared at my laptop screen for half an hour.  Nothing came to mind, of if it did, I was too beat to recognize it.  In the end, I threw in the towel and went to sleep.

I woke up the next day feeling a little frustrated with myself.  I felt like the day before was a complete waste.  Then I decided to adjust my whole perspective on it.

You know those signs reading X number of days without an accident?  You don't need to beat yourself for missing one day of writing when you've worked nonstop for the last 48.  Think of it as setting new records for yourself.  48 straight days is a personal best for me.  Now I'm going to see if I can make it to 49, to 70, to 100.  Yeah, it kind of sucks that you missed that one day.  But then you might as well beat yourself for getting sick and missing a day of flipping burgers.

If you can make up for those missed writing sessions and keep those breaks as few as possible, you should be okay.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Happenings of January 2016

I had a few clear New Years resolutions for 2016, and I realized that I need to hold myself accountable to achieve them.  When I looked back on them, some of those goals were one-time deals like the upcoming AWP conference (by the way, I'm registered to attend and will definitely be spilling all the details for you guys when it arrives).  Others, like having greater resolve and managing my time better, were more means to an end.  The others - getting in shape, finding a writing group, and writing consistently - are the real goals.  There's an additional goal I might as well 'fess up on, and it's finding a better day job.  And I'd like to read more because I felt a little illiterate last year; I didn't read much because I was too busy worrying about everything else.

I actually stole this from Wil Wheaton, but doing a monthly recap really is a great way to stay motivated.  Even if no one else is reading this, I will read it, and it'll give me a good bit of self-reflection on what's gone when and what needs improvement.  And if you are interested in all this, dear reader...well, I hope my suffering is chuckle-worthy.

So to distill it all nicely and put a pretty little bow on it, this year, I want to:

  • Get in shape
  • Join a writing group
  • Write consistently
  • Read more
  • Find a better day job
Get in shape

I've been floating around the upper-190's this month.  I'd like to get down to 175 lbs.  I did join the local YMCA, and filled out a cancellation form the day I got my ID.  I found that the Y wasn't really for me.  I didn't like having to fight for parking, and I hated the thought of dishing out $60 for membership.  I did pretty well last year keeping my weight in check without a gym.

First of all, I threw away the last of my holiday cookies.  They were stale anyways.  Second, there are a number of apps I installed on my phone that I've noticed are quite helpful.  MyFitnessPal is a great one to track your weight and set a caloric goal whether you're looking to gain, lose, or maintain your weight.  If you enjoy running, walking, or cycling, Strava is the way to go, and SWORKIT is a great workout app that requires no gym with great workouts for cardio, strength, yoga, and stretching.  I like Strava and SWORKIT because they give calorie counts from exercise that I can then input to MyFitnessPal and be a little more mindful when it comes to meal time.

And then there's Sleep Cycle, which is a real "holy shit" app that I love.  It monitors my sleep pattern and wakes me up as close to my set alarm time as possible when I'm in my lightest phase.  It also comes with a number of sounds from white noise to crashing waves that help me relax.  I've experimented with this app, using it some nights and avoiding it others, and I do sleep more soundly with it.

Join a writing group

I joined two writing groups through Meetup.  One is a workshop and critiquing group.  The other is a content generation group, the kind where you sit down with the goal of writing new material.  I've been to two workshop sessions, and it's a great group; local, easily fitting into my schedule, and with a wonderful sense of structure that includes deadlines and submission formats.

The other group was not so wonderful.  We met at a Fuddruckers in Burbank.  I had my laptop.  They had pens and papers, and the group organizer said they usually frowned upon laptops.  I got a pass being the newbie.  We had a writing prompt game.  The ideas I gave included Nikki Sixx and a a tiger on cocaine.  One of them didn't know who Nikki Sixx was, and that rubbed me the wrong way.  I got even worse when everyone kept calling me Marco.  In the middle of the session, I brought up the app on my phone and left the group.

I'm still looking around for a content generation group because, frankly, I'd really like to be around other writers and be reminded that I'm not the only one doing this.

Write consistently

Jerry Seinfeld's wall calendar idea really does work!  I've been tracking my daily word count, and been motivated enough that I've written 130 new pages this month.  That fact that my critique group has a manuscript review session coming up has been an added motivator, but Seinfeld was right.  I look up at the calendar on my wall and seeing an unbroken change of X's marking the days when new material was written has become a welcomed sight.  There have been days where I've fallen short, but then there are other days when I go on a writing binge and catch up.  I wasn't nearly this productive last year with the release of just one short story.  This trick has reminded me that if you stick to a certain routine and progress even a little bit at a time, it'll accumulate quite rewardingly.

Read more

Goodreads has an annual reading challenge where users set a number of books they want to read in a given year.  For 2016, I challenged myself to read 24 books, at least two a month.  I've read Patrick O'Neil's Gun, Needle, Spoon as well as Glen Duncan's I, Lucifer.  Both were fantastic, and I'm on my third book: Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End.  I picked up Clarke's book because it's quite short for a novel (just a couple of hundred pages).  I'm about 50 pages to the end, and I'm going to try binge reading it tonight.

Find a better day job

I work in a gardening center.  I'll admit that because it's the truth, but reluctantly so because it was never a job that I wanted.  And it is just a job, accepted purely because I needed to pay off bills and debts.  It's a job that makes me feel underutilized.  I began working there in September of last year, and the greatest use of my skills was alphabetizing an inventory list.  I did send out my resume to other companies, but only a couple of dozen; some days, I come home from work so tired that I've got just enough energy to get in my writing quota before passing out.  This will not do.  I have reached out to a couple of people at the staffing company Apple One and will sit down with them to go over my career goals for 2016, and I might - might - have an interview for a teaching job with East Los Angeles College.  I know I need to step up my game next month, but January has helped me find holes that I've simply been ignoring.

Final verdict

So on a scale of 1 to 5, how did I do?
  • Get in shape: 3
  • Join a writing group: 4
  • Write consistently: 5
  •
  • Find a better day job: 2
So this month rated about 76%.  I know I can do better.  January seemed to be the month where I find problems to be sorted out.  Now that I can, it's time to do as the Scoutmaster on The Simpsons commands: "Got get 'em, scouts!"

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Get Your Ass to Mars

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you all had a terrific holiday.  Winter actually came in Los Angeles.  We've had rain, cold, and even ice!  It's the closest we've had to Hoth in a long, long time.

Now that the celebrations are over and Ryan Seacrest has returned to his dark cave of gloom, we're all looking to put into action our New Years resolutions, am I right?  We've gained some weight over the last month thanks to baked goods.  Our resolutions in the past always collapsed, but this time it'll be different!  But then the doubts creep in, because if we've had such a good track record at not achieving our goals, what's going to make this year any different?

Well, to hell with that.

We always say, "This year, I'm going to do X, Y, and Z."  I suggest changing that language to, "This year, I am doing X, Y, and Z."  Here's what I am doing, and maybe you'll walk away from this with a little more guidance.

Actually have resolve.

You can't have resolutions without resolve, which is defined as "deciding firmly on a course of action."  This is perhaps the most Dr. Phil-esque resolution I have, but a very necessary one.  This doesn't pertain to the "I need to recognize that stuff needs to get done" camp.  I recognize that I'm hungry, but that doesn't put dinner on the table.  Knowing you've got goals ahead, the point of this resolution is to follow through on your threat to get shit done.  And might I suggest you don't pick massive Earth-shattering goals that'll overwhelm you like the kraken?  If you stumble on them, you're more likely to give up on everything else.  Capisce?

Manage your time better.

Here on Earth, everyone has the same 24-hour day.  We also live in an age where there are tons of calendar programs.  Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook are just a few of many.  Even before then when pen-and-paper day planners were the norm, there were so many different styles that it boggles the mind when I look back on it.  I literally block out every single waking hour from 6 AM to 11:30 PM.  Everything falls under one of three categories - personal events, stuff related to my day job, or writing - and I make sure none of it overlaps.  I have a set morning routine that ensures I eat a real breakfast, and an evening routine that ensures I get a some reading into my day.  I have recurring blocks of time for writing a bare minimum of two hours a night and optional mornings.  And most of all, I restrict how much time I schedule for work and writing.  It's usually around 12 hours a day, but no more than 15.  Any remaining black spots are blocked off as "personal time."

Your body's not an amusement park.

Ah, the classic "I want to lose weight" resolution.  Let's face it, if you didn't want to make this resolution, you shouldn't have fallen off the wagon over the holidays.  I'm guilty of this too; I just had a few cookies that I probably shouldn't have.  I've struggled with my weight since childhood, but got serious about it in college when my doctor had me one the scale at 252 pounds.  Right now, I'm 199 pounds.  *Pauses to munch on a cookie*  200 pounds.  But I'd like to be around 175, and I've gotten as low as 180.  So I know it's possible.  My walking of habit is great, but my body's gotten used to it; I barely sweat anymore when I'm out walking.  The fact is I've got to get my ass into a gym.  I went to the YMCA around the corner of my house (they gave me a guest pass yesterday).  It felt good, great even.  Sweating it out was more enjoyable than I thought, and I realized that I really do want to stick to it.  And an hour a day a few times a week is not a massive demand on my time.

Get out of your Bat-Cave.

Now we're getting to the part that pertains to writers.  Writing is a very lonely craft, even with quite a few writer friends.  Enter Meetup, the best tool for the introvert looking to get out of the house.  I joined two writing groups recently.  I went to the first one yesterday, and the second one is coming up in a few days.  One is the traditional "we will sit and write" groups, a jam session, which is great because you always have to be generating content.  The other one might be even more vital.  It's a workshop group with deadlines and submission guidelines.  I haven't had that kind of structure since grad school.  I miss that discipline, and I hope these groups will help me stay focused.

Put on your chains.

I don't know if he still does this, but in a Lifehacker article, I found out that Jerry Seinfeld has this great productivity hack.  I'll sum it up for you here: "get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall.  The next step was to get a big red magic marker.  He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.  'After a few days you'll have a chain.  Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day.  You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt.  Your only job next is to not break the chain.'  'Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis."  I don't have the wall calendar, but a every month of 2016 is tacked above my desk beside each other.  I tried this for a couple of weeks in November.  It felt good.  I tried it again for a week last month.  It felt good again.  Now I'm keeping on it for this entire year with a goal of a thousand new words each, but at least 500-600.  If you keep that up, you've got a short story in a week, a novella in a month, and a novel in three.

Go to a conference.

I've never been to a writing conference.  I guess you could say UCLA's Writers Faire qualifies, but it feels like such a hiccup to me.  I think every writer needs to attend at least one conference in their life.  Meet other writers, form friendships, and pick their brains.  What works?  What doesn't?  I've bitched about this since 2011, but this year, I'm definitely going to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference.  This is a big deal.  If you're a gamer, you go to E3.  If you're a film maker, you go to the American Film Market.  If you're into porn, you go to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo.  That's what AWP is for writers.  The location changes throughout the country from year to year, but this year it's in Los Angeles, so I really have no excuse not to go.  Plus, it'll be a chance to see friends I haven't since grad school.