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, 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.