Me on Pivot Point podcast

This past week, I was the guest on PIVOT POINTS with JOSEPH DEBEASI, a podcast that talks about the ups, downs and “pivots” of living the creative life.

A little insider information is that, although I had a great time talking with Joseph, my feeling after we recorded our session was, that was a complete trainwreck. I even called him the next day to tell him that he didn’t need to use it, and I totally understood if he didn’t want to damage the reputation of his podcast with a guest whose contribution was an incoherent jumble of words. And of course, I was worried about what anyone who listened would think of me—who wants to hire a writer or editor who is unable to get to the end of a sentence!

Joseph, who is an amazing music composer with a deep background in sound editing, told me not to worry—that it would come out in the edit. True to his word, he did an amazing job of paring away my rambling digressions in order to make this a coherent and — dare I say it — even compelling interview.

You can check it out wherever you listen to your podcasts (I’m episode 58), or here:

Eight Things I’ve Been Doing in the Last Six Weeks

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday in April and this blog is officially neglected. The problem with neglecting things — like your student loans or cleaning the kitchen junk drawer is that the longer you leave it, the more daunting it feels to come back, which makes it take even longer – so when you do, the interest has grown into a house-sized demon and all those ketchup packets have been tinged with brown and gotten stuck together with leaking soy sauce.

(Fun fact: Due to the pandemic there is a nationwide shortage of ketchup packets. Heinz has promised to increase production to make up for the 12-billion packet shortfall. They could have just asked us for the contents of our kitchen drawer.)

So it is with maintaining a record of one’s life on a blog — there’s too much to catch up on. But I’m gonna try to hit some highlights:

  1. Getting Vaccinated! Just the first shot so far. It’s Moderna. I went to a drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium. I get my second one in a couple more weeks! Here is a rather boring one-minute video of that:

2) Learning to use TikTok. I could have simply embedded a video above, but I wanted to give you an example of item #2, which is that I’m learning how to use TikTok. It’s for my own curiosity, and also research for a screenplay that I’ve started where social media plays a large role. I have mixed feelings about TikTok-ing, as it is interesting to me in theory, but I only have about a six minute scroll tolerance before I feel like my brain is going to bleed! I’ve learned that TikToks can be as long as 60 seconds, and also that 60 seconds feels MUCH longer that it sounds. For instance, the above video is 58 seconds, and it basically feels like eternity. I need to add “editing” to my repertoire.

3)Starting a new screenplay. I’ve been delaying for a long time — I’ve been working on other things — like work for clients, short stories, polishing older work — all good causes, but it was still getting to the point where I was beginning to worry if I could still write a feature from scratch. To put and keep this project at the top of my priority list, I joined not one, but TWO writing groups where I have to turn in pages, and it’s feeling good to push through it.

4) Winning a contest. My short story, “Shell,” which I’ve noted in previous posts was a semi-finalist and a finalist, did go on to win the Grand Prize in the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Writing Competition. I won some money, and the folks at Screencraft have been really nice, talking to me about my career goals and even introducing me to a showrunner who was one of their judges. (For anyone reading this in the future, you can this story, as well as 29 other horror stories by women writers in The One That Got Away: Women of Horror Volume 3.

(Fun Fact: The One That Got Away was ordered for an English class at Butler University, and so seems like it will be discussed by students in a college class, which I find exciting! Also, Butler is located in Indianapolis, very close to my home town, and my sister and several friends attended back in the day.)

5) Meeting with my first showrunner! In all my years of trying to get established as a writer, I have been fortunate to meet with a number of executives at companies, but never with a showrunner, which has been a source of some frustration. Executives are awesome in that they offer to develop a pitch or a project with you — however that development, though fun and exciting, is seldom paid. Executives generally can’t hire you to work on an established TV show. The person who can do that is a showrunner. I have dreamed of working on a show — but my chances of that are slim without ever meeting someone who might potentially, hire me on one! So, even though this particular showrunner isn’t currently running a show, it was still a momentous benchmark, and he was super complimentary of my story, which was edifying.

6) Celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. Worthy of note, though it was a very normal day. At this point in time, I think most of us cherish normal days! As usual, Paul and I both worked from home at opposite sides of the apartment. I bought him (i.e. “us”) some new cutting boards and a cake carrier, and he gave me permission to use him as my TikTok test subject — he’s definitely hoping that would never come to pass, but I vow it’s going to! In the evening, we finished Season One of Ted Lasso, which is just as freaking heartwarming as everybody annoyingly kept saying it was. Maybe even up there with Schitt’s Creek. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and get the one-week free trial of Apple+ and binge it, then come back and thank me.

7) Adding yoga back into my life. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been pretty faithful about going for daily walks, but largely gave up the diligent yoga practice I had maintained for over a a decade. I’ve known it was a loss, but just hadn’t figured out how to work it back in to my routine until my friend, Gina, sent me a link to this Morning Yoga Challenge: 10 min of Morning Yoga for 30 DAYS. For me, it was perfect — bite-sized morsels that didn’t seem too time consuming or painful. Each episode also has an affirmation to carry through the day.

8) Reading some great books. One of these was Kindred, by Octavia Butler. A continuation of my informal Octavia Butler project that began in December of 2019 when I read Parable of the Sower. In the last month or so I’ve also read (listened to) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The book that really blew me away though, was Assata: An Autobiography, by Assata Shakur. If you know only a little about her, it might be how she was chained to her bed in the hospital after being accused of killing a police officer on a New Jersey turnpike in the 70s, and it might seem like dark reading. It was not — this woman is full of light and gratitude and wisdom. Honest about her own blindspots and awakening, educational about the great numbers of sneaky and unjust things that happen in our country and elsewhere. At the same time, she manages to be flat out entertaining. The chapters alternate between her time after she was arrested and imprisoned and her life up to that point, beginning in early childhood.

I’m sure there are a couple things I’m missing — but eight is a good number. Hope everyone is enjoying their spring!

Before The Year Ends — Some Writing News

A couple of 2020 bright spots as we round out the year.

I think it’s okay to mention, as rumors of Season 3 have been public since June. Paul and I got to do this:

Title page from the official “shooting script!”

We wrote in the fall and have heard that the shoot actually happened in December in Atlanta, making this our first-ever produced writing for TV! It’s not for Season 2, which is currently on the air, but for the hoped-for (knock wood) Season 3. I’ll post when they announce any dates!

Also my short story, “Shell,” was selected to be in Volume 3 of this anthology series.

The folks at Kandisha Press are aiming to publish in early spring. I’m starting to hear about fun stuff like Q & A articles and author round-tables, so I’ll share any details I get about those in future posts!

My New Volunteer Gig (brought to you by My Zombie Parents)

Things I don’t love to do:
1) Social Media in general
2) Twitter.

I happily collaborate on clients’ blogs, products, website content — but, thus far, I’ve drawn the line at posts for social media platforms. There are a lot of benefits to using social media, but as everyone who has seen The Social Dilemma (i.e. everyone) knows, there are also a lot of drawbacks to using it. As a writer, I particularly resent the way it pulls my mind away from a project for just a minute that turns into much longer than a minute. A study at UC Irvine (cited by almost any article you read on the topic) showed that it generally takes more than 23 minutes to get your flow back after an interruption like, say, scrolling through a SM feed.

I’m barely surviving my personal social media use: making social media part of my job seems much worse! I once worked on a screenplay for several hours a day for two years and came out strong — but after the screenplay was finished, simply maintaining the social media for our fund-raising campaign contributed to a moment of burnout that caused me to distance myself from the entire project. Last month, I had an opportunity to pitch my services to a client I would have loved to work with, but because her main goals were social media oriented, I ended up referring her to another writer.

So how did I just volunteer to manage a company’s Twitter account? Like this:

During the first week of November, I did my bi-monthly Instagram check and saw I’d been tagged in a post announcing that MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was a November “staff pick of the month” on Scriptd.com.

This was cool! Also, a complete surprise, as I had uploaded the script to the site in 2015. At the time, I’d been asked to upload some scripts by friend of the founder of the site. I don’t have much faith in any database sites. I had recently experimented with the much-touted blcklst.com and later tried Inktip. Both left me under-impressed with pay-to-play listing services. But, it was a friend of a friend, and it was FREE. I uploaded. Then I forgot about it…

Until November 2020 when MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was named a Staff Pick of the Month. That was cool. I’ve always had a soft spot for this screenplay — the first one Paul and I ever worked on together. I would be proud to share/ retweet any accolades it receives on Facebook — which, problematic as it is, is where my IRL friends are because I am old — or Twitter — where the screenwriting community hangs out.

But when I looked, I noticed Scriptd hadn’t tweeted since February. A screenplay database with Instagram, but no Facebook or Twitter? It seemed an odd choice!

Curious, I did some internet research. And came across this talk by the founder of Scriptd, (and my aforementioned friend’s friend) Denise Hewitt.

Watching this, of course, it started to make sense. Social media is time and labor consuming, and judging from this, Scriptd was likely underfunded and under-resourced. Which is a shame, because it’s VERY HARD to get your work seen in Hollywood by those who might help your project or career. Myriad contests and sites that offer to help — but always for a price. Those who have read this blog over time know that I don’t have a lot of love for the profit-making side-industry that has grown up on the backs of writers and their dreams. Not to disparage the good intentions of the blcklst.coms and inktip.coms of the world to connect people — but the fact is that they are money-making ventures and they make money from writers whether or not they help them. Last week screenwriting Twitter was a-twit with bigger writers “gifting” a month of blcklst hosting ($30/month) and reader evals ($75 / feature or one-hour script or $50 / half-hour script to smaller (poorer) writers. I’m not being sarcastic when I say it was heartwarming, which is why I feel like a Scrooge that I have to point out that that blcklst is making their money either way, and that we are all complicit in normalizing the idea that aspiring writers need to make these often out-of-reach monetary investments.

I am skeptical about how often “industry” people (i.e. managers, agents, producers) use any of these databases. Blcklst.com and Inktip are both fairly coy in how they present their accounting, and when I experimented with them a few years back, my investments resulted in description page views in the single digits and zero unpaid script views.

Can Scriptd offer better exposure than these paid platforms? I honestly don’t see how, especially without more marketing to raise awareness. But can it do as well? Given my experience, it *literally* cannot do worse. So, why not?

Because, again… Scriptd is FREE.

FREE. FREE. FREE. For writers and for readers.

As a woman, Denise’s video made me frustrated and mad for all the usual reasons. It made me feel like writing to her and volunteering to tweet for her site, even though I don’t like tweeting

So I did.

And now I’m tweeting for Scriptd!

I don’t know if this will change much — except that I will finally choose and learn to use a social media manager (like Hootsuite or similar), which is useful. And maybe I can help a few writers and actors have more visibility. I’d love it if some of those writers will be chosen for a live-read, or a staff pick, or someone will read their work and give them a boost in some way. That’s pretty much all this business is about.

So, if you have a script, put it up (for free!) on Scriptd.com.

(And if you have money or applicable skills and want to become part of making a MY ZOMBIE PARENTS graphic novel in the next couple years — let me know!)

Some context: My out-of-date Blcklst.com reviews from 2014: Parts One, Two and Three
An AFF review of My Zombie Parents circa 2015.

Who My Third Party Voting Friend Would Be in a TV Writers Room (the Logic Police)

I’m from the Midwest – so my social media feeds are not entirely void of Trump supporters. Their posts can scald, but I have developed a protective layer that prevents me from exploding when I rub up against them. The algorithms must have figured this out, because now I’m being fed more posts from my progressive lefty friend (we’ll call him Stan, which either is or is not his real name) whose feed, as we approach the one-month-til-E-Day at this writing, has become a barrage of doom-forecasting about America’s fate under Biden/Harris rule.

If you have a Stan-like-person in your life, then I don’t need to overexplain the philosophical stance. The gist is that while Trump is a “Capital D” Devil, moderate Democrats are—at the very least—“Small d” devils, and that far too few people have noticed this. Posts from Stan are intended to educate by citing examples of Democrats’ historical sneakiness, posturing, failures and hypocrisy.

These observations are not untrue.

What they are (especially if delivered with enough snark and given wide airplay) is a decelerating force leveled against a group of people who need to move en-masse toward a goal.

What if our political situation was a TV Show?  One of the first things you have to do at the outset of creating a show is break story. Breaking story is charting your map of where you’re going story-wise, and planning the stops—plot points and emotional beats – you need to hit along the way. This is a balancing act, because of course it’s impossible to predict exactly where you’re going to end up, or if every stop is going to work like you’re hoping – but even with these uncertainties in play, in order to start moving you have to drum up the faith that the destination you’ve chosen is worthwhile and that your chosen direction is something that is bringing you closer to it.

Recently I was listening to a TV showrunner, Glen Mazzara, talk about the dynamics of a writers room during this stage.* He says, I understand the scene isn’t working – that it’s cliché, or reminiscent of something, or it makes no sense. I don’t need you in my writers’ room to tell me it’s not working – I want you to help me make it work. The worst thing you can do in the room is be “the logic police” – you’re saying no, you’re creating a negative feeling.**

My friend Stan is the logic police – and I can say first hand, it’s not only a negative feeling, it’s a tangible obstacle. In this case, the time I spent on social media engaging with his arguments and attempting amateur-level cognitive behavioral therapy was time spent at a stand-still –and time that I could have spent writing postcards or phone banking or doing anything else positive or forward moving.

Mazzara also says, I have a rule. That is “do not knock something off the table without putting something else there.

I pressed Stan to say what, exactly, he was suggesting that people should do as they approached the ballot box, given there are no perfect answers. He danced and dodged, until finally, pinned down, he recommended voting for a third party candidate. Which third party candidate? I asked.  He responded, Anything lefty. Probably Green.  He was not proposing any solution, merely a way to “send a message” to the Democratic party.***

Believe me, I have all kinds of rebuttals to this that I’m tempted to provide here, but I’m going assume you’ve seen different versions of most of them on your Twitter and try to stay on track with my analogy.

From the time I first contemplated writing for screen, teachers, writers, and agents have told me, you’re not going to love every opportunity that comes your way, but you have find something in a project that resonates with you. And, I’ve always strongly felt that when you join a team, you have a responsibility to add value that is both energetic and tangible. The network and the studio have bought the Biden / Harris show. That’s the job. Sure, there was a time when I dreamed a Warren show would become a reality, but now is not the time to cry about that. Now is time to beat out the most compelling Biden / Harris season we can imagine and promote the hell out of the pilot to get the numbers we need November 3rd for a four-season pickup.****

Footnotes:

*A cool thing that has come out of the pandemic is that Sundance Collab is temporarily offering a free membership with access to a lot of educational content including the Glen Mazzara masterclass where I sourced his quotes.

**When I heard this, I thought of my friend, writer Dave Metzger, saying something similar at an AMA. He added that another reason logic-policing often receives tepid reception in a room is that, in a group of seasoned writers, everybody already knows there’s a problem. Pointing out the obvious is not a move forward.

***Notably, Stan seems to assume that despite his nay-saying, the Biden / Harris ticket will prevail – i.e. he’s depending on people to disregard his logic and supply him with an improved Little-d devil system that he can criticize . He’s basically that guy on your school group project who maligns you for being an authority-smitten grade-grubber instead of doing any work because he knows you’ll carry him to the “A.”

****If you enjoyed this post, then tune in for Part 2 of this series, tentatively titled, Here’s Why My Infuriating Third-Party Voting Friend is Not All Wrong wherein I will quote Howard Zinn, Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” and Jack Epp’s book Screenwriting is Rewriting. It will be published after the election.