Writers: Beware the Hope Rustlers!

Could be I’m just thinking of writing more this week, what with NaNoWriMo looming and having just finished J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, I’m thinking of how little writing I’ve done of late.

Reading the book above will certainly inspire you to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. J Michael Straczynski (aka “JMS” as he often referred to) spends a good amount of time validating the choice to be a writer and to create, even though the amount of work involved is significant.

Part of the work, especially early on, is trying to avoid the people who feed off the hopes and dreams of writers. JMS recounts some notable examples in his own career and he’s not the only one. Mark Evanier has a great column on what he calls “Unfunded Entrepreneurs” ready to harness your creativity for absolutely nothing in return. The fact that the article is over 20 years old yet still relevant is sobering. On Scriptnotes, both John August and Craig Mazin regularly debunk the bullshit “realities of the industry” presented by less-than-honorable producers, agents, and managers, eager to gaslight young writers. Basically, there’s a whole host of people who want to make money off, not their dreams, but yours.

In fact, writer-producer CJ Walley contends that this host of people is a fixture within the Hollywood ecosystem in a page on his site, Script Revolution, documenting what he terms “Goldrush Economics.”

Several readers may find some useful info on the site in general.

It’s hard, because in many other walks of life, “you get what you paid for” rings true. And I certainly have encountered too many filmmakers in the indie sphere who should go ahead and spend the money for that location or extra gear rental or, I dunno, cast and crew health and safety?

But within that space come the gaslighters, trying to convince people that they are the ones that can make connections, open the right doors, and that you need to pay to play… and doesn’t everyone want to play?

And this isn’t to say there aren’t useful services for writers and aspiring writers out there, but for too many of these would-be indispensable middle men and women, you mention free resources or anything involving running stuff by lawyers and you get a nigh-on allergic reaction. This should always raise red flags.

I’m especially wary of people who insist that only professional consultants will do, when there is so much quality free information out there and working screenwriters willing to share it (one self-proclaimed mediocre screenwriter has some choice words on this front). Free resources are out there and they are valuable. Upgrade from “free” to “cheap” and you still have a ton of options before you necessarily need to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Speaking of which, if you’re a screenwriter or aspire to be, definitely check out Scriptnotes. Always interesting, often insightful. A huge chunk of it is free and their back catalog doesn’t cost too much either. You can even check out their listener guide to see if the topics of yore would be worthwhile to you.

The Script Revolution column estimates 5,000 – 10,000 spec scripts are written each year by aspiring screenwriters. Think about that. That means there are likely thousands upon thousands of new aspiring screenwriters added to “the supply” each year. That’s a lot of hope to prey upon.

Don’t be prey.

The Wild Zebras… of Maryland

There’s several feature film ideas incubating in various corners of my brain from fanciful takes on family history to delving deeply into local history… and now I have another idea that anyone is welcome to take, but by gum I’ll have to write it if someone doesn’t: a tale about the wild zebras of Maryland.

via the article and Getty Images

That’s right. Zebras. Creatures more familiar to African savannas and grasslands have found that the state just below the Mason-Dixon line has grasslands that are just as welcoming. Is it the proximity to Washington, DC? The omnipresent Old Bay? Who knows? All I know is that zebras are almost in my neck of the woods as of this writing. The story possibilities are endless.

Oh, I won’t be constrained by the reality mentioned in this article, but definitely check it out as it’s a great jumping off point. There’s so many questions it raises and the enterprising writer could do well to come up with some creative answers.

Now do I know any zoologists with zebra experience I can interview…?

UPDATE: One of the zebras has been found dead due to an illegal trap. So, for everyone, I want to point out that this is objectively sad and I’m sad to hear this. However, for you screenwriters out there: there’s your way to set up the third act.

So Many Banned Books, So Little Time…

I’d previously pointed out that this week is the ALA’s annual Banned Book Week where you to can stick it to censors by reading books they feel would be better left unread or perhaps burnt to a cinder.

There’s so many books to choose from, you may wonder where to start, so I’d suggest checking out the ALA’s list of most challenged books that goes back over a decade.

You’re sure to find a book that tickles your fancy in a way that a censor finds most improper.

A screenshot of the American Library Association's website listing challenged books.

I’ve generally started with some of the books that seem to have been on school reading lists, but, for whatever reason, weren’t assigned books in my classes. So in past years, that’s led to me checking out The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (the book I read for last year’s week).

This year, I’ve been reading several memoirs and oral histories in general, so Beyond Magenta felt like a natural choice. I think one censor spontaneously combusted at the mere thought of it. This makes me happy.

Remember, you don’t need to worry about finishing a chosen banned book this week, but it’s a great week to start reading.

Get Ready for Banned Book Week 2021

As readers of this blog may recall, I always celebrate Banned Book Week usually by reading a frequently challenged or banned book — something I highly encourage all of you to try. It’s fun, It’s educational, and it it’s often deadly to per-conceived notions you didn’t even know you had.

The American Library Association has a great site where you can learn about some books to check out… and your local library just might have a display this week. There’s books for all ages that scolds and people-just-trying-to-keep-mumblemumble-safe don’t want you to read. Check ’em out!

Star Trek is 55 Years Young Today!

It took a little doing, but the corporate marketing machine has finally gone to warp in trying to create Event Days for Star Trek, with “First Contact Day” earlier this year and “Star Trek Day” honoring the first broadcast of the original series lo these 55 years ago.

Case in point, this slick, satisfying montage:

I’ll come back and update this post with some highlights, but in the meantime, here’s the schedule, conveniently staged for after work for most daytime-working peeps.

Farscape and Mental Health

I’ve mentioned before about my love of the space opera Farscape even going so far as to detail many of my reasons to recommend it.

While I touch on the writing insofar as their episodes move at a rapid clip that puts many older TV shows to shame, one aspect I haven’t dwelt on was how the show deals with mental health in general and trauma in particular.

There are tangled webs and sci-fi tangled webs. This is the latter.

Enter James Hoare’s piece for The Companion. With an assist from Commander Crichton himself (Ben Browder), the article delves into the traumatic events that befall Crichton and how he deals –and is unable to deal– with them.

Frankly, most characters in adventure series experience trauma that would overwhelm those of us who don’t have a writers’ room to prop us up. And traditionally, in many an adventure series, the writers conveniently sidestep the consequences of said overwhelming trauma in the name of preserving the status quo. People being reflective and being affected by the events of one episode bleeding into subsequent episodes is not something one saw in the adventure tales of yore.

Thankfully, Farscape was part of a series of said adventure shows that began to push the envelope of serialization — something we take for granted in the era of streaming and “prestige TV.” And while I always appreciated the different voices and perspectives of the characters –many of Moya’s crew really didn’t get along with one another– reading the article made me realize how much the writers addressed mental health, asking for help, and helping. I suppose just as sci-fi and speculative fiction in general helps explore ideas more easily or safely in its fantastical wrappings, it helps when said sci-fi has been given the mandate to “be as weird as possible.”

But, in the end, how weird is it? After all, as Browder points out, all of us have a ‘Harvey.’

(Note: that last line and the article itself are chock full of spoilers for the series, so if you’re planning to dive into the show for the first time, maybe hold off.)

You Too Can Die of Dysentery!

Nowadays, there are so many different types of timewasters online, but sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a classic.

I had been reminded that one of the quintessential games of my generation, The Oregon Trail, was available to play for free online.

It seems just and right to play it on a site dedicated to Oregon tourism.

Enjoy and, remember, trade to get food and always get help crossing the river.

Ending the Story in Flight

One of my kids has, wisely, picked up on the fact that Disney tends to kill off characters’ parents.

We talked about it (they weren’t disturbed, they just found it odd) and I mentioned that it was one way to “raise the stakes.” I’m not sure if that expression means much to a child who doesn’t know how to play poker, but I’m sure we’ll also get to that in time.

Painting by N.C. Wyeth

Another aspect of stories we haven’t discussed, but I’m sure we will eventually will be when heroes die… and in many cases why and how they die.

Robin Hood was one of my favorite characters from folklore growing up, but it was years of reading tales and watching the films before I got to his death, which, upon reading it, made me sick and angry. And so when I read this piece by Lance Mannion, who sadly left us himself just earlier this year, it resonated.

There’s a lot to unpack in that short piece — from how a hero’s work is unfinished to how their end might be unfair compared to their feats of heroism. However, the idea that sticks in my brain is that notion of a story ending even as it continues, even as it begins again.

Comics Are Not Lucrative for Writers or Artists

Okay, so it’s not the most uplifting article to link to, but I recently read Gita Jackson’s article for Vice about how comic book writers and artists get paid, and I had to share it.

Warning: this does not happen.

Perhaps because of my time producing indie video –and now audio– works, I am quietly obsessed by the kind of data Jackson gets into. How much does it cost to make a comic book? How much should it cost? What’s sustainable?

Sadly, when it comes to the main creators, writers and artists, it’s not particularly sustainable in many instances. No solutions come to mind, though summoning the ghost of Harlan Ellison to mete out justice might not be a bad idea.

Netflix Says “Game On”

Evidently, this month had gotten away from me –at least in term of blog updates– so this is most definitely old news, but remember how I noted that Netflix was getting into podcasts?

Well, apparently they’re getting into video games as well.

Shall we play a Netflix game? (Photo: the 1983 film WarGames)

Per the Vox/Recode article, they’re looking to start with games based on their existing properties (e.g. Stranger Things) and their hire of a former Oculus executive may bode a move towards virtual reality and interactive media (mainly my non-groundbreaking speculation, not the article’s assertion).

Meanwhile, not just a few people are wondering about this move into video games. This is an area where I’m not ready to speculate, but I am very interested in what happens next.