Category Archives: Writing

@#$% yeah I’m going to post about Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison, a writer with a more than active imagination and an activist for writers, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday. he was 84.

You can see write-ups in Variety and the Los Angeles Times.

A brief, but excellent remembrance is from Mark Evanier, who knew him for almost 50 years. I think he put it best when he said:

Harlan was a writer who made other writers proud to be writers.

He goes on to… not go into how Harlan Ellison turned “cranky” into an art form. Indeed, in the past decade or so, I’ve read numerous anecdotes lauding Ellison’s influence, but noting that he could switch from congenial to cantankerous depending on when you approached him.

But time and again in those anecdotes you will see how Harlan Ellison stood up for himself and other writers. He was not about to let writers be disrespected, dismissed, and above all, be unpaid. And he backed up this attitude in word and deed: do not underestimate the writer.

Seriously, in D&D terms, Harlan Ellison is the person you bring up when someone muses whether bards could ever be dangerous.

Dungeon Master (DM): You see a bard standing in your way. He has pulled out his lute.
Player One: A bard?!?
Player Two: I unsheathe my sword
Player Three: Seriously, DM? We’re ready for a Tiamat-level monster and you–
DM: The bard starts playing his lute. He steps into the light. It’s Harlan Ellison.
Player One: @#$%!
Player Two: I lower my sword and back away slowly
Player Three: I toss him a couple gold coins and say, “Semper reddere scriptor.”

If you’ve only known Ellison for his excellent work in television (Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits), I urge you to seek out some of his other works. The short stories ” “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

I also have a certain fondness for his 1987 graphic novel anthology with Ken Steacy, Night and the Enemy.


I’ll leave with the author in his own, not-safe-for-work words, regarding paying the writer:

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison. I mean, I don’t think it’s your style, but R.I.P.

Friday Night Fights

In case the various posts on Star Trek or my mentions of writing a space opera radio show hadn’t clued you in already, my geek quotient is reasonably high.

So yes, not only am I aware of Dungeons & Dragons, I have played Dungeons & Dragons and, in fact, have served as a Dungeon Master. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a bad thing for writers or storytellers in general (see also these pieces on D&D and storytelling in Fast Company, Lifehacker, and Litreactor.)

Carlos Maza and Gina Barton have created a video for Vox in the Vox tradition of “[Subject], Explained.” It’s delightful, heartfelt, and reminds you of why it’s so much fun to “wander together” as they say.

The Ever-Elusive Audience

We officially launched Jabberwocky Audio Theater on the broadcast airwaves yesterday. It was exciting. It took a lot of work to get to this point — and really, the main point of the work was to share these stories with people.

But, as with all creative endeavors –heck, with any endeavors that depend on public reaction to thrive– the enduring question is: will enough people be interested… enough?

And that multi-faceted question is important: because we all know how easy it is to click ‘like’ on social media. And being supportive in that way isn’t without value. Visibility counts. But what creatives really need isn’t simply awareness of their work. They need engagement with their work. They need an audience.

And sometimes, probably a lot of the time, even family and friends are not that audience. I know many an actor, musician, author, and filmmaker knows this, but it bears repeating. Because emotionally, it’s natural to expect good friends and peers to be into what you’ve been sweating and obsessing over… but that’s not always the case. And there’s any number of perfectly good reasons why that is the case — including the dreaded reason that they may be fine with you personally, but not into whatever creative work you produce.

Author Tom McAllister has a good piece over at The Millions that delves into the despair and neediness around seeking that audience (and not coincidentally, making money from your creative endeavors). It’s not the most pleasant read, but it’s an honest one — and a good reminder of your critical role in continuing to show up.



Aka, Keep on Swimming

My recent project, Jabberwocky Audio Theater, is not a recent development. I’ve been working on it in one form or another since 2007.

When you work on something that long that means there’s definitely breaks when you’re not working on it… and within those breaks and at those moments of starting or stopping, your doubts about continuing happily pay a visit.

In one of the blogs I perpetually read, Mark Evanier has a response to the age-old question from creatives wondering if they’re wasting their time. While this one is a bit more focused on freelancing, it rings true for questions to continue on any creative enterprise.


10 More Motivation Levers for Your Writing

Hey, it’s been awhile since I’ve done a “Motivation Monday,” so it seemed like Big Bill’s birthday was as good a day as any to get back to it.

I’d caught Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk on writing and motivation (the video is 20 minutes, and this link also has a transcript), so when I saw an Amazon article ad for her “10 Tips for Writers,” (as compiled by Cynthia Shannon), I figured it was worth checking out.

You may correctly conclude I found it useful, what with me linking to it here. And, as with many bits of writing, the value isn’t so much that I’d never, ever heard of the tip before, but that that the tips are presented in a nice, distilled manner for easy digestion and contemplation.

Full disclosure: I’ve recently released a whole host of my writing out into the world (in audio form) — and I find it’s always easier to contemplate motivation when you’ve actually finished writing.

At the same time, I find myself reading through these tips and thinking of how I did and didn’t use them in writing Rogue Tyger. So if you just want the tips, go ahead and go to that link. If you want my subjective reflections on them, read on.

Tip #1: Start Writing.
Boy howdy do I agree with this one. I’ve linked to Cory Doctorow’s “Writing in the Age of Distraction” about 147 times on this blog, but time again I come back to it and the central idea that writers write… and one ought to write daily.

Tip #2: Be Creative Every Day
Writing Rogue Tyger was my antidote to one of the worst day jobs I can recall. I happily poured hopes and fears and frustrations born of day-to-day ridiculousness into the characters and the plot. But even if I’m doing writing or, let’s be honest, I fall off the writing-every-day wagon for a couple days, still doing stuff that is creative is critical to being a happy camper. It can be as simple as doodling, noodling on the piano (when I’m near a piano), or helping one of my kids construct a paper airplane.

The point is that, not only do I benefit from doing something creative every day, I can distinctly tell when I haven’t for too many days: by then, I’m a less-than-happy camper.

Tip #3: Go Looking for Inspiration
One theater director I had revealed he investigated the museums of any city he visited. Another theater professor I had urged us to visit galleries and see how paintings staged scenes down through the ages. I’ve talked with other writers who simply make sure to go on a hike and take cues from nature. Others take classes in drawing and acting and all sorts of things they’ve wanted to learn. There’s plenty of inspiration to be found — and just like Tip #2, I’ve found a little work on this front can dislodge any notions of writer’s block.

Tip #4: Surround Yourself with Optimists
By ‘optimists,’ I very much think of people who see possibilities. Possibilities in themselves, you, and your work. People who may be very smart, quite experienced, and still look over this list and –even if every tip is familiar– use it to spark memories and remind themselves of some tactic to double-down on. In other words, I put into the ‘optimist’ camp those people who put asking questions and curiosity over and above being clever and knowing “all the answers.”

I really ought to do a poll amongst my fellow filmmakers and writers, but invariably, I find that those people who are obsessed about ideas being “entirely original” and find every creative work in creation “not being without problems” are not people to be around.

Yes, creative types need to maintain the cognitive dissonance that their current work is utter crap and amazing as they continue working, but the point is to risk, fail, and risk again. I want to be around people who can enjoy jokes about Sisyphus, but still get their shoulder against the boulder when the time comes.

I have been aided by many smart and optimistic people in bringing Rogue Tyger to life. The boulder moved.

Tip #5: Dare Yourself to Keep Working
Bribery, incentives, whatever it is, do what works to keep on writing.

My biggest motivation in this corner has been seeing friends and colleagues complete things. I should note that I find a lot of their work phenomenal, but even where it’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread or Betty White, an imperfect completed work is loads better than a “perfect” incomplete work-in-progress.

To reference Chariots of Fire, I’ve found it’s better to stop worrying about whether you’ll win when you run. Simply put: you can’t win if you don’t run. So get to running.

Tip #6: Trust Your Curiosity
Great things come from research and one that comes to me again and again is excitement. My recent work on a modern adaptation of War of the Worlds reminded me of how much I enjoy using bits of knowledge to build a story. The same thing happened with Rogue Tyger, which remains very much a space opera, but has some hard science elements amid the blasters and jump drives.

I’ve had friends and colleagues find curiosity and subsequent inspiration through pursuing interests in epidemiology, the armed forces, first contact protocols, recovery programs, and all sorts of oddities. Going down the rabbit hole of minutiae, so long as one eventually comes up to write, seems to be a blessing.

Tip #7: Create a Ritual
I recall Stephen King cautioning against being too precious with one’s writing space or required rituals, so this seems much more in line with tips 3 and 6: what warms you up and gets you ready to write?

Tip #8: Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block
I still remember an interview with Ray Bradbury from the 80s where he mentioned he simply didn’t accept writer’s block from himself. This didn’t mean he wouldn’t get stumped by a particular story. Instead, when that did happen, he would take a break, trust curiosity and follow inspiration into another piece of writing. The novel is at a standstill? Write a poem. Write that short story that’s been in his head for months. Then come back and the novel is moving forward again.

The key here seems to be completing things and using momentum to go back into the work that stalled. That’s easier said than done (or written). It was (and is) a valuable insight none-the-less.

Tip #9: Write for Yourself
For me, this is part and parcel with both curiosity and inspiration. What writing inspired you and why? And what if we went down such and such a path?

For Rogue Tyger, I looked a lot at the science fiction I liked, and a (perhaps disturbingly) large amount of it involved small groups of people on ships going off on adventures. Trying to tackle that myself was (and is) mighty fulfilling.

Tip #10: Imagine Your Reader
The key corollary to the previous point: what is your reader expecting and how can you pay off their expectations in a satisfying mixture of expected and unexpected ways? I obsess about payoff, but I guess we’ll see what happens.

So there it is. Now, I’m off to work on a bit more writing because, well, I’m rather motivated at the moment.

Stepping Away from Comics, Directly

This past week, a friend posted a video of a friendly local comic shop/bookstore. Used books are stuffed into every conceivable bit of shelf space, surrounding long boxes of comic book back issues, with memorabilia and figurines placed in strategic –and sometimes haphazard– locations. It’s almost archetypical for what you’d imagine a used bookstore/comic shop to be.

A week earlier, I stepped into that same comic shop for, if not the very last time, my last time regularly.

The reason I went there regularly — and in fact had been a “regular” for a good chunk of the past 30 years — was because I had a pullbox. For those who don’t know that term, I essentially had subscriptions to a variety of comics and I’d go into this shop every month or so and pick them up where they’d been kindly setting them aside.

That’s over.

It’s sad, but in a sense, it’s been a long time coming. For years I’ve stared at the $3.99 price tag on most single issues of comics these days and told myself that this was untenable. If a story was good, it would appear in much more affordable trade paperback form. Indeed, most comic runs these days seem to be in six-issue arcs so as to make trade paperbacks a more effortless part of the ecosystem. I’ve enjoyed Saga in this form for years now. Nevertheless, it’s the end of an era on the personal level, though not the first step in that direction.

My first step away from comics was around college, an ancient time technically not before Internet, but for the most part pre-Internet browser. In going to college, I abandoned my subscriptions to the omnipresent superhero offerings and have since come to understand how that has left gaping holes in my general comics-related pop culture knowledge. I’m certain there are no end of characters and storylines familiar to many that are completely new from my experience.

How far-reaching is this? Let me put it to you this way: Harley Quinn is a new character for me.

Lest you feel bad for me in any way, let me assure you I’ve found this to be a benefit as I watch the myriad superhero films and TV series. I have more than a little knowledge of who most of the central characters are (e.g. Green Arrow, The Flash), but pretty much no knowledge of the past 25+ years of established Marvel or DC canon (which they seem to blow up with regularity anyway). In this fashion, I’m able to enjoy countless adaptations of characters and storylines without any worry about their fidelity to the comic version.

But I’m not unaware of how the comics industry, which has given rise to the current juggernaut trend in entertainment, is failing — and may fail to even continue to be the “content farm system” it essentially is for the more lucrative divisions of its parent companies. And what does that mean for the future of superhero films and TV shows? What does this mean for comics publishing in general.

Augie De Blieck Jr. over at Pipeline Comics has a sober look at how the comics industry, which on the whole uses a business model called “the direct market” is, for lack of a better term, imploding. While it’s not necessarily a death knell for comics overall, not seeing a meaningful move en masse to a new business model is dispiriting. I suppose everything could go digital and maybe that’s the big move, but while I’ve gotten digital comics, especially when that’s the place to support indie efforts, I find a surge of luddite sensibilities at the thought of abandoning print comics altogether.

Part of the overall morose feeling is that I know I won’t pursue comic writing any time soon. There was a time when I was sure I’d be diving into comic writing and creating. I’d still love to see a version of The Broken Continent in comic form, that could continue the story more economically than our web series could. But that doesn’t seem likely given indie comics’ own challenges at being profitable.

But for now, I’m a reader of comics only… and only an occasional one at that.

Depressing Plot Twist: Comic Book Edition

The other week, I saw an article from a local news station in Michigan about an established comic book artist who was now homeless.

The article mentioned that the comic artist was one-armed — and I knew it must be William Messner-Loebs.

This was depressing.

Although the article talked about him as a comic book artist (and the link above has a video where you see how skilled he is), I first came to know him as a comic book writer. Indeed, I first learned his name when he was the writer on the Jonny Quest comic in the late 80s. I’m overdue for re-reading it, but I am comfortable in saying it’s easily within my top ten favorite comic series of all time. Yes, I have read [insert your favorite mainstream comic here]. That may or may not make the list. Barring some awful discovery of how times have changed in the past 30 years that doesn’t jive with the comic panels created so long ago, Jonny Quest will always be on that list. Most of the Carl Barks stories are, too.

So, you can imagine I was thrilled to learn that he won the Bill Finger Award last year, which focuses on a lifetime of work as a comic book writer. And that occasion served to remind me all of the tremendous work he’s done since Jonny Quest.

So that’s why reading the article and seeing the video was depressing.

However, I do urge you to check out the video, because you’ll see Mr. Messner-Loebs retains not only a wry sense of humor, but a tremendous sense of grace about his current situation. And I agree with Mark Evanier, chair of the BIll Finger Award, what would be most awesome is that some people can give this very talented man some work: he’s ready and he’s good.

Were I pursuing comics publishing, I would totally be concocting some insidiously nice plot to do just that.

A Look at the State Of Publishing: Traditional, Indie, and Self

I know author Kristine Kathryn Rusch mainly from her short stories in various science fiction magazines, but the truth is she writes across multiple genres and –apparently because sleep bores her or caffeine works particular wonders on her nervous system– she also edits, publishes, and shares all sorts of insights about said writing, editing, and publishing.

So when someone posted her thoughts about state of publishing in 2017, I thought it was worth a read… and you might, too.

The Nitty Gritty of Writing a Non-Fiction Book

As I mentioned last week, I’m giving a talk tonight for actors on mass auditions and indie casting. And I’ve previously written a lot on my company website about indie casting.

So, it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve thought about distilling and refining those thoughts into book form (and several people have suggested it — leading me to believe it’s a decent idea).

Enter Joanna Penn’s exhaustive article about how to write a nonfiction book. I especially like the time she takes on breaking down why one would want to write a nonfiction book and how that would translate into the audience one goes after. That’s one of those angles that can be all-too-easy to forget until you have 20/20 hindsight. I also appreciate the way she demonstrates how a book can factor into selling your overall brand or business, which should probably be part of one’s strategy.

It might be time to revisit the notes I’ve made about potential casting books…


Peak TV, Sci-Fi Edition

Somewhat riffing off my post from Wednesday, I’m once again considering our current golden age of television (aka Golden TV Age II: Serial Storytelling Boogaloo).

There’s so much great television to check out, there are whole series that have come and gone that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Alison Herman over at The Ringer delves into what this means for science fiction –and “genre fiction” in general– as they hold greater sway over pop culture on both the big and small screen (and yes, the screen definitions are becoming more moot in some ways). It raises many big and small questions. For example, will people who’ve read the Silmarillion more than once feel vindicated by Amazon’s 4,000 Tolkien series? Will Adam Savage make another appearance on The Expanse? Will I ever get around to watching more than the first episode of Lost?

As always, stay tuned.