Category Archives: Writing

Passion Counts: Patton Oswalt Edition

Lest any of you think I’m going to populate the blog with repeatedly grim tales of people being sucky (as I have for a couple Wednesdays and this morning), I just wanted to highlight the Patton Oswalt interview I linked in last week’s post about film distribution.

Patton Oswalt, circa 2018 (the time of the interview)

Really, if you are at all interested in his career or perspective on things (he is a tremendous film geek in addition to his other geekdoms), the hour will fly by. And it’s applicable to any creative industry.

A Writer’s Journey from Idea to Novel

It’s always interesting to figure out how various writers work and this long article by George Saunders, which explains the genesis and creation (and recreation) of one of his novels, is a great window into a process that had me going “aha,” and nodding in equal measure.

Illustration by Yann Kebbi

Something for Everyone, but Specifically Just for You: Remembrances of Sondheim

As the New York Times obituary put it, a “Titan of the American Musical” has left the stage. Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.

The whole article is a long and excellent read — and I tend to agree with Mark Evanier in that there doesn’t seem to be much for me to individually add about my own personal connections to Sondheim’s work.

However, one thing that has become evident to me with the outpouring of articles and anecdotes this past weekend is how many people have such specific connections to Sondheim and his work… as if each and every one had their own personal relationship with him.

We can talk about a central goal of art being to touch people — and for great artists being able to touch a lot of people, but for an artist to make such a singular impact to so many individuals with such specificity?

That’s an artist who has given the world gifts on a scale that cannot be understated.

Fred R. Conrad took this great photo of Sondheim for the New York Times back in 1990

Besides the New York Times piece, there’s a fun list from Linda Holmes over at NPR covering 10 Stephen Sondheim songs you probably know even if you don’t define yourself as a fan. PBS News Hour’s piece has some great clips from an earlier interview where Sondheim reveals how he thinks of lyrics and songs.

And for specific, personal connections to Sondheim, it’s hard to top Helena Fitzgerald’s memoir of an essay displaying how Sondheim taught her about life. One section sticks with me:

Sondheim lived a long and enormous life, died old and accomplished and loved at ninety-entire-one years of age. His death should feel neither cruel nor unexpected. But it does. I am still living in the world that he built, and cannot imagine it without him. What a hideous thing it is to live in a world without Stephen Sondheim. What an enormous piece of luck it was to have been alive at the same time as him.

Finally, I’ll link to this video of frequent Sondheim collaborator Bernadette Peters singing one of his best-known songs that, once you’re watching the show it’s in, you realize contains multitudes.

“Prince Prigio” Receives Multiple TIVA Awards

Jabberwocky Audio Theater has been one my main creative outlets in the past few years, which has been simultaneously challenging and fortuitous during the pandemic.

It’s challenging, because one of things we like to do is bring everyone together to record at the same time, an old school method that served many a vintage radio show well for decades. Now we needed to account for various different home recording set-ups, where even equally good home studios can have different sound qualities.

However, it was fortuitous because, unlike filmmaking, we could go ahead and make a whole show, which we did. And not only that, it was one of my absolute favorite fairy tales from childhood: Prince Prigio, a send-up of fairy tales that pre-saged works like The Princess Bride and Shrek.

While doing the adaptation and serving as narrator was rewarding in and of itself, I’d be lying if I didn’t appreciate recognition, as I think the whole cast and crew did a bang-up job — and as a judge from previous years of TIVA Peer Awards, it’s a tough process (they will happily not award anyone in a given category if they feel the submissions were not good enough).

Here are the awards and here’s the link if you want to listen.

  • Peer Bronze: Web Series (Through the Looking Glass)
  • Peer Silver: Acting Voice Over – Audio Narration, Male (Bjorn Munson)
  • Peer Gold: Sound Mixing (William R. Coughlan)

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.

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!

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.)

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.

The Hear Now Festival: Celebrating Audio Fiction

Our move to make more events virtual these days thanks to the pandemic, making them easier to attend, also means it’s easier to forget to attend them.

That was the case for me and the Hear Now Festival, an annual celebration of audio fiction put on by folks over at NATF (National Audio Theatre Festivals, Inc.).

I missed some of the events, but luckily for me –and possibly for you– there’s a few sessions that are available to re-listen to, including a great hour-long intro to Norman Corwin, a true master of audio fiction as well as a panel on making modern audio fiction with Fred Greenleigh and many others.

As I’ve mentioned many times in regards to Jabberwocky Audio Theater, I grew up listening to vintage radio fiction — one of the reasons there is a Jabberwocky Audio Theater. I’m glad events like this exist and hope to attend some in person in the future.