I had a pretty bad depression a few weeks ago. A slump is typical near/at Dark O’Clock, but this one really sucked. The only thing that cheered me up was looking at everything I’ve done this year. And, just as importantly, I think, the things I stopped doing because I was beating my head against a wall.
Since January I have:
Written, workshopped, rewritten, subbed for coverage, rerewritten, a complete screenplay, the adaptation of A Little Too Broken. My first screenplay, and it finaled on /r/screenwriting’s 2017 comp, Semifinaled at Diverse Voices, Quarterfinaled at WeScreenplay, and Quarterfinaled at Shore Scripts. All in the face of a lot of wizened grizzled “expert advice” like “humba dumba your first script will be shit humba dumba, and your second and your third humba.” Fuck you, old man (he said, having just turned 55)! I don’t need your negatude!
Wrote, Directed, Produced and Acted in CRUNCH, the pilot episode of a web series! There are post production issues I can’t even get into that are giving me a nervous breakdown, but I swear it’s real, I swear it happened, I didn’t make it all up, even though some days it’s taking so long to get it out in the world that I question the reality of it myself, but here’s the (rough cut) proof, I swear the final is coming someday, somehow…
I’m just frozen in place on episode 2 until someone proves to me that episode 1 is really ever going to be out in the world. We’ll see…
Wrote (six?ish?) good short scripts, two of which I’ll be making in 2018! I’ve graduated from writing five page bits for my acting class, to 15-20 page scripts I’ve specifically written so I can film them myself. I’m a firm believer in the Robert Rodriguez school of filmmaking – you use what’s at hand; you don’t declare (humba dumba face, pursed lips, narrowed eyes) “This story really needs to be told in the Arctic Circle, but we can’t move on it until we raise $500,000 for our 20 minute short.” Right. (More on fundraising later!)
WROTE ONE REALLY GOOD NOVEL NOBODY BOUGHT, Conning Colin. There are always reasons that good books fail at the box office. But the failure of this one was pretty much the nail in the coffin of my gayrom career. Then I had two starts on the last Marc and Jesse book, to try and finish that series as my swan song, but every time I got up a head of steam on it, something terrible happened (mom w/afib in hospital, got over that, then I had Lyme disease, that fucked up 3-4 months of my year before I got back to 100%), to the point where I was just, fuck it, this is cursed and besides whatever I’m writing in gayrom is not what they want, the mass audience. I mean, I don’t even have to do anything but point you at the top 20 gayroms, mkay? I’m done. If it’s suddenly revealed that IDK Melania Trump is reading all my books on her Kindle and some other insane winning left field lottery ticket, fuck yeah I’ll be right back on ’em. But right now, god it feels good to think, I’ll never have to think of yet another way to put Tab A in Slot B.
RECORDED THREE AUDIOBOOKS. While it wasn’t the gold mine I was promised, mostly because of Amazon’s Whispersync program, it’s still bringing in more money than all my ebook backlist. Whispersync has been rectified (i.e. you can no longer buy my $5 ebook and add a $2 audiobook that retails for $20), but it was definitely a sock in the financial chops, when I broke down how much time and labor went into making one, vs. how much it was paying. I dropped off 1/3 of the way through recording Conning Colin, but when I see the surprise deposit of $100 this month for audio backlist, well, I think when the dust settles around here I’ll finish it off.
STARTED TEACHING A NOVEL WRITING CLASS! And I’m pretty good at it. It’s like being a therapist for an idea. My students and I sit and talk and I come up with good shit for them, and they come up with good shit for me, as they keep me at least writing something on Stabitha during this darkest, least creatively fertile time of the year.
SURVIVED MOTHERFUCKING LYME DISEASE, which was the worst I’ve felt in 20 years or more, sick for a whole month, and lost another two months just coming back from it, and the 30 days of megadose antibiotics to cure it. That really punched a hole in my year, let me tell you.
ENHANCED MY ACTING SKILLS TO THE POINT I NEARLY GOT A ROLE IN A REAL MOVIE. I actually impressed a big time LA casting director, who fought for me to get the job, but that’s the breaks. Still, going through that gave me the confidence to make and star in Crunch. Because if that guy, who has nothing to gain by making me feel good, thinks I can do it? I can do it. Acting’s an outlier with so many other things going on, and let’s face it, at 55 I’m too old for IDK everything, but not old enough for old people commercials for casinos and pills. I’m not a type, unless I make my own stuff and make my own type. So that’s what I’m doing!
CLOSED DOWN THE EDITING BUSINESS. There’s a reason you almost never see a writer who’s also a pro editor. It’s too hard to immerse yourself so completely in someone else’s novel, and try and write your own at the same time. I read some good books, and then again I copy edited some books that had (no kidding) 9,000 tracked changes in a 60k MS. I didn’t like doing it. It was all about the money, and the money wasn’t that good. I’ve had a lot of fun doing script doctoring for a friend, and who knows, that could fly one day, but no more novels.
…. SO THEN, WHAT’S ON THE MENU FOR 2018?
I’m so glad you asked!
My serial killer thriller, STABITHA! It’s been on hiatus for a few weeks while I’ve been in the dark bowels of Dark O’Clock, compounded by anxiety about whether Crunch will ever see the light of day. But it’s definitely a goer. People love Brian, my serial killer/homicide detective! And so do I!
The character of Emily/Stabitha has been a hard go, she’s the first character who’s really hidden from me so deeply for so long – but that’s because I’m not settling for a boring, generic villain. And, I’m totally setting it up as a series – no cliffies at the end of #1 but definitely unanswered questions about my MC!
Oh, and this time, I’m totally paying someone to do the marketing thing. Whatever the secret sauce is with Facebook ads (if those even work anymore), Amazon “sponsored products,” etc. I’m paying for a real cover. I’ve done the research and I know what secret words to use in the title and description – apparently every self-published thriller is subtitled “A Gripping Thriller With A Twist” or a variant, because you have to use Gripping and Twist to hit the search results. FINE! WHATEVER IT TAKES TO SELL A FUCKING BOOK. I’m not writing another good book that sinks.
MAKING TWO SHORT FILMS I WROTE. I wrote these two shorts as I did with Crunch, pieces I could film without too many locations, permits, outdoor scenes (fuck that, it’s winter!), or Arctic Circles of whatever variety. You can read The Red Stuff here, since it’s been through my review circle and is pretty strong/ready to go. It’s built around the idea of two documentary filmmakers in 2030 America who have to keep a low profile, so of course all they have to film on is their cell phone (just like me!).
And I’ll be Kickstarting the rest of Crunch and these two shorts. OMG it’s mind boggling to me that people ask for, and GET, $50k to make a short film on Kickstarter. I mean, I made Crunch #1 for $50.00, for craft services “catered” by Costco. Sure, because I had free cast and crew, but the idea of $50k for a short, it’s like, you know, $10k for a purse. Really? You can’t tell a short story until you have enough money to make the down payment on a house? Does your story of isolation and loss REALLY need to be filmed in the Arctic Circle, or can you IDK REWRITE IT LIKE A BOSS to keep the spirit and essence of the story and film it, you know, in your closest set of mountains in wintertime?
Hell, I would be thrilled to raise $20k for FIVE MORE EPISODES of Crunch. We’ll see! Maybe I’ll fail to raise any money, because I’m clearly not “serious” if I don’t need eleventy bazillion dollars to make a 10 minute movie.
I’m learning to edit video. I’m used to the world of selfpub, as a novelist and audiobook narrator. In audio, I control the means of production – narrator, editor, producer, it’s all on my schedule. With video, I’ve had to deal with Forces Beyond My Control, which is a horrible, horrible place for me to be, emotionally and psychologically, when that goes south on me. It’s been six weeks since we filmed Crunch, and no sign of land…
So I have to learn to do this, too. Hey! It’s not rocket science. What did I know about peak values and noise floors and leveling when I started doing audiobooks! Not a fucking thing! What did I know about directing when I took on Crunch? NAFT! But you can see from the above evidence that I didn’t do too bad for a first timer!
I’m not worried about it, I’m a fast learner. I read and read books on directing (and keep reading them, just picked up Hitchcock/Truffaut), I’ve been acting now for a year so I know how important it is to worship Judith Weston and Directing Actors and use her techniques to get the best performances.
Now I’m reading In the Blink of an Eye, and Technique of Film Editing by Karel Reisz, and have on order Ken Dancyger’s textbook. I’m watching everything with a new slant (Lucifer for instance, a fun show but OMG at least in the first season, the lighting is so jacked). I’ll be getting Adobe Premiere Pro and fortunately I can access Lynda.com through the local library. And I have a “good eye,” I think. So just like directing, between reading lots, and practice practice practice, next year I’ll have much more control over my own narrative – the control you lose over anything when you can’t Do It Yourself.
OVERALL GOAL: To get stuff out there, see what hits, which “side door” opens for me.
I’ve never gotten anywhere through the front door, beavering my way to an accreditation, walking in to a job interview, handing over my Golden Ticket, a handshake and I Take My Place In The Great Machine. I’ve stumbled into everything sideways, getting jobs as an admin assistant temp when I moved to SF in 1987, and turning into a trainer because I knew how to use WordPerfect and could hold secretary’s hands as their DisplayWriter was carted off, replaced by an IBM PC. Becoming an instructional designer because I was a tech writer and all the stuff I was doing had to be turned into CBTs, and it wasn’t rocket science. Starting my new filmmaking career because a year ago I thought it would be a good idea to take acting classes to improve my audiobook narration and besides that, it would get me out of the house during wintertime.
And so on. I see people on Reddit who say, “I wrote my screenplay and an agent was interested and now I’m waiting for her to get back to me by IDK 10,000,000 Years AD.” FUCK THAT! I’m 55 years old, officially a senior citizen, I literally don’t have time to wait for gatekeepers, etc. If I’m to have any success in my remaining years, it’s not going to come from taking my place in line at the front door.
I genuinely have no idea what the end of 2018 will look like. That’s the Side Door Lifestyle. Will someone see me in Crunch and want to cast me in an acting gig? Will Crunch or one of my shorts take off on Vimeo and I’ll suddenly be in demand as a screenwriter? I don’t know. But I’m covering all the bases. I think it’s going to be a fun year.