Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out With the Old, In With the New--Year that is. 2013, You Shall be Missed...

It's that time of year again, you know what I'm talking about...the time when you look back on the year we're about to usher into the past, and prepare to welcome a brand-new one, full of infinite possibilities. I'm going to start right out and say I don't do New Year's resolutions. Waste of time. In the words of the immortal Yoda, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

So, in lieu of resolutions, I'll set a list of goals. Then go make them happen. Sometimes things work out the way I want, sometimes not so much, but the end result is always more than I could have imagined the year before. Here's a trip through my 2013, hope you enjoy it as much as I did living it. To write this post, I spent some time looking back on Facebook. It is a great time capsule of information, buried in between cat memes and apparently a lot of spiders.

January 2013 started cold...very cold. How do I know this? I was on the set of "Remission," a feature-film by Midnight Frights I had to wonderful opportunity to be associated with. Filmed in the old Fischer Foods building in downtown Lincoln. It was...cold. I got to work on a script re-write, made some amazing friends, watched a film come to life, and froze my ass off. Not a bad start to the year.

In February, "Til Death Do Us Part," racked up another screenwriting nod as a finalist in the Omaha Film Festival. (It also took the Bronze in the Oregon Film Festival, and made the top 25 Feature Scripts at Slamdance.)

March brought on the actual festivities of the Omaha Film Festival, and although I didn't win for TDDUP, I did get to sit in a theatre and watch trained actors bring the opening sequence to life as part of the Writer's Theatre. I'd call that a win. Survived the blizzard of OFF, resulting in an extra night at a posh hotel in downtown Omaha. Tragic turn of events, right? Met some awesome-cool filmmakers from all over the country, and generally had a great time. Meeting David Greenwalt, show runner for one of my favorite shows, "Grimm?" OUTSTANDING!

April was when things really started getting busy. "Modified Flight Plan," had an editor deadline, the Nebraska Writers Guild had a conference, and I'm the President, so it was a busy month. One of our speakers, incomparable agent, Lee Hough, made a lasting impression on so many. He lost his fight with cancer later in the year.  I was blessed to count him as a friend. Spending time with my friend, horror writer, Jonathan Maberry, and self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander, made it a conference I'll never forget.

Looking back over the year on Facebook, I notice a lot of airplane photographs. In planes, from planes, fixing planes... just a lot of planes. I lost a family member in a small aircraft crash in the late 1990's, so if you had told me a few years ago that I would be spending this much time around planes, I would have laughed. But, Brian Thomas, my co-author and all-around favorite person has introduced me to a whole new way of looking at the world. In more ways than he probably realizes.

I'm also looking at photos from a kick-ass group of paranormal investigators from Paracon. My brothers and sisters, love them so much, even though my work and writing schedule seems to get in the way more than I want. Got to cheer on my Paracon buddy, Brian Kent, as he brought not one, but two books into existence this year. GO BRIAN!!!!

In the midst of the publishing fury surrounding "Modified Flight Plan," I was also contacted about working on a feature script. "Lost in Oblivion," is currently lost in pre-development, but I hit my deadline. On to the next—or until they're ready to move forward.

May 16th was THE day. "Modified Flight Plan," unleashed on the world. Book #4, first with a print release. Thus began a whirlwind of speaking engagements, television interviews, and book release events. The response to the book so far has been more than I could have imagined. We topped Meredith Vieira's book on the bestseller chart for an entire week, and hit the #33 overall on Amazon. It was awesome.

Scrolling through Facebook... spiders, dogs, grandbabies, spiders, woodchippers, Minions... more spiders. What the heck is it with the spiders??

In September, "Modified Flight Plan," made the quarterfinals of the Austin Film Festival. Not a win, but making the top 300 out of 8,700 entries, yeah, that's pretty cool. Even more cool is when your screenwriting mentor asks you to come help teach his screenwriting colony. I was blown away that he'd even ask. (Side-note, THE winner of the Austin Film Festival? One of the students in the colony. Great guy, well-deserved win!)

October brought the Fall Conference for the Nebraska Writers Guild, and a re-election to my second (and last, thank you term limits!) term as President. Good friends, amazing speakers, yay!

November brought the first ever Prairie Lights Film Festival. Nebraska filmmaker heaven in Grand Island, Nebraska. Cool just for that reason, even better because "Remission" had a sneak-peek screening. Still some sound issues and story tweaking to be had, but I got to sit in a theatre and watch a film I worked on play in front of a live audience. It was awesome. NaNoWriMo happened, and I managed 56,000 words on "Walk Me Home," which hopefully will debut in 2014. I also had the opportunity to do something every self-respecting child of the 80's dreamed about, and star in a music video. Okay, so star might be too strong a word, but I acted in a music video. The fact that it involved fire, a big knife, a mask, and blood, was bonus.

Mid-December, time to go out on a high note, right? My health decided to take a nose-dive, but a really cool opportunity came of it. My wonderful-awesome friend from Dead Lantern Pictures, Mat Kister, wanted to talk screenwriting. At the end of the day, I got to write a short film script for "Last Breath," and be on set while the amazingly talented Jazmyne Van Houton and Will Griffey brought the roles to life. I honestly don't even have the words to describe the experience, and can't wait to share this one when it comes to BluRay/DVD next year.

To make it even sweeter, my son and his wife welcomed baby #3 (grandbaby #10) on HIS birthday, Dec 20th. Little Wesley also shares a birthday with his grandfather, three generations!

Well, year recap:  Books:  1.  Movies: 2; one feature, one short. Music videos: 1. Interviews:  14.  Television appearances:  5.  Screenwriting nods: 4.  Grandbabies, kids, general friend mayhem? Beyond measure!

It's been a great year, and I can't wait to see how I can top it in 2014. Buckle up, it's likely to be a bumpy but fun ride.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Delivering the Promise of the Premise

I've been in love with the written word as long as I can remember. In fact, my grandmother had me writing and illustrating stories since before I could even pen the words myself. I grew up with a voracious reading appetite—something that is essential to become an adept wordsmith. When you hear people talk about books, they usually say they liked it, or they didn't like it. As a writer, I make it a point to spend time thinking about what it is that either attracts or distracts me from a story.

So, I recently started reading a self-published book by a journalist/college professor. Man, this thing has prose that jumps off the page. Great characters, and a compelling plot-line. I was absolutely hooked...

Then I saw it, looming on the distant shore.

 A fin.

You know what I'm talking about, a story that was about to jump the proverbial shark. Maybe it was when a beer-drinking Jesus showed up saying things like, "Bztt," while poking himself in the forehead, and suggesting that extramarital sex was fine with him. I wanted to yell at the book, "Don't do it! Get out of the water, NOW!"

Instead, the story bore down on it like the Titanic heading for an iceberg, and the collision ripped the entire plot apart.

One thing writers are admonished to avoid is called, "Deus ex machina," or "God in the machine," which is a plot where something or someone shows up at the end and magically solves all the problems for the characters. In this case—well, Jesus showed up, and the plot fizzled.

My disappointment mounted with each turn of the page. I understand the message is that Jesus can fix anything, and that ultimately, he's in charge, but I had the same problem with the popular, "Left Behind," series. Loved the characters, loved the unique way the authors gave a relatable face to the book of Revelation, right up to the point that Jesus showed up and marched around the sky singing and chanting in everyone's head at the same time. It was a letdown, when the story I'd signed on for was that of a small band of people I was emotionally invested in. The addition of the divine minimized those characters I cared about to the point of making them inconsequential. I simply quit caring what happened to the characters, and when a reader stops caring, that's the kiss of death for a story.

The ending of this book now seemed rushed. Solutions to the apocalypse kept popping into existence with little setup, since now that Jesus in on the scene, we're good to go. I want characters locked in a life-or-death struggle until the bitter end—do or die, sink or swim. I want to raise my fist in triumph when they win, or grieve when they fail.

So, that's my lesson to myself today. Delivering on the promise is as important as the flow of the prose. Life—and writing—is the journey, more than the destination.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Birthday Blues

I have a confession to make. I'm not fond of birthdays. Well, not all birthdays, just my own. Birthdays remind me I'm a year older, and it's another year I haven't accomplished even a fraction of the things I want to do before I die—and every year that passes, I realize the opportunities will only diminish.
Honestly, I believe my thing about birthdays goes back a lot further. I was adopted, and somehow, even though I know the parents who raised me loved me with their whole beings, a little voice still whispers in my ear things like, you weren't wanted. You aren't good enough. Well-meaning family members deepened those thoughts by introducing me as, "Roland and Nelva's adopted daughter." My mind always read that as adopted second-rate daughter.

As much as I've tried to silence that stupid voice, it has spilled over into nearly every aspect of my life. I was also ruthlessly bullied growing up. (Even within my own extended family) I lived on the wrong side of town, and my parents didn't have a lot of money, so I was the somewhat geeky girl with messy hair, pop-bottle thick glasses and weird hand-me-down clothes. Might as well have painted a big red victim target on my back. I remember trying to tell a teacher in grade school about a classmate who pushed me down on the playground. Her response? "Someday, he'll be a big football star, and you'll like him a whole lot more." Guess what? That guy ended up playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It did nothing to improve my opinion of him.

These subtle messages played in my head while I was growing up, and I consciously and subconsciously tried to drown them out by trying to be the best I could at everything. I became the girl who would get a 99% on a test, and argue the one point, because I wanted to be perfect. I ended up in doomed relationships, because in my need for acceptance, I was unable to formulate healthy boundaries.
I don't want anyone to think I'm going off the deep end into depression or anything, because I'm not. But, when people asked what I did for my birthday, and I say, laundry, cooked dinner, and cleaned my apartment a little, they act surprised. My daughter asked me last night why I didn't have a cake or anything. Because I didn't want to bake a cake for myself? I still have a few nightmares about graduations when I was a cake decorator. That might have something to do with it as well.

I have four wonderful grown children, and an equally amazing step-daughter that I love dearly. All but the step-daughter have their hands full with spouses (equally awesome people) and at least two small children apiece. (My kids have made reproducing a competitive sport) Having raised those four children, I know exactly how difficult it is to balance the demands of work, family, and self. But, it's hard to not allow those same stupid voices to creep into my thinking. Sometimes those kids remember my birthday, sometimes not-so-much. (This year was half and half) I'm not always the "cool grandparent." I live in a one-bedroom, unbaby-proofed apartment littered with books, and writing implements. And dogs. Don't forget the dogs.  Plus, between work, writing, ghost hunting, and the special people in my life, I live a rich and full life. Time is always a challenge.

I'm sharing my thoughts, because I have a suspicion I'm not the only person in the world who has a love-hate relationship with birthdays. Oh, as for my personal boundaries, they are fine, thank you very much. Test me at your own peril. I write, which is an area where one can excel, but never master—and I'm okay with that. I bleed a bit of my soul onto the page in hope that it resonates with someone. I'm proud of my Iranian heritage, and my German/Czech small-town Nebraskan upbringing. I have amazing friends and family, and a new book release to boot. Life is good. But I will probably always get at least a little introspective around June 10th. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lessons from a Movie Set

Amazing graffiti art on the walls on the set. 

Last night, at nearly 11 pm, I made it home from the first day of filming a feature film entitled "Remission."  One day on set makes me an expert, right?  Okay, not even close, but since I am participating in this project, I thought I would pass along any random wisdom I manage to glean from the process.  Here goes the lessons from Day 1:

 Leave your ego at the door.  As a writer, my job is to take a story idea, and show it in words on a page.  It's for the most part, a rather solitary endeavor.  Movie making is more like a hive-mentality.  Every person on the set has a vision for what the story should look/sound like. Writers, directors, actors, effects crew, sound technicians, and they guy who brings the donuts.  (They were great, by the way, along with the Mulligatawny stew)  The goal is to meld all of those visions into one cohesive whole.  It's the director's job, and a lot like herding cats.  For the process to flow, everyone needs to be willing to work together, and if your ego gets in the way, the whole thing can derail.  It doesn't take years of set-work to see how a Diva can develop the relationship where no one wants to work with them.  A "What can I do to help?" attitude will take you much further.

Contrary to popular belief, movie making is not glamorous.  Yeah, the big Hollywood stars may get posh trailers, and pampering assistants. But even then, stars have to do things like stand around for countless takes in freezing weather clad in totally weather-inappropriate attire to get the perfect scene. Get used to no heat, and the nearest bathroom being a gas station four blocks away. It's dirty, cold/hot/wet work sometimes. My respect for actors who can film scenes while hiding their shivering.

Follow direction.  "Quiet on the set," basically means "don't breathe, unless given permission."  Nothing worse than getting nearly through a difficult scene, with near-perfection, then having it ruined by noise contamination.

Make friends!  It's not about name-dropping, or shameless self-promotion.  True networking involves forging relationships.  If you can't be genuine, you're going to struggle.  It goes back to the whole ego thing.  In a line ripped right from the script... "You know what happens if you bite the hand that feeds you? Eventually, it will let you starve."  Let's face it, whether it's Hollywood, or Nebraska, the film community is pretty small.  You want to make a name for yourself, make it be that you add value to a production.  That you're to be trusted.  That you'll be a supporter, cheerleader, and a hard worker.  

Fist-bumps to my fellow cast and crew from Remission.  We rock!

 On the set, after about 10 hours of filming in single-digit temperatures. 
More uuber-cool graffiti art in the background.