Monday, December 31, 2007

I Wish You A Brave New Year

I don't really have a lot to add to the title of the post, actually.

I'm finally over my cold/bronchitis/mystery bug. 2007 -- really, a pretty bad year for me -- is finally over. I've been regrouping and planning, and I'm looking forward to a 2008 that will be full of changes and new opportunities.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ha Ha Ha Cough

Funny story: I'm still sick. I finished my course of antibiotics on Thursday, and while I'm definitely not as sick as I was before, I'm still getting bouts of violent, pull-a-muscle intense coughing.

I'm going to give it a couple more days with over-the-counter cold medicine and as much sleep as I can muster, and then I'm probably going to see a doctor again. Hopefully, a different one.

So, no writing to speak of. I'm definitely well enough to think again, and that's a welcome improvement. But pulling together the energy to write -- and just as importantly, the time, what with the kids and trying to rest -- that's been a challenge.

I feel like a European in 1914: I'm still hoping it'll all be over by Christmas. But I'm also entertaining the possibility that my wish could be an equally naive one.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Devil What Needs A What Now?

"Devil Bunny Needs a Ham"

"You and your friends are living pleasant and complete lives in Happyville. You are highly trained and well-paid sous-chefs, who have decided to climb to the top of a tall building, as fast as you can.

Devil Bunny Needs a Ham. And he's pretty sure that knocking you off the building will help him get one.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps he is not."

Devil Bunny Needs A Ham was a great early release from the inimitable folks at Cheapass Games, a company based on the idea that board games don't have to be expensive, since people already have all the stuff that makes them expensive -- like dice, and counters. It didn't hurt that their games are invariably easy to learn and great fun to play. (Like Kill Dr. Lucky, a very unofficial prequel to Clue, where players compete to do in the hard-to-kill titular character.)

Anyway, Devil Bunny Needs A Ham -- the title is so much fun to say and type that I'm not going to bother abbreviating it -- is a simple game. The players compete to be the first to climb a building. There is a random element that will knock you down (make you move back) if it lines up with you on a vertical line on the game board.

The random element is, yes, the eponymous Devil Bunny. And this is what I love about the concept: The designers at Cheapass Games obviously, at some point during the creation of this game decided that a pointless back-story was yet another element of board games that was completely unnecessary.

Seriously. Why does any board game not based on a licensed property need a backstory? Players aren't told that Battleship is actually about the Battle of Midway. Monopoly is theoretically about real estate moguls in Atlantic City, but you don't need to know that to play, and it's never mentioned in the rules.

So why are you trying to get to the top of a tall building? Because that's what you decided to do.

What's trying to stop you? Devil Bunny. Why? Because he Needs A Ham.

Devil Bunny Needs A Ham has become my personal catch-phrase for "Why ask why?"

But more importantly, I think that it's important to remember that any narrative, no matter how elaborate the continuity or the backstory, has at some point if you examine it closely enough, a "Devil Bunny Needs A Ham" moment. A point at which the logic of the backstory has to be reduced to "Just because."

Just because it's more fun that way.
Just because we need dramatic tension.
Just because it's the premise.
Just because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why doesn't Peter Parker patent and license his web-fluid/web-shooter invention, providing a huge boon to law enforcement while solving his personal financial problems forever? Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why doesn't the Federation consistently use transporter back-ups to bring back the dead? Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why does Dorothy want to go back to a crappy dustbowl farm in the middle of the Depression when she could live in Oz? Because Devil Bunny Needs a Ham.

Why can't the Professor from Gilligan's Island, a polymathic genius in every other respect, fix a damn hole in a boat? Because... well, you get the picture. It involves Devil Bunny and Ham.

Because if we did that, there wouldn't be a story.

Screenwriters have a term for what happens for when the premise or element that makes there be a story gets removed -- through studio notes, rewrites, whatever: It's called "pulling the pin."
(If a development executive said, "How about they just fix the boat?" That would be pulling the pin.)

I'm not sure, however, that there's a widely-used phrase for the logical inconsistency, the "just because" factor in a premise, backstory or continuity that we have to accept at face value in order for the story to happen.

But I have one. If you ask me, I'll say, "Dude. Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham."

Yeah, I don't think it'll catch on either.

My Lungs Strike A Blow For Freedom

The freedom to completely incapacitate me. My "cold" -- yes, I'm still sick -- is actually bronchitis, according to the doctor at the walk-in clinic down the street.

So, no writing. I've barely been able to think. It felt like I had a glue factory in my head, and the constant, violent coughing was, if possible, less fun than it sounds.

Thanks to sleep, antibiotics and prescription cold medication, I seem to be on the mend.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Or I Could Just Be A Glutton For Punishment

I've been thinking about short fiction again, lately.

Over the past few years, I've written the occasional short story -- including two pieces that I wrote as part of my back-from-erstwhiling.

Prose is, in general, something I that flounder with. I don't know how novelists do it -- 250, 300, 500, 800 pages of characters and plot and description and all the rest?

But it's not just a matter of sustaining a novel, because the same thing has cropped up in my short pieces too. I'm good at character and dialogue, and I can handle plot. They aren't the problem.

It's description. Every single time.

I worry, too much, about my descriptive prose. I worry that I've described too much, or not enough. I worry that I'm being too direct and explicit, or too poetic and opaque. I worry about the voices of my characters, and the discrepancy I see between their dialogue and the narration when I use the first person.

I don't know why I over-think this stuff. I'm not exactly a master of plot, either, but I don't seem to get hung up on it.

That's why it's kind of a big deal for me to pull my short stories out of the trunk, and dust them off.

I have one piece that probably just needs a little tweaking, and then can go to market. That one, I've actually already submitted to four publications with no takers so far. I'm not sure why -- I think it's quite good. I might make it my next writers group submission and get some more feedback.

I have another piece that I recently submitted to a short story contest, so we'll see how that goes. It's pretty solid as well.

And there's a third story that needs some major clean-up. (Among other things, I switched from the third to first person half-way through.)

So, given my anxieties around prose, why am I doing this?

For one thing, I'd like to at least try to confront my anxieties around writing prose.

And I have these stories, and they aren't doing me any good just sitting on the hard drive collecting... well, not dust. Random electrons, I guess.

Also, short fiction -- especially in genre fiction, which is what I tend to write -- is a far more open medium than most to newcomers and "emerging writers."

And although the money isn't big -- one of the reasons that it's a comparatively easy market to break into -- getting paid anything for my work would provide some much-needed validation and ego-boosting right about now.

So, I'm going to review the three short stories that I think are solid enough, and finished enough. I'm going to rewrite where I have to. And I'm going to start getting the work out there.

There you go: The first, and probably simplest part of my plan for the New Year. Keep good thoughts in your head for me, okay? It's a simple plan, but it still involves wrestling with a demon or three.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Just Feeling A Little Calendar Shock

It's December.

We're putting up the Christmas tree tomorrow.

2007 is gearing up to wind down, and I know it's trite, but I don't know where it all went.

As the end of the year approaches, I'm thinking -- of course -- about 2008.

Plots. Plans. Schemes. Dreams. Things I want to change. Things I want to stay the same.

There's going to be lots to consider, and lots to discuss. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Solid in my Solidarity

My cold has been pushing back against my immune system, so I've been a little too low-energy to write or blog much.

I did, however, make it out to the rally to support the WGA on Wednesday.

There was marching and chanting; I walked the line. It was very cool. I was right next to novelist and screenwriter Tanya Huff. I saw screenwriter/arch-blogger/ringleader Denis McGrath, but he was wicked busy leading rings, and I was wicked busy marching and chanting, so I didn't have a chance to introduce myself.

Oh, and it turns out David Cronenberg was there, but I didn't know it at the time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Solidarity! Rally Wednesday to Support the WGA!

On Wednesday, November 28th, I'm going to be part of the International Day of Solidarity with the members of the Writers Guild of America -- and I hope you will too!

Members of the Writers Guild of Canada are rallying in Toronto in support of the WGA and their strike for fair treatment and fair compensation.

In Toronto, WGC members and other supporters (that's where I fit in) are meeting from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM, outside the former Hummingbird Centre (now called the Sony Centre) on Front Street just east of Yonge. All are welcome!

Rallies will also be taking place in Montreal, and in Australia, Ireland, France, the U.K. and other countries around the world -- it's truly an international event!

Join us, and support the writers. Solidarity! Forever!

(I got the details from Denis McGrath's blog -- which is an amazing resource for anyone interested in screenwriting and the Canadian film and TV industries -- and from the unoffical WGAw strike blog United Hollywood.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And Sometimes, My Subconscious Is Just Messing With My Head

This morning, I got up for about an hour, got the kids out of bed and gave them some juice, all the usual AM stuff. Then Sarah (my co-habiting co-parent) took over the Captain's Chair while I went back to bed.

Which was great, but I must have spent the entire three extra hours of sleep I got in REM, because I dreamed, and dreamed, and dreamed.

Now, I don't necessarily believe that our dreams always have deeper meanings. Maybe yes, maybe no, and maybe they're just Rorschach blots that only mean as much as we think they do.

But these dreams made me wonder. And wonder. And wonder.

This one was by no means the strangest, but it was perhaps the most inscrutable.

Sarah and I were at a large stadium, watching a track and field kind of thing. The entire crowd -- including us -- was excited, because of the main event: A young boy, about eight or ten, was trying to break a world record by running more laps than anyone else in history. And it looked like he was going to pull it off. He ran, and ran.

We went down to meet him when he took a quick break (even my dreaming mind knows that Guinness allows breaks). He was wrapped in a towel, surrounded by well-wishers. Sarah and I had just shaken his hand when suddenly, we all heard the news.

The little boy had just been elected Pope.

He smiled.

And I thought, "Well, here's a Pope who won't have any trouble matching John Paul II's record for longevity."

Now, for some reason, I have an intuition that this dream has something to do with my writing. Maybe just because my other dreams were so clearly telling me something about other parts of my life (but that's a story for, well, never, because they were very weird and personal).

Regardless, I'm having a little trouble figuring this one out. Is my subconscious trying to tell me something, and if so, what? Or is my dreaming mind just being a dick again?

I could use some feedback on this one. Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rabbits Can't Count Higher Than Five -- But I Can

I should have been more clear, in my post yesterday, that I wasn't naming "My Top Five" webcomics, but "Five of My Top" webcomics. I was focusing more on putting together some thoughts that would help my answer my question than on sharing the webcomics love.

There are, most definitely, more than five webcomics on my "must read" list.

I read Diesel Sweeties every day. And, to keep with the theme of yesterday's musings, I should add that I'm not quite sure how I heard about it. Oh, wait... yeah! I saw the t-shirts for sale at the Beguiling! And they were smart, and funny and ironic, and about robots. And I thought, "Well, if the comics are as good as the shirts..." They are.

I get my daily dose of Doonesbury online now. So I never need to buy a newspaper again.

As Tara points out in her comment on my post, our friend Sean Bieri runs the always funny Jape weekly at (part of the Modern Tales family of web sites that are also home to both Galaxion and Xeno's Arrow). We've known Sean since 1994 or thereabouts, from many Artists Alleys at many Detroit and Chicago comic cons.

Another friend who migrated online from the world of print is the brilliant Carla Speed McNeil, whose awe-inspiring "aboriginal SF" series Finder appears online before being compiled into trade paperbacks. We know Carla from many conventions when were all slogging through the mud of the self-publishing trenches.

And of course, the wild steampunk adventure that is Girl Genius, which I have adored since it was printed on paper, back in the day. I've been reading Phil Foglio since his 'What's New, with Phil and Dixie' strips ran in the back of issues of Dragon magazine. And that was in the early and mid-80's. Crap. I'm old.

Oh, and I read the gamer-geek workplace sitcom PvP, although I get annoyed with Scott Kurtz once or twice a year. Not because of the strip, which is consistently amusing in a low-brow, Family Guy sort of way, but because he writes something in his comments section that makes my blood boil. But I always get drawn back in, because his strip is just that funny. I think I heard about it from my old friend Michael.

And I've been getting back into Sinfest, via a recommendation by another old convention chum, online comics reviewer Johanna Draper Carlson. Sinfest is like a philosophical hip-hop frat-boy version of Bloom County.

I figured a list of five would give me enough to go on in terms of figuring out what draws me to a webcomic -- and as you can see, the same reasons do keep coming up in my other favourites, including yesterday's sixth mention, Rachel Hartman's Return of the Mad Bun.

I consistently follow creators that I appreciated in print when they move online. Reviews, criticism and commentary play a big role in drawing me in. Word-of-mouth is vital.

As I begin thinking about how to get more people to read both my existing webcomic and my upcoming webcomic, I'd like to hear from anyone else who has thoughts on the subject.

What gets you to try a webcomic?

Friday, November 23, 2007

On the Mend and Thinking Again

Well, my cold seems to be receding at last, after more than a week. Not fun, but it beats the two-month cold I had around this time last year by, well, about seven weeks.

I expect to have my brain re-combobulated enough to start doing actual creative work again some time over the next couple of days.

Webcomics. I'm thinking about webcomics quite a bit, these days. In addition to creative questions (what can I do to make a good webcomic?) and more mercenary issues (what can I do to make money from a webcomic?), I've been wondering about how people - readers - discover webcomics.

That lead me to think a little harder than usual about how I have discovered webcomics. In no particular order, here are my five of my favourite (currently running) webcomics, and how I discovered them:

Order of the Stick
Read about it on Eric Burns's and Wednesday White's webcomics review blog, Websnark. At about the same time, my friend Rob (a.k.a. Tragic Lad) sent me a link to the very same installment that Eric Burns had written about. I followed the link. I liked. I read through the archives. I'm hooked.

This strip was getting a lot of online buzz during a major story arc about a year-and-a-half ago, the legendary 'Great Outdoor Fight.' Again, I read about it on Websnark first. Burns and White were both raving about Achewood. I gave in and clicked on the link the day they discussed the strip where Ray Smuckles rips a guy's freaking face right off. And wow. And I liked. And I read through the archives. And yeah, I'm hooked.

Questionable Content
Essentially a relationship-driven sitcom about twentysomething slackers, which is the kind of story that I can still get really into, if it's smart enough, even though I am no longer a twentysomething slacker. Questionable Content features the relationships of a group of twentysomething slackers who, yeah, are friends and have relationships and hang out in the same coffee shop. But then I found out two things: First, this strip brings real depth of characterization and emotion, creating genuine drama, and second, three simple words - nutty robot hijinks! I read some commentary by, yes, Eric Burns. Followed the link. Yup, read the archive and got hooked.

I've mentioned Galaxion before; it's a sometimes-funny, sometimes-romantic, and always gripping science-fiction epic by my old friend Tara Tallan. It features the crew of a starship who may or may not be stranded in a parallel universe after a hyperspace experiment goes horribly right. I've known Tara for about fifteen years, and I've eagerly followed Galaxion through a couple of previous incarnations, so when it debuted as a webcomic it automatically went to the top of my Must Read List.

Dinosaur Comics
Ryan North's comic is a minimalist-art, dialogue-heavy strip with obscure and surreal jokes, pop-culture references and goofy puns. Featuring a Tyrannosaurus Rex and his friends. Oh, and the art is exactly the same every day - only the text changes. It's brilliant. It's the sort of thing I would have created if I were about a decade younger, and much cooler than I ever was. Not many comics, no matter how clever, can make me laugh out loud, and this one is a delightful exception. Back when comics writer Warren Ellis's online community, The Engine, was still active, Ellis would post Ryan North's daily strips. I liked. I followed the link. But I didn't delve too closely into the archives, because that way lies madness.

Some Sort of Conclusion
Well, the key points are pretty obvious. Word-of-mouth, or in this case click-of-link, is what got me reading four of these five webcomics. In many cases, backed up by commentary/analysis/ speculation, or by multiple recommendations. People I know and trust, and people I don't really know but whose opinions I respect, have a far greater influence on me than advertising. Positive reviews are a pull-me-in factor, especially if they're grounded in some sort of analytical thinking.

So, let me ask, you hypothetical multitudes: What webcomics do you read? How did you discover them? Why did that process of discovery work? Pray elucidate.

And a Brief Post-Script
Oh, and my friend Rachel Hartman's Pau-Henoa comics, on Girlamatic under the name The Return on the Mad Bun, are just as good as any of the aforementioned five. But I specified currently running and (sniff!) it'll be concluding shortly. Which makes it easy for you to get caught up on. Go read. You can thank me later.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Today's Secret Word Is... Blah.

I'm still fighting this stupid cold (which has hit the whole family to one degree or another).

Oh, and there was snow on the ground this morning. It's still there.

So, not much energy or focus for bringing the creativity.

Yeah, blah about covers it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Old Friends, Old Spaghetti, Old School

Over the weekend, I got together with some old friends for dinner.

The meet-up was instigated by Tara Tallan, writer/artist/creator/soooper-genius behind Galaxion, one of my favourite comics and favourite works of science-fiction in general.

Tara and I got involved in small press (that is, amateur) comics at around the same time, through about the same people. She made the transition to professional self-publishing a couple of years before Greg Beettam and I did with Xenos's Arrow.

Over those long and strange years, we, and the others in the group that became known as "the Toronto comics gang with the weird obsession with Big Boy" travelled to many, many conventions, went to movies, gamed, and generally were totally awesome together.

Well, that was a while ago. Most of us are still in touch, but some of us moved away. Many of us dropped out of comics, as creators, at least temporarily. Many of us have families now.

Tara's recent insight was that, since we generally all still do like each other, that at least those of us in the Greater Toronto Area should actually try and get together for once.

And that is what as many of us as we could schedule did. Tara, her husband David, me, Rob and Franz. Dinner was at one of our favourite old dinner-after-the-comics-convention haunts, Toronto landmark The Old Spaghetti Factory.

Except for the fact that we're all older, tired-er and more cynical (I was cynical to start with, so no loss in my case) it was pretty much like old times all over again. We talked about what we've been up to, creatively and otherwise. We talked about what was inspiring us, in comics and in other media. We debated the origin of the word "spumoni."

(Bonus fact: I was wrong - it's not named after a place called Spumonia!

We did everything we used to do, in fact, except flip over a placemat and draw comics on the back.

It reminded me how much of an impact that camaraderie and being part of a community has on my creativity. It's part of what jonesed me up to finish Chapter Two of Cold Iron Badge. It was, in fact, totally awesome.

Thanks, guys. Let's not wait another five years for the next one, okay?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Behold the Meh

I have a cold, not a bad one, but certainly an annoying one. It's been dragging me down a little and making me feel not very bloggy.

Which is ironic, of course, because if there's one word that sounds like something you should feel like when you have a cold, it's "bloggy."

Despite that, I managed to get the first draft of Chapter 2 of Cold Iron Badge finished earlier today. Then Patrick and I will discuss and revise a bit, and I'll move on to Chapter 3 (while he continues to draw Chapter 1).

This wasn't quite as heroic an accomplishment as I'm implying, since I had originally told Patrick I'd have a draft of Chapter 2 done for last weekend. I nonetheless consider myself awesome.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Big Reveal: Cold Iron Badge

And now, the big reveal.

Finally, I can put a name to the new comics project that I've been calling, well, the New Comics Project, and a name to the Genius Artist. These are the first three pages.

Cold Iron Badge

It's a fairy tale.
But not everyone lives happily ever after...

Coming Soon.

Script by Stephen Geigen-Miller.
Art by Patrick Heinicke.
Story by Heinicke & Geigen-Miller.

(Oh and just for the record: This material is copyright 2007 by the credited creators.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mental Decompression: Thankfully, Not Explosive

Ah, that's better. Brain re-combobulating.

Did anyone else ever play that game with an apple when you were a kid? Twisting the stem of your apple, and with each twist, saying a letter of the alphabet? The letter you were on when the stem finally broke was supposed to reveal the initial of the person you would someday marry, or something.

Note: I never got anywhere near "S," so what does that tell you about the effectiveness of applemancy?

Regardless. I was feeling a little like an apple stem on the penultimate twist, for a while there.

I overdid it a little trying to finish chapter two of the New Comics Project, and had to take a breather. As the Genius Artist pointed out, it's not like I'm on a really tight deadline for the script, so a couple more days to get it right is no biggie.

I expect to have the chapter finished shortly. And yes, around then, I'll be able to do the Big Unveil and give a name and some details to the oh-so-secretive New Comics Project.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Still Can't Post! Still Writing!

I'm making good headway on Chapter 2 of the New Comics Project, but I hit a snag: A character we're introducing in this chapter was giving me some trouble. I was having a hard time pinning down her voice.

This is probably a good time to mention that some -- many -- of the characters in the Project existed previously, although in very different forms and iterations. Some were mine, and some were the Genius Artist's.

The character giving me trouble? She was one of his.

So we had a quick check-in about her, and I talked through my thoughts about the character. And we agreed on how to approach her. I feel more confident, now, about attacking the scene she debuts in.

When I told the artist that, his final comment, I think a slightly bemused one, was along the lines of, "Okay. But I didn't really say anything."

Sometimes, it really helps for me to put my thoughts in order, and get them outside my head, whether it's onto the page or into a friend's ear. Talking helps.

And, of course, not being told, "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard, you talentless chump!" helps a bit too.

In related news, the Genius Artist is working on a three-page teaser, to preview the Project. So unless he hits a snag too, we will soon be able to give you a little taste of what the heck I've been going on about.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Can't Post! Writing!

I'm almost done Chapter Two of the New Comics Project.

I told the Genius Artist that I'd do my best to have it to him by the end of this week, and that's promise that I intend to keep.

And man, does the stuff he's been working on ever look awesome.

You'll get a preview as soon as he and I both agree that the material's ready to show around.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

No Scabs In Scranton

I thought I had said pretty much everything I needed to about the WGA strike, especially since I'm not actually, you know, on strike.

But then, at the WGA's strike blog, United Hollywood, I came across this piece of information, which is too awesome not to share.

The Office actually has at least one more script in the can, ready to be shot. But production had to be halted when the entire staff of the show joined the WGA picket line.

Then, Steve Carell informed the producers that he would be unable to report for work, due to a health problem -- swollen balls.

Now that's some freaking solidarity.

Steve Carell, and the entire staff of The Office, you rock beyond words.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two Decisions and a Metaphor

(First decision...)

I'm going to focus on the New Comics Project. It's what I'm feeling most passionate about, and it has the advantage of being something that's actually happening. Right now.

(Second decision...)

However, when I do turn my attention back to the New Screenplay, it's going to be with the goal of actually writing the screenplay.

I can only work on an outline for so long, and I think I hit "so long" with the discussion and notes around the draft that was reviewed at the writer's group meeting. The feedback I got was really helpful, the ideas that it sparked had real possibilities. But the thought of pouring that energy into another draft of the outline is not at all appealing.

(And here comes the metaphor...)

The actual writing -- of a screenplay or anything else -- is a journey. An outline is an itinerary for that journey.

I think it's time to stop planning the trip and hit the road.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fuck You, Mr. Miniwheat

Is this what it has come to?

I'm angry. Oh, yes, I'm angry. But not just angry. More than anything else, I feel betrayed.

I have never trusted cereal mascots. They always seemed just a little too enthusiastic about what is, and let's be honest here, the dullest part of the most important meal of the day. I mean, toast is more exciting. A bowl of freaking cereal was never worth a single one of those early-morning song-and-dance routines, never mind the obsession verging on addiction that some mascots brought to the breakfast table.

But then I met you. You weren't singing or dancing or going to ridiculous lengths to steal something that you could buy for a couple of bucks in any grocery store.

There you were, your tiny, vulnerable body lying on the psychiatrist's couch. Desperate, confused, but so determined to confront your troubled psyche head-on.

You weren't some catchphrase-spouting pitchman. You suffered. You were a mascot driven into the depths of neurosis, almost to insanity. You were a food divided against himself: One side sweet frosting, the other nutritious wheat. Your identity was riven in twain, but you railed against it, fought for understanding, for integration. For wholeness.

And oh, Mr. Miniwheat, I loved you then.

Because I understood. In the depths of my soul, I too have known pain. I too have felt the incredible stress, the pull and tear, the inner turmoil between seemingly irreconcilable parts of my own nature.

I felt not just for you, but with you. I related. We were like brothers, Mr. Miniwheat, although you are wheaten and I am fleshen.

But now, our kinship lies in tatters. You have destroyed it, and in destroying it, you have come close to destroying me. And for what?

For strawberry, Mr. Miniwheat. For vanilla. And for coochie.

The new commercial for strawberry miniwheats was bad enough. There you were, my friend -- no, my cereal self -- telling us, selling us the joys of the new strawberry flavour. Singing and dancing with a bevy of hot mod girlies and a harem of backup singers. You weren't like me any more, a schmuck just trying to make it. You were way past "making it".

I had to wonder, when did you become one of the beautiful people? Was strawberry really the only flavour you had tasted on set? Were you living it up while I can't even live it down?

Were you trading on my fellow-feeling for you as someone who had been there, man, and partying like a small, wheaty Lindsay Lohan behind my back?

Of course, I felt guilty for doubting you. I felt shame. For you were sweet, yes, but also healthy. How could I lose my faith in you? How could I not trust the one cereal that spoke to my heart even as you nourished my body?

But then came vanilla.

I stared as I saw you, Mr. Miniwheat, on that tropical island paradise, being anointed with sweet vanilla flavour by a winsome miniwheat-groupie. You sang. You danced. Then you bounced out of the cabana like a cereal without a care in the world.

And I knew that it was true. You had no cares. You didn't care anymore.

Do I really need to describe the denouement? You, partying on the beach with those singing moai, and those welcoming hula girls wiggling their grass-skirted hips, jiggling their lei-garlanded chests in my face, then pulling away, as though to say, "No, no. We are only here for the rich and powerful Mr. Miniwheat. You can look, chump, but don't touch."

Well, aloha to you too.

You've changed, Mr. Miniwheat. You aren't the cereal I fell in love with any more. You're not some confused grain-based guy trying to find his way in the world. You're not the lovable schlub I identified with so keenly. You're a fucking rock star. I don't even know you.

I thought we were finding our way out of our pain and our self-doubts together. Now, you've plunged me back into the depths of despair. My God, what does it say about my life when a frosted wheat square is getting laid more than me?

Was it always a lie? Were you laughing at having hoodwinked us even then, those of us who felt that, in you, we had at last found a cereal mascot who spoke for us, the sad, the lonely, the confused?

Or did the years of celebrity, with the money and the parties and of course the sex -- did all that change you? Do you have a fragment of your true, sweet but also nutritious soul left?

Or did you sell that too, when you sold out everything else, including my heart?

I don't know. I'll never know. And even if there is a tiny part of your already miniature self looking out from behind your eyes and hating what you're doing to yourself and me, I don't care. Because it's too late.

It's too late.

You broke our bond. It's over. You were part of me, my high-fibre former friend. But you abused my trust. You lost my respect. We're done.

Fuck you, Mr. Miniwheat. Fuck you.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Brief Update

Today I looked over some of the notes I got at last week's writers group meeting. I'm still thinking about how to move forward with the New Screenplay, but I feel like I'm 90% or so decided. My gut and my heart just have to finish sweet-talking my brain and my neuroses.

I'm going to use a block of my writing time this week to review the outline, and that's also when I'll make my final decision and start whatever the next phase ends up being.

In other news, the WGA strike has begun.

Of course, being Canadian, there's only so much I can do to support the WGA members. If I lived in New York or L.A., I'd take snacks down to the picket line. But as it is, that would be a heck of a commute.

What I am going to do is this: I'm going to take a leaf from bloggers and professional (Canadian) screenwriters Denis McGrath and Jim Henshaw, and immediately begin a boycott of any and all American television produced by companies that WGA members are currently striking against, including those they're trying to get brought under WGA jurisdiction. That's, basically, everything except news programming.

I know it's not much. But it's what I can do.

Well, that, and sing "Solidarity Forever" in the shower, but to be completely honest, I'd have been doing that anyway.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Mulling: It's Not Just For Cider Anymore

As I type (while also sipping on a root beer with all my customary delicacy), Boogie Nights is playing on IFC in the background.

That's an interesting, albeit trivial, coincidence, because I've been thinking today about an interview with the writer/director of that movie, Paul Thomas Anderson, in the book I'm currently reading -- Best Interviews 1994 - 2004, from the magazine Creative Screenwriting.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: I have been mulling over how to approach the New Screenplay.

I have thought about it while thinking about how other writers deal with their screenwriting. I have thought about it while thinking about how I deal with my screenwriting. I thought about it while my daughter was sitting on my lap, watching a Blue's Clues video, just before her bedtime.

I'm thinking about it now.

And I think I'm close to an answer. I feel a hunch, an intuition, bubbling up from the simmering soup of my subconscious.

But it's not quite fully formed. Almost, but not yet.

I think I need to sleep on this. For one more night. And see what the morning tells me.

Good night.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I'll Be Fine... As Soon As The Bleeding Stops...

And how did writer's group go, you ask?

Actually, it was productive, and a lot of fun. It always helps recharge my creative batteries to talk shop with my peers. I enjoy discussing my work, and other people's work, with people who have useful insights and sharp analytical capabilities.

And Nicole made spaghetti. I do love spaghetti.

But yes, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, it was my turn up at bat. Or my turn to be hit with the bat, that might be more apt.

It's not surprising that there was -- how to put it? -- a lot to say about my submission. The outline for the New Screenplay, which is the project that was up for discussion, is kind of an odd beast.

It's probably the "youngest" work that the group has yet reviewed. Of the five participants, I'm the only one who didn't have a longform project that I wanted to bring to the table already underway, and created something new specifically for the first meeting. So it's very much in the early stages, with all the plot holes and handwaving and stupid ideas I would normally have edited out long before showing it to anybody else still flapping in the breeze.

Also, I'm doing something that I normally strongly encourage people to avoid at all costs: I'm flouting the genre. Without going into too much detail at this early stage, I can say that it's a romantic comedy that relies on the audience's expectations, based on familiarity with the genre, to subvert those expectations.

That means that part of the point of the story artistically, for me, is that it not pay off in the usual and expected way, while still paying off in a different way that is powerful, satisfying, emotionally honest.

I know -- an "emotionally honest" romantic comedy. I'm already treading on dangerous ground.

This inner tension between the genre and the actual thrust of the narrative may be why I had the slightly bruising experience Thursday night of hearing one of my smart colleagues say, "Your story still has no Third Act, dude."
And replying, "Actually, I think it does have a clear Third Act."
And having the other three people in the room, all of whom are also very smart, say, "Um, no Stephen, it really doesn't."

My subversive, slightly perverse and rampagingly un-commercial intentions aside, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. It's obvious, first of all, that the act turns in the outline, the dramatic reversals and changes that mark the phases of the story, are not strong enough. A lot of the other feedback I got was just as solid, and just as indicative of work that I need to do in other areas.

It was challenging, but I loved it. It gave me so much to go on! I'm excited. And fired up. And not sure how to proceed.

I have, first of all, another project on the go -- the New Comics Project, which is only a quarter written. It's important to me, and it's going to move forward much, much faster than a movie script ever could. If the Genius Artist and I do it as a webcomic, as we've discussed, there's no reason we couldn't start serializing it online just after the New Year. And it's a really fun project to write. So that's a priority.

More importantly -- because it's not like I couldn't alternate writing projects from day to day -- I need to figure out how I'm comfortable moving forward with the New Screenplay. Thursday's comments showed that, yes, there are definitely some very important gaps in the outline.

So how much work do I put into fixing the outline? Do I polish and polish what is essentially a twelve-page synopsis of the story? Of course it has some gaps -- if all the gaps were filled in, it wouldn't be an outline! And would overworking the outline suck all the creative joy out of the project for me? Should I just start writing the screenplay? But am I ready to start the screenplay?

So, yeah, great feedback, leaving me with a lot to consider. Further thoughts will be posted here as my agonizing unfolds.

(Oh, on the subject of feedback? If anyone wants to let me know that you are still reading and I'm not just talking to myself here, that would be cool too.)

Solidarity Forever!

So, barring a last-minute shift of tectonic proportions from "management" (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), it looks like the Writers Guild of America is going on strike, with Monday the most likely start date (as per this article in the Toronto Star).

While I'm not a member of any of the creative guilds, I'm solidly on-side with the WGA. One of the many popular ways for the writer to get screwed has been exploiting the absence of industry agreements dealing with whatever new media have come along (whether videotape, DVD, web delivery of content, or whatever comes next).

The WGA wants to fill that loophole. Obviously, this will not only benefit the current membership, but also future generations of writers. Since my goal is for that to include me, self-interest alone motivates me to deem this strike a Good Idea.

But there's more to it than that - as the WGA knows, since it's membership are going to be sacrificing their salaries now for those future generations.

Between the corporate domination of media by huge conglomerates, and the not-entirely-unrelated tendency of the entertainment media to focus on celebrities like movie stars and a handful of directors, the writer doesn't just get screwed, but forgotten.

It's downright ridiculous that the people who have the ideas, the people who invent the stories, the people who provide words for those movie stars to say, not only get no attention, but no respect and no money.

The attention, I can live without. Writers, even in Hollywood, are often idiosyncratic, introverted and vaguely nerdish. We'll never be as famous as movie stars, or directors. Most of us would go over like a lead balloon as guests on late-night talk shows. And that's okay -- if we were pretty extroverts, we'd be actors too.

But it all starts with the writer. The story, the movie, the TV show, the webisode, mobisode or Flash animation, whether on basic cable or digital cable or DVD or the web, lives or dies by the writer. If the writing doesn't work, nothing else will.

And yet, writers don't get a piece of the pie. Just a hewer-of-wood, drawer-of-water paycheque. Sure, it's a big paycheque by most people's standards. But should that really be it, for creating the work that gives everyone else involved something to do? If new and exciting media provide new and exciting money, the writer deserves a share if anyone does.

The members of the WGA know that. They know that they, and future generations of writers, deserve a reasonable slice of the secondary media and new media pie. They're willing to fight for it, to stop doing the work they love and put their feet on the pavement to fight for it.

For that, I can put up with watching re-runs of The Colbert Report.

Solidarity, brothers and sisters. For the union makes us strong.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Want My Honest Opinion, Huh?

Today, I spent some time getting down some thoughts about somebody else's writing.

In the writer's group that I'm part of, two members (there are five of us) get our work critiqued at each of our monthly meet-ups. Thursday, my screenplay outline is up at bat, and so is a chapter of Charles's novel. So today was all about organizing my thoughts about his work.

As I've mentioned before, this is my first writer's group, so I'm still finding my way to a degree - I have some comfort zone issues, not about being criticized, but about feeling free to criticize.

People who know me well are probably staring at their monitors right now, laughing uncontrollably. I have a bit of a reputation for being a downright bloodthirsty critic.

But here's the thing: that's among my nearest and dearest. I really do have comfort zone issues with critiquing. It's funny, but the better I know and the more I love someone, the more likely I am to hold nothing back when I respond to their work.

It's a trust issue, and it's something I have to work on, while making sure that I don't overcompensate in any direction. I need to strike a balance, one that respects Charles as a colleague who has requested my honest opinion, and myself as someone with an opinion that's worth expressing honestly, even if I'm sometimes a little reserved about doing so.

I'll post some thoughts about how writer's group went tomorrow, after I get home. Right now, it's later than I wanted to be up. My honest opinion: It's time for bed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No Mo' NaNoWriMo, Yo!

Sorry, was that oblique?

("Oblique" is the "literary" term for something that "makes no sense.")

What I meant to say was, I won't be participating in National Novel Writing Month this year.

I thought about it, but it's not like my life is a whole lot saner than this time last year, when I boldly decided to NaNo, and barely scratched the 50,000-word target. Confidence-building exercises are only beneficial to the degree that one is successful enough at them to build one's confidence, I find.

And it's not like I'm short of ideas or need additional motivation to park my keister and write.

Right now, I've got the New Comics Project on the go - very exciting, the writing is moving forward nicely, and details will follow as the situation develops. I've also got the writer's group, with the New Screenplay I've been outlining. And then there's the Other Screenplay, which I finished a while ago, and need to circulate to some interested parties for feedback that will then need to be incorporated into a second draft.

I don't need the arbitrary structure of NaNoWriMo to get me writing - I am writing. I don't need it to jump-start my creativity. And, as nice as the built-in socializing is, and as much as that sort of thing does facilitate my writing, I have that already too - via the writer's group, and the "studio days" that I've been taking with my friend and former Xeno's Arrow co-creator, Greg.

NaNo is a great idea, and I wish nothing but fun, success and the total absence of writers block to everyone participating this year. But I'll be taking a pass. I'm too busy.

With, among other things, my writing.

"More Frequent Updates" I Said. Ha.

Hmm. I'm not all that great at this "blogging" thing, am I? Anytime I'm doing something interesting enough to blog about, I'm too busy doing it to blog about it.

But other people are interesting and blog about it at the same time. How do you do it, interesting people who blog? How, I ask? HOW?!

In other news, I turned 36 yesterday. I'm working on a neat new comics project with an old friend who also happens to be a great artist, so that's exciting - more on that later, since he doesn't want me to post any samples yet. (There's no finished art, only designs.)

Oh, and the writer's group meets on Thursday. I circulated my submission, an outline for a new screenplay, to the others at the meeting in late September. I haven't thought about it much since - I've been busy with the aforementioned New Project. I should re-read it before I have to defend it, huh? :)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Now Have A High-Speed Connection


I swear, it's like someone turned the gravity down a couple of notches, giving me super-powers!

This may facilitate me posting more frequently henceforth.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Writer's Group

As I sit at the keyboard, sipping on some decent Scotch (with soda, or I'll have twelve headaches tomorrow) it occurs to me that I have not mentioned that I recently joined a writer's group.

So, just to be official: I recently joined a writer's group.

There are five of us. There's Nicole, and Greg, both of whom I have mentioned here on occasion. There's me, who has also come up here once or twice. Dave and Charles, who I met for the first time at our inaugural meeting last Tuesday, round out the group.

This is my first writer's group. I've always been a little skittish in the past about them, and I can't quite articulate why. No, not because of the Scotch. ::)

I think I've always, on some level, suspected writer's groups of being glorified social clubs, venues for people to noodle over vanity projects and feel like Capital-W Writers. Places to talk about "writing", instead of talking about the work.

This is, patently, an absurd notion. Many well-known writers have benefitted from being part of writer's groups, including writers that I enjoy and admire. Steven Brust was in a writer's group. Cory Doctorow too. J. R. R. Tolkien was in a writer's group with C. S. Lewis for crying out loud - the legendary Inklings.

So perhaps the concerns I had about writer's groups were really concerns that I projected on to them. Concerns about myself. I do have this tendency to let planning get in the way of action, process get in the way of practice.

I don't think that's going to be a concern with the new group.

The group - we don't have a cool name like "The Inklings" yet - was Nicole's brainchild, and she was very clear from the get-go that she wanted a small, focused group of writers, working on longform projects, whose feedback would be beneficial to the other members.

Based on the outcome of our first meeting, it looks like her plan was a good one.

Greg and I are the odd men out, since the other three are all working on novels. I'm working on a new film script, and Greg... well, I shouldn't steal his thunder. He's got a non-novel, non-film thing.

I got really solid feedback on my outline, and I think - I hope! - that I was as helpful to the others. I'm looking forward to our next meeting, in late September. My work will next be up for review at the meeting after that, in October.

I think, having finished an entire screenplay - the new one that I haven't blogged about yet - and having realized just how hungry I am to write and better my writing, that my concerns about writer's groups have evaporated. The anxieties about my own productivity are fading away, and don't need to be projected any longer onto organizations that, after all, are only as good or bad as the people in them.

I seem to have gotten myself into a very good one. This bodes well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I am not, in point of fact, dead or anything

I even still have use of all my limbs.

But what I've been discovering is that it's very hard for me to write anything else while I'm blogging about what I write.

Also, my day job went poof in April - long story for another time - and while that DID free up a great deal of time, I've been restricted to dial-up, which makes blogging a pain.

So: Lots is going on, as it always is. I am getting back. And I am actually writing quite a bit. I just finished a completely new screenplay - that is, nothing I ever mentioned on the blog - and I'm working away on other projects.

I'm not sure at this point how regularly I'll be blogging about the writing - although I'd like to - but I may redirect the blog into a more general, my-life kind of thing to give me something else to think and write about besides my writing. Even I can overdose on meta.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My Unconscious Mind Can Be Kind Of Unsubtle

Last night, I dreamed that I was on Saturday Night Live.

To be absolutely clear, let me emphasize by using a little bit of what we in the business call "italics" (or italics):

I dreamed I was on Saturday Night Live.

My wife Sarah's whole family are lucid dreamers. I'm terribly jealous. Most nights, I can barely recall my dreams, let alone rewrite them on the fly.

But this one stayed with me.

In my dream, I had been a member of the cast of SNL sometime in the mid-Nineties. Briefly. Very briefly. To be specific, for one disastrous episode. After which I was fired.

In my dream, I was making a living washing dishes. reliving that one opportunity and how I'd blown it, every day of my life, wondering how I could have made things turn out differently.

Now, clearly, the book I'm currently reading - Live From New York, which is of course a history of SNL - is partly to blame.

But just as clearly, my subconscious is trying to tell me something:

Stephen! Don't be a used-to!

A used-to is different from a has-been; a has-been was "somebody" and now they aren't. Really, there shouldn't be any shame in that, and if our culture wasn't so rampagingly warped by the cult of celebrity, there wouldn't be.

I'm not a has-been I was never a "somebody." Not even in the very small pool of independent comics. But I was a creator. A writer. I wrote. I'm a used-to.

My subconscious doesn't want me to look in the mirror, and say to myself, "I coulda been a contendah." It wants me to be a contender. It wants me to get Back From Erstwhile.

This has not been an easy journey, so far. 2006 was a horrible year for me on so many fronts. I was hammered by bad news, by poor health, by turmoil internal and external to my life. My unsuccessful attempt at National Novel Writing Month, for instance, was bold, but probably naive. I spent most of November fighting a virus that I'm only now starting to shake off.

But a New Year is traditionally a time to re-focus and approach new goals, or old ones with new resolve.

I am going to continue to get back from erstwhile. I am going to write, not be a used-to. I will not be the guy who got fired after one ill-fated night after being cast to replace Chris Farley and then had to wash dishes for the rest of his life.

Time to renew, re-focus, and resolve.

Happy New Year.