2020: Some Lingering Ill Effects


I’m certain this is something we’ve all already figured out for ourselves. 2020 will soon go down in the history books, and not in a good way. We’ve had the ongoing COVID pandemic, a fraught election season in the U.S., a contentious (and contested!) U.S. Presidential election, a stalled Brexit which is going to kick both the U.K. and the EU in their collective groins, high unemployment and low GDP secondary to the last ten (10!) months of pandemic (mis)management, families on the verge of eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy as we head into the Holiday Season, … I mean, the “2020 Chaos List” just goes on and on like a demonic Energizer Bunny from Hell, doesn’t it?

Between the last time I posted and today, I myself – despite my best efforts of wearing a mask, washing my hands, social distancing, and self-isolation (I’m a writer and a combat vet, so the whole self-isolation thing was already a lifestyle choice for me), I came down with COVID-19. October 31 I woke up with a 104 fever, coughing up BLOOD, vertigo, headache, overarching fatigue, and syncope: I passed out for 45 minutes in my bathroom. I spent most of the afternoon and evening at the ER at Madigan Army Hospital being evaluated and tested. Then I had to convince the doctors to not admit me to ICU. My logic was, if we could get my fever down, I could go home and recover there. Treatment for a viral infection is symptomatic anyway, and as long as my ABC’s (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) were good, then I wasn’t that acute. I had no decreased O2 saturation, no shortness of breath or true difficulty breathing, so I didn’t need the ICU bed or a ventilator.

Save that bed, that equipment, those supplies and the personnel for someone worse off than me.

Finally, my doctor relented, but only after making me swear and take a blood oath (okay, I did not take a blood oath) that if I got worse, I’d call for an ambulance and be seen locally by the nearest treatment facility. I promised him, I meant it, my wife drove me home.

The next ten days are still a blur. Seven of those days, I have no recollection whatsoever. I managed to stay hydrated enough to not need more IV fluids (they hung three bags on me at the ER!). Not sure what, or if, I ate. Took my meds, isolated in another room away from my wife, didn’t stay vertical for very long at any given time, and slept a lot.


I’m over 6 years out now, and COVID had me feeling the way I felt during my radiation and chemo. At Day 10, I felt like I did when I was only maybe 1 or 2 years out of my cancer treatment.

I was starting to feel alive again on Day 9. Was sitting at my writer’s desk on Day 10. But here’s the thing, folks. I’M STILL FEELING SOME LINGERING EFFECTS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS. Mostly, fatigue. A lingering fatigue is well-documented in post-recovery COVID patients of a certain age. So this comes as no surprise to me. But it’s still a royal pain in the ass.

I vividly remember the overwhelming fatigue in those first months and years after I miraculously survived Stage 4 Cancer. I remember days when I could only shuffle from my bed to the bathroom, and out to the sofa for a couple of hours. Then it was back to bed. In those first 12 months or so, I slept 12-16 hours a day.

COVID is the sickest I’ve been since my cancer. It executed a sneak attack and tried to out-goddamn-flank me. I took some hits, but I ultimately prevailed. It’s gone, and I’m still standing.

But as any military man will tell you, you don’t survive battle without taking some casualties. Every victory has a price. My price for beating cancer is the long-term physical and mental disabilities I continue to endure. My price for beating COVID seems to be turning back the clock to where I now no longer feel like I’m 6 years out from cancer, but I now feel like I did when I was only about 2 1/2 to 3 years out.

But hey. What are you gonna do, right? Me, I just keep on keeping on. I finished my next novel this year. I started two non-horror feature screenplays. My manager in L.A. is closer than ever to getting the first film in a brand new horror franchise set up. We now have a commitment from a streaming service to provide finishing funds and distribution. All we have to do now is come up with the money to actually shoot the movie and get it in the can. I have some screenplays that are doing well in various screenwriting competitions. In fact, this Saturday, I will be watching online the LitScares International Horror Competition live from Yorkshire, England. One of my screenplays is a Finalist there, and I am up for Best Screenplay. So after a few bumps in the road, 2020 is beginning to look like it may end on a high note for me.

But I am still experiencing some lingering ill effects.

Writing in the Age of Coronavirus, Part 3

So here we are yet again. Summer is over. Labor Day has passed. And we’re STILL in the clutches of this coronavirus pandemic with no real end in sight. I know people are looking for anything they can glom onto for hope. And I understand get. Believe me, I get it. Unfortunately, I possess a medical background and understand the nature of viral outbreaks and disease transmission. Trust me when I say, this won’t be over by Election Day. Or Thanksgiving.

Or Christmas.

Coronavirus is here to stay. Not at global pandemic levels, to be sure. But let’s be real here. A vaccine will immunize enough of us to attain herd immunity levels, but it will not eradicate the virus. The polio vaccine has been around since the 1950s. People still get polio. The measles vaccine has also been around for decades. People still get measles. Same with influenza, pneumonia, SARS, ebola… you get the gist.

So temper your expectations, folks. It’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

So as artists, how do we keep going? How do we not become disappointed, disillusioned, hopeless? How do we not simply throw our hands up and cry to heaven, “What’s the point”?

Each artist must look within themselves for that answer. Do not look to the outside world for your inspiration. True motivation always comes from within. It may be because you lose yourself in your art. It may be because you forget about the worries of the day.

Speaking only for myself, my mental machinations simply won’t let me quit. In order to understand that, you have to understand my life experiences. I grew up in small-town Texas in the 60s and 70s. I had a demanding father and a strict mother. Even as a small child, they never allowed me to quit anything once I started. If I tried something and failed, that might be okay; I was never allowed to quit. “No son of mine is going to grow up to be a quitter!”. I can still hear my old man say that, and he died in 2012.

I played on my school’s football team from 7th grade through my sophomore year in high school. I can still hear my coaches screaming, ” Come on! Come on! Don’t quit until you hear the whistle! Keep those legs moving! Churn, churn, churn! Losers quit, and we’re not losers!”

We won a lot of games.

See a pattern forming here?

In the military, everything took on a more serious tone. It wasn’t family pride or a football game at stake; it was human lives. You never quit as long as you had breath left in your body. Period. As a Fleet Marine Force Navy Corpsman, it didn’t matter if I lived or died. What mattered was that my Marines survived, that I never let my Marines down. If one of my guys died, it wasn’t going to be because I gave up.

In combat, if you quit – EVER – not only do you get yourself killed, you likely also get the people around you killed. And that is a cardinal sin.

Well, my military days are long behind me, just like those football games and living in my parents’ house. But those lessons are ingrained in my DNA now. So is that level of intensity. Never give up. Find a way to push through. Get those legs under you, and churn churn churn. Chug chug chug. Never stop.

Some people wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” – Stephen King

I take this quote to heart. I’ve often spoken my mantra that writers… write. Every day. And I practice what I preach. Sometimes it’s fun, easy, fulfilling, almost a spiritual experience. Other days it’s a chore, a slog, akin to ice skating uphill or swimming through mud. Some days I look forward to it; some days I dread it. Sometimes I get a lot done; sometimes very little. Sometimes I’m creating new content, other times I’m working on the business end of things.

But I spend significant time on it every day, even the days when I don’t feel like it. Even when I lack inspiration.

Because that’s how you finish a work of art. That’s how you finish a novel, a short story, a screenplay, a painting, short film, feature film, a sculpture, a mural — whatever your own artistic outlet happens to be.

I write every day because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. And I can’t NOT do it.

Writing in the Age of Coronavirus Part 2

Well, here we are, folks. My last blog entry was April 12. Being the hopelessly optimistic person I am, I had hoped (and had been confident) that by my next entry, things would be getting better in America and around the world.

I was wrong.

They’re not better.

The pandemic is now ongoing. They’re working to get a handle on it, but it takes time to do it and do it right. In the meantime, people are still afraid. And that fear is leading to some rather ugly displays of human behavior, from people intentionally coughing or spitting at other people and then stating they have the COVID, to customers in masks running customers without masks out of the store.

And speaking of ugly human behavior…

Here in America, we’re dealing with yet another murder of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white cop. This loser is the kind of cop that makes ALL cops look bad. I don’t stand on a soapbox very often. In fact, I try to avoid it. But this is a special case in a special time, isn’t it?

I come from a law enforcement family. My brother is a retired cop. My oldest son is a cop. My oldest daughter is a cop. I have an extended family member, a nephew, who is a  cop. That sort makes me the odd man out at family reunions because I’m a writer. But I did do 20 years active duty military, so there’s that. Point is, in most cases I tend to side with cops, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Being a combat vet who’s participated in direct combat operations on three continents, I understand all too clearly the burden of making split-second life and death decisions in combat situations. They call it “the Fog of War”. Been there, done that. Still carry the scars.

But that’s not what happened this time, folks.

We’ve all seen the video. We all know what happened. The entire planet knows what happened. This video will wind up being admitted as evidence in each of the four former officers’ trials. What really appalls me even more than the one cop kneeling on the victim’s neck (which is outrageous enough!) is that NONE of the other three did anything to stop him or pull him off. If they had, perhaps george Floyd would still be alive. But their moral weakness and lack of a backbone directly contributed to this man’s death.

It’s called depraved indifference when you stand there and watch someone die.

So what are we, as artists, supposed to do? You can protest, participate in peaceful marches and rallies. You can attend city council meetings and county Board of Supervisor meetings. Write to your Congressman and/or Senator. Use social media. Make your voice heard. Just don’t get hurt doing it. And don’t hurt anybody else while you’re doing it. Otherwise, you’re making the problem worse.

What else are we, as artists, supposed to do? I suggest we USE it. Use what’s going on in this moment in time. Let it inspire you, drive you to create new content. You can point out and address problems directly through your work, and you can offer up possible solutions. Paint, sculpt, write. Whatever it is you do, do it. Do it with PURPOSE.

Please understand, I’m not bashing America. I love my country. I deployed to foreign lands for it, fought wars for it, killed for it, bled for it, and Goddamned near died for it. But America is not perfect, never has been. And what happened to George Floyd is more than just wrong, it is CRIMINAL. These fired, disgraced, former cops had been handed a sacred public trust. They betrayed that trust in the most horrific manner. I fervently hope they get what’s coming to them when they have their day in court.

America must do better. America must be made better. And it must be made better by US. For if we don’t do it, then who will? No one will do it for us. That much is evident. And if we don’t do it now, then when will we do it?

We can’t trust the Government to police itself because history shows us time and again that it CAN’T. If the Government could effectively police itself, these types of atrocities wouldn’t continue to happen.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way over and and over and expecting a different result.

There’s a lot of work to do, that must be done, in order to make this country BETTER for ALL people. No matter how you choose to go about doing your part, LET’S GET TO IT. As terrible as the situation is, we actually have been presented with a wonderful opportunity right a whole history of wrongs.

Let’s not blow it.

Writing in the Age of Coronavirus

The world is a different place now than it was when I wrote my last blog entry. We’re now living through a worldwide viral pandemic caused by the Coronavirus designated COVID-19. I predict this will become a lingering threat for months, not weeks. Even after we’re past the apex for new cases and patient mortality begins to decline, we will all still be living with the specter of a secondary outbreak.

But I’m here to talk about writing.

With all the people housebound now, trying to shelter in place, avoid contamination/inoculation by this virus, and trying to ride the pandemic out at home, people need entertainment. They can only work from home so much. Some people, due to the nature of their jobs, can’t work from home. And if they’re not designated as “essential workers”, they’re at home, all sense of normalcy and control stripped away from them, stuck in a kind of limbo. Not a good thing. If there’s one thing I learned in my military days was the importance of keeping people busy. Don’t let them think too much. Give them something to focus on, rather than what’s going on around them. That’s how you avoid depression and panic.

The world needs art, and artists, now more than ever before.

They need music, books, TV shows, movies. They need to be entertained. They need to be engrossed. They need to be diverted, temporarily removed from the circumstances of their lives, and ushered into another world, another realm, another reality for a while. When you think about it, the Arts become a mental and emotional balm. Our work becomes a mood enhancer, or at least a stress reducer.

That’s the job, man. That’s the responsibility we artists have. Whether we’re actors, dancers, directors, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, or whatever else, we all aspire for our work to awe, inspire, transform, or at least entertain. We want to communicate with others through our chosen medium. Have a conversation. Make a statement. Or in some cases, merely pose an important question.

In these times of angst, uncertainty, and anxiety, people need us. They need the work that only we can produce. They need the (temporary) escape. True, all their problems will not miraculously disappear just by watching one of our shows or in my case, reading one of my novels. But that’s not the point. It helps a little, maybe brightens their day, and that my friends, IS the point. And those of us with ability have a responsibility to rise to the occasion. We must harness our talents and channel them to help alleviate, in some small way, other people’s fears and despair.

We need more art in the world now than ever before. It is a tremendous responsibility we artists have. I am editing my next novel, and i am developing a new feature film screenplay that deals with some of the current events going on in our world. I believe am up to the challenge.

I hope you are, too.

Be More Than Just a Writer

Writers need to be MORE than just writers. It takes more than just great writing telling a compelling story with engaging characters with a distinct and unique voice. Writers need to get that. I know you don’t like it. I don’t either. But this is what we’ve chosen to do. This is the business we’re in. So suck it up, buttercup. Your job is not yet done. Rise to the occasion, or someone else WILL rise in your place.

Completing your project is only the beginning.

You must develop and utilize a completely different skill set. Take your artist hat off and put that business/PR hat on. You might have written the next Great American Novel or Screenplay. But if you don’t market it (and yourself!) to the right people in your chosen industry, then you’re dead in the water. There are all kinds of books and websites that show you how to form proper query letters. Follow the rules. Poorly written queries that don’t follow protocol get rejected out of hand. They also get you branded a rank amateur. You only have one chance to make a first impression, folks. This is not the time to demonstrate what an original rebel you are.

Take the time to check out the person and the company you want to submit to. Follow their rules about how to query them. Their rules were developed to make going through their slush piles faster and easier for THEM. Again, follow their rules. Don’t make their jobs harder. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Be professional.

In my own circumstance, I am fortunate enough to have an OUTSTANDING Literary Manager based in Beverly Hills for my screenplays and teleplays. I came to her as a nobody with a microbudget horror script. She took a chance on me and my work, and we have a warm working relationship. Since she lives in L.A. and I live in Northwest Washington state, she is my eyes and ears to Hollywood. Anything she tells me I accept as gospel.

But: I have to be more than just a writer. I have to think like a producing partner.

For every screenplay I write, I also write a logline and a synopsis. Then I write a query using these elements. That’s the easy part. Once my Manager and I agree that a script is in good enough shape to send out, I come up with a “one-sheet” (also known as Key Art) for a movie poster.  It’s not what will be used for a final film; it’s just something to convey the mood of the piece to a producer or financier so they can “get the gist” with a single glance.

I develop the “Pitch Plate”, aka a “Visual Deck” or a “Look Book”. This is a series of representative photos, drawings, and other artwork, complete with text overlays that explains the logline, synopsis, genre, projected budget, any talent attached, and other important information about the film project.

This is not where you talk about how “cool” or “great” the movie will be. Producers and financiers don’t care about that. They care about how much is it going to cost, how long before they see their money back, and what will the ROI (Return on Investment) be?

Convince them to take a risk on you and your project. Convince them to risk millions of dollars in order to make tens of millions or hundreds of millions in profit. Convince them they can make money off of you. You’ll do this for every screenplay you write.

Welcome to showbiz, kids.

I do not currently have a literary agent for my novels. I hope to change this in the not too distant future. On my debut novel, NOCTURNAL, I felt an urgency to get the book out into the world because I was dying of a Stage 4 throat cancer when I wrote it. Every literary agent to whom I submitted rejected it. I did not know if I was going to live much longer, so I published through Amazon and IngramSpark and became an indie author.

Lucky for me, I beat my cancer (so far!). In the 6 years since, I have learned about marketing, PR, garnering reviews, and pushing sales to build my readership. It’s exhausting, and it takes time away that could be used creating new content. Hence my desire to land a literary agent who can submit my next novel (I’m revising and editing now) to the more traditional publishing houses. Once I am finished editing and revising, then the real work begins again for me.

I have to convince someone I’m a talented writer and a seasoned professional who understands other aspects of the business, and is not an asshat. I have to convince someone I have something commercial and marketable, something that a publisher can make money from.

And that means convincing an agent I’ve written something THEY can make money from.

See how that works?

Horrorwriting and the Holidays

I cannot believe it has been 13 MONTHS since my last blog entry. To those of you who follow me, I apologize. It’s been a wild year, both professionally and personally. My health wavered a bit this year. I had another cancer scare. Also, my wife’s health is declining. It is affecting her quality of life, and it’s breaking my heart to watch it, knowing there is nothing I can do to fix it. Then there’s this whole horrorwriting thing I do. And this year I felt like i was a hamster running on one of those wheels.
But, hey! On a brighter note, it’s the Holidays, and it’s time for this horrorwriter to catch up on passion projects.
During the work year, I get interrupted to do a polish or a rewrite on something I’ve already submitted, usually in light of script notes that filter their way back to me from prospective producers through my manager. So I have to stop whatever I’m doing and evaluate the notes. Sometimes the notes have valid points, and changes are made. Sometimes the notes indicate the executive simply didn’t “get” the script, in which case I  will NOT make those changes.
In publishing as well as in live theater, the writer is KING. Nothing gets changed, not one word, without the writer’s approval. Not so in film or television. In this end of the pool, a writer is just “a schmuck with a laptop”.
Now I understand it’s just part of the business. I don’t take it personally, but I never forget I AM THE WRITER, not them. It’s MY story, and MY screenplay, MY creativity, not theirs. At least, not until they buy it or option it. THEN it becomes a horse of a different color altogether.
Back to the holidays. Soon after Thanksgiving, people in the business start leaving L.A. And when you consider the hours they work and the pressure they’re under, it’s understandable.
By the first week of December, many of the real movers and shakers (those nice folks with “greenlight authority”) are either in the process of leaving or are already gone. If they work at all, they work remotely. The lowly assistants, secretaries, script readers, etc., are all still there, going in to the offices and working their asses off trying to get caught up; trying to prepare for the coming year. But the bosses are on vacation until sometime in January at the earliest.
On a side note, a bunch of the assistants in town are coming together as a group to lobby for better wages (most of them make California minimum wage or close to it) and working conditions (They work 12+ hours a day six, sometimes seven days a week, for weeks on end without a break). I hope they achieve their goals.
So what do creative types like me do with this “downtime”?
I’m glad you asked. In addition to being a husband to to my wife, a father to my children and a grandfather to my grandchildren, I’m still working on my novel. I’ll have the rough draft done by January. I’m getting my computer repaired. Once I’m done on the novel, I’ll set it aside for a while to percolate. Then I’m going to start writing a cat-and-mouse psychological crime thriller screenplay.
 A guy has to stay busy, right?


It has been fully eleven months (yes, 11 !) since my last blog entry. I apologize for it taking me so long, especially after vowing to post more often after my last multi-month hiatus. Let me explain what has kept me so occupied — and in some cases pre-occupied — in the interim.

As most of you know, I alternate back and forth between writing novels and writing screenplays for feature films. This is relatively easy to do when you’re just plugging along, your career doing well artistically, but maybe there’s not a whole lot going on professionally. As a writer, you just make sure you spend time in front of your laptop doing the grunt work required to create new content. The grunt work is required because you can’t simply create new content. No, your content has to be new, fresh, and exciting, with something to say, and you must say it at a professional level.

Anything less is a waste of your time.

In years past, I had been a client of a different literary manager, who essentially was not doing much to advance my screenwriting career. In retrospect, I have come to believe he was my manager so he could have access to every unproduced script I’ve written without having to pay an option fee on each one of them. But at the time, I did not think that way.  Anyway, he and I were trying to set up a film finance deal to shoot a small found-footage creature feature at about the $500K level. I had approached the rep for a known horror actor to see if perhaps said actor might be interested in doing a few weeks’ work on our project. They read my script and LOVED it. The actor’s rep wanted to help produce it, but at a higher budget level. I was elated! Not only was it vindication of work (I was worthy!), but a larger budget meant more money for everyone all around. Win/win, right?

Wrong. My manager was resistant to this; I could not figure out why.  And when queried directly, he never did give me an answer that made any kind of logical sense. This lead to friction between us. We eventually had a blowout argument, and my (now former) manager kicked me to the curb at Christmas almost two years ago.

Not to worry, though. I should thank him. His firing me wound up being the best thing he ever did for my writing career. The other rep, also a manager, offered to represent me and my screenplays. I said yes, and we haven’t looked back since. And now the budget on the project has crept up to somewhere between $5 – $10 MILLION. Which will mean a much bigger payday for yours truly if we ever get the thing financed. And since, at this budget level, the film will be sanctioned under the WGA (Writers Guild of America), I will have an opportunity to join the union.

Please indulge me a brief word about unions in show business. Here’s the bottom line. Regardless of your political or social views, regardless of how you view unions, Hollywood film and television is a union industry. It really is that simple. If you want to work and keep working at that level of filmmaking, you better join the union at the earliest opportunity. If you view unions positively, it’s a non-issue. If you don’t, suck it up and deal with it. Join your union. It’s a fact of life you cannot avoid once you make the jump from backyard, DIY films to working within the established industry.

And here’s where the business of screenwriting comes into play. As each actor came onboard, they each wanted changes made to their respective characters. So I rewrote the scripts. A new directing duo came onboard. More changes. And more changes. And more…

You get the idea.

All totaled, I have rewritten that original script no less than 35 times. And I say that because 35 is where I stopped keeping count. But in addition to the script, I learned there were other documents I had to prepare. Creating a logline and a synopsis for the script was a no-brainer. In fact, I already had that done. All I had to do was tweak a word here and there, turn a phrase here, delete a clause there, and I was home-free. But I had to write something akin to a business plan, something edgy, artsy, beautiful, and cool to wow prospective Executive Producers and financiers. And since it has some elements similar to a business plan, that’s what I called it in the early days. My manager corrected me, it was (at the time) referred to as a “Pitch Plate”, or a “Visual Deck”. As of this writing, the proper term around Hollywood is the colloquial phrase, “Look Book”.

So I had to get a Look Book put together. This is something I had never done before, and I could find VERY few examples. So I had to do it on the fly, and learn by doing. Trial and error is a painful, effective way to learn anything. Even with memory problems like I have (thanks to cancer, chemo, radiation, and ongoing medications), once you’ve done one, you will never forget how. In the lengthy, frustrating, stressful months-long process, I have written, rewritten, done and redone the Look Book not less than 50 times.

This is in addition to working on my next novel, BLOOD RED MOON, and attempting to write the pilot and the first season of an hour-long TV drama series I am still trying to finish. Sometimes I might go days or weeks without hearing from my manager, and I’m the kind of guy who generally subscribes in the old adage, “No news is good news”. I’m basically a fairly optimistic, “glass half-full” kind of guy. So I would spend those days and weeks working on new material rather than sitting by the phone, obsessing over when the project was getting financed and how much money I might get paid. But then I would get various emails or phone calls, saying something needed to be tweaked again, a photo needed to be changed, altered, resized, desaturated, etc. And of course, I would immediately stop whatever project I was working on, push it to the back burner, and focus on the problem in front of me. This has been happening off and on for the past year and a half.

Mind you, I am not complaining about any of this. This is the art I have chosen to pursue. This is world I have chosen to inhabit. This is the business I have chosen to occupy, and this is all just a part of the business.

I make no excuses for why I haven’t posted more, I simply want to explain the reasons why. What is true for writers is also true for other artists who make a living through their art: writing the story or screenplay is only the beginning. And your job is not finished when you send the script off to your agent or manager to read.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. And your job has only just begun.

Screenwriting Advice for Shark-Infested Waters

I don’t often do this, in fact I believe this is the first time I have done it on my blog, as I like to keep things positive and uplifting here. I want to inspire others to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, and be the best writer (or whatever) they can be. Sort of like that slogan for the Army. But to any aspiring screenwriters out there who may read these words, let me warn you about a situation that comes up time and again in the film industry.

Never, NEVER, ever, EVER, sign an agreement with an established producer, production company, or studio to write an original screenplay, or to adapt a novel into a screenplay  for NO MONEY UPFRONT.

Trust me on this. Heed my sage advice, for it is wisdom born of pain. Yes, I have been suckered in by a predatory production company once myself, back in 2009. Notice I said ONCE. And I learned (the hard way!) that having no deal is better than working under the constraints of a BAD deal.

Here’s what happened. An established indie producer of straight to video action movies liked one of my scripts. The Producer (who shall remain nameless) wanted me to write a faith-based action thriller specifically for an (at the time) aging action star they were working with. They wanted to have it set partly in Africa. So we signed a deal where I would write for no money up front, but would be paid $10,000 when the project got greenlit.

It sounded good at the time. I was a non-union writer who had written and directed a feature horror film (DELIRIUM, 2007, York Entertainment) a few years before that had lost money, and funding for my follow-up horror feature fell through in the economic crash of 2008. I was overextended at the time, and when my Investors pulled out, my company, Forsaken Media Group, collapsed. Thank God I had a day job at the time that paid well.

So this Producer and I developed a basic plot, then I wrote a logline, then a synopsis, then an outline, then I wrote the script. At every step of the process, I was in contact with the Company, as they had approval authority. I was writing the script “on assignment”, meaning I was a “writer for hire”. I did not own the script I was writing, or any of the characters therein. But that was okay by me. I was writing, and I felt confident that the script would get a green light, because the action star was big on home video in many parts of the world at the time.

A director got hired. He worked with me on the script. I learned about script notes, and how to incorporate input from others into revisions on the script without completely writing over what I felt was the true emotional core of the story being told.

I turned in the revised draft to the company. They thanked me, said they would be in touch. They never were. And when I called for an update, the exec who had been so accommodating to me was suddenly unavailable, and no longer returned my calls. Eventually, his assistant even refused to answer my emails.

Long story short, the project never happened. And I know because I watched for a couple of years to see if the movie came out with someone other than me being credited for writing it. I had all my script drafts, revisions, script notes, etc. I would have sued, and I would have won. But it never happened, so…..

If you’re in the WGA (Writers Guild of America), this will never happen to you. The Union sets the basic terms of your agreement as a member of the Guild, and real Producers, i.e., producers who are Signatory to the Guild, know they can’t do that. BHut if you’re not in the Union, well, welcome to the deep end of the pool, buddy. Are those lead weights tied to your shoes?  You know how THAT ends, right?

Listen. Professional writers GET PAID. We have a unique set of marketable skills, honed over years, sometimes decades of grueling training, education, and experience that few people have. These skills carry with them a certain monetary value. And if a Producer can pay option money to an author to get the rights to a book, a magazine article, a stage play, etc., then he/she can pay you at least SOME MONEY upfront for your work, with more being paid upon the delivery of your Main Draft. A final payment is usually made when you deliver the rewrites they ask for after the Main Draft.

This is commonly called a “Step Deal” in the industry, and it’s how things are done. The writer gets paid a portion of an already agreed-upon total amount at every completed “step” of the deal. Make sure you have an agent, literary manager, or entertainment attorney look over the contract BEFORE you sign it. Because it’s not about what’s legal. It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about what’s in the contract. And under California law, once you sign the contract, you are bound to it, right or wrong, for better or for worse. Something in there you don’t like? Oh well. You should have dealt with it BEFORE you signed your name to it.

See what I mean? Morality never even enters into it.

So how do these guys sleep at night? My guess is, quite well, actually. But here’s the rub: If a producer wants/asks/requests/demands you develop a script from an idea (which can take weeks) or to adapt a screenplay from another original source (which can take MONTHS) but they claim they can’t pay you any front money, then they’re not for real. They are either an amateur without any solid financing behind them, or they are a predator looking to exploit you and your talent. In either case, exit stage left. QUICKLY!

Writing for no money upfront means you’re working for free, and will never see a penny. And there are Producers out there willing to exploit a non-union writer with promises of paydays, IMDB credits, and more work somewhere down the road in the future to essentially get a script for free.  I hope there’s a special place in Hell for producers like this.

As I said before, real Producers don’t conduct themselves in this manner. They will either  negotiate a deal with you where you get paid at least some money up front, or they will tell you they are just starting out and don’t have funding. Sometimes, you can make an exception and negotiate a producer’s credit for yourself, along with gross profit participation in exchange for working on spec. But be careful. This is Hollywood we’re talking about, and these are definitely shark-infested wasters.

Beware, for here there be monsters.

Writing for no money is called writing “on spec”; that is, you’re writing something on the speculation you might be able to sell it later. Most writers do this on their own time to build up a “war chest” of scripts on various subjects and in different genres and budget ranges. That way, they are positioned for success when an opportunity arises. They are already poised to capitialize on the opportunity, as these windows of opportunity tend to close rapidly. Completed spec scripts can be sold or optioned themselves, or used as calling cards to the industry to be considered for hire for work on other projects.

Here’s the bottom line, folks.

The only person a screenwriter should write on spec for is him/her self. No one else. No exceptions.


Art vs Commerce

I often find myself feeling like I have two people living inside my head, with each one struggling with the other for supremacy.

On one side is the Artist, the guy who just wants to sits down at his laptop, have a hot “mug o’ Joe” beside him, and be left alone to write all afternoon. This is the guy who sits at the desk in the house by the fireplace, occasionally goes out to his neighborhood Starbucks or indie coffee-house (a big shout-out to Coffee Oasis in Port Orchard, WA!), but mainly keeps to himself and does what he does best: WRITE! As a writer, I consider myself an artist first and foremost. I paint pictures, creates images, and characters and events. But instead of painting with pigments on canvas, I paint pictures with words, that convey that picture into the mind of the reader. It is the epitome of sublime satisfaction and artistic achievement.

On the other side, is that other guy, the Business Man. The Entrepreneur. The guy who keeps the books, balances the bank account, keeps track of the money. Money comes in; money goes out. he’s the guy who keeps it all straight — not just for him, but for Uncle Sam as well. You know Uncle Sam. He’s our poor uncle. We send him money every year, right?

The Business Man is also the guy who handles all the technical aspects of being an indie publisher. This is a perplexing, frustrating, and time-consuming endeavor. Luckily, it is not something I have to spend time and energy on every day. But I spent the ENTIRE AFTERNOON today dealing with these repellent, cringe-worthy, but important tasks.

When I published NOCTURNAL, I did so through Amazon’s Create Space tool. I published the e-book exclusively through Kindle, since Kindle is the most widely read e-book format in the world. And the trade paperback was (and still is!) available through Amazon, one of the most dominant e-commerce sites on the planet.

Good to go, right?


You see, you can’t get your Amazon-published book stocked in bookstores. There’s specific technical reasons for this. I won’t bore you with them here, but you can email me if you want to know, and I will be happy to explain it. But suffice to say, if you publish through Amazon’s services, Barnes and Noble won’t touch it, and neither will the smaller indie booksellers, or libraries, or anyone else, for that matter. So that’s a problem, right? That’s sales that aren’t happening, and potential readers not getting their hands on NOCTURNAL, which means I’m not growing my reader base that way I should be growing it.

Problem, right?

Enter Ingrahm Spark! This is a new self-publishing tool, similar to Create Space and Kindle, except you actually purchase an ISBN for each format you plan to publish in. It’s a bit pricey at $85.00 each, but the value you get in return makes it worth it. Through Ingrahm, Spark, I can get books into Barnes and Noble brick-and-mortar stores, indie bookstores, iTunes, iBooks, Barnes and Noble.com, and I can be stocked in countries throughout the Americas, Western Europe and even Australia.

So the Business Guy won out today. I had been planning this switchover for a while now, but had been procrastinating. Not that I was afraid or anything, I just figured it would have a very high “PITA factor” (PITA = Pain In The Ass), which it did. But I sucked it up and did the grunt work to make it happen. Got all the agreements signed, uploaded all the pertinent files in the proper formats, etc. Now the sites review process begins. If all goes well, NOCTURNAL should be available through Ingrahm Spark in a week or so. That’s a good thing. There are a lot of writers, both high-profile and obscure, who call the Pacific Northwest home. The Barnes and Nobles up here like to showcase local writers, and my nearest Barnes and Noble has assured me they will showcase my book as soon as it becomes available in their computer system database, which means Ingrahm Spark.

This is the plight of the indie author. It’s not enough to simply write the damn book. You do your own editing, publishing, marketing, and promotions. You cough up the dough to make these things happen. Your publisher can’t do it for you because YOU ARE YOUR OWN PUBLISHER.

The important thing is, I got done. The ball is in Ingrahm Spark’s court now. Tomorrow, I have an appointment with ENT at Madigan Army Hospital. I’m still in aftercare for my throat cancer. But after that, when I get back home, I’m definitely going to let the Artist out of his cage and left him roam free.

Or at least, let him stretch his legs for a while.

Back in the Saddle

It has been since March 2017 since I last posted to this blog. Almost seven months. I apologize for being away so long. There have been some health issues, both with me and with my beloved wife, but we seem to have things on an even keel now.

Speaking of an even keel, things are going swimmingly with my new literary manager who handles my screenwriting. She lives and works out of Beverly Hills, and is quite enthusiastic about my work and believes in my talent. Big meetings are set up at AFM (American Film Market), which happens next week in Santa Monica. We have a horror feature film project we’re trying to get funded, and it all revolves around one of my scripts. She is meeting with international financiers who have already expressed a strong interest in the project, both because of the strong cast we’ve already assembled (several high profile horror actors are on board), a hot, up-and-coming directing duo, and the relatively modest budget we need to get the film done.

Fingers crossed!

Rather than sit by the phone awaiting the news, I have instead decided to dive back into writing another novel. My experience writing NOCTURNAL after dedicating the better part of twenty years dedicated almost exclusively to feature film screenplays  was quite liberating. I flexed writing muscles I didn’t even know I had. I am eager to repeat that process, and plan to split my creative time between the two disciplines. I even wrote a short story I plan to send out to magazines and literary reviews in the hopes of getting published. Regarding short stories, it is not about the money, as the money is negligible when compared to novel sales and screenwriting, rather it is about building your street cred as a writer. If I am successful in achieving publication, I will write about it here in a future blog post.

The thing about being a writer — a true writer — is to not allow yourself to become pigeonholed into one type of writing or genre. A writer who considers themselves an artist will at least attempt to master multiple formats. In my case, novels, short stories, and screenplays. And within screenplay writing, I have not only written feature film scripts in multiple genres (horror, scoff, action, thriller, film noir), but I have also written a half-hour comedy pilot script for a series that has not yet been produced. In addition to that, I am working off and on on a one-hour drama series that, if sold, would be suitable for premium cable TV (HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc.)

So to you writers reading this, I say, don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. Strike out into other formats, other genres than what you’ve worked in before. A story is still a story, character is still character, and plot is still plot regardless of the format in which you present it.

So keep crashing through boundaries. Keep scaring yourself. It will keep you on your toes, and help you create better art.

I shall endeavor to do the same.