Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Dangers Of Writing About Your Boss (The Dictator)

Being the photographer for former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak must have been stressful enough for Ahmed Mourad, but he also had a hidden agenda: he was a writer in disguise, spending his evenings writing stories which portrayed Mubarak's regime in a bad light.

There is a point where writing becomes more than a dangerous living. You reach that point when you write disparaging things about your boss and your boss is a despot who controls the secret police, the military and society at-large.

Mourad still works as a government photographer and he still writes novels in his free time. Mourad told CNN that he felt driven to write about life in Egypt under the rule of Mubarak. He knew it was dangerous, but felt the risk to his life was worth the reward of bringing the truth about life in Egypt to life.

So far Mourad has written only fictional tales of Mubarak's Egypt, but he said that eventually, perhaps a decade from now, he will write a true tale of what he experienced working so closely with Mubarak. Until then he is counting his blessings for having lived to tell the tales he knows.

It never ceases to amaze me how powerful the urge to write can be. Those who take up the pen find themselves controlled by emotions so raw, so explosive that even the fear of death itself is nothing compared with the desperation they feel about getting their story out.

This is not only what makes great writers great, it's often what brings the truth to light.

"I was with Mubarak in the mornings and wrote against him in the evenings," said Mourad.
"I felt it was the most dangerous decision I made by writing about Mubarak's regime and the people around him, but I would not forgive myself if I didn't write. I decided that if anything happened to me it was God's will."
Mourad, 33, was with Mubarak throughout the revolution and the 18 days of uprising that led to his resignation in February, and could not join the protesters in Tahrir Square. "I was involved in my heart," he said.
He will not discuss the period in detail, except to say it was "horrible" to be with Mubarak at that time, but says he will write a book about it in the future.
Mubarak is currently on trial, accused of ordering the killing of protesters and corruption. He has denied the charges.


Click here to read more about Mourad.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Comics Writers United Under OWS Banner

What is going on with the now global Occupy Wall Street movement is no laughing matter, but that hasn't stopped comic writers and artists from creating an anthology of comics inspired by the recent events.

Comics have been a mainstay of newspapers since the days of Benjamin Franklin. Illustrators have a unique talent of capturing the essence of a moment and encapsulating it with a drawing and a sound bite that makes us think.

Thinking is the world's most undervalued skill. As a species we simply don't do enough of it. We form our opinions based on snap judgements about what we see, hardly ever listening to alternative views. A comic artist has a way of forcing us to think even when we don't realize we are. With a few choice words and drawings they evoke a sense of understanding that perhaps a thousands words or more could not.

That makes the "Occupy Comics: Art & Stories Inspired by Occupy Wall Street" project so interesting to me. I hope the authors can help explain what is happening and why it is so important. Not that I think they will convert opponents into believers. No, minds must be changed from within. Instead I hope they will present views that some readers had never considered, and maybe, just maybe, spur some new thinking, start some new conversations and show us something we have not seen before.

This in itself is more than enough, in my opinion. Everything else is up to the readers.

Featuring such popular creators as Charlie Adlard, Marc Andreyko, Tyler Crook, J.M. DeMatteis, Joshua Dysart, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joseph Michael Linsner, Steve Niles, Steve Rolston, Tim Seeley, Ben Templesmith, Dan Goldman, Amanda Palmer and Darick Robertson, Occupy Comics has already received $10,000 in pledges via the Kickstarter fundraising platform. ComicsAlliance can confirm exclusively that Occupy Comics will also contain material by Mike Allred, Shannon Wheeler, Eric Drooker, Ryan Ottley, Dean Haspiel, Guy Denning and, perhaps most auspiciously, David Lloyd, whose work has already had a demonstrable influence on the Occupy movement, with many protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes mask he designed for his and Alan Moore's anarchist anti-hero in V for Vendetta.



Click here to read more about the OWS comics anthology.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Quality Writers" Giving It Away

Excuse me while I barf.

I was searching the new writing industry news this morning (like I always do) I found a press release for a new company called FreeContent-FreeContent.com. Like many other free content sites they offer web site owners free content in exchange for a link to a precious metals company.

What struck me was the quote from the company's founder John Halloran: "After running a major precious metal company for so many years, I realized there's not many good writers out there, yet I built a database of the best in the world, and I'd like to use these writers to write free content for the public to build links for my precious metal websites."

I have a few choice words for Mr. Halloran. The first few words are unprintable. The rest go something like this: There are plenty of quality writers out here, it's just that we don't appreciate seeing our talents used to hawk crap in exchange for a meager sum which hardly covers the cost of the Ramen noodles most of us eat every night, much less the rent.

I have an idea, Mr. Halloran, encourage everyone to start paying writers what they are worth and I'm sure you will see the "quality" of writing go up. After all, it's about supply and demand. Demand goes up, and the prices go up, right? Oh, wait, that's only true in every profess except writing. As writers, we should learn to survive on scorn, disdain and a general lack of interest or appreciation from everyone.

I have never met Mr. Halloran, worked for Mr. Halloran and attempted to do business with Mr. Halloran. I am merely commenting on his press release, which, while touting a remarkable new web site, also steps down firmly on the neck of everyone working hard at the ART OF WRITING.

And it is an art. Period.

What makes FreeContent-FreeContent.com different from other websites that supply complimentary writing? Unlike other free content websites that offer rewritten, spun, or computer-written content, FreeContent-FreeContent.com offers completely unique writing, specifically tailored to your needs and never computer-generated. Their staff writers are English experts, and have been writing rich SEO content for over ten years.

What does FreeContent-FreeContent.com offer you?- 100% original content - Personally written text written by native US writers- Fully SEO-optimized using your keywords- Topic and title of your choosing- Customized to your exact requirements

Who qualifies for free content from FreeContent-FreeContent.com?

Websites with a Google PageRank of 3 or better- Websites with no material we deem inappropriate


Click here to read more of the press release.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dragons Weep: Anne McCaffrey Dies At 85

Anne McCaffrey is best known for her series of books chronicling the lives of the Dragon Riders of Pern.
I read all her books. I loved them. Before McCaffrey came along I had always thought of dragons as fire-breathing monsters that burned villages and ate virginal maidens. But McCaffrey found a way to bring them into the future, mix the fantasy legend of dragons with the wonder and splendor of science fiction and turn out something totally new and different.

McCaffrey wrote more than 100 novels during her prolific career. She was the first woman to win any Hugo or any Nebula awards. Her books inspired an unknown number of new writers (myself included), but perhaps especially women who found their sex represented equally for the first time in her stories.

McCaffrey had a career which spanned four decades, saw her books on the New York Times Bestseller list and attracted legions of fans.

Her contributions to science fiction and fantasy were groundbreaking and her voice in the world of modern literature will be missed.


Born in Cambridge, Mass., McCaffrey was raised in New Jersey, where she graduated from Montclair High School.

In a biography posted on her website, she talked about her attempts at writing a first novel in Latin class, which "might have brought her instant fame, as well as an A, if she had written it in that ancient language."

Chastened, she said, by her teacher and father, she turned to the stage and became a character actress, appearing in a summer music circus in Lambertsville. She later graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, majoring in Slavonic Languages and Literatures.

But it was the worlds she created on other planets that brought her fame, in a genre then dominated by men. Her first story was published in Science Fiction Plus Magazine. She said her first novel, Restoree, was written as a protest against the "absurd and unrealistic portrayals of women in s-f novels in the 50s and early 60s."

Emigrating to Ireland in 1970 with her three children following a divorce, McCaffrey ultimately published nearly 100 books, including The Ship Who Sang and the fourteen novels about the Dragonriders of Pern.


Click here to read more about McCaffrey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

He Gave So Much Joy But Is Mostly Unremembered

The fact is, we all watch television at some point or another. What is not so widely understood is that behind every sitcom, drama and reality show is a writer--or a team of writers. They formulate the plot, write the script--carve out the characters, developing their personalities and making us love, hate or loathe them.

Television writers have been creating memorable characters since television was created. But I'll bet you can't name a single one of them, can you?

I realize being behind the camera, or locked away in a writer's room is hardly as glamorous as being front and center in front of the camera. But without writers, excellent writers, none of the characters millions of people have grown to love and care about would exist. They would be utterly mute; devoid of thought and feeling; no hopes, no dreams, no suffering, no joy.

So it was with the characters created by Jack Elinson. He died this week at the ripe old age of 95.

If you are old enough to remember "That Girl", "Hogan's Heroes" or "The Andy Griffith Show" then you are familiar with his work. He also wrote for "The Facts of Life" and "Good Times" both of which are within the range of even Generation X'ers.

Elinson was hardly alone in the writer's room. He was often part of a team of writers who created jokes, sub-plots, story lines and everything else that made for great television. Yet just about nobody who enjoyed his work likely even knew he existed.

I hope to see the day when the person who writes the material is remembered as fondly as the person who reads it. But that day has not yet come.


Jack Elinson, a veteran TV comedy writer and producer, died Thursday of natural causes at his Santa Monica home, the Writers Guild of America, West announced Monday. He was 89.

Elinson, who cut his teeth writing jokes for Walter Winchell's newspaper column, rose to prominence in the 1950s working on such Golden Age fare as "The Jimmy Durante Show," "The Johnny Carson Show" and "The Colgate Comedy Hour." The following decade saw him writing for series including "The Danny Thomas Show," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Hogan's Heroes," "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." and "That Girl," the latter two of which he also produced.


Click here to read more about Jack Elinson.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing To Survive

As a struggling writer i love stories of people who wrote not as a means as an outlet, but as a means of survival.

Writers like Jason Segel. You might remember him as the naked guy in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" which he wrote and starred in. Segel has been acting since "Freaks and Geeks" in 1999, but he has since appeared in dozens of television and film projects since then.

Despite his seeming success Segel found himself unable to secure a leading man role, so he did the only thing he could do: He turned to writing.

In this article from Jam.canoe.com Segel, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Muppet Movie (which is already generating great buzz) talks about how writing for him was more of a necessity than a luxury. When he couldn't find a leading role that was right for him, he chose to write his own roles. Of course, since he did have some connections within Hollywood it was a far simpler task for him to get his work read, but it still required him to produce quality, marketable scripts that would ultimately turn a profit. This means Segel couldn't just slap together a script and expect to sell it. Nor could he expect to make a career as a writer if his project did not earn the expected revenue.

No, Segel wrote because he had to, but he continues to write because he is good at it. That's a feel good story for every Starved Writer.

Segel, who claims The Muppets were his first real comic influence, co-wrote and stars in the film; his human co-stars include Amy Adams and Chris Cooper, and there are many cameo appearances in the film from Muppet-loving celebrities.

Segel, 31, is currently at the top of his game. Writing and starring in Forgetting Sarah Marshall three years ago made him a very big deal in Hollywood, and between his success on TV's How I Met Your Mother and in such films as I Love You, Man, Despicable Me and Bad Teacher, Segel is among the most successful grads of the Judd Apatow school of laughs.

Hard to believe he was more or less out of work for a few years. Segel wrote his way back into the game after early TV success on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared led nowhere.


Click here to read more about Segel's writing career.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Color Writer Are You?

How you write says a great deal about who you are. This does not mean your nationality can be detected by the candor of your prose, although I suppose if you intentionally set out to achieve that goal you certainly could.
No, I mean there is no color in writing. You might be a black man or a white woman; a Russian immigrant living in Brazil, or a Brazilian living in Thailand; all that matters is the power of your words.
Ultimately we all judge one another. that is how we choose our friends, our spouses, or co-workers, our employers (unless desperation forces us to do otherwise. We review, exclude or select based on certain indicators. Perhaps once those indicators had more to do with the color of our skin or the accent we spoke with, but with writing it has always been about the words we chose.
Words. Words are powerful. Words have weight and ultimately, we bear the weight of the words we choose.

I am white. I am a white, male American. I have never once wondered whether the words I wrote would be accepted by everyone, everywhere, assuming I chose the right ones. Then of course as a white, male American I have never really faced the ostracism, the disdain, the rudeness or contempt which is often heaped upon some people because of their color, where they live or where they came from.

For myself I know I never judge a book by the color of its author. I count Khaled Hosseini and Alice Walker among my favorite authors. But never once did I think they might have wondered, even as they wrote the words which would later inspire me to become a better writer, whether or not their words would ever be read because of the color of their skin.

Maybe that's my failing. I am naive when it comes to comes to just how cruel we, as humans, can be. Then again, I prefer believing that every day, in every way, we, as a species, are getting better and better, and the colors and borders and religions which separate us are beginning to disappear.

At least I hope so.

My father says I should use a pseudonym. "They won't publish you if they see your name. They'll know you're not one of them. They'll know you're one of us." This has never occurred to me, at least not in a serious way. "No publisher in America's going to reject my poems because I have a foreign name," I reply. "Not in 2002." I argue, "These are educated people. My name won't be any impediment." Yet in spite of my faith in the egalitarian attitude of editors and the anonymity of book contests, I understand my father's angle on the issue.

With his beard shaved and his hair shorn, his turban undone and left behind in Bolina Doaba, Punjab--the town whose name we take as our own--he lands at Heathrow in 1965, a brown boy of 18 become a Londoner. His circumstance then must seem at once exhilarating and also like drifting in a lifeboat: necessary, interminable. I imagine the English of the era sporting an especially muted and disdainful brand of racism toward my alien father, his brother and sister-in-law, toward his brother-in-law and sister, his nieces and nephews, and the other Indians they befriend on Nadine Street, Charlton, just east of Greenwich. The sense of exclusion arrives over every channel, dull and constant.


Click here to read more from Jaswinder Bolina.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How To Write A Decent Screenplay

The market for original screenplays is hotter than it's been in a long, long time. That makes this a good time for first time scribes to pick up their pens and get busy producing something noteworthy (or at least sellable).

The first question most writers ask themselves is, where do I begin?

Every professional writer understands the importance of honing your craft and developing their own style. They also understand that different formats require they adapt their style accordingly.

For instance, don't write a blog post and expect to sell that same article to a newspaper. You need a different style for a news story (something called the inverted pyramid) than you do for a blog post. You also need attribution, objectivity and relevance.

If you have a great idea for a screenplay you can't just sit down, scribble out a few notes and send it to Hollywood. You need to follow a proper format, one that is familiar to script-writers, but might be strange and unknown to anyone else. You also need to recognize elements which are crucial to every screenwriter. Elements which can make the difference between a script which gets sold and one that sits in your desk drawer gathering dust.


In many ways we are master storytellers because it is an art form that we practice every day. But also, in many ways we are novices, neophytes, fledglings, because we stumble and falter with the telling of so many stories. We struggle with the extraordinary demands of each form or genre or delivery system. We’re like infants trying to take those first steps when inside we feel the desire to run.

Each form of storytelling has its opportunities and limitations. In the novel the visuals have to be created with words. Journalists struggle with maintaining the required objectivity while feeling the pull to infuse their stories with an element of personal intimacy. Playwrights battle the limitations of the stage and the restrictions of time.

But one of the most severe sets of limitations is experienced by screenwriters. The screenplay appears so seductively simple with its standard format and three-act 120-page structure. But its simplicity is deceptive. Regardless of the story you want to tell, the genre you have chosen or the theme or subject matter – your hands are tied.


Click here to read more about the important elements of a screenplay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yet Another Self-Publishing Service

Wanna-be writers, meet Book Country.
Book Country is a free writer's community and publishing service launched earlier this year by Penguin. Its stated goal is to help new writers self-publish (for a fee) their work in a more professional way.

It started as an entirely free service, a community where writers could post manuscripts, get critiques of their work and some helpful guidance to make their story stronger.

Penguin claims the manuscripts they are receiving are high quality and that literary agents have begun perusing the site for work they would like to market. They also claim that these agents have actually "picked up" a few Book Country members.

So far, more than 4,000 members have posted about 500 manuscripts at the site with new members signing up every day. This is good news for Penguin which expects to generate revenue both from their new self-publishing service and book deals offered to members.

I have mixed feelings about this. I suppose it is great to have a tool for vetting your manuscript, getting feedback and critical review information. It probably doesn't hurt having some help navigating the self-publishing mine field. But I wonder if they aren't feeding off people who would be better off self-publishing a free ebook as a first step.

The fact is, every time I mention to someone I am a writer they say "I am going to write a book" and proceed to tell me their story and explain why it is so marketable. Having a story to tell and having the talent to tell it in written form to a mass audience are two different things. There is nothing wrong with encouraging someone to take up the pen (or keyboard) and put their thoughts down on paper. But it is wrong to give them the impression it is easy to get published. Or that self-publishing is going to make them rich or famous (I am neither, though I do make a living as a writer.)

I encourage you to check out Book Country if you are committed to self-publishing, but I caution you against putting too much faith in it. After all, projects like "Sh#@ My Dad Says" and "WaiterRant" and "Wonkette" began as free online work which garnered enough recognition to become something more. No upfront costs at all, except time and talent.

At a demonstration of the new service held at Penguin offices—Book Country is organized as a separate company but is owned by Penguin—Barton outlined the individual cost and steps involved in using the Book Country self-publishing tools. “These professional tools provide a direct path to publication for those who choose to go the self-publishing route,“ Barton said. Indeed Barton, taking aim at Amazon's self-publishing service, claims Book Country is the first of its kind to offer print and e-book production during the same automated process.

Once logged onto the Book Country site members with books ready for publication can click through to the Book Country Publish Your Book page. BC offers three publishing “packages” at three prices: $549 for the professionally formatted print/e-book package; $299 for the user-formatted print/e-book package; and $99 for the e-book only package. Each package provides the user with ISBN, distribution options, pricing and earning information, and marketing help. While the publishing packages are designed to be simple and provide a set schedule of fees and a limited number of options, Barton noted that a la carte editorial and production services will likely be added to the service later. “We want all the fees to be upfront, no surprise fees tacked on later, ” Barton said. Barton said conversion processes are done by people and are not automated and production quality of BC titles displayed during the demonstration was impressive.

Click here to read more about Book Country.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The New Supergirl: Re-Writing History

Supergirl is one of those also-ran comic characters. She was an established part of the Superman universe; she interacted with other characters, had a life, had her own family and even her own rogues gallery of villains to fight.

Now that DC Comics has re-started its entire comic book universe Supergirl is getting a new lease on life. In fact, like all the superheroes she is getting an entirely new life, new history, new ways of thinking, acting, fighting and feeling.

For long time fans of her comic book series this is no doubt confusing and perhaps a little unsettling. For the writers, however, it is an opportunity to re-imagine just what Supergirl might be like. It's a chance to re-write history without taking liberties--because the liberties have been given freely.

it is great to invent something new, a new story or character that can entertain and delight, but it is also fun to re-imagine a what-if scenario with characters everyone is already familiar with. Even if that re-imagining makes them complete unfamiliar.

Newsarama: Let's talk about Supergirl as a character. We've not met her. I think a lot of people had the perception that she was going to be this unfeeling alien, but there's obviously a lot of compassion in this girl, as we saw her love for her family and her concern for the people she thought were hurt in the Great Wall of China. Now that we've seen a bit of that and you're getting further into the series, who is Supergirl? How would you describe her?


Michael Green: We really just wanted her to be a real girl — somebody with relatable feelings, plausible feelings, and plausible reactions to an incredibly set of circumstances.


What would you do if you were a 16-year-old girl who expected to have the SAT's tomorrow, but instead woke up on an alien planet and had the powers of a god.


Mike Johnson: And when we've said in the past that we want her to be alien, that's really going to come across more as the series progresses and we see how she interacts with Earth. We've jumped in very quickly with her hectic arrival, but fundamentally, between Kryptonians and Earthlings, there is a common morality and common ethic. So yes, she is an alien, yet she's a very relatable girl.
Click here to read more of the interview with Green and Johnson.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Mayor Impersonates Journalist; Writes Positive Stories About His Town

I don't know who makes me angrier in this story: West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder who impersonated a journalist in order to get positive stories published about his community or the editors of the news agencies which published his work without verifying he was who he claimed to be.

Winder said he was concerned that more than half the news stories published about his community were negative. Instead of focusing his efforts on making his city a safer, better place, he swiped an identity off the internet and passed himself off as a freelance writer so he could get his stories published at the Deseret News, KSL-TV's website and a local community weekly.

Not only did Winder defraud the community by pretending to be a legitimate journalist, he also quoted HIMSELF as mayor in some of his stories and allowed his sister to write one story under his alias.

Rather than focus on making his city a better place he posed as a reporter to make it appear it was a better place. Same city, different set of stories. He chose what stories to write, he decided what subjects were worth writing about, so of course he only wrote about positive things, ignoring the plight of his citizens who face real problems in his community.

As a former journalist I am insulted by the audacity of a political figure, a public servant, who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to impersonate a journalist to get some good press for his city. I am further insulted at the laziness of the editors who failed to do even a cursory background check on a freelance reporter before publishing his work.

The fact that there are no legal repercussions for this act is simply icing on the cake.

If I were to pose as a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a firefighter or an engineer I would face criminal charges. Posing as a journalist is cause for nothing more than a firing. Until journalism is treated as an integral part of a free and open Democratic system, and the status of a journalist is elevated to a profession worth protecting, we will continue to question not only the ethics of the people who bring us the news, but the quality of the news itself.

Disguising himself with an alias, the mayor of Utah's second-largest city has been writing upbeat freelance articles about his town for area news outlets because he claimed the media spent too much time on crime coverage.

He unapologetically revealed himself this week, insisting the balance was needed.

"I thought about all the people just reading about crime in our city and nothing better," West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said Friday. "I'm trying to stand up for us because we do get the short end of the stick — negative stories."

Winder had been writing under the name Richard Burwash, an alias he actually swiped from a real man — a one-time professional tennis player from California — that he found on the Internet.


Click here to read more about Mike Winder.

Friday, November 11, 2011

(Some) Canadian Writers Starving No More

Writers do not always starved. Some of them strike it lucky, get published and actually earn a decent living putting words on paper. Some of them even earn enough to put a little bit aside for the lean years, so they don't have to write for a living on their death bed.

But most writers do none of these things. In fact, as a living, writing is one of the most difficult professions you could choose. The pay is lousy, recognition is slow (or never) coming and there is not much to look forward as you get older except hunger pangs.

Fortunately for some senior Canadian writers there is a group which recognizes their plight and strives to help them not only survive, but thrive. The Canadian Writers’ Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1931 to support senior writers. Specifically senior writers who were recognized for making a contribution to Canadian literature, but it's better than nothing.

As a writer you might dream of a wildly successful life, eventually settle for some small recognition, then dream of the days when you were less jaded, more naive and believed you might be as successful as Stephen King. The fact is you will be lucky to scrape together a meager living, and even if you do strike some resonant chord with your community, the chances are they will forget all about you once something new comes along.

This does not diminish the quality of the work you once did. It just makes it unlikely you will eke enough residuals to keep the lights on as a senior citizen.

That's where the Canadian Writers' Foundation comes in. They help senior citizen writers continue to search for the spark of their own writing genius and perhaps even find a new way to impact their community with words.


Among the 70-plus writers who have received grants from the $1.8 million distributed by the CWF over the past 80 years are such major Canadian authors, dramatists and poets as Alfred Desrochers, Mollie Gillen, Norman Levine, Dorothy Livesay and E.J. Pratt, even Irving Layton.

“We know that, even if you have a wonderful social safety net, people are always falling through the cracks,” says CWF president and board chair Marianne Scott. “And, back in 1931, there really wasn’t any safety net and there wasn’t much money in writing.”

Although various grants for writers are now available through such organizations as the Canada Council for the Arts, and “these groups play an extremely important role, they offer support for writers when they are writing and healthy,” points out Scott. “But there are significant writers who have not been able to work even part-time, did not have a university position and don’t have a pension. They have to wait for their Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement — neither of which is very much. We are there to fill the gap. Our annual $5,400 stipend makes up the difference and lifts these writers just above the poverty level.”



Click here to read more about the Canadian Writers' Foundation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing's on the Wall For "Writing's On The Wall"

That's it, I cannot take it any more. Please stop using the phrase, "writing's on the wall."

That has to be the most over-used phrase in all of literary history. I dare say it's worse than "It was a dark and stormy night."

If you don't believe me, just do a Google search of writing news. I do such a search every single day, and every day dozens and dozens of stories with the words "writing's on the wall" appear in the results.

I have an idea, just say, "it's the end of..." or "there's no more..." or how about "it's over for..."

I realize the phrase "writing's on the wall" is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you are predicting the end of something (Like Adobe Flash or Joe Paterno's career) but the fact it is the first thing that comes to m ind should be a red flag that it is being used too much.

As a writer it is very important to me that I produce original work. I want my writing to be a reflection of me. I want to find words which are strung together in ways which are new and interesting for my readers. I don't want them to be comfortable because the paths I lead them down are familiar. I want to surprise them with every sentence.

I happen to be a big fan of Napoleonic era ships, in particular the English Navy. This makes me a fan of C.S. Forester and recently, Patrick O'Brian.
Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels are breezy fun; exciting and informative.
O'Brian's books are heavy, full of historical facts that may or may not relate to the story, yet wholly original. they are nothing at all like Forester's stories. They are saturated with words and phrases specific to the time frame he is writing about. That makes his stories difficult for me to navigate as I don't speak the Queen's English, circa 1803.

But I love them even more for it.

What I never read in any book is "writing's on the wall." It's tired, boring and the worst possible lead in any news or magazine story. Even as a headline it is way too common place.

So, I say, kill it. Now. Go back to any article you have posted, or story you have written and change it to something different right now. Be original.

Trust me, your readers will thank you for it. And you can thank me later.

Click here for a Google search to see what I mean...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Yorker Writer Shares Her Secrets

Most writers know how important it is to listen and learn from writers who have come before them, either by reading their works or getting their input. Barring knocking on their door (which likely will result in a restraining order) you can catch them at a variety of speaking engagements.

New Yorker Magazine writer and novelist Susan Orlean, recently spoke at the NYU Literary Reportage program, where she shared information about her writing process both as a long-form journalist and author.

Orlean has written for New Yorker Magazine since 1992. She has also written articles for Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside.
She is the author of several books, including The Orchid Thief, which was fictionalized as the feature film, Adaptation. She also wrote an article for Women's Outside, "Life's Swell", which was later adapted into the film, Blue Crush.

As a writer I recognize the importance of learning everything I can from writers (both published and unpublished) who have walked the road I am walking now. However, i also recognize the importance of finding my own style and using my own voice with every word I put on paper.

How about you?

NYU’s Literary Reportage director Robert Boynton sat opposite Orlean on stage. They spoke about their meeting in 2004 when Orlean first had the idea for Rin Tin Tin. Since that time, Orlean has traveled to Texas, California and France in order to trace back the history of how this dog became a Hollywood legend. She said that the research was more far-reaching than The Orchid Thief, because it was archival, rather than having sources in the “here and now.”

From the front of the room, Orlean grinned about her struggles as a writer and talked about how Rin Tin Tin seemed like an obvious choice for a novel (despite outside ‘why write about a dog?’ scrutiny). She claims how simply sitting and thinking was essential to her writing process. And, when all else fails, Orlean quipped, “at least I still know English.”

The past few years have been eventful. She got married, had a baby, and moved to Upstate New York. There, she bought chickens, guinea fowl and a number of other farm animals. “Dogs are like a gateway animal,” she joked.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christopher Paolini Shares His Thoughts

Christopher Paolini is the author behind the hit series of novels known as the "Inheritance Cycle." It began with the popular novel "Eragon" which was later turned into a Hollywood film. The film never amassed the type of sales that some had hoped but the fans of his books are legion. The books have sold more than 25 million copies, elevating Paolini to superstar status for fans of fantasy fiction.

Paolini began writing "Eragon" when he was just 15 years old. In little more than a week Paolini will celebrate his 28th birthday, secure in the knowledge that his cycle of books is now finished. He just completed the fourth and final novel "Inheritance."

Paolini shares some of his thoughts on the writing process and how much this series of books has dominated his life for the last two decades in an essay at the WallStreetJournal.com. He seems happy for having accomplished what he set out to do, but like many writers who have devoted so much time to a single subject, he also sounds happy to free of it.

When I finally arrived at the end of the manuscript, and I finally wrote the last chapter, the last page . . . the last sentence, a rush of heat passed through me, and I actually began to shake, almost as if I were chilled. The sensation was so overwhelming, I had to stop working on the last sentence and come back to it several weeks later, once my emotions were calmer.

After so long with this world and these characters, it’s hard to part with them—bittersweet almost. At times, I find myself wondering how certain characters are doing, and I’ve even felt tempted to sit down and start writing about them, it’s become such a habit.

Still, as sad as it is to say goodbye to the “Inheritance” cycle, I’m excited about moving on to some of the stories that have been bouncing around in my head for the past ten years. Some are fantasy, some are not, but all of them, I hope, are fun and interesting.


Click here to read more of Paolini's essay at WSJ.com.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Chinese Writing Best Done Online

Chinese writers are a vocal lot, despite the fact not many envelope-pushing works are printed. Instead, they publish their rebellious words online where the Chinese censors have a tougher time controlling what is written.

China has a very specific set of rules when it comes to what its people can and cannot say, especially about the government. Chinese censors comprise the most meticulous filtering system in the world, controlling just about everything its citizens say or write which is intended for public consumption.

The Internet has created a medium which, although Chinese censors exert some control over it, allows writers to get their works out to a wider audience than ever before. This subversion of the Chinese authorities is dangerous--just as medical marijuana users/producers in the United States risk federal arrest.
Except in China the punishment for dissident writers is often a decade or more in prison--if not worse.

Chinese writers regularly risk their freedom and their lives in an effort, not to bring down the Chinese government, but to elevate the thinking of the Chinese citizen. Their efforts are aimed squarely at the Chinese people, goading them into thinking for themselves; forcing them to look carefully at the world they live in and deciding whether or not they are satisfied with what they have.

In this way Chinese writers are among the bravest men and women in the world today. I hope they do not also become an endangered species.

Mr. Murong’s books are racy and violent and nihilistic, with tales of businessmen and officials engaging in bribe-taking, brawling, drinking, gambling and cavorting with prostitutes in China’s booming cities. He is a laureate of corruption, and his friends have introduced him at dinner parties as a writer of pornography.

That his books are published at all in China shows how the industry, once carefully controlled by the state, has become more market-driven.

But Mr. Murong’s prose inevitably runs up against censorship, which the Chinese Communist Party is intent on maintaining despite the publishing industry’s gradual changes. Mr. Murong says he is a “word criminal” in the eyes of the state, and a “coward” in his own eyes for engaging in self-censorship. His growing frustrations have pushed him to become one of the most vocal critics of censorship in China. After zipping his mouth in Beijing last November, he delivered his banned speech three months later in Hong Kong. He also discussed the issue last weekend in New York at the Asia Society.


Click here to read more about Murong Xuecun.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Like Every Great Writer Joan Didion Suffers And Shares

Only a writer can tear open their chest, lay their bleeding heart on the table, receive abundant applause for their endeavor, then do it all over again just a short time later.

This is the life, death and rebirth every great writer experiences. It is within this cycle that the writer hones their craft, at once sharing a story of themselves with the reader and purging their soul of grief.

Grief. Grief is the currency of the great writer. They pay for every word with their suffering, sharing with the reader a story that burns with every drop of ink. The grief shared with the reader is what makes the story real. Their story comes alive with every inch of their own death.

Writer and world-renowned journalist, Joan Didion has certainly seen more than her fair share of tragedy: The death of her husband; the death of her daughter.

In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion told the story of her love affair with and marriage to her husband and long time writing partner, John. With her latest book, Blue Nights, Didion turns the writer's light on her relationship with her daughter, and reveals a stunning, yet tragic, view of her own life and art....


Didion and John never made a formal pact about where the boundary lay in invading their daughter's privacy; both had written about her but before now there had been obvious limits - Quintana's adoption and eventual reunion with her birth family; her struggles with depression; Didion's doubts about her mothering.

This was not the material she intended to visit in the book.

''When I started writing, I thought it was going to be about attitudes to raising children. Then it became clear to me that, willy-nilly, it was going to be personal. I can't imagine what I thought it was going to be if it wasn't personal.''

Once this became clear, the urge to really consider her relationship with her daughter was instinctive and irresistible. ''I've always had this sense that the unexamined fact is like a rattlesnake. It's going to come after you. And you can keep it at bay by always keeping it in your eye line.'' Didion hates confrontation but knows how to get what she wants by other means. She doesn't like joining the group. In Hollywood, while she and John were living a fine life among friends in the film industry, she was nonetheless on the outside. ''We were not part of Hollywood. We worked in it but as writers you aren't ever - you don't have a very elevated role.''

Click here to read more Didion's new book and her process of writing it.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Afghan Women’s Writing Project: Silent No More

Since 2009 the Afghan Women’s Writing Project has been giving a new voice to women in war zones who have been enduring extreme hardship. It serves as an outlet for women are being subjugated, forced to remain indoors for fear of being killed by extremists; those who cannot express themselves in any other way.

The project was started by American novelist, journalist and human rights advocate Masha Hamilton. She has been encouraging Afghani women to express themselves with the written word in whatever form they choose. Essays, blogs, poems, whatever helps them get their stories out to the world.

This is crucial not just for the women of Afghanistan, but for the rest of world. Writing is perhaps the most useful tool for expressing yourself. It helps us share our emotions, our private thoughts; our fears, our hopes, our joys and our sorrows. By writing something down on paper we release it to the world. We let it go.

Hamilton has traveled to Afghanistan three times, and lead writing workshops for women while she was there. In return, the women of Afghanistan have responded with heartfelt writing that shows they not have stories to share, they have the very real desire to share them. They want to be heard and Hamilton (and the world) is ready to listen.

One Afghan woman walked for four hours from her home in Logar Province so she could email a poem to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, a literacy project founded by American novelist Masha Hamilton.

Hamilton – a longtime journalist and human rights activist – shared that poem with a class of Sweet Briar College students Wednesday, kicking off her weeklong visit to campus.

“You say you want to help me, but I tell you you cannot help me,” said Hamilton, reading the excerpt. “I come to Kabul to use the Internet, but my family doesn’t like me to come to Kabul. I would love to go to college but my family doesn’t agree.

“I see the cows can go out, but I am a girl and cannot go out. If I go, Talibs will kill me, and no one will ask why.”

Click here to read more about the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's Not What You're Writing But How You Write it

Time was you could find your local writer sitting in a coffee shop scribbling furiously in a notebook. Pencil in hand, surrounded by a haze of thought and clouds of smoke from a clove cigarette, the writer would carve out his story as a sculptor carves a block of marble.

But time marches on and writers, just like everyone else, are not immune from the technological changes taking place in the world today. So, gone are the notebooks and pencils and here are the multitude of electronic devices (notebooks, netbooks, tablets and smartphones) that are just as portable and no less easy to use as a pencil and paper.

Evernote is a fairly useful tool for writing on your smartphone. since it is available to people who use something other than iPhone it is likely to be used by more writers, most of whom (like me) are starving.

It is worth mentioning however that regardless of what tool you use to write, the work is no less arduous, difficult and frustrating. Writing is a trial by fire; a wander through the dark woods of your own subconscious that often leads to many dead-ends and circles back over the same path you've walked before.

My advice is not to focus too much on the tools you use to write, unless you already have a paying gig as a writer. Instead focus on getting the content down any way you can and worry about the fancy tools later.

Whenever I write about working mobile, since I often detail using some gadget or another, I hear from readers who ask why I don’t just carry a laptop everywhere. That’s a logical question, but real life doesn’t unfold the way we plan. The reality is that in my busy life I often write in moments of opportunity, using whatever gadgetry I have in hand. The key ingredient to my mobile writing is the note-taking service from Evernote.

My life is hectic, with five adult children between my wife and me, all with families of their own and activities demanding frequent calendar checking. When a rare half hour of free time presents itself, I like to spend it writing about tech. It is how I unwind, and I enjoy those moments.

I rarely have a laptop with me at times such as those but I do have either a smartphone or a tablet of one type or another close by. That’s why Evernote is such a great tool for writing, as there is a native app for iOS and Android that is available on all gadgets I use and that syncs to the cloud.


Click here to read more about Evernote.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Now Is The Time To Sell Your Script

In a stunning turn of fortune, original scripts are being bought at an unprecedented rate, meaning if you have an original script idea, now is the time to shop it around.

Script writing is a real hit-or-miss prospect. Even if you have been hired to write a new script there is no guarantee they will like your work, or that your name will appear in lights (not that writers get that sort of billing anyway.) When you write a script on spec, meaning you write a script just because you have a good idea and want to shop it around for a buyer, your chances of success are even lower.

Hollywood has apparently tired of the same-old, same-old, and started looking for original screenplays which would turn into blockbuster films. This is good news for independent screenwriters, or anyone who thinks they have a great idea for a script. The market is finally showing signs of growth; doors are finally opening as opposed to the past few years when the doors seemed nailed shut.

No fewer than 18 spec scripts -- screenplays written without a contract -- were sold in October. That's the highest monthly tally since before the Writers Guild strike in 2007-2008.

The projects range from a biopic about code-cracking mathematician Alan Turing to a "found footage" thriller centering on killer hurricanes to a relationship counselor comedy that will likely star Ken Jeong of "The Hangover."

"We already knew that 2011 was going to be the hottest spec market in five years, but October's numbers are beyond all expectations," said Jason Scoggins, author of the Scoggins Report and founder of ItsontheGrid.com, a division of TheWrap. "And when you add in pitch sales, buyers' appetites have never been stronger."

In a robust sign of health for long-neglected screenwriters, studios are competing to bid for the hottest scripts and pitches.

In total, 86 spec scripts have been snatched up through October -- more than the number that sold in all of 2009 or 2010.


Click here to read more about the state of scripts on spec.