Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Blog Has a New Home.... on Wordpress

I've jumped the webisphere and officially moved over to Wordpress.

I feel so grown up.

You can find my new posts on 

I hope all my blogger followers will find me on the new site!  

I appreciate you all taking the journey of insecurity with me this past year, and I look forward to sharing more of my musings with you. 

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Gift of Time

In 2011, I'm going to guard and protect my time as if it were a living being in need of my ninja skills. #learntosayNO

The other day, I declared the above goal on Twitter.  I hope I can succeed.  Of all of my personal goals for the New Year, this is the one that matters most.

Time.  It is far more fragile and precious than we treat it. 

I challenge you all to think about time this year. How you use it.  Why you waste it.  If you squeeze every last drop out of it.  If you wish it away. 

I promise you, if you do the latter, you’ll ultimately wish you had it back.

Respect your time.  Make other people respect your time.  Demand that.  Do it for yourself.  Do it for your family.  Do it for your sanity. 

I am now declaring publicly that I will protect my time as if my life depended on it.  While I’d love to read all your scripts and manuscripts, write projects for you and with you, promote your work, read every blog post, watch every short film, and spend hours helping all of you, I simply can’t. 

In 2010, I accomplished more than I ever could have dreamed.  I squeezed every second out of a day… and then some.  But in doing so, I reached a breaking point that threatened to push me over the edge of sanity.  I gave too much of myself without nurturing myself in return.  I can’t do that for another year.  It will kill me.  Most importantly, I missed far too many moments with my teenage children, who are growing faster than I care to admit. 

Will I continue to be your Twitter Pimp Angel?  HELL, YES!   But I will now ask myself each time a request comes my way, “If I say yes, will I resent it later… will it distract too much from my own goals… will it take too much time away from my family?”  I urge you to ask yourself those same questions when your time is on the line. 

I have no doubt I am at an impasse in my career.  I am right there.  So close I can taste it.  I need to grab that brass ring, and to do that, I need time to continue to prepare myself, and my writing, for when the ring flies by on the carousel of this insane ride.  I need to be ready for the opportunity. 

I need time to do that.  I deserve to give myself that gift.  My children deserve it.

Are you using your time to its fullest?  More importantly, are you really nurturing yourself enough?  How do you juggle family and career?  Do you feel balanced?

I’d love to know how you all manage your time.  I could definitely use some advice. 

I wish for you a glorious year of love, success, happiness… and the time to enjoy it. 

Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From Country Girl to Film Courage: The Power of Community

Last week, I had the honor of participating in a fun Christmas campaign by David Branin and Karen Worden of Film Courage.  They gave the gift of allowing their audience to choose the radio guest for December 26th.  This past Sunday, they announced I had won the spot!  I’m beyond thrilled to represent not only the Scriptchat treefort, but also all the members of our incredible community of screenwriters. 

The fun-spirited “competition” between myself and the other nominees didn’t lead to fist fights, slander, or smack talk, it lead to a widening of an already incredible community.  It was truly a Christmas miracle. 

I’d like to formally tip my pimp fedora to Andrea Shreeman and Oklahoma Ward, both who put up a fierce fight to the end.  Because of their efforts and support, David and Karen have promised them slots to guest in 2011.  I can’t wait to help promote their appearances and their projects.

Another huge shout out to Hal Croasmun, president of ScreenwritingU, for rallying all the Pro Series alumni to cast their votes, as well as Jane Friedman and JT Ellison, who did the final weekend push of support.  Of course, the enormous rock-the-treehouse effort was led by my fellow treefort members, Kim Garland, Jamie Livingston, Zac Sanford and Mina Zaher.  I would be lost without all of you!

To all who voted, pimped me out on Twitter and Facebook, and watched the Scriptchat feed light on fire, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Imagine little old country girl me, on the LA Talk Radio station, all because of an astounding community of writers uniting!  I’m blown away, and so grateful to have all of your support and encouragement.

Please listen in on Sunday, December 26th at Noon PST.   You can go to the Film Courage page and click on my face, or go to and click on the Film Courage icon.  If you miss the show, you’ll be able to listen to an archived version.

I should warn you, I sound like I’m 12.  J

Happy Holidays!   You guys rock!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Choices We Make

What makes us who we are?  Why do we make the choices we do?  Those are questions I ask of my characters and also of myself.

This month, I made choices that were slightly insane, to say the least.  In November, both my mother and my husband had scheduled surgeries, I got a new freelance gig, had 13 houseguests for Thanksgiving, and I still went through with my promise to myself to participate in my first NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

The most common question people asked me this month was where I got my drive. 

The answer was, surprisingly, not tequila.  It was, “Mom”.  

As a little girl, I'd watch her beauty as she switched from being a gourmet chef to a construction worker, doing both effortlessly.  This woman could run laps around Gloria Steinem.  No Barbies for me.  She thought they were sexist.  Okay, so I didn’t like everything about my mother.  But she was, and still is, a one-woman dynamo. 

I wanted to be her when I grew up.

When she was pregnant with me, we moved from Connecticut to the Chicago suburbs.  As a country girl, the idea of living in a city was Mom's worst nightmare.  Neighbors everywhere, and real friends nowhere.  They stared from behind their curtains at her as she defied the logic of most housewives, digging in the dirt, actually playing with her children, and quitting smoking. 

One spring day in 1964, the neighborhood Stepford Husbands pulled out their sprinklers.  My mom watched in amazement as they carefully synchronized the swish of the flow, all to avoid wetting the sidewalk.  That night, my father informed her she needed to get a sprinkler so we'd be "in sync" in our new neighborhood. 

Her response, "Yes, Dear." 

The next day, my dad returned from work, driving down the street, witnessing the left, right, left, right, left, right water dance, anxious to see his own yard in unison.  As he pulled up, there before him was a loud, circular sprinkler – swoosh, swoosh, swoosh – watering not only our yard, but also the entire sidewalk.  Neighbors peeked through the curtains in disgust.  My mother opened her curtains wide, smiling. 

With one purchase, she made her statement.  We didn’t last the year.

After Illinois, we moved to the country in Upstate, NY.  Mom was in heaven.  We bought a run down 200-yr-old house on 150 acres.  No sprinklers and not a neighbor in site.  She didn’t even put up curtains. 

We let dandelions grow freely.  Mom celebrated the yellow, multiplying flowers and had the four of us barefoot with buckets picking dandelions for her to make dandelion wine.  When she wasn’t making wine, sewing dresses or having weekly barbeques, she was wielding tools and fixing the old house. 

My childhood home was always full of construction workers.  There was one in particular I remember – Jules, the excavator.  Maybe it was because he reeked of dirt and drove a really cool bulldozer, or perhaps it was because he dug the hole that spewed water, creating a mud puddle that would later be our pond.  But most likely, it was because he came in every day and had an Irish coffee.   I marveled at the smell of the whiskey on his breath and how his face glowed a rosy color. His laugh was infectious.  I was all of five, but he left a lasting impression. 

With piles of dirt covering our yard, Jules took ill and needed a few days off.  My mother watched the empty bulldozer from her kitchen window, tapping her foot, anxious to see it moving again.  I remember the heat of that summer day.  My mom was in a bikini – I will say, she was nearing 40 with a smokin’ hot body.  Perhaps that’s why the contractors loved working for her.

Itching to see progress of any kind, she jumped up on the roof of the porch and ripped down boards in between swatting flies.  Every once in a while, she’d look over at that still bulldozer taunting her from the distance. 

I noticed a look in her eyes as she glared the beast down, like they were having a telepathic conversation of double-dog dare.  A little gleam came to her face.  She jumped off the porch roof and marched over to the dinosaur. 

My petite mother, 5 foot 2, 100 pounds soaking wet, with rock hard abs (not something in vogue in 1968) stood next to the intimidating yellow monster and grabbed hold, pulling herself into the seat.  I was in awe. 

She turned the key.  Vroom.  I think she was more shocked than I when she pulled the lever and the monster moved.  It didn’t take her long before she was a pro. 

What I remember most is the look of satisfaction she sported at the end of that day.  She had conquered the machine and moved mountains of soil, despite being… a woman.   And a woman she was, with a unique combination of grace, beauty, charm and strength.  She set the bar high for me. 

For the next five days, she owned that sucker. 

When Jules came back and saw what she accomplished, he stood speechless for at least five minutes.  I held my breath and waited for him to scream at her for touching his baby.   But, he didn’t.  He slowly smiled and admired her work.  The yard looked fabulous. 

Finally, Jules mumbled, “You wanna come work for me?”  When she got done laughing, albeit with great pride, she politely turned him down… all while pouring him a double shot of whiskey in his coffee.   

I knew right then I wanted to be her when I grew up. 

Who influenced you and the choices you make?  Was it a teacher, a friend, a parent, or a complete stranger?  Think back and honor that person in the comments below. 

If you’re a writer, consider who had the most impact on your characters.  It might spark some fresh ideas. 

By the way, when I finished my NaNoWriMo challenge in 19 days, I had the same expression on my face as my mother.  NaNo wasn’t a bulldozer, but I moved a mountain of words.   It felt fantastic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Succeed by Giving

#PIMPtipoftheday: When you network, ask what you can do for THEM, not what they can do for you.

That was today’s tip.  I sent it out and wondered what the reaction would be. 

Networking:  the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

Do you see the word “selfish” in the definition?  I didn’t think so. 

I witness so many people on Twitter “network” by solely promoting themselves or asking,  “What can you do for ME?” 

Maybe they don’t directly come out and ask that question, but the subtext in their actions screams it.  When my DM stream gets clogged up with “gimme, gimme, gimme”, I shake my head in disbelief. 

Pondering this selfishness made me take a look back at my own networking strategy.  Where had I achieved the most success?  Why had those connections succeeded and not others?  The answer didn’t surprise me. 

I helped them first.  Proactively.  Happily.  Without obligation or expectation.  Just reached out and helped simply because I could.  Period. 

Through an intertwining series of networking opportunities, I landed a gig teaching a screenwriting webinar for Writer’s Digest.  That class was yesterday.   I learned from teaching.  The participants learned from listening.  But we all connected on a selfless level. 

My email inbox was pinging like mad after the class with exclamations of gratitude and declarations of a break in their writer’s block.  You can’t imagine how great that felt. 

Teaching is just another way of helping people, bringing them joy, and giving them skills they need to succeed.  I hope to do it often.

So, as your Twitter Pimp Angel turned teacher, here’s your homework assignment:

Do something selfless for someone in the next week.  Don’t expect a thing in return.  Just reach out and help.  I double-dog dare you not to enjoy the rewards.

Does this mean you can never ask for help?  Absolutely not.  It just means you need to give back too.  Don’t be a Hoover, sucking all the energy out of your relationships.  Nurture them and give something first. 

You really do get back what you give. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pimps and Power Point, Together at Last

That’s right, I’m teaching.

Writer’s Digest has provided me with an incredible opportunity to share my screenwriting knowledge with their community of writers. 

On October 14th at 1pm, I’ll be teaching a live webinar, entitled, How to Write a Marketable Screenplay: Learn how to structure your script the Hollywood way. 

All the details of the webinar can be found on the Writer’s Digest site HERE

If you’ve always been curious about screenwriting, please join the class, and I’ll provide you with as much knowledge as I can fit in 75 minutes. 

You’ll even have the opportunity to send me the first three pages of your script for a quick critique.  I’ll try not to make you cry. 

And, if you’re good in class, I may even pass out cookies.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Editing is Murder... and other tips

My writing partner and I recently cut 25 pages of SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME in order to meet contest requirements.  Daunting, to say the least.  But in the process, I learned I love editing.  I’ve always said, “Love is in the details”. 

I love writing, even the gritty nasty parts.

As I tweeted out my progress, writers started sharing their own tips.  Whenever I learn from others, I aim to spread the love.

Carrie Bailey of Peevish Penman graciously offered me the perfect venue for 
Editing is Murder, my latest in a recent string of editing and rewrite pieces. 

The previous two were for Tyler Weaver’s Multi-Hyphenate on what I learned at Stony Brook Southampton Screenwriters Conference, specifically, rewrites and handling feedback:

If you’re looking for other writing tips, you can find great information on Peevish Penman as well as the Scriptchat blog.

Don’t dread editing.  Embrace it.  You can't be a true writer without the courage to kill your own words.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Scriptchat has arrived!

What started as a little Twitter screenwriting chat on Sunday evenings has turned into an internet phenomenon.... okay, maybe just a big screenwriter party of learning.

Script Magazine mentions #scriptchat in the November/December 2010 issue!

Thanks to Joshua Stecker, West Coast Editor and wonderful supporter of scriptchat, we appear on the page alongside other recommended websites for screenwriters.  We even share the page with John August!

The smiley stickers are plastered all over the scriptchat #treefort!

Long live the generous screenwriting community, our treefort team... and tequila!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

lessons come with a sting

I have been bitchslapped by Sundance. I only have one thing to say to Robert Redford:

“Thank you, Sir, may I have another?”

If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with my journey to get our script, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME, into the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Yeah, it was our dream. A big one.

Am I upset they passed?

Did I cry?
You betcha.

Did I get angry?
Just ask my heavy bag in the basement.

Do I feel defeated?
Not on your life.

I. Am. Grateful.

I’m grateful in part because it’s with rejection and failure we learn the most.

Just ask yourself if you learned anything when things came easy to you. I bet the answer is no.

I know I haven’t. It’s only those journeys full of pain and obstacles where real growth has happened for me.

In short, this script was my black belt in writing. Hands down. It kicked my ass every single day. But, I took the beating and kept coming back for more.

On February 1, 2010, my writing partner, Doug, and I started with a 31-page outline, and 11 weeks later, we had our submission off to Sundance. In between that time, I wrote 12-hr days, never took a single day off, went to NYC to meet with Doug and Bill Pace, our fabulous script consultant, and barely saw my family.

I cried many tears while writing.  It wasn't because I was tired or thought for even a minute I wasn't capable of doing it.  I knew we'd kick this out of the park.  I cried because of the enormous weight we felt to “get it right” for the African-American community. We didn't take that responsibility lightly. Sundance accepting us wasn’t about an advance of our careers, it was about the advancement of this incredible story… and the truth being told. Note: I didn’t cry after the rejection because of my loss, I cried for the loss of an opportunity to share the truth.

I tweeted in panic one day after realizing that in the midst of getting the draft done, Sundance also wanted a 2-page synopsis. That moment nearly pushed me over the edge. Then, Jacqueline Lichtenberg wrote a post for me with synopsis advice. You have no idea what that meant. It wasn’t just her great advice; she was the hand reaching out as I felt the undercurrent pull me down. Her generosity saved my life that day. I will be eternally grateful to her.

Even after we submitted, we sought more feedback. I spent hours on the phone with Nevada Grey for consultations, Bill Pace sent added notes to work on, and we sent the script to trusted screenwriters to read and rip apart.  We continued to rewrite draft after draft, in hopes to knock Sundance off their feet when they requested the full read. It would be a total of six months before I took my first day off.

In short, we kept raising the bar for ourselves.

But they passed. Passed without that full read. Ouch.

Was it that Sundance thought the Pulitzer win and PBS documentary would already give us a leg up over other, newer writers? Perhaps they didn’t feel we really needed them, or the budget would be too big for an indie venture. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing and they simply weren’t interested. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

The bitchslap stung like hell.

Once I numbed the pain with tequila last night, I realized I learned an enormous amount from the process. Maybe that was my win.

*I learned I’m capable of so much more than I ever realized.
*I can write like a fiend under pressure.
*I absolutely LOVE feedback and editing.
*As much as I loathed writing that synopsis, I will now make it a regular part of my story preparation process (1. Outline, 2. Synopsis, 3. First draft).
*I have an entirely different outlook on writing partnerships.
*I will ALWAYS get professional feedback.
*I am blessed to have Doug’s trust and faith. In truth, I still pinch myself that I am writing with a Pulitzer winner as a partner. He is both generous and humble.
*I am a damned good writer.
*My family believes in me.
*There isn’t enough room in a partnership for both an ego and a successful project. The project always comes first.
*Patience. Patience. Patience.
*Stony Brook Southampton Screenwriters Conference kicks ass.
*You can be a determined and great businessperson, but without writing talent, an ability to take honest feedback (even when it’s ugly), and a great support system behind you, it doesn’t mean squat.  Everyone talks about having to have a business mind to succeed.  Yes, you do, but first and foremost you need to know the craft and write well.  Even the best businessperson can't sell a poorly-written script.
*Polish, polish, polish.  Do the hard work.  

The Sundance experience also taught me who my real friends are. While most were supportive, some who have known me for years weren't.  That saddened me, but I had to learn  to not let anyone piss on my flame.  I had to keep moving forward.  I grieved and moved on.  I took delight in my Facebook friends and Twitter writers cheering me on and following our #slaverybyanothername hashtag with curiosity and support. You were there for me, not expecting anything in return other than the joy of riding the wave and learning alongside me. You didn’t try to distract me.  You fought to keep me focused.  You wanted me to succeed.  I wanted to succeed for you.  You raised the bar for my standards of real-life friendships. I am deeply grateful for all of you and the lessons you have taught me.

But, one of the best things that came out of the experience was a voicemail from my mother. Our characters and story moved her to tears. That trumps Redford’s seal of approval any day. My mother has never read any of my scripts before… and she rarely cries. She’s the toughest bird in town.

I take Sundance’s bitchslap with pleasure. No regrets. No “what ifs”. We tried. We put our baby out there. I’m damn proud of our script and of us.

However, I will be drinking tequila yet another night to continue the writer’s anesthetic. I’ll also be making voodoo dolls of the 12 winners. I am Sicilian after all. Just sayin’.

What have you learned from the setbacks in your life? Those goals you thought mattered so much… did they really matter in the end?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Graveyard Writing Shift

Living in rural New York, I often drive the countryside for writing inspiration.   This particular day, I needed to find a way to kill one of my characters.   I wanted something unique for her death.

Suddenly, my car’s ball joint snapped and twisted the front wheel perpendicular to the car.  The car screeched to a halt, opposite a graveyard.   How fitting.   Could my character die in a car wreck?  No way.  Too cliché.

As I waited for the tow truck, a flurry of tornado-warning emails filled my cell.  I’m not an alarmist, so I ignored them, until the winds swirled faster and faster.  I was a sitting duck.  I glanced over at the graveyard wondering if God was trying to kill me… or just send me a message.

Should this tornado come, there was no way I’d survive in the car or fully exposed outside.  Why didn’t I watch that survivor episode on The Discovery Channel? 

Think. Think. Think.  How could I find safety in the middle of nowhere?  The graveyard.  I grabbed a rope from my car and ran across, planning to tie myself to a gravestone.  Yes, you read that right.   I may be calm under pressure, but I didn’t say I was smart. 

Whose stone would I choose: a man’s, a woman’s, or a child’s?  Who would I want to die with? 

As my hair spun in the wind, I pulled it from my eyes to read the names and dates on the stones.  My imagination ran wild.  I became swept into the stories buried with these people.  Maybe he died in a shoot out.  Perhaps she died in childbirth or at the hands of a jealous lover.  Stories were popping in my head.  My body was in peril, but the writer inside me was on fire. 

Like a lunatic, I lurked gravestones while the threat of the tornado was still buzzing in my pocket.  Is this how Geraldo felt revealing King Tuts tomb?  Maybe someone would find my dead body the next day. 

There should be a warning label on notepads: “Writing can be deadly.” 

The winds whipped, literally smashing me into gravestones as I searched for the one I’d connect to, both emotionally and physically.   Then, I discovered the old section of the graveyard.  The stones were riddled with details.  Such art.  

As I admired the carvings on the delicate stone, a tree branch snapped and flew past, almost crashing into me.    I glanced toward my car to see the large SUV rocking in the heavy winds.  Time to stop admiring and start graveyard bondage.

While the old stones were more to my artistic taste, I couldn’t tie myself to a wuss headstone.  I needed a big, gaudy monument.  I ran toward the largest one I could find, the wind forcing me into a zig-zag path.  

Just as I found the perfect dead person to join in all eternity, the tow truck pulled alongside my car.   I raced to my hero of wreckage.  

As my mechanic secured the car on the flatbed, I snatched my notepad and frantically wrote, “Idea: girl passes up delicate gravestone for a sturdier, safer and massive monument.  Ties herself down.  Winds howl.  Suddenly, the delicate gravestone is yanked from the ground.  She smiles, happy not to have chosen it… until it heads her way, smashes into her, and kills her.” 

Now that is what I call a unique death.  

I’ve decided to make graveyards a part of my writing inspiration routine.  Next time, however, I’ll choose a lovely sunny day, admire the beautiful ornate stones and see what other stories rise from the dead.

A graveyard can be the perfect resurrection for creativity.

*originally published in Making Me Magazine