Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kobolds, Dragons, Resistance--Oh, My!

A friend of mine asked me for a favor, which earned a grumpy grumble from me because the favor request was right in the middle of my writing time (which is precious and rare enough these days), to which he said the following:  "I'm doing you a favor, I'm giving you every writer's dream: an excuse not to write!"  He was kidding of course, being a writer himself and very well acquainted with the throes and agonies of coming up with original creative content.  Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance in his book The War of Art, which I've found equal parts inspiring and comforting.  Pg. 22, check it:.

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit.  We don't just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget:  This very moment, we can change our lives.  There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.  This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.

It sounds very Churchill, actually, and when it comes to bearing down on the task at hand, you can't do much better than Winston:  "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."  Overwhelming enemy, thy name is Resistance.  Time to kick you in the teeth! 

Sketching out the kobold was a welcome diversion, but I find there's no shortage of diversions  and today is necessarily a writing day.  Gonna give myself a couple Take-Ten launches, then jump into the new script.  As always, starting in one direction has sent my brains in a dozen more, so in addition to the new and very essential spec (which I don't have a plot for yet) is a feature I've been kicking about, two novels, and a super-raw scripted TV pilot that just began to percolate yesterday.  It will be interesting to see which wins out on the keyboard today.  I'm hoping it's the spec, as that comes with a hard and fast deadline and it's a script that might actually get read before anything else.

So fingers crossed, start your engines, and let's tackle a writing sprint.  Check back for an update about how it went today or tomorrow (along with a new cartoon!).  In the mean time, type hardy, type long, and edit not at all!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lizard-man With A Dash of Color

My, aren't we feeling visual today.  What is it?

Why, yes.  Thank you for noticing.  It's a lizard man.  With a toothache.  

I see.

Care for a dash of color?



My pleasure.  

How about a 'toon?


...just that kinda day...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pattie Kaiks and Self-Destruct Buttons

Growing up, most of my creative endeavors were pure rip-offs.  Stevenson's Kidnapped inspired me to write some really hacked high seas adventure tales.  I attempted a rendition of Watership Down except with kitties on a roadtrip.  And cartoon-wise, I knelt at the altars of Charles Schulz, Berkeley Breathed, Bill Watterson, and Pat Brady, and as I got older Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes, Brooke McEldowney, Patrick McDonnell...it gets to be a pretty long list, actually, but if you look, you'll see them in there. 

In the Arts (note the big "A" on that), you're supposed to study from others with the aim that eventually imitation will yield to talent and originality.  Pattie Kaiks was my first attempt as a cartoonist to generate something entirely my own.  Of course it was necessarily influenced by everything I'd ripped off and imitated before--you are your past as much as you are your present--but unlike everything I'd done before, I didn't "fall into" Pattie Kaiks.  I designed her.

The opportunity fell from the sky a little--I'd been doing cartoons for some local papers and talking with my editor about applying to syndicates and trying to branch out with a comic strip.  He suggested I develop one for his weekly paper, something that would be relevant to local and current events, and I sat down to build Pattie.  Unlike my earlier work, this would be a comic strip of adults for adults!  (That didn't quite stick because...well, because I was writing it, and as a friend of mine likes to point out, if the world were slightly more forgiving, my outfits would likely be a mix of primary colors--all three, every day, like a walking, living Legos set.)  Kid stuff eventually sneaked in, but I did my best to keep the perspective focused on Pattie, a tea-drinking, single, childless, self-employed C.P.A. in the full bloom (and physical slide) of adulthood.  I loved her instantly.  She's a woman's woman, a worker, tenacious and unapologetic, both proud of and frustrated by her physicality that was (and is) so expressive and really fun to draw.  

I submitted samples of Pattie for syndication and got a lot of positive feedback.  But I got bogged down in other things (teaching and graduate school and the like), and I suffered from a rather crippling case of rejection-depression that made it difficult for me to see ways to address the criticism without overhauling everything and starting again from scratch.  It's a stupid, useless, and totally derailing response to an editor's letter that essentially says, "I like you and I want to see more!"  And it lasted just long enough for me to whip out the classic, "it's been too long, they'll have forgotten me," self-destruct button.  I didn't re-apply.  What a wuss.

Pattie would have some sharp things to say to me about that.  You might glean from the bit above, the woman is no faint-hearted stranger to frustration.  She has little tolerance for self-pity and none for failure rooted in giving up.  And since going back and looking at my old submissions to syndicates, agents and publishers, I can see so much better now how to tackle many of the revision issues.  At the time, hot off the frenzy of creating it in the first place, when I looked at something like Pattie Kaiks, I already saw the hundred incarnations it was before I inked it so changing one more thing seemed impossible.  Skillful revision takes distance and perspective.  

One of my screenwriting teachers was a strong advocate of the "put it in a drawer" technique.  You write something that doesn't seem quite right, or even if it seems flawless, he advised we "put it in a drawer and forget about it."  Well, I can't really do that.  Put it in a drawer and obsess about it, done!  Done all day!  I've been developing a "put it in a drawer and make something else" technique, and I'm having rather profound success.  Once you close that drawer, create something else, something totally unrelated.  A key element here is you have to throw yourself into it with equal fervor for it to really work.  If it's just an exercise, give yourself a time-limit, but I have to say devoting yourself utterly to creating even a reeking heap of not-at-all-useful can do wonders for divorcing you from your previous work and getting you the "fresh eyes" you need to see, and revise, clearly.  The multitude of incarnations, left-overs from your first frenzied creative process, will pale before what's actually on the page and revision is possible again.  If you consider every submission you send as a slightly modified "put it in a drawer" moment, you could be neck-deep in a new and even more exciting creative prospect when the rejections or calls for revision roll in, bracing you for the first, preparing you to work if it's the second.  

As a friend and colleague reminded me just the other day, "This is the job."  Being a creative professional beats you up and knocks you down and sometimes doesn't pay anything at all.  But you get up and invest yourself and infuse your work with your best effort and genuine love in the hope others will recognize it and want more.  I've developed some better tools since Pattie, skills Pattie would be proud of, to keep me from sinking in the tempestuous, subjective seas of creative work.  My pity-parties now have strict curfews, and I keep a good number of drawers handy.  Some stink.  Some don't.  That's the job

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tag-Teaming Twins

When you have twins, reality becomes utterly defined by the term "tag-team."  They tag-team you, and, if you're lucky to have a partner in this (heaven help you if you're flying solo), you tag-team them right back. 

Take bedtime.  One washes, the other dries, the first pajamas, the second stories, the first waters, the second herds to bed as the first chaperones to the bathroom, the second chaperones to the bathroom as the first herds from bathroom to bed, then second hugs-and-kisses, turning out lights...wait, why are you crying?  Use words, honey--

"It was my turn to turn out light!"  

Okay, then you turn out the--  


Okay, you don't have to-- 

"But it's my turn!"  

I...(sigh).  Hey, where's she--?  Where are you going?
"My bear has to poop."  

No, come back--can you catch her, please?  Wait, why are you crying now?  

"Because I'm not tired!"  

Forty-five minutes later, team-twins rests.  In contrast, team-parents has aged a year and a half.

You tell yourself it's about balance.  You play with your schedule, trading sleep for exercise, diet for showers, hedging your present against your future.  You apply the self-control and critical thinking that got you through graduate school to watching the squealing piglet riding a zip-line commercial "again, Mommy!  Again, again!" with genuine interest and enthusiasm.  You resign yourself to never completing a meal or a thought or a sentence unless they're asleep, and even then you do so quietly.  

"It's tough right now," you say when asked how you're doing.  "We're finding our balance."  

No.  No, you're not.  There is no balance.  They win.  That's it.  You tag, they tag back, but there is no balance.  They don't play fair.  They cheat.  And they don't expend a single resource to keeping you or themselves safe and alive.  While you're looking both ways, holding hands, picking up, doling out snacks, wiping and cleaning and band-aiding, finding lost loveys, untangling, re-tying, watering, pottying, righting and wronging, they're siphoning what little energy you've got left to dedicate in total every forming pathway in their shiny new brains to devising their next tag.  

"Where's the--take that out of your mouth!"  Tag.  

"Oh my God, I just said because I said so!"  Tag.  

"No, you don't!  How--?  Whaddya mean yes you do want a spanking?"  Tag.

It's hard and it's rigged and it's war and they're winning.  And it's taking forever and over so fast.  And they're so incredibly cute, you feel lucky and grateful to be lost and bleeding on the battlefield, feeling your way, muttering about "balance" with your duly bludgeoned partner.  Knowing even as it's happening that you're both gonna miss this the rest of your lives...


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Killing Babies with Pilar Alessandra

Our honeymoon was a spectacular and rather spontaneous road-trip up the Pacific coast that almost crossed into Canada except the money ran out and we beat it back home in a single marathon drive praying we’d make it and running on fumes.  But before the coffers went from crinkle to jingle, we spent a few days walking the entire city of Seattle, which closes promptly at four p.m., and stopped in at the Seattle International Film Festival.  Didn’t even know it was going on until we got there, and how perfect for a pair of flick-philes?  We shocked the Canadian-adjacent by tipping for our frothy coffees and sat down for an epic viewing session that included Ulysses Gaze.

If you find yourself facing the end of your life, consider spending your remaining time watching Ulysses’s Gaze.  It will be the longest four and a half hours you’ve ever experienced.  Feel free to drink loads of frothy coffee, too, for while the filmmaker provides about a half-dozen perfectly satisfying endings, the film truly goes on forever.  You can escape for a potty break or a scone or what have you without missing any action whatsoever.  When you hit the melancholic journey by barge with the huge stone head of Lenin, you have oodles of time to step away and come right back to enjoy (believe it or not) at least a quarter hour of slightly different angles of that same rocky noggin.  We didn’t know that at the time.  We don't usually walk out on movies, no matter how bad.  They’re not easy to make and almost always have some redeeming quality somewhere.  So though we squirmed miserably after drinking (apparently) way too many coffees, we concluded they had to still be filming Ulysses’s Gaze and simply streaming the raw footage into the theater as we sat and suffered.  (It did feel that unedited at the time.)

I don’t mention the flick to bash it to bits.  As I said, if you have only four hours, that’s one way to really stretch ‘em out!  But it’s an object lesson in failing to do the work of creative production, what some call “killing your babies.”  When you get too precious about your film or your writing or your cartoon or whatever, you lose objectivity.  The result can be “creative masturbation,” which sounds a lot racier than what it is.  Remember in Meet Joe Black when the young couple who just met over coffee part ways and look back at each other something like seventeen times?  At some point, it’s just too much.  SPOILER ALERT—just run Brad Pitt over with the car already, the scene ended six minutes ago!  You know that feeling.  Maybe you’re reading a novel or watching a movie like A.I.—over and over you get that sense of natural resolution but the yarn spins on and, when it's a movie, 100 minutes of awesome become a 260 minute exercise in bladder control.

This comes to mind because I did indeed find ten minutes to commit to one of Pilar Alessandra’s Take Ten exercises.  I have to say, I like the book so far (I’m up to page 8 now!), I love the idea that it’s possible to crank out a sound screenplay working ten minutes at a time, but the key to Pilar’s book and prompting questions is, as is often the case, the hardest part of creating anything:  making decisions and sticking to them.  It isn’t difficult to write a screenplay.  What’s beat-your-head-against-the-wall difficult is writing only one.  I don’t know about you, but writing on any one story always triggers creativity in at least a half-dozen other directions.  Right now, I have the project I’ve begun, two novels I’ve been toying with, a feature I that wants revising, and two others I haven’t started yet.  All are populated with characters who clamor for my attention and the narrative spotlight.  They distract me with great dialogue totally inappropriate or irrelevant to what I’m working on.  And the most frustrating thing is if I submit and turn the spotlight on any other project, those chuckle-heads scatter and everyone else chimes in.  It makes getting to sleep a serious challenge.  On the other hand, I’m rarely lonely.
And maybe just a skosh mentally ill as I read that back over…

One tight screenplay detailed enough to surprise and stand out and structured with the precision of a Swiss watch—that’s the goal, that’s what gets budgets and green-lights and movie-goers to open their wallets and fork over that especially-hard-earned cash.  And it’s really f-ing hard to do. 

Deciding is easy.  Being creative is easy.  But committing to it, knowing when to leave it alone—for me, that’s the toughest part of writing anything.  The curse of spec-writing is the soft deadline—self-defined and too often lenient.  The second best part of working for hire (just under getting a paycheck on delivery) is never having to let go of a project because the Suits who cut the checks rip it right out of your hands.  Then it’s on to editors or publishers or studios or directors or production companies to torture themselves with how to cut sixty-eight shots of circling Lenin’s head by helicopter.  Seriously, pick two and move on!

So, Take-Ten exercise one--focused on the main character (Pilar calls it the MC--already sparing me a big stalling habit I have of obsessing about names--I've wasted days worth of valuable writing time trying to name a character that needed, let's face it, a great deal of work on a few other little areas, like the plot) and the basic points--what's the problem and what's MC do about it.  Amazing how sticking to the basics and just focusing for ten minutes can really help you cut the hooey and get to work. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Dragon Year

Welcome to the year of the Black Water Dragon!

I'm pretty sure...  I read somewhere that the Dragon year technically begins on Feb. 4 even though I also read that Chinese New Year was officially yesterday and read some other stuff on Chinese astrology to figure out what that meant and didn't entirely understand it or do the tables properly...  But let's say I did.  

So again, welcome to the year of the Black Water Dragon!

Dragon is reputed to be the luckiest of all the animal signs in Chinese astrology, and why not?  What's cooler than a dragon?  And who couldn't use a little extra luck these days?  Especially with the Mayans sticking us with their super-vague 2012 count-down-to-DOOM.  (Thanks a bunch, Mayans!)  Although it probably wouldn't seem so vague, or maybe even as ominous, if their books had survived to be translated, studied, and understood, but that's another topic for some other post.  Today, let's look to the Dragon and to luck.

As luck would have it, I rang in a new birth-year with all of China and am welcoming this as my surrogate Dragon year, complete with extra black water dragon blessings (still not sure what that really means but have decided to believe it's positive).  In that spirit, prompted by stalwart friends and colleagues, boosted by family, and inspired by Jane Espenson's frequent tweets to join her in sixty- and ninety- minute writing sprints, and gifted the following book for my birthday, I decided to apply Pilar Alessandra's The Coffee Break Screenwriter to my creative process to produce more and better in the time-crunch that is life-lately.  

You see, I have twin pre-schoolers who have been, until this past weekend, physically restrained for periods dedicated to sleep.  From 7:30 pm - 7:30 am (ish) every night, and for roughly two hours every afternoon, our rambunctious tots have been secured in their cribs, so even if I'm frazzled to bits mediating twin-to-twin disputes and texting my husband, "no napping here!" I could, in theory, go to another room confident they wouldn't and couldn't actually harm themselves or each other and, in some days, actually get something done, like sketching or cartooning or writing or cleaning or organizing or spending time in the bathroom all by myself...

That blessed time is ended.

We were able to get away with cribs this long because our daughters are, by all criteria, angelic.  You think I'm kidding, but it's true.  They are fantastically wonderful girls.  We said climbing out of cribs is a "no-no," and they actually followed that rule.  Aside from proudly demonstrating for us from time to time that their little feet can indeed reach all the way over the side, neither has ever disobeyed the rule that they are not to climb out.  Miracle as that is, a few months ago when we suggested to our twins that we could remove one side of their cribs to make them "big girl beds" so they could get in and out all by themselves, both rejected the idea.  I was startled neither wanted her freedom.  Then I realized neither wanted her sister to have freedom.  You see, they share a room, and with their cribs intact and secure, each controlled a sort of castle keep, sometimes walled with blankets for added privacy, lined with plush-toy sentries to repel would-be invaders (read "twin sister").  Yes, freedom is great.  But even pre-schoolers know (and possibly pre-schoolers know this better than adults) freedom must be defended.  And defending freedom is exhausting.

Taking hearts in hand, possibly overconfident, not entirely unaware, we recently agreed our girls were "old enough."  With much adieu and production in due recognition of this momentous rite of passage, we removed one side off the cribs.  And now...we have lost containment. 

For the past three days, nap-time has been a 2 hour session of pre-schooler wind-sprints.  As if I can't see their tiny bodies flash back and forth from bed to bed through their slightly open bedroom door, or hear their giggles and squeals as they drag everything they own from one bed to the other, my twins have the nerve to look genuinely surprised when I appear and order them back to bed.  Ten thousand times in an hour.  Today they had the decency to engage in this mania fairly quietly...but come on!  Without naps, they're normally fried by six.  Add the running and heart-racing glee of being sneaky and they're practically face-planting by supper.  And grumpy, and clumsy, and zombie-eyed...  

History, Mystery, take a nap already!  Have you seen this book?

Our new rule is that once in bed they are not allowed out of bed until mommy or daddy says so.  To date, this rule seems only to apply at night.  No amount of sit-downs or talking-tos or stern looks has stemmed the nap-time antics.  So for the time being, and foreseeable future, I have lost my nap-time work-window and am back to writing only at night, with a brain bruised by hours of "get back in your own bed!" and "leave your sister alone!" followed by hours of being whined-at, tugged-on, and "no!"ed and "why?"ed to near insanity.  

Still angelic mind you.  But tired angels.

What better time to put Pilar's book, and myself, to the test?

My first attempt came--and quickly went--yesterday.  To no fault of Pilar's, I got through the Introduction (one page) and How To Use This Book (page and a half) before the day succumbed to twin-juggling.  In fact, I got just far enough to read that at the end of each ten minute "Take Ten" exercise (which I look forward to attempting), I'll see a summary of "What you've accomplished," which Pilar promises will remind me that I have actually moved forward in my story "despite the short amount of time in which you've worked."  Well, it was indeed a short amount of time.  What did I accomplish?  

I got started.  And that's not nothin', sweetheart.

So, I'm gonna stick with Pilar (I'll keep you posted on the new project and its progress), and I'm gonna channel my Dragon luck (starting now, whether it starts now or in February), and I'm gonna tell myself the Mayans would've simply tossed the old and started a new calendar in the eleventh hour of 2012 just like the rest of us who wait to the last minute to buy our new calendars so we can get 'em at half-price.  This year mine features tree frogs.   

Dragon up!

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Goes Up...Keeps Going Up...

Why is it there's always some mean-spirited smarty-pants on any given set ready to mock the deeply-indebted for attending film school?  

"Film school?!  What a waste!  Shoulda just made your own film--costs the same and you'd learn more!"

Well, if you could borrow federal financial aid to make a movie, that might be true, but for me and most of my classmates "just doin' it" was never an option.  And actually runaway amateur productions can cost a lot more than a good film school, especially considering projects that fail to get proper insurance and lock up in litigation for property damage or on-set injuries.  And unless you're already stacked with industry connections, going it alone doesn't give you any particular access to the experience, advice and equipment film schools offer.  But on every set I've worked on, there was always at least one meanie eager to knock me down for believing in myself enough to take the leap and the monumental debt of film school.

It's not easy to work without sleep for "copy and credit" (and craft service meals, though they can sometimes be more threat than incentive), harder yet with people lining up to rub it in.  But every new business tends to lose money in its fledgling years, right?  So really, my 25 year mortgage with no home to show for it is a mark of professionalism.  A colorful aside for my 15-year "overnight success" story.

Boy, I'm looking forward to telling that in total!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Perfect Assistants

According to the housekeeper in Gosford Park, what makes a great servant is anticipation.  “They feel hungry, and the food is ready, they feel tired, and the bed is turned down.”  I’m kinda paraphrasing, but you get the idea, and she should know what makes a great servant, as she herself is a self-proclaimed great servant, a perfect servant, and who’d contradict her anyway?  The woman—SPOILER ALERT—poisoned her employer to keep their son from stabbing him to death… 

The perfect servant.  Want her running your house?  Eek.

Being an assistant in the industry is something like being a perfect servant.  It can truly be (or at least it certainly seems like) life-and-death, but I’ll see anticipation and raise you creative-impossible-problem-solving.  After all, whether you’re assisting a director, producer, writer, creative executive, manager or agent, there are always too many hands in the pot brewing trouble for your target employer.  I think great assistants would probably make great spies for the CIA and the like, because problems must often be identified, assessed and addressed in a kind of clandestine manner.  The Industry works with a lot of subjective material that costs a lot of money sometimes involving extreme personalities, so it’s understandably nervous and any whiff of a problem just makes confidence, and sometimes shows and related careers, plummet. 

The job is typically to be an entire office and support staff while also being a perfect dictation machine, electronic organizer, and all-around human computer for an overworked, completely stressed-out person.  But most assistants I’ve met who keep their jobs past the first month or so are no where near as obtuse, whiny, or incompetent as what I’ve seen in their on-screen counterparts.  Take the “pink and blue” artificial sweetener scene in Swimming With Sharks.  OF COURSE IT MATTERS what kind of sweetener someone takes, and it’s absolutely true that no-one who uses BLUE would EVER use PINK in their coffee.  That’s just a fact.  That the agent tosses a few packets in the assistant’s face is apparently really humiliating and dehumanizing, but do you know how many deals and clients can be lost over the slightest perception of being ignored or details being dropped?  And then there’s the chance of allergies or cross-medications, maybe not something that would involve artificial sweeteners, but dairy versus non-dairy creamer?  I can’t watch that packets scene without hearing Gordon Ramsey in my ear from Hell’s Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares shouting, “you could kill someone!”

I thought I’d see better in The Devil Wears Prada, but when finally given the chance to run the ball, to act as a First Assistant and get her boss from Florida to New York when a hurricane canceled all flights, I was appalled that all the character seemed to do was call airlines.  Is she trying to get her boss killed that she’d hook her up with a flight in that kind of weather?  Her only burst of enthusiasm is to ask if the military might step in for her.  I couldn’t believe it.  Money was not a concern, she could have hired the woman a private car and driver, put her on a train—not to disparage those who would disagree, but the East Coast is just not that big.  When the job is to move a body from Florida to New York and you have over twelve hours to do it—do it.  And maybe it seems trivial to an outside eye, but the Devil in this case is a hard-working career woman with a crumbling marriage and twin daughters who will be grown and gone before she knows it.  If you don’t think it’s life and death for a parent to see their kids’ recital, you clearly don’t have kids and should call your parents today to say you love them.  Even the rotten ones.

To be fair, both filmic examples are of new assistants learning the ropes, and in both cases the characters harbor a kind of resentment about having the job at all.  I have seen some of the best assistants in action.  You may not—it’s often their job not to be noticed.  Having been raised by one of the classics who helped set the bar (my mom put the “Executive” in “Secretary”), I can tell you they will see you, and they will remember as much about you as is possible to learn, right down to the collar preference of your neighbor’s dog.  So be nice to them, ‘cause you might run into a perfect assistant, and they’ll remember that, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pre-emptive Fear Blows

Worrying is expensive.  It’s like emotional interest attached to any given event.

I don’t care how big or small, all features struggle with budget.  Whether you’re working with a hundred thousand or a hundred million, no budget ever seems like it can be enough, you’re always gonna struggle with costs, always going to push for more money. 

Getting a film financed has never been easy, but it’s particularly tough now with so much uncertainty in the US and world economies, especially since large-venue distribution (movie theaters) has steadily shrunk for as long as I’ve been alive.  Independent feature films not completely funded by pre-sales are a GIGANTIC financial gamble, but there are some hold-outs who do sometimes find the film equivalent of venture capital – cash with strings – and use it to make their films. 

I worked on one feature that had such funding but a big chunk of it was coming from a nervous source who stalled production day by day for weeks instead of releasing the funds.  Delays of any kind drive up costs, and this extended push lost the production some of its committed talent as their windows of availability closed and they went on to other projects.  The film was eventually a month past its start date and well over budget before a single frame had been shot—caused by the investor’s withholding of funds—and this only made that same investor even more uneasy to commit.

Can you say Catch-22?  Meanwhile, everyone held their breath and kept working, clinging to the hope they’d be able to pay their department employees and vendors.

Production finally started, but the financier insisted it stay within the original budget numbers, thereby eating the costs of the delay, and that meant there was no money for music.  At all.  None.  A script composed to modern published songs with references to at least one published song and shot in a way that begged a hip and trendy generation-defining collection of pop music to accompany its embedded array of meta- and pop-culture references—by necessity—went without.  It wasn't a silent film, all involved did their best "in post" to make do with little means and tied hands.  But the editing that needed music and sound design to help the scenes live and breathe, to punctuate performance, to build subtext or ease transitions – all that was sorely lacking.  It hurt the film, and it’s excruciating to see a hundred or more people give their all to something only to have it flounder.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sounds Like...

My husband noticed my attention to sound a long time ago on a road trip.  My mood varied in direct relation to whatever was playing on the radio, and I didn’t seem to know it.  He started skipping angry or sad songs to play energetic, peppy, or sincere and happy material, and I was effectively pleasant the rest of the trip.  I can’t say I caught on as much as one day he just decided to show me it was true, and the experience was so surreal I couldn’t even get mad at him for 1) demonstrating I’m pre-wired for audio manipulation like Pavlov’s dogs for treats, and 2) he’d been actively manipulating me with music. 

I focused on sound in film school for a lot of reasons.  I was beyond broke and needed a T.A.ship to have any hope of finishing with a thesis film, which I did.  And sound work begins in pre-production and is the final step (the mix) on any project, so working in sound gave me a great vantage of the entire life-cycle of a production.  It’s also THE way to sell a film.  Shoot a good script with a good cast, good camera, and crappy score or poor sound design, you get a kinda crappy film.  But make an okay script with descent actors, and add great sound design and score, you can get a blockbuster.  In fact, I defy you to name any block-buster that skimped on sound and music.

I won’t go with the obvious example, like what if Darth Vader spoke in a lilting Southern twang instead of that big, beautiful, base?  Stepping out of voice and performance, think of Stormtroopers giving chase through the Death Star but instead of the clinking armor-on-metal steps you hear the tubby, thumpy reverb of plastic costume boots on plywood?  Or instead of the Michael Bay KA-BOOOOOMS of explosions and gun-play you got only the comically hollow “pop, pop, pop” of real dispelled-in-atmosphere gunshots?  I can tell you from years of living in Crenshaw, even lethal use of firearms sounds like almost nothing in real-life open air.

Interestingly, any sound-designer will tell you the most disturbing sounds are human made.  Tense scenes, you might hear the barking dog in the distance (a universal and classic sound of loneliness and/or alarm), but listen closely you’ll likely hear an embedded baby cry.  Whether that sound annoys you or strikes your innate urge to protect, humans are hard-wired to react to the voices of small humans.  Our brains register human voice even when it’s so low and obscured by other sounds we can’t consciously parse it out.  But if its there, we feel it.

Way back, Nike introduced Shox running shoes with springs in the soles that were visible from the outside.  They’re pretty common now, you’ve probably seen them, but when they were new Nike did TV commercials to introduce them.  The commercials featured varied people running with joy on treadmills as “boings” emanated from the shoes with each footfall, as if every step in those shoes was a spontaneous boingy party.  Initially, the shoes said the word “boing,” and Nike tried a whole bunch of human vocalizations of the word “boing” against the footage.  It made the commercial creepy.  Horror folk might think it’s intuitive, but Nike was surprised to learn disembodied human voices are creepy.  The more cheerful and happy the voices they tried, the creepier the commercial got.  Remember that tiny, round woman with the child voice from Poltergeist?  Cheerful, high-pitched, and creepy. 

Nike finally opted for cartoony “boings,” and their shoes were suddenly fun again!

Power of the human voice, people.  And cartooniness.  Use them responsibly.

Monday, January 16, 2012

They'll Get You!

I love horror stories – in theory.  Like in thumbnail form, interrupted by commercials on a muted TV during the day with at least four hours between final credits and sun-down. 

It’s not entirely my fault.  Fear and self-doubt are kind of constants with me.  Boost either one, I’m hyperventilating under the covers (because if even a toe is exposed, THEY’LL GET YOU!).  I know it’s ridiculous, but it feels true.  I guess I’m “highly impressionable” when it comes to horror.  Example?  The Original Star Trek episode “The Man Trap” had me leaping from my door to my bed at night throughout junior high lest the suction-cup-fingered, salt-sucking, shape-changer “get me.”  The first time I tried to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I freaked out and threw the book under the bathroom vanity, where it remained for over three years before I forced myself to retrieve and read it.  Great book, but human malice, even fictionalized, really disturbs me.  In high school I wept uncontrollably through The Shining and spontaneously burst into traumatized tears again years later when I glimpsed a tiny fraction of The Shining embedded in the movie Twister – it’s what’s playing on the drive-in theater screen as the “finger of God” level five tornado rip the scene and screen apart.  Tornadoes, straight-forwardly threatening and therefore not scary.  Fathers carving up their families?  Simply terrifying.

But strip away the tension and gore, I love the genre.  Horror is rich in extreme characters and story lines and plot twists.  There’s little I enjoy more than a good horror-story re-cap.  As a kid, I did a lot of eavesdropping on the bus or quizzing friends to get the gist what horror movies or shows were out.  My husband often indulges me by re-telling the stories he knows I’ll otherwise avoid.  He doesn’t seem to view my shying from horror as a weakness.  But I do.

In film school, I stupidly decided to “push” myself instead of focusing on my strengths.  I shot a horror short film about a woman finding a dead body in her trunk only to realize she’d opened the wrong car…and the killer was still there!  It wasn’t very good, or subtle, and since what little horror experience I do have was viewed on “mute,” I didn’t realize until my classmates burst out laughing that I’d chosen the very distinctive score from Halloween, so it played like a parody.  The smart play would have been to pretend it was always a comedy, but I’m a terrible liar.  Instead, I accepted that horror was not my strength and chose a dramatic scene with an element of horror for a directing class.  Because practice makes improvement at least, right? 

Stupid, stupid, stupid me…

It didn’t help that without time to audition I went begging for actors, so the guys I cast had less than no respect for me and sort of resented the time-commitment.  The scene was one guy intimidating the other with status, which turns as the other offers a bodily threat of imminent, extreme harm while the dialog remains pleasant-sounding.  I loved the writing – tense, packed with subtext, rich language – plenty of room for an actor to play, I thought.  But my guys were grumps and I was beginning to think the whole thing was a wash when one got annoyed enough to do exactly what I’d been trying to get him to do.

Except he did it to me. 

Right in my face, a foot or more taller than me and something like fifty pounds bigger than I am (and all muscle in his case – ah, actors).  I don’t think his anger was real.  I’d pushed him and he was pushing me back.  But he could tear my arms from their sockets, and for a good 30 seconds, he made me believe he might.  He stirred all the fear I could ask for, and he knew it, and he smirked about it. 

As if scaring me instead of effectively performing with his scene partner proved he’s a better actor than I am a director.

Well, obviously he’s a better actor than I was a director, especially then!  The scene was for a class, and it was only my second directing effort EVER.  While he was supporting himself as professional actor and had been for a couple years already.  So when that merry Andrews had the gall to ask me if I was scared, I barked, “Who cares?  It’s easy to scare me!  Anyone can scare me!  Salt-sucking, shape-changers on Star Trek scare me.  I’m not in the scene, dumb-ass!”

Okay, I didn’t really say “dumb-ass” at the time.  Sometimes I think I’d really like to be one of those fearsome forces on a set who can do things like call big guys dumb-ass and reign them in with a blood-congealing glance, but that’s not me.  Thumper’s parental mantra “if you can’t say something nice—” rings like tinnitus in my ears.  But I did say the other parts, and he kind of listened and we finished rehearsing. 

I didn’t flunk the class, so I call it a success.  And actually, I didn’t cry in front of that guy.  I didn’t cry until I got all the way home.  So in that case, it was.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Does it Really Matter That...?

When the just-right-and-conveniently-available actor 
who has a fan-base and flare enough
to generate the buzz you need
to get a meeting
to pitch and sell
your sweated-blood-to-write original TV pilot

lands a re-occurring role on some other show,

does it really matter that, 

"if water was whiskey and I was a duck,
I'd swim to the bottom and drink my way up" 

doesn't actually rhyme?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Milestones, Millstones, and Birthdays

Not everyone loves birthdays.  Some keep the date a secret, discourage party-making of any kind, screen calls on the day to avoid the well-wishing…  One grumpy-Gus I know waxes universally anti-birthday:  “Why should anyone give you gifts for just aging?  Aging is not an accomplishment.”

Well, actually…yes it is.  A fact that hits me particularly hard having lost another family member just this morning. 

But another fact is there’s a kind of bias and bigotry that comes with getting older.  The Industry is notoriously reputed for ignoring age and experience in favor of youth, beauty and virility.  In a field constantly treading paranoid waters, after a certain point, years seem to become like millstones around our necks, pulling us down.  I'd say it's especially true for women, but if film and TV are slightly more forgiving, they're no less competitive for men. 

Let’s face it, youth, beauty and virility are great.  But so is knowing yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, and gaining objectivity and perspective.  Those things are not guaranteed birthday presents, but a little age helps bring them closer.

Time is the only commodity we can’t get more of or make or save.  Life is short.  Until science or alchemy divines how to wind our internal chronometers, we only get so many ticks before this sucker’s over, so really every day is like a birthday. 

And whoever started that stupid saying about old dogs and new tricks obviously never had our old dog.  Her capacity to mastermind didn’t blossom until she was fifteen!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

When It Rains, It's Wet

Not long after film school, I worked as an agent's assistant to learn first-hand about the business side of The Industry.  In addition to learning some rather exotic slang (I wish it didn't, but donkey-punch comes too vividly to mind), I got an inside perspective of what it takes to get a project from idea to execution.  If you've never shot a film or put on a play or prosecuted a small, multi-national war, you might be surprised by the amount of effort, equipment, time and personnel it takes to get any script made.

Or read.

While many movies and TV shows crack wise that every tepid body in L.A. has written and is pushing a screenplay, that's not exactly an exaggeration.  So many scripts go through agencies each day, week, and month, it is nearly impossible to get an agent to read anything.  In addition to being reluctant to opening themselves up to accusations of theft and litigation, agents already wade through sometimes hundreds of pages a night just to keep up with the work-flow. Even agents that don't consider anything that isn't "repped" or "solicited" could build cities from the paper and brass brads they go through in a year.  (In environmental fairness, some agents and agencies have switched to Kindles or iPads or other digital-viewers to spare the trees.)

And that's just the regular times of year.  

"Motion Picture/Lit" agents deal with longer scripts and get slammed during awards times, key film-festivals, etc., while TV agents handle theoretically shorter scripts but have "pilot season," which is  more complicated and exhausting than ever considering the wealth of independent cable channels now producing and airing original programming.  What was once a mad-dash scramble into Upfronts has become an almost rolling (read endless) entry and production schedule.  As a TV viewer, I'm thrilled there's almost always something new coming out, but as an "unrepped" writer, I'm scrambling because it seems there's no down-time when you can catch an agent at a lull.  Even agents with a personal interest in your career may take months or more to get to that script they promised they're "excited to read RIGHT AWAY!"  

This is one of the reasons announcing, "I'm a writer" is often met with condolences.  Standard advice from writers to writers is to focus on collecting rejections.  Amassing rejections focuses your energy on finding new places to submit and building the connections it takes to get someone, anyone, to read your work.  When that happens (when, not if--that's another staple), the writing must stand on its own or the opportunity is lost, sometimes forever.

Audiences must be won.  

Last year, I polished an original pilot and wrote a second, got professional praise for a sit-com spec (the exact words were, "It's funny."  -- I was understandably ecstatic), an agent who seems to like me says my script is on the to-read pile, and I re-submitted my novel.

I'm happy to report two rejections so far for 2012.  Happy because typing the word makes it so, right?  The power of words?  So, two rejections so far.  And counting!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Hydra of Virtue

What an unnatural wonder is the hydra.  Regeneration in the place of death, the mythological embodiment of a sort of perverse brand of optimism...

What if it organized those heads to some scheme more noble than just eating, killing, and expanding its assorted collection of noggins?  What might it accomplish, all those minds working together, singular ambitions negotiating, independent imaginations inventing for common needs, common purpose, common pleasures of its monstrous, be-clawed limbs, trunk and tail.  For every failure, a renewal of resolve, for every decapitation, two new heads.

Be a hydra in life.  Be a hydra for love.  Be a hydra for your family.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rather Have Nothin' Than Settle for Less

I took a "pitch" class in film school and one of my classmates asked a working producer the following question:  "How do you get hired to write the crappy movies?  Y'know the ones I mean." 

Everyone in the class knew the ones she meant, but we were too stunned to laugh, and the producer looked as if she'd booted him square in the groin.  Because nobody sets out to make a crappy movie.  Okay, maybe there are a couple huckster-hipsters too meta and cool for sincerity, but setting them aside, even seemingly silly trivial offerings require hard-earned dough and staunch human effort to create.  

Even the stinkers you love to hate taxed their budgets, talent and crew to their limits. 

Give you an example -- I got to work one day (or night, as it was a night shoot) on a short "action" movie.  This was a paid gig.  Let me say that again, because when you work in film and television, you often (read "almost always") work for free (read "get paid in day-old bagels") for a while (read "seemingly forever.").  This was a P.A.I.D. gig!  I got $25 for fourteen hours' work.  And I was thrilled.

The film-makers (writer, director, and producers) were real martial artists -- the kind who can kill you six different ways with a cotton swab or their thumb -- and they were fed up with "crappy" martial arts movies.  They pooled their money into a significant budget to "do it right."  They chose the First Street Bridge in Los Angeles for the setting, which has an interesting look and a lot of history and character, etc.  The "actors" were real martial artists doing real martial arts.  They got themselves a real film crew (most working for free or for cheap, or for deferred payment--which means you never get paid), and high-end industry standard equipment by the truck-load, not to mention the permits and police they got to control and redirect traffic...

They had everything they needed -- except the right frame of mind.  Like many eager critics on the audience side of the LCD, they thought the difference between "crappy" movies they hated and their film was a lack of sincerity.  Like my classmate, they assumed "crappy" productions are lazy half-efforts.  They didn't realize even "crappy" shows require significant coordination and precision to shoot or how much sheer work it takes to get one of these suckers from concept through final mix to delivery.

Their "fight" choreography was very real, but it didn't look real or even dynamic because of how they were shooting it.  Just as Howard Hughes learned he needed clouds in the sky to make his airplanes look like they were flying fast, these martial artists learned that what the performer does and what the camera sees are not the same things.  Then they learned about logistics as time was lost shuttling people two miles to the nearest bathrooms, and crew efficiency dropped off because coffee and food were a half-mile walk under the bridge.  Priorities were off, too, as they obsessed for nine hours over the first two shots and then had to rush the next thirty or so as dawn began changing the light with every passing second, which meant the entire scene would be virtually impossible to edit together.  
Sure, this was a "semi-professional" set, but even big budget monsters suffer similar ills.  Remember Ishtar?  Oh, no, you probably don't -- most people wouldn't, and almost no-one watched it.  But at least it cost a lot of money.  (Actually, it's one of my favorites -- 'cause I'd "rather have nothin' than settle for less!")

Almost everyone who worked arrived on set after working some other full-time job.  Exhausted, cold and hungry, ankles often crossed to keep from peeing, we didn't come close to what we hoped to accomplish.  And the crazy part is, we all eagerly did it again for the next shoot, and the next, and the next...

Next time you set snacks aside and hit pause on some "crappy show" for a potty break, take a moment to remember the poor sods who helped create it, and be kind.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Actual Fear of Virtual Dates

Other than the utter lack of flying cars and jetpacks, I love living in the future.  But I have no idea what advice I'll be giving my twin daughters about dating.  

Okay, I have some pretty unyielding ideas about the NATURE and CHARACTER of any relationship they enter, and maybe I should recommend they not trade dates (they're identical twins), but if social media and virtual living continue on their current trajectory, I think I've got a caveman's chance at a cotillion of understanding the mechanics of whatever courting is becoming.

Come to think of it, what I know about "traditional dating" is pretty limited.  First date with my husband, we went to a movie -- a terrible, terrible movie, featuring bestiality, which cost me my laundry money for the week and was preceded by four hours of believing he'd stood me up, topped only by believing he was mocking me throughout the date and horus after.  Not a good first date, but a memorable story.  Check back -- I'll tell it sometime...

I thought Half-Life was something of a fluke when it was new.  Of course, I thought that about Sims and MMOGs and (okay, I'm a neanderthal) Twitter, My Space, Facebook (yeah, I get it, I must hang my head in shame), and now there are hundreds (thousands?) of social media hubs that are apparently so engrossing, people are doing their darndest to get as virtually close to actual sex with one or more partners who may not even exist outside the ether...  When I was a tyke, my parents told me one of the major goals of dating was to see and get to know the real person behind the nerves and social mask, and to muster the gumption to come out from behind mine.  It's quite possible by the time my girls are dating, teens'll be romantically pursuing -- heck, designing! -- ideal A.I. soul-mates instead of bothering with real people.

I have daughters.  They're gonna date.  Eek!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

About SPOILER ALERT! Bambi...

We have a very vocal apartment.  Our refrigerator occasionally wails a shrill, broken-hearted lament that sometimes goes on for quarters of an hour, our walls are thin, and our bathroom is a cacophony of water, pipe and pressure any time of day.  If you've ever done sound design, it's a great place to live.  Our twins soon took an interest in the sounds and their many suspected causes, but one day I was startled to notice one or the other storming around (they like to take turns with these things -- they're impressively fair about things like this) with crossed arms and bloody-murderous looks.  

"What's the matter?  Did something happen?" I ask.

"I'm mad!"

"I can see that.  You look mad.  What are you mad about?"

"No, I'm angry!"

"Oh, I see.  What are you angry about?"

After a moment of deep introspection, she'd announce, with a vehemence that trumpeted intolerable personal offense, "THE WATER IN THE PIPES!" and then go on storming and huffing and crossing arms with vicious expressions.

They were practicing.  I'm a youngest child, and I didn't recall ever seeing children practice feelings before.  I guess we'd managed a relatively conflict-free household up 'til then, because for months, typically on alternating days (to share), one would affect the pose and manner of outrage and go through the motions of being mad and talking about it.  It was really difficult not to laugh -- it was REALLY cute! -- but it was obvious this process was sincere and an important component of developmental emotional play.

Now, I'll admit to fast-forwarding Walt Disney's "Bambi" past the [SPOILER ALERT] mother's death scene, telling my girls simply, "it's time for Bambi to go spend time with his daddy now," and they still don't seem to mind.  Initially, I did this to let them see the parts of the story I thought they were best able to understand and enjoy.  After all, they're three now and still not quite clear on the idea that waking up from an afternoon nap is not waking up to an entirely different day.  But seeing them play-practice feelings (wholly new and doubly startling for me when they switched from acting out anger to "help, help, emergency!"), I realized what I was seeing them do is exactly the reason so many stories, especially directed at a child audience, make little kids cry.  Stories afford us the great luxury of a multitude of surrogate lifetimes, showing us our many possible futures.  The best ones, those true to the Virtues, show us paths to the light, ways to overcome tragedy, pain, loss, fear, and the consequences of yielding to the "dark side."  We see Bambi love and grow and suffer, and we see him overcome.  If a fawn can do it, so can we.  If only Darth Vader had watched Bambi. 

Realizing all this, I recently let the story play out, no fast-forward abbreviation or quick cut to Bambi's time with daddy, armed for the moment my daughters asked me to "pause it," so they could ask me with a mix of awe and wonder and empathy, "Did Bambi's mommy die?"

"Yes," I answered, relieved to see they don't quite get what that means yet.  

"Mommy, will you die?" my eldest asked, wide-eyed.

"Someday," I said, resolved to talk to them honestly and plainly, though I did add without any reasonable foundation beyond my own hope it's true, "but not for a long time."

Then she was quiet and I thought we were done for the moment until she asked very quietly, "Mommy, will I die?"

Mommy shoulda fast-forwarded...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Radio Heads and Material Girls

When I write, I often listen to music with earbuds as a means to drive out all other reality.  I tend to "loop" one song that stirs in me the feeling or tone most appropriate and productive for what I'm trying to do, and then I hit the keyboard.  I guess it's kind of like moody white-noise, and it helps me keep so focused, I sometimes look up to see a threatening dawn having written through six or eight hours of night on a single, replaying song.  That's not a great feeling, actually, to see it's six o'clock and I have to sprint to bed so I can be up an hour later.  But that's the life of a working mom and the super-power of music.

The computer I use for digital coloring and whatnot has two easily accessible USB ports, one of which is taken up by the remote for the wireless keyboard I'm using to type, and the other was occupied by the remote for a wireless mouse until someone lovely gave me a Wacom Bamboo drawing pad.  Digital toon manipulation has never been so intuitive!  Whether cleaning up pencils, traditional pen and inks, coloring, or drawing straight into digital form, this drawing pad is awesome for efficient and intuitive function.  You can finger-paint, but I stick to its accompanying electronic pen, and the two in tandem can detect pressure for brush effects and bleed -- really a great tool!  It's faster than the mouse and translates the physical motions of my hand far better than my clunky mouse ever did, and I've developed a whole new love for digital art (with the hand cramps to prove it!)

But (you knew there was one, didn't you?) if I do computer stuff (like an online search or pull text from a doc file or fetch some data or other things I'd use a mouse for), the pen is oddly cumbersome and seemingly imprecise.  If I switch to the "touch" function, the Bamboo works like a huge touch-pad, so it's fine, but I find once I've got that electronic pen in my clutches, I don't want to give it up.  I end up stumbling through the computer with the pen until frustration leaves me longing for the mouse (which is quicker for that stuff but I can't use it without unplugging something else).  It's not really a problem with the touch-pad feature just a button tap away, but I'm surprised how attached I've become to this little pen!

I guess in many ways I'm still a "material girl."

Don't give me diamonds, give me blue and carbon pencils, charcoals, rubber cement, razors and white erasers, felt-tips and ball points, quills and nibs and India ink and bouquets of weighted paper.  And a Wacom Bamboo drawing pad.  There's a lot to be said for erasing and revising without any artifacting and working with something that's monumentally protected from unwanted spills, smudges and splatters.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Goblin with a Bow

I’m typically an excellent student, one of those predominantly “A” grade over-achievers begging teachers for extra homework (not an exaggeration – I’ve actually done that many times) and even gave one teacher a lump of coal before one Christmas break for providing lax instruction (again, not kidding).  But in the few art classes I’ve taken, I was a horrible student, and that probably accounts for the gigantic holes in my technique. 

The thing is, drawing was always an intensely personal thing for me, and I didn’t really understand that for the longest time.  I rarely showed anyone my work, and when I did I made sure to have a ready, enthusiastic, and kind audience, like my mom.  Really, I was that insular.  So, it’s kind of nuts that I ever pursued it as a career or source of income.  I’m terrible at “networking” and have to battle my inner critic near to death to engage in anything smacking of self-promotion.  “Braggart,” hisses that tiny, vicious voice in my head.  I’m afraid I let minor setbacks and rejections too often cripple my efforts, so you can probably imagine what even nurturing criticism did for me in a classroom setting.

On occasion, I bumped into extraordinary people, often gregarious and excessively kind, who grabbed me by the hair and ordered me to “draw, damn it!” with such gleaming enthusiasm, even my nasty little inner-critic couldn’t say no. 

One such person got me in such a vice grip of loving faith and merciless encouragement, I married him.  If you knew him as I do, you would, too.  But before I met my husband Christian, another such person found me:  James Wellborn, who gave me my first official cartooning job (for cash money, y’all!), and who was such a naturally unflappable and positive force, I put myself through college cartooning and became the first woman ever to receive the Charles Schulz Award from Scripps Howard.  Mr. Peanuts himself could sadly not be in attendance, but I got to shake Snoopy’s hand!

James was a big guy, in every way – big heart, big sense of humor, big in stature – an over-all huge individual.  And me, being the hermit-ing burrower I tend to be, never told him how much he changed my life and how deeply I am indebted to him for believing in me and bolstering my utter lack of confidence.  James was my first real, professional editor, my first big promoter, and my unwitting matchmaker, because thanks to his unrelenting, irresistible enthusiasm, my husband got to see my cartoons in the newspaper, and the poor guy fell in love with them and me long before we met in person. 

But just as I seem to reserve courage for others instead of myself, when it came to seeing to his own happiness, James fell short.  He was the sort of person who gave everything he had to those he cared about and believed in, so when he faced his own battles, sometimes he didn’t have enough left to keep himself going.  I wish I’d given him even a fraction of the multitude of thank-you-Jameses I’ve been silently storing in my mind since he first looked at my work and said, “sure.”  I can’t remember if I ever truly thanked him, which tells me whatever I did say was no-where near enough.

James ended his life last year.

I’ve thought of James, and will continue to, every time I sit down to draw, and I do my best to listen to the little voice he added to my brain, often imagining his big, broad smile, as he tells me, “Draw anyway, Jody.  And show it to someone.” 

So, here is something that I’ve been working on, and the path I took to get there.  It’s a goblin with a bow.  He looks a little worried to me.  Maybe he’s lost his friend.