Being a writer comes with its own set of unique challenges. Many writers would argue that the biggest challenge is the act of writing itself; others would likely state that finding the time to write is the hardest part. Despite these differences, most, if not all writers would agree that the act of putting words on the page is one that is both intimate and personal. Some have even likened the sharing of one’s writing to a metaphorical baring of the soul or as being viewed naked and vulnerable by anyone who reads it.

This brings us to the elephant in every writer’s living room and the subject of today’s blog:

THE FEAR OF REJECTION.

                Many writers use their words as a source of introspection or even self-supplied therapy. This is why it is such a big decision for a writer to choose to share their work with even a single person. For non-writers this feeling of vulnerability could be replicated, or at least understood, by a hypothetical breech in personal privacy such as the reading of a journal or diary, personal emails, or even text/voice messages.

This delicate situation presents one of the most important transformations that one must undergo in order to be a successful writer:

DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.

                Stories of overnight success are certainly present in all disciplines, such as acting, music, writing, and just about any other outlet in both the creative and non-creative worlds. In the screenwriting world, many would think of Shane Black upon hearing the words “overnight success”. Black sold Lethal Weapon, his first screenplay, for $250,000, and has had several high-grossing/ successful projects since. Of course, what you don’t hear about is HOW Black ended up at the top. Did he get a good break? Sure. Did he connect with just the right people? Absolutely. But, what he did first was write and when he was finished; he did not let the fear of rejection keep him from realizing his dream.

Very few writers will experience the rapid rise to notoriety that Shane Black did, in fact, many well-known writers have had more than their share of rejection. Stephen King, in his must-read book, On Writing, tells of how he fell in love with the craft of writing at a young age and how he endeavored to become a writer. He would tack rejection letters on his wall and when the weight of the letters became too much he used a nail; by the time he was fourteen the letters were so numerous and weighty that he pinned them to the wall with a spike. If King had not pushed through the endless rejections, to eventually receive a glimmer of hope in the words “not bad”, the world would have been denied some of the most original and groundbreaking horror/thriller stories ever told.

King’s lesson:

BE PERSISTENT.

                Neil Gaiman echoes this to some degree in a 2004 journal entry on his website. He recommends building such a powerful ego/confidence that rejection is not an option. Of course, the possession of iron-clad confidence will not be enough to prevent rejections from coming, but it can definitely help to make them into something that can be used productively (or as Gaiman says in his journal, “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!”).  There are many more great insights on Gaiman’s original post: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2004/02/on-writing.asp

Gaiman’s lesson:

TAKE CRITICISM AND KEEP WRITING.

                Any blog or article on writing craft and rejection would be lacking if it didn’t borrow something from one of the most professional and inspirational writers of the recent past: Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is perhaps best known for his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was later turned into a movie (one that Pressfield was not particularly thrilled with) starring Will Smith. One of Pressfield’s crowning achievements however, comes in the form of a short work of non-fiction. The War of Art is a must have for anyone that hopes to make a living in a creative discipline. I could write an entire blog on each and every chapter of this book, so I have opted to include a couple of quotes from the book that are relevant to the subject:

“We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.”

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.”

                Perseverance seems to be the underlying theme. A writer will never be able to write professionally without putting themselves in a position that could illicit rejection. Hypothetically, a writer could hit it big on his or her first submittal, but it is far more likely that their road to success will be paved by rejection letters and ‘pass’ emails. The professional will not only move forward after rejection, but use the criticism to further their own ideas and constantly improve upon their work.

So with that being said, it is up to the individual to judge within him or herself if rejection is a crippling rebuke or simply an opportunity for improvement. I have had my share of passes and rejection letters from movie studios and like King, I save them (in my cluttered email archive as opposed to the spike!). I have had some that were short and impersonal and others that were more of a personal attack. Like with most things, NEVER taking it personal is something that is easier said than done; I have tried my best to treat rejections like building blocks to hone my craft or stepping stones to my next success. A particular writing style might not be for everyone and sometimes rejection can take a form that actually makes you feel better about your work. One of my favorite rejection letters was from a mid-sized and fairly young UK based production company. The letter praised my script (a modern-day paranormal thriller), and even outlined what they liked and how excited it made them. The reason for the pass: the last scene was effect heavy and they didn’t feel like they could do it justice. They recommended a couple companies and gave me their best.

 To me, that rejection is one that I will always cherish.

Until next time horror fans!

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As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I was conditioned to look to the stars for the future of humanity. Outlying colonies on the moon or some distant star system seemed not only feasible, but likely as the population of Earth became too much of a hindrance on our (ever-more decreasing) natural resources. The current trend in technological development has been in complete contrast to my original view of the future; the past few issues of Bloomberg Business Week have all had some thought provoking articles on the subject of robotics. Why would we as humans choose to populate the world with an entirely different set of entities, when space is becoming an issue and general employment with a sense of purpose is becoming less and less attainable?

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The first article that I read claimed that many jobs would eventually become irrelevant due to the advent of automatized machines that could replicate lower-level basic functions. My first thought on this article was positive; why would people want to subject themselves to repetitive and menial tasks that could be performed better by a machine? Sure it is an attack on human employment, but isn’t technology meant to make life better? And what could be better than allowing individuals previously damned to menial tasks to find work that would allow them to become more self-actualized?

The bottom line:

  • Robots would take jobs from humans
  • Individuals tasked with menial jobs may not have better employment opportunities
  • Robots may develop to a point that would threaten more than just lower-level jobs

So, just as I was able to force myself to sleep after reading this article, (not that I have a menial job, but I have seen Terminator more than once!) I came in contact with another article in the same publication. This article outlined the exponential growth of robot and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies in Japan, China, and Korea. Japan (Toshiba) has gone as far as creating a life-like android clothed in traditional Japanese garb at one of the nation’s major airports that provides basic information to travelers based on voice recognition and a sophisticated series of algorithms. So, where does my nerdy mind go? To popular fiction of course!

Humanoid ChihiraAico, clad in a Japanese kimono, greets a customer at an entrance of a department store in Tokyo, on April 20, 2015

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In Spike Jonze’s modern day masterpiece, ‘Her’, an artificial intelligence is able to bridge the gap between mechanical regularity and humanistic emotion. I originally saw this idea as benign, as it was not attached to a physical body. Now, if the two ideas previously discussed are combined, I think that there may be a need for concern. Any Sci-Fi fan worth their salt would remember Phillip K. Dick’s look at the disconnection between the human spirit and mechanical logic as depicted in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ’In the novel, androids had become so life like that a series of psychological tests were created to determine if an individual was a human or an android; the twist: many of these creations were implanted with artificial memories and didn’t even know that they were not human!

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What would these creations be considered if they were able to pass the Voigt-Kampff tests depicted in the novel? As algorithms become more sophisticated, artificial intelligences will likely be able to bridge this gap in the very near future.

And who knows?

Maybe Phillip K. Dick’s title question may one day be answered by an artificial consciousness that cannot be discerned from that of a human.

Hey There Horror Fans!

As I sit here editing the portion of my novel that was written during NaNoWriMo, I have been blessed with the great pleasure of removing extra letters from words and fixing/adding punctuation. It’s crazy how much can slip through the cracks when you are focused on just getting words on the page!

The drawback: editing is oftentimes not nearly as much fun as the initial creation of a story.

So, when I stumbled across this little section told through the eyes of an eight year old girl and found it needed little attention (editing wise), I decided to share it here.

The editing is going slowly, but steadily and I should have a great working draft within the next month or so.

Enjoy everyone!

Addie could hear her family downstairs along with the all too familiar orchestra accompaniment of that one movie with the spiders and the scary boulder that almost smashes the guy in the hat. She usually didn’t like being upstairs by herself, but lately it seemed alright. She wasn’t really by herself anyway; Suzie was with her at least. The doll had been so much more than just a doll over the last several weeks.

            Addie remembered the feeling that she had on the day of Joey’s accident. It was before anyone had arrived for their welcome home party and she was still thinking of all the bad things that had happened. She remembered that she was already dreading the mere thought of sleep, because every time she had tried to take a nap on the way home from the Grand Canyon, she had seen the dead man and her donkey on the backsides of her eyelids. She had heard the term ‘burned into memory’ before and at her young age, she really didn’t understand it, along with a ton of other things that her parents and other grown-ups said. Anyway, she had hoped that those things were not burned into hers. Not now. Not ever.

Thanks for reading– Jim

          

  Everyone who has taken a creative writing class has undoubtedly heard the phrase, “write what you know”. Readers are always able to separate the authentic from the roughly postulated or the completely fabricated. Why do you think Stephen King uses writers or English professors as his main protagonist in many of his works? Or that John Grisham uses an up and coming young lawyer as the underdog hero of many of his? Exactly, they wrote what they knew. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that it takes a vampire to write a vampire story or a sociopathic serial killer to write Silence of the Lambs.

                Many of my earlier works were done in such a way, with a male protagonist close to my age       (+ or- about 10 years) and usually going through something that represented a greatly amplified version of something I had experienced myself. This may sound outlandish, considering that I primarily write in the horror genre, but the problems that my characters faced were still human problems and the monster lurking in the shadows often symbolized or mirrored the emotions that the characters and I were feeling. It is easy for a writer to use this type of familiarity to create a level of authenticity in their prose and without authenticity there is no readability.

Now this is not saying that the above mentioned authors always played it safe, in fact I think that Stephen King is one of the bravest and most inspirational writers of our generation (one of my biggest influences to begin work in the horror genre). He has had some main characters that simply were not the warmest or fuzziest; namely, the brutally cold Roland from The Dark Tower Series or the drug-addicted Jamie Morton in his newest novel, Revival. Imagine investing the amount of time that it takes to create a novel or screenplay from scratch just because the power of the story was greater than an aversion to a character or their situation.

I actually pulled “myself” out of one of my more successful screenplays, which focused on a male detective looking into a string of home-invasions that had no ‘normal’ explanation. When the detective was brought together with a female paranormal journalist/rape survivor, I knew that the story was really about her, so I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I threw out what I had on the project already (which is way less painless when using a computer, I just filed it in the ‘old work’ folder as opposed to crumpling it up and burning it) and began writing the story from the journalist’s perspective. Needless to say it was the right choice, the change in perspective MADE the screenplay.

Now horror fans, you may have guessed that this “Write what you know” blog was really just a clever lead into some background and promotion for another one of my screenplays. Tune in next time for some insight into my own writing process and my creative influences for the paranormal thriller, Things Taken.

For those of you that read my last blog post: “Which do you feed, the Id or the masses?”, may have thought that there was some specific reason that I posted on the topic. Those readers would be correct. While writing my first screenplay, Red Reaper, Burn, I was constantly questioning if the subject matter was relevant to the film market at that moment in time. For that project, I found that the story was in fact more relevant to the current market near its completion than it was during early development. I didn’t expect this, in fact I knew that I HAD to write that screenplay because the story was just too powerful to pass up. The second time I found myself a slave to the muse turned out to be a very different ride altogether.

My second feature length screenplay was a complete labor of love. The excitement I felt while prepping for this project was greatly due to the fact that I had come up with the basic premise of the story years before and after the successful completion of Red Reaper, Burn, I felt that I finally had the ability to tell this story that had been building in my subconscious for nearly a decade. It is a very empowering feeling to know that you have a unique and dynamic story idea that is all fleshed out and that you possess the tools to tell it.

The screenplay took me about half the time to complete because, as I said before, it was mostly mapped out in my head. It is also the only project that I have ever written that retained its working title after completion; Ice Box was more of a brain child than a writing project and like some human children, the story started growing in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. I had originally envisioned the story as a psychological horror that took place mostly in the California Desert, a place that I spent many of my youthful years. After a couple of drafts, I was satisfied with the sense of foreboding I had created in the familiar landscape of my childhood, but as the story unfolded something unexpected happened: two of my characters fell in love.

I knew that it would take some work to make this unexpected love story ‘POP’, but I did not want to take away from the insane content of the story (which is discussed below). It worked out well in this case, as the characters were so clearly defined that their dialogue and actions became oftentimes apparent and sometimes even instantaneous.

The story ended up being a total Id project for me! It may not ever win an Academy Award, but it is a fun read that would make a fantastic movie.

Using the traditional formula for an elevator pitch I would say:

The bizarre love depicted in “True Romance” and the hyper-real violence of “Pulp Fiction” meets the paranormal suspense and mystery of “The Sixth Sense”.

Below I have included my original logline and teaser intro for Ice Box.

Logline

Desperate to escape from terrifying glimpses of the spirit world, a self-medicating medical delivery driver finds himself caught in a murderous conspiracy when the girl he is transporting becomes the target of an ailing Yakuza crime boss.

Teaser Intro

THOMAS has been able to see the spirit world since receiving a life-saving organ transplant. As a young man with no family and no higher-education he gives back to the altruistic cause by delivering transplant organs and transporting sick patients. Due to his proximity to the dead and the dying, Thomas is forced to interact with spirits on a daily and seemingly endless basis. It was becoming too much to handle, until he found that drugs could keep the visions at bay. The downside is that the spirit of MIKEY, the young boy whose organ now resides inside of Thomas, is anchored to him and is becoming a dark and twisted reflection of Thomas’ drug addled body.

ARI is a high school senior who like all young people is desperate to find her own identity. This is very difficult, living with overbearing parents and surrounded by friends who try their best just to “fit in”. When Ari gets her driver’s license, she finds herself able to make her first serious choice as an individual: she decides to register as an organ donor. When her long-time friend convinces her to sneak out for a big weekend party her life changes forever, the car she is in is hit head-on by a truck, leaving her in a medically induced coma. The worst part is that she can see the pain on the faces of her family and friends as her detached spirit watches from the sidelines.

Every writer has likely asked him or herself what they should write about next. Early writers of modern fiction had a much broader realm of uncharted subject matter and unexplored topics. By contrast, it can seem near impossible to think of a story idea that has not been done before at this point in the world’s literary evolution. It is the writer’s responsibility to both themselves and their readers to tell their story in the most entertaining style while staying true to their own writer’s voice. So let us say that a writer has made the conscious decision to create another novel, screenplay, stage play, short story, poem, etc… Where do they start to look for ideas? And perhaps more importantly, to whom do they strive to appeal?

Several tools are available to aspiring writers, musicians, and filmmakers to give them insight as to what subjects are trending or what the most popular internet search terms are. These tools include the wide spanning Google Analytics ( http://www.google.com/analytics/ ) and many blog sites and social media sites also offer a more limited insight into the same trends on their own respective sites. This can be seen in the freshly pressed section of WordPress or the worldwide trend section on Twitter. So should writers feel obligated to appeal to readers by writing a book on “#NOCHILLPHILLIPINES” (whatever that means) or should they be more inclined to indulge their own selfish desires?

Anyone who has had the luxury (or misfortune, depending on the professor) of attending a college level psychology class is likely familiar with Sigmund Freud and his school of thought. Freud theorized that every person was composed of a selfish inner component known as the ‘Id’, a reasonable idea of self known as the ‘ego’, and an ideal sense of self known as the ‘super ego’ that takes societal expectations and things like religion into consideration. The selfishness represented by the Id is a gnawing feeling that many writers have learned to either embrace or to consciously avoid. This constant battle between writing something that is socially relevant and marketable and writing something that they actually want to write can be frustrating for a writer.

In the case of choosing subject matter, an author may want to consider what is popular if they want to sell more copies of their work or be seen as more marketable by the companies to which they pitch to. But one thing that a writer should NEVER do is write something that they are not interested in writing. It troubles me to think of how many would be writers wrote a ‘supernatural romance’ to ride the Twilight coat tails just to try to exploit that segment of the fiction market. Don’t get me wrong here; if they genuinely wanted to write a story in that genre then more power to them. The truth is that the reader will know if the author’s heart was in their work and if it isn’t, the reader will be very reluctant to commit to reading the author’s future work.

With all that being said, I’m off to write my new novel, NOCHILLPHILLIPINES: a Vampire Love Story.

Until next time!

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Like many things in life, the first piece of creative work that a writer produces will always hold a special place in their heart. Sure, there were countless short stories, poems, and ditties that preceded it, but Red Reaper, Burn was my first serious piece of work; I think that it holds up well and may very well be the first spec script that I sell. It was the hardest one for me to pull together and I think that the amount of effort I put into it shines through on every page.

The story originated from a very lucid dream that I had years ago; a seemingly ancient black farmer talking in a sincere and patriarchal tone about “sustaining the farm land that sustains the very life of the family”.  After months of grueling research I had the bones of the story: an epic about generations of an African American farming family that must fulfill a dark and terrible commitment to the farm that they call home. The research took me to subjects that I had little to no familiarity with, these included the world of professional baseball (which I have been disconnected with since my childhood) and the economics of the Tuskegee land grants in Macon County Alabama.

 I thought I would share the logline and the beginning of the summary with you all. I hope that you enjoy, while simultaneously remembering that sometimes the best stories do not come easily and can reveal themselves in the least expected places: a dream, a memory, or a look from a stranger in the grocery store that lasts for just one beat too long.

 

Logline

After suffering a devastating injury, a star athlete returns to his family’s farm only to find terrible memories and ghostly apparitions that suggest that something dark has overtaken the innocent place he remembers from his youth.

Beginning of Summary

Lawrence Prichard is a star baseball player with a beautiful wife and a 12 year old son that is full of potential. Things are going great for the Prichard family and Lawrence is at the top of his game in all aspects of life. That is until a wild throw lands him in the hospital with severe head trauma. Their lives are devastated; Lawrence, normally the rock-solid foundation of the family struggles to regain his composure especially after seeing visions of his father’s gruesome death in the jaws of a harvester combine known as the Red Reaper. Lawrence’s dreams continue, causing him trouble in discerning reality from his nightmarish visions. When his physician refuses to clear him to play baseball, Lawrence decides that he and his family must return to the farm he was raised on to recover from his injury while trying to come to terms with his father’s tragic death.