Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the Verge 2: A Writing Addict's Quest to See Where Curiosity or Insanity Takes Her

On the Verge

A Writing Addict's Quest to See Where Curiosity Insanity Takes Her

By Cardinal Robbins

Last time, I shared what my obsession with writing feels like, as well as what it's like when your favorite author seems sent from Above to convey one clear message: Do. Not. Quit. EVER.

You just cannot argue with that when it happens. If you haven't received your 'cosmic intervention' yet, you will. A song on the radio playing every time you make tangible progress, a friend who tells you something they've never said to you before, a kind soul who takes you aside – while knowing little about you – explaining you're golden, you dare not stop now.'re on the verge.


The first thing you'll feel is overwhelmed. I remember the first time, thinking, If I'm genuinely supposed to do this, why am I feeling pulled in ten thousand different directions? Because it's
time to sit down, take a deep breath, then ask yourself, What is my heart's desire? A novel? A play? The urge to storm Hollywood with the latest, greatest script about something no one has seen before? Think about what grabs and holds on to your passion. (Not some “Fifty Shades of Gray” throbbing of the er...'heart'...either. That's not the passion we're talking about here.) If you have a near compulsion to share something with others via the written word, that is where you begin – with hard decisions.

Here's how it shook out with yours truly: I'm an avid fan of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” because of an extremely talented fellow by the name of Richard Belzer. I can quote chapter and verse when it comes to his character, Det. Sgt. John Munch, whose fame began on “Homicide” and carried into at least ten shows. (More like twelve or so, but who's counting?)
Richard's character was under-utilized in most seasons of the show. Sure, he was definitely a strong presence thanks to his natural charisma, but rarely did the writers dig deep and give him a script featuring his character as it should have been written.
Here's where it gets weird. (There will be a lot of this, expect it.) I hung pretty tight with fellow Belzer fans online. As I got to know increasingly greater numbers of people, they learned that writing was something I loved, that I wanted to write again after a two-year hiatus from having written live content for Apple. When I mentioned my determination to write a spec script for SVU, an ensemble story revolving around Munch, they practically carried me to a mecca of...don't cringe and roll your eyes!...fanfic. Yes, fan fiction.
Fanfic has always had a bad reputation for being nothing more than Mary Sue/Marty Stu tales featuring unbelievably perfect gals or guys who could do anything and everything to the extreme. She sings well enough the Metropolitan Opera didn't even need her to audition? Check. He's lost 542 pounds and now has a perfect 30-inch waist with no stretch marks or sagging skin? Check. Sparkly vampire who doesn't incinerate on the beach and wears silver chains? Check. Every one of us has seen at least one Mary Sue or Marty Stu and have the crow's feet at the corners of our eyes from all the cringing.
My friends in fandom asked me to write some John Munch fanfic for them. I complied because, who better than hardcore SVU fans to bluntly tell me whether or not I'm writing those characters accurately?
You might be surprised, but writing good fanfic such an educational process I found articles recommending all would-be spec script writers need to spend some serious time writing fanfic for fans of the show in question. Why? Dedicated fans will tell you if you're on target or need to hang it up. And tell you they will, in no uncertain terms. These people (myself included) will give you invaluable feedback faster than any script doctor you've paid a small fortune to – and the feedback is free.
NO sparkly vampires in my fanfic! You could practically smell the gunshot residue on John's hands. I kept him in danger of losing his badge, his pension and – more than a few times – his life. My fiction passed the test, thanks to kind souls who generously took the time to give honest critiques. I was getting close to taking the next step.
During this time, keeping in mind all of this took place over 2001 through right now, lit agents had begun to drill it into every prospective author that we need a platform and a brand. Brand, BRAND, BRAND. (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”) Fanfic was not only the greatest practice, it also gave me plenty of time to consider how I wanted to present myself to the world. Admittedly, it took me a while to figure out this “brand” stuff. I can market the daylights out of everyone else, but was flummoxed at the prospects of doing the same for myself.
Eventually, it fell into place. I had been using my pseudonym for years, mostly to remain safe on the internet. Almost suddenly it evolved into my brand – Cardinal Robbins, the tigress who wrote gritty cop fiction; shot a Glock 35 well enough to be considered LAPD & FBI competent; did the time and effort required for research; worked hard to create interesting, well-developed, age-appropriate characters; a sense of humor, sure, but no-nonsense, quietly determined to succeed.

Fanfic quickly provided the fan base I needed because “metrics” were another vital part of a writer's platform. How many fans do you have? agents wondered. Have your readers followed you on all possible social media? How do you plan to get new followers? It was all about the numbers, which then and now equate to potential sales volume or Neilsen ratings. If you don't have a way of proving you can get the numbers to provide a revenue stream for an agent, either literary or entertainment, they want nothing to do with you. Cold hard fact, Catch-22, but there it is.

As I transitioned from fanfic to writing my first SVU spec script, social media was taking off
like a rocket to Pluto. My education is in marketing communications – I took to social media like a Frenchman to foie gras, er...a duck to water, let's say. Fiction and social media was, for me, a marriage made in heaven. Which was a bonus, because while I had no idea at the time, it was my way in.
Today's lesson:
Take the time to narrow down and understand your passion, what you truly want to write. Then, find like-minded people to write for who definitely 'get' what you're writing and are willing to give you nothing but constructive feedback as they critique your efforts. (All my friends were not fans of gritty cop fiction. I discovered that the hard way.)
Next time, the rubber hits the road as we progress from fanfic to my first SVU spec script.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On the Verge 1: A Writing Addict's Quest to See Where Curiosity (Or) Insanity Takes Her

On the Verge

A Writing Addict's Quest to See Where Curiosity Insanity Takes Her

Hello. I'm Cardinal Robbins. I've often lurked here, because I enjoy reading the “Chiseled in Rock” blog. While I couldn't become a RMFW member because I'm in Southern California, the knowledge and perspectives here could not be ignored. Gusto Dave Jackson got my attention the quickest, because he has a writing style much like one of my all-time favorite authors: Harlan Ellison.

I've yet to have the pleasure of meeting Gusto Dave in person, but in a bizarre turn of events I have met the amazing Mr. Ellison. Harlan is quite a character, to say the least. He's extremely mercurial, has zero tolerance for steer manure, and always tells the truth – even if it's bone shatteringly blunt and you're not ready to hear it, good or bad. When we met at a mutual friend's party, he was in an incredibly good mood and sat down to chat. He encouraged my insanity instead of recommending a straight jacket coupled with psych meds and years of intensive therapy. Who needs BASE jumping, NASCAR driving, or riding the craziest roller-coaster you could ever imagine for a rush? Absolutely nothing compares to having your favorite writer practically make a beeline for you (without your threatening him with a weapon), to talk about your writing instead of his! I still have no explanation for why this happened. This was in the realm of UFO landings and vacationing in the Bermuda Triangle with Sasquatch. All I know is, he understood my obsession on the deepest level, sympathized like no one else ever had or could, then told me to let no one discourage me. Write. Or. Die.

Each time we read exemplary writing our addiction is triggered; inspiration is our heroin, there is no 28-day rehab for us, no Higher Power to delivery us from sleep deprivation while we scribble furtively with a hopeful heart. We're chasing the dragon, people. We're hooked on being able to read what we often wished others would write for our consumption. We get a profound thrill from the challenge of carefully crafting words to make others feel genuine emotion. It's all a power trip like nothing else. And, if we're lucky, some of us will eventually get a boost in the bank account for our often Herculean efforts.

I'm not to that point...yet. My bank account consists of dust, cobwebs, a dried up moth or's an ugly sight. Yet there's no way I can quit, not until I see my name on a printed book – or on some type of streaming media that's rented, sold or subscribed to which people find entertaining. My family calls it my “weird, wonderful life,” and I agree completely. My term for it is being “on the verge.” Gusto Dave  expressed interest in how I've progressed from making my high school English Comp teacher break down and bawl when I killed a character to how I've created a unique series concept, collaborating with Richard Belzer and his non-fiction writing partner, David Wayne.

Fellow writers, even I could not make this stuff up.

Knowledge and experience are worthless unless they are shared with others. I'm breaking all the rules – pulling, pushing, twisting, bending them all and oddly enough I'm making steady progress. After all, weren't rules meant to be broken? You bet they were! I'd like nothing more than for you to join me on this wild, crazy journey, sharing the highs, lows, and how to get past the hurdles meant to rip the heart and soul out of even the most dedicated among us.

Come with me, because I'm far from the only one who's on the verge. You are, too; I can feel it. Together, we are going to succeed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Funds That Publishers Ostensibly Expect You to Fork Out

If one considers my trials and tribulations with publication, this article could come across as fairly negative – a sour grapes kind of thing. However, given the news of my recent new romance and how on top of the world I am, the actual reason I spill these truths is to poke a little fun and most importantly give heads up to unsuspecting new talent entering this profession. And frankly, haven’t I been doing that for years anyway?

                This topic is a little touchier, though. I reveal the magician’s secrets so to speak.

                The sad truth is the publishing business isn’t what it used to be. There have been countless forums that point blame all over the place, so I won’t belabor it with any of my theories of cause, but I think we can all agree that the mantle of author doesn’t carry the same prestige as when I wore a high school sports uniform. Actually, unless you’re the big NYT Bestseller, the industry has become a pyramid scheme from what I can tell.

                The real authors I know talk of days when advances were crowning validation that you’d made it. Of course, the publisher encouraged using some of it for marketing (a very foreign word to authors back then, not like now how it’s drilled into you). Today the skimpy advances out of New York for new authors, basically understating that he or she is a gamble, are expected to be used for advertising the title.

                With a typical small press, here’s the kicker, there are no advances, yet they still egg you on to break into your piggy bank and get wild on boasting your new release. One time on an email conversation with the marketing department of a press for one of my books, I got all excited when they dazzled me with T shirts, mugs, and stickers as possible advertising tools. As the correspondence built, it dawned on me that they were tiptoeing around saying that I had to foot the bills. Can you imagine what a star I felt like being nudged to spend my millions?!

                Here’s another thrilling investment for you aspiring authors clinching it with indy presses! You’ll more than likely have to buy your hard and soft backs even though you’re published. So, here’s to hoping those signings you broke your hump to set up with surviving bookstores go well otherwise that box of books winds up being some expensive Christmas cards.

                Early in my ‘success’ game, all motivated to get the word out about my big hit, I queried lots of review blogs from the prompting of my agent. I must have hit up 30 or 40. Only two answered me and they wanted – you guessed it – their cut. Everybody’s got their hands out, children.

                About eight years ago at a conference I attended, I wish I could remember his name, a gentleman on a panel said it was going to be like this, that authors would be on their own when it came to funding.

                Free enterprise is a right I and many men and women served in the military for, but you should be painfully aware that nowadays, not only is writing a time suck, but also a significant financial cost.

                On to more chipper subjects, dear friend of mine and well connected screen writer Cardinal Robbins will be sharing her compelling strategic moves in this biz.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Forget What You Know About Women and Sexy

During college, I had a fling with a fashionista who always had long red nails – part of her overall cosmetic mystique. I once told her I’d still see her (we’ll say for lack of spicier words) even without the scorching scratchers. Never will this leave my memory. She said, “I don’t do it for you. I do it to show off to other women.” She was nothing if not practical and that opened up an entire world to me which showed the competitive nature of ladies when it comes to looks.
We guys get a bad rap when it comes to beholding beauty. Sure, Kim Kardashian’s naked butt flaunted in front of us almost daily in a corner of our internet screen gets our attention. We are, after all, hairy trolls, but our radars are tuned to so many thing in a woman that are attractive.

Don’t believe me? I have here a list of super sexy women who are not touted as such nearly enough. This is how legit this is: My girlfriend gave her stamp of approval on this article! Also, I’ve run these names by several beer swilling buds and they said they would (you need to use your imagination here – I avoid F bombs on the Rock) them. Ladies, you more than likely have some crazy cute features. Don’t be afraid to capitalize on them this Valentine’s Day. Check out these vixens. Yes, vixens.
So, you had to have seen Mayim Bialik’s pic at the top. Think about how Amy Farrah Fowler doesn’t expose any of her goods next to the blonds adjacent to her on the Big Bang Theory yet my cronies used ‘bang’ to describe a certain fantasy act with her. If I were Koothrappali, I’d elbow Sheldon out of the way and study biology with his carefully controlled mate.

The labels ‘plus size’ and ‘full figured’ annoy me. I prefer ‘hot’ by itself. You can imagine how my caveman cohorts salivated when they saw this picture of Ashely Graham.

How could I scribe an article on a blog about writing without mentioning an author? If you type Stephanie Meyer in a Google search, it will bring up popular searches associated with her and one of them, no joke, will say: hot. This means thousands of dudes (and girls) are browsing Steph and tagging her as a looker. Pretty good for a geeky pencil pusher.

A sense of humor, glasses and or bright smile can drive a guy wild and these lovely ladies work combinations there of. Kathleen Madigan, Irish drinker, funny little pixie, is so cute! And Liz Lemon herself! What two fisted bloke with half a brain and libido wouldn’t get a little weak in the knees from the sassy smart Tina? Mindy Kaling – she plays a gynecologist on TV and of course the ‘let’s play doctor with Mindy’ remarks came out when I asked the Neanderthals what they thought.

Age makes no difference either. About Helen Mirren, I think Jack Black summed it up nicely at an awards ceremony on live TV when he called her hot and all the men applauded. 

It's this simple. Women are beautiful. Happy Valentine's Day!

Gusto Dave

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When Do You Quit the Pursuit?

Oh, I suppose if you’re a Winston Churchill admirer, you ‘never ever give up’, but seriously, sometimes it’s just practical. For instance, if something feeds depression (that would never happen with writing!) then you should probably cut it out, yes? Here’s a twist: What if something better comes along? I ask that you digest those points for a just a moment.
                For me, the pursuit for novel publication has become counter-productive at a minimum if not outright asinine. Now, before I insult all writers, friends or foes alike, we’re talking about what’s most suitable for my little ol’ world. Perhaps it’s still a good fit for you. Maybe you’ll rethink it, though, after I reveal some of the traps of this ‘profession’ if you’ve not already gotten tangled in them. The reason I’ve come to this decision is I do not care for spending months on a project (sometimes years) to no avail. Progress is measured differently depending on who you are, but I wanted to earn supplemental income or do it for a living. The latter I understood from the get-go to be difficult, but you never know until you try. With manuscripts that number in the teens and twelve years later, I haven’t achieved either. There was lots of schmoozing, improving in the craft, unprecedented marketing stunts for my only publication, tireless submissions, and nothing has caught traction to help me realize my goal.
                If I reveled in every moment of creating a novel, it would be different. They say you got to love it. A good written word gives me chills – to read and to scribe. I even named my son after a literary reference! However, coming from a performance background, I’m a sucker for getting quick attention to my work. In novel land, you hardly ever get that. Barely anyone will read your stuff when you’re unknown.

                In the Be a Star series on this blog a couple of years ago, I emphasized the need for tenacity and love for the art, and I cited the stories of famous entertainers who exemplified these qualities to stardom. I have the passion and persistence. Time – not so much. And in the spirit of the Be a Star series, Jay Leno spent years trying to ‘get his break’. He auditioned for lots of acting roles while doing stand up at night and turning a wrench during the day to pay bills. Remember him in American Hot Wax? Anyway, he kept being told that his chin was too big. To Mavis, his wife, he resolved, “I’ll just have to find a back door in.” So, to my immediate situation, if I'm not getting anywhere, change the game – find the back door.

                When I started writing, horror was my genre. Soon, it became clear that macabre was the worst selling kind of fiction. Because of my love for writing, I adapted to hotter acquisitions: romance, fantasy, young adult, steampunk western, and urban fantasy. By the way, I received lots of praise on concepts and voice for all these new frontiers. Let me tell you something: Writing is like a selfish lover. I bent over backwards to please her, but she still rejected me. Worse, I lost my identity. I’m a horror writer, damn it!
                So, thus begins my new life. When I hinted in the first paragraph about something better than novel publication, that’s exactly what happened to me! I’m in love with Julie Pfennigwerth. She is my treasure…besides my gifted son. I pinch myself everyday. It’s not an understatement when I tell you I’m flying higher than any spirit. So why do I need the adulation of a novel deal? Put simply, I don’t.

                That established, Julie is a smart, accomplished writer. She has actually made money doing it, so my change of strategy comes mostly by her influence. Going forward, I’ll be chiseling out short stories, articles for magazines, blogs, and maybe the occasional children’s manuscript where you can wrap up a plot within 40k words. That should suffice for my writing fix and won’t chomp out all my time with loved ones, thus bumming me out if nothing comes of the finished copy.
                To be sure, I am very proud of my titles, published and otherwise. Heck, Tattoo Rampage garnered film representation by Jody Hotchkiss who gloated about my imagination and the villain…even though I haven’t heard from ol’ Jody in a couple of years. Another friend with impressive status in the entertainment business, screen writer Cardinal Robbins, continues to encourage me. I mean…wow. However, these little shots in the arm become addictive like heroin and distort reality. You may be good, but are you selling?

                Since I was a wee lad, Prairie Home Companion has been an inspiration to me. A few weeks ago on the program, Garrison Keillor spoke about his gravitation toward writing. He never wanted to be a novelist. Poetry and shorts were his love. And I thought: How smart is that? Keillor, who worshipped the Grand Ole Opry which served as a muse for the Lake Wobegon radio show, used his writing skills and pioneered his own path. I am a guitarist and singer with a booming voice. In the 90s, I made nice scratch on the side plunking strings in restaurants and coffee houses. In 2015, the Gusto Dave Show will return. I’ll be gigging shortly, massaging patrons with musical renditions, humor, and some of my anecdotes.
                Here on the Rock, we’ll still be interviewing agents and editors. A lot of them will probably be magazine publishers for my own appetite. When Janet or I stumble on good-to-know stuff for novel submission, we’ll share of course. As for myself, besides my goofy observations, I’ll be starting a series that exposes some of the trials and tribulations that you may not have anticipated with the novel game. The first coming: The Funds That Publishers Ostensibly Expect You to Fork Out.

Gusto Dave

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jocks That Writers Should Emulate

Certainly there are stigmas with occupations like the socially awkward IT guy, the superficial salesman, engineers who are too literal, and so forth. I'd like to bury the hatchet between two notorious rivals, especially in high school, the dumb jock and the snobby writer.

This shouldn't be hard to do to meet in the middle. After all, Ernest Hemingway was a guy's guy. Not to toot my own horn, but I boxed for a bit. Frank Dorchak, one of my scribe buds, clearly hits the weights. And Jeanne Stein is a black belt!

The athletic organization that I point you to, believe it or not, is the NFL. It seems fitting since, amongst my RMFW and Pike's Peak Pals anyway, that our Broncs bit the dust in the playoffs. We fans twiddling our thumbs now, are looking for a reason to keep watching the grid iron, so why not some literary education from the big oafs in the tight pants? Yes, I'm serious.

First off, there's the running back who just wants to hit the shower, but the reporters hound him with the typical inane questions. Sweating, hobbling, he answers, "Well, you know...we gave it everything know our quarter back was on today...and you know blah blah blah..." This is freakin' gold. Gold I tell ya. That persistent 'you know' typical of lots of sports personalities is called a dialogue marker. You could slap such a verbal crutch on one of your characters and your readers would develop an ear for that person's dialogue. You could even skip the tag 'Evan said,' or 'Roxy smiled,' to identify the talker because the reader knows the speaker by the marker.

Then there are those commentators. Seriously, one of the things that turns me off of a manuscript is the lack of pizazz with word choice. Verbs are a great opportunity for colorful turn of phrase and newscasters like Collinsworth and Aikman are usually pretty good with the action words. On the Cowboys game, a touchdown with some ricocheting off of several blockers summoned, "He spun into the end zone," from the commentator. On an accurate sharp pass, you may hear, "And Manning bullets it to the receiver." Some of these may be a little purple, but at least they boast some know, man?