Saturday, May 2, 2015

Read this before you enter a screenplay contest!

This is a short selection from an amazing interview with screenwriter Lydia Mulvey, who is a screenplay contest veteran having placed in the finals of the PAGE Screenwriting Contest and having won the BBC Sharps Contest. To read the entire interview, click here.

Advice to any aspiring screenwriters about screenplay contests by Lydia Mulvey 
  • Be selective. Choose your contests wisely. There are a lot of scam contests there. Aim to enter the more prestigious contests such as the Nicholl, Austin, PAGE etc.
  • Be ready. Don't submit a sub-par script. You must feel happy with your work. Forget any "that'll do" attitude. It won't do. It really won't. Screenwriting contests are open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee. Readers have a lot of chaff to cut through before they get to the tasty wheat grains. Make sure your script is tasty wheat grain.
  • Submit your script, then forget about it. Seriously. You have to wait MONTHS before you hear back on contests. You'll drive yourself mad if you keep obsessing about it. So keep busy. Work on another script. Get a body of work behind you.
  • Don't treat screenplay contests as the be-all and end-all of everything. They are just one way into the industry. And even if you win, they are not guaranteed to open the door. So keep submitting elsewhere, keep making connections, keep networking. You don't win a screenplay contest and automatically earn a million dollars a script. You just don't.
This is a reprint from my blog. The original was published July 25, 2014.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

8 Websites to find writing or writing-related jobs

Although finding employment as a writer can be tough if you don't hear of anything through your network of friends;  there are luckily several job boards that exist with plenty of legitimate opportunities. The following nine websites are the top ones that I personally use or that my friends use to find writing or entertainment work. So in no particular order:
  1. LinkedIn: I like how LinkedIn has many professionals of all industries on its site, and I like how everyone's profile showcases their resume, skills, and network. When LinkedIn began to offer the feature of finding and applying for jobs, that added even more value to the site. I've applied for a ton of writing-related jobs using LinkedIn (mostly copywriting and social media gigs), and one feature that I'm a fan of is that they notify you when a recruiter reads your resume. Bonus that I know several people who have been recruited for new jobs with their LinkedIn profile.   
  2. StaffMeUp: This is the LinkedIn of film and TV production. You create your production profile, connect with your friends, and find production listings.
  3. Facebook: Finding work through your own network is usually the most powerful tool to finding a job. Since Facebook's primary purpose is to connect you with friends, it's naturally a great place to find work because often times it's your friends who are advertising that they are looking for staff. Besides using your own friend list, try to target alumni groups or filmmaking communities. Often those pages list job opportunities. 
  4. Craigslist: Craigslist is the wild west of job hunting. For every unpaid gig or porn listing, there are a few gems hidden in the mix. The important thing when job hunting through Craigslist is to be discerning. Is the listing detailed and written well? Does the person who responds to your query sound professional? Trust your gut when proceeding, but you would be surprised about how many legit opportunities can be found there. 
  5. MediaBistro: I look for copywriting, journalism, and ghost writing opportunities through MediaBistro, and most of the major publications, networks, and online companies post here. A great feature to the site is that it's easy to apply for multiple job listings, and they email you a confirmation with each submission. Plus, Mediabistro is not just a job search site. It has various blog posts about the media industry, and it's an insightful website for writers to check out. 
  6. EntertainmentCareers This website has a lot of listings for assistant jobs in the entertainment industry. It also has listings for other areas of entertainment, although maybe not as many. For instance, if you're looking for an advertising job, MediaBistro usually has a larger selection.
  7. TrackingB:To gain access to TrackingB's job listings, you have to pay a subscription fee. I found that the fee is worth it. However, they also have pretty kick ass writing contests and if you enter two or more scripts, they give you a year's subscription for free. TrackingB is great because it lists a lot of assistant jobs, and it also provides industry posts about who got hired where and what scripts are being sold and by whom. 
  8. Mandy: Mandy has a mix of unpaid and paid work, and not only can you find professional gigs on there, but often student film projects or other independent endeavors. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tips to copyright your fiction or screenplay

Writers frequently ask me about how to protect their work, and here is my general advice:
  • The second you create something i.e. put words to paper, then you own the copyright to your work.
  • Ideas cannot be copyrighted. If you tell people, "I have this idea where a robot marries a woman!" That idea is not protected. However, you write it, and that story is yours. Does that mean people cannot write a story about a robot marrying a woman once you wrote yours? That's iffy. If they have a unique take, then that may be allowed. You'd have to talk to a lawyer for specifics. The main thing you should be concerned with then is your execution, not your idea, because if someone steals your execution then that is an actual legal problem.
  • If you write a story and someone steals lines/paragraphs then that is plagiarism and a violation of your copyright. This is rare, yet it happens, so even though you own the copyright, what are further ways for you to protect yourself from this theft?
  • There is no need to use a third party to register your work. They'll just charge you unnecessary fees for something that would take you a few minutes to do at home.
  • Registering is voluntary, but if you have something that you are sending out and want to protect, then I recommend you register. 
For more in-depth copyright information, see the US Copyright Office's FAQ page:
http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/

Agree? Disagree? Is there something I missed? Leave me a comment and let me know. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3 Books Every Aspiring Sports Journalist Should Read

Joseph Nardone, the Managing Editor of Storm the Paint, shares his list of 3 Books Every Aspiring Journalist Should Read. If you'd like to connect with him, you can find him on Twitter @JosephNardone

Anything and everything written by Dan Wetzel
 "If you are a person who follows sports you know who Wetzel is. If you don't you are doing it wrong. He is probably one of (if not) the best sports writers of our generation and has some really good work out there. His ability to put his content ahead of him is rare in the age of "look at me" sports writing."

Sports Journalism at its Best: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Articles, Cartoons, and Photographs by Heinz-Dietrich Fischer 
"Great sports related content in the book. It's a good way to see how sports used to be covered. It's just done in a different way today, but some of the articles in the book romanticize sports to the point you would want to date an inanimate object."

Drunk on Sports by Tim Cowlishaw 
"A lot of folks only know of Tim as the guy from ESPN's Around The Horn, but he has been around and in the newspaper business for a few decades now. This book has as much to do with Tim's struggles with the bottle as it does with his writing career. It rang a bell with me and it might do the same for folks who don't realize how much work and shenanigans are involved in this kind of career." 

This post was originally published on October 16, 2013. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Five important questions to ask yourself before you self-publish

In 2012, I independently published my novel Hell's Game through Createspace; and it became an Amazon bestseller. I credit various factors in my success, and one thing I tell other writers who think about self-publishing is to think about whether or not it is really the best option for them. I created this list of questions I asked myself before I proceeded with Hell's Game and my subsequent books: The Red Lantern Scandals, Exercise with Cats, and Tree Dreams in Color. 

FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SELF PUBLISH
  1. Have I exhausted all avenues of trying to get traditionally published? This includes query letters, writer conferences, and asking people for referrals.
  2. Is this material at its best? Am I 100% sure that there is nothing I could do to improve the book's plot, characters, or other story elements? 
  3. Is this material fully edited? Is it free of typos and grammatical mistakes?
  4. Do I have the time and/or money to invest in producing the best product? (A book free of mistakes and formatted well with an eye catching cover.)
  5. Do I have the time and/or money to market this product?
If you are considering self-publishing; and you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you should not self-publish until you are ready. After all, your books are your products, and you do not want to sell inferior products. You may get initial sales but people won't come back. 

Agree? Disagree? Want to know more? Leave me a blog comment or check me out on Facebook or Twitter and send me your questions.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Discovering Madonna's Erotica, a reflection 20 years later

Madonna released the new album Rebel Heart this year, and in honor of the Material Girl, I'm reprinting Lizette Clarke's guest column, originally published on this blog in 2012. 

I bought Madonna’s Erotica album (on cassette!) during Memorial Day weekend back in 1997. With less than a month of one of the hardest school years of my life to go—seventh grade—I already knew that I had become a completely different person in the past year. I was attending a suburban school that was predominantly black, and already knew that I was deemed too weird and felt unwelcomed by the majority of my peers. What made that late spring so important in my life was the fact that by that point, I no longer gave a shit what others thought about me. I was weird, I was artistic, and I was becoming a woman. 

We stopped at Coconuts Music on Hempstead Turnpike en route to a family barbecue at my relatives’ new house in Jamaica, Queens. I remember exactly what I wore: a glittery, tan colored t-shirt with a turtleneck collar, and denim overalls from the Gap. I liked this top because it was tight enough to suggest that I had boobs (which I did not have), and there’s also a good chance my shoes that day were Jellies
from Payless Shoe Source. This Memorial Day was also one of the first times a boy hit on me. Some random wannabe thug rode his bike up to mine and asked me what my name was. I immediately deferred to one of my two go-to fake names: “Valleri” or “Maria.” I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but I do remember it being one of the last of its kind. Shortly hereafter, I went to great pains to go unseen by anyone riding a bike in Queens.

But anyway, the album. The album. The second I got home, I put it in my Philco boom box and read the lyrics to each song as I played them for the first time. Already five years old by 1997, the sound of Erotica ranged from New Jack Swing to house music to jazz, with the occasional pop ballad or reggae track thrown in for good measure. One eye-opening aspect of the tape—in addition to its subject matter—was that Madonna merely spoke the lyrics on some of the tracks. She also said bitch! And ass! That shit was out of this world to 13-year Old Me.

Relatively unbeknownst to me at the time, this album received a lot of backlash when it first came out in October of 1992. Released concurrently with Madonna’s Sex book—which I couldn’t get my hands on back then, even if I’d tried—many critics and pearl-clutchers believed Madonna had gone too far. It was instantly regarded as an album about sex and nothing more, when in actuality it was mainly about all the bullshit that surrounds sex: relationships, betrayals, loss, and acceptance. More than anything, Erotica is an album about the pain that comes with the territory of being a sexual creature.

And it’s so obvious to me now! Madonna tells us at the end of the title track:

“Only the one who hurts you/Can make you feel better/Only the one who inflicts the pain/Can take it away.”

As far as my junior high reading comprehension skills went, shit was literal. Like, if you’re doing S&M stuff, the person pouring hot candle wax on you is the only one who can stop pouring hot candle wax on you. Duh, right? But I’m pretty sure she’s not talking about S&M or even sex there. As a 28-year old now, I read this song as an ode to ourselves, not an ode to BDSM: if we fixate on pain from the past, only we can stop inflicting it on ourselves. Sure, I earned two writing degrees in the last fifteen years, so I could be reading too much into it today, but one of the album’s stand out songs, “Rain,” hammers home a message of renewal and redemption, of overcoming your own personal darkness and letting yourself be loved. Considering sex and all its surrounding emotions, maybe I’m not being (that much of) an English major blowhard when I surmise the album’s overall message: let it go.

With a few exceptions, Madonna isn’t talking about sex at all in Erotica. One of my favorite tracks when I was thirteen is the shortest on the album, dance track “Bye Bye Baby.” With the help of auto tune (or whatever the hell its 1992 equivalent was), Madonna sassily tells an ex-lover that she’s so over it and to get the fuck out. Man, I loved the shit out of that song. It was bratty, it was catchy, and it boasted what I considered to be the ultimate in lyrical depth at the time:

“I don’t want to keep the burning flame/Of your ego going/So I’ll just stop blowing in the wind/To love you is a sin.”

So deep, right? When you’re thirteen.

In “Why’s It So Hard,” Madonna ponders why people can’t just get along. Seriously; that’s the whole song. “Thief of Hearts” is about a man-stealing, two-faced friend who will screw anything, and “Words” is literally about, well, words: their ability to harm, their ability to skewer reality, and everything else you started noticing when you were in junior high and emotions were running high.

Does any of this have anything to do with fucking? Barely.

The darker side of sex is present on my favorite track on the album, “Bad Girl,” which still may be my favorite, nostalgia notwithstanding. Why did a song about a protagonist who drinks whenever she’s alone and sleep around only to hate herself afterward appeal to me so much as a junior high schooler? It certainly wasn't my life at the time. Honestly, I think I just loved the melody and the music (my eventual forays into Boys for Pele and foreign music would later prove that lyrics are rarely a priority to my ears). Listening to “Bad Girl” in the present, however, I can truly relate to the lyrics, and I also realize what a painful fucking song it is. “Bad Girl” could be an anthem for sexual addiction. It’s probably no coincidence that most of my fictional characters could sing its lyrics and mean every word.

The one song on this album that’s explicitly sexual—and the only one that inspired me to take the album’s booklet to school the next day to show around to fellow young pervs—is “Where Life Begins.” This is the type of song for which seventh-graders live. If you can figure out what the metaphors and innuendo are referring to, you feel like a fucking adult. Because you get it. In this song, Madonna invites the listener to partake in cunnilingus. Her arguments are well-reasoned, but not terribly clever, for example:

“You can eat all you want and you don’t get fat.”

“Colonel Sanders says it best: finger licking good.”

Well, shit. The first time I listened to this jazzy number, I was like, “Why the fuck is Madonna singing about some restaurant in a basement?” When it finally did dawn on me, I assure you I was forever changed. I was all, people sing about this stuff? Girls sing about this stuff? I’m not a weirdo for thinking about this stuff? Right on! Right on, Madonna.

Erotica became crucial in my development not only as a woman, but as a writer. My propensity for creating female characters who would also totally listen to stuff like this got its stamp of approval from this track, from this album, from Madonna herself. She was telling me to go for it.

And I’m pretty sure that’s why this album holds such a special place in my heart. Honestly, I don’t know if I could recommend Erotica to any adult to hear for the first time in 2012. I think you have to be a thirteen-year old girl to truly appreciate it. Twenty Eight-year Old Me finds the lyrics silly and infantile now, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is a teenager’s album, even if Madonna was well into her thirties when it was made. Instead of reading Sweet Valley High novels or whatever the hell young girls were supposed to learn their earliest life lessons from, I was listening to Madonna. And Alanis. And Tori Amos. Is it any wonder I went through the balance of my teens and most of my twenties as a bawdy, cynical, foul-mouthed, open-minded (for lack of a better word) artist?

That’s not to say that I was a mature thirteen-year old by any means. Far from it. Only that this album taught me what to expect out of sex, relationships, and adulthood: expect the pain, expect the bullshit, and expect the ephemeral beauty of having your eyes opened to something new for the first time.

Happy 20th anniversary to a bold, raw, honest body of work. Without discovering Erotica in my formative, early teen years, I would not have learned the significance of exploring the darker, dirtier parts of our minds. I probably never would have had the courage to do it on my own. I’d probably be a different person, and I probably wouldn’t be much of a writer. 

Lizette Clarke is a writer based in Los Angeles. She has a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, and she was a 2009 CBS/NAACP Writing Fellow. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Sound and the Furry: Robert Lyle Talks Furry Conventions, Erotica, and Stigma


Back in December, a video of Mika Brzezinski losing her shit went viral. In case you don't remember what happened, the anchor of MSNBC's Morning Joe was presenting news about a gas attack at a furry convention, and when one of her cohosts informed her that a furry was a person who dresses up as an animal and role plays, she giggled hysterically before running off the stage. Many of the aforementioned furries were hospitalized, and although I could see how one would be initially shocked at learning of something so unique, it struck me as rude in the context and unprofessional given she is a journalist.

I tweeted about the story after the video of Mika had gone viral, and through Twitter, I was able to connect with Robert Lyle, the 25-year-old author of the interspecies romance series, Feathers with Benefits. "I can't really blame them for not knowing what furries are," Robert said. "It's largely an internet subculture even with MFF (Midwest Fur Fest) seeing close to 4600 attendees; but laughing hysterically while reporting an attack that sent 19 people to the hospital and caused the early morning evacuation of an entire hotel? Classy."


Robert's life as a furry began approximately eight years ago. He was searching for art online when he found a now defunct gallery of dragons and mythological creatures. He liked what he saw so he registered for the site's forum. "From there, I made friends, found other places to hang out, and the rest is history," Robert said. To connect with other furries, Robert mostly connects online through Skype or forums, but in 2014, he did MFF to connect with his furry friends from the Netherlands and Texas. At Midwest Fur fest, Robert described the activities as being very similar to that of other conventions. "I looked around the artists' tables and spent a little too much money there, watched the fursuit parade, and saw some of the other events happening. I missed the panels on writing due to a long registration line, but there's always next time," he said.

Two furries from 2014's Midwest Fur Fest, courtesy of AoLun08
All of Robert's friends are aware and okay with his lifestyle or are members themselves; but Robert has shielded details of the fandom from his family. "My parents know I went down to MFF to meet friends, and I told them it was like a comic convention. They think it's weird, but didn't ask more. I haven't told them I'm a furry, and I certainly haven't told them I write erotica—inter-species erotica, at that—nor do I ever intend to unless it's unavoidable. They're fairly open-minded, but still pretty conservative and tend to judge things on a moralistic world-view. I honestly don't know how they'd deal with it, nor am I keen to find out. I can't let worrying stop me from the writing, though," Robert said. 

Robert started writing his furry series, Feathers With Benefits, a year ago. It is about a human named Torio who gets paired up professionally with a gryphon named Riane as part of an initiative to forge new interspecies alliances. The story can be found on the furry website, So Furry, and Robert said that he's happy with the reception his work has received.

However, even though Robert has found his place in the furry community, he still has to use the pen name Robert Lyle to shield himself from the mainstream. "Until recently I wouldn't even admit I was a furry, in part because of widespread stereotyping, harassment, and even hatred of the fandom, both online and off," Robert said. "I used to have a dragon avatar for some gaming accounts, and occasionally someone would send me a message asking me if I was "one of those furries" or just calling me a "fucking furfag." I've seen friends harassed for their art, or for the company they keep. I know of people who've had to shut down their accounts and go dark from the cyberbullying. Some people are just misinformed or ignorant of what furry means, and the sheer diversity of interests doesn't help. Others are just following the bandwagon of trolls who banded together years and years ago to target the fandom, and its status as the "internet punching bag" is only just starting to turn around. It doesn't help that early mainstream attention tried to explain furries and fursuiting as 'well, these are young people, therefore it's all about deviant sex.' I've never seen the episode, but apparently CSI had an infamously terrible portrayal of a furry convention."

Still from CSI's Fur and Loathing, courtesy of Huffington Post
That episode, Fur and Loathing, was broadcast in 2003. In the episode, people dressed in fursuits attended  a convention to have fetish sex, a depiction that seems very different from Robert's experience at MFF.

In the end, despite the judgment or amused giggles the community has received from outsiders, Robert is hopeful that people will eventually become more accepting. "The fandom's reputation is normalizing, and mainstream reporting keeps churning out "they're actually normal, albeit nerdy" articles, which is awesome," Robert said. "The hate still exists, and I doubt that's going away anytime soon. After all, we just can't have people who are different than us, no, not one bit."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

3 Gmail add-ons that will make your life easier

Gmail has over 425 million users, and it is known for its ease and simplicity. Since so many people are already using the service, here are three Gmail add-ons to make your email experience even more streamlined.

Boomerang -- With Boomerang, you can schedule your gmails and get reminders to follow up with someone. It's also a great tool to remind yourself to send birthday emails, pay bills, and communicate with people in different time zones.

Doodle -- Scheduling meetings with a large group of people often results in annoyingly long back and forth email chains. With Doodle, you send one link and everyone posts their availability within pre-selected time slots. Then Doodle calculates what works best for the most people. Bonus that it syncs the meeting to your Google Calendar.

Rapporative -- Rapportive puts your contacts' LinkedIn profile inside Gmail so you can connect with people without leaving Gmail.