What’s this WB Writers’ Workshop?

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I realize I’m setting myself up for an unnecessarily public failure by posting this, but last Tuesday I submitted an application to the WB Writers’ Workshop.

The WB Writers’ Workshop is a program which takes writers looking to get into television, teaches them pretty much everything about being a TV writer and ultimately tries to find staff writings positions for the program participants. As I understand it, the program gets over two thousand applications a year and only has ten seats; it’s highly competitive.

The central piece of the application is the writing sample. At minimum, they want one spec script of a show on their approved list; and, optionally, you can include a second script (i.e., either an original pilot or a spec of another listed show).

When I decided to apply to the program in April, I set forth a plan: binge watch the second season of The Flash and write a spec about the adventures of Barry Allen; and, simultaneously, consider other shows for my second writing sample.

Weeks went by, and thanks to work (and my one-hour-each-way commute), I’d only watched five episodes of The Flash and hadn’t written a single word. On top of that, I had yet to choose a second show. At the start of May, I looked at the program’s website again and realized the list had been updated.

Marvel’s Daredevil was an option.

I changed my plans. Rather than attempt to catch up on The Flash, I went with Daredevil, a show I enjoyed (well, the first season more than the second) and was entirely caught up on. Also new on the list was another Netflix Original, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, and I had that queued up to be the subject of my second spec.

My first step in writing a Daredevil spec was re-watching the latest episode and reading up on the character’s comic book rogue gallery to find a proper villain. It took me at least a full week (again, thanks to work and other obligations) to finally decide on a villain. When it came to the weekend before applications were due, I only had ten pages of script: less than 25% of what I needed. So writing a second spec was out of the question, and I focused entirely on Daredevil.

Around 11:30 P.M. on May 30th, the night before the submission deadline, I had twenty pages done. As a break from writing, I logged onto the writing program’s submission page. There, the submission deadline was stated to be at 11:59 P.M., May 30th.

I was screwed. I had less than half my script finished, and only half an hour until the cutoff time. I gave up.

Within minutes, I received an email from my supervising attorney for whom I’m doing contract work at a fancy high-rise office in Downtown Los Angeles. He wanted me to come in the next day to handle a quick assignment. I told him I’d be there.

As I sent the email, I tried to reconcile the different deadlines on the program’s website. The login page said it was due before midnight on the 30th, and the information page said it was due at 5:00 P.M. on the 31st. I decided one of these was a mistake, and it was likely the earlier deadline was wrong. If so, I could sleep, go to work, and finish the rest of my script before 5 o’clock.

Sure enough, the next morning, I checked the program’s Facebook page which reiterated that the submission deadline was at 5:00 P.M. on the 31st.  I still had hope. However, I couldn’t start writing again until I drove from Orange County to Los Angeles and finished my work assignment. I got to the office at 7:00 A.M., did my job, and finally got back to my script.

Five or so hours later, at around 3:00 P.M., I had an unpolished spec script done. In order to submit my application to the program, though, I needed to print and sign a release form. And, in order to even print the form, I needed to upload my script. So I uploaded the damn thing as it was, emailed the release to myself and headed down to the nearest FedEx to print it. There, I was informed that this particular FedEx did not have a scanner. So then I had to run to the next nearest FedEx, two city blocks away in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. After scanning the signed release, I picked up my first meal of the day from McDonald’s and went back into my office and submitted my application at around 4:30 P.M.

All of that, and I am 99% sure I am not getting into the WB Writers’ Program.

Yep.

My script is slightly shorter than average and barely more than a first draft, it would be a wonder if I beat out 2,000 other applicants. Still, I learned a lot about writing television scripts, and a valuable lesson: get $@#% done early. Time to plan for next year.

Yallwest 2016 Impressions

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After weeks of covert activities in April, I capped off the month by volunteering at Yallwest 2016 in Santa Monica. Though I put in more hours of work than any sane volunteer, and didn’t spend much time as an attendee, there was a lot of good extracted from the experience: I had the chance to be awkward next to authors who are living my dream, got a glimpse into how the event is organized, and observed the YA fandom in the wild.

First Author Sightings

When I arrived at Santa Monica High School, one of the event organizers brought me to a classroom in tucked-away corner of campus. There was a group of women seated around pushed-together desks doing what I assumed was some kind of crafting. I smiled and gave a cursory wave to them as the organizer led me to a pile of boxes where I exchanged a medium-sized volunteer shirt for a large—I should’ve known a unisex medium at a YA festival would be too small.

The organizer then gave me my first assignment: stuffing festival wristbands into envelopes for attendees. There was one free chair at the far end of the circle of women. One of the women said I could take that chair because Veronica abandoned them to do some other work. I glanced at this Veronica, who had only recently vacated the seat, and realized it was the author of the Divergent series. Rather than steal Veronica Roth’s chair, I grabbed another from the center of the room. When I sat down, I realized the woman beside me was Marie Lu, author of the Legend and The Young Elites series.

The table was surrounded with established authors.

I was one of the few unpublished people at the table (on my left was Adele Walsh, an organizer of big YA stuff in Australia and New Zealand). Not wanting to seem like a pushy fan or a desperate-to-network author, I limited my words to business matters: envelope-stuffing business.

“Can I get some more orange [wristbands]?” Thanks, Sarah Enni.

“I need some more golds.” Thanks, Veronica Roth.

Well, I did mutter a single joke under my breath at some point. Only Marie Lu heard and quietly laughed. I don’t remember what the joke was, though. For the most part, I stuffed envelopes and listened. Veronica Roth shared about how, one month after she’d gotten her pixie haircut, her mother copied her hairdo and now they walk around looking alike. Someone also brought up the supposed fact that Australian authors showed they liked you by saying mean things to you (I believe Amie Kaufman confirmed this). After Ms. Lu left to do something else (chalking?), another volunteer showed up and I someone less intimidating to chat with.

FYI, if you were an attendee and your wristbands weren’t already separated at the perforation when you got them, it’s because Veronica Roth voiced idea that you should do it yourself.

Fans (and Having Fans)

The lines for signings at Yallwest ranged from hundreds of fans to handfuls. No matter the size of the line, however, the enthusiasm people had to get their books signed was inspiring.

While I was floating around the signing area, two women (perhaps, a mother and her teen daughter) asked me for Barnabas Miller who, I admit, I’d never heard of. However, I had noticed two men sitting at a signing table get up and leave a few minutes earlier. I told the women as much and added that the men might be back.

The women left and, sure enough, one of the men returned a minute later. He wasn’t Barnabas Miller, but he was Miller’s editor and author-friend, Daniel Ehrenhaft. It was a single fan missed and disappointed, but Ehrenhaft was visibly upset. He, I assume, hit Miller up on his phone and got him to hustle back to the signing table. After ten minutes or so, while I continued my volunteer duties, Miller and his fan returned. The girl had brought a friend (and ditched her mom). They had their books signed and looked damn happy about it. It was the feel good moment of the festival (with no witnesses).

The festival attendee I spoke to most wasn’t a YA fan, but the father of one. While his daughter was in line to get Veronica Roth’s signatures, he stood in the Sabaa Tahir line in his daughter’s place. I was put at the end of the line to give people the unfortunate news that the line had reached capacity, so I spent over half an hour talking to this guy—a father who built bridges for a living and accompanied his daughter to YA festivals. Coolest dad ever.

Now, Some Crappy Pictures

I didn’t take many photos at Yallfest because I was trying too hard to not be a geek. During the few panels I got into, however, I took some photos of horrible quality. Here you go:

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Happy Dyngus Day

happy dyngus day 2Like my crazy uncle used to say, there’s no better time than Dyngus Day to start posting again.

Dyngus Day is a Polish holiday celebrated on the Monday after Easter. I had no idea this holiday existed until a few days ago. If I recall my Wikipedia-research correctly, Dyngus Day is celebrated by boys throwing water at girls they like and proceeding to spank said girls with a pussy willow branch (girls do the same to the boys on Tuesday).  This sounds a lot like assault and battery to me, though, so you might want to consult a lawyer before you decide to become a Dyngus-participant.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty busy recently. Doing more attorney work, researching potential career paths, and spending time with the significant other and family—my schedule hasn’t been so packed since 2013. It’s been tough setting aside time for writing, and depending on where my career(s) take me, I might have to learn to better finagle my schedule to get some writing in (and more time to read other people’s blogs).

Despite being busy and whatnot, I’ve been slowly rewriting the horror/supernatural novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015. I want to rewrite this entire supernatural project before I start another rewrite of my YA Sci-Fi (which may no longer be a YA by the time I’m done with it).

Wish me luck, and Happy Dyngus Day.

Soil-Man Release Party

soil-man coverI drove up to Northern California this weekend to tend to some personal business and, as part of a very long detour (2.5 hours each way), I went to Fresno to attend the release party for Oz Monroe’s debut novel, Soil-Man.

The event was hosted at Mia Cuppa Caffe and included dark angel-themed paintings by local artists and local musicians performing at the start and end of the night. Evidently, Oz brought the local cafe a new record for customers in one night.

As Oz intended, the event wasn’t so much for publicity as it was a celebration; a celebration of the novel’s release, of course, but also a celebration of art and love (the latter strongly reflected in friends and family gathered around).

I met Oz at the Southern California Writers’ Conference a few years ago. We didn’t talk outside of workshops and rogue critique sessions, but when we talked about writing and publishing, Oz struck me as intelligent and passionate. Both these qualities are evident in Soil-Man.

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A blurry Oz Monroe (right) at the Soil-Man Release Party.

I’ll wrap this up with the blurb on Soil-Man‘s Amazon page:

Jon Aesop, a man without religious belief, is forced to question everything when his family is tortured and killed by what appears to be an angel. Desperate to find his wife’s soul, he must survive murderous angelic forces while seeking answers to the afterlife.

Var is a freak to humanity and an abomination among angels. For centuries he’s hunted in the shadows, living a life of self-destruction, but obsessed with revenge.

What they both discover—hidden in the depths of hell—will change everything[.]

A.D.M. Was Here: Vietnam

In the fall of 2013 I went on another trip abroad as a sort of before-I’m-an-official-lawyer trip; two and a half weeks in Vietnam, a few days in Thailand and Cambodia, and a week in Seoul. This post will be focused on Vietnam.

I flew with Asiana which, at the time, was suffering from some bad press due to an unfortunate incident in San Francisco so the tickets were cheaper. After many hours in the air and a complimentary hotel room in Incheon for a layover, I arrived in Tan Son Nhat International Airport in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Many folks still refer to the city as Saigon rather than Ho Chi Minh, so that’s what I’ll be going with.

Before going to Vietnam, I was told by a friend that might have to pay off the airport security in Vietnam for one reason or another (i.e., bribe them to not be hassled). So I was fairly paranoid going from baggage claim to the customs checkpoint. They looked at my passport while my bag went through their little machine and—well, nothing happened.

Saigon, Part 1

I spent most of my time in Saigon mooching off a friend’s relatives. I stayed in their apartment, ate their food, and was chauffeured around once in a while. A young woman, let’s call her S, who spoke more English than the other folks was sort of assigned to show me around.

View of a less touristy corner of the city from an apartment window.

View of a less touristy corner of the city from an apartment window.

After dinner with my friend’s family on my first night in Saigon, S brought me to some places where young people hang out. From what I remember, there were a lot of places to shop and eat, a lot of small groups of people just loitering on the sidewalk and talking. The next day, S brought me back to the mall while it was open and got me a prepaid phone.

Somewhere in Saigon.

Somewhere in Saigon.

Aside from my booked flight to South Korea, I had nearly two weeks to kill and had absolutely no plans. All I knew was that I wanted to explore Vietnam. As most reasonable people would do, I went to Google to research things to do and see; unlike some people, I waited until I was already in the destination country before opening my browser. Eventually, I resolved to use The Sinh Tourist to make my way from city to city.

The Sinh Tourist is a popular touring company, but it’s surrounded by imitators with similar names. I’m not sure if this is due to lax trademark law or simply a lack of enforcement. Thanks to all the other “Sinh” touring companies, both physical offices and on the internet, it was a slight hassle to figure out which was the one I wanted.

I had another one of my friend’s relatives bring me to the physical office. He thought it would be fun to do so on his motorbike rather than his van. Having never ridden a motorized two-wheeled vehicle before, it was a novel experience. What made it more interesting was Saigon’s traffic.

For those who haven’t seen Saigon traffic, imagine a swarm of motorbikes and bicycles with a handful of cars and vans all constantly moving through the streets, with little to no signs or lights to regulate them. If you’re a pedestrian, unless you’re at a huge intersection, there aren’t any crosswalks or lights to well you when it’s safe to move. You simply start walking across the street and try not to get hit. The trick is to keep your speed consistent. If you make sudden stops or sprints, it’ll make it harder for drivers to predict your movement and would probably make them hit you. If you walk at a consistent and moderate speed, the drivers will see you and adjust their speed so you pass each other without incident—supposedly.

On the way back the Sinh Tourist office, however it began to rain a lot. Not taking the van turned out to be a horrible idea. My driver had a rain poncho, but all I had was the back of his poncho to put over my head.

Da Lat

After a few days in Saigon, the motorbike guy brought me back to the tour company’s office and I hopped on a bus to Da Lat. It was my first day in Vietnam without my friend or his relatives to guide me, and it gave me a sense of excitement I’ve only ever felt when traveling solo. Right before the bus was to leave, a young blonde woman rushed aboard. She was out of breath and had cuts and scabs on her knees and arm. I think I had trouble placing her as English at first, having only heard her speak a few words to the bus crew.

The drive from Saigon to Da Lat took over six hours. One of our stops was at a large rest stop which included shopping and several restaurants. With the people from my bus being the only people there, it felt deserted. Since the English woman was also traveling alone, I asked to join her for lunch. I’ll be calling her D from here on out.

Back on the bus, D and I swapped numbers and, after checking into our respective hotels, met again for dinner. She, like many expats her age in Vietnam, was an English teacher. She’d been doing it for a while, maybe a year, and had some stories to tell. The most memorable bit was how she’d been mugged twice: once when she first moved to Saigon, and another time rather recently. It was a mugging that resulted in the scabs on her arms and legs.

In the touristy, foreigner area of Saigon, there’s a considerable rate of theft. One of the common means went like this: Two jerks drive by on a motorbike, one guy drove while the other sat in the back ready to snatch bags from tourists. The first time this happened to D was her birthday. The second time, D refused to let go without a fight. She held onto the strap of her bag and ended up with some cuts and bruises when she fell. The thieves still got away, though. She admitted it would’ve been smarter to just let go, particularly since she had known not to carry anything essential in her bag to begin with. In contrast to D’s experience, I’d been staying at my friend’s relative’s house, away from the touristy area and foreigner-targeting thieves.

D told me she’d already been to Da Lat, and she had come back on her solo vacation from teaching English because Da Lat was her favorite place in Vietnam.

Da Lat, unlike most of the country, was nice and cool. The city was at a higher elevation in the mountains with an abundance of green and fresh water streams running through and around it. Since D had already seen most of the touristy things I was set to do the next day, I had to go off on my pre-booked tour and make new friends.

The day tour group wasn’t too big, so it was moderately intimate, making it easy for me to befriend a group of college-aged kids from—well, I forget where, but I’m thinking Singapore or Malaysia. Their English was just a tad below conversational, and I didn’t speak a word of their first language so our conversation was minimal. However, we were able to communicate enough to take photos for each other (this was before the explosion of selfie sticks; not that I use selfie sticks).

The first attraction on the tour was Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, more of a mansion than a palace, but it was the vacation house to the final emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. I took a bunch of photos, but was most impressed with the green outside.

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Front of the Bao Dai Summer Palace.

Woods outside of the palace.

Woods outside of the palace. There may or may not have been a public restroom just out of the shot.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Review (with Spoilers)

starwarstheforceawakensmovieposterAlong with the rest of the world (except for droids, because “no droids allowed”), I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens weekend. To put my opinion in a nutshell, the newest addition to the Star Wars Saga is enjoyable thanks to the compelling Star Wars mythos coupled with lightsaber action and a touch of humor, but the film is decidedly not great thanks to excessive parallels with the original. Read on for SPOILER-laden, geeky explanations.

Action hero humor a la Kasdan.

When think of the funnier moments in The Force Awakens, what comes to mind is Finn (John Boyega) bumbling over his lies, drawing a laugh from the entire audience. I found Finn to be some combination of Han Solo’s cool-guy comedic presence (though not as cool as Han) and Luke Skywalker’s boy scout heart, and it totally works for me.

Though it’s based on an shaky inference, I’d attribute these jokes to Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan wrote Episodes V and VI of Star Wars films as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark which has similar humor delivered by Harrison Ford (of course, Ford and Boyega’s performances are vital parts of the formula; and maybe it was other writers or actors who wrote and improv’ed these lines).

Blasters, X-wings, TIE fighters, and lightsabers—hard to go wrong there.

The action, as expected from Star Wars, is fun to watch.

There was a hiccup for me when Finn picked up a lightstaber and started swinging away; the movie established Finn was a natural with shooting, but wielding a lightsaber without Jedi reflexes seems like it’d result in lopping off your own arm. If Finn ends up becoming a Jedi in a later film, that would explain his instant proficiency, so until then—

Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) skill with the lightsaber, on the other hand, was believable. She grew up fending off scavengers and thieves with a stick, and she is strongly in tune with the Force; it’s no surprise she can stand toe-to-toe with an injured and poorly trained Dark Jedi (who, notably, isn’t awesome enough to be a Darth).

Speaking of the wannabe Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) stopping a blaster slug in midair was a cool moment. It seemed impressive at first ’cause I’d never seen any Jedi do this before, but then I remembered Darth Vader slapping blaster shots away like flies in Empire which makes Kylo Ren’s feat look like child’s play.

Gaps and loose ends.

The young characters are all somewhat interesting, but not developed much. We have a scavenger with abandonment issues, a Stormtrooper who’s too kind to shoot people (unless his target happens to be another Stormtrooper), and a Dark Jedi with an inferiority complex. That’s what we learn about them in the first third of the movie and that’s all we know about them by the end (well, we learn that Rey is Jedi material, but that’s an assumption 99.9% of the audience made before the opening crawl). It’s obvious they’re saving some major character revelations for the later movies, but I would have liked a tad more closure within Episode VII. Just tell us whose Rey’s parents are.

As for the returning characters, we’re given little of what they’d been up to in the last thirty years. It’s nice to know that they were happy for at least ten years—raising kids and training new Jedi, but there’s so much left to the imagination.

One thing we don’t have to imagine is that the heroes of the original trilogy, along with the other leadership of the New Republic, sucked at their jobs. After the fall of the Empire, the New Republic secures almost no peace or military dominance in the galaxy. The First Order just showed up and started slapping people around almost as easily as the Empire. It’s also weird that New Republic’s military is called the Resistance instead of the New Republic Navy or something less pathetic than the Resistance. I suppose the name helps the audience feel like they’re rooting for the underdog, but I don’t think it was worth sticking us with this name.

Han Solo: Gandalf (not dead) or Boromir (super dead)

My rule concerning deaths of beloved characters for any series: If you don’t see the body, there’s a good damn chance they’re still alive. This goes for Game of ThronesThe Walking Dead, and now Star Wars.

Considering Han Solo is impaled through the torso, falls into a bottomless pit of some facility, and said facility explodes into smithereens minutes, it seems a bit hopeful to think the notorious scoundrel is still alive. However, I can’t believe the director and writers would give Han Solo such an anti-climactic death. The emotion of the scene relies almost entirely on a sense of nostalgia built up over decades of being a pop culture icon rather than rely on the character development and pacing of the actual movies.

Speaking of nostalgia—

There were a bunch of moments which relied on nostalgia to make the scene interesting. Now I’m wondering how those scenes work if I were to re-watch the movie. Are there a awkward pauses when Han or Leia show up? Or does it flow naturally? I guess I’ll probably see in the near future.

Too much A New Hope, not enough new.

The Force Awakens goes out of its way to make itself parallel to A New Hope. There are, of course, substantial twists in the details, but the overall story arc is too similar. Rey, like Luke, is a mechanical engineering genius sensitive to the force. Finn, like Han, is a blaster-totting source of comedy who lies almost as often as he gets shot at. The youngsters are accompanied by Han Solo, a wizened father figure much like Obi-wan Kenobi in the original film.

The major plot points remain the same: Good guys hide secret data in a droid which flees to a desert planet; droid is found by a goody two shoe person sensitive to the force; said force sensitive person goes on an adventure with a father figure who tells them the Force is real, a comedic guy with a blaster, and Chewbacca; they get caught by the bad guys and escape; they blow up the bad guys’ planet-destroying weapon; high fives all around.

What changes the plot slightly is Rey. She takes Leia’s role as the woman in distress, but is capable of rescuing herself before anyone else lifts a hand (whereas Leia at least needed Luke to open her cell door).

Star Wars finally gets diversity and feminism (outside of video games, anyway)

The twist of The Force Awakens is that it’s politically correct by modern standards. The ranks of the Resistance are slightly more diverse with the pilots played by actors of various races and sexes, including ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, who’s of Guatemalan and Cuban descent, and seems to be the #1 contender as the new Han Solo). I also recognized two of the ranking Resistance officers as Ken Leung and Greg Grunberg from Lost and Heroes, respectively.

In line with recent popular novels and films, Rey is a female warrior who manages to save herself and other people on more than one occasion. What I find refreshing about her is that she seems to have 20 or 30 more IQ points than certain other YA heroines (not smarter than Hermione, though).

Kylo Ren brings to mind J.P. from Grandma’s Boy

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Kylo Ren and J.P.: Medium-length hair, long black coat/cloak, and nerd rage.

I didn’t notice this while watching the film in theaters, but it was pointed out to me soon after: Kylo Ren bears a passing resemblance to J.P. from Grandma’s Boy, primarily due to his hair and all-black outfit. He looks like a socially awkward guy in cosplay and, as such, he is the least menacing Dark Jedi to have graced the silver screen.

I’m assuming the social awkwardness was intended; Kylo Ren is supposed to be an angsty guy with an inferiority complex and father/grandfather issues, not a bad ass Sith Lord. Notably, rather than murder the subordinates who fail him like Darth Vader, Kylo Ren uses his (poorly made) lightsaber to destroy inanimate objects. Vader’s actions demand respect and fear, and all Kylo Ren manages to do is make the Stormtroopers feel awkward and walk the other way (giving the audience a few laughs).

Rather than having suffered through real loss and PTSD like Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren seems to have succumbed to the dark side simply because he wants power to compensate for his lack of self-esteem. Sure, his parents seem to have dismissive attachment personality disorder and probably weren’t very good at showing him love and support, but that’s no reason to become a Dark Jedi. I hope the later movies make him more sympathetic and somewhat justified in going dark.

Well, that’s my two cents on the mountain of pennies that is the internet. The Force Awakens is good but not great, and I have hope that the following movies are better.

Yes, I’m a NaNoWriMo 2015 “Winner”

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I didn’t plan on participating in NaNo at the start of the month, but decided to give it a try since a crap load of people from a local writer group were doing it and seemed to be enjoying the experience. Weeks passed by and, last night, I validated my word count and became a “winner” (I guess the NaNo people sat around one day and decided that “finisher” sounded too dirty).

Coincidentally, I’d been seriously brainstorming a new novel in October so I decided to use NaNo to push myself and churn out 50,000 words for that project. The quality is pretty damn iffy, and the plotting is bumpy as hell, but I think it will serve as a good “zero draft” which I can  springboard off of to create a proper first draft.

My writing this month definitely helped to flesh out character backgrounds and personalities, and create some semblance of a plot that I can work with. I look forward to the additions and revisions to come as I try to bring the quality up to a level that doesn’t make me want to punch you in the ass.