Sunday, June 5, 2011

picking nits

Here's a very interesting take on the e-book revolution, from Wired Magazine. Though I don't necessarily agree with every point, I don't disagree, either. I see it as very tongue-in-cheek. Which is somewhat ironic, considering I have yet to truly benefit from this revolution. My first e-book has been VERY slow moving and, so far as I can tell, little or no marketing has been done to "get it out there." Not a reflection on the publisher at all, but more a reflection on the fact that being an "unknown" is problematic no matter what format one is published in. It's not that digital isn't working for me, so much as it hasn't started working yet. Even so, I'm busy working on the next one, in the hopes that it will be better received. Nothing different between print and digital there...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

an unexpected boon

Mine has always been a very difficult muse to pin down. She can be at times fickle, scattered and even maddeningly unresponsive. Consequently, I can go for long periods without finding the words necessary to express myself creatively. Because of this phenomenon, I admit to having had second thoughts about starting this writer’s blog. That coupled with the fact that I simply haven’t been putting in the kind of time to make it viable. I’ve waffled for weeks about whether or not to simply delete it and find other avenues to explore my writing process. I’ve come close a time or two, but something always kept me from pushing that button. Now I’m really glad that I didn’t.

Late last week I received an alert letting me know that somebody had commented on one of my posts. As it was the first time this had ever happened in the five months I’ve had this blog, I was instantly curious. Imagine my surprise when I found that the comment was from one of the editors I had lost touch with when I fled Phoenix three years ago. After tracking me down through this very blog, he wanted to talk to me about including one of my stories in an upcoming anthology he will be releasing through his new publishing company. I immediately wrote back. We exchanged messages and the deal was done.

Even better, it seems he is interested in looking at more from me. His niche is Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror with a queer twist. As the majority of the stories I’ve had published, including my first solo anthology, have been in the erotica genre, this will be a nice change. I have several folders crammed with more “mainstream” (meaning non-erotic) stories that will fit his bill nicely. Haven’t had much luck getting them out there, because they tend to play with conventions in unconventional ways and it’s hard to find just the right niche. I write ‘em and file ‘em away, in the hopes that someday their niche will come.

Who knew that could actually work? Though it sounds like I’m making light of this situation, this is certainly not a trivialization. I may be lackadaisical about the publishing process, but I am far from adverse to its lure. I am extremely grateful to Jody Wheeler and his minions for taking the time to hunt me down and offer me this opportunity. And, yes, I admit that it wouldn’t have happened, or would at least have been more difficult, had I deleted this blog. So it gets a reprieve of sorts and I get another promising gig. The muse works in mysterious ways. I guess good things really do come to those who wait. Or waffle, as the case may be…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the play's the thing

Received some great news yesterday evening. Seems my latest stage play is going to be produced by my friend Scotty in Phoenix. I had hoped that this would be true, considering I wrote the main character with him in mind. He's already slated it for August of this year, which means I'll be planning a trip to Phoenix around that time. He's also interested in taking this play and a few other one-acts I wrote a while back on the road with his troupe. Los Angeles and San Francisco are stops under consideration, with some very interesting guest stars in talks to make appearances. The exuberance is palpable.

This is what comes from writing plays for drag queens.

I'm not complaining.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How Important Is Art to YOU?

The following article was written for my monthly column, "Art Happens," in the Las Cruces Bulletin. It was originally published in the April 8, 2011 issue, on page C20 of the Arts & Entertainment section.

In February of this year, the National Endowment for the Arts released the results of the Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPAs). Those results weren’t very surprising, but they did prove something that those of us who have made it our life’s work to advance the Arts have known for some time: there’s been “a steady decline in the rates of adult attendance at most ‘benchmark’ arts events—specifically, classical music and jazz concerts, musical and non-musical plays, opera, and ballet performances—since 1982.”

Much of what this study strives to show is that it is the decline of Arts education in schools that has led to this dismal state of affairs. Fewer art and music teachers in schools means fewer students being introduced to those finer things in life that John F. Kennedy said, call “forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color.” In light of the fact that the very same month this study was released, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by $43 million and to terminate the Arts in Education programs at the U.S. Department of Education by late 2011, it doesn’t appear that this trend will be changing any time soon.

So, what can we do about it? Well, I don’t know about you, but my belief is that Arts education begins at home. Like good manners and the idea that all men are created equal, an appreciation for things that better the human condition through the exploration of beauty and emotion are an ongoing pursuit, not something that can be relegated to one-hour slots in an academic schedule. And certainly not something that ends when academics are left behind in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Stopping to smell the roses, or count the stars on a moonless night; a trip to the local Museum of Art or to see a neighbor’s child in a school play; the gift of a book, instead of the latest computer accessory; getting out to see a live performance, instead of watching the latest episode of Jersey Shore; these are the things that truly shape our view of the Arts. Even better, there’s no time limit. You can start right now!

As the manager of one of the finest Arts and Entertainment venues in Southern New Mexico, I am constantly amazed by the quality of the performances that regularly pass across my stage. In the past few months alone, we have been treated to a heartbreaking and thought-provoking study of the Holocaust through dance, a Jazz legend, an Irish fiddle master, an Environmental Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, Julliard-trained classical musicians who have played the Vatican and royal palaces of the world and local performers who simply transcend the notion that greatness can only be found on Top 40 radio or in arena shows. Yes, all right here in Las Cruces.

The ticket price for each has been minimal and the attendance small, but the rewards have been many. To be told that an audience member was moved to tears by a performance, or that another feels he or she has been witness to genius, or that something important has been learned; these are the reasons I do what I do. Because Arts education never ends. It’s ongoing. It happens every time you or I step into an art gallery, a museum, a theatre or a performance hall. If you don’t leave that venue feeling that something has changed inside you, you have wasted your time. As amazing as YouTube can be in presenting imagery that can astound and bewilder, nothing beats actually being present, in the moment, while Art is being created out of thin air. Nothing.

The question is, how important is Art to you? In a time when newspapers are failing all over the country, because more and more people are getting their information from the Internet, how important is it to actually leave your home and experience a live performance when you’ve got the world at your fingertips and can see video clips of your favorite musical artist any time you want? Is that enough? Is there any reason to see a performance by an artist you’ve never heard of when you can be inundated by the images and exploits of Lady Gaga and, thus, be part of the national popularity trend?

If your answers to the above questions are “not very,” “not at all,” “yes” and “no,” then you, my friend, have no idea what you’ve been missing. Art is happening all around you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. And, as has always been the case, if you’re getting all of your entertainment needs from one source, you’re only getting one small fraction of the bigger picture. Because when the latest American Idol has been forgotten, Lady Gaga has been abandoned in favor of the next big thing and Charlie Sheen is nothing more than a sad footnote in the annals of tabloid history, Truth, Beauty and Passion will still be lurking in the corners of our society, enriching the lives of those who stoop to engage.

The truth of the matter is, Arts education begins--and ends--with YOU.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

the price of a soul: a cautionary tale

What is the price of a soul? For me, it’s one percent of a film option. That’s how much I’m being paid to release my hold on a purloined property. Because of the terms of the agreement, I can’t give many details, but I am free to denounce the resulting travesty of justice to my heart’s content. Sounds like I’m bitter, but I’m really not. The situation has been dragging on for years and I’m just happy to be done with it.

As you’ve no doubt already guessed, the situation in question is theft of intellectual property. Years ago a friend and I wrote a stage play based on a classic 1950s science fiction movie that has been a favorite of mine since I was a child and is currently in the public domain. We are both huge fans of such musical adaptations as Little Shop of Horrors, Evil Dead: The Musical and Reefer Madness: The Musical. We just love that sort of thing and being the serial thespians that we are, it was really inevitable that we sit down and scribble out our own twisted take on the genre.

The result was actually pretty good. It was deadpan and true to the original, while being subversive and brilliantly funny. My partner in this endeavor is phenomenal at writing witty dialog and his expertise with double and triple entendre is masterful. He’s worked with other writers, including Peaches Christ and John Waters, and is very well known for his wordplay. To make a long story short, we ran into a little problem. We had a book, but no musical score. Neither of us are very adept in that area, so we decided to shop it around. That was our big mistake. Actually, the biggest was not getting the book copyrighted first.

Yep, you guessed it. One of the wunderkind musicians we were put in contact with was, and still is, a snake. We met with him once and he showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the project. Unfortunately, the ideas he started firing in our direction were not exactly brilliant. In fact, they were tired, hokey and more than a little juvenile. We wrote him off. He, on the other hand, wasn’t done. While we were busy talking to other people--including a very well known Broadway producer who was dating a friend of ours at the time and told us he was interested in looking at a completed project once we’d squared the music away—the Snake was busy plotting.

Some time passed and life intruded, as it so often does. I had a VERY messy divorce to deal with and my writing partner was pulled away to other projects. A year passed and I found myself living in another state. Then, one Spring day, I received a frantic phone call from my writing partner. He had just discovered that the Snake had entered a “new” piece in a national playwriting festival. Worse, he hadn’t even bothered to change the name. He’d stolen our property, dumbed it way down, wrapped his moronic musical numbers around it and was pushing it as his own.

We immediately contacted him to ask what the deal was and his response was, “Well, I thought you guys had decided not to do anything with it, so I went ahead and finished it.” He was completely unapologetic and added insult to injury by telling us that he had copyrighted his version. It was, so far as the law was concerned, his property. Yes, we probably could have made a big deal about it, but neither of us was in the position to hire a lawyer and besides, after reading his version of the script, we were convinced that his crappy, witless version of our property couldn’t possibly go far. Little did we know.

That play has now been produced by several theatre companies with questionable taste and is enjoying a modicum of success, though I’m convinced it’s only because it had a solid framework to begin with. The characters are all still the same, though the words coming out of their mouths are nothing like what my writing partner and I envisioned. For us, it’s a bit like taking the script for Little Shop of Horrors and letting the writers of the most recent American Pie moves have their way with it. Embarrassing, to say the least. The fact that we are not credited in any way is a blessing we’ve learned to live with.

Ah, but the plot thickens. Now, it seems, there is an independent movie production company interested in turning the Snake’s version of our property into a movie. Which means he has been working overtime to come up with a contract that would shut us the hell up, so he can pursue his lie. We’ve gone through several versions of the contract, in which we have been repeatedly insulted by stupid attempts at mollification, such as offering us a cameo role in the film as comic relief poking fun at our plight. Not funny in the slightest, but the man is a moron, so it isn’t surprising. We’ve gone round and round, with point spreads being offered and in the end have decided that it’s best just to be done with this business.

I don’t want to have anything to do with the finished product, IF there ever is one. Having working in the film industry for many years, I know there is a huge difference between having your script optioned and seeing it completed. Then there’s the problem of distribution. If this craptastic movie ever DOES get made, it will most likely find its way into the bargain bin at Big Lots before it ever makes it to Barnes & Noble. So, after much deliberation and hours of phone calls between my writing partner and the Snake, I’ve decided to settle. I’m selling that little part of my soul for one percent of the option price.

It just isn’t worth the fight anymore. I mean, it’s not the only thing I’ve ever written and it will hardly be the last. I’ve had my successes both before and after the writing of that script. And, if I have to be honest, as the time slips away, and as my writing partner finds more and more success in his own endeavors, the chances of us ever getting together long enough to orchestrate a musical score for our version are becoming slimmer by the month. Then there’s the problem of having to explain that OUR version is in no way associated with the Snake’s version. That’s not a discussion I want to have over and over again.

So, it’s done. The contract has been signed and a lesson has been learned. Never, EVER shop a property around until AFTER it has been copyrighted. It’s a very simple process and extremely important. By not doing so, we all run the risk of seeing our fresh, witty, intellectual properties mangled and morphed into a shambling pile of mutant fart jokes and musical masturbation numbers. It can happen. It has happened. I am a living example of this fact and have the paperwork to prove it. That and a check I will be very happy to spend. ‘Nuff said.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

getting there, slowly

They say it’s half the battle. Or is that half the fun? I guess it all depends on who one listens to and the disposition of the listener at the time. These days, it feels more like a battle to me. Sometimes there’s a little fun mixed in, but it’s still a battle nonetheless. Much has happened since my last post, the most significant occurrence being my 50th birthday on February 25th.

That’s something of a milestone for somebody like me. There were those, in my early, self-indulgent and, some said self-destructive years, who took bets that I would even make it to 30. Yet, here I am. I’m still somewhat unsure what to make of this “achievement,” but life goes on and for that I am grateful. I mean, it could definitely be worse. I have my health, a fantastic relationship and home life and a job that, for all its challenges, is still far and away better than any dreary, humdrum widget counting job in a factory somewhere.

Unfortunately, with entrance to the next phase of my existence has come an increase in workload that has me completely bogged down. No time for writing anything except press releases and newspaper articles, when I’m not conducting massive marketing campaigns for Art fairs, award shows and concert performances. Such is the life of an in-demand public relations flak. Which is funny because that hasn’t been my official title since the late 90s, when I closed the chapter on my PR career with Paramount Pictures.

There’s been a lot of water under that bridge, since then. Ups, downs and twists I could never have imagined, much less written about even ten years ago. And some day, I hope to get to that. The clock is ticking, but I’m far from ready to retire. Again, I shouldn’t complain, but I would so love to be able to jot down some of the various stories clamoring for attention in my over-saturated brain pan. It’ll happen, but when? I guess we’ll just have to see. In the meantime, I take comfort in advice such as the following:

"The most solid advice . . . for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough." - William Saroyan

‘Nuff said.