That Time Again

What’s that you say? It’s been 2014 for over a month? Already? Whoops. Well, better late than never, I guess. The last month has been a super busy one. We’re down to the very last few shots on Rio 2, which comes out in April. It should be a good time, and if your kids liked the first one, they’ll love this one too!



I’ve also been doing crazy lots of freelance graphic design-type stuff, so I really haven’t had much time for writing. But I’m working on a MG graphic novel synopsis and am excited to get going on that. Hopefully the rest of 2014 will be as good as the first month has been. But for now, a few goals:

Read more, but don’t ignore the kids to do so.

Put the phone down. Look around more.

Draw and write.

Enjoy every day.

I think that’s about it. So far I’m doing all right. Hope you are too!

Happy 75th, Superman!

Superman celebrated his 75th anniversary this year. Although Batman is my favorite comic book character, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Superman. It’s hard to describe, but there’s something about his character that has always resonated with me. I wanted to make a little comic to express some of how I felt about him and what he represents. Hope you like it!

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Let’s Animate!

It’s amazing how much technology we have at our fingertips these days. When I was little, there was no easy way for a kid to do animation. But now all you need is an ipod or smart phone and you can make your very own animations. That’s what we spent the last few days doing for a contest put on by The Animation Chefs. It was tons of fun and pretty simple. There’s a free app called Stop Motion Studio that we put on our ipods, we picked up an ipod tripod adapter, and we were good to go. The boys had an absolute blast making their own animations, and my wife and I gave it a try too. It’s so much fun, and a great way to spend time with your kids. You’ll be amazed at the stuff they come up with. Here are a few of ours.
London’s:


Asher’s:


My Wife’s:

Mine:

I’m a NaNoWriMo Loser (And That’s Okay).

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November is the month many exciting things happen. My wedding anniversary, birthdays for two of my kids, Thanksgiving, Movember, and more. But as a writer, one of the coolest things about November is NaNoWriMo, or for the acronym-averse among us, National Novel Writing Month. The idea is simple. Write 50,000 words during the month of November.

Notice I said the idea is simple.

The reality is much harder. Which is why of the three times I’ve attempted to “win” NaNoWriMo, I’ve never even gotten close. November is also, without fail, a month that piles up with busyness very easily. (Those things I listed above play a big part, except for Movember. That one pretty much takes care of itself.) So not only is it hard to find time to write with the normal full-time job and full-time family life, but all the extra stuff makes it near-impossible.

But still, each late October, in the midst of my Halloween happiness, I get the itch, the idea that THIS will be the year that I dominate NaNoWriMo. And that indomitable spirit usually carries me though a good week or two of November. And then I realize I’ve only written 2000 words total instead of the daily goal of ~1600. But it’s okay, I tell myself, I’ll just double up my word count for a few of the days and I’ll be right back on track!

And it’s usually just about this time that real life comes clomping over and reminds me of all the silly realities and details that I’m supposed to be dealing with, and inevitably my NaNo book falls by the wayside.

But in the end, I’m really okay with the way things work out, for several reasons.

One is that it’s a goal of mine, albeit one that I fail at all the time, to take advantage of the opportunities each day offers. Some days that means having a few uninterrupted hours to write at night. Other days it means that with time spent with kids and my wife, my writing time is minimal to nothing at all. But I’d rather my kids have memories of me spending time with them than of me hunched over the computer, grumbling to myself.

The other main reason is the goal of NaNoWriMo is to get you to write. Write a novel, sure, but write. That’s the key. Right now I’ve averaged just under 500 words per day for the month. I wish it were more. I wish I’d been able to get closer to my goal. But I’m okay with it because I’m a lot closer to finishing this book than if I hadn’t tried to do NaNo again.

And I think most people who tried and failed, like me, probably wrote way more than they would have without it. So wear your loser badge proudly. Because you’re not a loser in the traditional sense. You’re on your way to winning. you’re on your way to finishing that book, even if it takes a little longer than 30 days.

PS. Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy All Hallows’ Eve!

I love Halloween. From the fall colors to Jack Skellington to trick or treating, pretty much everything about it is awesome. This year my agency had their illustrators do some illustrations that fit with the theme “Goodbye summer, hello fall”. Naturally, I was excited to do this. Here are mine. Hope you have a safe and happy Halloween!

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Looking Up

I’ve always been enamored by the skies. (Hence, the name of my blog) Whether it’s shooting stars or sunsets or rainclouds, I’ve always loved looking up. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s some desire to escape, to soar above this world. Maybe it’s just the vastness of it all. Maybe it’s the inability to measure what’s in a cloud, or to imagine that the moon is shining down only for me. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved it. Before digital cameras, I’d routinely fill up rolls of film with pictures of the sky. Now I just fill up my phone.

I was riding down the freeway with my family the other day when I saw a massive cloud churning across the sky. I tried to snap a picture, but a wall of passing trees was too quick and obscured everything. So I had to wait a few miles before I caught sight of it again. When I finally did, it had changed to this:

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I know it’s not a perfect likeness, but my first thought was, “It’s FALCOR THE LUCKDRAGON!” Now, The Neverending Story might be one of those movies that people love because they grew up with it. But being one of those people who did grow up with it, I’m proud to say I love it. If you haven’t seen it, you should still check it out. It’s a fantastic tale, even if the filmmaking effects don’t quite hold up. But back to the point, if I hadn’t been looking up, I would have missed this pretty spectacular cloud.

There’s an Ani Difranco lyric that goes “When I look down, I just miss all the good stuff. And when I look up, I just trip over things.” I’m not saying we should wander around with our heads in the clouds all the time. Everyone has responsibilities and I’m not advocating we abandon them. But once in a while, take a break from checking Facebook on your phone and look up, look around. See what beauty and inspiration is out there.

You’re probably going to trip over more things. But I’d rather do that than miss all the good stuff.

A Few Thoughts on Storytelling

I’m lucky enough to work in animation and make movies for a living. It’s a fantastic job and for the most part I love it. But one downfall about the part of the production I’m in is that by the time the shots reach my department, the story is more or less set in stone. I do lighting and compositing, which is basically the last step of the animation pipeline. So shots go through screenwriters and storyboard artists and animators and the director by the time they come to me, and my main two goals are 1: Make it look awesome and, 2: Make sure the storytelling comes through clearly. So I have an important part to play in the storytelling process, but I don’t actually have any say in what’s happening in the story. And that’s fine. I’m not trying to complain. But I have to admit it’s frustrating sometimes to be working on a shot that contains a joke or story elements that to me just don’t work. But again, I’m not trying to complain. I will make that fart joke scene look as beautiful as possible, and I’ll do it happily.

But that’s one of the reasons I write and make my own stories. Not that I’m better than the professional screenwriters and storyboard artists that work on these movies, but because I can have the freedom to craft the story and lead it in the direction I want to go. When I was working at Disney, from time to time they would showcase different departments and what part they played in the film-making process. Being someone who loves writing and loves story, I was always really interested when it was the Story Department’s turn to be highlighted. One time they gave out a packet of “Story Flashcards”. I’ve kept them with me and once in awhile will read through them as a refresher to what some of the important elements of story are. It’s interesting that these are universal ideas, not just meant for one form of storytelling or another. So I thought I’d share a few of them here.

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I think most of the time the audience/reader is right there with the main character and what he/she thinks and wants. As we throw wrenches in those plans, the character is going to react a certain way, and hopefully the reader is able to feel at least a small part of that same emotion.

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Your characters’ true selves will be revealed by the choices they make. It’s not about the game they talk, it’s about what they do when they’re up against a wall.

And, as we know from Batman, this is true in real life too. (Batman is totally real life)


And finally,

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This one goes hand in hand with the last one, and I know you’ve probably heard it a million times. But it’s still relevant. Don’t tell me that this character is smart/funny/good/bad/whatever, SHOW me. It, along with my love/hate relationship with adverbs, is something I struggle with. But it’s always more effective to show what you want to say instead of just saying it. It’s not going to be easier, but it will be better.

I hope these help a little. I know they have for me, and I’ll keep revisiting them until I get them right.

I Don’t Want to Grow Up…

…if growing up means being like you.

The year was 2001. I was 22 and driving tour buses for the summer in Seattle. On an off day some friends and I went to Freeway Park, which is a cool park that happens to sit right above the Downtown freeway. We were running around, enjoying the splendid summer air, when we happened upon a place to play hopscotch. We decided hopscotch was a grand idea and commenced playing. We’d been up to it for a while when a young guy who couldn’t have been much older than us walked by and said, “Aren’t you a little old to be doing that?” We laughed it off, but from that day on, obviously to today since I’m still thinking about, I’ve felt sorry for that guy.

Call me crazy, but growing up has some major pitfalls. Sure, I can eat ice cream for dinner if I want to, (as long as the kids don’t see me) but there are a whole lot of negatives that come with the territory. Too many to list, in fact.

Last week at work someone put out a huge stack of MG and YA ARCs, free for the taking. A bunch of us wandered over to see what there was to be had. As we were perusing the titles, a guy came walking up and asked his friend what was going on. The guy made some disparaging remark about only checking them out if you liked reading “kid’s books.”

You know what, Hopscotch Guy and YA Book Guy? There’s a reason a lot of growing up sucks, and it’s you. What part of growing up says you should stop having fun, stop doing silly things, stop reading about fantastical places and people and things?

Why is it not cool to have childish wonder?

I submit that it IS cool.

If you think you’re too much of an adult to play a kid’s game or read a book aimed at teenagers, don’t do those things.

But don’t blame it on growing up. Growing up doesn’t have to be staid and stiff and boring.

It shouldn’t be.

Blame it on your own lame self, because you’re the one who’s more concerned with looking cool than having fun.

The rest of us are going to be enjoying both adult and kids books and activities. And eating ice cream for dinner. 

Song of the Week – Bouncing Souls

Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve done a song here. Time to fix that. And who better to do it with than the Bouncing Souls?

Every year I make my wife a mix for Valentine’s day, since she hates overpriced flowers and chocolate. She’d much prefer I randomly surprise her with those items throughout the year, which is something I’m trying to get better at. But back to the mix tape (ok fine, it’s an itunes playlist). Usually she plays it on and off for the rest of the year while she’s picking the kids up from school, grabbing groceries, and running other errands. The kids usually like most of the songs and sometimes a song here and there stands out. On this year’s mix, it was definitely this song. My 8 year old constantly requests it, and everyone sings along, even my 2 year old. I love hearing the words coming out of their mouths. I hope the meaning is getting through to them too. I want them to hold on to the important things in life, through all the peaks and valleys they’ll face.

With every peak and valley
With every white-knuckled fist
With everything I’ve lost and learned
I won’t let go of this grip
With every storm we weather
I would never miss
I won’t give up, I won’t let go
I’m going down with the ship

Timing is Everything

I have a confession to make. I don’t really like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, I enjoyed the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version more, other than those horrible songs.

I know. Crazy, right?

Before you pull out the tar and feathers, hear me out. I didn’t grow up with the Gene Wilder movie. In the days of VCRs and lousy cable television, that was one movie my family never got around to watching. So it wasn’t until AFTER watching the Johnny Depp version and my wife telling me how it paled in comparison to the Gene Wilder version that I finally watched it.

Let me just say that I was underwhelmed. In fact, I wasn’t even close to being whelmed. From “Cheer up Charlie” to the obvious sound-stage look to the factory, it just didn’t do anything for me. And as creepy as Johnny Depp was, Gene Wilder was much stranger/creepier to me.

I mean, look at this guy:

That part was in the movie, right? My point is that the movie was just strange and didn’t do anything for me on an emotional level. But if nothing else, it’s responsible for the Condescending Wonka meme, which is actually quite enjoyable.

I might be alone in my Wonka feelings, but how about this? You go up to a couple of your friends who are laughing about something. They tell you why, and maybe you give a courtesy laugh because it’s really not funny. But to them it’s hilarious. And one of them says something along the lines of “guess you had to be there.”

The point is that just like events in our lives, the stories we consume are often rooted to the time we watched/read/listened. Is Alf a good show? Probably not. But I grew up with it, and even if it doesn’t hold up, you can bet I still have fond memories of it.

I’m 34 years old. I’m married and have kids. I even have a 401k, as ridiculous as that may be. If I picked up Jack Kerouac’s On The Road for the first time today, I might think it was interesting, but I guarantee it wouldn’t connect with me the way it did when I was 21. It’s one of my favorite books not only because of what’s inside it, but also because the first time I read it I felt like Sal Paradise was talking to me. It made me want to take on the open road. And I did.

The same goes for something like Harry Potter. While it definitely holds up, there was just something special about reading those as they came out. I will always remember the anticipation and excitement of picking up a copy of Deathly Hallows at midnight and reading if straight through. My 8 year old son is reading the Harry Potter series right now, and although he’s loving it, I don’t think he’ll have quite the visceral connection to it that I do. But it’s all right. He’s going to have his own Harry Potter. He’s going to listen to music that makes me do this:

And that okay. That’s just how life works. I just hope my kids find books and movies and music that truly speak to them, so that when they’re ancient like me they can look back fondly and draw from those experiences. Because the right stories at the right time can change your life.

Bored

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit like this:

Work has been pretty slow, and I’m kind of in a holding pattern on my current WIPs while I wait for notes, so my mind has been flitting around, distracted by pretty much any shiny thing I lay eyes on. Believe it or not, there’s only so much web surfing you can do, so each day has a fair amount of this in it:

I really just need to start working on something new and pour all my effort into it. But it seems like as soon as I start, work is going to get busy and I’m going to get notes back and the new project will have to be put on the back burner and I’ll feel like this:

But I guess it’s better than doing nothing at all. I mean, there’s only so many times I can watch stuff like this.

(but I have to admit the number is surprisingly high.) So tomorrow I’ll be starting up on an old WIP and seeing where I can take it. At the very least I’ll be able to exercise my brain a bit more, and I might even finish the story.

Stories and Treks

My older brother and I shared a room growing up, and for many years we had this poster of the USS Enterprise hanging on our wall.

Neither of us were huge Trekkies, (or Trekkers) although I seem to remember my brother watching a fair share of TNG as he got older. But before that, we were little boys and it was a cool spaceship with a ton of really neat detail. That’s all that really mattered. After watching a few of the Star Trek films and finding out who Kirk and Spock and the rest of the crew were, I found even more enjoyment staring at the poster. Not only that, I was inspired by it.

And that’s what great stories and characters can do. That’s why there are millions of Trekkies and Star Wars and Batman fans. Millions of Dr. Who and Firefly and Sherlock fans. It’s because these mythologies have characters that we love and hate, characters we’re able to lose ourselves and our normal lives in, characters that change our lives.

And that’s why we see these characters popping up again and again. That’s why there have been 500 James Bond films. It’s why we’re getting a new Superman movie next month. These characters resonate.

So think about it as you’re crafting your story and characters. Are your characters worth caring about? Would anyone cry if they died? Does it break your heart when something horrible happens to them? Are you elated and inspired when they overcome their hardships and obstacles?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, chances are your characters aren’t quite where they need to be. I don’t have a silver bullet answer for what to do or how to fix them if they’re falling short. But the best characters not only have pieces of us in them, they allow us to project our hopes and dreams and fears onto them. It’s not easy to create a Katniss Everdeen or James Tiberius Kirk or Luke Skywalker, but it’s possible.

This past weekend I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, (which was fantastic) and got this cool Star Trek poster by Mark Englert. (it even glows in the dark)

As soon as I saw it, I knew what I was going to do with it. My two boys share a bedroom, and I hung it where they both can see if from their beds, next to the Batman and Star Wars pictures. They’re a little young for Star Trek, but they’re not too young to be inspired. And as they read Harry Potter and watch The Avengers I want them to have favorite characters and go through the love and hurt and joy and pain those characters go through.

If you ask me, that’s why we read and watch stories.

And why we tell them too.

If Ever I Stray

I was racking my brain all weekend trying to come up with a post for today. But I got nothing. I headed into work this morning, thinking maybe inspiration would strike. But after working most of the day, I’m still coming up empty. Possibly because I just turned in a new revision to my agent this weekend, and my mind is catching up on some needed rest. Whatever the reason, I’m drawing a blank.

So I thought I’d turn the time over to Frank Turner for some words of inspiration:

Love is free and life is cheap
As long as I’ve got me a place to sleep
Clothes on my back and some food to eat
I can’t ask for anything more

I think this holds true for wherever you are in life. It’s easy to get caught up in the negative things and forget how much we really have. I can honestly say I couldn’t ask for anything more in my life, and I hope you can say the same. Keep smiling, keep living, and keep creating!

I Don’t Care if I Never Get Back

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Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life. – Ernie Harwell

I don’t know if I have much to add to that. Because it’s absolutely true. Once again, baseball season has started, and once again I’m super excited for it. Both those handsome little men above are going to be playing T-ball this year, so we picked up the equipment we needed and started practicing in the back yard. I can’t really explain how happy it made me. I’m excited for my boys to play. To win and lose, to achieve and fail. I’m excited for the lessons they’ll learn, and I hope they’re able to apply those lessons to other areas of their lives. I’m excited for the endless possibilities of another season, and the endless possibilities of our lives.

Play ball!

The Power of the Unknown Word

I recently read a book that I quite enjoyed. But one word stuck out to me and made me enjoy it slightly less as a whole.

Here’s the sentence. Tell me if you can pick out the word.

“Around them, the susurrus of voices and activity in the inn’s barroom had diminished to a creak and whisper.”

Did you find it? No, I have nothing against inns or barrooms or creaks and whispers. The word that tore me right out of the story was that little eight letter word “susurrus”.

What does susurrus mean, you may ask yourself, which is exactly what I asked myself when I read it. Now, most people would be able to take a pretty good guess at what it means, just based on context. And I was able to, and I moved along and it was fine. But as someone who loves reading and writing and words in general, it kind of bothered me that I’d never heard of the word before.

So I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster, a susurrus is a “whispering or rustling sound.”

Something like this I guess. So that’s kind of cool, but it got me a bit more bothered. I feel like I have a decent vocabulary. After almost 34 years on this earth, I’ve consumed a lot of media, low-brow to high, and I’d never heard of this word. That part of it is fine, really. I love learning new words. I’ve been caught reading the dictionary from time to time. I’m not scared of new words, nor do I usually feel like I’m the smartest guy in the room.

I’m really okay with that.

What bothers me about the use of this word, is to me it’s bad storytelling, for a number of reasons.

First, and perhaps most obvious, is the fact that the author pretty much wrote, “Around them, the whispering of voices and activity in the inn’s barroom had diminished to a creak and whisper.”

I think you can see why that’s not an ideal sentence.

So why did the author write it that way? The second reason, and what bugs me more, is to me it smacks of showing off. Ask anyone you know what susurrus means. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I’d be very surprised if anyone knows. Again, it’s not my ego talking. It’s just the fact that is a very uncommon word. Type susurrus in a word processor or an email. You’re going to get a red squigly line underneath it, just like I’m getting when I type it here.

So what was the point of using it? Like I said, most people don’t know what it means, and I have to think the author knew that. And, knowing its meaning, it makes the sentence rather clunky.

I tweeted the fact I was bugged by this word, and got some interesting feedback. My wife’s cousin, who is a great guy, a lawyer, and an avid comic book reader (take that, stereotypes!) disagreed, saying “sometimes there’s only one word that will perfectly express your idea.”

I countered that while this his was definitely a valid argument, I didn’t think it held up in that case.

He responded, “Can’t compromise to fit hypothetical reader vocabulary. Every word is going to confuse somebody out there.”

Again, it’s a valid argument, but again, I think it fails in this context. There are thousands and thousands of words that aren’t going to confuse anyone but the most basic reader.

As a storyteller, it’s your job to immerse the audience in your story. You need to get them hooked in there and make them want to stay until the whole thing is over.

And overall the author was successful in that. I really did enjoy the story. But that one little word pulled me out of it long enough to remember that it was just a story I was reading, written by some person somewhere. And for what? To use a word that no one I’ve asked has any clue what means in a somewhat throwaway sentence?

Like I said, it just seems like the author was showing off. Like they have a “word of the day” email and this came up and they decided to throw it in, as if using it in their book would make them the smartest person in the room.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m totally wrong about this. I’m all for expanding your vocabulary and learning new things, and if an author can instruct at the same time as entertain, that’s great. And there are plenty of words I read in books that I rarely, if ever, hear in spoken conversation. I don’t want to dumb down writing to fit into a certain vocabulary.

But I think storytellers need to be wise with their words. Just because they can do something, it doesn’t mean they should. And if they’re sacrificing the immersive quality of their story in order to throw in a shiny, rare word, I think they’re making a mistake.

Thoughts?