Poetry Thursday #6

Back when both myself and this blog were much younger, I started doing Poetry Thursdays, where I’d post an old poem I’d written. For whatever reason I stopped doing it. But seeing as how I’ve been horrible at blogging lately, and seeing as how it’s a Thursday and I just wrote my first poem in a very long time, it seemed obvious to bring it back.

It was raining like crazy all day yesterday, and I took this picture through the window.

Image

It gave me the first line to this poem, and the rest just kinda spilled out today. Hope you like it.

watercolor

the rain turned the world into a watercolor today
and I watched the rivers
flow
down
the window as I waited
to hear your voice
the chill of late April
the promise of flowers
but who knows
if
they’ll ever bloom
who knows
if you’ll ever
come back
or if the rain
will just wash
every
thing
away

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!

superman_comic

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

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover

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!

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:

falcortheluckdragon

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.

IMAG3900

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.

IMAG3902

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,

IMAG3903

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. 

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!

You Are a Writer

Raise your hand if you’re an aspiring writer.

I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. You’re not an aspiring writer. You are a writer.

What does aspire mean? “To seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal. From Latin aspirare, literally, to breathe upon.”

I see you over there, in the corner, breathing onto your laptop.

“Shhh…I’m aspiring over here.”

No you’re not. You’re writing.

If you have, at one point, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and written something – a poem, a short story, a screenplay, the first chapter to the next great American novel, you are, in fact, a writer.

Now, if you haven’t, if you’re still just breathing on the paper, but not putting anything on it, then, I guess, technically you’re an aspiring writer. But that’s okay. The great thing about writing is all you need is that pen and paper or that keyboard. There should be very little, if anything, physically holding you back.

Now, you might say that I’m stupid for that whole breathing thing. You might be thinking “I really AM an aspiring writer. I want to write the next Harry Potter or Twilight or On the Road or Catcher in the Rye.”

And that’s great. It’s great to have those goals. But let’s go back to the definition of aspire. To seek to accomplish a particular goal. You are an aspiring best-selling author, which is something altogether different.

It means you’re serious about this whole writing thing. It means that you’re not just going to mess around, but that you’re going to take your craft and make it into something people will pay you money to read.

And that’s awesome. You need to have goals, whatever they may be. But that’s just it, The goals are the finish line, and you’re never going to reach them if you don’t pick up that pen.

So just write.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes and saying “Ok, we get it, can you move on to the next visual?”

The answer is yes.

This is me and my two sons at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con. The lady we’re with is comic book writer Gail Simone, who has written tons of comics, including characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Deadpool, etc. (My kids are obviously impressed) And this is right before I turned to her and asked if she had any advice for an aspiring comic book writer.

I’m pretty sure I even used those exact words.

I’m not even going to make an excuse for myself. The point is, the second you make that effort and start writing, You’ve changed into a writer, so don’t sell yourself short.

The reason I’m spending so much time on this is I’ve heard so many times from friends. “Oh, that’s cool you wrote a book. I wish I could.” Like it’s some magical fairytale thing that I somehow managed to do and that they’d never be able to.

But it’s not magic, it’s just a matter of working hard.

So stop aspiring. Start writing. And if you’ve already started, keep writing.

I promise it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Happy New(ish) Year!

2013 already? Almost February already? Holy cow. Well, happy new year everyone! I’m sorry for this being my first appearance here in a while. Work and writing and life have been pretty busy lately. We have about seven weeks to finish up the movie Epic, which is what I’m currently working on. I’m really excited about it, and you can check out the trailer here.

As far as writing is concerned, I’m just finishing up a pretty major revision on my MG fantasy book. It feels like I’ve been revising this book forever and I’m pretty sick of the process, but I have to admit it keeps getting better. So I’m definitely glad I did it, it just wasn’t tons of fun. But that’s the life, right? So hopefully this will be the version my agent feels is ready to go out into the world. Fingers crossed!

At the beginning of the year, you know, exactly four weeks ago, I did a quick check to see how I did on my 2012 revisions. Overall I did all right. Still didn’t hit some things I really wanted to, but if felt like I put up a pretty good fight.

So I’m sitting at the (almost) beginning of another year, and I’m trying to come up with new goals for this year. I don’t know if it’s a copout or not, but I’m thinking about just keeping the goals I didn’t hit from last year.

Honestly, right now I’m pretty happy with life. I have an amazing family, great job, and I’m able to write and do side projects. There’s always room for growth and progress, and I want to keep striving for those. But right now I really just want to enjoy life, enjoy each day for what it is. I want to enjoy the little moments and not always be hoping and wishing and waiting for things.

Because hey, I’m alive for another day, and that’s pretty cool. All the best to you and yours this coming year!

My Stupid Book

Writing a book is a little bit like having a child.

I can’t really comment on whether or not it’s like actually giving birth, since I’m not equipped to make that comparison. And as hard as writing a book is, after watching my wife go through four pregnancies and c-sections, I’d say writing a book is, in fact, very tame. (p.s. My wife is amazing)

But, being a father, I think I’m qualified to make the case of books as children. You spend hours agonizing over decisions and choices and tiny little things that might have huge repercussions. You stay up late with them, you clean up their messes, you strive to make them the best they can be.

Sometimes they reward you for it and you experience emotional highs like never before.

Sometimes they throw up on you at two in the morning.

But at the end of the day, they’re your creation, and you love them.

Your parents and family and friends will adore them too. They’ll see past whatever flaws they might have and praise the good. At least they should. You need to have that support system, both as a parent and an author. But then things get trickier, because at some point, you send them out into the world, hoping that you’ve prepared them as well as you can for what’s to come.

And here’s the hard part. Your kids and your book are going to be judged.

They’re going to be judged on how well they perform, how well they can exist in the outside world, and so on and so forth. And those judgements are going to be a reflection of you, of your skills, of your abilities, of how well you did your job.

I’ve heard authors say they never read reviews. While it might be noble to refrain from reading them, it’s not really for me. When a movie I’ve worked on comes out, I religiously check Rotten Tomatoes to find out what people think. I don’t read all the reviews, but enough to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t. The same with my book.

Criticism is good, to a certain degree. Not only does it keep you humble and grounded, it can help reveal problems with what you’ve created that can be avoided in the future. No one has ever written a perfect book, or raised a perfect child, and having the flaws pointed out can help in your next endeavor.

When my book came out, the reviews were generally pretty good. Like I said, family and friends were very supportive. And people I didn’t even know seemed to respond well to it also.

Then one day, I got my first one star review on Goodreads. Since it’s short, I’ll quote it here:

“Probably the stupidest book I have ever read. Just stupid.”

I went through a lot of different emotions when I got that review. I was mad, annoyed, frustrated, hurt, and many other adjectives. I considered responding to the review, then figured it would be a bad idea. After I’d cooled off a bit, I decided to just write a short note saying something along the lines of “Thanks for reading. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it.” But when I clicked to make a comment, Goodreads showed this warning:

“Goodreads has found that it is not in an author’s best interest to engage with someone over a negative review. Please think twice before commenting on this review.”

Fair enough. I decided to simply hit the “like” button on the review and leave it at that.

As time has passed and I’ve thought about it more, I’m glad I didn’t say anything to the reviewer. I’m also glad I “liked” the review. For those reasons listed above, I’m actually thankful for the criticism. Not only does it compel me to work harder on my next book, it serves as a reminder that not everyone is going to love my work, no matter how good I think it is. And really, that’s fine. It’s just a book, and I’m glad the person took the time to read it.

That’s all we as authors and parents can really ask for. Give our creations a chance. Let them show you what they can do. Hopefully you’ll find something of redeeming value in them. If not, we’ll simply move on. No harm, no foul.

But fair warning:  If you ever call my kid stupid I might punch you in the face :)

The YAmazing Race (Take Three!)


Hello! Welcome to the next stop in the YAmazing Race with MGnificent prizes! It’s a crazy blog hop featuring over 50 debut authors and prize packs consisting of ARCs, gift certificates, swag, and many other cool items. I’m super excited to be a part of this awesome contest, and I hope you’re enjoying it! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the Apocalypsies blog for more info, as well as the starting point (and the rules) to the race. It runs from Oct. 22 at noon EST through Monday, Oct. 29 at noon EST.

I participated in the first two YAmazing Races and had a blast. It’s awesome being a part of such a cool blog hop, and it looks like this one will be just as fun!

Here’s the cover and a little bit of info about my book OLDSOUL, which came out in April:

Jason Gouvas doesn’t want to believe he has special abilities or that he’s an Oldsoul– a vessel for the souls of people who have passed away, but the dead girl in his mind can be very persuasive.

Her name is Erin, and through her Jason is able to access the knowledge and skills of the souls within him. And with a group of power-hungry immortals bent on destroying the Oldsouls and overthrowing humanity, he’s going to need them all.

It’s available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon, and paperback and Nook at BarnesandNoble.com.

That’s about it. But wait a minute!

That’s right! Bonus contest! I have a (signed if you want) final copy of OLDSOUL, as well as some bookmarks. Want to win them? It’s easy enough. Either head to OLDSOUL’s facebook page and “like” it, or add it on Goodreads. Easy enough, right? Feel free to do both and double your odds! (PS if you’ve already added it in those places before this contest, leave me a comment down below and I’ll add you into the drawing. And thank you!)

Ready to move on? Your next stop is the website of Marissa Burt, whose book STORYBOUND came out in April and looks fantastic. Here’s the link: project-middle-grade-mayhem.blogspot.com. Thanks for stopping by and best of luck!