Five years after moving to LA, I now have my dream job.
I'm thrilled to announce that I'm now a staff writer for the ABC sci-fi series V, which returns this fall for a second season.
Five years. That may sound like an easy path, but it wasn't. I should've moved to LA twenty-five years ago, to be honest. My journey here was a bit sidetracked, to say the least. And while that may have allowed me time to perfect my writing skills, it also means I had more to give up at the altar of my craft.
To stay in LA until this opportunity arose, I made a multitude of personal and professional sacrifices. None of them were easy. But the alternative -- leaving, giving up my dream, settling for a lesser life -- was never an option for me.
I owe a huge debt to the Warner Bros. TV Writers' Workshop, whose investment in me was crucial. For six months, they trained me to be a TV writer. I thought I knew what it would be like. I'd read the books, the magazine articles, I'd even met actual writers and asked them their stories. But when it came down to it, I still had no earthly idea. You can build a picture in your head of how something like that works, but what I was forgetting was how I'd function under those circumstances. In short, I'd painted a detailed picture and forgotten to include myself in it. The workshop shook and rattled and drilled me until I couldn't see straight. And I'm staggered by just how much I needed that.
Through the workshop, we were introduced to working showrunners, writers, producers, directors, executives, managers and agents. All of them told us what is expected of new writers. They told us where they'd screwed up in those early days, or where they had seen others stumble. They also told us the simple core qualities that would see us through even the roughest times: gumption, honesty and imagination.
The core component of the workshop is, of course, the workshop, which is run in the model of an actual writers' room. I've been in intensive writing workshops with masters like Harlan Ellison so I thought I'd seen the true face of battle. I hadn't, not by a long shot. You should've seen the first draft of the Mentalist spec I wrote in the workshop. Better yet, you should've seen the faces of those who read that first draft. It sucked. It reeked. For the second draft, there wasn't anything to salvage. I was sent straight back to a completely blank page.
But I persevered and listened and paid attention. I got notes not just from my fellow workshoppers but also from Warner Bros. executives and writers on existing shows. And I heeded them all. Even when I disagreed with or couldn't understand a note, the fact that a reader bumped on something meant I hadn't done my job. It was a signal to try something new, something better. And in every single case, it improved my script.
Those who say executives don't know how to give story notes have no idea what they're talking about. Their notes saved my ass. I will never forget that lesson.
I could write for days on everything I learned in the workshop, but that would do neither you or me any real service. What I learned I had to learn by doing, by failing and trying again and soaking up story on an instinctual, non-verbal level. Suffice to say, the Warner Bros. TV Writers' Workshop is one of the best opportunities in this town and I recommend it highly. Bear in mind that I applied for five years before I got accepted. So if you don't get in, don't give up. Keep writing and raising the bar for yourself.
It's fitting that, on the fifth anniversary of starting this blog, of being fresh and new and scared and excited about moving to LA, I'm probably bringing it to an end. I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a blog is two years, so I've at least outlived hundreds of thousands of other blogs. And when a visionary like Bruce Sterling declares that blogs are dead, well, he probably knows more than I do on the subject.
This blog has been a terrific outlet for me, a fun and safe place to rant and rave not just about writing but politics, music, comics, etc. It was a place where friends far and wide could get status reports on my doings. It was often an early morning sanity stop for me, a place to focus and center and warm up the writing muscles with a quick post on whatever was on my mind that day.
But as I begin to finally tell stories in the medium I've dreamt of for so long, my focus will be more there and less here. I'm sure I'll still chime in with things from time to time. But this blog's job is done.
If you have a dream that drives you, you have to pursue it no matter what. You will stumble and fail and be asked to make sacrifices beyond your imagining. But if there is no other option for you, no other way for you to live a happy and satisfied life, you will somehow manage to do these things and more and you will in your own way succeed.
Don't think of this as a fight or a struggle. It is a pathway you must walk with quiet strength, with a Zen-like acceptance of all the curses and blessings it may bring.
Like the hot lizard-lady on the spaceship says: Be of peace. Always.
years ago in Alabama, I was enrolled in a summer kindergarten class
taught by Mrs. Peggy McDowell. She had remodeled the large basement of
her house to serve as a classroom for a dozen or so children from my
We learned about numbers and letters there. We drew and painted and
made things from clay. We played games in her yard. After afternoon
milk and cookies, we pulled out cots and took naps.
When we graduated from Mrs. McDowell’s kindergarten, it was an
actual graduation. With our parents watching, we donned caps and gowns
and walked across the patio to proudly accept rolled diplomas from our
teacher. She played Elgar’s traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” on a
portable record player, and today I can’t hear that song without
getting misty-eyed at the memory. I remember feeling for the first time
in my life that I was marking an important milestone, even if I
couldn’t have put it in those words at that age.
Thirty-six years ago today, my fellow kindergarteners and I followed
Mrs. McDowell up the stairs to the house where she lived with her
family. These stairs were usually forbidden, and even though we had
permission to climb them, we were quiet as mice. Once upstairs, we sat
cross-legged on the carpeted floor of her den. And on a large
black-and-white TV set, we watched in wonder as a man in a spacesuit
bounced across the surface of the moon.
That night after dinner I looked up at the moon from my backyard. I
thought about the men bouncing around up there, and wondered what they
had for dinner. It was a warm, humid night in Alabama. Were they cold
up there? Crickets chirped all around me. What did it sound like on the
moon? I wondered what we looked like to the astronauts. I wondered
about the universe and my place in it as I never had before.
Not counting my parents, Mrs. McDowell was my first teacher. In many ways, she was the most important one I ever had.
In Alabama, a state that has never put education high on its list of
priorities, she devoted 22 years of her life to nurturing hundreds,
maybe thousands of children. With love and imagination, she made sure
they got off to a good start.
Peggy Bailey McDowell died this week, and her family laid her to rest in the small town where I was born.
Today we commemorate the moon landing, as we should. But in my heart
and every action I take, I'm honoring an amazing and generous teacher
named Mrs. McDowell. She showed young children that they could dream of
the moon on a summer day. And she gave us the tools and encouragement
to live in the wonderful world that spins below it.
Thank you, Mrs. McDowell. I'll never stop looking up. Promise.
It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s something I love to do, and it doesn’t
hurt anybody. And the world probably doesn’t need any more songs, but I
need more songs. It’s satisfying and lovely to do. I feel better, and
as a band—I think I can speak for everyone—we feel better making
something that wasn’t there ten minutes ago. Whatever spirit there is
in the universe, I think that puts you closer to it. The act of
creation, you know, it’s a very powerful thing, and very gratifying. I
wish it on everyone. I wish everyone could enjoy making something that
wasn’t there before.
Words can't describe all the things I've been feeling since news arrived of Forrest J Ackerman's death last week. Actually, these feelings have been churning since early November when the man fell gravely ill. The past few weeks have been a death watch for his many friends and fans, although one filled with hopes and prayers that the beloved 92 year-old Ackerman would pull through. At the very least, it gave thousands of people the chance to tell him one last time how much he's meant to them.
Ackerman is single-handedly responsible for science-fiction fandom in the world and, by extension, fandom and fanzine publishing of any kind. He was the first person to show up at a sci-fi con dressed in a costume. He even coined the term "sci-fi." And as editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, he influenced legions of youngsters fascinated with monsters and spaceships. Some of those kids were Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Landis and many other artists who have publicly acknowledged their debt to him.
I read Famous Monsters all through the 1970s and it became an instant cultural and aesthetic touchstone for me. Its pulp pages were packed with rundowns on movies I'd never seen, everything from current drive-in schlock to classic Universal horror pics. Huge photographs featured heroes and villains that seemed to exist in some parallel universe just around the corner. I was helplessly doomed to spend countless hours hand-tuning the insectile antenna that rose from our old TV set. I knew that if I found the proper frequency, I might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of those amazing worlds.
Uncle Forry, as he was called, didn't just gush over genre movies. He featured extensive profiles of actors, writers, special effects gurus and filmmakers. He gave me my first real look at how movies are made. Behind the alien worlds and creepy ghouls were armies of real people like you and me. Forry's endless enthusiasm drew you in and encouraged you to pursue your own dreams, whatever they may be. Like Stan Lee with his loquacious Soapbox columns in Marvel Comics, Forry was a grown-up who never grew up, a cool and happy guy who made you feel like a member of the club.
I didn't know Ackerman personally. We met two years ago through mutual friends, and I got to tag along on a tour of the famed Bradbury Building downtown (designed by a distant relative of Ackerman's), a lunch at Clifton's Cafeteria, and later a dinner that included actor Angus Scrimm, the villainous Tall Man of the Phantasm series of horror pics. It was a pleasure just to sit back and listen to their stories.
I did share one private moment with Forry. We were sitting in the living room of his Los Feliz house, just a few blocks from where I now live. I didn't get to visit the original Ackermansion in Beverly Hills before it was vacated and torn down, its unparalleled collection of sci-fi fandom auctioned and scattered to the winds. I recall vividly a couple of pictorials in Famous Monsters that showed the depth of Forry's sci-fi & horror museum, and I can't tell you how much I yearned to visit Hollywood and take one of Forry's free tours. But as I sat in this cozy bungalow festooned with movie props, original art work and rare first editions, I had an inkling of the original museum's grandeur.
My friends decided to take a little drive into the Hollywood Hills and search for famous B-movie shooting locations. I was a bit weary and begged off so they left me to relax with Ackerman. He was very old and hard of hearing but a gracious guy nonetheless. I wanted to take a moment and tell him how much his work meant to me -- how I used to be a wide-eyed Alabama boy mowing lawns so I could subscribe to his magazine, and now here I was years later having followed those same dreams all the way to Hollywood.
Ackerman sat down in a recliner next to me and reached for the TV remote. As I was about to speak, he punched up his favorite afternoon show: Judge Judy. I sat there silently and watched him grin at the litany of courtroom absurdities. During one ridiculous case that had Judge Judy tearing into some buffoon, he turned to flash me a happy little sneer, a crooked smile that said, "Can you believe how silly people can be?" I grinned right back at him.
When the show was over, Forry's caretaker came to fetch him for his afternoon nap. I quietly floated around the living room, looking at the death mask of Bela Lugosi, a life-size 1970s Cylon robot, and framed prints from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Forry's favorite movie. Soon I could hear Uncle Forry snoring lightly in the next room. I suddenly felt light-headed as I realized I was walking through his dream world, and it was a place I knew very well because it was also my own.
Thanks for all the dreams, Uncle Forry. Sleep well.
Clarkblog is three years old. That's more than 700 posts, 500+ comments, and over 100,000 hits, most of them intentional. With these stats in hand, Clarkblog has officially outlived 99.9999999 percent of all blogs on the planet. Or, um, something like that.
To celebrate, I'm unhooking the blog from its Internet pipes and taking it to New York City. We'll be back in June.
17 year-old Bianca Passarge of Hamburg dresses up as a cat, complete with furry tail and dances on wine bottles, June 1958. Her performance was based on a dream and she practiced for eight hours every day in order to perfect her dance. (PHOTO: Carlo Polito/BIPS/Getty Images)