W. P. Johnson

The Road to Publication VIII

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2017 at 5:53 pm

On the first floor of my house, it’s freezing (finally). I’m tired and sore. My feet hurt. I’m not too psyched about my current job, but I need to work to sustain myself. Everything feels kind of pointless. Jesus, even the nice stray living on the street just hissed at me and scratched my hand. I mean, what the fuck?

But it’s weird. I keep writing, I keep pushing forward. I don’t even know why sometimes, aside from generally enjoying it. The notion of getting a book published now seems alien to me only because my previous failure was such a slap in the face of my own hypothetical expectation, completely severing me from the notion of hope or wishful thinking. I now assume all efforts are futile, but I make them anyway for the sake of the thing itself. Is that what makes a writer a good writer? I don’t know and I don’t care. I just want to tell some stories and hope people enjoy them.

It has me thinking lately. Most traditional professions have a path way to them. A doctor goes to med school, becomes an intern, or whatever, then does… I’m not sure what, because I’m not a doctor and I don’t know off hand the requirements that a doctor needs to meet in order to cut me open and perform surgery. Sacrifice their first born? Sell their soul? This is all to say that if you do X, Y, and Z, you will become a doctor. Same with becoming a lawyer, or a roofer, or a teacher or a garbage man.

The arts are an unusual profession because there’s no path. You can write or paint or sing or whatever it is you do, and you can do these things every single day and never get anywhere with it. You can go to school for it. You can win contests and awards. You can be really great at these things and still not get any traction while hack after hack around you gets another three-book deal. But we do it anyway. At least, I do. And I wonder if that is what truly separates the guy on panel at whatever writer’s conference we pay 100$ to attend from the person who paid said entry, thinking to themselves, this is what will give me a leg up in this business.

Dude… you’re in for a long ride.

I digress. I try, still, because what else am I going to do? Not write? Not create? I remember telling my wife I didn’t know if I could live if I couldn’t write, and while she took it to mean that I’d commit suicide if my book didn’t sell (which she was right to think), what I really meant and believe is that the simple pleasure of creating something out of nothing is one of the few reasons I get out of bed every morning, is one of the few reasons I don’t drink as much anymore, one of the few reasons I think it will be nice to, someday, retire and just type away on my laptop on whatever beach hasn’t been swept away by climate change.

So I started another book.

To avoid some of the mistakes I made in my last book, and to avoid spending two years making them, I decided to write a comprehensive outline. Having just completed a script and a pilot, I decided to outline it as a script first. There are a handful of reasons for this, but namely I wanted to get feedback on my script and evaluations were cheaper than they would be to get feedback on a full book (we’re talking 100$ vs 1,000$). I also felt that the script format would help me write a more concise plot break down and narrow my scope moving forward, avoiding unnecessary sub plots and back story.

I wrote the script, titled “The Magnificent” in about two months, writing the third act while flying home from Japan, sleep deprived and two complimentary gin and tonics later. After letting it cool off for about two weeks (though I should’ve gone a month or two), I rewrote it, cleaned it up, and submitted it to Screen Craft for their second tier evaluation package, costing around 250 dollars (this is, mind you, still less expensive than submitting the finished novel to a professional editor). For this, I would get about five pages of notes on my script, outlining the pros and cons of the script, market potential, ect., and a score break down of my plot, dialogue, character development, yadda yadda yadda, providing me with of overall score between 1-10. Scores above 8.7 would be featured in their private data base for industry people to access. Obviously, that will never happen, what with my previous scripts having scored around a 6 and a 5, but it was nice to have a goal in mind and something to strive for if I decided to keep writing scripts.

I submitted my script. About a week later I got an email that the feedback had been completed. I sort of hissed, held my breath, and clicked on the link to see what they didn’t like about my work, fearful the overall score would dip even further into the 4s and the 3s and that I would have to scrap the idea and try something else.

It scored an 8.8. Literally just enough to be featured on their private data base.

They said, “The Magnificent is just that… magnificent.”

I pinched myself. I let the high cool off. After all, nothing more really came of it. There were no emails, no offers of representation, no options made. I mean, how private is this fucking data base? Before long the self loathing resumed its proper place, a seat constructed by all my previous failures and shortcomings. The beast proclaimed with confidence that this was just a fluke, a dangling carrot that Screen Craft used in order to keep me chasing some mysterious outcome that would prompt another paid evaluation.

Still… a part of me wondered.

They gave me some critical feedback, things they felt would make the script better. I gave it another go over, submitted it to a contest they were featuring, then sent it to the Black List. For people who don’t know- the Black List is a more established brand as far as script evaluations go, with high scores leading to development deals, agents, and managers. Similarly, they’re a tougher nut to crack, with many writers having claimed to have won script contests and gotten glowing reviews from other script websites only to take this same script to the Black List and get a 4/10. In short, I felt that their evaluation was the real test in terms of quality, which is to say that a bad score wouldn’t necessarily mean the script was bad, only that a good score would reaffirm the evaluation I received from Screen Craft.

I subbed it, I waited. Compared to Screen Craft’s swift turn around time of about a week, the Black List clocked in closer to a month in order to get my first evaluation. Like Screen Craft, they offered perks for scripts that scored high, notably that any script receiving a score of 8 or above would receive two additional evaluations and free hosting on their site for two months. In addition to that, it would be featured as a trending script and sent out in an email blast to industry members, encouraging downloads, etc. Mr. Self Loathing did not think that was possible to score that high. Few scripts scored above a six, let alone an 8.

Three weeks later, my script was downloaded. A week after that, two emails arrived in my inbox. One, announcing that my evaluation was now available to read. Two- I had scored high enough to received two more evaluations and free hosting for two months.

Overall score- 8/10.

It was a weird experience. At this point in my writing life, I couldn’t allow this success to make me feel good. Sure, it was nice and it took me out of my funk, affirmed that this story I was working on had some objective value to it, as objective as a person can be about story telling. But unlike previous successes in searching for an agent, I didn’t allow myself to indulge in what this all meant hypothetically speaking. I didn’t start telling everyone in my head that I was on my way to being signed by an agency and that I was now a script writer. I didn’t start spending emotional currency I hadn’t earned yet.

I just looked at the score, cashed in my free evaluations, and got to work on the next story.

So… maybe something will come of it. Maybe nothing. As of today, three days after the evaluation went live, I’ve had about six downloads from mysterious industry professionals, and over 30 views of the script page. Will those industry people reach out to me? Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe they will and they’ll sign me and the script will just die a slow death and I’ll still be bartending for a living. Or maybe they’ll sign me and get me work as a writer on a show, or a development deal. Maybe this, maybe that.

In the end, who fucking cares? I had a lot of fun writing The Magnificent. I hope that, someday, people enjoy reading it, or that they get to watch it in a theater or on Netflix while drinking a beer and relaxing for the night. In the end, it’s not where the path takes me, it’s enjoying the path for the sake of the journey. And maybe, after all is said and done, it took me this route for a reason, and failure eroded my sense of hope because it was distracting me from the very thing right in front of me: the act of story telling itself.

That said, it would be pretty goddamn awesome if it was made into a movie.

Until then, here’s to being scary.


The Road to Publication VII.

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2017 at 8:02 am

I no longer have any agent.

Ah, the bandage has been pulled. And what a painful one it was.

I could go into all the details, the minutia, but the long and short of it is that I was very unhappy with the provisional representation I had received by an agency I shall keep nameless for reasons giving them the benefit of the doubt. In the nearly six months I had been with them, there were no revision notes, no interest in my other work, and no plans on where to send the book. Maybe I would’ve been proven wrong, but I was starting to lose respect for myself and could no longer continue the relationship to the extent I had started looking for new representation before even officially ending the old relationship. There were a few bites, some so goddamn close I could taste the “yes”.  In the end, it was passes, all claiming that while they loved “X”, they couldn’t quite get behind “Y”.

It hurt. It hurt because I had spent so much time with these characters, I don’t want to believe they’re not going to see the light of day. Maybe, someday, they will (there are, after all, a few publishers I can pitch directly when they open for submissions). But for now, I’m no longer pitching A Song For John to agents and have started a new book.

There is alot I can say about the process of starting another book after having finished and unsuccessfully pitched a completed novel, but I don’t know if it’s helpful. Truth is, it’s simply what every writer says- you don’t sell your first book. And like most writers, I convinced myself I was the exception to the rule only to learn that the rule is law. You don’t sell you’re first goddamn book. You just don’t.

Joe Hill, whose work I truly admire, talked at length about not selling his first book. He asked his mother, ‘what do I do now?’ to which she said, ‘write another book’. I ask myself a similar question. “What do you want to do?” And yes, it’s the same corny trick used on Micheal Scott in The Office when he is debating whether or not he wants to stay with Jan. So I ask myself out loud, “what do you want to do?” and keep responding, “I want to write for a living”. I want to create. I want to tell stories. And while I know it’s a hard road, I’m learning to find balance, to not let failure poison my daily life. I’m learning to enjoy writing for the sake of writing and validating the act of writing by its own merit regardless of what becomes of my work. No story or book is a failure if it leads to something that does work. Even my wife said to me, “write another book, if this is what you want to do”.

As to the new book- I’m trying a different approach to avoid writing another bloated 200K epic. For starters, I’m outlining the fuck out of it by writing it as a script first. This has proven very helpful in keeping it brief, and after less than two months, I’ve managed a tidy draft of the new book’s “outline”, what I’m tentatively calling The Magnificent. It’s about a woman whose father commits suicide under strange circumstances, after which she begins to experience unusual dreams and night terrors. Her husband believes it’s demonic possession, that this may be what prompted her father to commit suicide. Being an atheist, she doesn’t quite buy it, but then she’s recorded saying and doing things she doesn’t remember, her husband convinced this isn’t just a case of bad sleep.

Well, I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil it. It’s a horror/thriller mash up, and I think it’s pretty goddamn good. I know it’s been fun as hell writing, and maybe, after everything is said and done, it’s exactly what I needed. It’s certainly helped in moving on.

Other than that, the collection of short stories is coming up sometime next spring/summer (christ, I keep forgetting that exists). I’m writing short stories here and there, tinkering away at some film ideas, and will probably begin a draft of the novel this winter in hopes of finishing it by Spring/Summer. With a tight outline, I think I can probably finish a draft within 3 months. In fact, I’ve debated taking a week in the Spring to see if I can lock myself in a hotel room and write it all out in one shot, likely with the assistance of caffeine and whiskey. But that is something that will come to pass when it does.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

Drink Up

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2017 at 7:25 pm

I’m hungover.

I mean, I am painfully, skull crackingly, sit down to pee and cry, vomitingly, perhaps even dangerously hungover, so much so that I am googling whether or not it’s possible to die from a hangover. Unfortunately it is not.

My tolerance ain’t what it used to be and in recent months I’ve dropped a few pounds, making it even harder to slam back shots and beers like I did when I was in my twenties (I mean, how the hell did I drink so much back then?). But I sort of knew what I was getting into. I went out to meet a friend of mine, ubering there as to not risk driving later, with every intention of getting kind of lit because I hadn’t done it in such a long time and started to feel like maybe I was missing out on something or losing my edge only to find out that whatever I may have missed out on probably happened during the eventual black out I experienced and if I ever had any edge to begin with, what remained was lost in the uber ride home. Thankfully I had my wallet and phone on me. But not the capacity to hold my lunch, nor any kind of mental capacity to express whatever horror I was experiencing as I moaned and screamed at midnight and was thrust into a cold shower by my wife to somehow sober me up and freeze the crazy out of me. The cat was afraid of me the next morning, but don’t worry, we’re cool now.

Still… it was fun. I hadn’t really cut lose in a long time and it was good to see my friend and just bullshit and catch up. Plus, I had given myself a reason to drink, which is that of having finished a pilot episode for a show idea called “Train Tracks” (you might remember the short story with the same name). Prior to that I had finished a full length feature for Dream Dress and will know soon whether or not it’ll make the first round of cuts for a horror script contest. So, what the hell- drink up.

Just not today. Today, I take shots of Gatorade.

In other random news, the novella of Dream Dress is selling okay for a self published novella (about 3-4 copies a month) and occasionally there’s a spike in the sales rank, which tells me someone just bought a copy. I’m hoping it starts to pick up some more steam soon and gain some kind of popularity amongst lolitas who inspired the story to begin with, but these things take time. After all,  as far as I know, I’ve written the only lolita based horror story in existence, so unless every lolita hates horror and spiders, I think it’ll start to find a small audience and hopefully that same audience will follow me to The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die when it’s finally published next year. I just hope all those lolitas don’t mind the lack of ruffles in my other stories.

The pilot for Train Tracks has been submitted to screencraft for notes, and I think it’s some of my best script writing so far and sets the stage for a lot of great storytelling. After I write another chapter for Possessed, I’m going to take a crack at another feature, then another pilot. Screenwriting has been very rewarding and oddly more fun than regular writing. I don’t think it’s something I’ll give up any time soon.

My provisional agent has yet to respond with revision notes, but like the ground swell of sales for my novella- these things take time. I’ll admit it though- I’m nervous. Not that I won’t ever receive revision notes, but that the agent won’t really like the book in its current form. Or maybe the notes won’t be that great. What the hell do I know? This is my first rodeo after all.

But then again, maybe the revision notes will show up today and they’ll be wonderful and exciting, and maybe he’ll already have a few publishers he’s talking to that he’d like to pitch to, maybe the script for Dream Dress will sell, and maybe Train Tracks will be the reason I get hired as a staff writer on a show, and maybe this and maybe that. So many maybes. The thing that I really think though is that had I not worked so hard and pushed myself for so long, I wouldn’t even be considering the potential for any of these possibilities. Imagine that? Not even thinking that something good might come of my work because I didn’t do it. The twenty year old me probably thought about that alot as he drank the night away and slept in every morning instead of writing because the task of it seemed too daunting and the excuses too vast. But not anymore. Now I sit down and I get my ass to work because I love it. I don’t have to work towards it. I’m already there.

If that hasn’t earned a drink or two, I don’t know what will.

Until next time, here’s to being scary.