‘It must be St. Nick’

by G. ROBERT FRAZIER

FADE IN:

INT. HOUSE – NIGHT

Christmas Eve. Dark and quiet. Everyone’s asleep.

INT. MASTER BEDROOM – NIGHT

MAMA in her kerchief and PA in his cap had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

A five-year-old girl, VIRGINIA, nestled all snug in her bed.

Visions of sugarplums dance in her head…

She smiles in her sleep…

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter…

Virginia bolts upright in bed to see what was the matter.

VIRGINIA: “Daddy?”

Silence.

No, wait. There it is again.

Something on the roof?

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof…

Virginia’s eyes widen.

VIRGINIA: “Santa!”

Virginia throws back her bed sheets and blankets, jumps into her fuzzy slippers, struggles to pull on her robe. Slowly opens the door…just a crack. Peers through.

Nothing.

She draws in a breath, slips into the darkened

HALLWAY

Ahead, a dim glow from the living room…

Virginia edges closer.

Pauses at her parents’ door.

Still asleep. Should she wake them?

She shakes her head. Purses her lips. Pushes on down the hallway into

THE LIVING ROOM

Virginia gasps.

Dozens of colorfully wrapped presents lie beneath the twinkling Christmas tree.

She tip-toes forward, kneels. Begins looking at labels for gifts with her name. Finds one. Gently shakes it.

And hears something behind her! Coming from the fireplace?

Virginia sets the gift aside, crawls over to the fireplace.

Dust and grime fall from the chute above.

Virginia blinks, stifles a sneeze. Stares more intently…and sees a black rubber boot sitting atop the ashes from last night’s fire!

She moves closer, tentatively reaches for the boot…and jumps back in shock!

A man’s voice echoes down to her from within the chimney.

VOICE: “Don’t go anywhere with that. I’ll need it.”

Virginia smiles excitedly.

Virginia slides closer, leans her head into the fireplace, twists her neck, stares up into the flue.

It’s dark, she can’t see anything…not even the night sky above.

Wait. What’s that? A shadow. A shape.

She knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

VIRGINIA: “Are you…stuck?”

THE MAN in the chimney laughs.

MAN: “Preposturous! Of course not, I’m — “

VIRGINIA: “You’re stuck! Oh my God! Santa’s in my chimney and he’s stuck! Oh my God! Mom! Dad! Santa’s in the chimney!”

MAN: “No, wait! Don’t — “

Virginia jumps to her feet, darts from the room.

VIRGINIA: “Mom! Dad! It’s Santa! He’s so fat he got stuck in the chimney!”

EXT. VIRGINIA’S HOUSE – A SHORT TIME LATER

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gives the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

A fire truck, lights flashing, stops in front of Virginia’s two-story house. A dozen police cars and other fire trucks already line the small street.

A crowd — including Ma and Pa and Virginia, all bundled up from the cold — gazes at the

ROOF

— at a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

— at several firefighters chipping away at the chimney’s with crowbars and hammers.

— at the chimney coming apart, brick by brick.

— at Santa, chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, looking on in spite of himself.

FIREFIGHTER: “Almost there. We’ll have him out in a jiff.”

Santa sighs, clearly relieved.

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

FIREFIGHTER: “iif you don’t mind me asking…If you’re here, who’s in the chimney?”

Santa’s cheeks flush red like roses, his nose like a cherry.

SANTA (in a hoarse whisper): “My, uh, protege.”

FIREFIGHTER: “Your what?”

SANTA (louder): “My protege.”

The firefighter leans in to take a peek. Sees a man in a blue Santa suit staring up at them.The Blue Santa waves meekly.

Firefighter turns back to the real Santa, confused.

Santa shrugs.

SANTA: “Hard to find good help these days.”

BLUE SANTA’S POV

Stars twinkle in the night sky through the hole in the chimney. Santa’s cheery countenance leans in.

SANTA: “I told you, son, to put your finger aside your nose and up the chimney you’ll go. Not in it.”

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

FADE OUT

Austin Film Festival offers plenty of insights, but lacks in drama

by G. Robert Frazier

After listening to countless hours of interviews, panels, and presentations courtesy of my virtual pass to the 28th Annual Austin Film Festival last week, I was left wanting more.

By that, I mean I want more substance.

Don’t get me wrong. The various stories from incredibly talented writers, producers, showrunners, and directors were at times inspirational, awe-inducing, and chockful of valuable insights about breaking into and thriving in this singularly peculiar institution called screenwriting.

Austin Film Festival is regarded as having the best writers conference on the planet and for good reason. The staff do a phenomenal and, sometimes, thankless job coordinating dozens of speakers and panelists over four intense days every October for hundreds of writers. The best of the best screenwriters – everyone from David Self (Road to Perdition, Thirteen Days) to Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special, Loving), from Derek Kolstad (John Wick trilogy, Nobody) to Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead, The Shield) — appear to unselfishly share their wisdom, timeless advice, and incredible stories about the business.

Earlier today, Austin sent out an email survey to attendees – real and virtual – to ask how they did. And while there was plenty of reason to give kudos, the truth is I was left longing for something more.

The parade of speakers touched on everything from persevering in your craft, telling the story only you can tell, the importance of making connections (hard to do in a virtual environment), and, of course, doing the work.

All valuable advice, but after a while, it all sounded the same.

I was left wondering, where was the drama?

Where were the impassioned debates over posting loglines on Twitter for all the world to see?

Where were the answers about whether to use FADE IN or bolding your sluglines?

Where were the conversations about screenwriters’ rights and pay rates in the face of changing mediums?

There’s plenty of “drama” on #screenwriting Twitter from week to week. All the AFF organizers must do is monitor it and ask their pool of panelists to expound on it. Wouldn’t it be impressive if next year AFF assembled a Screenwriting Tribunal of experts to hear arguments pro and con and then issue a decisive end-all ruling on the debates?

Of course, I jest. Everyone knows there are no rules in screenwriting.

But it would be fun, wouldn’t it? And it might help break up the monotony of the interviews a bit.

Speaking of fun, I would be remiss if I did not mention my favorite panelist/speaker for the week. Meg LeFauve, who wrote Inside Out and Captain Marvel, marveled her crowd with an informative and thoroughly entertaining discussion about writing character emotions.

Whatever you do, Austin, ask her back next year!

Until next time, keep writing!

#ScreenPit sends screenwriters, Twitter into a fabulous frenzy!

by G. Robert Frazier

Regular readers of this blog will recall my earlier entry touting my love of #Screenwriting Twitter. Yesterday, there was an abundance of love – and a bit of drama — over on the platform: Hundreds of writers pushing their screenplays upon an unsuspecting world!

In case you missed it, it was an event called #ScreenPit.

The idea was simple: Post tweets containing the title and a one-sentence description of your screenplay with the hope that a director, producer, agent, or manager would see it and want to read the completed screenplay. Or even better, they might actually want to buy your script or hire you to write a script.

Each tweet would include a set of hashtags to help further identify the screenplay you were tweeting about, from its genre to the type of production itself (whether it was a for a full-length feature movie, a limited series, TV pilot, or short film).

The screenwriting world answered the challenge.

Throughout the twelve-hour challenge, tweet after tweet scrolled by advertising everything from action-adventures to horror to serious dramas and hilarious comedies. Whether it was a haunting story about witches or an emotionally moving story about aging parents, you could find a logline for that screenplay.

The ideas were virtually limitless.

Some of the ideas, admittedly, were not particularly original. Some of the loglines were a bit rough and failed to convey exactly what the story was about (hey, it’s hard to condense 100 pages of screenplay into one sentence!). But some were incredible in both their descriptions and originality.

In reading them, you couldn’t help but sit up and imagine the screenplay flashing across the silver screen as a movie someday.

All of them represented the boundless pool of talent across the world and stories begging to be told.

Taking the plunge

I was initially a bit hesitant about joining in.

In the first place, there was no guarantee that anybody in a position of filmmaking power would even see it. If you have ever been on Twitter, you know how quickly your Twitter feed flashes by. If you blink, you’ve missed it. Even a hashtag search resulted in an endless sea of scrolling tweets.

The organizers invited a slew of top agencies, managers, and other movers and shakers in the industry to participate, but there were no clear commitments.

Instead, many warned against the idea.

Hollywood, you see, is afraid to look at unsolicited loglines or ideas because they fear it could lead to lawsuits from those claiming their ideas were stolen. Since you cannot copyright an idea, doing so is akin to giving away your fantastic movie idea to anyone else who wants to use it.

So, the whole idea of posting loglines would possibly fall on deaf ears.

Despite all of that, hundreds of screenwriters posted their loglines anyway. One after another after another.

I jumped in and posted a few of my own.

Why not? I thought. There are few paths into Hollywood as it is.

You can write your scripts, enter them into contests and hope against all odds that a reader likes it enough to send it up the ladder to the next level; you can cold query managers, agents, and producers in hopes that someone might give in and say, “OK, send it to me and I’ll take a look;” or you can network back and forth at social events and through social media in search of that one elusive person that will even look at your script.

Or you can post your logline to Twitter and cross your fingers. Who’s to say one method is more effective than the other? And, believe it or not, there have been Twitter success stories.

Writing a screenplay is a risky venture regardless. You put hours and hours of your life, your blood, sweat, tears, and every emotion you have into the product. Why? Because you have a story to tell and a story that only you can tell.

It’s a passion. It’s a curse. It’s a fool’s game.

So, why not play it? Why not take a chance? Try a new thing. Try something different.

#ScreenPit was that thing, and hundreds of screenwriters agreed to take the leap.

I posted a tweet commending the screenwriters on their trove of ideas and imploring Hollywood to take a chance on something or someone new. With the constant parade of reboots, remakes, and rehashes flooding the screen (big and small), and with the plethora of streamers in need of content, it is clear Hollywood needs people, ideas, and scripts, and I am not the only one that feels that way. My tweet obviously resonated, drawing more than 350 “likes” and nearly retweets over the next 24 hours!

The drama begins

By mid-afternoon, the naysayers in the screenwriting world began to grow more vocal. They began lashing out at those posting their loglines as foolish and amateurs.

The drama had begun.

Organizers of the event point out that authors have a similar Twitter day four times a year called #PitMad, in which they post the premise to their novels or books in hopes of attracting publishers or agents.

Proponents counter that book publishing and screenwriting are two distinct things, two vastly different industries. What works for one won’t necessarily work for the other.

Organizers say the event presents an even playing field for those who may not have the money or resources to enter the countless screenwriting contests or paid pitch events out there.

Proponents counter that contests, in the least, help sort through the riffraff and highlight the standout scripts and writers without having to wade through an endless slush pile.

As @TheZeusJuice put it in his Twitter HOT TAKE: “If all these execs were SO willing to read our stuff, we wouldn’t NEED to #ScreenPit anything.” His thread includes a few more choice statements worth reading if you want to check it out.

Jessica Kane @jesskane31 also has an interesting take on the controversy.

For better or worse

Now that the dust has settled, we are left to wonder if it was all worth it. I picked up dozens of new Twitter followers and followed dozens of others. That’s all part of that old networking thing, right?

Did #ScriptPit get anyone interest from the powers that be? The organizers are trying to audit its success now, as well as consider ways to improve on future events.

At the very least, I got a few “likes” on a couple of my loglines and a bunch of new followers. No one’s been knocking down the door to option my scripts or sign me as a writer. Not yet, anyway.

But my tweets are out there. My scripts are out there. I’m putting myself out there.

Maybe that counts for something, I don’t know.

Screenwriting Twitter is a thing

Screenwriting Twitter is a thing that can be educational, empowering, and oftentimes amusing.

For those uninitiated, screenwriting Twitter is where all the would-be, hopeful, and think-they-are-expert screenwriters, along with a few actual industry folks, hang out when they’re not writing because, well, writing is procrastinating for most and Twitter is the epitome of procrastination.

In any event, on any given day you are likely to find robust debates on all things screenwriting, from copyrighting your work to whether you should share loglines with the rest of the world to how to format your sluglines (bold!). Keep in mind there is a camp of writers who contend there are no rules of screenwriting, that you can do as you like because no one, including Hollywood (which some say isn’t a thing), knows what they want or can agree on how they want it. There are “guidelines” and “conventions” and patterns, but if you trust books like Save the Cat you should be shunned and shamed. That’s because it follows a proven formula of how movies have been made and, heaven forbid, if your story should follow an existing pattern or formula and not think outside of the box (but that’s fodder for another article altogether).

Bottom line, you must take everything you read or hear and ultimately make up your own mind because no one in this industry really knows anything.

Screenwriting Twitter (#screenwriting) is also great for networking and building relationships with other like-minded screenwriters. I’ve followed a few Twitter “regulars” and interacted with some of their tweets, but I haven’t really developed any “friendships” or “connections” yet. These things take time. I did draw the attention of Stage 32 (an online screenwriting site that provides script services, webinars, and pitch meetings with execs – for a fee, of course!) who sent me a nice message saying they’d seen me on Twitter and invited me to contact them to help further my career.  I haven’t taken them up on the “offer” yet. It seems there is money involved and, well, I don’t have any.

I also enjoy Twitter for its occasional fun tweets. You can often find threads about favorite movies, movie tropes, and jokes about screenwriting. It’s somehow comforting to know that others are going through the same feelings of doubt and insecurities about writing as you are and that you can laugh about it.

Additional reading: The power of Twitter for screenwriters

Most of the time, the screenwriting community is supportive and encouraging. Members routinely chime in to help celebrate even the smallest of individual accomplishments, whether that is finishing a first draft of a script, placing in a contest, or, better yet, landing a manager, agent, job in a TV writers’ room, or a spec sale! I’m in this camp because I firmly believe in supporting creatives regardless of where they are in their careers.

That can’t be said of many in the Facebook screenwriting community who can be downright rude, insensitive, and condescending. This group would much rather malign you for your incomplete loglines, your pesky questions about the craft, or your requests for feedback on your work. It’s gotten so bad in a couple of the screenwriting Facebook groups that I’ve quit the groups and have had to block some users. I just don’t have time or patience to put up with haters and “better-than-you-alls.”

That’s not to say that all Facebook screenwriting groups behave that way. The Tennessee Screenwriting Association, of which I am a page administrator, strives to be supportive and always encouraging. We know screenwriters are at various levels of their career and if we can help them out or point them in the right direction to furthering their craft, we’ll happily do that.

I guess what I’m saying is, pick and choose your friends and groups carefully. No one likes a hater, no one likes a know-it-all.

So, enough about that. Time to recap the week:

Writing update

So, last week I had a goal of finishing a spec script based on the TV show What We Do in the Shadows (the new season starts next week on FX!). I’m still not there yet, but I’m closer. Maybe this week will see me cross the finish line.

I also had planned to outline a new comedy pilot, which is a spinoff to my 2019 Austin Film Festival finalist screenplay ZARS: Zombie Apprehension & Relocation Service. I’ve already got the teaser or cold open written (that’s generally what is known as the first scene of the script that serves as a tease to the episode ahead). I also have a couple scenes mapped out, but I still need to come up with the connective tissue that will hold everything together.

Both of those projects will be at the top of my to do list for this week. Then it’s on to my feature script Jerry Lonely and planning/outlining/character work for a mystery novel I’ve got up my sleeve.

Reading update

I finished reading The Good Death by S.D. Sykes and Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger and wrote a book review for BookPage. I’ll let you know when it gets published. In the meantime, my review of Small Favors by Erin A. Craig has been posted on Chapter 16’s website.

Next up is City on Fire by Don Wilson (it doesn’t go on sale until April but I’ve got an ARC!) and Horror Library Vol. 1, a collection of horror short stories newly republished by Dark Moon Books.

And on the comic book front, I’m reading Batman: The Adventures Continue, Season One, which reprints the first eight issues of the comic book series continuation of the Batman animated TV series.

That’s it for this time out. Tune in again next week as I ramble on about something else.

Skipping Killer Nashville conference a difficult choice

Some devious and cunning minds will gather in Franklin (TN) this week for the Killer Nashville writing conference. I wish I could be with them, but this whole Covid pandemic thing has convinced me otherwise.

I’m fully vaccinated (although apparently a third shot is in the cards), and KN organizer Clay Stafford promises the conference and hotel are taking precautions, but I’m not comfortable taking any chances. Heck, I’m still masking up everywhere I go and I’m still using Walmart’s pickup service for my groceries until this all blows over.

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford poses with guests Joyce Carol Oates and David Morrell.

Killer Nashville is one of my favorite events every year, which makes missing out so difficult.

The four-day event held each August (this is its 15th gathering after skipping last year because of the pandemic) attracts some of the best authors from across the globe for informative, educational, and entertaining panels on writing mystery, crime, and thrillers across a variety of mediums, including novels, short stories, and screenplays.

Anne Perry

The event is typically headlined by a few best-selling authors. Past guests have included Jeffery Deaver, William Kent Krueger, Joyce Carol Oates, Otto Penzler, Max Allen Collins, Anne Perry, and Janet Evanovich, to name just a few. This year’s conference honors guests Walter Mosley, Lisa Black, and Tennessee’s own J.T. Ellison.

In addition to a nonstop slate of panels presented by attending authors and other guests, the event features an awards banquet for best published and unpublished novel in numerous categories, a mock crime scene to test your deductive skills, and pitch meetings with agents and editors.

But perhaps one of the best aspects of the conference is just meeting and networking with folks. I’ve met numerous authors and am fortunate to call them friends. The writing community at Killer Nashville is just that – a community of writers who genuinely support and encourage each other in all phases of their writing journey.

Clay Stafford

The event, of course, wouldn’t be the success it is without the vision of KN founder Clay Stafford (there’s a great interview with him here) and dedication of his staff. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside each of them over recent years as a book reviewer, Claymore contest reviewer, and volunteer. I even served on a panel one year, which still blows my mind.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing Week in Review

My co-writer Jay Wright and I finished some revisions to our crime feature script Kings of Mississippi and submitted it to the Finish Line Screenplay Contest. We got some excellent feedback on our first read through from one of their readers that strengthened some of the emotional elements of the script. Now we wait and see if the revised script makes the quarterfinals cut.

I also tweaked a short horror script I wrote called Kurupira and entered it in the Fresh Blood Selects contest.

My other short horror script Skin, which just narrowly missed the Finals stage in the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition, failed to even make it to the quarterfinals in The Script Lab’s Free Screenwriting Competition. Sigh. Of course, there were 13,000 entries overall and only the top 1,000 made the first round of cuts. I’m sure Skin must have been right there knocking on the door, though, probably at No. 1001. Yeah.

And I made a little more progress on my spec script episode of What We Do in the Shadows. If you’re familiar with the FX show, you know it’s about a trio of vampires living in Staten Island. In my episode, Nandor and his familiar Guillermo attend a “Vampires Anonymous” meeting, while Laszlo and Nadja go to a Little League baseball game. To coin a phrase, hilarity ensues.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had planned to start on my feature script Jerry Lonely, but I’m still outlining it. Hopefully, I’ll have all the major plot points worked out and be ready to do the actual writing in September. The title has piqued the interest of several readers who want to know more, but all I will say about it at this point is that I’ve been watching The Godfather movies as prep work.

Which brings me to: My writing calendar.

Every couple of months or so I revise and prioritize my list of ongoing writing projects. I have a list of screenplays (shorts, TV pilots, and features) and other writing projects (shorts stories and novels) that I try to juggle. I try to match it up with upcoming contest or submission deadlines and then go from there.

Often, my plans go to hell, and I find myself having to reconfigure them a couple months later. But at least I’m trying.

I plan to use these weekly blog posts in part to help hold myself accountable to my writing plans by posting updates on my progress each week. My goal in the week ahead is to finish the first draft of the What We Do in the Shadows script and outline a TV pilot script. Check back here next week and I’ll let you know how I did.

What I’m Reading

Last week, I posted about the importance of reading and I’ve been making progress on my to be read pile.

I read the pilot script for the Emmy-nominated Hacks and listened to a streaming panel with the creators and actors, courtesy of Deadline’s Contenders series. There are more than a dozen other panels with the creators and stars of other Emmy-nominated shows on the platform, all free to view online.

I also finished reading a screenplay from one of my fellow Tennessee Screenwriting members and will be sending him some notes after I post this.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger, which I should finish by the weekend. I’ll then start on The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. I’m reviewing both books for BookPage.

Until next time…

Read everything, read always

Welcome to another weekly installment of my blog.

Since I updated you on my writing efforts last week, I thought I’d take this week’s space to write about my other passion: reading.

They really go hand in hand, of course. If you’re going to be a great writer, whether it’s a novelist, screenwriter, playwright, or journalist, you need to be well-read. You need to not only keep up on your respective industry’s news and highlights, but you also need to read what others are writing. And, more importantly, you need to study.

“People like to say that the best advice they can give to writers is to read a lot. And that’s true, of course. But you shouldn’t just read literature. You should read life. Read movies, and art, and people. Read everything around you, very critically. Then build your method out of that process.”

— Anthony Veasna So

I know, it sounds like work. But if you’re passionate about it, like I am, then reading is a pleasure.

When I first ventured into screenwriting, I really didn’t know much about the craft at all. I bought a few books about screenwriting to learn about the basics: character arcs, story structure, format, and so on. (The folks over at Script Reader Pro have put together a great list of the 12 Best Screenwriting Books to Read in 2021, if you’re interested. And as if that isn’t enough, they also have a nifty list of the 8 Best Non-Screenwriting Books That Will Help You Become a Better Screenwriter, focusing on such topics as fear of failure, productivity, creativity, motivation, the ego, stress, sleep, inspiration and more.)

Of course, there’s only so much you can get from a book on the craft. To really experience the nuances and intricacies of screenwriting, you must read screenplays. The more you read, the easier it is to recognize how other writers…write. What they do well, how they do what they do.

When I first ventured into the screenwriting game, I enlisted as a script reader for the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition in 2014. After an introductory session on what to look for in a good screenplay, I was off and running. I think I read over a hundred scripts in my first year! I even got to serve as a judge one year.

The folks at Nashville appreciated me so much, they recommended me as a reader for the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. I’ve read for them for several years now, although I haven’t read nearly as much over the last two years. For one thing, I’ve been writing more so I’ve had to limit my reading output. And, secondly, I’ve focused more intently on reading screenplays from produced shows and movies. Instead of reading with a mindset of looking for what not to do, I’m reading with an eye toward what screenwriters did to make their scripts sing.

Scott Myers, who writes the daily Go Into the Story blog, has compiled this list of 30 screenplays to read. And if that’s not enough, there’s more here. He even has a seven-part series on How to Read a Screenplay for structure, characters, themes, style, and more.

Reading the scripts for Academy Award nominees and Emmy-nominated scripts has been a new priority for me. These are supposed to be the best of the best scripts, so I try to give each of them a thorough read. Fortunately, there are numerous sites online that make the award-nominated scripts available. Every time I see one listed, I immediately download and save it to my cloud server. (Scripts tend to disappear from the internet after a while, so it’s best to save them when you can.).

I’m currently reading this year’s crop of Emmy-nominated scripts (including the pilot episodes for Ted Lasso, The Queen’s Gambit, Lovecraft Country,  The Crown, and many others) ahead of the awards show in September. I admit, I haven’t seen a lot of the episodes – I’m limited to what’s on Amazon Prime and DirecTV – as there are too many streamers out there. But reading the scripts can be equally as educating and entertaining.

The Script Lab has a great library of screenplays of produced movies you can download and read. And if you want to read what some of the best unproduced screenwriters are writing, you can check out some of the top winning scripts from The Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship.

I’m also always happy to read screenplays from screenwriting peers and provide feedback. The Tennessee Screenwriting Association meets each week to read and critique scripts from members.  I recently read fellow member Elvis Wilson’s Driving Top Down, which is a semifinalist in the Vail Film Festival screenwriting competition, and Bob Giordano’s new script, Southern Draw.

I also recently had the pleasure of reading the hilariously entertaining How to Make it in Hollywood by Christopher O’Bryant and Shia LeBeouf Won the Wrong Mutherf*ckin’ Screenwriting Competition by Kevin Nelson, both of whom I came across on Twitter (I’ll write about networking, another important aspect of the screenwriting game, another time).

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

— Dr. Seuss

If I’m not reading screenplays, I’ve more than likely got my nose in a book. I read and review books regularly for BookPage and Chapter 16 (click the links to see my reviews). I used to get a lot of ARCs (advance reader copies) of books before they hit the shelves, but since the pandemic started the books have largely migrated to electronic versions (which I don’t prefer, although I do have a Kindle and tablet). I favor physical copies, but I make do as best I can. I’ve even been “reading” some audio books for BookPage (another topic for another day).

I’m currently reading a pair of mystery/crime thrillers, Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger and The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. And waiting in the wings, Don Winslow’s City on Fire. (Sadly, Winslow just announced he’s delaying the release of the book until early 2022 because he’s canceling his book appearances this fall due to the pandemic. He was slated to be at this year’s Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but will hopefully reschedule for next year’s event.)

I’m also making my way through the recently re-issued seven-volume Horror Library series of books from Dark Moon Books, which I’ll be reviewing on this and other sites.

And finally, I scour the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and my e-mail for tips on the craft of writing as well as industry-related news. I’ll pass along links to some of the more interesting and useful articles in future blogs (something I used to do here quite often).

But I’ve rambled long enough. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments!

A near miss, a spec script, and a screenplay in a month

Hello and welcome to my website.

I’m relaunching these weekly posts highlighting my writing life. It’s a way to hold myself accountable on my writing goals and a way to commiserate with like-minded creative souls (as well as a few old friends!).

These columns will include a little of everything. And by that, I mean I may write about topics of interest, tips or lessons learned about the craft, upcoming webinars or events I think may be of interest, and, of course, updates on what I’m writing, reading, and more.

You may not care, or you may find a link or nugget of information valuable to you within. Either way, you can tell your friends and family someday, “I knew him when…”

Today, I’m talking about my short screenplay “Skin,” screenplay readers, and why it’s important to have a spec TV script in your portfolio.

So, let’s get started!

What I’m Writing

My short screenplay “Skin” – a macabre little number about an unusual couple who survive by wearing the skins of their victims and their argument over one of their next skins — advanced to the semifinals of the Nashville Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition! According to script competition director Cat Stewart, my script got “a few finalist votes,” but that wasn’t enough as only unanimous finalist vote-getters made the elite Finals round. So, close but no cigar.

Still, it’s exciting that it had such a good run in the contest, reaching the top 13 scripts in the shorts category. Unlike last year when I entered my TV comedy pilot “Bill Fisher’s Trading Post” (also a semifinalist!), the pool for shorts was written by writers from anywhere in the world, not just Tennessee. And it still reached semis and damn near got into the finals!

I must be doing something right!  

The truth is screenplay contests are all very subjective. One reader/judge may be absolutely blown away by your words, another may only be mildly impressed. People have different tastes. You never know how they are feeling going into the read. Maybe they had a long day in their real job or were facing a family situation (this Covid pandemic is enough to stress everyone out!), so they weren’t in the mood. Maybe they had a great day and were ready for someone to wow them. Maybe they weren’t especially keen on horror with a socio-political twist. Maybe they were looking for a laugh instead.

So many factors go into any read.

An earlier version of the same script made quarterfinals in the Killer Shorts Screenplay Competition in January before bowing out.  But it failed to even make quarters in either the Filmmatic Shorts Competition or the Holly Shorts Competition. So, you never know. In the end, it’s just a matter of connecting with the right reader.

Kind of like winning the lottery.

So, what now? Nashville is including the logline and synopsis for the script in its competitions packet for interested producers, so we’ll see if it gets any bites. I may also post it on Ink Tip, which is a site where you can post your scripts for possible producers who may be interested in optioning it. Another possibility would be to film the script myself. I know several people who have had some film experience who I’m sure would be more than happy to help.  I don’t think I’m at that point yet, but it’s certainly something to think about. I’ve entered it in a couple of other screenwriting contests and am waiting to see how it does in those.  

In the meantime, I’ve been working on finishing up a spec script based on the What We Do in the Shadows TV series. My goal was to have it finished and entered in the Nickelodeon Screenwriting Contest, but that deadline has come and gone. More likely, I’ll try to enter it in another upcoming contest on my calendar. Last year I wrote a spec for Young Sheldon, the spinoff series from The Big Bang Theory. It was loads of fun and is one of my favorite scripts, and this one is proving to be just as much fun.

Writing specs (which are scripts set in the world of an existing TV show) used to be one of the tried-and-true ways people broke into the screenwriting industry. But with the thirst for new material by all the different streamers, cable channels, and networks, original series scripts are more sought after than ever. That doesn’t mean having a spec or two in your portfolio is a bad idea. It can serve as proof that you can write to whatever show in whatever voice that’s needed.

And like I said, it’s fun. Like fan fiction, only better.

This month, I’m participating in Goal Post, a one-month challenge to write a screenplay from start to finish. If I can churn out three script pages a day, mission accomplished. It’s eminently doable and, if nothing else, will serve as a good incentive to push myself to finish another script. It may come out like crap (most first drafts do!), but it will give me something to work on, polish, and make stronger.

I’m still playing with the title, but for now I’m calling it “Jerry Lonely.” How does that sound?

I’ll keep you posted each week on my progress.

Until next time, then…Keep writing!

G. Robert Frazier

My writing life: 16 highlights from 2016

by G. Robert Frazier

So, we’re two days into 2017 and I’ve had some time to reflect on 16 highlights from the past year.  But don’t worry, I’m not counting anything politics related.

  • I co-wrote a short script, “Blind Sighted,” with fellow Tennessee screenwriter Dustin Alexander III, which he later produced and directed as a short film. I hung around the set a couple of days and even got to be the clapper one day. Looking forward to viewing a premiere for cast and crew later this month. This was the first time I’d collaborated with anyone on a script and it was an eye-opening experience. We didn’t agree on every aspect of the script, but we learned to compromise and work together. That experience alone was worth the time spent as the art of the screenplay and making movies or TV episodes is all about give and take. We also learned a lot about the legal aspects of scriptwriting, such as writing agreements and copyright protection.

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  • I read and rated 250 scripts combined for the Nashville Film Festival and Austin Film Festival screenwriting competitions. If you want to learn how to write a great screenplay, there’s nothing like reading and learning from other screenplays. Story structure, characterization, description and dialogue and so much more can be learned from reading and studying scripts. I plan to read a lot more Hollywood scripts in 2017, beginning with The Dark Knight Trilogy: The Complete Screenplays (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises), which I received for Christmas.
  • My concert-going days are all but over, but I did manage to see The B-52’s, Jeff Beck with Buddy Guy, and the Hendrix Experience (featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy, Billy Cox, Noah Hunt, Dweezil Zappa, Rich Robinson, and more). What’s this got to do with writing, you ask? Hey, writers need to let loose once in a while and concerts are an excellent way to let out some of that pent up energy. I used to go to concerts all the time, but not many of my bands come around much anymore and I’m not into a lot of the newer music these days (guess I’m getting old!). Ticket costs have also gotten a bit out of hand.
  • I attended the Imaginarium Convention, which is devoted to writers and fans of science fiction, horror and fantasy literature, in Louisville, Ky. I was thrilled to meet authors Brian Keene, Tim Waggoner, Jason Sizemore, Jim C. Hines, Scott Sandridge, Michael Knoxt, Tony Acree, and many others.
  • I served on my first-ever panel as a book reviewer at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference. I’ve been reviewing books for several outlets over the last few years and helped Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford read and rate novels entered in the conference’s annual Silver Falchion Awards competition. I guess that makes me something of an expert and I’m honored that Clay saw fit to include me on one of his conference panels. In addition to the excellent panels and educational workshops, Killer Nashville is an excellent venue for networking with other authors, like Baron R. Birtcher, R.G. Belsky, Jaden Terrell, and Daniel Hooberry, to name a few.

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  • I saw Stephen King at the Ryman Auditorium and was one of a select few to receive an autographed copy of End of Watch. If  you’ve never seen King on a book tour, do so. He is as entertaining in person as he is on the written page.
  • I saw numerous other authors on their book tours in Nashville or as part of their appearances at the Southern Festival of Books. Authors like: Steve Berry, Brad Thor, David Bell, Colson Whitehead, Ann Patchett, John Lewis, Michael Chabon, David Hart, Robert Olen Butler, Neal Patrick Flannery and others. I blogged about some of their visits for BookPage and for this blog, took notes about their story tips, and even scored some autographs.
  • I began co-writing a crime feature script with friend Jay Wright. Jay asked for my help when he got stuck on a story idea and that led to a partnership. We’re more than halfway through our first draft and racing to the finish. Then the rewrites begin.
  • I saw KISS Rocks Vegas at Opry Mills with my brother Bruce. Again, not a writing event, but it’s KISS, so there.
  • I enjoyed a brief but awesome visit from my California brother, Wayne! I make an effort every week to listen to Wayne’s Hollywood Close-Up podcast, where he and co-host Natalie Lipka interview up and coming actors, screenwriters, and film industry professionals each week about breaking into the business, persisting, and more. It’s valuable, educational information for anyone interested in writing, acting, directing, or any other aspect of the film and TV industry. Give it a listen.

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  • Saw Rogue One, twice! I hope I can get a copy of the screenplay to study.
  • Installed new kitchen counter, backsplash and floor. It’s not writing-related, but since my writing desk occupies a corner of the kitchen it’s significant.
  • Wrote 26 book reviews for various sites, including BookPage, Blogging for Books, Killer Nashville and US Review of Books. I even posted a couple over on GoodReads.
  • Attended the Writers Homicide School in Knoxville, where I learned about blood spatter, police procedure, and other forensics.
  • Organized my stories, notes, and file cabinets. Hey, writers are notoriously messy, so this was a big thing for me.
  • Wrote a handful of short stories and submitted them, but had no luck placing them with a market. Outlined a pair of family-oriented scripts, continued edits/revisions to another feature script, and brainstormed several other projects to write in the coming year.

Wow. How did you guys do? 

Around the Web: Authors sound off on Trump’s America; awards season begins

It’s been a while since I compiled one of these, and a lot has happened (such as a new president being elected), so here goes:

If you just can’t get enough of President-elect Donald Trump, Publishers Weekly has compiled a roundup of its reviews for his books and books about him.

The backlash over Trump’s election has extended to some renowned authors as well. Brad Meltzer posted this message to the president-elect to denounce the hate. And The Authors Guild weighs in on what the Trump presidency could mean for writers. The New Yorker includes essays from 16 authors on Trump’s America.

The Oxford English Dictionaries in the U.S. and U.K. have selected “post-truth” as the word of the year.

The Columbia Journalism Review says journalism’s fundamental failure in this election is a wake-up call for the profession to return to “our legacy as malcontents and troublemakers, people who are willing to say the thing that makes everyone else uncomfortable.” Clearly, no one is more malcontent about the election’s outcome than CNN so far.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that lending e-books should not be treated the same as lending of physical books. The ruling concerns the ‘one copy, one user’ model, which blocks a library from lending out more than one copy of an e-book at a time. The Federation of European Publishers reacted immediately, saying it was shocked at the decision, principally because unrestricted e-book lending represents a serious threat to publishers’ revenues and equates to copying versus the sale of multiple copies of books.

I always enjoy the new issue of The Big Thrill from International Thriller Writers, Inc. The November issue features interviews with ITW co-founder David Morell, Lee Child, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kathy Reichs, Marcia Clark, and many more. Always interesting to read about other authors, their processes, and their latest works.

It’s awards season:

  • Bob Dylan says he will not travel to Stockholm to pick up the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature because of “pre-existing commitments.”
  • The 13th annual Best Book Awards are out and here are the winners.
  • GoodReads welcomes your vote to help determine its 2016 choice award winners. Go here to get in on the action.
  • The Washington Post has listed its Best Mystery Books of 2016 and Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2016. Scroll to the bottom of either list for links to additional best of categories.
  • Kirkus Reviews gets in on the fun with its best of list.
  • Former Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon is back with a searching family saga in his new book, Moonglow. To get a taste of it, check out his short story The Sandmeyer Reaction. I’m planning to see Chabon on his book stop in Nashville next month.
  • And finally, the annual Bad Sex Award in writing, were announced.

Closer to home, author Michael Sims remembers Nashville’s BookMan/BookWoman, which will close its doors at the end of the year.

In Memoriam:

To celebrate the life and work of singer/songwriter/novelist Leonard Cohen, LitHub compiled some clips of him reading some of his works.

Gwen Ifell, who became the first African-American woman to host a major political TV talk show and went on to host “Washington Week” and “PBS NewsHour,” passed away.

 

There’s no fantasy in The Dead of Winter

by Jean Rabe

If you search for my titles on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you’ll discover I’ve written roughly three dozen fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00072]I’ve been in the game a while, and it felt like now was a good time to acquire a new writing wardrobe.

So I traded in my wizard’s robe for a sheriff’s badge and moved my fiction from a magical realm to ultra-rural Spencer County, Indiana. Seriously. Ultra. Rural. It’s a great place to set uncozy-cozies.

Switching to writing mysteries was the perfect choice for me—I read mysteries. I have always read mysteries. My bookshelves are overcrowded with mysteries and thrillers. And I delight in mystery movies. About time I started writing mysteries, dontcha think?

I’d attended a few Bouchercon festivals back when I was writing about wizards and dragons (I love writing about wizards and dragons, by the way, and likely won’t entirely abandon it). I always made it a point to go to writing conventions outside of my genre—hence my trips to the World Horror Con and World Mystery Con. I figured there was an element of mystery and horror to fantasy and science fiction, and I sat in the front row during seminars at those conventions to soak in those elements.

And I attended Killer Nashville. I entered that convention’s Claymore competition in 2015 with my first mystery novel: Christmas Card Killer, and I took second place.

“I can write mysteries,” I announced at the Killer Nashville awards banquet.

“You sure can,” Deni Dietz answered. She judged the finalists, and so read my entry in its entirety. She pressed her business card into my hand before I left the convention and asked me to contact her, as she was interested in buying Christmas Card Killer for Five Star. The publisher, however, phased out its mystery line, and instead Deni blurbed my book for Imajin, which accepted the manuscript. The book releases November 1, and its title has changed to The Dead of Winter, the publisher wisely pointing out I would have a longer time to market the book if I took Christmas off the cover of the book.

THE DEAD OF WINTER was a blast—lots of fun to read! Jean Rabe’s characters come to life through the written word, and it takes a real writing talent to accomplish this feat.

Denise Dietz, USA Today bestselling author

Switching writing genres wasn’t as easy as I expected. Not that I couldn’t write mysteries…I once had an editor at Tor Books tell me I could write in “whatever damn genre” I wanted to. But I had trouble connecting to professionals in the mystery field; all my contacts were in fantasy and science fiction. When I met with agents at Killer Nashville 2015 regarding my manuscript, some of them asked me why I just didn’t stick with fantasy, since that’s where my audience and history was. I pointed out that I might get the inkling in the future to write another fantasy, but that right now I wanted to craft mysteries, specifically murder mysteries. Two agents told me they wouldn’t represent an author who dabbled in more than one genre. Killer Nashville Author Guest Donald Bain, who writes marvelous Murder She Wrote tie-in novels as well as his own material, told me to stay away from those lazy agents. He also told me I could write mysteries if I wanted to.

Some folks said I would need to change my author name to write mysteries since Jean Rabe

jean-rabe-and-wrink

Jean Rabe and Wrink

was a fantasy and science fiction author. So I was prepared to do that, settling on J.E. Mooney. But the Imajin publisher didn’t want The Dead of Winter by J.E. Mooney. She wanted The Dead of Winter by Jean Rabe, and said that Jean Rabe could write mysteries if she wanted to. She suggested that some of the readers of my fantasy and science fiction novels might also try my mystery books. My fingers are crossed that she’s right.

 

I find the mystery genre more difficult to write in, which is some of the appeal to me. I can’t use magic spells to get my characters out of a fix, and I can’t craft the landscape and creatures any which way I please. Setting something in the real world, present-day, means I have to follow maps, be up on area politics and demographics, and know the community’s history. It takes more studying and research than crafting from whole cloth…at least it does for me. And because I am a technological dinosaur, shunning the latest iPhone and tablet whoseywhatzits in favor of spiral binders, I have to immerse myself in electronics stores, browse Best Buy advertisements, and query my tech-savvy friends. Fortunately, several of my friends are addicted to iPhones and all the whoseywhatzits they can acquire; they are a great resource.

Maybe I’ll eventually find an agent who will represent me no matter what I write. I met with two agents at the 2016 Killer Nashville who were at least open to the notion. I’ll send them my current work-in-progress when it’s finished and see what they think. It’s a mystery.

So maybe the agent thing will happen.

Maybe it won’t.

Maybe I don’t need an agent. I’ve managed to sell more than two dozen novels on my own, a few hitting the USA Today Bestsellers list.

And I sold my first mystery…The Dead of Winter. My wonderful publisher has asked for a sequel, and I’m plotting that now, tentatively titled The Dead of Night. Hmmm…dead is the running theme here.

I really can write mysteries…as Jean Rabe.

_____

Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here. There’s a pre-order special price of 99-cents for the ebook of The Dead of Winter. The price goes up sometime after the November 1 release.

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