Agent of Change

A Blog by Cory!! Strode, who really should write something interesting here.

Archive for the category “Writing”

Recent quotes about writing from Aaron Sorkin

  • Intention and obstacle is everything. Intention and obstacle is what makes it drama. Somebody wants the money, they want the girl, they want to get to Philadelphia; it doesn’t matter, they just need a strong intention, and then there needs to be a formidable obstacle. The tactic that your protagonist (or protagonists) use to overcome that obstacle is going to be your story. That’s what you’re gonna hang everything on. Without intention and obstacle, you’re coming dangerously close to finger painting.
  • One of the biggest mistakes rookie screenwriters make is not having a strong intention or obstacle. The drive shaft of a car, beautiful leather seats, a fantastic sound system, a really cool paint job but the car isn’t going to move forward if the car doesn’t have a strong intention or obstacle.
  • David Mamet have written some excellent essays on this subject. You can get lost in the weeds if you sit down and try to create an entire biography for your character. If this is what they were like when they were six years old, and this is what they did when they were seven years old, and they scraped their knee when they were eight years old. Your character, assuming your character is 50 years old, was never six years old, or seven years old or eight years old. Your character was born the moment the curtain goes up, the moment the movie begins, the moment the television show begins, and your character dies as soon as it’s over. Your character only becomes seven years old when they say, “Well when I was seven years old, I fell in a well, and ever since then I’ve had terrible claustrophobia. Okay?
  • Characters and people aren’t the same thing. They only look alike.
  • I write a lot of drafts of screenplays and plays. I keep writing and I keep writing; what I try to do at the beginning is just get to the end. Once I’ve gotten to the end, I know a lot more about the piece, and I’m able to go back to the beginning and touch stuff that never turned into anything, and highlight things that are going to become important later on. And I go back, and I keep doing that, and I keep doing that, and I’ll retype the whole script, over and over again, just to make things sharper and sharper. That’s for movies and plays. In television, there just isn’t that kind of time. In television, I have to write a 55-minute movie every nine days, so we shoot my first draft.
  • I assume that the people who watch movies and television shows are at least as smart as the people who make movies and television shows. If the dialogue makes you sit forward a little, and listen a little bit more, that’s a good thing. It makes the audience active in the experience.
  • When it comes to screenwriting or television writing, there are real rules, and there are fake rules. In 1970, a CBS executive famously said that there are four things you’ll never see on television: a Jewish person, a divorced person, a person from New York City, or a person with a mustache. Obviously, that CBS executive had no idea what he was talking about, and those are the fake rules.  The real rules can be found in Aristotle’s Poetics.



It’s a matter of focus

I just read a blog post from someone stating that they have given up on being creative. They basically stated that:

-They started a family and it’s SO HARD they have no time to create, especially with a job, keeping up on the news, etc…

-In your 30’s you can’t keep up with the latest trends. Things are moving too fast. The example given was that they have a GREAT idea for an app, but by the time her was able to put it together, someone else had gotten one out (damn millennials and their endless free time)

-There’s too much product out there, so you’ll just get lost in the masses

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Reading between the lines, it’s all of the standard excuses people use to give up on things they aren’t really passionate about.

When I was newly single, I tried my hand at Stand Up comedy. I went to open mike nights, I crafted current events jokes and was starting to get some headway, but there were guys who did 5 or 6 open mike nights every Monday night. They hustled for gigs, played for $25 at nursing homes, took every booking they could get their hands on. Me? I wasn’t that driven, and I gave up on it after about 6 months. It was a hobby, not a passion. So, I keep up the hobby with my Weekly News Update podcast.

Writing, on the other hand, I always found time for. When I was raising my son, I read (to him or when he was playing), I wrote once he was in bed, when he was watching TV, when he was outside playing, etc… I wrote during slow times at my job. I carried a notebook with me everywhere I went. I read in order to be a better writer.

Now, I work two jobs and I am creating. I create at a level that is pretty astounding to other people, but it is all a matter of focus. I don’t watch football, because that’s three and a half hours I am not creating. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and what I do watch is mostly stuff to feed me information or learn storytelling. I also watch when I am at the gym (one of the few time I allow myself to multitask). I’m not a real social person and it takes someone incredibly special to get me to give up a night of mixing, recording, writing or planning to go out and spend time with them. Not because I hate people, but because I have shit to DO!

It’s not age. It’s not competition. It’s focus. What is important to you. Are you willing to give up sitting on the deck with a beer and chatting with the neighbors to have something completed?

There’s nothing wrong with not having that focus. Some people have other priorities, and that’s fine, we are all very different people. Some people care more about hunting down their next relationship that creating things. Some people care more about football than telling a story or making a painting. Some people would rather travel or be social or party or whatever.

Prince had a vault full of songs, movies and other things because he was driven to create. There aren’t a lot of stories about Prince hitting the clubs to party all night unless he was performing.

Don’t blame your age, your family or anything else.

The reason you aren’t creating is because you aren’t sitting your ass in the chair, focusing, and doing the work. That’s it.

“Someone already did it.”

Fine, do it better. Do it differently. Find a new method. People have been writing three chord songs about a girl they love for a hell of a long time, they still have new ones come out every week.

“I can’t find an audience.”

So? Keep plugging away. If you are doing it for fame or popularity, you have no control over that other than putting out the best work you can and finding ways to get it to people.

“I don’t have time.”

You have as much time as everyone else. Stephen King was a broke dad working as a teacher when he wrote Carrie and all of those short stories that were collected in Night Shift. Turn off the TV, quit hanging out at the club and work.

“I’m too old.”

Yeah. Right. And Tom Wolfe’s novels after he turned 30 were all crap, right? Age isn’t the issue. Attention is the issue.





How it got away from me and what I will do about it

I am a content provider. I don’t have an editor, a business partner or anyone else looking over my shoulder to make sure I hit deadlines. I set my own deadlines and have to count on myself to hit them. While I do have other people who work with me, they just show up, hit their marks and go on their merry way.

While a lot of my friends don’t seem to understand why I get so upset when I blow deadlines, I am of the firm belief that the way to grow is two-fold:

  • Give entertaining content
  • Give that content on time

I can’t tell you how many podcasts, novels, comics, etc… I have dropped simply because they come out at random intervals. I won’t even read continued fantasy novels because they tend to be 3 or more books that seem to come out whenever the writer gets around to it. It’s not because I feel they OWE me, it’s because I don’t want to have to wait years between installments of a story if I have no idea when (or if) the next installment comes.

When I started up Kray Z Comics and Stories we were just doing it for fun. We got together, acted like it was college radio and generally goofed around for the first year or two and put it out whenever we got it recorded. When I decided to take it more seriously, we decided to drop a new episode every Monday, and for the past few years we have, with very few exceptions, and usually with advance warning.

Because of that, the audience has grown. Usually about 20 – 30% annually. Because of that growth, I added an infrequent solo podcast, but last year when I did a new episode of the solo podcast every week, the audience started growing on THAT, to the point where people were commenting on it almost as much as Kray Z.

Last Fall, I added the Novelcast which is me taking my novels and turning them into audiobooks. And, knowing I didn’t want to overload myself, I made it bi-weekly. I was disappointed in the speed of the growth until I measured it against Kray Z, and it is actually growing FASTER that Kray Z did for its first three years.

At the beginning of the year, I restarted my Weekly News Update. I haven’t added it to iTunes or Stitcher yet due to wanting to work out some bugs and figuring out exactly what I am doing…it’s taking longer than I thought, but once I have that in place, it’ll be on iTunes and I will stick to the Every Tuesday schedule.


Leading up the MSP ComiCon and Kray Z’s 250th Episode, we had a lot of things converge that threw me off schedule. We had last minute guests who needed to do publicity for the Con, and they were such great “gets” that I couldn’t turn them down. So, in the two weeks leading up to 250 AND MPS ComiCon, we put out 5 episodes. All of which were damn good if I say so myself. I also released the regular Novelcast episode and two Weekly News Updates.

At the convention we did 15 hours of live podcasting.

And then the merry-go-round fell down.

I had to follow up with people I had networked with at the convention, deal with the aspects of my personal life I had put on hold for the month before, maintain personal connections with people (which is increasingly hard for me) and both of my jobs ramped up the hours I would work.

So, I didn’t to record the written stuff.

Recording the Weekly News Update and Novelcast is harder than just podcasting because it is both reading AND acting. Varying tone, deciding how to emphasize things, and the actual copyediting takes a LOT of time.

That’s not counting the writing.

So I blew deadlines.

And I feel like an utter failure for doing so.

When that happens, the dominos begin to fall and by this week, I was trying to get the train back on track, get ahead on things, and try to do a better job than before to make up for my failure.

So, here’s the schedule for the summer:

Monday: Kray Z Comics and Stories

Tuesday: The Weekly News Update

Wednesday: Solitaire Rose Radio (yep, every week. I have interviews and history episodes as well as some experimental stuff I want to record)

Thursday: Editing, promoting, business stuff – No new podcast that day.

Friday every other week: Novelcast

Weekend: Putting things up on YouTube, editing, writing, creating the eBooks from Novelcast and recording.

I am also starting to look into more convention appearances, more ideas to shake things up and more networking.

So, there’s that. But I still feel like I let people down for blowing deadlines because, in the end, it all falls on me. And for that, I am so, so sorry.


How a lousy rat bastard became a positive person

A bit of background:

I was a single father, and while my marriage only lasted 2 years, the custody battle lasted three, and thought I “lost”, within six months, my X had asked if I would take over raising my son, as she couldn’t do it.  He would live with her for a year or so, sometimes, and then move back in with me for 2 – 3 years, and so on.  With that and working two jobs, I was a pretty bitter and cynical guy.  It was so bad that at one job, my co-workers replaced my cubicle name tag with “Mr. Bad Example” from my favorite Warren Zevon song at the time.

There came a time when I met a woman and we started a relationship. I hadn’t been in a relationship in over a decade and didn’t want to mess it up, since I didn’t know if I had the skills to be in one, so I asked one of my co-workers at the group home.

She said I needed to practice unconditional love.  I said that I do and she said that I may THINK I do, but I don’t.  I had said that I would end things if the woman I was dating did this or did that, and that was putting conditions on things.  I had to REALLY give that up if I meant what I said and just accept her as she was and support her changing, as we ALL change.

And I committed to that.  I read up on things to help myself be calmer, to understand interpersonal stuff and to build a positive mental attitude.  I used to make fun of the whole idea of a positive mental attitude, but as I committed to the idea, I found that I liked it.

The relationship ended, as relationships tend to do.

But I kept the idea of positive mental attitude and unconditional love in my head and kept working on it.  As I did, my job changed and I became the director of a juvenile justice group home.   I explored changing EVERYTHING about it from my new perspective and found models we could use to move from a punishment based-dynamic for the teenagers who were there to a growth based dynamic.  I treated my staff with the idea of Assuming Positive Intent:  Start from the idea that people are doing things for a positive reason and go from there.

For example:  I would drop in at random times at the group home, partly to keep the residents thinking I could be in at any time and partly to see the dynamic of the house during times I wasn’t there.  One of the guidelines we had was that we did not take the residents on activities until chores were done.  I came in one night and no one was in the house.  Supper was still on the table, no chores done, nothing.  Rather than “Why did they do this!!??” I assumed that there positive intent behind what was done, and put away the meal, cleaned up the table and as I did, the van showed up, and everyone got out…and one of the clients was in a cast.  He’d broken his ankle, and the staff had to take everyone to the ER.

So, if you simply assume people do things for a positive reason, it changes how you see the world. Walk away from your first instinct being that people are out to get you.

My son had a rough time after high school.  He was angry that he didn’t go to college with his friends (he blew off all of the deadlines and wasn’t a very good student) and began to abuse drugs, be destructive to my life and the house, and generally became a horrible person.  I set some final red lines around his behavior and he took off for a year…and when he came home, hat in hand, and asked if he could stay while he looked for a job, I asked if he was clean and sober.  He said he was and his new job would be testing him…and he lived with me for a year, got on his feet, then needed to come back for a year…and it was raw unconditional love that made it possible for me to make it through that.

The woman I dated came back into my life, and apologized for the things she had done, and by this point, I was a different person.  I was wary, as she tends to not just burn bridges, but to douse them with napalm and dance while they burn, but forgiveness isn’t ABOUT the other person.  It’s about letting go of the hurt they caused you.  A few years later, she did it again, and I didn’t fight or get mad, just accepted that was who she was and loved her anyway, hoping things would be well for her.  And then about two years ago, she came back AGAIN, and again felt horrible about what she’d done to burn the bridge, and I explained to her that when I said unconditional love, I meant it.  I keep the circle of people I give that to tight, but when I do give it, I give up thinking about consequences because I know it’s the right choice.

It’s why I laugh when she calls me “Goody Two Shoes” all the time, when my nickname when she met me was “Lousy Rat Bastard”.  And when she apologizes for the things she’s done, I remind her of what the term Unconditional love means.

I’m not saying she changed me.  I’m saying that she was the catalyst for a change that I needed to make.  My time running a group home changed me.  My last 5 years working with developmentally disabled adults taught me SO much about kindness, patience and positivity and also changed me. The last three women I have dated have all told me that I am a Good Man and that they admired how I treat other people.

It is a learned skill. I don’t believe people are good or evil, but I do believe we end up being selfish, left to our own devices. Being a positive person is hard work and a skill most of us aren’t born with. But, I made the change

And you can make it too.  Fake it until you make it is perfectly valid.  People were telling me that I was a calm person before I felt like I was a calm person.  Find what works for you, but the biggest change you can make is your own attitude.  You make the weather of your day. If you wake up unhappy, you’ll be unhappy.  Wake up and remember that you woke up today, so it’s a good day. Actively look for the good things of you day. Take time to enjoy every sandwich.  Do that and you’ve started down the path.

It isn’t easy.  I am NOT a naturally positive person.  I have dysthymia which tends to make me think setbacks are worse than they really are, but I make the weather for my day.


That ain’t karma

I see that the “Pharma Bro” has been arrested and all over social media, people are cheering, saying that it’s Karma.

I am weary of people calling it Karma. Karma is a concept that what you do in their life determines how you come back in the next one. No matter what John Lennon said, there is no “instant karma”. Bad people do bad shit all the time and get away with it. Good people do good things and get beaten down despite it. I find that and the whole “things happen for a reason” to be the worst kind of privileged bullshit on the internet.

Things do NOT happen for a reason. Things happen. Your monkey brain assigns a reason, but things happen, good and bad for no reason at all unless someone is doing them. He was arrested for shady business dealings from years ago, and I will bet a year’s worth of pie it is because he stole from rich people. Steal from poor people, get a bailout and a bonus, steal from rich people, go to jail. The shitty things he has done that make the internet hate him are legal, protected and celebrated. So the whole “finally, karma caught up with him” is bullshit. And it wears me out.


Stupid people make me…

I have noticed an uptick in the “I am tired of stupid people” memes and complaints on the internet. Usually it’s a supposedly funny “Stupid people make me angry” with a cartoon of a Minion or Warner Brothers character, or some cute animal with “You can’t fix stupid” on it.

All it shows me is that the person posting it either lacks empathy deficit or they are just a bit too full of themselves.

Life is pretty damn hard, and you have no idea in the world what that person has been dealing with when you came into contact with them. Maybe their mind isn’t on what they are doing because they have something more serious on their mind. Maybe the task you are asking them to complete is something they aren’t trained for, maybe they have gotten some terrible news…the list goes on and on.

was a single dad for most of my 20’s and early 30’s, working two jobs to keep the lights on. There are huge gaps of what I remember from that time because there are lots of things that wouldn’t make it from the short term memory to the long term memory. I would forget something while shopping and have to run back and get it, or forget my wallet in the car, or blank on my ATM pin number or any number of things.

When I would train people to work in juvenile corrections, I would remind them that the people they worked with had an entire history before they came into contact with staff, not just for their life, but maybe even that day. So, if someone blows up at you, keep in mind they may have spilled their breakfast, gotten bad news from their mom, had a dream that brought back something traumatic, etc… and their anger isn’t directed at the staff or even the situation. Same with when I trained people in call centers.

But I also bring that into my personal life. Maybe the person in front of me in line is trying to get through the day and just can’t quite do it that day. Maybe they got crushing news. Maybe they are in a job and were told their company is merging and they don’t know where the money will be coming from if they lose the job. Maybe they are just struggling with making it through the day. We all have moments where we don’t measure up, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone didn’t take that moment to mock us or kick us when we are down?


Trigger warning.

If I want to start an argument on the internet right now, I really only have to type those words.  There are some people I know and respect who are disgusted by the idea of giving trigger warnings and others who I also know and respect who talk quite passionately about the with PTSD who have had issues with works of art that contain themes and accounts that cause them a lot of mental anguish.

First off, while I am a huge Free Speech advocate, I am also someone who thinks that a parental warning or a rating is a good idea for comics, TV shows, movies, etc…  Yes, formatting, presentation and other cues can help, but if a parent is watching Ultimate Spider-Man with their 9 year old (which the show is aimed at)  goes to a comic shop and picks up the trade paperback of “The Other” (a Spider-man story from about a decade ago) and sees Spider-Man eat someone’s head, or the Future Spider-Man story where Mary Jane dies of cancer from Peter’s radioactive sperm, it’s not a Good Thing.

Does this mean that stories involving traumatic things should be eliminated?  No.  Art examines all aspects of life, good and bad, and to wall off a section of life and state art can’t deal with it goes against what I believe.  Art has to explore everything, that’s why we do it.  For every piece of crap that exploits a horrific incident, there is probably a piece of art that does it in a thoughtful manner that illuminates or enhances.

I keep hearing that the problem is that “kids today can’t handle the rough stuff” in fiction, art, etc…  But, how much of that is that we have abdicated our role in introducing people to the idea that art CAN be disturbing?  That art challenges and pushes boundaries.  That sometimes it will fail when doing so, but in doing that it pushes us further as people.  When we decide to shy away from talking with harsh realities with children, and only have them consume bland entertainment and art that passes time rather than helps them understand the world they live in and how people explore it through creative venues, we rob them of the ability to be ready for art that challenges and stretches them.

Was “All Quiet On The Western Front” wrong to dig deeper in the depiction of war and the horrors within?  Was “Clockwork Orange” wrong to illuminate both the fear of human violence and the idea that in fighting it, we may obliterate freedom and individuality?  No, but if these are handed to people without setting the stage about what they will be reading or seeing (or both), they may not be ready for what lies within.

There are a LOT of novels I read that stir up unpleasant feelings.  The Travis McGee novel I am reading now has depictions of death, meditations on mortality, sex, torture and other things that can stir up the sediment on the bottom of my mind, bringing back unpleasant memories.  Art affects us, and it can do it better if we understand that and know it going in.

So, I ask, what is wrong with saying something contains depictions of graphic violence, sexual violence or other elements that may be upsetting?

Can it go too far?  Of course, everything can go too far.  We still have religious colleges that ban dancing by students and on the other hand have colleges that don’t allow works by “old white men”.  But if we spend all of our time worrying about the extremes and raging against them, we aren’t have a dialogue and are instead looking for things to feed our rage.  And the thing about rage is, it doesn’t get any better the more you feed it, and eventually, you are no different than the nuts on the street corner screaming at women that their skirts are too short and that accepting gay people has allowed terrorists to get through “God’s protective shield.”

“Lighten up, Francis.” – Sgt Hulka, Stripes



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