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28Mar/112

Self(ish)-Publishing

With the current online hullabaloo over self-publishing (Amanda Hocking going traditional for big bucks; Barry Eisler ditching traditional and big bucks), people have started asking me my thoughts on it all.

Since I'm lazy, I wrote this so I can just start linking to myself any time someone emails me.  If I write enough blog posts, soon I'll never have to have real conversations, I can just have dialogues totally in link.  It's a great age we live in.

No matter what they say, the pro-traditional publishing camp (both writers and the people that actually work in it) seem to mostly have their visceral hatred of self-publishing shrouding their unexpressed fears of:

1.  Self-published authors infringing on their territory via their own control of low, low, low prices.

2.  Self-published authors not having been properly "vetted" like they were or like they do.

The first point is lame and usually shows how little the typical English major know about economics.  The second point is the more interesting one to me.*  You see, what the pro-traditional publishing camp seems to think is that any one that self-published HAD to self-publish because they were vetted--either by an agent or publisher--and turned down.  That couldn't be further from the truth.

For most of the 2000s I would have loved to have been vetted.  By anybody.  I wasn't getting turned down by the people at the top (whether film producers or agents or publishers), I couldn't even get them to read my stuff!

Even to have had someone say, "You know, I really enjoyed your book/script, but I just didn't feel it was quite good enough for us to pursue," would have felt amazing.  Instead I got nothing.  Phone calls unreturned, emails unanswered, scripts and manuscripts unread.

Luckily, I had confidence in my work, and knew that when people read my stuff, they would like if not love my stuff, and I guarantee you said stuff hasn't gotten that much better in the last few years.

Finally, I caught a few breaks, actually did get some publishers to read HOW TO FAIL, got a few offers, and chose a small indie publisher.  I didn't self-publish, but I could have.  I was only "vetted" by 2 or 3 more people than any self-published author.**

Now that HOW TO FAIL has been a success--a major success I would say considering the handicap of indie publishing and its oftentimes inability to get shelf space and cheap attention--traditional publishing is finally willing to vet my stuff.  And, they like it.  Again, though, it's no better nor worse than it was when they refused to read it just a half-decade ago.  Sometimes, it's the exact same stuff.

Even still, most of these people in traditional publishing are too damn slow, or too damn busy, to give me the time of day.  Or, the time of the day at the speed of life I so desire.  I had one woman at a Big Six publisher contact me on the heels of the HOW TO FAIL tour, asking if I'd be interested in having my next book potentially be with her company.  Sure, I was willing to talk.  Two months later, we still haven't talked.  I don't have time for that shit, and neither should you.

Don't let overly busy--or lazy--men and women be the arbiters of your success.  Don't sit around hoping and praying that someone will vet you and then choose you to be published.  Believe me, it's not an accomplishment.  Writing a good book, and selling copies, is an accomplishment (so is getting people to like your book), but just having a publisher say:  "Yes, we will publish that!" is not an accomplishment.  It's a phony validation at worst, and, at best, it's just a step.  A step you now have the power to cut out of your life.

So, if you're not pleased that traditional publishing is ignoring you.  If you're not pleased that traditional publishing won't even give you the time of day to reject you.  If you're tired of sitting around in limbo for months, or years:  self-publish.  Don't continue being the girl that met the guy at the bar, really "hit it off," gave him her number, and now has sat by the phone for the last week awaiting his call.

I was so exhausted with the "real" publishing of HOW TO FAIL, I wasn't in the mood to go through it again with THE CHEAT SHEET.  So I self-published.  Cost me hardly any time and barely any money.  People love it.  And no one gives a damn who published it.

Read HOW TO FAIL to see what my published work is like.

Read THE CHEAT SHEET to see what my self-published work is like.

*And, I won't even discuss the point that quite a few "vetted" books suck hardcore.  Nor will I be fair and discuss the people in the traditional world that "get it," though there are plenty.

**In fact, if you throw in all the friends and family and writing buddies and creative types that all of us writers let read our stuff before it gets sent out into the world, then you could actually say that most all writers--published or self-published--have been equally vetted.

27Mar/110

“I’ve Never Been Happier” – Deleted Scene #6

This deleted scene was originally in Chapter 12 "How to Have a Negative Net and Self-Worth" in "How to Fail."  The scene would have begun at the bottom on page 313 or so of the paperback edition.  This is unedited and unadulterated from the day it was nixed from the book.

What went wrong in my life?  I surely wasn't in as bad of shape as the people around me, but I'd surely begun life with a head start over them.  Wealthier, healthier, more provided for, better education, opportunities, everything.

Nothing went wrong with them.  They just did what was expected of them.  Failure.

But something did go wrong with me.  I wasn't supposed to fail.  I wasn't supposed to necessarily wildly succeed but I wasn't supposed to fail.  What went wrong?

Is it that I didn't take the "normal" way to do things?  Should I have just been satisfied to live a normal life?  Actually attend those career fairs at school.  Become a businessman.  If I wanted to write, do that on weekends, lunch break, after work.  Instead of hitting happy hour, watching reality shows.

Meet a nice girl, not try to fuck anything that moves.

Always be making connections, updating my Rolodex, acquiring lifelong associates.

Not burning bridges.

Not drinking too much, most all the bad decisions of your life have been made drunk.  I've made plenty brilliant ones drunk too I devil advocated.

Be honest, with others and with yourself.

What else went wrong?

It's my fucking mental makeup.  I'm lazy, I don't like to do things.  I don't like to do, I don't like to suck it up, I don't like to suck up, I have a defeatist attitude.  I think the world is pretty damn stupid and unquestionably worthy of my scorn.

I'm arrogant, I think I'm great, I think I'm special.

Fame and fortune should just be handed to me.  Can't you see I'm a genius?

That a confederacy of dunces is against me?!

Would I have been happier if I'd just taken the normal route?

Let's see, I'd have gone straight from college graduation in May 2001 to working for, not just any man, but THE man, in June.  Entry level position.  I'm smart, a fast learner, and in this case I'd be a hardworker and a buttkisser so I'd move up the corporate ladder.  Not overly quickly or nothing, but at a slightly faster than "correct" pace.

I wouldn't have scorn for my coworkers and I'd actually be friends with them.  Go to happy hours with them, lunches, befriend the fat secretary and join her at happy hour since she always asks, play on the company coed softball team and not even try to break up double-plays with a hard slide into the shortstop.  At the office Christmas party I'd meet a great girl who works in HR.

"How have I never seen you around the office before?"

"Oh, I work in the midtown branch."

"Then you must know, Doug!"

"Yeah, I know Doug!"

"Great guy that Doug!"

And I'd actually be sober enough to remember this all because, despite the open bar of topshelf booze, I'd exercise good judgment and have a judicious two or three glasses of egg nog, heavy on the nog, light on the grog.  One an hour, offset by plenty of glasses of water and finger foods (which I eat with silverware) to offset the intoxicating effects.

We'd begin dating, of course, first OKing things with HR just because we're the kinds of people that do thing by the book.  Always by the book.  We own several copies of the book in both hardcover and soft, even a limited edition coffee table one with stunning photographs, and we often refer to it.

On our first official date we'd go to a nice but trite French restaurant near Union Square.  Afterward, we'd see a trite movie at the nearby mega-theatre.  After that, we wouldn't want to call it an evening just yet even though it would be getting late (11:05!) so we'd stroll around the park, taking lap after lap, as we discussed our hopes, dreams, fears, plans for the future, and thoughts on "weirder" ethnic foods.  They will be copacetic.  We will not realize that they are so ambiguous and non-risky that of course they will jibe.  Kinda like how horoscopes literally describe everyone.

The night will end with a ten second kiss.  No tongue.

Date 2 would end with a tongue kiss.

Date 3 would end with me being invited upstairs for some heavy petting of her and some mild petting of her cat Mr. Pretty.

Date 4 would be the first date we sleep together but not "sleep" together.

Date 5 would be the first time we see each other fully naked in dim lighting.  I am  more conservative than John Quincy Adam and like that she clearly does not have her pubic region professionally sheared.  That would make me uncomfortable.  The thought that some illegal immigrant handles her lady parts on a monthly basis.

Date 6 would be the first date I come.  Via her hand.  Nothing like being twenty-four and getting a handy.

Date 7 would be the first date I come via her mouth.  She sprints to her bathroom to spit it out.  I am not offended like most men would be that think a woman should love their spunk.  I wouldn't want that in my mouth either.

Date 8 she asks what date we're on.  "You don't know?" I say, "I thought girls obsessively track that kinda stuff?"  "Oh I know.  I was just testing you."  "8!" we both say at the same time before making a lame joke about jinxes and owing each other a Coke even though I prefer Diet Coke and she likes seltzer.

Date 9 she says, "Screw my ten dates rules" and we finally screw.

We are officially in love.  We change over our Facebook statuses.  We get a lot of congratulatory wall posts from friends and family.

Meanwhile, we're both flourishing in our jobs.  She gets promoted to Assistant _______, I get contacted by a headhunter who gets me hired as a Vice-______ with a pay bump of $__,000 per.

After two months of dating we say, "I love you," like that's a big thing, like I'm Chandler Bing.  We meet each other's parents.  I'm not even annoyed by her father who thinks he's a badass.

After six months we're spending every night together.  After eight we decide to move in together and begin syncing our expiring leases up.

We quit seeing any of our friends that aren't couples.  We go to nice restaurants that are well reviewed.  We drink wine that is discussed in "Wine Spectator."  We wear sweaters.  We talk about politics.  We discuss marriage.

I use the calculator function on my phone to see how much two month's salary is for me because I'm highly influenced by DeBeer's.  A part of me wonders if their corporate honchos ever went:  "Did you see how easy it was to get them to buy this 'two months' BS?!  We coulda pressed for three!!!!"  Thank God they only went with two, though, as that comes to nearly $18,000 before taxes.  For the first time I realize I'm making a lot of money.  By God, am I rich?

I take a friend in the know to the diamond district and I buy a flawless $17,850 after taxes "G" coloring marquis cut 2.5 caret ring from some yarmulked-clad, sidelocked old man.  I keep it hidden in my sock drawer next to the condoms I've quit using ever since she went on the pill.  It has made her fatter, more acne-riddled, and crazily hormonal, but I don't care because I'm a sensitive guy and I love her.

We plan our two-year anniversary vacation to the Bahamas.  One week before we leave, I ask her father out to brunch.  He razzes me that brunch is "gay" and Manhattan has made me soft.

Even though this is American in the 21st century and not India in the 17th, even though I will most likely not get a dowry, even though I find it an odd custom that we act as if fathers own their daughter's vaginas, I ask for his permission to marry her.
He grants it.  He also picks up our chicken salad triple-deckers and Heinekens.  Perhaps a small part of my dowry?

On Paradise Island, during an "authentic" Bahaman luau, we sneak off and I put my sunburned knee in the sand.  She accepts.  I spend the next six hours smoking fat Auerbachian cigars and drinking minibar Scotch on our hotel room's balcony while my now-fiancee makes countless tears-of-joy phone calls to literally every single person she knows, all the while admiring her ring.  I try to calculate how much all this international calling from the hotel landline will cost us.  Probably more than that $19.99 PPV porn "Firehose Facials" she wouldn't let me order the previous night while I was trying to spice up our dwindling sex life.

Back in America, my life becomes dedicated to yes-ing or no-ing countless invitation samples, flower displays, cake makers, reception halls, etc.  You can really spend a lot of money on a lot of completely pointless stuff when you're getting married.  I think this but don't say this.

Now, she decides my career path isn't quite good enough for her future husband.  She forces me to agree to go to get my MBA at night.  That sounds like a lot of unnecessary work but I agree.

On our three year anniversary we marry.

We are pulling in a combined income of $350,000 per.

We move to the suburbs.  Opt for Westchester over CT, Jersey, or Long Island.

We own cars for the first time since our senior year of college.

We are now commuters.  We wake up at 5 AM to drive to a parking lot and then take the Metro North south.  We leave Grand Central together in the evenings on the 6:17 except on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I have B school.

We pay lots of money for an organic catering company to drop off a week's worth of ready-to-eat, just-needs-to-be-heated-up meals on Mondays.  I find them rather bland and can't believe how much they cost.  But what choice do we have?  Neither of us has time to cook and all the "quaint" local restaurants (all owned by Jews no matter the cuisine) are closed by 8.

On weekends we travel to other suburbs to visit other friends living the same life we are.  These people weren't either of our friends when we were cool, single, and living in Manhattan, but now they are our besties, simply due to the fact that they too are married, have a big mortgage, and a backyard that needs to be mowed.  The same Mexican crew mows all our lawns and does a bang up job on the edging.

I begin going bald.  Getting a beer belly despite the fact I rarely get to drink beer any more.  What kind of cosmic practical joke is that?  I rarely exercise.

The only real fun I ever have is on the three weeks a year we go on vacation.  Sometimes to Europe, sometimes The Tropics, occassionally back to the Bahamas where our current life started.  These vacations bleed our bank account and force me to pose for hundreds of similar pictures.  But it's still better than the other forty-nine weeks of my year.

We hang with our collective parents for every and I mean every holiday.  Christmas, Arbor Day, President's Day, Dr. Seuss's birthday...it doesn't matter.  If we get a Friday or a Monday off from work we make a quick jaunt to visit one set of parents, always on an alternating basis.  I've never seen my parents so much.  But this is what I'm told you're supposed to do.

Upon visiting our relatives and in-laws, we are constantly hectored with the same question:

"Are you guys trying?"

As in "trying" to have kids.

Which in effect means we are being asked by our parents if we're fucking each other a lot sans condom.  Rawdogging it as the rappers say.  Barebacking it as the gays say.

And we actually are.  We've hit a dead end in life and kids are the key to opening up the road.  At least I'm finally getting laid again, though we aren't allowed to fuck in positions like doggy-style or reverse cowgirl because my wife says she doesn't want to conceive in a "gross" way.  "The kid will be guaranteed to be born a pervert!" she thinks.

On nights I know we're going to "try," I secretly keep my hot laptop on my testicles for a few hours straight, hoping to sabotage our efforts by killing my sperm, allowing me to get a ton of sex for a little longer.

Alas, it doesn't matter because somewhere between try #9 and #15 I impregnate her.  I suspect she has secretly been on fertility drugs.

She balloons fast.  Everywhere we go people give us kudos like we're the first people ever to create life.  Like we're gods!  We begin thinking that same thought ourselves, constantly bragging, flooding our friends' inboxes with the most minute updates ("We just painted our office baby blue in anticipation," "We just bought the most darling crib," "We just sold off all of our firearms," etc), photos, and ultrasound results (it's twins!).

We read baby name books because apparently three decades of living on planet earth just isn't enough research to give us any ideas ourselves on the topic.

Baby Dylan and Grace are born healthily, somewhere between five and seventeen pounds if I'm eyeballing things.  My wife will never work again until she takes a volunteer job at age fifty-two.  She will also never be thin again.  Now I'm the sole breadwinner.  Luckily, going to business school worked and I am earning $250,000 a year with performance bonuses that can go anywhere from $25K to a whole $200K more per year.  Lump sum.  I dream of a flat tax, wish I could go back in time and vote for Steve Forbes.

My wife buys the babies the most expensive and best of anything, even though all of it is only useable for maybe two months due to the rapidity of a youth's growth.

She spends all day at places like the playground, the park, and Kiddie Gym with other moms, pushing their state-of-the-art strollers around and being yentas.  Her IQ drops rapidly as the only workout her brain gets is in calculating for how many minutes long the twins have sucked her teets dry.

I'm now working sixty hours a week.  We have a third kid.  Another boy this time.  We consider naming him Ringo but settle on Paul.  Better name for a future businessman.

We think about moving even farther out into the suburbs, to a bigger house, near better schools.  We decide private is better than public because it costs more.  We make most of our decisions based on that standard.

Later that year I return home from a Saturday golf outing with a neighbor I don't much like to find my backyard set up with tiki torches, decorations, a full spread of food, and good wine.  And my friends are there.  Friends I haven't seen since...well, since my wedding come to think of it.  I can't believe they traveled from the city all the way to the suburbs.  They all look so much younger than me.

My wife has arranged it all.  A surprise birthday party.

I have just turned thirty.

I look at my friends, the same age as me, but single.  They probably get laid a lot.  The probably still get to stay out til 5 AM, do a lot of drugs and drink.  Sleep in late on the weekends.  Eat at great restaurants.  They look so happy and successful.  I compare their lives to mine.

An old chum rubs my bald head, another pats my fat belly.  "So how ya' been?"

I consider things.  I try to smile.

"I've never been happier..."

*

I actually really liked that passage, but, as Faulkner said, sometimes you have to kill your "darlings" and this section needed to be nixed from the book.  Oh well, at least I got to share it here.  It kind of works as a short story in and of itself.

Check out these other Director's Commentary and Deleted Scenes:

#1 -- "FUCK YOUS" (dedication page)
#2 -- "QUOTING BIGGIE SMALLS" (including famous quotes)
#3 -- "BLURBS" (cover blurbs)
#4 -- "CHAPTER ONE" (genesis of HTF idea)
#5 -- "THE FAILURE INTERVENTION" (deleted scene)

Also, if you’ve read "How to Fail" and haven’t yet left an Amazon review, please take 30 seconds to do so here and keep spreading the good word!

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25Mar/110

How to Have a Highly Successful Blog You Hate

Back in the day, every so often I'd get bored with my real (and unsuccessful) writing career and think:

It's time to create one of those high concept blogs that quickly goes viral, gets tons of ads and a book deal, makes me rich, and finally allows me to live the good life.

Here were two notable attempts.

Is Anyone at Cosmo Getting Laid?

December 2005-March 2006

Why I Started it: I'd always see Cosmopolitan magazines (and women's magazines of the ilk) sitting around my sister's place and think, "Jesus, do these people know anything about sex?"

How it Succeeded: A lot of people apparently liked to see these dumbass magazines and their dumbass advice getting ripped on and, very quickly, IAACGL was featured everywhere:  Gawker, Nerve, even MSNBC.  I was getting tens of thousands of readers per day, sometimes even hundreds of thousands.  I was arrogant (and stupid) though so I didn't realize that was pretty good.  I was also getting solicited for tons of dates.  Writing anonymously--I'm not so sure why I cared about my anonymity back then, I suppose I just thought it was what bloggers were "supposed to" do--I'd have assumed most people would think a lady or homosexual was the one penning a Cosmo snark blog, but, no, everyone knew it was a heterosexual man.  I went on a few of these dates, one with a woman who actually wrote the sex column for Cosmo, but nothing ever materialized.

Why I Hated it: Back then, in the early days of blogging, you had to know basic HTML to do anything online so every time I wanted to post something with any formatting or images, I had to have my coding-knowledgeable sister do it for me.  That got annoying.  Almost as annoying as scouring women's magazines every night for material.

How I Know I Was Onto Something: Even to this day, I still get comments on half-decade old posts and emails to the website.  And, I still think it's a pretty good idea for a snark site, an idea that no one is still doing successfully (unless I'm unaware, which I'd probably am because snarking on women's mags really does not interest me).

NYC Tourists

November 2008-March 2009

Why I Started it: Living and working in midtown New York, passing through Times Square and Rock Center every single day, I got so goddamn sick of bumbling crowds of tourists.  One such day, when I got home, I registered a blog on WordPress, and quickly wrote:  "Give me your tired, your poor, your disgustingly fat retarded sloths that get in my fucking way every time I try to negotiate midtown…"

How it Succeeded: It was featured in even more places than the Cosmo blog.  In all of the NYC local blogs but most notably, in a feature on Gothamist where they absolutely hammered me for being so mean-spirited and not respecting the New York "melting pot."  I may have been hammered, but any press is good press when you're ripping on tourists because countless fellow New Yorkers agreed with me and started emailing me and commenting on my blog.  I was amazingly so busy from all the press, I did nothing for several days but work on NYC Tourists.

Why I Hated it: Gothamist was actually...kinda right.  I started feeling bad about mocking these kindly, defenseless slobs from middle America.  And I really fucking hated now walking around at all times with my camera shutter ready to take absurd pictures.  I wanted to just live.  I also didn't want to do the work it took to keep producing content.  I still liked the idea of the blog, in theory, and it was certainly one I'd have liked to read every day, I just didn't want to be the one creating it.  I wanted the site to quickly grow into a site (or sites, one unrelated site sprung up in DC based on my tourist-hating inspiration) solely run by contributors, walking around taking their own pictures and uploading them with their own captions while I sat back cashing the checks.

How I Know I Was Onto Something: Within months of me folding up shop, other snarky photo websites such as People of Wal-Mart and Look at This Fucking Hipster sprung up, getting tons of readers and contributors, book deals and earnings.  I was clearly *that* close.

Now, I like my beer blog and certainly this personal blog a ton more than these previous attempts.  But, they also get a ton less readers, comments, and everything else.  Such is life I suppose.  Maybe this piece will get reblogged and retweeted and I'll soon hate this blog too.

23Mar/114

The Macon Whoopee and an Information Obsession

I always told myself I wasn't goofing around.  But a part of me thought I was just kidding myself.

I always told myself I wasn't just ignoring real work in favor of mindlessness.  But I wasn't sure.

I always told myself there was a point to all this information gathering.  But was there?

I've always been obsessed with information.  Back when I was a kid there was no internet, so I had to serve my addiction by multi-tasking.  Reading books while watching TV while scanning newspapers and magazines while devouring movies.  The introduction of the internet was like switching to freebase.

You say, we are all obsessed with information.  Yes, we all are obsessed with the truly important things:  knowing how the U.S. economy is doing and what's happening in Libya and who is going to win the Eastern Conference and who Jennifer Aniston is currently fucking.  But, I've also always been obsessed with the minor minor curios of the world.

Who harbored John Wilkes Booth while he was on the lam?  Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Who witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius?  Pliny the Younger.

What's the name of the minor league hockey team in Macon, Georgia?  Why the Macon Whoopee of course.

I like knowing this stuff.  I like stuffing my brain.  I like reading random Wikipedia entries for fun.  I like being the guy that can dominate Trivial Pursuit, impress his friends when "Jeopardy!" comes on, and be a show-off at parties.  I like when someone shouts:  "Why do you know that?!"

I sometimes did wonder why I knew that.  Why I needed to know that.  Was I just a jack of all worthlessness?  My manager Craig pointed out otherwise.

We were in Atlantic City on the book tour at a great 24/7 bar called The Irish Pub.  There we met a great group of young Air Force airmen about to ship off to Pakistan.  We were drinking beers and shooting the shit, when I questioned a shy kid with a thick drawl as to his hometown.

"Ah, you've prolly never heard where I'm from."

"Try me."

"It's a small town in Georgia that ain't got nothing going on:  Macon."

"Macon?  Sure I've heard of Macon.  The Macon Whoopee still play there?"

You should have seen his eyes light up and the smile that appeared across his face.  He had an immediate connection with me.  After staring at the ground for our entire conversation he finally looked me in the eye.  I was now his friend.  We went and got some beers.  He was soon a book purchaser.  And Craig, and the other people around us, still had no fucking idea what the Macon Whoopee is.  Or was.

Later, on the car ride to our next tour stop, as I explained to Craig what had happened, how I had referenced an obscure sports team that only a local would know about (or should know about!), Craig explained to me who I was:

A guy who had been spending his entire life learning stuff in order to make the world smaller.  To have something to talk about.  To make instant connections.  To turn strangers into friends.  And, now we were learning, strangers into book buyers.  It was actually an incredibly useful skill I had been wasting my time acquiring.

And my life flashed before me.  All the people I'd ingratiated myself to through my information obsession.

How knowing strange baseball statistics had helped me get friends.

How knowing about education politics had helped me get a girlfriend.

How knowing oddball movies had led to Craig wanting to be my manager.

How knowing obscure Scotches had charmed my publisher.

And on and on and on.

So, perhaps I don't need to know about the Macon Whoopee, but I'm glad I do.

Follow me on Twitter and LIKE me on Facebook to hear more about my information obsession.

And read HOW TO FAIL to see everything I've ever learned in 32 years crammed into a novel.

22Mar/110

How to Write Books That Piss Off Your Friends

If you write a novel, your friends will assume it's about them.  It doesn't matter if you call it fiction, it doesn't matter what genre it is, if you write a novel your friends will assume it's about them.

You've always lamented that you wish you had a more literary group of friends?  That you knew people that read more?  Well, guess what, now you have a group of friends secretly studying your book like it's the ancient Talmud and they're at a rabbinical college.

Every friend will find a character they're certain they are, countless characters they're certain other people are.  But, here's the thing:  most people ARE very similar.  There's not that many different way to be a thirtysomething white man in New York City.  Don't get me started with character names.

I went to college with a guy that was a laughably terrible screenwriter.*  He wrote horrendous sci-fi space operas.  But, I still admired the guy because he was an absolute genius at naming things.  Futuristic space weaponry, undiscovered galaxies, alien species--he could always come up with a name that made you go:  "Yeah, that sounds about right."  Me?  I'm shit with naming things, especially characters.

It's like, the second I introduce a new character while I'm writing, my mind goes blank and the only human names I can think of in the entire universe are those of my dozen closest friends.   Now these characters have no relation to J____ or T____ or E____ aside from the name.  Still, if I kept those names in the book, people would assume I'm flat out telegraphing who I'm writing about.

During early drafts, I use friends' names as placeholders but I sometimes forget to change them.  During the final edit of HOW TO FAIL, I tried to eliminate as many incidental friend names as possible but I still missed a few.  In fact, an ex-girlfriend I hadn't talked to in years emailed to congratulate me upon hearing about the book being released.  It was only then that I realized a less than desirable character in the book had her exact name.  I apologized, told her that it was a completely accidental coincidence, but I doubt she believed me.  She probably read the book thinking the whole time, "Am I like that?  I'm not like that!  Oh, fuck him!  Fuck him!"

And my other friends presumably have other characters they assume are "them."  But they aren't.  I swear.  The human experience is just so similar that if I've written a good book, you'll see yourself in a character.  Probably several.  In the character's highs and lows, successes and failures, behavior and experiences.  So, in a certain regard, it's a compliment.  If I'm writing about a doctor, I have to draw from all the doctors I've ever dealt with in my life.  And, if I'm writing about a dude that lives in New York City, I have to draw from all the dudes I've ever dealt with in New York City.  Which includes most of my friends.

Do sci-fi authors have the same issues?  I'd love to ask my old classmate but, despite his naming prowess, he never made it in the business.  Still, I'm guessing no matter the genre one writes, the author's friends are always pissed off that they were written about.  But, for the most part, they weren't.

In HOW TO FAIL, there is actually one character that is 100% based on someone.  Some guy I truly hate.  Still, I never wanted him to read the book, never thought he'd read the book.  He did though and...loved it.  Shook my hand the other day and everything, told me I should really be proud of it.  I guess he didn't recognize the character that was him.  And, why should he?  Except for neurotics, no one likes to think of themselves as anything less than great, so, a character that is far from great--like the character based on him--surely wouldn't even appear on this man's radar as being him.

He thinks he's great.  The character is not great.  So, obviously, how could it be him, he thinks.  Or, rather, doesn't think.  It doesn't even register.

The real secret, though, is that every character I write is based on someone I know.  Me.  Which kinda makes me hate myself.

Do any other authors have this problem?  Any funny stories to share?

*Oh great, now he's gonna wonder if I'm talking about him.

15Mar/110

How to Fail at Pitching Hollywood Executives

"I never realized that there were so many movie magazines or magazines interested in the movies.  It was a sickness.  This great interest in a medium that relentlessly and consistently failed, time after time after time, to produce anything at all.  People became so used to seeing shit on film that they no longer realized it was shit."

--Charles Bukowski, HOLLYWOOD

One reason I wrote HOW TO FAIL was because I was sick of Hollywood.  Sick of unproductive meetings, sick of dealing with non-creatives, sick of getting "notes" (the Hollywood term for "how to make your shit more trite"), and, quite frankly, sick of failing within their system.

I even wrote a whole footchapter spoofing this, "How to Fail to Write Commercial Material," and set a Part II scene at a pitch meeting.  Now, with the success of HOW TO FAIL, Hollywood is interested in a movie adaptation and I'm back taking annoying Hollywood pitch meetings, getting annoying Hollywood notes.

"The book could have done a better job of really selling Stu's metamorphosis."

That's a line from an e-mail I received yesterday from a noted Hollywood muckety-muck who had expressed interest in a potential adaptation.

What he's really saying is the book needs a more standard three-act structure.  Almost all movies are structured in three acts and there's nothing necessarily good nor bad about that.  It's just how it is.  It works.  But, it also limits creativity.  It's why movies so rarely surprise.  We're all so innately savvy with film structure that we know what will happen at point A, point B, and so on.  We know when the hero is going to "meet cute," when he's going to lose his job, get his wife back, almost die, regain the title.  And, let's not touch on his use of the word "selling."   Hollywood claims to hate writing that is too over-the-top, or, in Hollywood parlance "on the nose," but, they'd still love at least a bit of a scene where Stu flat out says, "You know, I thought I knew what I wanted in life, but now I've learned...blah blah blah" as Randy Newman music swells behind him.

"It would probably be a stronger piece if Stu actually spent part of the story achieving success."

Ah, yes!  Perfect!  I should have had some Act 2 scenes where Stu gets hired to be the CEO of a company, has a great corner office, wears perfectly tailored suits, buddy buddies up with some arrogant rich white stiffs, fucks his hot but airheaded secretary, and...realizes he truly isn't happy.  That's exactly how an Adam Sandler comedy would look.  Then he'd rip off his jacket and tie, take a hockey stick and sweep the papers off his desk, go insult the stuffy president of the company, and all the kids in the theater would look up from texting for a second to go, "Oh shit, yo" and applaud.

"You need to raise the stakes for Stu's failures in order to sustain a feature-length film."

What he's asking for is Mike Tyson and a tiger.  You remember that terrible movie "The Hangover," right?  A movie less realistic (and certainly three-dimensional) than fucking "Avatar"?  Hollywood doesn't like to ground comedies in any sort of empathic reality, Hollywood likes to "raise the stakes."

I have a story where the main character wakes up in a pile of garbage with some prodigious morning wood after having passed out there drunk the night before, where he ends up living on the couch of his two wealthy lesbian friends, where he wonders how to acquire the STD that's "right for him," a character who frequently secretly masturbates in his office bathroom, who briefly dates an alcoholic nymphomaniacal school teacher who sleeps on a Murphy bed...and all Hollywood is thinking is:

"Uh...could you maybe give him a pet zebra or something?  Or maybe a wicked case of flatulence during an important meeting?  Or perhaps have him lose a tooth for the length of the movie so every time he speaks a funny whistle comes out of his mouth?"

Could you just raise the fucking stakes?!

"It's hard to experience a satisfying catharsis regarding Stu's transformation."

Considering I get nice e-mails literally every single day from readers experiencing their own catharsis after reading HOW TO FAIL, it's funny a guy who lives in the city that fueled Charlie Sheen and invented reality TV couldn't reach this same catharsis.  I wrote a book meant above all else to be funny, which, oddly enough, this guy agrees it is--"You have a great comedic voice and I loved the parody of self-help..."--he just doesn't like, or, rather, probably thinks he shouldn't like the book's potential as a movie because it isn't paint-by-numbers like all the other movies he makes.  Oh well.  I'll wear that as a badge of honor.

As for me, I just got some major catharsis writing this and, for that, I'm thankful for Hollywood's continued buffoonery and lack of risk-taking.  Now, excuse me while I go play with the farting zebra that lives in my living room, anxiously awaiting more Hollywood people to call this afternoon.

*A free Kindle edition of HOW TO FAIL or THE CHEAT SHEET to whatever uber-movie geek can name the movie in the above still.

14Mar/110

The Failure Intervention – Deleted Scene #5

This deleted scene was originally the ending to Chapter 7 and Part 1 of "How to Fail."  You could essentially imagine this scene beginning on page 183 or so of the paperback edition.  This is unedited and unadulterated from the day it was nixed from the book.

Wait just a darn second!  What was a smoking hot girl doing in the Wee?  This never occurred.

I approached her and told her my analogy about cats.  I jokingly wondered if she could help me fail more in my life.  Rob me of even more of my possessions and dignity.  She must have thought I was funny or cute, because within less than an hour she was asking me if I wanted to get out of there.

I winked, gave the thumbs up, and A-OK hand signals to Willy and Tristan as she escorted me from the bar.  Was this the key to succeeding in life?  Just assume you're going to fail and go for it?  Perhaps.

Maybe my life was turning around.  I was starving, for vagina and a meal.  I hadn't eaten all day.  You forget to do things like that sometimes when you're a failure.

"It's alright, I can make you some mac and cheese at my place."

"My favorite!"

"It's everyone's favorite."

We stumbled down Tenth Avenue and hailed a cab which took us cross town to a fairly ritzy building near Grand Central Terminal.  Doorman, revolving doors, five elevator banks, the whole shebang.

We made out in the elevator while behind her back I slyly waved at the security cam in the corner, certain the sicko doorman got his rocks off by watching drunken couples going at in the lift after having returned from a night of boozing.  If he sold those tapes bootleg, I wanted to be sure I got some royalties.

We walked down her hall arm and arm, hand and hand, lip to lip.  Touching each other, grabbing each other, tickling each other.

I immediately noticed the light under Girl X's door when we got to it.  I had that immediate moment of clarity movie mafiosos seem to have that second before the realize they've been set up and are about to be whacked.  ("Just not in the face guys.")

"You have a roommate or something?"

"Uh...no..."

She unlocked the door and there, sitting on a sofa and chairs were gathered Danny & ME, Jack & Kirsten, and Keith & Erin.

A white markboard lay on an easel aside the television.

Fancy finger foods were laid out on silver platters on the coffee table.  Those gathered were drinking glasses of white wine.

I looked at Girl X.  "What the hell is going on?"

"It's an intervention for you," noted Erin.

"Then why are you guys drinking?"

ME stood and walked toward me, put her hand on my shoulder.

"Erin explained it poorly.  It’s an intervention.  But not because we think he’s an alcoholic."

Erin looked mad that ME had kinda insulted her.

"I mean, we DO think he’s an alcoholic, but that’s not the issue."

"Today at least."

"Then I guess I can have some wine too."  I grabbed a bottle and took a swig straight from it.  "I'd hate for you to have to do any extra dishes on account of lil' ol' me."

I looked at Girl X.  "Wait a second...uh...name."

"[Redacted]."

"Then who are you?"

"[Redacted]'s a friend of ours."

"You set me up, [Redacted]?! You don't really like me?"

"You pick up a girl in a matter of minutes and go to her home to have sex with her and you don't even know her name?! That's our point!"

"That's your problem."

"No, that's her problem for being willing to sleep with a drunken guy that doesn't even know her name."

[Redacted] scoffed, went to her kitchen and made herself a Bombay Saphire and diet tonic.

I was still flustered.  "OK, so why now?  Why this now?"

Danny stood,  "You called me about this last night.  You wanted an intervention, recall?"

Keith nodded.  "You called me too.  You kept saying, 'Intervene me!  Intervene me!"

Jack:  "And was someone with you?  I heard someone that sounded like Don King yelling behind you."

My eyes bulged.

"I was really drunk.  And high.  I think I had been kidnapped too." I tried to explain.

ME touched me on the shoulder.  "You called most of us last night and told us you finally wanted help becoming a success in life."

"Oh boy."

"You woke little Anna up," Kirsten glared at me.

"I'm sorry."

I noticed some platters of food.

"Mmmm...I’m famished.  What’s that?"

Erin pointed, "Let’s see, we have crab cake wedges, those are crepe suzette, and these are miniature croque monsieurs."

"Croque monsieur?"

"'Crunchy mister.'"

"I know what it means!  Jesus Christ! I guess putting out silver polished platters of Frenchy-named finger food whilst entertaining is part of being a success?"

"Indeed it is," noted Erin.

"Well I was promised some mac and cheese and some blow and jobbing.  And...I take it there’s no beer in the fridge, but, rather, a nice pinot noir or two."

Danny nodded.

"Please sit down."

I plopped in the middle of [Redacted]'s large sectional couch.  Danny, Keith, and Jack stood and walked to the marker board.  I whisped to the wives, "Can’t believe you carried a marker board all the way here.  Adds a very authentic feel."

Erin smiled and nodded at me.

"OK, we’ve outlined the things that you need to change in this year so that by the time we're celebrating your thirty-first birthday next year..."

"...you are a wild success."

I threw the crunch misters in my face, chugged some wine.

Jack:  "There’s three key points."

Keith grabbed a marker and began writing on the board as Jack announced each point.

"'Women.'  Rather, a woman.  And a relationship.  Successful adults have relationships of lengthy periods of time."

"And so did I for the previous two years.  Now I'm having fun."

"'Fun' would be you getting back into a relationship.  An even better one than your last.  With a girl that truly appreciates you."

"60 percent of marriages end in divorce."  I stared at all the couples.

"You know you just make up stats to fit your agenda," Danny snapped.

"No.  I read it on...Wikipedia."

ME:  "So if you’re going to become a success by year’s end, you need to fall in love with a girl."

Kirsten:  "And she needs to fall in love with you back.  You're not John Hinckley."

Keith:  "Right.  And then you have to have a committed, monogamous, 'I love you, honey' relationship with each other."

"Yuck.  I feel sick.  I think I'm going to throw up and I don't know whether it's because of all the booze I poured down my gullet or because of all the sappy pap you're shoving down my throat."

Jack ignored me and continued, "Second.  Your career."

"You will get a good job.  One where you wear slacks to work and have to shave every day."

"Successes shave!"

"And shower."

"And brush their teeth."

"Twice a day."

"Don't forget flossing and waterpicking."

"A career you relish waking up every morning for."

"A career with health care.  And benefits."

"And business cards!"

My six friends each proudly displayed their business cards.  I looked at Kirsten, who proudly held a French blue business card aloft.

"No offense, Kirsten hon, but why do you have a card, you're a homemaker."

"And that's a job!  You know, some studies have shown that homemakers are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per year," she was getting frazzled, "We're chefs and maids and butlers and valets and nurses and bakers and teachers and..."

"Relax Kirsten, sweetie, our friend was just trying to get your goat."

"Sorry Kirsten," I appologized, even though I thought her logic was specious.

"But back to business cards.  Yes, business cards.  Won’t it feel nice to give the new women you meet--"

Keith taps the marker board.  "See point one..."

"...your business card instead of drunkenly scrawling your e-mail address on a cocktail napkin?"

"That's my move!"

"You’ll attract a classier lot, for sure."

"And once you have an adult job, you have to work at being a success at it."

"Getting 'atta boys' and promotions and raises."

"Moving up the proverbial corporate ladder."

I clapped my hands together loudly.  "I love cliches!"

But Jack soldiered on.

"Finally.  Point three.  This is the big one..."

Keith scrawled something on the marker board.

"You can never again have your parents, family, and friends, utterly disappointed in you for your actions."

"That’ll be admittedly tough."

Erin patted my hand.

"We know."

"Well shit.  I never realized I DID disappoint y’all."

"It’s not exactly thrilling to walk down the sidewalk and see your best friend sleeping in garbage next to Toothless Teddy the bum."

"I had been mugged, I swear!"

"Or exiting a rub ‘n’ tug massage parlour."

"I thought it was a pool hall!"

"Or when you lived off illegally-collected unemployment checks for a full year.  Think that made us proud to be your friend?"

"That was a great year.  The next year when I didn't file taxes was even better though."

I paused for a second and looked at the somber faces around me.

"I’m sorry I disappoint you guys so much.  Maybe you guys should mind your own fucking business, though.  And not worry about how I live my life.  I’m having fun."

I stood and headed to the door to leave.  I spun at the door knob.

"As Lily Tomlin said, 'Sometimes I worry about being a success in such a mediocre world.'"

There's some decent stuff there, but I was wise to strike it from the record.  It was too hacky, too dark, and made Stu appear as really too big of asshole.  There's a reason deleted scenes often become deleted.

If you enjoyed this, check out these other Director's Commentary and Deleted Scenes:

#1 -- "FUCK YOUS" (dedication page)
#2 -- "QUOTING BIGGIE SMALLS" (including famous quotes)
#3 -- "BLURBS" (cover blurbs)
#4 -- "CHAPTER ONE" (genesis of HTF idea)

Also, if you’ve read "How to Fail" and haven’t yet left an Amazon review, please take 30 seconds to do so here and keep spreading the good word!

8Mar/114

The First Thing I Ever Wrote

FORT IN BRAIN

Like most writers, I was always a writer.  It's like, the second I learned to read, I wanted to write shit too (I wasn't literally writing "shit" in my writings though til much later in life).  In 1st grade I was the precocious punk writing one page illustrated stories on Big Chief tablets.  By 6th grade I was winning minor awards in contests I was the only one to enter.  By high school I was writing short screenplays for short films I never got around to filming.  I was just goofing around.

When I got to Syracuse it was like I finally had permission to write stuff that mattered.  No, that's not it.  I was finally forced to write stuff that mattered.  For a grade.  Screenwriting 101 was taught by an upstate NY oddball who had a mullet, an obsession with Native Americans, and wore those cut-off Everlast sweatshirts 1980s boxers employed.  Our sole assignment for the entire semester was to craft one feature-length screenplay.  I'd been waiting for the day I'd get to write a screenplay since I'd fallen in love with the movies in my early teens and I was sure my first one would be amazing.  I quickly learned screenwriting is much harder than I would have guessed.

When you don't have much life experience you have no choice but to think meta.  I'd never done shit in my life so I had no choice but to write a screenplay about a guy who hadn't done shit in his life either and was trying to write a screenplay about it.  (You'll notice most works by young writers have characters that just sit around all day doing nothing but dreaming about writing something great one day.)

This is how I came up with "Fort in Brain," an overly talky piece about a young man named Fort--I can't recall why that was his name--so stuck with living in his own brain and trying to figure out his own life, that he soon acquires that ability to root around in other people's brains.

When you don't know how to craft a story, especially a screenplay, you have to use hacky techniques and, boy, "Fort in Brain" was rife with them:  voice-overs and narration and dream sequences and other worthless tricks more accomplished films don't need to use.*

When you don't have good plot-lines and compelling ideas, you need to add tons of unnecessary cursing and sexuality and "Fort in Brain" was loaded with it.  But, it was the kind of unnecessary cursing and sexuality of a man that didn't know it from real life, but rather from having watched too many sitcoms and episodes of HBO's "Real Sex" quietly in his room as a kid.

Luckily, more so than writing a quality screenplay, or even getting a good grade, I found myself writing "Fort in Brain" to impress a girl, a young arts-loving lady who lived in my dorm.  She seemed to love "Fort in Brain" and, I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but my shoddy uber-sexual screenplay kind of worked as foreplay.  Once a week she'd come over to read my newest 10 pages--the weekly assignment--sitting silently on the corner of my twin bed, and then we'd hook up afterward.  (Only later, as an adult, did I realize she probably hooked up with me DESPITE my terribly-written, uber-sexual screenplay).

The crazy thing is, though "Fort in Brain" really sucked, I was kinda onto something.  Just two years later, in 1999, Charlie Kaufman's "Being John Malkovich" would rock the film world as the most original script in years.  It too was about a man who was able to root around in another man's brain (although, in this case, the eccentric, titular Oscar nominee as opposed to the boring schmoes Fort attended film school with).  That movie ended up being my favorite movie of the year, but, more importantly, really boosted my confidence as a writer.  Actually, more so, as an idea man.  I now knew I had good enough ideas for the big screen.  Good enough ideas to actually touch people!  I just wasn't sure if I had the gumption to pull off the audacity of them.  I started wondering: if I thought of ideas and then Charlie Kaufman executed them, would they be masterpieces?  Likewise, if Charlie Kaufman gave me his ideas and then I tried to write them, would they be dreck?

I realized I needed to focus more on craft.  Screenwriting is, if anything, more about craft than quality of writing.  And, you have to fuck up quite a few screenplays before you innately start knowing the three-act structure and can just focus on the creativity and quality of writing.  I reached that point after four terrible screenplays and it took me about ten before I'd really mastered it.  Of course, just like in my childhood, I never succeeded at getting any of these screenplays on the big screen so my mastering of form was just artistic masturbation.  Done quietly and in a room by myself.

So I switched to prose and quickly found I loved it a lot more than screenwriting.  I should have been doing it all along.  My learned skills in screenplay plotting surprising helped me in crafting a book and, as of today, "How to Fail" is the one and only novel I've ever written.  I didn't need to fuck up several novels to finally get a good one.  I'm assuming I can thank screenwriting for that, going all the way back to "Fort in Brain."  "How to Fail" is just as cursey and uber-sexual as "Fort in Brain," perhaps more so (I've learned a lot more about both cursing and sex in the last decade) so I suppose I haven't changed much as a writer.  It even has some meta stuff.  I'm just now better at telling the story, and have lived a real life in the intervening years which I can now draw from.  But I still write "shit" in my writings.  I'll always write shit in my writings.

*Of course, 8 of my favorite 25 films of all time have voice-over so go figure:  Annie Hall (in a way), Goodfellas, Apocalypse Now, A Clockwork Orange, Citizen Kane (kinda), Taxi Driver, Manhattan, and Magnolia (intro).

This is the first of a series I have just created.  For other writers out there, I want to know what the first thing you ever wrote was.  Post on your blog and add a link to my comments.  If you don't have a blog, just post below.

7Mar/110

Testimonials of Failing

An (abridged) email I received about "How to Fail":

I wanted to thank you for writing a quality novel. I generally hate to read fiction because most of it is crap. But I liked what you had to say and, for the most part, how you said it. I struggle with the explicit language and sexuality, even though it really isn't much worse than what is implied on regular television (save maybe the f-bombs).I really like the character of Stuart Fish. I think most who are in their late 20s/early 30s can truly resonate with him and his angst (that is a good buzzword, right?). You offer a great social commentary through this book and that is really my attraction to it.

I currently am starting a church in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania and also a dj/entertainer. I have a pretty cynical eye towards the Church and the reality is that hardly anyone in the Church world could very far into your book because of all the language and sexuality. Most of them would see your book at best as some kind of self-pitying/glorification of living a life of sin.

I really appreciate the raw humanity you offer and the pressures of what it means to dream one world while living in reality and all the tension and drama that it causes. The imaginary speech that Stu gives at Bonnie & Brandi's wedding almost brought me to tears because I have fought so much to accomplish so little and I really feel that if I accepted the status quo my life would be "better". I'll spare you the details.

Grace & Peace,

[redacted]

I publish this email, and bold the most pertinent part, because I think some people are confused about the kind of book "How to Fail" is and the kind of audience the book is meant for.  I might have been confused myself at one point.  I am no longer.

I thought I'd written a book for guys like me.  Guys in the 18 to 40 range who live a bit of an arrested development in urban American cities, drinking too much, carousing too much, dreaming far too much.  That is true, and 99% of the time those kinda guys love the book.  But, so do countless other people:

Women love it.  They call it surprisingly sweet.

"Older" people love it.  It reminds them of raunchy classics from their era like "Catcher in the Rye."

Teachers and professors love it.  They invite me to speak to their students.

Military men and women love it.  They bring me to their academies.

Even non-Americans love it.  I get e-mails from Canada, the UK, Australia, and even eastern Europe and Asia.

Pretty much everyone seems to love "How to Fail," something I never foresaw.

Why?  Because everyone fails, no matter who they are.  And, it's nice to know there are other failures out there.

So, if you've enjoyed "How to Fail," yet failed to recommend it to your mother, or your uncle who is a Rabbi, or your teetotaling conservative buddy...why don't you give it a shot?  See what happens when you recommend it.  I guarantee they'll be skeptical at first (why wouldn't they be?), but I'm also pretty sure they'll read the book and thank you by "THE END."

To my fans who love "How to Fail," do me this favor:

Recommend the book this week to someone in your life who seems completely atypical to the intended audience of "How to Fail."  Buy them a copy, gift them a Kindle edition (only $2.99!), or lend them yours--it doesn't matter--just get it in their hands.

Report back here in the next few weeks and let me know how it goes...

Filed under: "How to Fail" No Comments
6Mar/110

How to Fail to Write Commercial Material (FREE EXCERPT)

On Friday I showed screenplay pages from the "How to Fail" motion picture that never was (yet).  On Thursday I detailed How to Write a Bestselling Book.  Now here's an excerpt from "How to Fail," a footchapter called:

FOOTCHAPTER THREE: HOW TO FAIL TO WRITE COMMERCIAL MATERIAL

Don't adapt from something popular – Novels, plays, musicals, and even theme park rides are great source materials to use in crafting a commercial hit. Bad source materials? The fine print on the back of prophylactics boxes, dreams the annoying girl in the office told you she had the previous night, the “how we were established” stories on diner menus, and tracts from religious fringe groups. In fact, don't adapt your screenplay from anything. Just write it straight from your mind, loosely based on your meager life.

Curse a lot – I'd bet the top ten highest grossing movies of all time have a sum total of twelve “shits,” two “fucks,” and zero “twat-lickers” in them. I mean, would Gone With the Wind be the box office adjusted highest grossing movie of all time if Rhett had said, “Frankly you cunt, I don't give a motherfuck”?

Neglect to involve aliens or other creatures – Americans will go in droves to theaters if you include a non-human in your movie. In fact, it's harder to think of unpopular movies featuring creatures than high grossing flicks without creatures. Even Titanic had Billy Zane in it.

Make animating an impossibility – Another easy way to make a flick commercially viable is to cartoon it up. No one would have put up with the bullshit of Pinocchio if it were live-action. Geppeto and the long-nosed wooden son he built? How perverse! But turn it animated and everyone's on board. Daft kids like to look at cute anthropomorphized shit and miserable parents that no longer get to go to real films like to pretend these animated pictures are truly deep (“The humor was going right over little Anna's head!”)

Labyrinthine plot structure – Most people are dumb, barely able to follow the intricacies of a Leave it to Beaver rerun, much less a script that plays with time, flashforwards and flashbacks, dream sequences, countless characters, and tons of concurrent action. You want to be commercial? Write a three-act script using the Aristotelian drama pyramid and include a clear-cut protagonist and antagonist, a few supporting characters for comic relief (one of which is gay and bitchy or black and sassy), and plot points that hit you hard over your head, preferably with musical cues.

Ambiguity – Is that guy good? Is that dude evil? Are they in love? Answer these questions immediately, in the first act, if not first few minutes, of your commercial script. Also, tie up all loose ends by the movie's end, even if you've written something you plan to turn into a franchise. Hollywood figured out how to make sequels to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Chinatown, even Gone With the Wind. They can easily figure out how to make a sequel to your PG-rated profanity-free alien movie starring Billy Zane.

Intelligent characters – Not saying you want dumb characters per se (unless they're pure comic relief or endearingly retarded) but you can't expect to have a commercially-viable script with overly intelligent characters in it. Unless they're huge nerds and/or scientists, of course. People want to see characters on screen as mediocre of mind as them.
A. You especially can't have intelligent males in your script. The male lead should be brash, cocksure, and sexy, but never wise. That's not allowed or how else would the female lead learn him sumpin'?
B. The female lead can be somewhat wiser, but she must also be way emotional. Crying, dreaming, and bouncing around like a train wreck of a pinball. Stable women have no place in commercial material.

Unlikeable characters – In commercial movies, even the bad guys are likable in that rakish, foreign “Ahh, he's had a rough life” kinda way. And the good guys are the most glad-handing, nicely coiffed, sexy but not sexual folks everyone would want to be friends with. Actually, I'd never want to be friends with those kinds of people. I'd rather be buddies with irredeemable assholes that always have a witty insult ready and have nothing but scorn for the confederacy of dunces around them.

No morals, especially “Love conquers all” – I have no clue if those noted fables were big box office draws back in Aesop's day, but I suspect sixth century BC Greeks lined up early to hear public readings of The Fox and the Grapes (“Great date reading!” – Socrates). You know why? Because people like their entertainment to be summed up with a simple moral: “We despise what we can't have.” “Slow and steady wins the race.” “Frequent liars are never believed even when they tell the truth.” “Mean aliens suck, dude.” “Friendly aliens are cool, bro.” And, of course, “Love conquers all.” But love doesn't conquer all. It doesn't conquer anything but boredom and horniness. Dictators with lots of brainwashed followers and state-of-the-art weaponry conquer all.

Perverse sexuality – Just like love conquers all in commercial product, beautiful displays of making love conquer the screen in this same product. Dim red-filtered lighting, romantic mood music, the use of luxurious California King size beds, and face-to-face not-sweaty-but-glistening missionary intercourse. Maybe, some still-bra'ed women-on-top with the naughty region covered by silk sheets if the scene is particularly steamy. Anything else is too perverse and will hurt the movie's earning potential by about 0.5% per thrust. Doggy style is for fucking hookers. Reverse cowgirl for porn. Blowjobs for low-budget indies. Cunnilingus can be hinted at but cut out of the scene by the time the man has kissed down the woman's body to her naval. That's the threshold between good box office and throwing the script on the slush pile. And, for the love of God, if you want to make a commercial product, no anal.

Big budget yet high brow – Big budget movies are great in theory. You know, the whole “gotta spend money to make money” corollary? CGIed battles between monster and alien and Billy Zane armies are gonna cost a ton but the public craves these mindless action scenes that eat up huge chunks of running time without advancing plot in any way. Audiences love explosions and slaughterings and telling their friends, “I read in Entertainment Weekly that final car chase cost twenty-five million dollars to shoot!” So it's fine to write those scenes into a movie, but don't you dare write a costly non-action, high-brow, highly-talkative scene into your script. You know, one where perhaps two cultured east coast liberal homosexuals debate and then demonstrate atom smashing techniques at the Fermilab.

If you somehow get a big meeting with some fancy Hollywood execs to discuss the potential of your non-commercial script, be sure to act aloof. When their assistant offers you a beverage, request the best Scotch in the building. Who cares if it's eleven in the morning on a Tuesday? When they say stuff to you like: “It's a great concept, but can we make it more...broad?”

Don't say: “Why yes, of course, anything to help us get this picture made!”
Say things like: “Not a fucking chance you turn my masterpiece into some hacky mall movie bullshit.”

THEM: “We're not saying you have to make the gay character straight but can we make him into one of those woo-wooing lispy harmless homosexuals?”
YOU: “Nope, he's got to be more perverse than Boise, Idaho's Gay Pride Parade and queerer than John Waters on LSD.”

THEM: “Does that scene really need—let's see, by our count—two-hundred-and-fifty F-bombs in it?”
YOU: “Have you been inside a synagogue lately?! That's how they talk, man.”

THEM: “Does the male lead have to be so brazen when he notes, and I'll read straight from your script: 'I'd rather jerk off than fuck you with a balloon on the end of my stinky cock?'”
YOU: “What exactly is your problem with realism? You don't get out of the house a lot, do you?”

THEM: “Finally, what about the title? We're not sure people will pay $12.50 to see Fucking on the Rag.”
YOU: “Actually, I would consider changing the title, giving it a lil' more commercial appeal. What about Menses Mayhem?”

All that will guarantee your script never gets optioned and certainly never gets made and most definitely keeps you bartending well into your thirties.

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If you enjoyed that, why not grab "How to Fail"?  Now only $2.99 on Kindle!

Also this week, I discussed:

Why Did You Write a Book?
Poking the Box and Failing Promiscuously
The "How to Fail" Enhanced Ebook That Never Was

I also had a fun interview with The Lost Ogle and wrote a guest post for Three Guys One Book about how I fell in love with reading.

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