A Writer’s Manual: How Nintendo’s Booklets Instructed the Writer Inside

When I was a novice sapling of a writer back in the late eighties to mid-nineties, I drew a lot of inspiration from video games. Not from video games per se, as I would play my NES and Super NES consoles as a means of relaxing after a particularly rough day at the blackboard or connecting with my Dad over about 25 or 30 phases of The Original Mario Bros.. No, it was the instruction manuals. I would read these little booklets that came with the game paks cover to cover, marveling at the colorful imagery of The Legend of Zelda or Knights of the Round, a little-known side scrolling Arthurian adventure game for the Super NES from back in 1994. More than the imagery, I was taken by the background stories, character descriptions, and weaponry that was frequently featured in these little rectangular booklets, as it not only opened up the word of their respective games to my young mind, but also opened my mind itself to the possibility of telling stories like these one day.

This is the only instruction manual I still own today.

This is the only instruction manual I still own today.

With that, and thanks to the awesome web resource gamesdatabase.org, here are the five most influential Nintendo instruction manuals that helped me develop as a writer.

ActRaiser (SNES)
The first time I wrote about ActRaiser was as this post about how playing the game taught me about how to be humble and help others. In terms of the actual manual, and aside from the many gorgeously painted illustrations revealing the backstory, the ActRaiser manual came complete with an area map, and to this day I love maps of mystical lands and worlds that don’t exist, but could exist.


The ActRaiser instruction manual, along with a couple of the others listed below, was a major influence in my writing a five-act play when I was fifteen called Ordeal of Love, which was part one of a trilogy of plays under the auspices of the “Jonathan Gracco Saga,” which by today’s standards would be a G-rated version of Game of Thrones, which would basically just be Dragon’s Lair. Think Shakespeare’s Henry VI, parts I – III, but more enjoyable despite also being written in iambic pentameter –– yes, I had a lot of time on my hands back then!

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)
From the first moment I saw the image of Count Dracula’s fangs soaking in a glass of water like my Dad used to soak his false teeth in a glass of water he kept in the fridge (TMI?), I was hooked! But this game fascinated me from the start because it was the first multi-player action/adventure side-scroller I’d every encountered, and I loved how the instruction manual dives briefly into each of their backstories. The most interesting one of them was that of Alucard, Dracula’s son, who would go on to become the main playable character in 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.


Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and the rest of the cast of characters in the third installment of Konami’s hit vampire hunting action/adventure game would inspire me to write a series of Castlevania fan fictions (I wrote about this once before, so you can read it here), which got me started as a writer.

Final Fantasy II (SNES)
In a nutshell, what drew me to read this manual numerous times was the detail in the story, up until the characters blast off to the moon (whoops! spoiler alert!) I also enjoyed the fact that much of the “illustrations” were simply the 16-bit imagery from the SNES game itself. It was quite different from all of the other instruction manuals I had paged through at the time, except for the Super Star Wars trilogy, which also exclusively used 16-bit graphics as their main illustrations.


For me, interesting characters make or break a story, more so than a convoluted or ingeniously contrived plot. And as I played Final Fantasy II and read over this manual, it was the characters and their backstories that made me want to play more. And which made me want to create characters like these, too, because what it made me realize, even at that young age, was that my characters were little more than two-dimensional caricatures controlled by a higher power –– this writer’s will and whims –– and not by their own choices and actions.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters (Game Boy)
I’m Greek, so of course Kid Icarus was bound to make an appearance in some form or another. I never owned the original NES classic when I was a kid, but for some reason I did make my Dad buy me the Game Boy sequel Of Myths and Monsters. The instruction booklet featured anime-esque illustrations throughout the instruction booklet, some a bit less detailed than others, but what I was more interested in at the time was that people like Pythagoras, described as “…a lively old man who throws equilateral triangles,” were making some appearances. Uh, sold!


Whether non-fictional like the man who discovered the Pythagorean theorem, or fictional (what is an Eggplant Wizard, anyway?), it was these peculiar characters that would work their way through the gears of my mind, and the fact that many of them were based on Greek mythology, that got me working on poetry about mythology.

Metroid (NES)
If there was one booklet that lives in my Mother Brain in vidid detail, it would be the instruction manual for Metroid. (And the one for Game Boy’s Metroid II: The Return of Samus, too.) Although I must say I do have a pet peeve here; this is one booklet that is probably the most inconsistent of all the manuals I’ve ever read through, art-wise. There can be a very cartoony rendition of our main character on one page, and then, right on the next page, one of the most awesome and iconic depictions of her.


But by the time we get to the descriptions and depictions of the enemies of Planet SR388, all is forgiven, for these are some of the greatest illustrations of any Nintendo manual around, not to mention some of the most creative, creepy, and downright disturbing baddies I’ve ever seen.


The characters of Metroid have definitely inspired a few of my own sci-fi stories and characters that I haven’t quite gotten around to putting down into any medium just yet, though I have worked something of it into my comic Siren’s Calling. This is not directly based on Metroid or even science fiction –– as a matter of fact, it’s more connected to Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters with its Classical mythology angle –– but the concept of a strong female protagonist, which is what Samus Aran is in Metroid, and exactly what Lorie Lye is in my graphic novel. More so, I’ve got at least two other stories with strong women leading the charge, which I can’t wait to put my prowess to and write up.

Honorable Mention: The Goonies II (NES)
I’m adding this one other game for a couple reasons. First, for it’s connection to the 1985 Richard Donner classic, but also because even though, like Metroid, I couldn’t even get past the first boss stage of this game, I spent hours reading and rereading all of the cool pictures of weapons included in this particular Konami instruction manual. And it was the first time I learned what a molotov cocktail was. (Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, we may never know!)


There are many more Nintendo manuals I could site, from Top Secret Episode: Golgo 13 (NES), Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge and Double Dragon (Game Boy) to Super Mario World (SNES) which all aided in sparking ideas about characters, plots, and overall premises of the stories I would ultimately be telling or will tell in the near future. But it was these that really piqued my interest in telling stories.

Why I never thought to become a writer for video games, one may never know.


What video game manuals do you remember paging through numerous times, whether marveling at the illustrations and stories or simply learning the gameplay? List them in the comments!

UnM.A.S.K.ed: Following the Condor

Let’s face it, in all of the M.A.S.K. mythology, Thunderhawk may have been the must-have vehicle of the franchise, but it was the little neon green motorcycle-turned-helicopter codenamed Condor that captured the cool factor and would lift many a child into a brave new world where illusion is the ultimate weapon.


Box pic courtesy of albertpenello.com/mask, the best M.A.S.K. resource out there.

This isn’t the first post about this classic eighties toy line and cartoon (you can read my first one at my Medium page here), and it won’t be my last, since I’m about to start a crusade to get Hasbro and/or IDW Publishing’s attention so they’ll read my book proposal for UnM.A.S.K.ed: The Komplete History of the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand in Toys, Television, and Today. I figured I’d start with a quick piece on one of my personal favorite vehicles: Condor, with its yellow clad rock star pilot and M.A.S.K. agent Brad Turner and his mask, Hocus Pocus.


Now, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing this action-packed cartoon, which ran from 1985 – ’86, it’s a true classic, right up there with TransformersG.I. Joe, and Silverhawks. Okay, probably not Silverhawks, but that’s another of my personal favorites, though it’s a tad too similar to its progenitor and more successful brethren, ThunderCats. Anyhow, M.A.S.K. pitted the titular team, their super-powered masks and mild-mannered vehicles that transformed into weapons against the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem, or V.E.N.O.M., for short. Each week the dastardly plots of Miles Mayhem were foiled by Matt Trakker and his highly trained Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. And yes, you guessed it –– the cartoon was a way to market and sell more toys, and it worked like a charm, at least for a time.

Condor was an inexpensive (around $6 back in 1985) way in to the toy line for most kids, being that the vehicle itself was a sleek motorcycle which quickly converted into a helicopter in three simple motions. As if the eighties neon green paint job didn’t make Condor cool enough, Brad Turner plays the guitar in a rock band when he’s not called to action by Matt and the gang, and he seems to always wear shades. The figure was no different.


As a seven-year old kid, I remember owning Condor, but somehow I never owned Brad Turner, which is very strange being that Brad comes with the motorcycle! Or perhaps I did own him at one time, and he must have gotten lost somewhere. Apparently it happened a lot to me as a kid –– Here’s a piece I wrote a while back about misplacing my black costume Secret Wars Spider-Man, which I think I’m still scarred from and subconsciously searching for in my dreams.

It’s only fitting then that Condor (complete with Brad Turner) marks the first M.A.S.K. vehicle in what would seem to be my 2.0 collection. See, back when I was around sixteen years old or so, I started this thing called “growing up,” taking interest in music, playing the guitar, hanging out at the corner shop sipping quarter juices with my headbanger friends, and such. So one day kicked all of my favorite toys to the curb except for select ones that had extra special meaning to me, like my original Star Wars action figures. Sadly, my TransformersSilverHawks, He-Man, and yes, most regrettably my massive collection of M.A.S.K. toys were all coffined in their boxes and left for the garbage man or any less fortunate kids who happened to pass by Liberty Place and wanted to lug them to their homes. (I like to think someone did.)


It doesn’t get any cooler, or more eighties, than Brad Turner.

I’ve carried this weight with me ever since –– like the titular Mariner, who shot and killed an albatross that was flying over his ship in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. (Actually, let’s stick with the eighties theme here: Listen to this interpretation by Iron Maiden instead.)

Now, I mentioned that I “started” growing up because I never really finished. Around that same time, give or take a year or two, Kenner (purchased by Hasbro in 1991) unveiled its Star Wars: The Power of the Force actin figure line, and I began collecting them. All of them! Today, I’m doing something similar, but with what are now classified as vintage toys. I’m hunting down M.A.S.K. vehicles across the Ebay expanse in an attempt to (slowly) piece a new collection. (I’ll keep you posted on the progress; since the writing of this piece about Condor, I’ve acquired my second vehicle –– codenamed Piranha!)

Appropriately, Condor marks my first foray into this revisited world of M.A.S.K. and its very cool and practically cult toy line. And though I still have no recollection of ever owning Brad Turner himself, I’m reveling in this near mint, short mask (early figures came with short masks, later ones with slightly larger ones to prevent kids from choking if swallowed) as a strong start to what will hopefully mimic the grandeur of my original collection that I remember with verve and childlike enthusiasm.


The don’t make aviators like those anymore!

Until next time, tell me: What was your first M.A.S.K. action figure you remember owning (or your first action figure in general)?

Published: In Print or Online (A Meditation)

I struggle a little everyday with something.

It’s something that in the Grand Scheme of It All isn’t worth struggling with. You might say after reading this “Trig, look to the future, man!” and you’d be 1,000% right! Maybe it’s my five years studying to get a BA in creative writing, plus another two years at Brooklyn College earning my Master’s in writing poetry (’cause you need an MFA to write poetry), but whenever I get something published, it’s still a bigger deal to me when it’s published in print versus online.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Perhaps it’s as if by publishing a poem of mine in a print publication like the dozens I have on my shelves, someone is saying that my work is worth paying money to impress onto a page for sale at brick and mortar Barnes and Nobles across the country. Or maybe it’s that’s some editor sitting behind piles and piles of unsolicited manuscripts has sifted through the sop to discover a bioluminescent fish miles below the surface of Poetry and New Yorker verse which lighted on a treasure chest filled not with doubloons but a single sheet of poetry preserved until that deep-diving editor happened upon it.

But why would that be important? Why should it be important?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately. I recently got word from The Good Men Project that my poem “At Closing Time” is up on their site. And that’s awesome! What’s more awesome is that it’s not the first poem I’ve had published on this site; my classic spoken word piece “Old ’89” and “The Naked Kiss” which I’d written after watching Samuel Fuller’s 1964 classic of the same name, were also published at The Good Men Project. But after having it printed in Iodine Poetry Journal –– my favorite print magazine of poetry –– having “At Closing Time” –– my favorite poem I’ve ever written –– online didn’t feel as much of a big deal as it should have. Same for “Old ’89,” which was first published in Harpur Palate, Volume 8, Issue 1). But I was pretty stoked when “The Naked Kiss” was published online, partially because I never actually submitted that poem to any print publications.

Here’s the thing: I look at my aforementioned bookshelf where I keep journals like Iodine Poetry JournalConcho River ReviewThe Chaffin Journal, and the many others (I had to get up for a moment and walk to that shelf to look up the names of them all), and I wonder to myself: Who else has a copy of these wonderful print publications featuring my poems, and the poetry of talented other poets and writers like me? Truth be told, it’s not many. Probably some of the more hardcore poetry aficionados, maybe? Certainly a few Ph.Ded professors who actually still have subscriptions to Poetry Salzburg and Pennsylvania English. When you get a piece published in print, the best you can do to share is snap a pic of the cover or even the piece itself and post it to Instragram, then send folks to where they have to pay $8 to $12 for a copy of the magazine or journal. In today’s world, that’s two too many steps to ask of people.

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture "At Closing Time."

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture “At Closing Time.”

But online? Having something published online opens us writers up to an audience of infinite potential readers. With the click of a share button, I (and you) can send my poem to Twitter, Facebook, heck, even Pinterest if you know how to really use it, and possibly uncover more readers than you ever thought you could –– if the piece is quality enough to stand out from the countless others being shared every day.

I will say, though, that the Activia ad a mere inch below my heartrending closing of “At Closing Time” does spoil the catharsis slightly for me –– hopefully it won’t spoil it for you.

You don’t get that in print, either.

*          *          *

What do you think about publishing in print versus online?

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Taking a Leap of Faith with “The World’s First True Public Radio” – Anchor

I’m a fan of social media, as most of you know. Lots of you follow my crowdfunding tweets, my inspirational update videos on Facebook. Some of you even repin my pins on Pinterest. (Boy, say that three times fast!)

Recently, I’ve discovered a new app –– Anchor, which is a voice-based platform that allows you to record two-minute “waves” and share them with your following. I first learned about it from this piece that Gary Vaynerchuk posted about it, so I immediately dove into and started listening. It would be a full week of this, and replying to other people’s waves, before I finally recorded my #firstwave.

It’s been about three weeks, and I’ve been having the best time I’ve had in a while with social media because of Anchor. I’m meeting some amazing and inspiring people. I’m replying to a lot of questions of the day, and I’m sharing everything from my own #QotD to advice on crowdfunding (my professional expertise), lines from poems I love, and opinions, breif stories, and things like this:

Most importantly, I’m interacting in a way that I haven’t interacted in a long time on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram have all become more about me putting value out to an audience (and believe me, I’m humbled and honored that people have allowed me the privilege of doing this), but I’ve been getting less and less inclined to want to genuinely converse on these platforms. Anchor has proven different for me.

For me, it’s in the voice, really. Even when I simply listen to other wavers waves, I pay more attention. I’ve tried the broadcast apps like Periscope and Meerkat, and I focus too much on how terrible my background looks or the quality of the lighting (I like my rooms dark, my stories darker) when these platforms are supposed to be raw. With Anchor, I can record anytime, anywhere, and the message and meaning carries through my voice alone, which is closest to the medium I love most: Words.

How about you? Are you #makingwaves on Anchor yet? If so, what do you think about it so far? What’s the lure for you?

Hmm… actually, let me ask this a different way, and give you a more refreshing way to reply, so you can try it out firsthand!

Happy Leap Day, everybody!

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Running Through the Sixth with my WOEs

I don’t write much about my grammar school years. They were pretty much standard: I cried the first day my Mom and Dad “left me” at kindergarten (I didn’t think they were coming back); between first through third grades I became so well-versed with Janet & Mark until I couldn’t help wanting one to kill the other; and being that I was the quiet one, I’d always sit in the corner during recess or lunch and play with my He-Man figures, continuing where yesterday’s story left off.

Then came the sixth grade, where I encountered one of the most influential educators I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking a class with: Mr. Torio. The legends about his greatness echoed legion through the halls of Woodrow Wilson School. All anyone ever talked about was how cool the sixth grade would be. “That’s what all the seventh graders are saying,” my best friend Jeremy had said. I even remember meeting a seventh grader once –– a long blonde-haired headbanger (long before I even knew what “headbanger” meant) with a Wilson brand black motorcycle jacket and fingerless gloves. “Just get through these other grades, kid. Sixth grade’ll change your life.”

Well, I made it through six grades (kindergarten included –– my parents did come back for me after all), and I had some memorable teachers: Mrs. Gioffre (kindergarten and Grade 3), Mrs. Fitzgerald (Grade 2) and Mrs. Perz (Grade 7, I think, though it might’ve been Grade 8). Then there were some old guard” types like my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Wickle who made me admit to the whole class that Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was fiction when I believed otherwise. (And still do –– there’s truth to everything, y’know.) And although I recall Mrs. Lange’s fifth grade classroom being pretty stellar, what I remember more vividly reading a copy of Robin #1 over and over again during her math lessons ever since my friend Brian slipped a copy in my desk.


Photo of Mr. Torio’s sixth grade class at Woodrow Wilson School. (And that’s me at the bottom and to the left.)

All the while, though, I was anticipating just how great it was gonna be once I get to the sixth grade. And it was, in many ways.

See, Mr. Torio was the type of teacher whom you know enjoys sitting up there at his big teacher’s desk, watching over his “kids” like a headmaster out of Harry Potter and making sure we paid attention to the spells of knowledge and completed our home concoctions in our notebooks before morning. But he was also the kind of teacher that cracked many jokes throughout the day, which prior to my then six years of schooling was practically unheard of. Don’t get me wrong, they were all great teachers except for Mrs. Wickle, who was just okay, but they rarely cracked a joke; they smiled, but always made certain you knew you were here to learn, and that learning was serious business and not to be lightened by a brief moment of laughter until after the lesson was complete.

But Mr. Torio, he had jokes, animal noises, and on occasion a little Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor grunt. He also had some of the greatest facial expressions around. He helped break the monotony of standardized schooling in the best possible way, all the while being able to provide us with a trove of treasured knowledge from inside our brown paper bagged textbooks and outside of it. He was the first teacher who made me want to go to school everyday, and made me understand my Dad’s story about how when he was a young boy in Greece, whenever school was closed, he’d cry.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Torio was the first male teacher I ever had. In fact, before I heard the legends of how transformative an experience his sixth grade class would be, I had thought that teaching was exclusively a woman’s career –– to nurture in their students not only with knowledge, but compassion and empathy, as well as the alphabet. Mr. Torio was able to do all that, too, and he did it just as well.

During the sixth grade, I never read comics halfway inside my desk during Mr. T.’s lessons. I waited until lunchtime to run around and play with Kareem, who had replaced Jeremy as my best friend by that time. My Masters of the Universe figures stayed at home until the day was done, at which time I’d resume their stories after my homework was done. Thinking back to those years, 1989 – 1990 was a time before I became who I was meant to become. The man I’m still becoming. Mr. T.’s sixth grade class cultivated in me a genuine love of learning that I carry with me to this day. While fifth grade blackened my eye from my first fight with a bully, it was sixth grade that saved me with my first tryst with teenage love. And when I had questions about it, Mr. T. was there with the answers, whether as a look of approval or words of sage advice.

It’s teachers like him you don’t forget. It’s lessons like those I learned in sixth grade that linger on until “the last syllable of recorded time.”

Years later, when I was finishing up my bachelor’s in creative writing at New Jersey City University in the early 2000s, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew that it probably wouldn’t pay the bills for quite a some time. (And still doesn’t to this day.) Dr. Chris Wessman, my mentor and advisor, made an interesting recommendation on the final day of my independent study in playwriting:

“Why don’t you apply for graduate writing program, John?”

What?” I sneered, much more cynical then than I could ever be now. “What would I do that for?” I’ve had enough of these “Ivory Halls,” I thought to myself. It was time I became a writer.

“Well,” Chris continued, “with an master’s degree, you can get a job teaching, so there’s money coming in while you’re writing.”

Teaching? I had always thought of teaching as something you do later in life, after you had spent your life learning something worth teaching. I remember the word itself being the bane of all writers’ existences, Kryptonite to a real author’s superhuman sense of syntax and soliloquy. The darkest night of a would-be scrivener’s soul that most likely might never see a new dawn. I for one didn’t want to trade in my own black ink for red ink, sacrifice my precision-crafted words for the disjointed ramblings of college freshmen. No, no writer ever wants to teach. It’s the final nail in the coffin before you actually go out do the dying. Teach? I thought to myself. I want to write!


NJCU graduation, 2001. That’s me (yeah, with a ponytail –– I know!) with my Dad.

But then that same night I thought of Mr. Torio. I thought about all those lessons I packed up in my cerebral suitcase and took with me from his sixth grade and all through my undergrad years. I thought about how much I enjoyed his methods, even though I didn’t know there was such a thing as methodology at that age. If I could be that kind of teacher –– that kind of professor –– well, then I just might consider going to grad school, and soon after saying goodbye to the various seats I sat in as a student, saying hello to the front of the classroom.

And teaching.

I put in my application the following year to CUNY’s Brooklyn College, and I was accepted to its MFA program for creative writing, specializing in poetry writing, my passion. And upon graduating in the summer of 2003, I landed my first gig as a university professor at NJCU teaching a poetry workshop, thanks to Chris Wessman.

Through the wonders of Facebook, I’ve managed to reconnect with Mr. Torio, and it’s quite humbling to see his comments on an Instagram photo I’d taken of my writing station, or when I read a heartfelt message from him. And I try to send him pictures of Jersey City when I’m out and about, since he asked me to send him some so he could see how the city he spent so much time in had changed.

This also got me thinking early this year. About how I spent over ten years teaching at various universities across the Garden State –– from NJCU to William Paterson University, with a few community colleges thrown in for good measure; about how during that same time, I produced over a dozen short films, two theater productions, and a feature-length movie, read at dozens of poetry slams and open mic nights, and wrote the first edition of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers in a little under six months –– “an impossible task” as most of my writer friends warned; about how today, I still consider myself a professor of not only writing and storytelling, but of crowdfunding, and how even at my neighborhood coffee shop, I’ve become a cross between Norm and Frasier from Cheers, giving life advice to baristas and regulars alike. And everyday I try and make sure my Facebook friends and Twitter followers start their days with something positive in the morning, because life doesn’t always give us that opportunity.


Trigonis the poet reading at Cool Beans Open Mic, circa 2002 – 2003.

But just like “Know Yourself” by Drake, in this blog, I guess you can say I’m running through the sixth [grade] with my WOEs –– WOEs being an acronym for “Working On Excellence” –– and in all these years, I’d say one thing’s been proven: you may not be able to take the writer out of the professor after all. But you also can’t take the professor out of the writer, either.

Thanks for that, Mr. T. –– er, I mean Joe.

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My Nightmare Before Christmas (Writing Something That Scares Me)

In 2015, I can count on practically one hand how many blog posts I’ve written here:

Six. Only six.

Well, five actually, since one of them, “A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day Off,” a piece I wrote after I sprained my ankle pretty severely during a Top Gun high velocity volleyball match with my Indiegogo coworkers, which kept me off the sand for half the season, I reposted on my Medium page as “A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day Off (Or, Lessons Learned From a Sprained Ankle)” to see if I’d get more hits there than on this WordPress (old school, I know) blog.

Although now that I think of it, it may only be four blog posts, because “Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause ‘Trigonaut’ Sounds Cooler Than ‘Intern’)” isn’t really a blog post, but a call to action for me to seek out a Trigonaut (like an astronaut, but more Trigonian or something like that…) to help me take the crowdfunding sage side of me to the next level. This yielded a few prospects, but no one I could necessarily let run with a ball that encompasses a rather large portion of my current identity.

For me, this year has been a year of experimentation. Too often writers, filmmakers, and artists of all sorts start to rest on the laurels we have instead of trying to earn new ones by trying something new. By attempting to do something different or innovative, even if we fail it’s fine because we had the guts to attempt it, and hopefully we did so to the best of our present abilities. Because even if we did succeed, the next thing we do should is something else that shadows that most recent of triumphs. That’s how we grow. And this year, I’ve certainly grown.

Screen shot 2015-12-09 at 10.20.16 PM

The bulletin board that reminds me that I am, and always will be, a writer.

I know I’ve grown despite the fact that I feel I’ve done significantly less with my time than perhaps any other year before this one, as evidenced by this fifth, sixth, or seventh blog post you’re reading right now. Why have I been away from the blogosphere since August, you ask? (Well, I hope you’re asking!) Well, ironically, I’ve been busy! Here are a few things that have kept me occupied over the year:

  • At the start of the year, I was spending much of my free time working on The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse, book one in the “Sebastian Holden, P.I.” mystery novel series I’ve been tapping into my iPhone’s Notes since 2013 during my morning and evening commutes. I stopped revising it mid-way partly because I showed my highly stylized proposal to my most excellent friend and former university colleague Jim Broderick, and he proceeded to hand my metaphorical arse to me with his no bullshit, very constructive but also very deconstructive critique.
  • It was also partly because my friend and illustrator Lauren Clemente informed me that our first ever comic book Siren’s Calling –– was finished after four long years of scripts and sketches and social media. This became my top priority, and after a successful Thunderclap to get our six-page preview into as many hands as possible and an equally successful Indiegogo to do a print run of issue #1, this first chapter of our horror noir story will make one hell of a splash in 2016.

The scintillating cover of Siren’s Calling Issue #1, by Lauren Clemente.

  • I finally started meditating. That takes time. (Five minutes a day, but it is time, nonetheless.)
  • Then, I got an email from Ken Lee, editor at Michael Wiese Productions, the company that published my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign back in 2013, and they asked me if I’d be interested in writing a second edition, to which I replied “absolutely.” I gave myself a total of four months to completely revamp the book and add in their required 30% worth of new content. (It’s actually more like 45% new content.) I then delivered the manuscript on time on November 2nd, and I’m currently waiting for my scrupulous editor Gary Sunshine to finish red-penning my work so I can give it one more rewrite before it’s published and on shelves in summer of 2016.
  • I’ve been getting “lost” in Lost. Yes, the TV series that I admitted to my coworkers that I’d never seen an episode of, to which they replied “you need to watch Lost.” And so I am, and I’m hooked and currently caught up to Season Four.


  • And I’ve also been writing more crowdfunding blog posts for the Indiegogo Blog and my own Medium page, have taken on the role of Head of Marketing and Distribution for my fiancée’s large format quarterly EIGHTY, and I’ve been getting more involved in the local arts and culture scene in Jersey City, attending poetry readings, and for every eight hours I work for Indiegogo, I work at least three for me everyday.

So I guess I have done quite a bit this year, even though, to me, it doesn’t quite feel like I have.

Back in my college days, in all the creative writing classes I’d ever taken, there was always this one staple of a writing exercise, and it was called “Write Something that Scares You.” I can’t remember if I first read it in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind. Or perhaps it was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I know it was an exercise in a book called The Practice of Poetry. Whenever I first encountered it, I remember scoffing at the idea. Until I did it. Until I really did it, and I felt the change that confronting one’s fears in a little piece of writing could cause. The catharsis. The release of all that society tells you never to put out into the world.

I’m remembering this because one thing I’ve always been scared of has been slowing down in my productivity. This year, at least in my mind, that fear was realized. And it bothered me for a while. Am I burnt out? I thought to myself. Washed up? Is time finally killing me because I took a little time to kill? Of course not. I’m merely following the Paths that was laid out before me –– the comic being finished; getting the gig to write the second edition of my book; becoming Lost to find new creativity I may have temporarily lost sight of within me.

In truth, the fear was not realized. It was met with eyes wide open. I faced it head on!

So while the fledgling blogger in me feels as though I’ve let you, my readers, down a bit this year by publishing only a child-sized handful of posts, rest assured that 2016 will not only be an important year for my professional writing, but also for yielding some entertaining and informative bits of content that I had wanted to share this year, but alas, Time, she got the better of me in 2015. (Although, I did have quite a hit on my hands with my prior post “Hitting the Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It),” so thank you to all of you who read, liked, and shared this one!)

We’re all our own worst critics, I know, and while I’m certain you’re all happy to have read a few decent pieces from me this year, next year I’m resolved to post one blog post a month (at least). Until then, I hope you enjoyed this one and some of the things I’ve linked out to, and remember –– before this year ends, do something that scares you.

And then, tell me all about it.


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Hitting The Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It)

In all my nearly twenty years as a poet and writer, I’ve never believed in writer’s block.


And this isn’t a piece expounding on how I suddenly found myself staring into the blank Microsoft Word document glowing back on my laptop, how my fingers froze, or how some unfelt before fear from the Great Beyond had turned on the faucet and I started sweating profusely.

No, I still don’t believe in writer’s block.

But it believes in me, and it almost hit me nonetheless. Hard.

As many of you probably know, since March of 2013, I’ve been writing a series of mystery novels under the auspices of “Hipster Noir” on the PATH train during my morning and evening commute to work. Three novels later, over 200,000 words, and one proposal to pitch them all to an agent or publisher, I’m still going strong with my fourth novel, The Curious Case of Tomorrow (Or, The Trouble with Time Travel).

But this fourth novel, which is a direct continuation of the third, the way Quantum of Solace is a continuation of Casino Royale, started making me second guess some things. I would still get on the PATH train from Grove Street in Jersey City to the World Trade Center stop on the other side of the Hudson, and my fingers would still go to work with my iPhone music library shuffling between Tom Waits and Gin Wigmore, with an occasional Lykke Li ballad or Pearl Jam anthem cutting in over the seven-minute or so ride.

This time, however, felt different.

I knew that I was really searching blindly for a spark. Now I can’t get too detailed here because I’d have to divulge what my fourth novel is all about, and I haven’t even published any of the first ones yet, but this was the first time over the course of almost thirty-six months that the writing was not yielding anything that I was getting truly excited about, the way the first three novels had done.

Nonetheless, I kept going. I kept writing every morning and evening, just like I’d done for nearly three years. The only difference was that instead of having my characters, story, and all its plot twists, McGuffins and organically sprout from within, I was actively searching for that spark, yet never thinking to admit that I may have finally found what no writer has ever actively searched for:

The Writer’s Block. And yes, I capitalize it like a proper noun ‘cause it deserves a proper level of respect. Anything that pushes us to become better writers does.


The way I see it, we are the ones who create the Writer’s Block, by pouring out so much of who we are and what we are in our writing. At one point, we run out of things to write. But as Tom Waits sings, “you build it up, you wreck it down…” in a song appropriately titled “Hold On,” that’s exactly I did. I gave it form, shaped the shapeless into something that, in time, and once I found its weakness, I could hope to break right through.

Back to my Curious Case of Tomorrow. Amid my searching within not one, but two separate timelines that this new novel has split into; after figuring out that what I was writing this time around was no longer a mystery novel, but a science-fiction spaghetti western (if there’s even such a thing); when I finally surprised myself one day riding that iron horse through those morning and evening tunnels humming with the electricity of possibility, I knew I had finally blasted right through that ‘Block.

I had found my voice. Again.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the first time this ever happened, but it was the first time I became aware of it’s happening. And I dealt with it.

The Writer’s Block isn’t a stumbling block, it’s an uncarved block. It doesn’t necessarily have to stop your creativity. It’s not the blank page we stare blankly at, but the page that stares at us and pushes us to shut up our minds and write anything, which proves to be the most frightening thing for us writers –– to write without purpose. Without saying anything.

Writing for the sake of writing. Of calling ourselves writers.


The Uncarved Block, or Pu, as Taoist abstract art.

But at least we’re writing, and in doing so, we’re showing that ‘Block whose boss.

Not enough of us do this. We hit the ‘Block and we wait for the right words. We complain about it on Facebook. We may go out with our friends to forget about that blank stare for a few hours. And each of these may actually work (or seem to work) to get you back on track.

But to find the right words, you’ve got to write down the words. It’s the Taoist principle of Pu –– the Uncarved Block. Though this particular tenet tells us we should let the world carve us into what it wants. From a writerly perspective, we simply need to start with a vague idea and the raw materials of what needs to be said and then hack out the words that don’t add to it. This way, all we’re left with are the ones that do work, and which will resonate and be remembered long after they’re read.

They’ll also be the ones that will remind us why we started writing in the first place.

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Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause “Trigonaut” Sounds Cooler Than “Intern”)

The time has come for expansion, and I cannot do it alone!

As many of you probably know, I’ve been putting out crowdfunding advice for filmmakers and various other content creators and storymakers for over five years. Ever since I successfully crowdfunded my short film Cerise, I’ve been mentoring crowdfunding filmmakers and content creators in the fine art of online fundraising through Twitter, via my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and exclusively for Indiegogo. But there’s so much more I want to do, mostly by way of content creation and various new ways of distributing that content and knowledge (Meerkat and Periscope, anyone?), so I’m looking for a Trigonaut –– an fellow explorer –– to work with me, to learn about and explore the chartered and unchartered realms of crowdfunding for independent film, and to help create more top quality content so that we, together, can keep the “indie” in independent film and make sure that creators are crowdfunding using only the best tools, advice and insights available.


So here’s what I’m looking for, specifically:

– Writing and editing (basic grammar and usage skills)
– Strong interest in crowdfunding, particularly for film (or creative projects)
– Graphic design (skills in Adobe Creative Suite, mainly Photoshop and InDesign)
– Editing content for social media that’s on-brand
– Organizational abilities
– Creativity and wit
– Speed (ability to execute tasks quickly)

– Owns a DSLR (or similar camera) and microphone
– Video editing skills (proficiency in either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
– A moderate knowledge of digital advertising (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads / “dark posts”, etc.)
– Listens to The #AskGaryVee Show religiously

– Outreach (to film festivals for speaking gigs, blogs / movie websites, etc.)
– Writing content for Medium (will be credited as guest writer under my personal culture / branding
– Content creation (if we go the Gary Vee route; TBD)
– Filming any local events, speaking gigs
– Research on the crowdfunding space in general, but specifically crowdfunding for indie film / web / video content
– Discover and attend events, Meet-Ups, Tweetups, etc. pertaining to film and / or crowdfunding

– 2 -3 hours a day,
– Three days per week (preferably Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, to start, but I’m totally flexible here

– Crowdfunding (for filmmaking) knowledge and insights from a noted expert and practitioner in the field
– Travel to and from events (subway / Lyft)
– Lunch once a week, during our weekly meetings, preferably on Mondays
– Drinks (at events, and just in general –– there’s always something to celebrate)
– Depending on performance, we can talk…

– What it takes to be a proper crowdfunding consultant and / or manager
– How to utilize various forms of social media (FB / Twitter, plus Instagram & Periscope, perhaps) for crowdfunding
– How to build, broaden, and make “Beliebers” out of your community (really, how to turn your networks into actual relationships)

Now, if by reading this you feel like you’re standing in front of a mirror, then I want to hear from you sooner rather than later, so reach out to me at jtrigonis@gmail.com and let’s get ready to explore the ever-changing landscape of the crowdfunding filmmakers together.

Oh, and a neat hat and soul patch to match are not requirements 🙂

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

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A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day Off

Yesterday, I sprained (or twisted, or something) my ankle for the first time ever.

See, I’ve never been all that much of a sporty kid. I suffered my way through gym classes for as long as I can remember. When football day rolled around, I wanted to feign a fever. I had mastered the layup in basketball, but no one would ever give me the ball ’cause I’d ultimately end up dropping it. I was one of the few kids who actually liked stretching, and when health class rolled around, I was ready to learn anything the nurse taught ‘cause it was one less game of hockey I had to make it through for the year.

Climbing the rope was the worst, though. I remember one time I after three years of failing this part of the final, I built up the courage and the upper body strength needed to climb the rope all the way to the top of the gym, but upon getting there, I completely froze. My fellow students were calling up to me, “just climb down the same way you climbed up.”

I slid my way down, burning my hands in the process, but I didn’t feel it because I was just so happy my feet were touching solid ground once more.

By the time I was a senior at Weehawken High, the gym teachers –– Mr. McNish and Mrs. Campenella –– had gotten to know me well enough to understand that I wasn’t a sports kid. So they let me do whatever I wanted, and throughout my junior and senior years, I played some really awesome rounds of hackysack and handball.

Anyhow, this isn’t a piece about the horrors of a high school gym class.

Today, while I was painstakingly limping my way from the Midtown Comics on Fulton Street to the World Trade Center where I catch my PATH train home, I naturally was moving at a much, much slower pace than my usual sprint to just about anywhere at any given time of the day. And as people passed my hobbling body by, for some reason I was reminded of that one iconic line in the classic John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris Bueller, played by a young Matthew Broderick, says in a monologue at the beginning of the few, as well as a few times throughout. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller

Thirty years later, this seemingly simple statement has become more true than ever before. I don’t wanna speak for the rest of you, but we take things for granted. Internet access. Accessibility to news as it happens. Apps for just about any- and everything you can think of. It’s all wonderful, of course, but we allow ourselves to get so sucked into these things, this world and the many things that happen in it, that we lose sight of truly important things. Let’s face it, the human brain is not equipped to keep up with the speed at which our world moves. But we certainly try. We hustle. And we do keep up as best we can, all the while knowing that there’s always a bigger fish –– there’s always someone who’s one step ahead of us. Working a little bit harder.

But at what cost?

Yesterday, I wanted to put in my eight hours of the work I love, mentoring and managing Indiegogo campaigns, then play a swell game of volleyball with my co-workers (yes, that’s how I sprained my ankle –– non-sporty John T. Trigonis serving it up with the best of ‘em!) then head to Midtown Comics to get my stash of indie comics before heading on back to Jersey City to sit for a while and revise a chapter or two for my second edition of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers before getting a little more writing in on my various other creative projects.

Spraining my ankle slowed down my journey home almost unbearably, at least at the beginning. Sure, I made a point to get to Midtown Comics –– it’s the one leisure activity I allow myself –– but man, was I in pain. And then, after leaving that store, my steps started slowing down, and the Freedom Tower started to look like a dream, and I started thinking to myself Man, will I ever get there at this rate?!

“Life moves pretty fast,” indeed, Mr. Bueller (Bueller? Bueller?) But it doesn’t have to. Not all the time, at least.

That’s something I forget about too easily at times, and sometimes it takes a sprained ankle for the Universe to show you that you really need to start seeing the world through the eyes of a child once again, so you can fully realize that sometimes, some things can wait.

Why am I writing a blog about spraining my ankle and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? ‘Cause it’s not about spraining my ankle. And it’s not about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, either. It’s about remembering to take the time to slow down and breathe. To make the time to do the things you love to do. For me, I haven’t written a blog post for myself since around February, and though I’ve been writing about many, many other things, I was moving too fast to realize that none of it was really for me.

So this is a reminder to all of us who get caught up in the world to stop and look around once in a while, and make sure that “once in a while” is more often than not.

TEDx Talk: “Crowdfunding Today, Tomorrow, Together” Is Here

Well, it’s finally here, folks!

I’m very proud to present to you all one of the crowning achievements of my entire life (thus far) –– My TEDxJerseyCity talk called “Crowdfunding Today, Tomorrow, Together.”

Since it’s only a seventeen-minute talk, I’m pretty confident you’ll all watch the entire talk. But if you only have a few minutes, and if you’re toying with the idea of running your own crowdfunding campaign for a film, product, or anything else, then I highly recommend you scrub toward the end of the talk (11:03, to be exact), when I begin talking about my new and improved “Three INs,” presented as the “Three Is,” as in the letter “I” (you see why it didn’t stick, I’m sure) during my talk.

See, around five years ago, I unveiled my “Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign” –– Pitch, Perks, and Promotion ––  which paved the way to my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. Well, as crowdfunding for indie film evolves, so did those Three Ps. it was during this TEDx talk that I introduced the Invitation, Incentives, and Interactions as three ways “in” to your crowd’s hearts. A new Medium post outlining them in more detail is coming soon.

From talking about a plethora of local campaigns to ones like the JIBO and Solar Roadways, which are paving the road to a more sustainable and Jetsons-esque future, to talking about vampires and how El Diablo knows how to listen on social media, I think you’ll get a kick out of my talk, and perhaps it’ll even inspire you to make something you’re passionate about a reality.

Special thank to Alicia Ruth and the most excellent folks at TEDxJerseyCity for getting this up and running on the TEDx YouTube page and on TED.com, and, of course, to my darling Marinell, who watched my talk five times today and realized this very important thing:


I trust that by the end of my talk, their eyes –– and all of yours –– will have been opened in the widest of ways.

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