Tag Archives: journalism

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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The Doors of (Self-)Perception: Closing One to Open Another

I’ve opened and closed a lot of doors in my life.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be an artist. A comic book artist, specifically. I spent hours copying the covers of my favorite Batman issues and selling my renditions to family and friends for a couple of quarters, sometimes a buck. I went on to excel in my high school art classes, and participated in numerous gallery exhibits in malls across Hudson County. I even outshone my fellow students in drafting class, which incorporated math into the equation (fractions and geometry, of all things!)

When I got to college, however, I took my first real art class, which ate up four hours of my Friday mornings. That’s when I realized I didn’t love drawing and drafting all that much and shut the door on the path to Picasso.

While in high school, I started playing the guitar, and with the help of my friend Marc Tolliver, I learned everything from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Bush’s “Glycerine.” I ultimately hooked up with a drummer named Ralph, my good friend Rob Sandman, who’d just started learning the bass guitar, and a strange fellow named Sal, and together we formed my first metal band, VexXxed, and jammed out in Ralph’s basement for three years before our first (and only) actual gig.

My first and only performance with VexXxed, and yeah, that’s me in all black with Ozzy shades and my Cobalt blue Jackson!)

I wanted to be a rock star, so I invested thousands of dollars in electric guitars, a dozen or so effects pedals, top notch amps, and vocal equipment, as well. I even started playing briefly with a more alternative band called As I Am, and memorized their entire 20-song repertoire in six hours the night before my “audition.” After that, I was gigging with them, too.

But venue after venue, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my time lugging around this heavy equipment and practicing four nights a week just for a six-song set at Love Sexy, a tiny little club in Hoboken that featured bands that played original music. The fact that I also needed money to pay my rent after my Dad died was also impetus for me to sell off all my equipment at Crazy Eddie prices. The metaphorical guitar lay smashed on the path I’d hoped would lead to Pearl Jam.

And at New Jersey City University, after I ditched the art major and was easing myself out of the music scene, I signed on for the journalism program and learned all about writing news stories, features, and op-ed pieces. And despite giving me one of the greatest gifts ever –– getting to know my Dad more intimately than I had as a child by writing a feature on him for my final exam –– I saw that I wasn’t very interested in news to actually make a living writing about it. I wanted to do more creative kinds of writing. Luckily, the year I decided that the Hunter S. Thompson path wasn’t made for the soles of my Dr. Martens to tread on, the English Department launched its creative writing program. Another door closed, but another door opened.

This sort of thing happens to all of us. A great example is Jim Morrison, who was studying to become a filmmaker before he became lead singer of The Doors. Sometimes we have to close some doors so we can open others that might possibly lead us to bigger and better things. Sometimes this means shutting them forever; other times, it’s only temporary. The doors that constantly lead us to the same places in a loop of the same old stuff, for instance. These doors are not necessarily roads to nowhere. They may just need a little drop of oil on the hinges so it doesn’t make the same old squeak each time you open it.

I never liked The Doors’ music until I read Jim Morrison’s poetry. Thankfully, he opened both of those doors into himself for us to enjoy.

It’s all about growth in the end, both as an artist and more importantly as an individual. Everything I’ve done, every door I’ve opened and eventually shut tight behind me has helped edge me up to this point in time. One change, and now would have turned out differently, much like in Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder,” in which one simple act –– stepping on a prehistoric butterfly –– ripples through time and effects the world from which the time travelers have trekked. If we are not changing, if we take a step backwards instead of forwards, if we’re staying the same and not getting any better at whatever it is we’re doing, we owe it to ourselves to close that door that leads us around in circles and open up a new one.

I still strum my Takemine guitar once a day; I still practice my art skills on storyboards for my films or just to better be able to write out a story more visually; and now, twelve years later, I actively use the skills I learned during my brief stint as a journalism major at NJCU. Shutting yesterday’s doors and opening tomorrow’s doesn’t mean we should forget what we’ve done before. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever go back and pay a visit, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should ever regret anything. It just means that it’s time to try something new on for size, because, like the size sixes we wore as children, things won’t fit forever.

The threshold awaits…

A new door is simply a new gateway to the grander story of you. Go on. Open it. And when you return, you might just be able to add a little oil to the hinges of all the others, and open them as if they were brand new.

* * *

What doors have YOU shut in the past in order to open other ones? Share below –– I’d love to read your thoughts.

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Writing Like a Martlet: Five Months Past, Five Lessons Above

A martlet is an interesting little bird –– one with no feet that spends all its time flying because it can’t ever land. Lately, I’ve felt very much like a martlet when it comes to my own writing.

I mentioned in my blog post “Riding the Writer’s Road: Three Lessons Learned in Three Months of Writing” that I spent a lot of time resisting the writer inside, passing him off as a hack or a sell out. Since shrugging off this false notion, I’ve become more than “just” a poet and an author. While I’ve been hard at work on my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign for Michael Wiese Productions and my proposal and first eight pages of my comic series Siren’s Calling, I felt the need to soar into some fresher kinds of writing, just to keep myself actively hammering away at my wordsmith’s blade.

Here’s where and some of what I’ve been writing over the last month or so:

Broken Frontier
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself as a comics journalist (man, if only that could be a career!), reviewing a few of my favorite titles each month like American Vampire, Batman, Swamp Thing (all three written by my favorite comics writer, Scott Snyder) and Near Death. I’ve also written a review of the first episode of Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men, as well as a blog about the Robert Kirkman/Terry Moore lawsuit over The Walking Dead franchise and an article about Molly Crabapple’s super successful Kickstarter campaign for her fine art project Shell Game.

Film Slate Magazine
I’ve also written a couple reviews for this top-notch film website and may be reviewing some films from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, if time permits. You can check out my review for the screenwriting documentary Dreams on Spec and one for an indie film called The Trouble with Bliss, which includes some insightful quotes from an interview I did with actor Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and director Michael Knowles.

Jersey City Independent
So far, I’ve contributed one story for Jersey City’s premiere source for fresh, up-to-the-minute news called “Tachair, Grace Church and Others Help Fill the Bookstore Void in Jersey City” about the lack of a bookstore in my town. Hopefully there will be more articles coming up in the near future once Snooki and JWoww get the hell out of Dodge!

Lamplighter Magazine
A while back, former student and fellow writer Patrick Boyle established Lamplighter, NJ’s alternative art, poetry and culture zine, to which I contributed an article about “How I Joined the Zombie Insistence.” Very soon, my second article, “In Praise of Plastic: The Album’s Last Stand in the 21st Century,” will be featured in the first print issue of Lamplighter Magazine, so I’ll keep you updated on all that. Once I find a bit more time, I hope to add a little more digital ink to the Lamplighter website.

My article "War for the Dead" featured on the Broken Frontier homepage.

Each of these four websites has proven a solid whetstone for me to keep my writing skills sharpened as I undergo the painstaking process of revision and proofreading on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. As soon as the manuscript gets sent off to MWP on May 1st, I’ll be diving back into one final revision of my feature-length vampire screenplay A Beautiful Unlife and the second rewrite of my hit man screenplay Caput.

It’s been an intense month with all of this diverse writing I’ve been doing, and, as always, I’ve learned a great deal about the craft of writing, the world around me, and the microcosm of myself. That said, here are five new lessons learned that can help keep every writer soar high as a martlet without any care to land.

Deadlines are Important Although the deadlines I get from Film Slate Magazine and Broken Frontier are soft at best, they’re still deadlines, and having them has greatly improved the pace at which I write. If I write a 200-word review today, I should have something to show for it tomorrow. It may not seem like a lot of words, but for someone who wants 200 of only the best words for his or her review, it can prove quite a challenge, and we writers have to be up to that challenge at all hours of the day or night.

(Cut the Sh*t in Parentheses) Much the way parentheticals –– quick bits of direction from a writer to an actor –– are omitted from most contemporary screenplays, I’m learning how to omit them from my writing entirely. I realized I use them too much, and anything fenced in between parentheses are usually nothing more than the writer’s afterthoughts, and an afterthought, by definition, isn’t worth mentioning since you thought of it after the fact. Keep it after the fact and your writing will stay golden.

Of Editors and Writers When you write for magazines and review sites that love everything you write and post it almost immediately, you get a little spoiled and may start to expect every site you write for to accept your work as is, without question or edit. That said, the article that was published by The Jersey City Independent was not the article I originally wrote. It’s funny, because I constantly preach to my students to never be afraid to “kill your babies” –– all those lovely lines that don’t add anything to your story, article or poem but that you love and don’t want to get rid of –– but when someone else does the killing for you, it naturally feels wrong. Even if it’s done in the most humane way possible, as the JCI editor had done to mine:

I edited out a lot of your beautiful turns of phrase, but some parts of your prose felt a little too florid to me for a news piece. Sometimes I just felt like I needed to whack some adjectives and cut to the chase. I also took out the bit of editorializing you included because I didn’t want to come out and state an opinion.

With the exception of the word “whack,” this is a compassionate explanation, and as much as I understand and agree with the editor’s points, it still hurt when I first saw my abridged news piece. It’s sort of like Candy and his dog in John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men; he’s hurt after Carlson shoots his old dog instead of doing it himself. At the end of the day, however, when you’re writing (1) news (2) for publishers (3) for a paycheck, the writing isn’t about you anymore, and we have to give the editors exactly what they want, and should be able to kill our own babies before they do.

“The Tao is Forever Undefined,” a Writer Defined Forever A Taoist at heart, I go flow with the invisible current of the Universe in everything I do. The other day I met with a young man who reached out to me on Facebook and offered me what I thought was a job as a social media person. Considering that in another year or two the amount of classes I teach per semester may be substantially reduced due to budget cuts, I decided to entertain this notion as an alternative source of income. Long story short, and after listening to a twenty-minute homily from this young man’s senior officer who was nothing more than a textbook for sales pitches and psychology, I realized this “job” was nothing more than a pyramid scheme. A waste of time? Of course not, for it helped me to see that I could never do anything else but what I’m doing now, which is writing and teaching. And if classes become scarce, I’ll simply have no other choice but to put my writing skills, creative and otherwise, to more lucrative uses, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Balance is Bliss While I like writing my reviews for Swamp Thing and The Trouble with Bliss as a diversion from my red inking of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I still have to balance these new kinds of writing with my own projects, both creative and expository, to keep the worlds I’m working on floating soundly in the galaxy of myself. Luckily, many of the publishers I write for allow me to be creative with my words, and for that I’m thankful, since it helps me deal with those who prefer straight news to my strong editorial biases. But it’s that kind of balance that keeps us writers moving in the forward direction with every piece we pen.

These lessons I’ve learned are lessons we all learn as writers committed to the word trade. Until next post, I’ll leave you with something I tweeted as soon as I left that meeting with the pyramid schemer.

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