New Year’s Dissolutions

I’m always resolving to do things, and I think it’s time to make a change.

The sheer volume of life goals I set, and often expect myself to achieve, is intimidating. Or inspiring, depending on my mood.

So this January let’s try paring down the list. Not the list of what I resolve to do – no way, that would be admitting defeat which I never, almost ever do while all the blood remains in my body. Instead, let’s cut out some of the superfluous stuff I actually do, which I suspect keeps me distracted from the bigger, cooler, more interesting things I really want. You know?

I DISSOLVE: Watching TV shows I don’t care about
With the availability of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and DVDs from the library, it’s easy to watch an entire five seasons of Breaking Bad without realizing it. You just one-after-another it whether you really want to or not.

My new philosophy is to disoblige myself from finishing a series just because I started it. Drop Dead Diva? I gave you six episodes, and that’s all I’d really like to pursue. Downton Abbey? You lost me. I’m giving myself permission to stop watching you so I can watch something else. I mean, write more.

Writing Everywhere

Writing Everywhere… it is possible

I DISSOLVE: Staying indoors
Being a writer and living in southern California comes with certain advantages. Why do I feel chained to my desk when I can write literally anywhere? All I need is a notebook! And probably a pen. Potentially a laptop. All of which are magnificently portable.

No more will I insist on sitting and staring at a screen to achieve verbal accumulation. To the streets, to the outdoors, to the beach!

I DISSOLVE: Driving everywhere
While LA is not the most pedestrian-friendly city in America, it is reasonably so. I have coffee, a library, several restaurants, public transportation and an ATM within 1 mile of my apartment. I have a grocery store down the street. And a clock repairman around the corner. Why jeopardize a perfectly good parking spot when I can walk to so many of life’s essential places?

I DISSOLVE: Working all day
This week I tried an experiment: knocking out my workday between the hours of 7am and noon. I won’t say it went perfectly, but I was amazed at how much I could accomplish in five hours. Since I tend to focus so intensely, I think short bursts of activity suit me much better than forcing a full day of lackluster performance. I certainly feel much more interested in writing my script!

I bet you have your own secret list of dissolutions for this year. Embrace it! Clear out the clutter! Let’s all let go of the stuff we don’t need, but we have it just because we’ve always had it, and make way for the new exciting stuff.

Want to?

Dr. Strangelove’s Chocolate Factory

Yesterday I wrote about chocolate. The cool thing about Choclatique is it’s run by the self-proclaimed “Dr. Strangelove of chocolate,” Ed Engoron, who I can only imagine learned to stop worrying and love the bonbon. Choclatique combines chocolate with nifty concoctions like apple pie, pineapple upside down cake, and grogg.

Naturally I had to see what’s up.

15 beautiful options, where to begin?

Don’t let the pretty pictures fool you, this will be some of the most interesting chocolate you put in your mouth. Next time you’re in LA, give them a call, or have them ship you a box of eight or fifty.

That’s what I call an investment in good taste. You can read all about it at The Chocolate Tourist blog.

Backyard Explorations: Hike to the Hollywood Sign

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Now that I live here, it may be time to do some local tourist attractions. I went to a live taping of The Voice a few weeks ago, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Or really talk about it, other than to say we did it. So.

The iconic symbol for everything glamorous

The iconic symbol for everything glamorous

Today I’ll show you pictures of the big hike (I use the term loosely – more of a metaphor than an actual fact) up Mt Lee Drive to the tippy top of Hollywood. As hikes go, it’s a pretty easy climb. It’s a little less than two miles each way, most of it paved, and the steep uphill bits are interspersed with plateaus.

The hardest parts were the stench of horsey poo and the flies that really wanted to lick our sweat. Blech.

Tips to other explorers: make sure to bring water, sunglasses and sunscreen. You’re either in full shade or full sun all along the way, and I don’t know about you but I don’t need any extra problems when I’m trying to walk uphill.


This is the closest we could get and still actually see the sign. So I took two shots for good measure.


It took us about 40 minutes to climb to the top, and we saw several more tanned and svelte citizens beating us there and jogging back down well before we made it. But we didn’t give up. No sir.

The quintessential tale of dream-chasing persistence.


To the right, the reservoir

We made it! Got to see the world from up high. What a beautiful day, well spent.


To the left, downtown Los Angeles

Did you do something new this weekend? Did you take a picture?

Pitching Your Screenplay

Dear Inktip Pitch Summit,

Your distinguished event is coming up in just over a week, and I’m beginning to sweat. What will happen if I stumble over my words and give a poor presentation? Will I be eaten alive and disgraced forever after?

Sweaty in Palm Beach

Dear Sweaty,

Please don’t fret about your pitch. Some nerves are to be expected, but remember the producers and agents in attendance are regular people just like you, and they just want to hear a good story. 

So simply tell your story and let them react to it. You may find that the simple act of telling it over and over will give you new insights into your characters and make you even more excited to see it brought to the big screen.

Just imagine your star on Hollywood Boulevard… It all begins somewhere!


Dear Inktip,

I’m packing for my trip to Burbank, and am concerned about the dress code. Someone told me people dress up as their characters for the pitch meetings. Should I do that? And where am I ever going to get my hands on a mermaid costume at this late hour?

Finless in Wyoming

Dear Finless,

We don’t know who may have told you to dress like a mermaid, but we highly encourage you to abandon that effort. Simple business casual is preferred.

Of course a pair of seashells is never frowned upon should you wish to save them for the pool.


Captain Jack pitches his script ideas. If a producer doesn’t like it, he’s marooned.

Dear Inktip,

What if I pitch my script and a producer requests to read it? Will I become an overnight success, famous, and rich beyond my wildest dreams?

Dreaming in South Poughkeepsie

Dear Dreaming,



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Point Dume State Beach


Point Dume is a state preserve, different from your typical beach in that the sand ends about 100 feet above the ocean. I would show you, but I was too chicken to get close enough to the edge. But one can still enjoy the beauty and relaxation of ocean waves from a safe perch on the sand.


The view from my perch.

If I were feeling more adventurous, I would have scrambled down the haphazard path to the beach. But this was primarily a reading and journaling mission. And scrambling back up the sandy cliff was not really on my list of priorities.

Maybe next time.

I spent a considerable amount of time gazing at this house.


House-hunting in Malibu. If it has a clock tower and a finished basement, I’ll take it.

A number of large birds roamed the sky. They looked like herons or cranes (though I’ve never seen a heron fly). At one point a whole bunch of them swooped out of nowhere and dispersed over the ocean, looking for lunch I expect.

I thought that sounded like a good idea. It was a good thing I had food with me, because this place is substantially off the beaten path. It’s quiet and peaceful, even on a Saturday. A few miles off the PCH, it comes at the edge of a neighborhood of illustrious, well propertied (and typically gated) houses.

Parking consists of about ten spots on the side of the road, and the posted signs limit you to 2 hours. Which works out okay, because with no food and no bathroom, you’re probably not going to want to hang out all day.


For a quiet perch to write and read, however… Point Dume is perfect.

Backyard Explorations: Point Dume

For we wanderlust sufferers, it is easy to overlook the fact that getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily require a big splurge on plane tickets and hotels. Next time you need a change of scenery, consider looking in your own backyard.


Topanga Canyon

LA has been my neighborhood for almost three months now, and it’s high time I did some exploring. Work pressures and writing commitments have been piling up. I could use some perspective.

And my motto is, when the going gets tough, the tough go driving.

The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, for cool) is the famous road that follows the coast of California. It runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond, but I was not planning to go that far today.


My eyes were too busy watching the road to notice where the camera was pointing.

In order to get to the coast, I took the 101 freeway west and followed Topanga Canyon Boulevard up, up, up and down, down down – winding around the mildly frightening mountainous terrain with my game face on. I even managed to hack a few photos with my free hand.

canyon3Coming down the other side, the first thing I noticed (aside from the gorgeous canyon views) was a distinct drop in temperature. After 90 degrees and climbing in the valley, those first whiffs of 69 coming over the hills was dreamy.

Topanga Canyon is a really charming part of the world, with barren hills suddenly boasting civilization. Signs for businesses and houses and even a Post Office. I felt a little nervous for the safety of several cyclists hugging the teeny margin of street next to vehicular traffic, but nothing horrible happened.


I wish I could do it justice (you’ll have to go see it yourself sometime), but suddenly out of all this up and down comes a stunning ocean view. This being a Saturday, the view was made slightly less stunning by the volume of cars lined up all along the side of the road.

These beaches do offer paid parking, but most visitors would rather take their chances on the side of the road than waste their nine bucks.

I drove the PCH for eight or ten miles, just looking around and soaking in the atmosphere. It reminded me of weekends in Virginia Beach – the smoosh of locals clamoring for some beach time on their day off.

Once I hit Malibu, public beaches gave way to houses built right on the coast (completely blocking the view). I thought these might be fun and eccentric like the ones in Florida, but they were mostly forgettable. Still the main drag feel was fun and funky, with a mix of fast food and kitschy Mexican establishments lined up together.

The first glimpse of something promising...

The first glimpse of something promising…

I set my sights on a quieter, less commercial part of the world. On the map, Point Dume State Beach (I pronounce it ‘Dyoom’ so it doesn’t sound so ominous) forms sort of a horn protruding into the ocean. I imagined a wide swath of sand from which you could enjoy a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

Who knew if that’s what it’s really like, but it’s fun to imagine.

I had a dream when I was planning my Key West road trip that the highway through the keys was just two lanes right on the water. I know that’s probably impossible, but come on, engineering has absolutely nothing to do with the way my mind works.


So there I was, beginning to look for my next turn, and the world opened up before me. The traffic, the busy Saturday, the deadlines, the questions about the future, they all fell away.

This is what exploring can do for you, folks. You take a break from your schedule. You simply behold.

This is discovery, in my book.

More on Point Dume tomorrow, but for now: when was the last time you followed a road you’ve never seen the end of? Maybe that should happen soon.

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Make Movies While You [Don’t] Sleep

No budget, no script, and 48 hours. Can you manage a 4-7 minute film that isn’t terrible?

This is the question I sought to answer over the weekend. Being new to LA, and eager to dive into the local creative space, I gamely signed up for the 2013 Los Angeles 48-Hour Film Project. With no assurance that I would meet – let alone successfully entice – any quality filmmakers to come along and join me, I put on my Producer Hat (the one with the feathers) and went out on a limb.

Producers Rule

It was an experiment that definitely paid off. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking, but I loved working with my team and I can’t wait to do it again. I went from zero to twelve in less than a month. Twelve talented, enthusiastic and dedicated people threw in their lot with this wide-eyed newcomer and made a short film.

The tenets of the 48 Hour Film Project are that everyone has the capacity to make a film. The key is to just do it. So from Friday night to Sunday night, they give you a genre, a line of dialogue, a prop and a character – then send you off to get it done.

And we got it done. Barely.

First off, I had a mad week coordinating details with my team. 12 people is a wonderful number of helpers, but it’s also a lot of lives to revolve plans around. I was up to my eyeballs in email and to-do lists. It was awesome.

Friday night came with much anticipation, and my co-writer, Sue, and I eagerly awaited our fates. First we drew a genre: Dark Comedy. Yippee! I love Dark Comedy. But wait – that’s because it’s really smart and ironic and brilliant. Can we do brilliant in 2 days?

Maybe that’s why our official team name is The Brilliance. Oh yes.

After some feverish brainstorming and a solid six hours of writing (in which we changed everything – twice) we had a script we felt pretty good about. We grabbed a few precious hours of sleep and at 6:30 I was up with the chickens to make breakfast for my production team. And yes, we had eggs.

The next 24 hours were a whirl of excitement, intense effort, fun, juggling priorities, strokes of creative genius, disappointment, and hilarity. Everything you experience in the creative process, we experienced. Over and over again, on and on, for a solid day. Sustainable for a short time, but definitely not a lifestyle.

brillianceLuckily we escaped with our lives AND our relationships intact. Despite Avid’s very best efforts to break us, our post-production team remained positive all through the weary night and late into our final day of editing, color correction, and sound design.

Exporting files and burning discs in the car, we made it to the dropoff rendezvous just 10 minutes shy of the 7:30 pm deadline. Wiped out, but proud of the final product we delivered.

To anyone considering a 48 endeavor, I highly recommend it. It is a phenomenal kickstart to your creative tendencies, and creates a defined goal around which you and your compatriots can rally. Plus you are together for two long days, which will either make you fast friends or mortal enemies depending on what kind of snacks you serve.

Lessons learned from this wild ride:

1. Next time, find a director so I can focus on writing and making food and encouraging my sweet team of expert guerrilla filmmakers.

2. I’m definitely a producing writer. I love producing, but I wouldn’t want to produce just anything – the most fun for me is nurturing a story from beginning to end. This is really a helpful eureka moment, because I keep second-guessing that feathered hat.

3. I’d rather have a dedicated, professional, and enthusiastic team than all the time in the world.

Most of all, I garnered an even deeper respect for all the professional creators who steward hundreds and thousands and millions of dollars to create something worth watching. This stuff takes guts, you guys.

Creating is an adventure. Don’t sit back and wait to see if someone’s work will be good – get up and help them make it good. Pioneer that territory, blaze that trail. Give your critical tendencies a vacation and just go play.

It may not be brilliant, but it will be worthwhile. Promise.

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DIY Writer’s Retreat

Once you start inviting writing gurus to send you weekly emails, you will find yourself facing a number of invitations to part with cash. Some of these money-spending opportunities are extremely helpful, depending on what you need at this point in time and where you are in your career.

One invite that never fails to draw my salivating interest is for writer’s retreats. A week away in a beautiful place with yoga classes and creative prompts, and no responsibilities but to write.

Doesn’t that sound like the definition of bliss?

Chances are, if you’re still in the ‘build’ phase of your writing career, you don’t have a couple thousand bucks to dispense on a week of bliss. Or maybe you do and you’re cheap. Which is basically my situation.

So what’s the cheapster to do when her writing piles up and Puerto Rico beckons? What we always do when we want something without paying for it. Do It Yourself.

No money, no problem. Hole up and write.

No money, no problem. Hole up and write.

With three quarters of a screenplay, a serial or novel, a short story languishing for want of research, a couple Ebooks, and an idea for a kids’ travel book weighing on my creative mind, I’m overdue for some serious writing time. So the plan is to devote three days of this week to writing.

No email. No errands. No cleaning. No phone calls. Just me and my computer and my notebook.

I hesitate to put this plan out there in Internet Land, only because my grand plans have an infamous history of falling apart. Undramatically, but tragically and completely. Leaving me with nothing but a list of good intentions and a guilty conscience.

But I am making an exception for scientific purposes. I’ll state my hypothesis, spend the week in experiments, then report next week with my conclusions. I flatter myself that this process will benefit other writers as well. So if a week away from life as you know it is just not in your budget this year, consider joining me on a DIY Writer’s Retreat.

Important considerations when planning one’s own writer’s retreat:

1. What is my goal?
Yes, writing, but more specifically, which writing. I listed four or five projects above, but no way will I touch all of them in three days. Better to choose one and go hard. The more specific the goal, the better.

I intend to finish the rough draft of my screenplay. That’s basically 40 pages. Just rough, no editing or tweaking. Not even spell-check. Just one pass to stretch it out to a full length.

2. Preparations
If all I’m doing is writing, that means I won’t be able to go grocery shopping. So I’d better do that first.

Depending on your personality, it could be helpful to come up with a rough schedule. For me, it’s hit or miss – a schedule could really help me focus, or it could send me into a panic of lethargy. So I’ll keep it low key: exercise in the morning, do some writing. Take a couple hours’ break for lunch and a book or movie, then write some more.

Nooooo pressure.

I do have a store of inspirational quotes and books and videos in the event that I lose motivation and wake up in the middle of a House marathon surrounded by origami rejects. A little Bret Lott or Anna Quindlen will get me back on the straight and narrow.

3. Go Somewhere
Just because I can’t afford Puerto Rico doesn’t mean I can’t day-trip to San Francisco. Or Phoenix. Or Starbucks.

Again, this is a matter of preference. I enjoy spending time in my little baby apartment, but it can get noisy during the day, what with the children and the skaters and the bird. My neighbor has a bird that squawks hellishly for approximately 2 hours every day.

I’m really good at ignoring stuff.

As long as I have music as white noise, staying home will probably work fine for me. But it could be fun to kick off at a coffee shop, so I can savor that feeling of starting something new and exciting.

4. Soften expectations
As much as I want to spend three days only writing, the bald fact is since starting this blog post, I’ve thought of calendar items for every day this week. Why don’t I write stuff in my calendar? This is a separate, but contributing, problem.

So in reality, it will probably be like 2 days and 3 afternoons. But that’s life. It’s DIY. We make exceptions.

But in the end we have this beautiful thing that we made, and it’s all the more satisfying because it didn’t cost a cent.

Off we go, busy writers. To create and to explore. Godspeed.

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Two major things happened this week: I moved out of my Virginia Beach oceanfront paradise, and I sold an article. Both on the same day, ironically.

The article was kind of an experiment. I’ve toyed with the idea of submitting some of my work to publications, and actually sent a short story to a few mystery magazines when I was in high school (still have both rejection letters). 

So when I came across the magazine for a national association of estheticians, I thought maybe I can write for these folks. I have skin. I’ve learned some stuff about it.

So I pitched a few ideas, came up with an outline, and finally wrote the article on spec since I didn’t really have any other samples to show them. And they liked it! My article will be printed in the Sept/Oct issue, and I will officially have one writing sample! And a check!

This came as very welcome news, as I paused to take a break from stuffing all my earthly possessions into my Hyundai Elantra. The time has come to move to Los Angeles, but that means I must first move away from Virginia.


My beach with a rainbow after a storm.

Living in Virginia Beach has been – in a word – delightful. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you find yourself needing a place to live for a few months during the off-season, consider wintering here. It’s really affordable, and there are still plenty of warm days between October and June.

Being here has given me space to sort of re-imagine my life as a writer. The ocean has beckoned to me when I was so wiped out and frustrated with my work that only toes dipped in the waves would help. It’s been a haven and an inspiration. And a launch pad.

And now it’s time to go! I left many new friends, a few old ones, lots of household items and a piano. A little piece of my heart. But it’s time.

I’m so excited about moving to California! I’m so glad to be moved out, because it’s soooo much work to move! But I will miss my little slice of oceanfront and the people that made it special.

And I’m really jazzed to sell my article.

Eagle Rock Gospel Singers

Okay, I’ve never done this before, but I’m just so excited about this band. Do you ever come across something you didn’t even know you were looking for, but it’s so perfect and you can’t not share it?

For you: The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers. Please listen, they are so cool.


Equal parts gospel, blues, and indie rock – or “country-punk gospel” if you go by their website. Whatever it is, adds up to really fun, interesting, and singable. I met one of the band members when I was on my LA scouting mission, and just got around to Googling them. Hot dog, I am a fan.

And I just bought the EP. Score.