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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California Bound

What an undertaking it once was to migrate in America. A trip out west used to be a major ordeal fraught with danger, death, disease, robbery, and even barring any of those difficulties, it certainly involved sacrifice of life-changing proportions.

Nowadays I can buy a plane ticket Wednesday, pack a bag Thursday, and five hours later I’m in Los Angeles. And the worst thing that happened was the airport food.

courtesy of

But I think the experience of venturing from home and familiarity to parts unknown is still similar. Granted, the pioneers made a choice for life, no turning back. But the decision to swap coasts has certainly become a defining one in my life. You see, I’m going to live here. Soon.

Today I’m flying. The countdown to my cross-country move is at four weeks, two days and ticking down each moment.  So I go briefly to scout the territory. To seek friendly waters, a safe haven, and opportunities to make my living as a screenwriter in the great Wood known as Holly.

Tomorrow I’ll be volunteering all day at the Biola Media Conference, which will be a fun opportunity to rub shoulders with other entertainers and make some friends in my new neighborhood. I’m really excited because I get to work the registration desk, which I’ve always wanted to do.

Then Sunday to Wednesday is all about finding a church, apartment-hunting, meeting friends and making industry connections. All in four days. Overbook much?

Meanwhile I write! I write in the airport and on the plane. I run into the airport convenience mart to buy markers because I somehow failed to pack a pen in my carry-on bag. Notebook, yes. Anything to write with, no.

I write on the metro. I write in the hotel. I write on the back of a receipt while I wait to pick up my dinner order. I write every spare moment, because that is what I do. That’s why I’m leaving a comfy life in Virginia to pioneer my own little corner of California. Writing is what I want to do in this new stake I’m claiming on the other side of normal.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

3. Kristen & The Wolf meets The Great Outdoors

It’s winter. Even at the beach. And that has made it tough to get out and get some exercise.

Writing is delightful, but it doesn’t afford much movement. That’s why I’ve been inspired by N.G. Davis in his effort to become a better screenwriter and a better runner. All his pictures have snow on the ground, so I’m betting it’s even colder where he is than where I am.

So I resolved this morning that no matter the wind conditions (it does get might windy on the ocean), I would bundle up to my eyebrows if need be and get out there.

I actually lucked out, weather-wise. It’s probably the warmest it will be all week, touching 48 degrees at 9am when I made it out, with wind at 7 mph. Almost balmy, you might say.

As I marched across the sand and toward the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, I tried to remember the last time I’d been out for a run. I couldn’t. I do walk quite a bit, being in a tourist town where most modern conveniences vital to life are within a few blocks of my front door – the coffee shop, the library, the grocery store, the post office.

But there’s no feeling quite like that of jogging down the beach as the ocean nips at your feet and invites you to go shoeless (not in 48 degree weather, thanks). It makes me look forward to warmer temps, but also solidifies my resolve to make it work regardless of the cold. Because it’s a step of intention. It’s a point I’m making about my life and the way I want to be.

And I can always come back inside if it’s too cold.


3. Part One: Kristen to the Rescue (continuing)

When we last left Kristen, she was on her knees at the edge of a ditch, reaching out to a faceless creature making roaring sounds in the thickening fog.

From the sound of it, the creature was far below. Kristen reached down into the cavity as deeply as she could, but only grasped at rocks and mud for her trouble.

A tree across the pit caught her eye – its viney branches like arms hanging down invitingly. She ran to it and tugged at the wooden vines, but none would give way. Going on adrenaline, Kristen began climbing the tree. She had never climbed a tree before, and she wasn’t altogether sure of her next move. But somehow she got a leg up and made it to the next niche.

The bark was rough and unyielding against her tiny hands, but Kristen continued to climb. As she did, the fog abated and allowed her to see down to the ground – a feat which Kristen did not even attempt until she had fairly reached the top. But before that she was preoccupied with wrenching one of those vines free from its starting place somewhere in the trunk of the tree.

She was unsuccessful. But happening to live nearby, a woodpecker perched by Kristen’s knee. She was so relieved she might have cried. Instead she dragged the vine close to the woodpecker’s beak and let it peck away.

The woodpecker, true to its character, gave up long before the job was done. It had its fill of hard work and flew away, no regard for the hapless creature depending on its help. “Typical,” Kristen muttered under her breath as she twisted the vine where it had been pecked.

Amazingly, the fibers of the wood began to separate. Kristen worked at it, her hope growing, as bit by bit the vine began to break free. A vehement roar from below prompted her to look down and offer reassurance.

But the words died on her lips. Not only did Kristen suddenly realize how very high up she had gotten, but she could now clearly identify the impressions she had blindly followed through the woods. Footprints. Gigantic footprints belonging to a gigantic creature with gigantic feet, having been baited to fall prey to a gigantic ditch.

This was it. Kristen had gotten herself into a full fledged adventure.

To be continued

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1. Kristen & The Wolf meets Writer’s Block

To write when one wishes to do anything but.

It happens. We love to write, we want to write, we dream of writing, and then it’s time to write and we run away. I’ve been running all day: cleaning my oven (my OVEN, for goodness’ sake), baking, checking my email, and staring at the ceiling.

So how do we settle down to write when everything in us cries out for oven cleaning?

I’m sorry, that sentence is just so strange. Who wants to clean the oven? No one. Not even professional oven cleaners who started their business with just a cleaning kit and a dream, now with dozens of franchise cleaning services the world over. It’s a really unpleasant job. I would rather clean a 90-year-old toilet than an oven.

But today, this is what I’m doing rather than writing. No more. It’s time to grab my writer’s block with both hands and show it who’s boss.

Some helpful tools in that task:

1. A hot drink

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate, something warm and soothing does something to my nerves and helps me focus. Tonight it was tea (herbal, of course).

2. A candle

Nothing smelly, just a warm light on a dreary howly night.

3. Comfy pants


4. Music

I love music, as many people do. I find it immensely conducive to focus and relaxation – both of which are important parts of writing. You have to be in the zone, and once I get there, I may not even notice the music anymore. But some well-matched tunes definitely help to usher me through the gate.

You can even take it a step further and follow Ryan Koo’s advice to create a playlist for whatever you’re working on, That way when it’s time to get back to your screenplay (or book, or poetry anthology), you can instantly replicate the vibe you had going last time. For the record, I took this advice, and it’s pretty good.

5. Just start

What’s the worst that can happen? You write something horrible and have to go back and change it all. That’s the best part! Editing something you’ve already said in order to make it better is WAY easier than generating something in the first place! So relax. Write badly!

With that in mind, I now bring you the official first part in our Kristen & The Wolf saga (the other part was really more of a prologue). If you’d care to suggest any additions to my list of writing helps, go for it.

Kristen 2

1. Part One: Kristen and the Monster

Kristen started at the new school three weeks after her 11th birthday. She had never been to a proper school before – she and Grandmom had lived far enough into the country that it was impractical for a bus to pick her up. Officially, she was homeschooled, but in reality Grandmom just brought her along to monthly errands in town.

Kristen learned to count by watching the bank teller deal out Grandmom’s money. Kristen learned to read by staring at the letters on each item in the grocery basket as Grandmom put it into the cart. “Toothpicks,” Grandmom would say, and Kristen would nod solemnly, like she got it. Eventually, she did get it.

Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it.

So the new school was a real experience, with lots to get used to, and the culture shock on top of losing Grandmom was a big deal for Kristen. She knew it was a big deal, and Mrs. Bibbs, her foster mother, talked like she knew it was a big deal although in practice she seemed surprised Kristen didn’t just line up and work it out.

The Midcounty Elementary fifth grade class wasn’t the worst place to be new to absolutely everything. It wasn’t the worst at all, but it was uncomfortable for Kristen, who had to adjust to sitting indoors all day and nary a critter in sight. So when Miss Dinsmore announced they were having a field trip, it was like a ray of honey dripped into Kristen’s soul. It tasted like hope.

The cherry on top was when a freckly boy to her left whispered across the aisle the location of this trip – not a field, as one might expect, but the mother of all outings. The only place Kristen had ever wanted to go apart from Mount Rushmore, or the moon.

They were going to the zoo.

That night Kristen stared at the white prickly ceiling of her bare bedroom and smiled from the bottom of her heart. She was going on a trip. And there would be animals.

It was a perfect day. The sun was shining, the breeze blowing, and a little girl had offered to let Kristen sit next to her on the bus. As they each hopped off the bus and followed Miss Dinsmore through an enormous gate and to the promised land beyond, Kristen could barely breathe.

She felt as if she were coming home. The sheer variety of animals all around her was breath-taking. Kristen didn’t even know what to call most of them, and none of them had ever crossed her path in real life. The Discovery Channel can only do so much to prepare you for such a sight.

Kristen got lost.

It was almost immediate, and completely unintentional, but when Miss Dinsmore did a head count at lunchtime, it made no difference to her agony of mind.

Kristen, however, didn’t know she was lost and wandered quite cheerfully from the gorillas to the porcupines to the giraffes. She was disappointed that they were kept so far away. She wanted to go up to each one and get to know them. Standing at the gate between her and the lion, she felt frustrated.

It was such a beautiful creature, majestic, lying in the sun flipping flies away with its tail. Kristen longed to go to it and rest its head on her lap. If only she could get through these bars.

She stretched an arm through, up to her shoulder, but could budge no further. The cavern of space between them was only about a foot shorter than it had been a moment ago. And yet – was the lion coming toward her?

It had nonchalantly – almost carelessly – risen to its feet. It shook its mane now and took a few steps forward. Now the distance between them was shortened by two feet. Feeling a spark of hope, Kristen stretched her arm out again, flexing her hand to beckon the beast to her.

The beast obeyed. Step by step, almost cautiously, the lion came nearer. Kristen smiled as her hand finally met the lion’s nose. It nuzzled there for a split moment when a gasp behind her made Kristen turn and look.

“Get that child away from the fence!” It was a woman with a stroller, going ballistic from ten feet away. “She’s touching it! She’s touching the lion!”

Someone wrenched Kristen away, and next the lion let out a bloodcurdling roar. Everyone was screaming. A zoo staff member was assuring them that everything would be fine. The lion caretaker was inside the habitat, trying to lead the lion away with a long pole.

Kristen observed all of this with confusion. She had just enjoyed a beautiful moment with a ferocious animal. What was the big deal?

Thankfully, her meandering next brought Kristen to the sea lions. There Miss Dinsmore finally located her disappearing student when Kristen appeared on stage next to the man flipping fish into the sea lions’ mouths and asked if she could try it.

And she did it.

A perfect day.

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