A quick refresher course

library
Researching potential connections takes just as much effort

I’ve noticed a trend recently popping up on a few online screenwriting forums.

Writers are posting their material, asking for feedback. Concepts, loglines, the first page or the first few pages of their script. Any and all of them.

On one hand, I can understand the desire to get feedback. You want to know if what you’ve got works, and if it doesn’t, how it could be improved.

On the other hand, you’re asking what is, for the most part, an assortment of total strangers with unknown levels of experience to tell you what they think. Can’t say that I’m too crazy about that.

It’s like walking into a party where you don’t know anybody, standing in the middle of the room and shouting “Hey! What do you think?”

Don’t do that.

As has been stated many times on these pages – networking is key.

Professional relationships are a vital part of this business. They take time and effort to establish and maintain, but are definitely worth it in the long run.

You need to put yourself out there and get to know other writers, preferably in person, but online/virtually works just as well. Both have benefitted me greatly, and could do the same for you.

Here are a few previous posts which might come in handy.

Getting to know you

Try the direct approach

Lattes, lunches & kindred spirits

Hey! Long time no (preferred form of communication)

Now get out there and meet people.

-Two weeks ago, I ran the SoFi Golden Gate Half-marathon with a time of 2:01:16. Not bad, especially considering the amount of uphill.

This Sunday I’ll be across the Bay and running the Berkeley Half-marathon for the first time (it’s also my 5th and final race for this year). The course is a little flatter than San Francisco, so while coming in under 1:55 would be great, I’ll also be happy with anything under 2 hours.

Once again proving that the journey to succeed really is a (half) marathon, not a sprint.

See you at the finish line.

A most illustrative Q&A with Emma T. Capps

new hair icon maybe

Being a lifelong reader of comic books, it was inevitable I would discover and subsequently enjoy a wide variety of webcomics. Variety is actually one of the key words in play here. There are so many to choose from, along with so much talent on display from the creators.

Like with screenplays, webcomics are great examples of storytelling – just in a different medium. It takes a lot of work to create and maintain a quality webcomic.

I first met Emma Capps a couple of years ago at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco; she was 15 years old and already an accomplished cartoonist. She’s experienced a lot since then, both professionally and personally, and despite some tough setbacks, still maintains an incredibly positive and upbeat attitude.

“Emma T. Capps started her first webcomic at age 14, and has exhibited her work all over the country and done special installments for publications like Dark Horse Presents. She also teaches cartooning workshops at 826 Valencia in San Francisco, and has more than doubled the percentage of female students in her classes! In her spare time, she likes chatting in Spanish, learning new crafts, and being politically active through volunteer work. Most of all, she really hates talking about herself in the third person.”

What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

Hmm, this is honestly a bit of a tough one to answer because I am constantly reading. I just finished George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which to my mind deserves all the accolades it’s recently gotten. (Michiko Kakutani, recently departed bastion of the New York Times book review, never steers me astray). Bardo is a bit of a tricky book to classify, as it skillfully combines various genres in a way that makes it difficult to define. I cried much more than I expected for a book where the premise is that all the characters are dead.

I think what I recently had the most fun reading was Scott Hawkins’ The Library at Mount Char, a novel that to me has flown quite undeservedly under the radar. It’s a really fresh voice in fantasy that begs multiple readings just because it is so skillfully plotted and imagined. There are scenes of violence and horror – many – but I’ve still been recommending it all around and it’s become one of my favorite books. It begs a sequel, or a companion novel set within the same universe, but as of yet Hawkins hasn’t expressed his immediate plans to write one (Library is his, remarkably, his debut).

In terms of things I’ve watched, I don’t watch a large amount of TV – mostly period dramas, like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and pretty much everything on Masterpiece Classic – but a movie that has one of the most excellent scripts, to me, is Tarsem’s The Fall. This might be a little bit of a cop-out because there were definitely unscripted scenes between the young actress and Lee Pace, but the entire conceit of the movie is amazing – and the costumes by Eiko Ishioka are understandably incredible. It’s a historical movie, sure, but at its core it’s a movie about the power of stories and how they bind us all together.

How’d you get into creating your own comics?

This is also unfortunately a slightly strange answer. It’s not so cut-and-dry! I always knew I loved writing and drawing, and I had several short stories I published in Stone Soup Magazine along with illustrations I did. But I never really synthesized the two, mostly because I considered my writing to be better developed than my art skills were at that point. But I took a short art course, and I realized I actually could capture my ideas visually just as I had imagined them.

In Fall 2010, I drew a short autobiographical comic called Jam Days and submitted it to a competition – and, somehow, managed to work that into my final “recital” project for 8th grade. But I finished Jam far before the overall project’s deadline! So, I re-discovered Chapel, a character I had created a while ago and had turned into a line of greeting cards I made for my parents. I’ve always had a fascination with newspaper dailies, which are sadly dying out, and I thought it would be a great challenge to try and re-create that sort of schedule.

So I set out to draw one Chapel comic every single day for 30 days. I put them online in installments – that’s what became “Season One” of The Chapel Chronicles – and by the time I’d finished posting them, I realized they had really struck a chord. People were commenting! People I didn’t even know in real life! So why not continue? I lightened my load a little bit, though, to one comic per week instead of per day. I kept to that schedule throughout all four years of high school (including summer break!)

What are some of your favorite comics and webcomics?

My favorite comics hew much more to the print side than the webcomic side, although some of them were definitely webcomics that later become print collections! My favorite print volumes are Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, Kerascoet’s Beautiful Darkness, DeForge’s Ant Colony, Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy (previously serialized online, but I strongly recommend the printed version). In terms of series, I really enjoy Oda’s One Piece – I use it as an example of differing panel structures in the comics classes I teach. In a parallel universe where I actually have my life together, I’d also keep up regularly with Witchy, Paranatural, Saint for Rent, and Hark! A Vagrant. I’m 99.99999% sure there are more that I’m forgetting to list.

In our pre-interview, you’d mentioned plotting out the story for your latest project. How did you come up with the idea for it, and how did you develop it?

In contrast to Chapel, this story, The League of Fonts, is much older in terms of its sheer gestation period. I actually had the idea for it before I even started doing Chapel! If I remember correctly, I was having lunch with my grandma and had the idea – but I had no paper, so I went to a stationary store next door and bought a small notebook to jot down my thoughts! I still have the notebook, somewhere.

The structure of the story was far different back then, but the central conceit of the characters and fonts was the same. It has evolved through various iterations and plot changes, though, especially as I learned things that could make certain aspects more realistic and others less so for the purpose of satire. I think my greatest breakthrough was a few years ago, when I realized it was a highly visual story and would be better served as a graphic novel instead of a prose story. So I converted it to a script, and continued work in that format. I have the entire story scripted now, on Scrivener, which for me is the ideal process: that way, when I’m actually drawing, I can put all my attention on the visual aspect knowing that I’ve already got the overall flow of the storyline planned out. If I hadn’t done that writing beforehand, it would be a mess, since it’s a highly detailed plot and relies on continuity to really work.

Going through the archives of The Chapel Chronicles, some of the earlier strips are of the one-and-done format, followed by a gradual transition into longer storylines. Was this intentional or more of a natural progression (i.e. the more you wrote, the more ideas you got)?

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t really have a set “game plan” for how I would start Chapel – and, honestly, I never intended it to become something longer. My first 30-comics-in-30-days was a personal challenge, but I found I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. There’s still narrative and continuity in those early comics; some of the board game strips, for example, might not make quite as much sense without context, nor would the storyline of Chapel acquiring her pet hedgehog, Rupert. Once I decided I was going to make more Chapel, I immediately knew there would be longer storylines. My favorite newspaper comics do just that: there are longer storylines, but each can still be enjoyable as a stand-alone strip.

You’re definitely a very creative person. Is being a professional artist/cartoonist the ultimate goal, or just one of many?

I honestly don’t know! YES, being a professional cartoonist is a life dream of mine – but is it the only, ultimate goal? Most likely not.

When it comes to stand-alone visual art, I doubt it. This goes against all accepted artist etiquette, but I almost never sketch. If I do, it’s to plan out aspects of a narrative world I’m creating. I don’t mind that, though! I have little-to-no interest in being solely a visual artist, as I honestly don’t think that’s my strong suit.

When I was younger I wanted to be a novelist, and I still might revisit that – comics, to me, are just a way of telling stories that have a strong visual component and couldn’t be fully expressed with just prose. I read books all the time (to the point where I’ve had to ban myself from reading the New York Times book review, since it’s the equivalent of window-shopping for me) and I feel, often, the narrative/written side of graphic novels is treated as less important than the strength of the artwork. Really, the opposite is true. The most successful contemporary comics don’t, in a strict sense, have technical artistic proficiency. The reason they’re so popular is because the story or writing has something that is engaging. XKCD, for example, pulls no punches: it’s all stick figures, but it’s so wildly popular because it resonates with people through the strength of the writing.

When I was a lot younger, I wanted to be a paleontologist, but now I’m not sure I’d be a very good one. Math and science aren’t really my strong suits – they could be, if I was passionate about them enough to study them on my own – so that likely wouldn’t work out. In my spare time, beyond reading, I like to design and sew/knit my own clothes. But as of yet, I have no intention of ever doing that professionally. That way, nobody can see my lazy seam-work on the interior of the garment! I mostly taught myself, so I don’t do anything the way it’s “supposed” to be done. If it fits, then I’m happy, and I don’t have to go clothes shopping ever again!

You’ve taught cartooning workshops at a non-profit writing center. How did that come about, and what sort of things do you talk about?

Coinciding with my initial work on The Chapel Chronicles, I decided I would bundle up the first “season” into a small book and sell it at my school’s craft/project fair! I also went to a convention (my first one ever!) in New York and exhibited there as well, which was terrifying, exhausting, and exhilarating all at once. I had planned from the beginning to donate all my profits to 826 Valencia, a nonprofit in San Francisco, as one of the teachers who first sparked my interest in creating comics used to teach there. They were a bit surprised at a 14-year-old donating money, I think, and invited me to come teach a comic class myself! I was unimaginably nervous, but I wanted to knock it out of the park, so I prepared worksheets on the process, a detailed time breakdown for the class, and specific PowerPoint presentations on what I’d be trying to teach. I really wanted to show them that I wasn’t doing this just as a lark (or, in any way, a “volunteer experience” to look good on school applications). I was serious!

My first workshop was a disaster: only one student showed up. 826 contacted me to apologize, and asked if I’d like to teach another class. I didn’t, but I said yes regardless. I started to teach regularly, and began theming my workshops so students could have some framework around which to create their ideas. Mostly, I focused on teaching kids various steps of planning a comic, and then some conventional tools that make cartooning easier – but my focus was never about imposing some specific way of doing something, as I’d experienced that in art classes at my school and bristled at it. I would explain to them why we would be doing a certain step, and why I felt it was helpful. I’d then go around to each student individually, and if they had a reason they’d like to do something against the grain, I would encourage them to go for it! I really wanted to let their individual voices shine. I even had a few “repeat offenders” who attended multiple classes and tried to squeak in before registration filled up, as it did often!

I love teaching, and I haven’t gotten to do so in a while due to extenuating circumstances, which leads me to…

You also mentioned having to take a break from writing and drawing due to some health issues. Can you elaborate on that, and how are you feeling these days?

I would be more than happy to discuss it! To be honest, I’m never quite sure how to bring up the details – I’ve essentially disappeared for the greater part of two years, both to focus on my treatment and to figure out a way to broach the subject. I’m always cognizant that the Chapel audience skews younger, and I never want to write something that might scare them. I haven’t updated in quite a while because while I’m on the road to recovery, it’s never 100% guaranteed, and I feel that proclaiming “I’m cured!” would be jinxing it.

Essentially, I went to college in New York City in Fall 2015. Less than a week in, I caught a cold from my roommate and I didn’t get better. I missed several days of class, spent most days sleeping, and barely had enough energy to get something to eat. I went to go spend the afternoon with a family friend, and I was so tired she booked me an emergency appointment with her son’s pediatrician. He sent me in for tests at the hospital, and I woke up in the ICU around three weeks later.

At the time, I had a diagnosis of generic pulmonary failure – but it wasn’t correct. In order to breathe, they’d given me a tracheostomy. I’d also been tube-fed, so I had lost so much weight that at first I couldn’t walk at all. Initially, I wasn’t very upset, most likely due to the massive medications I was on that kept me fairly sedated at all times. But I learned I had to go back home to San Francisco and that made me devastated. At home, I started seeing a pulmonologist, got steroid prescriptions, and was allowed to let my trach hole close up. I worked really hard! I still never really had a cut-and-dry diagnosis, but I was on strong daily medications and they seemed to be working. So in fall 2016, I went back to school in New York again.

This time, I lasted longer. I stayed for about a month or so. But things started to fracture: I got three colds; I wasn’t thinking clearly; I couldn’t do school assignments that, rationally, I knew were easy. Eventually I decided I needed to come home. I felt it was my fault, like I wasn’t trying hard enough.

One day, I got a severe headache and vomiting. We went to the emergency room, and they quickly took me in an ambulance to UCSF Hospital. I had severe inflammation in my brain, to the point the doctors were shocked I was even walking. I got discharged around…Christmas, I think? But a few weeks later, the entire left side of my body began to feel numb and tingly, so we went to the hospital as a precaution. They diagnosed me with some sort of brain condition, and put me on a treatment of regular IV drips. But that, too, was incorrect.

One doctor thought: “You know, this isn’t adding up.” So she surveyed my entire case and realized the inflammation in my lungs was the same thing now clouding my brain. On a hunch, she did a simple blood test and discovered I have an extraordinarily rare genetic disorder: hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), which more often than not goes undiagnosed because it’s so uncommon and has a high mortality rate. For this, there is only one treatment: chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. So that’s what I had, and I’m on the road to recovery now! I wouldn’t say I feel 100% back to normal, but at least my brain is working well enough now that I can read novels again and process the information.

Anyway, it’s not a very nice story to tell, which is why I haven’t really told it in any Chapel-specific circles. But if anything can come out of my discussing it, I’d hope that it would raise awareness so more doctors might think to test for HLH and other rare hematologic disorders. Many doctors have never seen a case of it in their entire careers!

What’s next for Emma T. Capps?

A functional immune system.

How can people find out more about your work?

They can read the entirety of The Chapel Chronicles online at www.chapelchronicles.com! It’s all there, except for some work I’ve done for Dark Horse Presents, as I don’t own the copyright to those. And the latest for League of Fonts is up on www.leagueoffonts.com – although that’s on indefinite hiatus due to the aforementioned health issues, which I feel horrifically guilty about. Beyond that, I have a Facebook page for The Chapel Chronicles, and I’m on Twitter –  @EmmaTCapps. On Facebook I’ve been largely inactive, as I know some younger kids do follow me there, and I’ve yet to think of a PG-rated way of describing brain surgery. I update my Twitter account slightly more frequently. Previously, I posted solely about my artwork, but lately it’s been about my health, books, and taking nice baths (verdict: acceptable for all ages. Don’t ever feel like you’re too old for a bubble bath. Trust me).

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

That’s a tough one, because there are two things I am excellent at baking: pie and chocolate cake, in that order. I haven’t specified the pie flavor because I have a good crust recipe and I can usually make them come out equally well. I will say I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie, so I’d have to say my favorites are probably in the berry territory (berritory?) – I just made a blackberry one, in a desperate culinary plea to woo my new neighbors’ affections, so right now that’s where I’m leaning. My mom prefers peach, though, so I make those more frequently. Yikes, now I’m hungry…!

*Author’s suggestion – Emma’s books would make for some great and pleasantly original gifts, holidays or otherwise, for any young readers on your list. Just click here.

More than just a pencil?

giant pencil
It wasn’t THAT big

Now that we’re in the month of October, what happened to me this morning feels very apropos for the season, and definitely worth recounting.

But first, a little backstory…

The latest draft of the pulp sci-fi is just about wrapped up. I’ve received lots of great notes on it, and incorporated some very helpful suggestions. The contest I’d like to send it to has its final deadline next week, so the past few weeks have been all about getting it as ready as I can.

While I still plan on submitting this script, there’s still that part of me that isn’t sure if it’s good enough, and that maybe I should hold off on the contest because it just needs too much work, which of course makes me doubt my abilities as a writer.

“Am I good enough? Am I wasting my time?” You know. The usual.

Cut to this morning.

My workday starts at 5AM, which means I get up around 3:15. Part of my getting ready involves having to take the dog out.

Since we live near Golden Gate Park, there’s always a chance of running into raccoons or skunks, so I’ve started bringing a flashlight as part of the dog-walking.

This morning, we got to the bottom of our front steps, and right there just beyond the first step was a pencil. Just a plain ol’ regular pencil.

I thought that was kind of weird. How did a pencil get there? Maybe one of the neighbor kids dropped it yesterday as they passed by? But it wasn’t there last night when I took the dog out. I took the dog around the corner. She took care of business, and we returned home. The pencil was still there.

We got inside and I got ready to head out to work. For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the pencil. It being there seemed so random.

Maybe about seven, eight minutes pass between returning inside with the dog and going down to the garage to get my bike ready (helmet, lights, etc). I step outside. Just out of curiosity, I want to see that pencil again.

I maneuver my bike over to the steps and reposition the headlight down towards the sidewalk.

No pencil. Swear to God. It was gone.

Let’s consider the possibilities:

-it wasn’t there to begin with. Maybe, but I distinctly remember seeing it just a few minutes ago.

-it wasn’t a pencil. Highly doubtful. The unmistakble yellow, the green metal, a pink eraser. Definitely a pencil.

-somebody took it. possible, but highly unlikely. Not a lot of foot traffic in our neighborhood at 4AM. K later suggested it was the paper delivery guy, but his m.o. is to  toss the paper from inside the car. Plus, we don’t get the paper anyway, so there’d be no reason for him to stop in front of our place.

-a raccoon or skunk took it. Again, highly unlikely, but you never know. They continuously go after our composting bin on the other side of the house, so why not snatch up a pencil?

And what may be the most outlandish theory of all – it was some kind of message to me.

Think about it. A pencil. The most basic of writing implements. Maybe this was some kind of “sign from beyond” that despite all my doubts and occasional lapses of self-confidence, writing really is what I’m meant to do and that I should keep at it.

Then again, I might find the pencil upon returning home later today, rendering the whole thing moot. (In which case, I’d wonder “How could I not see it earlier?”)

But pencil or no pencil, the message, or at least how I interpreted it, remains the same. Even with all the frustration, I’m in this for the long haul. There’ll be good days and bad days, but I’m hanging in there, determined to keep going.

Thus the pushing forward continues…

I speak from experience

SF running
Exercise, a view, and lots of time to think about your script

“Writing a screenplay is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Bet you’ve heard that one before, right?

It’s true. Learning how to write a screenplay takes time, let alone how to do it well. It might come easier for some, but no matter what your skill level is, it always remains a struggle.

And that feeling when you’re done (at least with the latest draft)? Euphoric sums it up quite nicely.

So that whole running metaphor is pretty apropros. Especially for me.

For those not in the know, I enjoy running half-marathons. Seriously.

I’ve run about a dozen or so the past few years. Like with the writing, it’s a self-imposed challenge and pushes you to keep moving forward. Believe me, there are definitely times during those races I just want to stop and catch my breath, but I don’t because I want to keep going and see what I’m capable of.

I usually finish somewhere just under 2 hours, which isn’t bad.

A few weeks ago, I ran a race in San Francisco and finished with a time of 2:02:56, which some might think is great, but I still considered a little disappointing.

This past weekend was another race – across the Bay in Oakland. The results of the previous race really shook me up. Was I once again going to fall short of my goal?

Only one way to find out.

I did my best to maintain a steady pace and continuously reminded myself that even though it was a challenge, I felt I had a pretty good handle on it. Oakland’s also a lot flatter than San Francisco, which probably helped.

The home stretch for this race is an 8-block-long straight line through downtown Oakland. At the finish line, there’s always a big digital timer. As I got closer, the numbers came into view.

1:54:30? Wow! And just a handful of blocks to go!

You know that feeling when you’re writing the last page of your script and FADE OUT is coming up fast and you get that sudden rush of adrenaline and you can’t believe the end is finally in sight?

Even though you’re exhausted and feeling totally spent, you can always find that hidden reserve of energy, which is just enough to get you to that goal.

Giving it everything I had, I poured on the speed (or at least as much as I could muster) and ran like a madman to that finish line.

End result – 1:54:59. Not only did I break the 2-hour mark,  but I just squeaked by my other personal objective of breaking 1:55.

All that self-doubt from before had been erased. I had given myself a goal and set out to accomplish it.

Notice all those comparisons to screenwriting that could be made?

Every script is your own personal challenge. Sometimes it’ll be easy, and sometimes it’ll feel like nothing is happening, but the important thing is for you to keep at it and not stop trying to reach that finish line.

Like with training for these runs, it requires a lot of work. You find the time to do it when you can, hoping each session yields a slightly better result than the previous one.

My current work on the comedy spec coincides with this latest round of training for my next race – early November, and again in San Francisco. Both script and race will be a little more on the challenging side, but by engaging in regular training, I’m fairly confident I can achieve the results I seek.

A little stretching, a few deep breaths, and off I go.

Let’s get moving, chums.

That special spark within

roald dahl
Why is this writer smiling? You would too if you came up with the term “Everlasting Gobstopper”.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow Bay Area writers. Among their number was a writer who had written some small stuff, and was in the middle of working on her first big project – a TV pilot.

Even though I don’t know much about writing for TV, I and another writer offered up what advice we could. The recipient was very appreciative, and one of the things she said later on in the conversation made a very strong impression on me.

“I know the first draft isn’t going to be perfect, but I’m just really loving writing this.”

Truer words could not have been spoken.

Like I told her, I write stuff I would want to see. It’s taken me a long time and many drafts of many scripts to feel like I’ve really come into my own. Each time, the end result is a script for a movie I think would be an absolute blast to see play out on the big screen.

It always astounds me when a writer complains about having to write (or rewrite). If you don’t like doing it, WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?

It was genuinely pleasing to hear this writer who, despite the challenges she knew awaited her, was still excited about working on this project. Sure, she was still nervous about doing a good job and hoped the end result didn’t suck too much. No matter how many scripts you’ve written, that feeling never goes away.

But to simply see her face light up while she described the story (which is a real doozy, believe you me) and hear her talk about what she’s experienced so far, including doing the research involved, and learning what to do and not to do regarding formatting, it was just really, really pleasant.

I’m sure a lot of us do this because the title “storyteller” really suits us to a tee. Are some better at it than others? Sure, but instead of being discouraged about what you perceive as a lack of progress, try seeing every time you write as a chance to learn and improve. Because it is. It’s certainly been that way for me, and I strongly suspect I’m not alone in that.

I got the impression our little chat gave this writer an extra little jolt of encouragement that she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t know when the pilot script will be ready, but I told her not to worry about that and just keep enjoying writing it.

I suspect she will.

-Friend of the blog Andrew Hilton (aka The Screenplay Mechanic) is offering a special deal as part of his stellar screenplay analysis. (Editor’s note – his notes helped shape my western into what it is today)

If you use any of his services, refer a friend, or write a Facebook review of your experience using his services, you are automatically entered to win a free DVD of the motorcycle documentary WHY WE RIDE (of which Andrew was a co-executive producer).

The winner will be chosen on October 1st. The holidays will be here before you know it, and if you or somebody you know loves motorcycles, this would be an excellent gift (as would purchasing some of Andrew’s script services for that special screenwriter in your life).

All the details here.

-My time in the San Francisco Half-marathon the weekend before last – 2:02:56. Disappointing, but still glad I did it. I blame all those uphill stretches in the second half. And probably not training enough.

Next race is coming up in a few weeks in Oakland. Pleasantly flat Oakland. Training a little harder for it, with the intention once again of hoping to break the 2-hour mark.