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Thursday, May 30, 2013

#TwitterAdvice from Master Tweeter @RobGokee

by Alana Saltz

Everyone's always talking about how important it is to build a platform when you're a writer, actor, or artist. But the world of social media can be both intimidating and overwhelming. If you want to learn how to build an online following in a completely painless (and even fun) way, Rob Gokee is the man to talk to. 

Rob's got a loyal following of 14,500 Twitter users. On the site, he's known for his friendly personality and his love of tacos. Rob gets 90% of his freelance work from networking on Twitter and even met his wife there! His book, "In the Belly of the Fail Whale: How Twitter Changed My Life In One Year" is an autobiographical account of his life as a film and television composer, and how drastically his life changed over a 12-month period by marketing on Twitter. 

Rob is my personal Twitter hero. Using his advice, I amped up my Twitter presence and went from 150 followers to almost 900 (and counting). He was kind enough to answer a few questions about how he got his start on Twitter and what advice he has for those looking to start or grow their own loyal Twitter following. If you want to learn more about networking, building a following, and finding freelance opportunities on Twitter, you can take Rob's Twitter class at the Pad on June 19th or June 26th! 

When did you first join Twitter? How long did it take for you to find a strong community of followers?

​I joined Twitter on October 23, 2008. I feel like I'm always building my community, but it really started to come together around 6 months in.

You get 90% of your freelance work from Twitter, and you also met your wife there! Do you have a few quick Twitter networking tips and tricks you would be willing to share with us?

1. Be yourself. Don't be a salesman, let your own personality come out. If people know you're real, then the rest will fall into place.

​ 2. Don't set up auto-DM's (a direct message that automatically goes to new followers). They come off as insincere, and it starts you off on the wrong foot with your new followers.

Your book "In the Belly of the Fail Whale" is about your life as a composer and how everything changed after you began marketing on Twitter. What inspired you to write this book?

That 12 month period of my life was crazy, and Twitter was at the center of the storm, and the reasons behind what was happening, both good and bad. Because I'd had so much success with it, I wanted to impart what I'd learned and how I got there on the rest of the world.

For people who are intimidated by Twitter (and social media marketing in general), what advice do you have for them to help them get started?

After you create an account, do a search for something you like. Camping, Computers, Baseball, Knitting... whatever it is that you do for fun. Follow 50 people who come up in that search (make sure they tweet regularly and interact with other people). Then, start a conversation based on something they've tweeted. Don't worry about selling yourself, or feeling pressured to talk about what you had for breakfast - just start a conversation the same way you would at a party when you don't know anyone.

Sometimes social media seems so time consuming. How do you find time to do promotional work on Twitter but still have time to write and compose?

​Twitter is second nature for me now - I tweet from everywhere, so it's spread out over my day. I try to spend an hour every other day just talking to people on Twitter, and I try to talk to 5 new people every session. In the beginning, when I was first starting out on Twitter, I spent a few hours (collectively) every day building my community and getting to know my followers. It's necessary to spend more time in the beginning creating your community.

Thanks for the awesome advice, Rob. We're really excited about your class #FameSuccessLove: Harnessing the Power of Twitter in a few weeks!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Creating New Worlds: An Interview with Zoe Archer

By Alana Saltz

It's not an easy task for a writer to create a world so complex and engaging that readers want to savor it book after book. RITA award-nominated novelist Zoe Archer has discovered the magic potion that hooks readers from page one and keeps them wanting more.

Zoe's 11 published novels include the Hellraisers paranormal historical series ("Devil's Kiss,” "Demon's Bride" and "Sinner's Heart") and the acclaimed Blades of the Rose paranormal historical adventure series ("Warrior", "Scoundrel", "Rebel,"and "Stranger"), published by Kensington/Zebra. “Sweet Revenge,” the first book in her new historical romance series for St. Martin’s Press, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Zoe took time out of her busy writing schedule to share a few of her tips and tricks with us. If you're interested in writing your own adventure-packed, page-turning novel series, be sure to check out Zoe's Writing in Series class this Sunday! She'll share her techniques for writing compelling story worlds and characters that deliver novel after novel.

You’ve published 11 novels, with a several more deals in progress. How do you come up with your ideas and find your inspiration?  

I collaborate a lot in the plotting with my husband, fellow author Nico Rosso, and we generate ideas together. But often there's an aspect of history or a scenario that I find intriguing, and want to explore it further. So with my latest series, Nemesis, Unlimited, we thought up a secret organization in Victorian England that helps to provide justice for those who can't obtain it for themselves, since that society is so stratified and slanted toward the wealthy and powerful.

Your novels feature strong, bold, and adventurous female characters. How do you create and develop a protagonist who readers will love and root for?

Primarily, I write for myself.  So I try to imbue my characters with traits that I find admirable and intriguing, plus make sure they have a good sense of humor.  That little bit of wit or playfulness definitely makes readers more sympathetic to a character.

You’ve written several series of novels, including the “Hellraisers” paranormal historical series and the acclaimed “Blades of the Rose” paranormal historical adventure series. What are some of the unique challenges writers face when writing a series?

One is setting up a unique concept that will have readers wanting to return to the world I've created.   Another challenge is keeping a consistent tone and theme, while also making each book unique, so readers want to come back to that particular place, but they don't get the same story told over and over again.

What advice do you have for authors who are interested in writing a series of their own?

Again, it comes down to creating a world and characters that are unique and fresh, and one that readers and you as the writer, will be happy to return to over the course of several books. Have a game plan, too. Do you want the series to be open-ended, with any number of books within it, or will it have a finite amount of books, that have one overarching storyline? And if it's the latter, be sure you have a satisfactory conclusion in your mind when planning the series.

You are an extremely prolific writer for someone so young. What is your writing practice like?

Structure is key. It means setting aside specific time to write and not deviating from it (as much as possible, but life can intervene sometimes). My books are plotted before I sit down to write actual pages, so I know where I'm going each day. Since my books have a lot of action and intrigue, it's critical for me to have a sense of direction, or else I'd just stare at the monitor (or toddle over to social media and waste time).

Thanks for sharing this great advice, Zoe. We can't wait for your Writing in Series class this Sunday! 

Exploring Your Inner Teenager with Author Lauren Strasnick

by Alana Saltz

If you're interested in learning more about Young Adult fiction, the newest craze in the literary world, Lauren Strasnick can give you the inside scoop. She's already published three successful YA novels! Her first novel "Nothing Like You" was a RWA RITA award finalist. Her second novel, "Her and Me and You" was a 2012 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. "Then You Were Gone" (Simon Pulse/S&S), Lauren’s third book, was published in January 2013.

Lauren is known for her page-turning plots and quirky characters. If you've been dreaming of penning your own novel, Lauren is offering a class called A Novel Approach: Tackling the Long Format Writing Project that begins this Saturday, June 1st. You'll learn how to craft a compelling premise, develop unique characters, and create conflicts that keep readers wanting more. In this class, Lauren will help you finish or revise at least one act of your book!

Lauren answered a few questions for us about why she writes YA fiction and what inspires her work. She also shares some great advice for aspiring novelists of all genres.

How did you become interested in writing Young Adult fiction? What drew you to the genre?

I've always adored YA books. It was a love I just never outgrew. I'm pretty girlish by nature,
 so any story that allows me to explore the inner workings/ramblings of an eighteen year old feels very easy and right to me. I'm not sure what that says about my level of emotional maturity! But I'm fairly certain it gives me a leg up when it comes to writing YA.

How much of your own experiences as a teenager do you draw from when writing your novels?

I definitely draw from my younger years a bit, but I think I take more from my life now. I'll get fixated on an idea or a person or a relationship,
 then I'll find a way to explore it through that teen lens  it takes a lot less manipulation than you'd imagine.

Your books have provocative premises that pull readers in. What are some techniques you use to create mystery and suspense in your books?

I think there are things that can be done within a scene to heighten tension and really drive up the dramatics: timing, dialogue, select details, etc. I love complicated characters who get themselves into emotionally messy situations.
 I think the more waves you make for your characters, the better. As for crafting a suspenseful mystery, I'll offer this: A TV writer friend of mine told me once to "write two stories: the one you tell the reader, and the true one." That helped me tremendously with my last book.

You've already written and published three novels. What advice do you have for writers who are struggling to finish their first book?

I think the thing that slows people down most is the need to be perfect. It's something I struggle with myself. So my advice would be: just write. And let yourself be messy. You can always fix the mess later.

You're about to teach a 5 week novel writing class. Can you give us a preview of some of the things you'll cover?

I think it's important to identity what each character wants; it's what drives your story forward. It also helps to map out the actions your character might take to get where they need to go, and to identify the obstacles that block them from getting there. You can piece together the skeleton of a story with character wants, actions and obstacles. It's really amazing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who want to get their novels published?

Be patient, persistent, open to revision, and try not to internalize all the rejection that comes along with pursuing publication. Remember, this business is so subjective, and it only takes a few people 
 an interested agent, an enthusiastic editor — to get your foot in the door.

Thanks, Lauren! That was so helpful. We can't wait for your novel writing class!

Mastering Both The Page and The Stage with Antonio Sacre

by Alana Saltz

Antonio Sacre is one of those rare artists who can captivate audiences in books and live in performance. He's an internationally touring, award-winning solo performance artist who has created eight solo shows. He won Best In Fringe Festival at the New York International Fringe Theater Festival twice, the 2012 and 2011 United Solo Award for Best Storyteller Off-Broadway. His solo show "The Next Best Thing" was nominated for an LA Weekly Theater Award and chosen as one of their Top 10 L.A. Theater Experiences in 2011.

In addition to his accomplishments on the stage, Antonio is also an award-winning children's book author. He has published three picture books: “La Noche Buena, A Christmas Story” and “A Mango in the Hand, A Story Told Through Proverbs,The Barking Mouse". "La Noche Buena" and "Mango" were chosen for inclusion in the prestigious California Readers Book Collections for School Libraries. Antonio’s new short story collection “My Name Is Cool” will be released this summer. He is also an acclaimed storyteller who has performed all over the world including the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, and the National Storytelling Festival.

Antonio has two amazing classes coming up at the Pad for writers and performers. His picture book class starts this Sunday, June 2nd. You can also craft an award-winning performance in his one-person show class on Tuesday, June 4th!

He was kind enough to take time out of his busy writing and performing schedule to answer a few questions about how he got his start and share some great advice for aspiring authors and actors!

As a storyteller and actor, you’ve performed at museums, schools, libraries, at festivals around the world and Lincoln Center. How did you get your start as a performer, and what sort of training did you have?

Aside from the large number of plays and performances I did in high school and college, I received formal training while receiving a Masters in Theater Arts from Northwestern University near Chicago, IL. In graduate school, I studied storytelling with Rives Collins, and he introduced me to the world of solo performance. I took countless workshops, and was heavily influenced by Paula Killen and Jenny Magnus, performers both famous in Chicago. My career as a solo performer was developed at the Rhinoceros Theater festival in Chicago and the New York International Fringe theater festival, where I performed in eight different years, twice winning a "Best in Fringe" Festival award.

What are a few things that actors can do to create a captivating and compelling one-person show?

Take my workshop, for one. Also, see as many one-person shows as possible. The Hollywood Fringe (running through June 30th) will have many examples of solo shows. You can also check out The Solo Collective and my next solo show, which won Best Storyteller at the United Solo Festival Off-Broadway.

More importantly, choose a story or a subject that truly matters to you, and ask yourself, is there anyone else besides your friends and family that needs to hear that story?

How do you think a one-person show can help bolster an acting or writing career?

Since 1994, I have taken my solo performances to the major theater festivals around the country. My solo performing career is directly responsible for landing me a major literary agent in New York City that helped me sell four books. Major newspapers in all of those cities have reviewed my shows, and the awards I won have helped me market those shows. Also, producers from HBO, NBC, the WB, and Comedy Central have all requested meetings with me after seeing my shows at these festivals. Lastly, theaters and festivals nationwide fly me in and pay me for many of my performances.

More importantly, I have developed a muscle as a performer and a writer that informs nearly everything I do as a writer and an artist. There is a sense of accomplishment, pride, and confidence that only comes from doing solo shows, regardless of what the reviewers say, or how much money I make from the show.

In addition to being a performer, you also write award-winning books for children. How did you become interested in writing for kids and how did you get your start?

While I was developing my solo-performing career for adults in fringe festivals nationwide, I was also honing my skills as a performer for children. I got my start in performing for children in graduate school. Performing for children was very fulfilling, incredibly fun, and much more lucrative and suitable for me than waiting tables. After performing for children for years, being asked by teachers if my stories were books, and meeting a number of children's book writers, I set a goal to publish a picture book. I took a number of children's book writing workshops, bought this book, and did what it said.

After my first book came out and I landed a literary agent from my work as a solo performer, I was able to sell the next three books.

Where do you draw your material from for you picture books? What about your one-person shows?

The basis for both my children's material and my solo-performance material for adults comes from my cross-cultural upbringing. My father is from Cuba, and my mother is Irish-American. I was born in Boston, and a friend of mine calls me a "Leprecano." As a children's picture book writer, I meet many children who are growing up in two languages and two cultures. I celebrate who they are, and hopefully inspire them to draw strength and comfort from both parts of their lives.

My solo shows are always informed by what other solo-performers are doing, by what is going on in the world, and what is going on in my own family and life. I believe that from the very deeply personal, if honestly explored and fearlessly portrayed, can spring the universal. Also, my directors (Paula Killen, Jenny Magnus, and Paul Stein) have greatly influenced and steered my career to a deeper, funnier, and more powerful expression.

What’s the publishing world like right now for people who want to write children’s books? Do you have any advice for aspiring picture book authors?

The publishing world right now is in a state of great flux. Many incredibly successful authors that I know are calling it brutal and incredibly difficult. The most important thing I try to both teach and model is the need for a good story. What is a good picture book story? I think a good story is one that the author absolutely has to tell. If the author believes in the story and knows at least one parent and one child who can benefit from the story, then the book is already a success.

Thanks Antonio, that was so inspiring! We can't wait for your picture book and one-person show classes!

Friday, May 24, 2013

January/February Comment Contest Winner

By Alana Saltz

We had so many fantastic story submissions for the January/February comment contest. If you didn't win this last round of contests, please continue commenting on this blog with your wonderful stories and poems. Right now you can submit to enter for May/June!

Frankie K. Foster
May I have a drum roll please? The January/February comment contest winner is Frankie K. Foster! Congratulations, Frankie! Frankie gets a free one day class at Writing Pad.

We asked Frankie a couple of questions about her writing process:

Where is your favorite place to write?
My favorite place to write is in the local library. It keeps me away from family obligations and distractions to focus. I love the peace and quiet I find in the library. I also journal everyday.

What inspires you to write? 
80's music mostly. My memoir takes place during the 80's, so I'm using my favorite songs to evoke my past feelings and experiences in order to write.

And here's a little about Frankie: Frankie retired from IBM/New York Wall Street before she was 30 and ended up traveling cross country to Los Angeles to pursue her dream job in animation. She helped launch an animation website ( and was a journalist and marketing director for Animation Magazine. She is currently researching and writing a memoir.

You can read Frankie's wonderful piece about her favorite winter activity here.

We hope to see your stories in the comment section of this blog soon.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writing Prompt: I Love BBQ

The crowd at our "Mad Men" panel
By Marilyn Friedman

60 people attended our TV Drama panel last Friday. It was a fantastic event with "Mad Men" writers Michael Saltzman and Jason Grote and "Monk"'s Bill Rabkin!

For yet another thrilling Friday night, join us at our
TV Horror Panel with EP's and writers Tim Minear and Lee Shipman of "American Horror Story" and "Hemlock Grove" on June 7th.

Before you get wrapped up in afternoon BBQ's and excursions to the beach, don't forget that we have a whole pack of classes starting after Memorial Day with award-winning writers including Essay Writing, Novel Writing, Picture Book Writing, Novel Series Writing, ScreenwritingOne-Person Show, TV Drama Writing, and Twitter. Sign up before you leave for the weekend and you'll have a treat to look forward to when you come back home.

I hope to see your sun-kissed faces soon! Happy Early Memorial Day! Below are the latest class offerings, followed by a free writing prompt. 

Classes Starting May 30-June 6:

Writing Prompt:
Since Memorial Day weekend is just a few days away, here's a writing prompt to get you in the holiday mood. Make a list of your 3 favorite BBQ items or the top 3 things you love about BBQ's. Be specific. For instance, the first item on my list is grilled corn. There is nothing better than gnawing on ultra sweet corn on the cob grilled on the BBQ. It makes me so happy! If someone invites me to a BBQ and they mention that grilled corn is on the menu, I'm there.

Pick your one item off of your list. Now add a few specific details about why this thing is so great (e.g. ultra sweet taste, smoky grill marks, launches me back to lazy summers in my backyard in Chicago with just one bite, I hear the cicadas whining and feel the soft blades of grass under my toes). Now for 10 minutes, write a scene or story that includes this item or write an ode to this item, making sure to include at least one of the specific details. 

What do you love about BBQ's? Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Drama King Jason Grote Talks TV Writing

By Alana Saltz

TV Writer Jason Grote got his start writing for the stage. As a playwright, his work has been produced and developed at Lincoln Center, Sundance, New York Theater Workshop, and more. Through his talents and connections, Jason forged a career for himself in television writing. He has worked as a staff writer on the hit TV series "Smash" and "Mad Men."

We're very lucky to have Jason on our TV Drama panel this Friday at 8 p.m. He will be joined by fellow "Mad Men" writer Michael Saltzman and TV writer/producer William Rabkin ("Monk," "Psych"). Jason is also offering a one day Writing the Television Drama class on May 21st where he'll school you on the essential components of a successful TV drama and help you develop a pitchable idea. And if you're looking to turn that brilliant idea into a script, be sure to check out From Pitch to First Draft with Jason starting June 5th.

Jason was kind enough to answer a few questions about how he broke into TV and what makes a well-written TV drama.

What inspired you to become a TV writer?

I think most playwrights aspire to TV because it's a writer-driven medium and it's possible to make a living.  Also, in the past couple of decades, TV has become exponentially more diverse and interesting, and has by and large outpaced theater in this regard -- almost all of our most exciting dramatists these days are showrunners.  Despite my interest, I never really pursued TV seriously until my son was born and I lost my teaching job. After a harrowing year of unemployment, my first job was "Smash," which came about because I'd known Theresa Rebeck for a long time. 

You worked as a writer on this past season of “Mad Men.” Can you talk a little about how you got involved with the show and what your experience was like writing for a hit TV series? Feel free to share any juicy celebrity stories too.

My staffing was a ridiculous fluke.  I'd been casually working with "Mad Men" producers Andre and Maria Jaquementton on a pilot I wrote. I was in Los Angeles for a week of general meetings, I met them in person, they said they liked my sample better than many of the upper-level submissions they were getting. I took a chance and asked if there was anything I could do to be considered for a staff job. The following day, I was called in to speak to Matthew Weiner, and the day after that I was told I couldn't return to New York because we were starting Monday.  My incredible wife spent the month orchestrating a cross-country move while caring for our toddler son, and now we're here.

No juicy stories, except that the cast and crew are as phenomenal and hardworking as you'd hope. Watching Elizabeth Moss in particular was a delight -- she would make a different choice every take and each one would work.

In addition to television writing, you’re also a playwright. How is writing for the screen different than writing for the stage?

There are positives and negatives to both.  In TV, you're really one voice in a room and your job is to serve the vision of the showrunner, so there's not much of a feeling of authorship.  But it's nice going to work and creating something with other people every day.  In theater, the initial creation of the script is more solitary, but then you're in rehearsal, so that's social too, but the constant travel to regional theaters can sometimes be taxing.  There's also more scarcity in theater, which can sometimes lead to a greater feeling of community but just as frequently leads to a scarcity mentality and everything that goes with that.

Artistically speaking, the stage is much more aural, because you have no camera to guide the eye of the viewer.

What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters who want to become working TV writers?

Learn how to work with others, and learn how to write well, and fast.  There are sometimes politics in writers' rooms, just like in any office, so be prepared for that.  If you're not good at politics, then you need to be personable and good at what you do.

Give us a little preview of your upcoming Writing Pad classes on writing dramatic TV. What do you think makes a good TV drama?

Just write the sort of thing you like to watch, or read.  I like conflicted protagonists who exist in complicated moral universes.  Sometimes I enjoy formulaic shows, if they're executed with compassion, imagination, and humor, but generally I like stories that feel like they were lived. Don't be afraid to use as much of your life as you can, but also don't be afraid of research.  Executives and showrunners want to see the thing that "only you" can write, so think on what that is.

Can you tell us about your writing practice?

I'm somehow prolific, but I don't know how.  I don't seem to have any discipline or routine, I just write to deadlines.  At the end of it, I wind up with a number of scripts every year, but it's almost like someone else wrote them.

Thanks, Jason! That was fascinating. We can't wait to hear more this Friday at your TV Drama panel!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Writing Prompt: Mom When She Was Young

By Marilyn Friedman

I'm so excited about our Major Drama panel this Friday, May 17th with "Mad Men" writers Michael Saltzman, Jason Grote, and Bill Rabkin of "Psych" and "Monk"! I hope you can make it.

By the way, now that it's a little bit too hot, you have even more reasons to come to the Pad in DTLA or Westwood and enjoy our refreshing air conditioning, iced tea and fantastic classes with successful writers.

Starting Monday, June 3, uber screenwriter Robbie Fox ("So I Married An Axe Murderer", "Playing For Keeps", 60 sold projects) starts up a new round of Dream It, Write It, Pitch It: Screenwriting Bootcamp. Robbie will help you create a workable outline and terrific script. He is a great teacher and provides a lot of individual support. Plus, the last class includes a pitch session to an A-list producer. This is a career making class! What are you waiting for, my dears?

Below are the latest class offerings, followed by a free writing prompt.

May/June Events:
 Classes May 15-22:
Other Classes:

Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Journalism/Web Writing
Writing For Actors

Writing Prompt:
Mother's Day was just this past weekend! As I was thinking about my own Mom, I realized how easy it is to forget that our mothers had lives of their own before we were born. For this prompt, make a list of three specific things that describe who your mother was before you were born that made her different than the woman who raised you. Now for 10 minutes, write a scene or story about who your mother when she was young, making sure to include at least one of the specific details. If you want, you can compare her youthful persona to the mother you grew up with.

For instance, my mother (Double D Cup Stalin) was a thin, small-breasted professional singer. She had many suitors. Unfortunately, she had a tragic fall from a train and shattered her kneecap and her life took a very different turn. The mother I knew growing up had ginormous breasts strapped down in a stomach length bra, was built like a linebacker, and instilled fear in all family members with just one angry look. Another example is Betty Draper in "Mad Men." She was a confident model living in New York City before she got pregnant and settled down with Don and became a bitter housewife in the suburbs with weight issues.

Write a scene or story about who your mother was when she was young. Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class! 

Solving The Mystery of TV: An Interview with William Rabkin

By Alana Saltz
If you want to learn how to break into TV writing, William Rabkin is definitely the man to talk to. He's written and/or produced hundreds of hours of dramatic television for hit shows like "Monk," "Psych," "Spenser: For Hire," and "The Glades." He served as show runner on the long-running Dick Van Dyke mystery series “Diagnosis Murder” and on the action-adventure spectacle “Martial Law.” He's also written and sold a dozen network pilots.

If you want to hear more of William's advice about TV writing, he'll be at our TV Drama panel this Friday night along with Mad Men writers Jason Grote and Michael Saltzman. It's only $5 and includes sangria and snacks. Also, William will be teaching a Writing a Pilot That Can Fly weekend intensive at the Pad starting June 21st! He'll teach you everything you need to know about writing an irresistible series and give you feedback on your idea, outline and pilot to help you bring it to the screen. It is not to be missed.

We recently caught up with him to ask him a few questions about his career and get his insights on the screenwriting life.

You've written for several hit TV series including "Monk" and "Psych." When did you start your screenwriting career and how did you break in?

Really short version: My then-partner and I wrote a spec for "Spenser: For Hire," which the producers bought and shot.

Of course there's a longer version, which includes the usual disappointments and frustrations. (Like, for instance, the year that script sat on the "Spenser" Executive Producer's desk before he opened it.) But really, just about all breaking in stories are the same – you spend what feels like a lifetime writing and fighting to get someone to pay attention to you and it looks like it will never happen, and then some freakish thing works out in exactly the right way and you're through the door.

I understand why people looking to get in tend to focus on the "how did you break in?" question – I know I did – but that's really the wrong part of the equation. Everyone has a different, unique break in moment. . . what we all have in common is the years of writing and the piles of scripts through which we learned our craft. The moment can come at any time and you can't force it, so focus on making sure that when it does, you're ready.

Can you talk about your process for coming up with the intricate cases that the main characters have to solve on "Monk" and "Psych"? Do you use real crimes/cases as inspiration? 
Almost never, because any real crime that’s interesting was immediately strip-mined by other shows. During the peak days of procedural-mania, you could see a newspaper headline and know that three months later it would be on at least two "Law and Order" episodes and several other shows, quite possibly in the same week.

My process is different every time. Sometimes it’s a cool puzzle. "Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico" was like that – I’d had the idea for a while of a teaser for something where a skydiver’s chute doesn’t open, but when they scrape his body off the ground they discover he died from drowning in salt water. It took a while to come up with a solution. In the "Psych" books, I usually started with a situation I wanted to put Shawn and Gus in, and designed a murder around that, whether it was stranding them in the mountains or framing them for murder.

You've been a show runner on "Diagnosis Murder" and "Marital Law." What qualities did you look for when hiring staff writers?

The first thing is the writing, of course. You look for a script that is alive. You feel the energy jumping off the page. And you want to keep reading, even if you don’t care about the subject matter. One big part of that is precision. Everything is there for a reason. For example, go check out a British TV movie called "Page Eight" written and directed by playwright David Hare with Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz. Every word in every line of dialogue is perfect. Every word that wasn’t perfect was removed. I watched this thing with tears in my eyes simply from the beauty of the craft.

The writing gets the writer through the door. Then we meet and sometimes you don’t click with someone and you know familiarity is not going to improve things. You’re looking at spending eight or 10 hours a day in a room with this person for the next few months, and you just can’t do it. Then there are times when you like the writer, but know he won’t be a good fit on your show. I remember when we were staffing "Martial Law," we met a female writer who was brilliant and were eager to hire her. But when she came in she was so shy and quiet, we could barely hear a word she said. I like a noisy room. I like writers shouting out ideas and fighting (nicely!) for what they believe in. But not getting hired on "Martial Law" wasn’t a death blow to her career. Last time I saw her credit she was an executive producer on "House."

Your book "Writing The Pilot" takes you through the process of creating a TV series idea that produces an infinite number of episodes, and then writing a pilot. What are some of the key elements that you think a pilot needs to have to entice TV execs today?

It’s a sad fact that there are very few elements that will entice TV execs today. The biggest is that your script is based on a pre-existing property, ideally a Danish or Israeli series. Another is that you already have shows on three other networks. The TV biz is in flux, and the big networks are running scared. Shows are failing all the time. But if an exec picks up a pilot based on a format that’s already worked somewhere else, or from an EP who has current hits, when the show fails he’s got deniability. It's not his fault. He made all the right decisions.

How does that help a new writer? Obviously, it only makes it harder to get someone interested in your work. Which means more than ever that your pilot needs a voice, a concept, and an execution so fresh and so unique they can’t say no even if logic demands they do. You can’t write another procedural, another lawyer show, another young doctors screwing everything in sight as they save lives show and hope you’ll get picked out of the pile. Look at what’s working: "Sons of Anarchy," "Walking Dead," "Game of Thrones," "Mad Men," "Boardwalk Empire." And then don’t do another one of any of them – do something as revolutionary in its own way as they were in theirs.

You've written five novels. How does fiction writing influence your screenwriting and vice versa?

They’re so different, it’s hard to say. I think it’s like cross training when you’re preparing for a marathon – all your training runs build up the muscles you use to run. The cross training builds up muscles that don’t get used in running, but make you stronger and fitter and ultimately a better runner.

What advice do you have for aspiring TV writers hoping to break into the biz?

There are very few places right now for someone who’s “every bit as good as the people on staff.” There are a lot of professional – and very talented and experienced – writers who are out of work and who want the same jobs you do. If I’m a showrunner choosing between a talented newbie and a talented pro, I’m immediately leaning towards the one I know can deliver on time every time. So you’ve got to be better. You’ve got to have a voice that’s so compelling EP's want to add it to their own. Go look at "Page Eight." You’ve got to be that.

Thank you so much, William, for taking the time to share this helpful advice!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing Prompt: Irresistible But Inappropriate Love Interests

By Marilyn Friedman

Spring Break is over so I'm trying to hunker down and write in spite of my never ending pile of work. Last week, I took two essay classes and one memoir class that lit a fire under my bootie. They helped me crank out a new memoir chapter, rewrite an essay and get great feedback on my writing. Hooray!

If you'd like to boost your writing productivity and skills, we have a fantastic assortment of classes starting in the next week or so including Writing And Publishing The Personal Essay with successful journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner who helped 26 students get published so far, and Fiction Bootcamp with award-winning novelist and short story writer Amelia Gray, the only woman to be nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award this year.

Below are the latest class offerings, followed by a free writing prompt inspired by our "Mad Men" TV Drama panel on Friday, May 17th  and my obsession with Don Draper!

May/June Events:
 Classes Starting May 6-15:
Other Classes:

Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Journalism/Web Writing
Writing For Actors

Writing Prompt:
In honor of our TV Drama panel next Friday featuring "Mad Men" writers Michael Saltzman and Jason Grote and "Monk" and "Psych" writer Bill Rabkin, I was inspired to create this writing prompt. In my 20's, I dated my fair share of Don Draper types. Unfortunately, I have plenty of true life experience to draw from for this writing prompt. I can't wait to hear your stories!

Make a list of three people that you dated that you really shouldn't have (e.g. someone who cheated on you, someone who was unavailable, etc.). Note: You could also make up a fictional character! Pick one of your love interests. Now add a specific detail that made this person irresistible (e.g. his lips tasted like Glen Livet, he dipped me down low to the ground like Fred Astaire, he recited Neruda in bed). Now write about your "Don Draper" type for 10 minutes. Make sure to include that specific detail about him or her that made this person irresistible!

Write about someone that you dated that you shouldn't have. Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!