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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

DC Pierson: A Literary Powerhouse Across The Genres

By Lorinda Toledo

DC Pierson is the kind of guy who has talent coming out of his ears. He's known for his writing across genres, including: two novels, short stories, movies, stand up comedy, storytelling essays, and blog writing. 

He's also a writer and actor in the sketch comedy group DERRICK, whose film,"Mystery Team" premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. He has appeared on TV shows such as "Community" and "Weeds", various commercials, and movies both short and long. He is a member of The Upright Citizens Brigade's legendary Wednesday Night Brew Crew. 

If you've ever dreamed of finding the time to write on a regular basis and finish an essay, a webisode, a sketch or a short story, DC will help you find your literary mojo next Wednesday, Oct. 2 in his Writingpalooza class at the Pad!
DC took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to tell us how he does it all.

You are a comedian, author, actor, director, and --uh -- rapper?! What did you get started doing first and how do they influence each other?

I've been writing in some form since I was a kid. I went to school for dramatic writing (plays, movies, TV). Doing sketch comedy in college led to me doing stuff at UCB in New York, and that led me to doing comedy in general.

Improv and sketch comedy are about taking a simple idea and asking "If THIS thing is true in this world, what else is true?" To me, any longer form of writing is just a larger application of that basic "if-that-then-what-else" principal.

You have two novels out, but you regularly post essays, poems, and short stories on your Web site. What is the advantage you see to publishing your work online?

When you've just finished writing something, it's nice to have that immediate "Hey! You wrote a thing!" feedback from people. That's impossible with a novel because traditional publishing takes so long, so having that more direct affirmation from your audience is a nice little hit of adrenaline to get you through the long slog of writing and publishing a longer thing.

By putting short pieces out on my blog while I was in college (short stories, poems, and comedic essays), I ended up getting enough encouragement from my peers in the comedy community to try and tackle something larger, like a novel. I don't know if I would've tried even writing a novel without people saying "These short things are good -- you should do a longer thing!" 

Your books both have fantastic premises--The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To (Vintage Contemporary) is about a guy who never needs to sleep, and Crap Kingdom (Viking) is about a guy chosen to be the ruler of a magical (and lame) kingdom. How do you come up with your ideas?

Like most people, I don't really sit in a chair and think "Okay, time to think of ideas." The spark of a premise will usually just come to you, either based on something that really happens to you or the simple occurrence of a "Wouldn't it be neat if..." type thought. What cements one of these premises for me as something that's actually worth writing a book about is if I can find some kind of emotional resonance in them beyond the whiz-bang sci-fi or fantasy premise.

Crap Kingdom is about a kid who finds out he's the Chosen One in a fantasy world, then finds out the fantasy world sucks, and so he declines the Chosen-One-hood. But when his best friend picks up that Chosen One mantle and seems to have a great time, he thinks "Hey, wait! I want it back!" and goes to great and terrible lengths to do so. I'd had the idea of "What if you were the Chosen One in a fantasy kingdom that sucked," but it wasn't until I realized I could transpose an experience I'd had dating a girl, breaking up with her, and then having her go out with someone else and suddenly wanting her back on to the fantasy premise that it felt exciting to me.

Getting laughs is your specialty. How do you amplify the comedy in your writing?

Comedy comes (at least in part) from contrast, and I really like contrasting very outsized experiences, particularly in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, with more everyday, mundane experiences. Making things feel more immediate, relatable, and human is something the novel form is really good for, because you get to spend a lot of time in the character's heads. So it's usually not that I'm trying to crank up the laughs so much as I think the more human a story feels, the more entertaining and relatable it is. And if it's funny in the bargain, that's great.

Your first book was geared toward adults (and ended up winning a YA award), while your second book is being marketing specifically as YA on Viking Juvenile. Was there a difference in the way you approached the crafting of these two books?

DC as part of DERRICK
There was to a certain degree, in that when I was writing the YA book (Crap Kingdom) I wanted the narration to feel a little bit more like a fantasy story in the vein of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, just because the contrast between that and a real kid's mundane experience seemed interesting, and it suited the premise.

You write books, screenplays, comedy and a blog. How do you prioritize your projects in a way that has enabled you to be so prolific?

I don't have a system. Often one thing is a distraction from something else, or some things I'm working on with a group and then I'll be working on a novel in my off time. At any rate, it's way more chaotic than it appears from the outside. Thankfully the reader (or viewer) doesn't see the work, they just see "here is a thing for me to read, or watch."

Has one project ever started in one medium, and then ended up in another?

Not really, though I am working on adapting my first book into a feature film, and working through the adaptation process with my screenwriting partners over the years has made it abundantly clear that it's more important to be faithful to the spirit of the book when adapting it into a screenplay than it is to be faithful to every single word and action. 

You perform sketch comedy with Upright Citizens Brigade. Do you find sketch comedy has helped your writing career?

Absolutely. As I said above, I really believe the idea that from one key artistic decision (what's ONE thing that's true in the world of my sketch / novel / movie) you can keep making decisions until the entire world is fleshed out. The idea of everything proceeding outward from one central premise is really something I learned doing sketch and improv.

Wow, thanks, DC! That was really inspirational.

Want to be a writerly powerhouse like DC? Lucky for you, he's teaching two sections of his popular class Writingpalooza: Find Your Literary Mojo in October. The first one starts Wed., Oct. 2. Sign up now!  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Writing Prompt: Office Romance

By Dalia Martinez
Peggy and Pete did it. Don and Megan did it. Joan and Roger did it. As for me? Guilty. For those who spend forty-plus hours dwelling in cubicles, workplace romances are not that unusual. Yes, they have potential for ending badly. But if it weren’t for these office disasters what would Mad Men’s world of advertising revolve around? Ads?! 
Speaking of advertising… TBWA/Chiat/Day’s Lauren Smith is coming to the Pad. She's worked with companies like Kraft. She even got them to change the name of salad dressing! In her intro to copywriting class at Writing Pad, she will teach you how you can create your own copywriting masterpiece. If you’re considering making a career jump into advertising or you want to earn some money on the side for writing snappy ad lines, this class is for you!
And, if you've ever thought of turning your failed flings into a killer plot, join "500 Days of Summer" writer Scott Neustadter and producer Tom McNulty at Writing Pad this Friday, Sept. 27. They'll talk about indie filmmaking and their newest movie that’s garnered five-star reviews, "The Spectacular Now." 
Their latest film is based on a book that was a National Book Award Finalist. Sign up for one of these upcoming classes, and one day your writing could end up on the big screen, too!

Classes Starting This Week

Writing Prompt:
Maybe your hands brushed as he took your Swingline stapler. Maybe her perfume lingers at your desk a little too long. Considering the amount of time we spend at work, more than half our lives are shared with coworkers. Face it, workplace dating is bound to happen. Romance amid the cubicle maze is risky but common. 
For this week’s writing prompt, make a list of three workplace crushes or romances you've had. Did you break rules? Pick one. Add a sensory detail (e.g. scented roses at your desk, the feeling of his fingers on your shoulders giving you an impromptu massage…). Now, write about your workplace romance for 10 minutes, including the sensory detail (smell, taste, sound, touch). Then, post your results in the comments of this blog!
Once, I dated someone from work. Let me be clear: he wasn’t my boss or even in my department. We just happened to work for the same company. But, I found out early on there are consequences to dating colleagues. We didn’t want anyone from work to find out- at least not for a while. While at work, we kept it friendly and created space so as not to arouse gossip. E-flirting was off company property. Ultimately, we broke up because we were incompatible. Although I was hurt, I didn't need to duck behind bushes or sprint into the bathroom when he was around because the break-up was friendly. That’s the key with workplace romances- keep it friendly. Be mature about it. Don’t let it blow-up into a Jerry Springer worthy break-up. But if it works, you’ll have a good story to tell the kids. 
Now it’s your turn. Write about your workplace dating experience for ten minutes, including your sensory detail. Then post your story below. You could win a free writing class!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lauren Smith: Copywriting Her Way To The Top

By Lorinda Toledo and Dalia Martinez

Have you ever dreamed about ditching your boring day job and doing something creative for a living? Now's your chance!

Lauren Smith is an Associate Creative Director at  TBWA\Chiat\Day. She's worked on ads for some of the biggest brands in the world, including Visa, Kraft, Southwest Airlines, and Samsonite, just to name a few. Next Thursday Sept. 26, Lauren shows you how you can do it too. Lauren was kind enough to share what it's like to be a real-life Peggy Olsen:

How did you break into a place like TBWA\Chiat\Day?

Hard work, good people and luck! Advertising, much like any industry, is based on who you know, the work you do and whether or not people like how you do on either one of those things.

How did you get Kraft to rebrand their salad dressing as "Anything Dressing"?

They initially came to us saying they wanted to change the way they did advertising. They wanted to start trusting their agencies instead of mandating to those agencies. And they also said that they wanted to win lions and make money. So they were looking for an idea like that changed things. We had the right idea and clients in the right mindset.

You say that you've worked long hours on ad campaigns for clients like Mandalay Bay and La-Z-Boy. How much time are you given to come up with ideas and copywriting?

That depends on the project and the client! I've had months to come up with some campaigns and I've had a matter of days with others. Some projects are quick, down and dirty. Some are big and important and stretch out over long periods of time.

Creativity to me doesn't work on time frames. But, because it's a business and not an art project, we have to work within the constraints given to us by the agency, the client, the media buy, the timing, etc. For instance, when I worked on Visa's sponsorship of the NFL in 2012, we were briefed on the project in May and had one week to come up with our "big idea" campaign. Then, we finessed, fine-tuned, collaborated with Visa, the NFL, the players and teams, found a director, shot, edited, and got on air by September. We had very strict deadlines because we needed to be up for kickoff, so the timeline worked backwards from there.

What's it like working with big clients like Nissan, Visa and Southwest Airlines?
Big clients come with big stuff. Sounds obvious, but it's true. They come with big budgets, big expectations, big shots at the agency, big risks, etc.

It can be really challenging. When you're doing a campaign that's going to have a lot of money behind it and a lot of eyeballs on it, there's a lot of pressure, internally at the agency and externally from the clients. That being said, you have the ammunition and the budget to make big ideas happen, so it can also be really exciting.

What are ad firms looking for?

That's a tough question to answer. Ad firms are looking for YOU, in your best and purest form. It goes without saying that ad agencies are looking for creative, interesting, driven, exciting, colorful people.

What they don't always tell you is that advertising is a social place. It's competitive, and everything can change at the drop of a hat (or the drop of a client!), so you have to be the mastermind of your own destiny, and let people know you're doing it.

The most important quality is that extra something - the je ne sais quoi. To make it as a creative, you have to have a good book. Check. But if you have a super successful blog, or a unique social media presence, or you worked as a photo journalist in Africa after college, or you had a previous career as a coal miner (that's my current partner! coal miner from Wyoming!) but designed logos on the side, they are going to look at you differently. So treat yourself - and your career - like you would a client. Build a personal brand, love that brand, and make the world love it too.

What do you love most about copywriting?

I love that I get to make things for a living. I love that my job is blasting cool music, putting my feet up on my desk, talking about ideas and then writing them. I love that I work with the raddest, baddest, maddest people around. I love that I can turn on a San Francisco 49ers game and see a commercial I made running. And then check twitter and just watch people talk about how they love it. I love that one day I'm in an animation house making stop-motion food dance and the next day I'm working with Academy Award-winning editors. The next day I'm watching a cool band play a private show for our agency on the basketball court. Yes, I also love that instead of conference rooms we have basketball courts, parks and bars in the office. And I love that they pay me to do all of this.

What are you currently working on?

I've just finished a commercial for Pepsi's sponsorship of the NFL. I'm concepting a campaign for the 2014 Grammys. I'm working on a top secret new business pitch.

Can you give us a preview of what students will be learning in your copywriting class at
Writing Pad?

We'll talk about the ins and outs of the industry. Like every business, it's deeper and richer and more interesting than you ever knew. We'll talk about career paths and how to start them.

But more importantly, we will practice making ads. We will make ads, rip them apart, make some more, start over again, look at other peoples' ads, rip them apart, make them better, and then start it over again. This industry is about coming up with ideas, coming up with more ideas, and then waking up the next day and doing it again. And then we will work on how to sell those ideas, because if you have a great idea but can't sell it, you might as well not have had the idea at all.

And most importantly, we're going to have a heck of a lot of fun. Not a day goes by when I don't have fun at work, and not a class should go by where you don't have fun as well

Thank you, Lauren! We are pumped for your class, How to Make it in a World of Mad Men: Intro to Advertising/Copywriting that starts next Thursday.

Writers, don't miss this opportunity. Only 2 spots left, so sign up now!

Writing Prompt: Getting Over Someone

By Dalia Martinez

Summer's officially ending this week. It's okay if you're feeling nostalgic, remembering that first kiss at camp or maybe the summer your true love turned into your greatest heartbreak. Not all summer's are so easy to get over. In the movie "500 Days of Summer", Tom (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) falls in love with Summer Finn (played by Zooey Deschanel). Scott Neustadter co-wrote the film based on a real-life relationship gone sour!

Next Friday, Sept. 27,  Scott and Producer Tom McNulty come to Writing Pad for a fascinating conversation about indie filmmaking and their newest movie, "The Spectacular Now."Join us for only $5 (includes sangria and snacks)! And if you haven't seen "The Spectacular Now", go! It's so good, but don't just take our word for it, it got 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also, if your love life is like a turbulent plane ride, now's the time to turn that walk of shame from 2004 into an irresistible memoir! Bestselling memoirist, Brett Paesel shows you how to write a relatable story that's more exciting than your favorite novel.  Sign up for Brett's class and other wonderful classes on our roster this fall by clicking one of the links below. Please hurry. Classes are filling up!

We'll see you at Tony's Saloon this Friday night for Writers With Drinks! It's free, and they'll be doing a special literary cocktail and pizza slices for us next door at Pizzanista.

Classes Starting This Week

Creative Writing/Multi-Genre

In the movie "500 Days of Summer", it takes Tom several seasons to get over Summer Finn. This movie is based on Scott Neustadter's real life heartbreak. Scott has the right idea: one of the best ways to get over a break up, is to get even! Write about it!

For this week's writing prompt, tell us about how you got over heartbreak. Make a list of three relationships that went bad. Pick one. Now makea list of what you you did specifically to get over that heartbreak (e.g. started swing dancing every night of the week, TP'd his house, etc.). Add a sensory detail to it (smell, taste, sound, touch). Now write about your heartbreak remedy, including the sensory detail. Then, post your results in the comments of this blog!

It took a year to get over my male version of Summer Finn. "He did you a favor," my best friend repeated. Between tanning on hot beach days and drinking during late-night chats, her wisdom sank in. Sometimes, I just needed my mom to scratch my head while we watched a period piece. When I flew to the East Coast, I steamed up the kitchen windows cooking savory Sunday dinners with my boisterous cousins. These simple times ushered me past heartbreak. (And yes, a bounce-back boyfriend helped too.) After that disaster, I learned no heartbreak would ever be so monumental that I'd never move on. For the men who've broken my heart since, licking of perennial wounds has gotten easier.

Now it's your turn. Write about how you got over someone for ten minutes, including your sensory detail. Then post your story below. You could win a free writing class!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing Prompt: Your Inner Child

By Lorinda Toledo

Remember the fun times and big dreams you had when you were a kid?
Grown-ups don't get it, with all of their rules. Kids just want to have a good time. Sometimes this leads to riding bikes a little farther than you're allowed to, or tossing a bag of flour around the house, or refusing to eat broccoli, just on principal.

So get back in touch with your inner child! Take some time for yourself and do something that makes you happy--like writing!

This Sunday, Sept. 15,  Sarah Maizes, shows you how to write a picture book ready for the bestseller list! Sarah is an award-winning children's book author and former William Morris literary agent. After taking her 5-week class, Writing the Marketable Picture Book, you'll have a completed draft of your book. You'll even get to test it out on a small audience of kids! There's only a few spots left, though, so sign up while you still can.

Check out these other opportunities to play with words at Writing Pad! Then scroll down for your free writing prompt. What could be more fun than that?

Classes Starting This Week/Next Week
Writing The Marketable Picture Book (5 Wk)
Your Name In Print: Get Your Story Published
How to Make it in a World of Mad Men: Intro to Advertising/Copywriting

Writing Pad Events

Journalism/Web Writing

Writing for Actors

Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Writingpalooza: Find Your Literary Mojo

Writing Prompt:
Ah, the innocence of childhood. Most of us are at our creative best when we're kids, before that inner critic has had a chance to develop in our heads.

When I was little, I once got in trouble after my Mom discovered the abstract art pieces I'd been making on the wall next to my bed. She just couldn't appreciate my brilliance in using ooey-gooey boogers as finger paints when I was supposed to be sleeping. I guess I can see now why she was a little upset.

For this week's writing prompt, make a list of 3 times you got in trouble when you were a kid. Pick one. Add a sensory detail to it (smell, taste, sound, touch).

Write about that incident, making sure to include that sensory detail for 10 minutes.  It could be funny, poignant, sad -- anything you want. Then post your story in the comments below. You could win a free writing class!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Iris Bahr: On Solo Peformance and Building a Career

By Lorinda Toledo

Iris Bahr is a woman of many talents. She's a successful actor, writer, producer and director and a master of the stage, page and screen. Variety touts her performances, saying "Bahr has more voices at her command than a symphony orchestra has strings" and the Daily News proclaims that "Bahr demonstrates that smarts, talent and dramatic focus are a potent combination . . . the lady has more identities and accents than a cloned Merryl Streep. . .wickedly funny."

This September, she'll be teaching two fantastic classes at Writing Pad! Cue the lights and roll out the red carpet, because Iris will teach you how to create an unforgettable one-person show that could launch your career into the spotlight in her one-night and five-week classes.

Iris is best known for her recurring role as Svetlana, the Russian madam and political consultant in a series of the same name that she wrote and produced for HDNet. Iris has also appeared on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Her solo show, "DAI (enough)" had an extended hit run Off-Broadway and won the prestigious Lucille Lortel Award for Best Solo Performance, (as well as 2 Drama Desk and UK Stage Award nominations for Best Performance and Sound Design).

She performed her show internationally, including at the United Nations. Her first solo show, "Planet America," received an LA Weekly nomination for Outstanding Solo Show and is currently in development as a feature film. And as if that weren't enough, this wonder woman is the author of two humorous memoirs: "Dork Whore" (Bloomsbury) and its sequel "Macchu My Picchu" (Skirt).

Iris took some time out to talk with us about her dynamic path to success.

Solo performance is such a unique crossover of writing and performance. How did you find your way into the medium?

I began doing one-person shows due to my love for theatre combined with the desire to express myself through writing and playing parts that I would never get cast in. This made solo performance the perfect medium to both write and stretch myself as a performer.

Do you have specific techniques for creating the entertaining characters that appear in your one-woman shows and your TV series "Svetlana"? How do you make sure that your characters feel three dimensional?

I always try to write from the heart and stay true to the character first. I enter the psyche of that character. If there is a real person that inspired that character, of course I implement aspects of his/her personality and physicality. I also spend entire days being the character -- whether it be driving the car, working in the backyard -- all these activities inform me about the character and inspire more writing.

Iris Bahr with Larry David on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
What inspires your shows and how do you develop that into full-length material? 

My shows are inspired by autobiographical experiences, political events, relationships -- things that I want to explore, learn more about. Through my shows, I share my perspective on these events and experiences with others.

You have written and starred in a hysterical TV series for Mark Cuban's cable network HDNet called Svetlana. How did you come up with the material for that show?

I had been improvising as Svetlana on the street for little bits on the web. I then was invited by Marc Maron to do a weekly piece as Svetlana on his radio show, and then to KCRW to do a political commentary every week. I finally decided to write a pilot and shoot it myself. Marc Cuban saw it on "Funny or Die" and the next thing I know I was writing and producing two seasons of Svetlana for his cable network.

You have published two comic memoirs, "Dork Whore" (Bloomsbury) and its sequel "Machu My Picchu" (Skirt). How does writing for print differ than writing for the stage? What do you think the qualities of a good memoir are? 

There is a lot more room to meander and play with style when writing a book. I think a good memoir has to be a combination of interesting life events, humor that at times is self-deprecating, life insights that stem from actual experiences, and vulnerability, which I think is the key to all good writing.

What advice do you have for aspiring performers who want to start writing their own material?

Don't worry about being entertaining or interesting. Stay true to the character and his emotional arc.

Though not the most obvious avenue in show business, solo performance has done fantastic things for your career. What types of opportunities have come to you through your one-woman shows? 

People just got to know what I can do as an actor and a writer. I've been hired as a writer and gotten auditions based on people seeing my show.

You are currently working on a film and you have a baby. How do you find time in your life to write and what is your writing practice?

I write in the evenings. I don't have a specific practice or method. Some days I can write for eight hours straight without getting up from my chair. Other days, I find it hard to focus and bounce in between several projects at once.

Thanks, Iris! You have inspired productivity in my muse. We can't wait for your class, It's All About You: A One-Person Show Workshop in downtown. There's a one-night class on Sept. 15 and a five-week class starting Sept. 17.  And there's only a few spots left!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Writing Prompt: Your Favorite Vacation Spot

By Dalia Martinez

After traveling around, you've reached the conclusion that one place prevails above all others. Only you understand why Fort-de-France Bay during the late summer is where sand castle dreams are built. 

Some of us are wired differently. Lounging like sand crabs on an exotic white sandy beach isn't appealing. But before you tell me I'm not right in the head, a few Writing Pad announcements. . .

Starting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, award-winning author Maureen McHugh (Publisher Weekly's Best Book of 2011, James T. Triptee award) teaches you everything you need to know about flash fiction. Imagine writing your own super cool story that fits on a postcard. By the end of the class, you'll have a polished piece of flash fiction that is ready to be submitted for publication and a plan of where to submit it. Your goal will be to publish your story within a few months after the class ends!

Sign up for Maureen's class or one of the other wonderful classes on our roster this fall by clicking on one of the links below. Please hurry. Classes are filling up!

Writing Pad Events

Journalism/Web Writing


Writing for Actors


Writing Prompt:
This week Marilyn is on vacation in French Canada. She'll be back next week ending her sentences with "eh?" As for you, did you visit you favorite vacay spot this summer? Was it the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, Hawaii? Or maybe it was in the middle of a continent where you finally spent time away from humanity in a land far, far away. . .

For this week's writing prompt, make a list of 3 of your favorite vacation spots. Pick one. Add a sensory detail to it (smell, taste, sound, touch). Now write about that place and time making sure to include that sensory detail. Then, post your results in the comments of this blog!

While gameshow contestants hope for a prize that includes 7 days and 6 nights outside of the US, some of us prefer home as our vacation spot. Adventure seekers like myself often end up taking "vacations" in places where people live on less than one dollar a day. These are the places the Center for Disease Control warns you about eating street food or brushing your teeth with local water.They're often in very hot and humid environments. Capitals are muggy with black smog from dense out-of-control traffic. Trash bakes on the streets as smells of rotting debris fill your lungs. You have to keep your wits about you--even when lounging on the beach. Skirmishes between political factions could erupt at any moment. These are the places that I usually end up on "holiday." They build character and test my endurance. That's why home (Los Angeles) is my favorite vacation spot. It's the one place on Earth I can relax on my version of a real vacation.

Write about your favorite vacation spot for ten minutes. Then post your story below. You could win a free writing class!