Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Daring to Dream with Marc Bernardin

A cool thing happened this week: a writer lived out a dream.

Marc Bernardin—writer, TV producer, journalist, co-host of the Fatman Beyond podcast with Kevin Smith—was a guest on the Late Night with Seth Meyers. Marc was there to talk about and promote his graphic novel, Adora and the Distance. As the father of an autistic daughter, he was encouraged to write about his experiences of raising an autistic child but, as Marc says in the interview, he was the least interesting person in the story.

So he created a version of a story in which there was a young woman of color who was on a quest and what she discovered about the world and herself at the end of the quest. Naturally, he edged toward the comic book format and bided his time. Finally, last year, the graphic novel was published on Comixology featuring the whimsical illustrations of Ariela Kristantina. Now, the book is in hard copy to buy at your local comic book store.

I’ve listened to Marc talk about this story for a long time so I was simply happy for him to get the book out into the world. But then he started to dream. What would it be like to go on a late night talk show and and talk about the book. Seth Meyers is a comic book fan so Marc set his sights on landing a spot on Seth’s show.

To make the dream possible, he encouraged a social media campaign, and, lo and behold, it worked. Marc was on the 19 April 2022 episode of Late Night. Here’s the link of the full interview.

An avid communicator through Twitter, Marc thanked his fans in a very Marc way.


In his deep dives into story and story structure on his podcast, I am often pausing long enough to transcribe things he said into my very own “Marc on Writing” file. Well, here’s another one to add to the list.

Five seemingly simple phrases that can take you far in life. But looks at the first: Don’t be afraid to dream the impossible dream. If you have a dream, go for it.

This brings me back to a quote of Goethe’s as cited in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art which I reviewed last week: “I [Steven] have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

Dreams come true. We witnessed one this week, and it was exhilarating. I grinned from ear to ear watching Marc on Seth’s show. I enjoyed seeing him live his dream. 

And I also turned my attention to my own. I’m dreaming my dreams and I’ve already begun to put them on the map of my life. Why is that important? Well, let’s let Marc Bernardin have the last word today.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Epiphany of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Where has this book been all my writing life? Well, right in front of me, the entire time.

I’ve known about Steven Pressfield for a good number of years. In fact, I have his blog feed in my Feedly app and I am a subscriber to his email. But in all that time, I had never sat down and read his most famous non-fiction book: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

I guess I just wasn’t ready for it. I believe that there is always a time and place for certain things to occur, and the first quarter of 2022 proved to be especially difficult for my writing life. So difficult, in fact, that I stopped and questioned whether or not I should keep going. Somewhere in that miasma of thoughts and feelings and doubt this book popped in front of my eyes. I had already started back on the upswing via my own journaling but I shrugged and thought why not.

Wow. This book opened my eyes, wide, to see that not only was I not alone in my struggles (we all struggle), but Pressfield laid out a definition of my challenges and a roadmap through them.

Most importantly, perhaps, was this: Pressfield gave the challenge, the obstacle we all face, a name: Resistance. That is the focus of Book 1 of this short but powerful book. Resistance: Defining the Enemy. Pressfield then goes on to list all the things that Resistance is, such as Internal, Universal, and Insidious. He points out that Resistance is strongest right near the finish list, it often makes you unhappy, and carves a place in your mind for self-doubt and self-rationalization.

Very quickly as I started reading the print version of this book I grabbed a pencil and started underlining key passages. I kept underlining all through Book 1, seeing myself in the words.

Book 2: Combating Resistance: Turning Pro serves as the antithesis. It is the writer/artist as hero. Key to this section is in the sub-title: Turning Pro. It is the light bulb moment when a writer decides he is no longer just going to write for fun, but to be a professional writer. Pressfield lists many traits of the professional mindset. Personally, I found I already do many of them—is prepared; we show up every day; we are patient; we demystify the writing process—so it made me question why I was in such a state as to even think about quitting.

But, as Pressfield states, “The battle is inside our own head.” It always is. Always. It can be frustrating to be in a profession where dwell-doubt is constant, but there you go. The mountaintop experience of a writer/artist is also very high.

The last book, Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm, makes the case for the power of an artist’s way of life. He lays out the evidence that there exists for artist a sometimes magical place where our imaginations and our physical efforts to find our dreams connect. He divides artist into two camps: those that think hierarchically and those that think territorially, using the animal kingdom as an example. By the time I reached the end of the book, pencil tip well worn for underlining so many thing, I smiled. So many of Pressfield’s comments seemed self-evident, and yet I struggled. We all struggle. It is part of the artist’s way of life.

But a book like The War of Art clears out the cobwebs of doubt and shows us a way forward.

I ended up dictating all the underlined passages into my phone and created a 14-page file. It is my own outline of this important book. I know that I’ll encounter Resistance again. It is inevitable. But I also know a means to overcome it. And I’ve got my own printed set of pages to remind me how.

If you are struggling—and even if you’re not—I encourage you to read this book and see if you can turn yourself around.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite passages of the entire book. It explains why it is important to create and maintain a writing habit.

Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on his schedule for only when struck my inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,“ he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”
That’s a pro.
In terms of resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise resistance; I will not let it phase me; I will sit down and do my work. “
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that my performing the Monday and physical active sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his. He knew if he built it, she would come.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

End of an Era: The Final Print Issue of Entertainment Weekly

It arrived every Friday, and boy, I could not wait.

I can’t say with any certainty if I purchased the debut issue of Entertainment Weekly in February 1989, but I know I began reading the magazine that year. In those pre-internet days, Entertainment Weekly featured writing like my friends and I talked. The stories were encyclopedic, the authors were folks like me (geeks if you will), and the sections became go-to sources of information.

It wasn’t long before I started subscribing as a means to avoid the vicissitudes of magazine stands and delayed delivery. I needed my entertainment fix every week.

The interviews were always in depth and interviewers mostly asked the same questions I would have asked were it me in front of a celebrity with a notepad and pen. It wasn’t long before I grew accustomed to the Top 10 Must List of the week, always cheering when a thing I loved landed on the list.

In those pre-internet days, Entertainment Weekly pretty much kept up with the times. The periodical evolved as the 1990s evolved and shaped and reshaped popular culture. I always looked forward to the big issue showcasing the fall TV shows (although those usually were double issues and I’d have a week without a new issue) or the summer blockbusters or the big music issues. When mega events like the relaunch of James Bond with Pierce Brosnan or the release of the first new Star Wars movie, I could not wait to read the content. The issues were mostly devoured in one sitting, maybe two. It was a rare weekend that ended when I hadn’t read Entertainment Weekly from cover to cover.

I moved from Austin to Denton, Texas, to Kent, Ohio, back to Denton and then back to my hometown of Houston. I carried the subscription with me everywhere I went. When my wife and I married, we discovered we both subscribed and we joined our subscriptions into one. When we moved to the Houston suburbs, Fridays were still a wonderful day when EW would arrive in the mailbox. I would usually consume the Must List between the mailbox and the front door, and, if the cover was particularly important, show my wife as I walked in the door.

A particularly great time to subscribe to EW was during the time when “Lost” was on TV. Every Wednesday, we’d get a new episode. Every Thursday, the folks at the office would hang out in the hallway and talk over what happened. But come Friday, I’d get the latest issue of EW. In it, Jeff Jenson, senior writer and “Lost” guru would recap the episode and deliver in-depth analysis of all the things in any particular scene, be it a book on a shelf or whatever might’ve been in the background. It was essential reading and I always enjoyed Mondays when I could bring Jeff’s wisdom back to the office.

Needless to say, Entertainment Weekly has been with me most of my adult life. I’ll admit I was sad when EW went from being published weekly to only coming out monthly. I’ll also admit I never understood why they didn’t just change the name to Entertainment Monthly. Why not?

But now, in April 2022, the 1,630th issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox, and it is the last one. The last print issue. EW.com has been a thing for I don’t know how many years, but now it’ll be the only thing. If EW could read the writing on the wall, realizing that just about everything is fast and digital and on the web, and shift to a monthly rate, then the shift to an all-digital format was also easily predicted.

Yeah, I’ll keep going to EW.com because the same content by the same writers is there. There’s even the same font for the various sections. And while I’m fully aware that my next statement will make me sound old, I’ll miss holding the printed magazine in my hands, getting the ink smeared on my fingers if I’m enjoying a cold drink while reading, and circling things with a pen to go and buy later.

The older one gets, the more one values things that have just always been there. And for 33 years, the printed version of Entertainment Weekly has been there with me, chronicling the pop culture events of my life, from my time as a college student to the middle-aged man I am today.

So long, old friend. Thanks for making the journey with me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

What are Some Book Examples of the AC/DC Rule?

Quick: What’s the most famous album by AC/DC?

If you, like me, instantly thought of the 1980 album Back in Black, you are not alone. It’s the band’s top-selling album and one of the best-selling albums of all time. But that seminal album never reached Number 1 on the Billboard charts. That was the next album, For Those About To Rock.

A year ago on the Hit Parade podcast, an episode dropped entitled “The AC/DC Rule.” This podcast discusses music history and quirky things about the chart performances of various songs and bands. It spent two episodes discussing what they dubbed The AC/DC Rule. Put simply, it’s this: there are famous albums by major musicians, ones we all know and love, with our favorite songs on them, but those albums are not always the ones that topped the album chart. It was the next album, the album that rode the coattails of the more-famous album to the top of the charts but may not be as fondly remembered or sold as many copies.

The episode details how Cat Stevens, Boston, Billy Joel, and others all experienced the AC/DC Rule. It happens for movies as well. The second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, scored more money in its opening weekend than the debut film did in its entire run.

The pattern exists for the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the second Hangover movie, and others. I can’t remember all the other albums the host, Chris Molanphy, discusses, but it’s a curious thing.

Which naturally got me to thinking about this rule for books. A few instantly jump to mind. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a massive success, but that was Brown’s fourth book. As well as Da Vinci Code sold, his follow-up, The Lost Symbol, sold a million copies on the first day. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, Lost Symbol ultimately didn’t outperform Da Vinci Code, but you can see the pattern.

I think it’s safe to say this kind of thing applies to debut authors as well. Be it music or books, it’s the dreaded sophomore slump. The debut album by Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear Window, sold more than 21 million copies. Their second album, Fairweather Johnson, sold only 3 million. Kinda funny to write "only" in that sentence. On the book side of the ledger, The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline both took the world by storm but their next books did not meet with the same success.

I’ve been trying to determine if there are other books that fall into this category so that’s what I’ve been pondering this week. Can y’all help me?