Saturday, December 6, 2014

Teresapalooza!! Holiday Gift Guide

AKA small businesses with great products I think you should buy this holiday season instead of shopping at stupid Walmart...

Everyday Love Art by Nidhi Chanani
www.everydayloveart.com

My favorite artist! (And a friend!) Beautiful, uplifting prints on her Web site and mugs, phone cases, & other goodies at her Zazzle store.

Each piece captures the simple moments in life that live forever in our hearts. Spread her message of love and make someone happy.

Perfect For: Romantics, mixed race couple friends, San Francisco residents, and new parents decorating nurseries & kids' rooms.


Krista Bermeo Studio
www.kristabermeostudio.com

Another talented friend who makes handcrafted glass jewelry. Simple, elegant, and full of hearts - a blast of color we all need.

My favorite is her Horizon Necklace, a bright twist on a bar necklace that will surely draw attention.

Perfect For: Ladies who love it when you compliment their jewelry.


GoldieBlox
www.goldieblox.com

Stanford engineer Debbie Sterling took a simple idea to Kickstarter - a toy for girls that encourages them to build and think like engineers.

Now GoldieBlox is a girl-empowerment toy empire inspiring a generation of future engineers through the power of fun. (Check out their float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!)

Perfect For: Any girl age 4 and up who is more than just a princess. (Hint: That's all of them!)


Keyprop & Flipcase by Integral Design
www.integrald.com

These innovative products, designed by a sorority sister from MIT, are brilliantly self-explanatory.

This is a Keyprop:

And this is a Flipcase, the collapsible sunglasses case:


You want them both now, right? I have one of each and I use them all the time!

Perfect For: Anyone who owns a smartphone or a pair of sunglasses.


Storytime Toys
www.storytimetoys.com

Gorgeously designed dollhouses that inspire imaginative story play beyond the outworn tea party scenario.

Created by another sorority sister from MIT, these toys are built to be treasured for a lifetime. (Plus they pack away in the box case - fun and efficient!)

Perfect For: A playful kid who enjoys a good story. (Again, that's all of them!)


Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner
http://amzn.com/0743264363

This isn't a small business - just a damn great book with practical, easy-to-understand straight talk about getting your money in order.

I've read dozens of personal finance books, and while I'm still a huge fan of Suze Orman and David Bach, this is hands-down the best starter book for anyone who wants to take control of their financial future.

Perfect For: Recent college grads, siblings you shake your head about behind their backs...and probably you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wake Up and Smell the Character Development

After years of calling myself an aspiring TV writer, pounding out 7 original pilots and 5 spec scripts of existing shows, I recently had what can only be described as a rude awakening --

I don't know what the f#*% I'm doing.

Seriously, when this realization hit me, it was bad. An absolute whopper. A hundred times worse than every writer on the planet feels on any given day.

Allow me to explain --

My rude awakening was about how I've been approaching the writing of a new original TV pilot. Up until now, I've been coming up with ideas - imaginative worlds, cool conflicts, plot twists and cliffhangers. I've filled pages and pages in my brainstorming journal with discoveries and stakes that spill forth as the concept takes shape - "And then this happens, until so-and-so realizes they're the same person! Oh SNAP!"

Then I would create a whole series proposal that includes season arcs and mythology tracking. Story beats would be thrown onto my board, reorganized, and rewritten until an outline was finally formed. Then I would start writing the pilot script.

And it would be around this time that I would ask myself, "Now who are these characters and what do they want?"

Wrong, Teresa. Wrong.

I recently attended an event at the WGA with Jason Katims, creator Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and About A Boy. The evening opened with a series of clips from his shows, including a hospital scene from Friday Night Lights.

Fans of the show will recognize it just from this screenshot, I'm sure.)


Within minutes, I was in tears. Free flowing, can't-stop-even-when-the-lights-come-up tears. I didn't know the show's logline or underlying theme or anything, but I was hooked. In a heartbeat, I loved these characters, connected with them, felt they were alive, organic, and real, and I wanted to see more.

That's good writing.

And I realized that everything I've been doing - the plotting and the organizing - doesn't mean anything if I don't have characters who captivate and excite - like every single character in a Jason Katims show does. I've been trying to birth characters inside these meticulously planned worlds, when I should have been doing it the other way around.

I should be creating incredible characters and letting the world unfold in my mind around them. Develop a character I connect with first and then develop the conflicts, relationships, and story engine that will send that character on a compelling journey that I want to watch for 4 seasons and a movie.

It's all about character, stupid. It's television.

I've seen true fandom at Comic-Con - t-shirts, cosplay, action figures. Would anyone create fan art of the characters I've created in my 7 original pilots? Big fat NO.


Sigh...you live, you learn.

That's why this pilot rewrite I'm working on is a page one rewrite. The first iteration was an action-packed script with plot twists and oh-no moments, but the characters didn't sing. In fact, they could barely hum a tune. They were just pawns in my plot game.

So I'm taking my concept and turning it inside out. Starting with the characters and rebuilding the story from there. And so far so good! I'm liking it much more and I think the concept is stronger. More importantly, I'm enjoying the writing process more. It feels less like managing a chess game and more like telling a story.

I guess you really can teach an old dog new tricks. Writing is a never ending journey of learning. Thank goodness I found this breakthrough.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Hump Day Update: Reverse Catch-Up Edition

So what have I been doing for months that's kept me from updating this blog? Let's go in reverse order --

  • I finally released HEARTBORN, my first collection of short stories! Buy it for just 99 cents at http://bit.ly/heartborn OR join my mailing list to hear dates for my FREE book download promo plus other news from my life & career: http://eepurl.com/Ly8Qj

    Special shout out to Haley Keim who designed the awesome book cover for HEARTBORN. I'm so grateful for her genius!


    HEARTBORN is filled with early writing for me. My words feel raw & unpolished while reaching deep for the truth of one's heart. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the year when I set this goal for myself, my objective in releasing my stories it is not to make money or bolster my self-image - it's to gather feedback that will help me become a better writer. So pick up a copy at http://bit.ly/heartborn, read it, and tell me what you think!

    Also, 100% percent of my profits from the sale of this first collection will be donated to Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit working to provide comprehensive dating abuse prevention programs exclusively to young people. So if you decide to purchase the ebook instead of waiting for my free promotional period, know that your 99 cents is helping to support a great cause!

  • I got into the CBS Writers Mentoring Program! A huge honor from the network that gave me my first big break when they bought a pitch from me & my executive producer in 2011. And sweet, sweet validation that saved me from the "I'm gonna quit" funk I was in all summer.


    The first part of the program is writing a new script with the guidance of my mentors. Over the summer, I spent weeks - WEEKS, I say! - working on a new pilot idea, only to toss it out completely after my first meeting with my CBS mentors. They were so right in their assessment that the current execution just doesn't work. Sigh - that one's going back into the oven for now...

    So instead I'm in the thick of rewriting the pilot I wrote last year. A page one rewrite. A monumental task, but worth it so far - I hate my pilot much, much less than I did before. Fingers crossed...

  • Did a play reading for a new Boni Alvarez masterpiece. Someone put one of Boni's plays on a mainstage, dangit! He's a genius!


  • Still volunteering for Break the Cycle. Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy relationship!

  • Went to my first Lakers game. They lost. :(

  • Discovered the Serial Podcast. Like everyone else, I AM OBSESSED!

  • Started a new day job doing marketing for an MIT friend's tech startup, which led me to finally join LinkedIn!

  • Shot new episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Criminal Minds and my second guest star on Richie Rich, which just got bought by Netflix!

  • Helped out as Associate Producer of the East West Players' One Night Only fundraiser in August. Golden fundraising fun!

  • And finally, I wrapped up my involvement with WriteGirl, to which I say:

    Long story.
Color yourself caught up on my life! More blog posts to come...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fiction Friday: Free Throw

Back in March, I heard a piece on NPR's Morning Edition about The Black Fives, an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society about the early days of African-American basketball teams.

It never occurred to me that basketball was a white sport when it was invented in 1891 - black players weren't integrated into professional leagues until 1950. This really struck me, considering how prevalent basketball is in black culture in America now.

Upon learning more, I was inspired to write this humble piece of flash fiction. Hope you enjoy it.




Photo / Black Fives Foundation
Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

The sound of the basketball on the gym floor. Rhythmic. Powerful.

Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

Throw.

Nothing but net.

Jackson didn’t smile. He wouldn’t allow a celebration in his spirit until he hit his goal. Ten baskets in a row. He’d gotten close that morning. Seven. Eight. Then he missed a shot and started over. No celebration until he got ten in a row. That was his rule.

Jackson retrieved the ball, his slick black limbs aching with well-earned fatigue. He glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes of colored time left before it became a white court again. He could easily make three more shots in that time. Three more and he’d be done.

He returned to the free throw line and centered himself.

Slam slam slam slam.

His mother’s voice came into his head.

Slam slam slam slam.

“Why you wastin’ time on that basketball?”

Slam slam slam slam.

“Whitey ain’t never gonna let you play, boy. Don’t you know who you are?”

Slam slam slam slam.

Throw.

That was eight in a row. Two more to go.

The ball bounced to the far right corner toward the benches. Jackson ran to fetch the ball, indulging in a moment to wipe the sweat off his brow. The towel he had brought was already soaked through, but it still felt good to get some of the moisture off his face and neck. He stared at the white towel, thinking to himself, “See? It doesn’t rub off.”

He took a lap around the court, dribbling as he went. He was determined to develop his skills – that’s what these early mornings were for. Time for him to get better. To become the best negro basketball player in town. Undeniable talent.

He’d heard about colored basketball leagues starting in New York. Real professional leagues with uniforms and a championship bracket. Thinking about playing basketball gave him a feeling of hope he’d never known before. He could be somebody. A basketball player.

His father had given him his basketball before he died. His mother had screamed, “Where did you get that thing? You know they been lynching black folk who steal!”

His father had held the ball out with pride. “I bought it for my son.”

Jackson’s father had taught him how to be a man. How to stand tall in his truth, look people in the eye, and hide his fear behind his dignity. He wore a crisp black suit every day to drive rich white folk around town and never complained when he came home at night. Jackson wanted to be just like him.

And a basketball player. He had learned how to dream from his mother. When he was younger, she was always spinning tales of the places they would visit and the people they would meet. Dinners with movie stars and walks through the White House were surely coming soon.

But Jackson’s dreams were different. They made her scared and upset. The older he got, the more she tried to stuff them down and shut them up. “We live in a white man’s world, Jackson. You ain’t never gonna be anything but black.”

It got worse after Jackson’s father was murdered. He had watched from the bench in the police station as his mother broke down in tears and screamed hysterically at the same time. The cops didn’t care. A rich white woman had tripped coming out of his car and Jackson’s father had caught her from falling and breaking her nose, but he had grabbed her breast in the process. He deserved to die.

Now Jackson drove the car. He never liked school anyway. Working a regular schedule meant he had more time for basketball. The dream his mother hated.

He’d worked out a deal with the gym owner. One hour, three mornings a week, in exchange for a free ride for his sick mother to the doctor every day. Jackson was thrilled.

He found his spot in front of the basket again.

Slam slam...

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a group of white boys walk into the gym side door.

...slam slam.

Throw.

That was nine. Only one more to go.

“Hey!” one of them shouted. “You’re not supposed to be here!”

Jackson glanced at the poster on the wall that the gym owner had made, listing his colored time. He looked at the clock. He still had eleven minutes.

He returned to his spot.

Slam slam slam slam.

One more free throw. One more to hit his goal. One more.

A basketball slammed into the back of his head, sending him reeling forward onto his knees. He heard the laughter approach.

“This fucking ‘coon wants to play basketball!” The boys laughed heartily.

Jackson wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He wanted to slam his ball into their faces and see what happened next. But then he heard his father’s voice. “The only one who can take away your dream is you.”

So Jackson mumbled, “Sorry,” tucked his ball under his arm, and trotted away. Another basketball struck the back of his leg, tripping him for a second, but he never looked back. He picked up his towel, wiping as he went for the door.

“Hey!” another boy shouted, “He’s stealing a ball!”

“Those balls belong to the gym, boy.”

Jackson stopped and turned. He looked the pale white boys in the eye, rolling his shoulders back, and said, “This is my ball.” He felt his father standing behind him, hand on his shoulder.

The main boy shrugged. “Whatever. We don’t want your filthy ball anyway.” And they turned away.

Jackson walked out of the gym, his father’s ball tucked under his arm. He took a deep breath, feeling the air fill his broad, healthy lungs. He’d be back on Wednesday morning.

Ten free throws in a row. That was his goal.

#

To learn more about the pre-1950 history of African Americans in basketball, visit the Black Fives Foundation at blackfives.org

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Romeo & Juliet Dream

Last week, I dreamt I was in the audience of a stage production of Romeo & Juliet where Juliet was played by a perky blonde with a heart of gold & Romeo was played by a developmentally disabled actor.

The audience in my dream was politely silent as they processed the unlikely sight of an actor with Down's Syndrome wooing a maiden on a balcony. I didn't know what to make of it myself at first, but halfway through Romeo's monologue, I remember thinking, "This actor is fantastic!"

Now that I'm awake, this bold new take lingers and fascinates me. The adaptation writes itself in my mind. Two households, both alike in dignity, but separated by judgment, fear, and an subconscious attachment to outward appearances. Set in the 80's before political correctness made "retard" a taboo word.

Juliet, surrounded by privilege and expectation, finds true connection for the first time with a Romeo who is refreshingly real and different. Romeo risks everything to be with a girl who sees his heart, not his disability. Star-crossed lovers that society cannot accept. Tybalt becomes a bully who wants to beat up the retard who has no place in his world and Mercutio dies a noble death defending him.

The themes of morality, judgment, and class seem so well-suited for this twist. A classical tragedy made infinitely more tragic.

I want to write and direct this adaptation so badly!

But alas, I've never directed live theater, so I have no credentials at all to make this happen. (Plus, I've got a pilot script to write...)

So this dream is staying a dream for now. It will go on my list of projects that I would love to direct someday, right below my all-black Much Ado About Nothing and my The Last Five Years starring Scott Keiji Takeda. I'll muster the time, courage, and funding to do them someday.

In the meantime, if someone else is sparked by reading this adaptation idea, please please please do it! All I ask in return is a front row seat for opening night so I can sit and enjoy watching my dream realized.

Monday, June 23, 2014

WGA Registration vs. Copyright? Both!

Congrats on finishing your script! Before sending it out, you need to register it with the WGA AND copyright it with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Yes, you need to do both because they protect you in different ways.

Registering your material with the WGA provides dated proof your ideas exist in the form of your script. It establishes evidence. If someone steals your idea, the WGA can't do anything legally to help you.

That's where copyrighting comes in. If you copyright your script with the U.S. Copyright Office and someone steals your idea, you can claim copyright infringement. Lawyers can step in and do their thing. Whether or not suing for copyright infringement is a successful tactic is a subject for another day...

(I've been told I'm protected if I mail myself a hard copy of my script through the US Postal Service, but that feels a little too DIY for my taste. I prefer a registration number.)

So I recommend always doing both -- registering your script with the WGA costs $20 ($10 if you're a member) and copyrighting your script costs $35. Worth the money to protect your words.

I consider the moment when I register and copyright my script as a celebration of its completion, so I lay down the money happily like I'm buying my script a drink.

For more information, check out the WGA Registry FAQ and the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ.

And check out these blog posts that also discuss the topic --

http://firemark.com/2010/02/11/asked-answered-wga-vs-copyright-registration-and-protection-of-scripts/

http://zernerlaw.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/it%E2%80%99s-time-for-the-writer%E2%80%99s-guild-to-shut-down-the-wga-registry/

http://www.screencraft.org/blog/copyright-vs-wga-registry/

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Up and Down the Productivity Mountain

(I scribbled this process piece into my notebook on May 27, right before pulling an all-nighter to meet two writing program deadlines. If you've ever wondered what the self-flagellating mind of a writer sounds like, get ready for a glimpse. My writing is as raw as my emotions were at the time...)

I'm realizing that my productivity goes in cycles. There are days when I push, jam, and roll creatively and get a huge amount of writing done. I reach the end of those days and think to myself, "Wow, if I could be this productive every day, I could realize my dream of being a prolific writer!"

But that fantasy remains unfulfilled, because the very next day is often like today. One that starts slow, never picks up steam, and ends on a solid note of self-doubt and panic.

Let's see - what did I do today? A smidgen of writing, taking the whole morning and afternoon to write 10 pages that I would have done in an hour yesterday. (The yesterday of my dreams.) In between, I made lunch, repotted plants on my patio, sent mails and made phone calls for the short film I'm producing, watched 30 minutes of TV, ate cookies, put on workout clothes to do 15 minutes on my recumbent bike, watched YouTube videos (for research, damnit!), went to the Writers Junction, ate cheesecake someone left in the fridge, then sat down to write.

Another case of procrastination, procrastination, procrastination. It's like after a full day of writing, my psyche rebels by suddenly making vacuuming or doing laundry the most attractive activity ever.

This is where discipline should come in. It's moments like these when I need to stay focused on my goal and brush all those other distractions aside. Because with the exception of the pre-production work, I didn't need to do any of that other stuff today! It could have all waited until after my deadlines this weekend!

Discipline in a writing career means writing all the time, whether you want to or not. People across the country push widgets, perform surgery, or serve coffee and pie for eight hours a day, five days a week. Why shouldn't writers work the same hours? Or at last a fraction of them? My two or three hours this morning feels so unacceptable to me. Every minute I don't spend writing is a minute wasted.

I'm writing this blog post now, which is good - though this blog is something that can wait until the weekend. But at this point, the thought of looking at my script again is so undesirable, I'm partly writing this so I can say at least I accomplished something today. Something is better than nothing, right?

Ugh, no! I need to stop negotiating this something vs. nothing crap and just write! Because finished writing is what's truly better than anything.

Okay, let me try diving into this script again...

(Told you it wasn't pretty...)