Writers University

Want to learn how to break into television? Sure you do.  Everybody in L.A. does. Well, I’ve got some good news for you. William Rabkin and I will be teaching our thrill-packed four-week online course "Writing Dramatic Television" again, starting on May 2 (and again on June 6), for Writers University.  What do you get for your hard-earned bucks? Here’s an excerpt from the course description:

You will learn—and practice— the actual process involved in
successfully writing a spec episodic script. You will learn how to analyze a TV show and develop
“franchise”-friendly story ideas. You will develop and write a story
under the direction of the instructors, who will be acting as
showrunners… and then, after incorporating their notes, you will be
sent off to write your outline. Finally, you will develop and refine
your outline with the instructors, leaving you at the end of the course
ready to write your episodic spec script…the first step in getting a
job on a TV series. 

There’s an "early bird" discount of 20% for people who enroll ten days before the course.  For more information, click here.

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Where to Find Me

If you love books,  the Los Angeles Times Book Festival is the place to be next weekend.  I’ll be there browsing, buying, standing in line, and even signing a few books myself. Here’s my signing schedule:

April 23 
Mystery Bookstore 11-12
Mysterious Galaxy 12-1

April 24
Mystery Bookstore 10-11
Sisters in Crime 12-1

See you there!

The Ghostly Junk Yard

My Mom was cleaning out her garage and found a handwritten story I wrote when I was ten, called THE GHOSTLY JUNKYARD. Here it is:

One day John and Juan went to the old house with a chicken coop and old cars. The old house was supposed to be haunted. So while Juan, who was 10, and John, who was 10, were looking around, John exclaimed: "LOOK, a ghost by the house!"

Juan looked back but there was nothing. Again John yelled the same thing but again Juan saw nothing. John said it was white in the shape of a person. Hair was white and shoes and everything.

The next day as they walked by the house they both saw a ghost run behind a tree. John and Juan had a reputation as Mystery Solvers. Last year they apprehended some bank robbers in Shanty Town. So to not attract attention they kept walking.

The next day they went in to the house and found a skeleton on the floor in front of the door! It had a hole in its head. It went right through his head. They quickly took a shovel from the junk and buried him. Later they went in the old house again and went to the haunted tower. When John saw a man laying bleeding from a hole through his head, he quickly ran to get Juan. When they came back it was gone! Later they searched the room and found a trapdoor and voices came out.

It was the bank robbers they arrested last year! Quickly they turned on Juan’s tape recorder and hid it while they got the police. An hour later they came back with the police and a police man said that John and Juan should go down the trapdoor so the police could arrest the robbers.

As they went down, a guy said "It’s those two finks who shot them." But the police came down and arrested them and the tape was solid evidence. So the robbers were sent to jail and Juan and John got rewarded.

What’s interesting to me is how much that reads like the stuff my nine-year-old daughter Madison is writing. Here is one of her latest stories, IN THE DARK MOVIE THEATRE.

  On one rainy day a girl named Jenny and
her dad Andrew were going to the movie theaters. They were going to see
“Because of Winn Dixie.” In the middle of the movie, Jenny’s dad heard a terrifying
sound and he was pretty sure it was not from the movie.

Andrew looked for Jenny…but she wasn’t there.

Suddenly Andrew saw a strange tall man
behind him holding Jenny by the throat!

Andrew got his cell phone out and dialed
911!

  Andrew said to the police, “ Help me my daughter is getting murderd by a
strange tall man. Come to the movie theaters immediately!”

Jenny’s dad knew Tae Kwon Do but he forgot
how to use the moves.

The strange tall man ran away with Jenny.

The strange tall man went in his car, and
took Jenny with him.

The police couldn’t find him.

The strange tall man went inside his house
with Jenny. He gave her a cup of something and said, “Drink this it will make
you feel better.”

Jenny drank it and was hypnotized. The man
ordered Jenny to kill her father!!

The strange tall man said, “Go find your
father and kill him! Do it now!”

Jenny said, “I will find my father and
will kill him with this large pointy knife!”

The strange man said, “Your father is at
your house calling everybody in the neighborhood.”

Jenny said, “How do you know??”

The man said, “ I have a special computer
that tells me where everybody is.”

“OH!” Jenny said.

Jenny went in the man’s car and went to
Jenny’s house. But one bad thing: she lived in a gated community!

Jenny had a great idea. Jenny said to the
guard, “You can let us in because I live here.”

The guard said, “Go in.”

Jenny and the strange man went to the
house, and got out of the car. The strange man hid behind a bush. Jenny hugged
Andrew and put the knife in her father’s back!

The strange man said, “Jenny we have to go
before your mother comes!”

Jenny saw her mother and said, “Hi Mom!”
Jenny’s Mom said, “What happened to
your father??”

Jenny said, “I have no clue what
happened!”

“What are you holding behind your back?” Jenny’s Mom took the knife out of Jenny’s hand.  “Did you kill your father?”

Jenny started running to the car in got in.
Jenny’s Mom called the guard and said, “Don’t open the gate my daughter just
killed my husband!”

The guard said, “Okay.”

When Jenny’s Father was dead, Jenny’s
Mother invited many neighbors and many relatives to attend the funeral. Many
people were very sad, especially Jenny’s Mother.

The police found Jenny and the strange man. The man went to prison and
Jenny was normal again.

Jenny’s Mother got married and had a baby and everyone was happy. Very
happy! 

A Writer’s Process

Prolific author Lynn Viehl talks, in a series of interesting entries on her blog, about her novel writing process.

While I’m writing the book I do not back-track to read and mess
with what I’ve written, edit or rewrite the new material as it lands on
the page, change my mind about the story, hate myself, hate the work,
avoid the work, wait for the planets to align correctly before I write,
let my inner rabid bitch off her leash, wonder how what I write will
affect the reader, worry about the state of my soul, chakrahs or ego,
or otherwise railroad myself.

My apologies in advance to the
writers who do any/all of the above. My methods are a professional
necessity, because honestly I could not handle what you do in order to
write a novel.

She also mentions that she gets an advance of about $21,000 a book which, because she mentions it so often on her blog, comes across more like boasting than informative candor.

In  another post, she discusses how she pitches her book projects to editors. Once she has a deal, it’s time to…

… move into the construction phase of the novel
process. I’ve already done the imagining, researching, and outlining for the novel, and I probably have at least a hundred pages of it written as part of the pitch, so everything is ready to go.

A hundred pages? No wonder she can just write without angst… she’s already gone through all her angst, and made all the tough decisions, in her massive (way too massive, in my opinion) sales and outlining process.

I "sell" my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels (and now my MONK books) on the basis of a punchy page that reads more like book-jacket copy… and then I write a beat sheet for myself that oulines the rest of the plot. By beat sheet, I mean a crude version of the outlines we write in the episodic television business (you can see samples on my website or in my book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING).  All together, it might amount to ten pages, mostly in bullet-point form. A hundred pages? Good God.

Unlike Lynn, I also rewrite my books as I go, usually starting my work each day by editing whatever I’ve written the night before. Then again, I also go through almost all of the whining and self-doubt that Lynn manages to avoid…but in the end, I think it helps my work. It forces me to concentrate on plot and character… and to go back and rewrite/refine/hone my writing.

But everyone has their own method. Mystery novelist  Sandra Scoppettone, for instance, doesn’t outline at all, discovering her plot,  her characters, and her murderer, as she goes. Now that is unimagineable to me…

Road Trip

Things may be very slow here next week… on Friday, my wife and daughter and I are heading out on our first family roadtrip, driving from LA to Santa Fe and back… stopping at the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and who-knows-where. If I may post some dispatches from the road otherwise, if I survive, you’ll find me back here around April 4th.

The Darkest Depths of Man

I had to go in to see a doctor for a flexible sigmoidoscopy. For those of you who don’t know what that means, a doctor shoves a tube up your butt and takes a sightseeing tour of your colon.  This probably qualifies as "more about me than you ever wanted to know," but if not, read on.

The doctor who performed this thrilling task was a strikingly beautiful young woman…which made me even more uncomfortable than the exam itself. I would have preferred if my doctor was a man…or if  she looked like the rectum she was examining.

Here’s my question to you: what difference did it make? I’m a very happily married man and would never stray… so I’m definitely not on the make (and even if I was, the offices of a colon & rectum specialist isn’t really the hottest pick-up spot in town. "Hey, baby, now that you’ve seen my rectum, want to go out some time?" or "This has been fun. What do you say you pull that garden hose out of my butt and lets go to dinner?").  So why was I more uncomfortable with an attractive woman doing the exam
than I would have been with a man or an atrociously ugly woman?

(And why do I have a feeling of deja vu with this post? Have I asked this question before? Or is this a question my bowel-movement obsessed brother has asked on his blog or his old newspaper column?)

A Day in The Life

I’m in a strange place right now…

I finished my last Diagnosis Murder novel and delivered it to my editor a few weeks ago.  Bill Rabkin and I just turned in a pitch to a network for a TV movie we’re up to write. It’s still a few weeks away from staffing season, so there’s no episodic TV work right now. And I delivered my story to my editor for the next (the seventh!) Diagnosis Murder novel…so I’m awaiting formal go-ahead before I start the detailed plotting and actual writing.

So, in other words,  I don’t have a hell of a lot to do.  I’m in a holding pattern until I hear from the network on the M.O.W., or my editor on the book, or staffing season begins and we start going to meetings.

As is typical at times like this, I’m antsy. I cleaned up my office, did some filing, paid my bills, organized my bookshelves, put labels on my home-recorded DVDs. I got my cars serviced, I scheduled repairs around the house, and I even fixed myself up… going in for long overdue appointments with my doctor and my dentist for annual checkups (which I haven’t had in years, so I guess I’m using the term "annual" very loosely).

I feel good about taking care of things that I’ve overlooked for the last two years of non-stop writing activity but, at the same time, I’m not quite myself. I’m eager to start writing something else…even though I’ve been looking forward for so long to time off, especially with the 12 months I’ve had (two broken arms, two surgeries, 18 episodes to write/develop, one death in the family, three novels to write, etc.).

We’re heading out on a family road trip for my daughter’s March vacation, driving to the Grand Canyon and Sante Fe, and that will be fun, but until then…

…why can’t I just curl up in a chair with a good book, relax, and enjoy the peace? God knows I have plenty of books to read!

A Writer’s Life

This weekend was a good example of what life is like for a professional writer:

  • I wrote an article about writing DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE WAKING NIGHTMARE for MJ Rose’s excellent Backstory blog.
  • I traveled to San Francisco to speak at a writers conference.
  • I  proofed the copyedited manuscript for my fifth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, which has to arrive in NY no later than Feb. 23.
  • I proofed the galleys for my novel THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which have to arrive on my editor’s desk no later than Feb. 23.
  • I revised the manuscript for my sixth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, which is due March 1, but that I need to finish by Feb 22, so I can stick it in the FedEx packet with the copyedited manuscript for DM #5… because I am leaving on Wednesday to attend & speak at Left Coast Crime in El Paso.
  • I drove back to L.A. from S.F…and thought about the plot for my seventh DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel.  I made  some notes when I stopped for lunch.
  • I posted some articles on my blog.
  • I wrote some notes for a network pitch meeting that’s set for Tuesday.

And this was a light weekend… I didn’t have to write a script or write a chapter in a book.

Grumpy Goldberg

Ian Hamet over at Banana Oil regularly reads my blog and thinks I’ve been grumpy lately (though he thinks I wasn’t  grumpy enough with the people I met at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Did I mention that they didn’t have a single copy of any of my books for sale in the conference bookstore? Grumpier writers than me would have walked away from the conference in a huff… but I’m not prone to huffs).

So I did a quick scan of my posts here over the last few weeks… and Ian is right.  It looks like I’ve been using my blog mostly to whine and complain (which proves, I suppose, that I really am a professional writer).  I’ll try to be more upbeat in future posts.