Reality Adjacent

Here’s a pretty cool thing – my first-ever professional commercial voiceover job:

That take is actually the audition I recorded in my closet. They liked it so much they just bought it and put it in the commercial. The possibilities with this V.O. thing are incredibly-enticing, and I am immediately appreciating that, acting-wise, my “range” is incalculably broader in this realm. No one would cast me as an obsessive cyclist in a film or probably even on-stage – I just don’t project athleticism.

I got some great news a few days ago – a friend of mine has written and will direct an independent horror feature. Due to scheduling issues, an actor had to drop out, and my friend has a lot personally at stake in this, and he called to ask if I’d step into one of the major roles in the film. It’s a horror movie – my first (not counting the short student-made slasher film I starred in over in the UK a lifetime ago) – about a man who can see ghosts; and I’ll be playing the ghost who is his chief tormentor throughout the film. I get to wear grody makeup and special effects contact lenses, and I’m so excited about all of this because it is a dreams-coming-true kind of opportunity.

My ghost sort of breaks the previously-established rules of the movie. I thought almost immediately about when I played Renfield in Dracula, and how the director and I worked to build aspects of his character that made him sort of a living affront to sanity. I would switch accents mid-scene to mock other characters, break the fourth wall, stay on-stage in scenes I was not in, and finally start moving through different areas in the stage to violate the unspoken logic of which rooms were connected to where. At the curtain call, Renfield was the only character who got a solo entrance, and I came in not from the wings but from the audience exit door.

I’ve been looking at the roles I’m getting cast in, especially on-camera, through this filter. In Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine my character is never shown outside the office supply closet where he smokes weed. I only ever interact with the main character, and I narrate ridiculous daydream sequences about his romantic travails.

In Aventura, the heroes of the movie, which otherwise takes place in basically a slightly-absurdist reality along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, enter very different territory when they meet my character. It’s a totally weird, totally unexplained interlude – sort of a Pee Wee’s Big Adventure-style surreal digression.

And now this ghost…I’m strident in the belief that an actor should never let Hollywood tell them who they are; because there are too many people in Hollywood whose visions are shallow and dumb. A very-talented actress friend of mine who keeps getting offers for little short films feels like she’s hitting a ceiling, since casting directors and agents the next level up keep telling her that she’s no good for Hollywood until she loses 15 pounds. I’m to the point now where if I see a listing that describes the character as two or more of words like “attractive, charismatic, athletic, handsome, VERY good-looking (etc.)”, I won’t even bother to submit; because what they’re signalling about their priorities makes it clear I’ll never get to make my case for the role anyway.

This is a thought-provoking pattern, though; getting cast as characters who operate in their own pocket universe – a reality separate from everyone else’s in the show. I have noticed in my life that many misfits feel very comfortable and able to let their guard down around me, while other people just never seem comfortable with me, even at my nicest. And I know my tendencies towards introversion, and spending a lot of time strolling around up in my own head, can make me come off as aloof, separate, not participating the same way as others.

So I don’t think the camera has got the wrong idea when it sees me in the Uncanny Valley next to normalcy. It may be a limiting idea, but that’s sort of the nature of casting to type. It has its pluses and minuses. What’s most important, I guess, is figuring out what about this I can embrace and effectively leverage.

And continue to record, because the variety of creatures I can do over in the V.O. world just keeps growing. I’ll be playing a heroic knight in an upcoming video game in this series:

Also Satan.

Legitimacy Day

I’ve got a birthday coming up next week; and it’s inevitable for me to take measure of my accomplishments and my progress on the path I’ve chosen. If the feeling of the last 48 hours holds, I’ll be in rare positive spirits when we mark this lap.

My short film, Samantha Gets Back Out There, just got it’s very own IMDB page. This was a real priority to me; it’s a big thank-you to everyone who worked on the thing, and as I’ve crewed on a number of little projects over the years I’ve always counted the creation of the page as a sign that I’m working for professional people who are mindful of the people helping them.

I had not been previously aware that you had to pay $35 to put your movie’s poster on IMDB, but I guess that just get you at every stage they can.

I have also – though this isn’t “official” yet in the capacity that I can publicly name names – received my first (unofficial) acceptance into a film festival. Only on Sunday night did we finally screen the finished product for the crew and a few privately-invited colleagues and friends, and the love and excitement coming out of that still had me in the upper atmosphere. This news sent me into orbit. We’d had a previous rejection, and I had not been anticipating any more notifications for a week at least, so this was unexpected and so, so incredible. It’s my first real short, and we’re in a respectable festival with it; and dozens more are still evaluating. Even better – it’s a festival I’ll be able to attend.

The reviews on As You Like It have been stellar, and the personal peer-to-peer feedback I’ve been receiving from actors I greatly admire has been better still. My role is a little less attention-grabbing than some I’ve played in the past, and I’ve made the adjustment to playing a scene as an opportunity to tee up someone great to get a laugh; so while audiences might not always be able to articulate why they may remember or like me; seasoned actors seem to recognize it and are delivering a lot of praise.

And, of course, today is the official release day for Stages of Sleep. It can be bought at Amazon, Smashwords, or any leading retailer supplied by Smashwords and/or my paperback printer IngramSpark (such as Barnes & Noble). If you want to support your friendly neighborhood independent bookstore you can purchase it through them and they’ll order it for you (give them the title and/or ISBN: 9780996640701). The GoodReads profile is active and ready for reviews and to-read lists. I’ve even been selling paperback copies to friends and colleagues out of my car trunk. I hear that’s how M.C. Hammer got started.

The oldest stories in this collection were written back in 2007, so this is a journey of over eight years to make this book a reality. It is, no exaggeration, one of the proudest achievements of my life, and I hope it means something to anyone who reads it.

Now, none of these achievements are making me rich either now or soon. But tangible achievements are a hell of a rush. When my As You Like It castmates saw a book with my name on it, they just started handing me money; I think in part because they felt that much. And getting handed money sure doesn’t happen much in my writer’s life!

I’m making the one damn thing for after the other

I’m at one of my network of writing-conducive cafes; I’ve just polished off a flat brown and five pages of a new Earbud Theater script I’m calling Monday for the Sweepers. My previous script Scary Ride is in the final stages of post-production and should launch in the next two weeks; this new one, if I can finish it soon, I might aim to have out in late September/early October. Hopefully not too close to Halloween, since it’s not really horror-themed and I like it when we celebrate Halloween over at Earbud. It’s basically our holiest holiday.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve had any steady dates with the ol’ laptop and an espresso drink. Samantha is finished now and submitted to a couple dozen film festivals; I got my first rejection letter which is really a good rite of passage. It’s like an official sign that you’re out of your comfort zone. A Sickness in Time is in the hands of the editor for proofing, which means the time to add new subplots or radically reorganize the book is passed. I can cut things, and probably will, but the rest I have to just leave to hope.

The Stages of Sleep paperback proof arrived and is as close to flawless as my eyes can discern, so it’s officially available for Print-on-Demand at Amazon or anywhere that cares to order it. You can go to your favorite indie bookstore and order it and it’ll be there in their computers ready to be summoned. I know I sound like any proud, obsessed Dad, but I love this book and think it’s just the handsomest. The margins, the dimensions, the typeface…oh man…

So legit now

So legit now

Romeo & Juliet is closed and we’re through tech week and opening of As You Like It; so while my acting commitments at Shakespeare Orange County are nowhere near done; I am reclaiming little pockets of life here and there. I found out I wouldn’t be called to rehearse Pirates of Penzance either Saturday or Sunday during the day, and the sign of how truly sick I am is that my first thought was “think of all the WORK I’ll be able to get done!”

I’ve even managed to make a few visits to the gym in the last couple of weeks. I take this and my present session as signs I’m reclaiming a bit of life balance. Getting where I aspire to be will take much longer, but these steps are good for me; and are producing some remarkable bursts of creativity. I wrote a five page short film script on Saturday, start to finish…just because I finally had a stretch to myself. The intention is to film it in November – you know, right when my life threatens to really become my own again.

One Small Step and Another

It’s funny because I didn’t plan it this way at all – today I placed my first order for the proof copy of the Stages of Sleep paperback; while at the same time I finished the final assembly and started rendering Samantha Gets Back Out There for output. A short story collection and a short film; both taking a significant step closer to reality today. Just a coincidence – I happened to get needed materials back on a day when I had a few hours free in the morning; and now it’s happening.

Relieved to know my stories won't leave the house naked.

Relieved to know my stories won’t leave the house naked.

You don’t get a single explosion of accomplishment in this sort of thing; because the last steps usually aren’t the biggest ones, and sometimes the moment where you’re actually finished kind of slips by as you grunt your way through little housekeeping tasks. I know it will be big when the proof copy arrives and I hold it in my hands. I know it will be big the first time I screen Samantha for the cast and crew, or if we make it to a festival. But honestly, little emotional rewards have already arrived, as I got my glowing first review of the book, or close filmmaker friends who watched the first cut of Samantha weighed in with brilliant advice and support.

More and more I’m appreciating that a sense for completion is something you need to train for. It’s like mental muscle memory; so you’re not slave to the most tangible rushes but rather cultivate an awareness of what seeing something through really entails. Samantha may be a short film but it’s still a machine with a lot of moving parts, and a lot of different necessary skills. Stages of Sleep is going to be a small book – 8.5″ by 5.5″ by 0.55″, 242 total pages including all the front and back stuff – but it has asked for so much sheer willpower to turn from words into a book.

In neither case will I be DONE done anytime soon – I’ll be working up promotional events for Stages of Sleep for months to come at least, and in a matter of days I will be making the first submissions of Samantha to film festivals; a process that will continue for months and may well end up costing more money than the film itself, particularly if I opt to travel.

This is the career mindset, though, I think. You don’t just say “FINISHED!” and it’s out of your life.

My $1,156 bargain book

Part of the lure of independent publishing is that it feels like a free lottery ticket. Punch a few buttons, publish a book, become the next J.K. Rowling! It’s built on one of the most popular and seductive of our fallacies: that the singular, crazy one-time anecdote of success is not only duplicate-able, but it can happen to you, too.

It CAN. You CAN also win $10,000,000 the next time you drop a quarter in a slot machine. Really, though? You won’t.

People get that for the most part about Las Vegas, but they don’t seem to get it when it comes to the creative endeavors I dwell in. All this silly “acting” I’m doing – why waste my time studying and auditioning when all I need to do is “get discovered?” Same thing with aspiring screenwriters, aspiring web series creators, aspiring aspiring aspiring. All it takes is one example of success to blind people to the intermediary steps, because the stories of the ordinary go untold. Hearing that it’s hard work with no guarantee of success, in fact with failure being a near-certainty, is so much less fun.

And the truth is, the ordinary result is the same one as that slot machine – nothing. You drop your quarter, watch the wheels spin, and they just stop, and you’re there in silence.

Bringing it back to indie authorship, it’s important to articulate your goals and own them. If you’re just proud to create a book and give it to 20 friends, you can do that with absolute ease, very little investment, and very low standards. If, however, you want to create a professional product that can stand deservedly by the professional products on the shelves at book stores, if you actually want to carry yourself like a professional author in the hopes that the marketplace will confirm this, then there is more involved.

Please do not bring up E.L. James at this point. See above.

I know I’m invested in being an author. I’m spending money and time to make Stages of Sleep a handsome book because I don’t intend to stop publishing books.

But how much money? How much time? People just starting out wonder that a lot. I can’t tell you how it goes for everyone, but I can tell you how it’s going for me – the choices I’ve made, the luck I’ve taken advantage of, the risks I’m taking, and the true negative cost of self-publishing.

You Are a Publisher

Typing is just the first part of the plan

The way to remove the stigma from the word “self-publishing” is to take the “publishing” part seriously. You have to take responsibility for the fact that your job isn’t over when you write the book, you have to see to its preparation for the marketplace. That means executing all the tasks previously handled by the professional publishing house you have replaced with your own self – the editing, the artwork, the layout, the publishing information, the promotion, the pricing and distribution channels.

If all you think about is out-of-pocket money, then it is technically possible to do all this for free. But to do it well? What you’re really going to end up with is a hybrid investment of your money and your time; and you decide how much of each to invest. You have to be interested in learning skills (which will pay off if you have the serious intention of publishing more books.) And you have to put time into vetting the services and partners you use, just like a boss (which you are now) hiring vendors and employees.

There are plenty of services offering vaguely-worded “publishing packages” that will happily vacuum money out of the pockets of aspiring writers. Some of them may even deliver what they say. Others will do the easiest and bare minimum necessary, and count on you being too thrilled by the book in your hand with your name on it (trust me, it’s THRILLING) to pay too close attention. Some that call themselves “full service” won’t even offer everything I described above. So you need to spend your time (there’s that investment idea again) figuring out just what you are buying in these packages, rather than just paying the first Google Search result. I mean, that is assuming you care. Please care.

Here are the choices, for better or worse, that I have made along the way for publishing Stages of Sleep:


You need an editor. If you find yourself saying something like “but oh, I ran Spellcheck and I have good grammar and…”, shut up. YOU NEED AN EDITOR. Now you’re saying “okay, well I’ve got a friend who’s a writer and they’ll look it over for free and,” shut up again. YOU NEED AN EDITOR.

What do I mean? You need a disinterested party with training, up-to-date style knowledge, and experience logging corrections in manuscripts so you can choose to implement them or apply the rare “meant to do that” exception. In this case, an editor who is not your actual friend is your friend.

There are several layers of editing. The highest, “manuscript evaluation”, is where an editor tries to identify and challenge the core goals and themes of your work, perhaps recommending re-writing and reshaping before they have even marked a single comma splice. To use a recent example, a publisher looked at Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman long ago and suggested “what if you focused on the childhood stuff instead?” That turned out to be useful advice.

A professional quality manuscript evaluation from someone with major publishing house experience can cost thousands. I am taking a major gamble by skipping this step – my hope is that my experience as a professional reader and a former development executive have given me sufficient training in answering some of these fundamental questions about what I am trying to do creatively with this book. I would love to be able to afford this step in the future, but I simply cannot right now.

Then there is “proofreading”, for all that pesky spelling and grammar that no one is perfect with, even with Spellcheck. You want someone who is going to be slow and meticulous in the way that you won’t. I did engage the proofreader who handled Seeing by Moonlight for my co-author and I. She teaches at a University and does this for side income, so we got a very competitive rate for professional-level skills. I initially chose her from hundreds of submissions of a Craigslist post and I’ll keep working with her until there’s a reason not to.


Look at this website. This is why you need good artwork and your “friend who draws” or your own Photoshop skills are not enough. Hopefully you are convinced.

Artwork was a long process. I first took it to my close friend Heather McMillen, who is a professional painter and illustrator I’ve known for years. She struggled to come up with a defining cover image but was inspired to create the three excellent illustrations that introduce each of the three sections of the book.

The cover art was eventually cracked by Kevin Necessary, who makes his primary income as an editorial cartoonist but does commercial graphic and illustration work on the side. This is another stroke of luck in that he truly is a professional artist, but doesn’t make his living with book covers, which means I get professional quality delivered at a bargain. He’s created art for several of my Earbud Theater episodes and is wonderfully versatile. I won’t tell you the price I got, but our Seeing by Moonlight cover cost about $500, which is a bit more normal. You can get cheaper if you’re lucky like I was, but if you find yourself compromising on quality to save $50, go back to that website and remember the horror.

Those three checks I have written so far – for proofreading and two artists – total $800 out of my pocket. For the level of work I’m getting that’s a hell of a deal.


Sartre coined the phrase "agony of choice" and he didn't even NEED to select a font.

Sartre coined the phrase “agony of choice” and he didn’t even NEED to select a font.

This is another big risk – I am doing all my own layout, both for the eBook and print versions of Stages of Sleep. This has meant reading several formatting guides (don’t spend money, plenty of perfectly good free ones for what you need) and applying a lot of my past experience doing layout for the old student newspaper, as well as some Matrix-level Microsoft Word manipulations. Not to mention researching margin standards, learning about the readability of serif fonts for printed text and sans-serif for headings and chapter titles and eText. It meant learning about the difference between a freely-licensed font and a font you don’t actually have permission to use in your book – font makers gotta eat too, people! Some great free ones are here though, including the eventual winner for the print version, 13-pt. Tallys.

This was many hours, but since, as I keep saying, I’m going to publish more books, the skills are continually applicable. I’m very proud of how my book looks, inside, outside, and virtualside, and I hope it makes a difference in how consumers view it.

Publishing Information

Do you know what an ISBN is? It may cost you money. Briefly, it’s the universally-recognized tracking number for editions of books, and you purchase them from Bowker, the official issuing agency for the United States.

If you only ever intend to sell your book on-line, you may get an identifying number direct from Amazon and not even need this. But if you hope a real bookstore might put your real book in it someday, you will need an ISBN since that’s how they find and order and organize your book.

I already have, as far as the publishing world sees, two editions of Stages of Sleep, the Kindle version and the Smashwords version that will distribute to all other eBook outlets. More on why I did this below. But a print version of the book is yet another version, and is tracked as such. A single ISBN would cost me $125. But since I plan to publish more, I can purchase a pack of ten for $295.

While that sort of means only $29.50 of that investment applies to Stages of Sleep, I’m still out the whole $295 right now, so for those keeping track, I’ve now spent $1,095 so far bringing this book to market, and that’s with a great deal of luck in my friends and a few major structural risks. There’s also the matter of creating a barcode for the print version – you’re responsible for that and Bowker as well as others will be happy to charge you money. I’m going to take a swing at this tool, which purports to be working and free (since really, making a barcode shouldn’t cost $20-$30 in the 21st century.)


My co-author hired a PR firm on Seeing by Moonlight, and that resulted in some sales and some new Twitter followers, which was all well and good. But I just don’t see a lot of authors of short story collections becoming household names these days, so I think there’s a cost/benefit ceiling to PR for this particular book. And again, I’m broke. I do have time and stubbornness, though, and that can be useful.

I spent dozens of hours compiling a list of book bloggers who review indie authors. I vetted them by how many books they review, how many followers they have, and how approachable they seemed like they would be for what I’m offering. This involved a lot of websurfing, note taking, and query letter writing. But if I can have at least ten reviews on Amazon and Goodreads when the book launches, that makes an incredible difference in the book’s visibility in search results.

This means giving away free copies. If you’re worried about giving away free copies when you haven’t sold a book yet; there’s no nicer way to say it, but you’re going to have to get over that. I’m so far only giving away eBook editions, because the print version isn’t ready, and because that’s far more costly to give away; though I may yet do that for a blogger with a large enough audience.

I think I have enough pledged reviews to hit that threshold; but I’ll keep working at it. I may pay $25 for a month of reviews at StoryCartel, since that lead to some reviews of Seeing by Moonlight and is a relatively-small investment. I also have media outlets who previously booked me to talk about Seeing by Moonlight, and I’ll be circling back to them to see if they’ll have me back.


Where should your book be on-sale? Everywhere? For what price? Stages of Sleep is going to launch for $4.99 as an eBook and $15 as a paperback. I’ll make more money on the $4.99 eBook because that’s how big the difference in margins is between electrons and ink. I chose $4.99, against Amazon’s recommendations, because while I want the eBook to still be in the price range where people can gamble on an impulse buy, I wanted to take a stand that this thing has some value. There may come a time when I drop it to a firesale price to boost sales, but that’s a strategy that’s most effective when you have multiple books for sale, and we’re not there yet. For now, 15 stories for less than a Combo Meal seems more than fair to me. From each of those sales I’ll make about $3.20, from the $15 physical book I’ll likely make around $2.40.

As for distribution, Amazon is the unavoidable 8 million pound gorilla in the marketplace. 90% of the eBook sales on Seeing by Moonlight so far have come through there. This is why I created a separate Kindle edition (with its own, Amazon-exclusive version of an ISBN) even though Smashwords could have distributed to them for me. I’ll make a higher royalty on Kindle sales publishing directly through Kindle, and since that’s where most of the eBook sales will happen, the extra percentage was worth a little extra work to me.

For the print version, I am leaning towards Ingram Spark. I have never used CreateSpace, but their cost structure severely disincentivizes bookstores from stocking their wares, and I have read a few concerning stories about quality control since they farm out their printing to multiple outside services. Ingram Spark appears to have the consistency and universal distribution access which (gambling on my future again) could actually get me into that mythical little indie bookstore if someone there thought I was worthy of shelving – and honestly, for my peculiar little short story collection, that indie bookstore is probably my best possible ally.

This, however, is why I’ll need to buy that ISBN, since unlike other services, they do not supply one. I don’t mind – once an ISBN is registered, whoever registered it goes in the record as the publisher of your book, even if all they did was buy the numbers in bulk and re-sell one to you.

I am still searching up discounts, but their setup costs are $49 plus $12 a year to keep the book on-file for print-on-demand. I’ll be able to buy books from them for about $5.50 each, including shipping, if I want to take a batch of ten to a reading or a consignment store, or even just to sell at my own private discount. But that adds $61 to my out-of-pocket for Year One, bringing us to aforementioned number of $1,181.

So, I’m out-of-pocket $1,181 before I have even ordered a copy for myself, and for each copy I sell I’ll make either $2.40 or $3.20. That tells me that I’ll need to sell between 300 and 400 copies just to break even on direct investment. Would that that make my book “successful?” Hardly! What if I actually tracked the number of hours I spent at all the self-publishing tasks I described? What would I pay myself for that labor? Hell, how long did it take to write the book?

That’s where the transition to being a professional author comes, and it pushes that “success” threshold for sales way back. And I fully admit, right now, I’d be insanely lucky to sell 300 to 400, or even 100; it’s going to take word-of-mouth beyond what I can guarantee to orchestrate. Have a look at this chart; although some of my stories qualify as sci-fi, overall the collection is best labeled as “literary fiction”, and the indie-published slice of the lit. fic. bar in that sales graph is small in a pile of small.

I didn’t write this book to get rich, though. I wrote it because it wanted to be written, and I’m at peace with that because I know I will write more. If you’re playing the long game, you have to see the first couple of books as probable losers, there to build credibility, a library whose prices you can manipulate to get temporary boosts, a public profile that means you’re not starting every project with zero potential buyers.

If I had a theme for this advice, it would be, “Plan to be unlucky.” Plan on NOT being the next J.K. Rowling, because that’s the only way to get out of Vegas alive.

Achievement Unlocked

It’s funny how similar the processes can be. Pay for audition listings. Submit to many auditions. Get called in for a few. Write short story. Pay for curated list of literary magazines. Submit to many. Get selected by a few.

Then you make a movie, pay to submit to many film festivals, and…?

I made a short film. Well, I filmed a short film; we’re still in post-production. We have a first cut that needs to be trimmed down to a locked cut, then sound mixing needs to happen, then color correction, a few other little things, and then we will have made a movie. This makes for a vast improvement in life pride over the time before I had made a short film.

Quick mock-up of a promotional card

Quick mock-up of a promotional card

I only get to go work on the edit one day a week because of other projects and responsibilities; but still, we should have it finished by the end of this month, when there are many festival deadlines.

There are thousands of film festivals around the world, and tens of thousands of short films made every year – well, zillions if you count anything on YouTube or Vine, but I’m strictly focusing on films made with some sort of professional or quasi-professional artistic purpose and ambition. To submit to one film festival can cost anywhere from $10 to $100, sometimes even higher; plus the potential cost of shipping them DVDs or flash drives or whatever they will need to show the movie, depending on their technological sophistication.

My movie is not going to Cannes or Sundance. Seriously, I’m not even going to spend the money on the vanity of submitting; because it’s a first short film and I think it could be good but it’s not going to be THAT good. But past that, you have a vast selection, and only the vaguest guidelines for which will be the most helpful to you in your cause. In my case, it’s to build credibility as a writer evolving into a filmmaker, which can be useful in job hunting and raising money for larger and longer projects.

I’m probably going to be about $7-800 out of pocket on this short when it’s all done; and my partner Barney invested some money in gear that we will use again. We kept it simple because I’m a rookie and I’m broke. If I submit to forty festivals, though, I could quickly spend over a thousand more; and if I’m being honest, that’s all credit card. This needs to be considered when you start out; because the excitement of submitting for festivals can make you stupid awfully quickly.

This leads to a lot of time perusing festival websites, programs from previous years, watching other short films to see what is out there. People love whimsical/magical realism short films, short films about poor urchins in foreign lands, short films with dazzling lighting, and eye-popping color and special effects. Honestly, movies just look goddamn great these days – it has become so affordable to give things astonishing polish and digital augmentation.

I can’t compete on that level right now. I’m not trained on this equipment and I can’t even afford the cheap toys. I can write, though; and I believe I can work with actors. So that’s what Samantha Gets Back Out There is about – trying to capture a feeling in a cinematic way with just the writing and the acting.

I showed the first cut to a few filmmaker friends that I trust, and the response has generally been a) it could be shorter (it’s a first cut, of COURSE it can be shorter!), b) it has a shot at a good festival run. That’s a great response, even better for a first time out.

And, not to jinx anything, but we’re already talking about the next one. While I was sitting behind that monitor, directing, I really did think – yeah, this feels pretty right.

Current stage: Awake…I think…

I now have an official “public” Facebook page. One of my Marketing Committee colleagues at Shakespeare Orange County finally got me past this particular edition of that queasy thing that happens in my throat when it comes to self-marketing. He pointed out that I already had a couple dozen people I don’t personally know following my regular Facebook profile – so I have “fans” as it’s reckoned these days where I wasn’t even trying to create them.

The big reason why I was particularly susceptible to finally taking this step was that, well, I’ve got something to sell:

Cover art by Kevin Necessary

Cover art by Kevin Necessary

My short story collection, Stages of Sleep, is set for publication, now that we have finally settled on some cover art – I’ve worked with Kevin several times but he has truly surpassed himself here. I have been working towards this for a long time; though Seeing by Moonlight got me into the club of “People who have published a book”, this is the first book that’s solely authored by me – no collaboration, no commission, just the stuff I was inspired to write.

I am going to be cutting and pasting this book summary a lot in the months to come:

“15 short stories from writer/actor/filmmaker Nicholas Thurkettle explore the changes that come as we pass from the waking world into dreams. We begin in reality, with tales that are sometimes funny, sometimes painful, all set in the world we recognize – where a wounded soldier asks his best friend to assist him in a strange attempt at healing, and a cranky old retiree becomes a most inconvenient messenger of love.

Then, we drift into another place, where the seemingly-real is invaded – by the secret thoughts and dreams of a household appliance, and by centaurs that saunter into a bar to rid it of all things khaki.

Finally we are cast loose into pure dreams, where an insurance specialist can enjoy wild outer space adventures, and a nameless storyteller is offered a glimpse of an unusual and captivating Hell by none other than the Devil.

It’s a tour through places not summed up by the word “reality”, but nevertheless, all true to our lives.”

Those fifteen stories come with an introduction, a foreword by my severely brainy friend Dr. Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., and three illustrations by the great Heather McMillen, plus an easy-access link to the audio performance of the story Bubbles, which I produced/directed for Eardbud Theater.

I’m currently submitting review copies to book bloggers in the hopes that we can launch with a smidgen of promotional “oomph” when the book is officially for sale on August 25th at the low, low price of $4.99. There will be opportunities to get free, advance copies, though (another use for that Facebook page above.)

Here’s where to find it on Amazon, and on Smashwords (which will distribute to other leading retailers.) I’m currently reviewing options for a print-on-demand service for people who prefer their books in more book-y form (and did I mentioned that Seeing by Moonlight is available in paperback now?)

I have a couple of bottles of better-than-for-daily-use wine that I am always saving to celebrate special. But one side effect of my personal self-motivation is that I seem to keep redefining what’s worth celebrating into the future. This one, though…going to be hard to keep the corkscrew stowed.

Ever-changing Unchanging Velocity

It’s less than two weeks since my last post, yet once again I see the theme emerging of “crap, things are happening too quickly for me to write anything insightful or perceptive about them, so I’ll just have to say they happened and leave it at that.”

That is in no way a complaint. Over the past few days I have spent nearly all my waking hours at Shakespeare Orange County, and it can get exhausting at times; but if you ever stopped me in a rough moment and asked me if there’s anywhere I’d rather be, I doubt I’d come up with anything. In the years when I was just acting with SOC, this would be the time of year when my work was just getting started; now it has been a persistent top priority for me since December, and I’m already feeling the mileage.

Last night was our 2nd Annual Season Kickoff Gala and Celebrity Radio Show; which we are hoping to turn into a cornerstone fundraising and media event for our season. The radio show is an easy pitch to get celebrities down to Garden Grove for the day – they arrive mid-afternoon, do one read-through, and then have a high-class dinner and a show in front of an enraptured (and lubricated) audience that does not expect deep character work. They get to play without any pressure and contribute to a theater in the process. Not only do they do it for free, one of them told me after that she wanted to give us money for the season ahead. This year we were gifted with the awesome likes of Robert Hays (Airplane!), JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist), Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), John DeLancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Seamus Dever (Castle) and many more. Since I was performing in the Gala, it meant I got to be in the official Cast Photo, and to be standing in a Cast like this is one of those occasional communiques from the universe that I might be doing something right.

Proof that you're never too famous to do a "funny one". Photo by Jordan Kubat

Proof that you’re never too famous to do a “funny one”. And yes, I hard time keeping my nerd brain on track with Odo and Q in the same green room. Photo by Jordan Kubat

Of course, to make the time investment as minimal and painless as possible for them (and as joyful and smooth for the audience), a lot of preparation work has to go into it to reduce the bumps in advance. Which required long days from dozens of volunteers, and for several of us to work very late the night before running through the tech for the show.

"Tonight, the role of ALL MALE CELEBRITIES will be played by Nicholas Thurkettle"

“Tonight, the role of ALL MALE CELEBRITIES will be played by Nicholas Thurkettle”

In the middle of all this, we are rehearsing the largest cast we have ever assembled for our production of Romeo & Juliet. Part of our goal is to make the town of Verona come alive and for the brawls between the Montagues and Capulets to feel like genuinely dangerous riots – which means a lot of talented actors committing to Ensemble roles and painstaking fight rehearsals that take many long hours working outdoors.

I think we have something spectacular in the works, though. And despite that I was low on sleep (and probably a little hungover), this morning after the magical experience of the Gala, I was right back at the Amphitheater rehearsing with them.

Because no days off, that's why

Because no days off, that’s why

Honestly, let’s just leave it at that for this round. Much more to talk about, but we’ll get there. The juggling balls are all still aloft.

The Strange Reality

Things are happening at a velocity that does not seem real. I recently upgraded to a Google Phone and so started using their Calendar app to track my appointments – and it has coincided with a period where every day sees me at a critical stage on something.

For 4 1/2 days over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I was in charge of staffing and managing the Shakespeare Orange County booth at the annual Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. It is traditionally our biggest fundraiser of the year – although I think our Celebrity Gala will surpass it in years to come if we keep it up. Running up and down our Amphitheater stairs lugging 5-gallon barrels full of strawberries is a good way to kickstart my summer fitness goals, I must admit.

The stuff plays are made on

The stuff plays are made on

Only days later, on Thursday, I finally reached the end of the first draft manuscript of my second novel in collaboration with M.F. Thomas. Our first, Seeing by Moonlight, recently became available in paperback, so the timing is satisfying. The new book is called A Sickness in Time and, while it is not a sequel to Seeing by Moonlight, it is like the first a mix of thrills and science fiction that takes place half in modern times and half elsewhere.

After some notes and discussions we started the formal drafting of A Sickness in Time on June 10th of last year, and wrote a great deal of it over the following five months, only for each of us to get consumed by other projects very near to the end. It is a source of pride and massive relief to have finished this step, even though we know there is much still to do in re-writing and polishing the book before we start cranking up the publishing machinery. I will say only that the book does incorporate time travel into its story, and when you’re messing with things like that, you especially want to edit carefully.

I drank uncountable numbers of caffeinated drinks in drafting this book. This cappuccino was the last

I drank uncountable numbers of caffeinated drinks in drafting this book. This cappuccino was the last

The very next day, I went to Burbank for the cast/crew screening of the indie romantic comedy feature Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine. This is the first feature I’ve ever had an on-camera role in, and I shot it about year ago; it’s not at all unusual to have to wait this long. I only spent a day on set, and all my scenes were exclusively with the co-writer/director/star Kevin Resnick, so funnily enough this party was my first chance to meet anyone else in the cast.

The screening was on the Warner Brothers lot, in what we were informed is Christopher Nolan’s preferred screening room. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s a nice place to be when you’re going to see your head in giant size on a screen for the first time ever.

The movie is tight and polished and charming and given the microscopic budget stands as a feather in the cap of everyone involved, especially Kevin and his producer/writing partner/fiancee/all-around-dynamo Rebecca Norris. They are currently raising funds to travel and promote the film in its forthcoming life on the festival circuit, where I think it should see some healthy and appreciative response.

Of my own acting it’s always hard to speak, but the audience did laugh quite a bit; and since it is a comedy that is undeniably encouraging. The feedback from the audience was very warm and appreciative after the screening, although I was difficult to recognize since I am clean shaven and bespectacled in the movie and am currently three months into growing a beard for SOC’s production of Romeo & Juliet.

Our first formal full cast meeting/reading happens this Sunday, and it’s going to be a busy summer of overlapping stage work for me; I’ve been so consumed with casting and writing and other projects that I haven’t been on stage since December, and I happily confess to being restless about it. On top of all the above I have been carrying on my work with Arts Orange County, which is a most welcome and stable position that fits snugly inside my life.

But all of the above, it turns out, isn’t quite enough. A friend and former cast mate named Barney Crow and I are teaming up to produce a short film that I have written and will direct. Not counting class projects from that one time I took a couple of filmmaking classes, or the camcorder movie spoofs my friends and I made in high school and college over a decade before “viral” and “video” ever appeared together outside an essay on Cronenberg, this will be the first time I have seriously directed for film. I haven’t aggressively pursued directing since college, though I have directed several of my scripts for Earbud as well as some short stage pieces here and there. The moment to evolve seemed well-arrived, though, and I actually feel ready for it. Yesterday we were doing lighting/camera tests on our location, and all the work I’ve done on set for other people seems to have given me muscle memory for it all – at one point I caught myself looking around for whoever was in charge and realizing – oh, it’s us. We’re the filmmakers now. And there was confidence there.

Monitor selfie

Monitor selfie

I’m not being reckless about this (well, beyond doing it at all.) This short is designed to be as stripped down and simple as possible – one actor, one location, one locked-down camera setup. The whole crew is about 8 people. It’s just a story and a performance from an actress I trust with anything. When I filmed Cloudy I observed how marvelously-designed a role it was for me to have my introduction to film acting – all two-person conversations in the same location with the same scene partner. Removing variables allowed me to spend more energy on the work. My hope is that the same kismet works on this short film – naturally, we anticipate there will be the customary 2-3 disasters that on average afflict every filmmaking endeavor. We will survive it, though.

The days off are few. I do look forward to them, though.

That’s the way…that’s the way…(THAT SONG RETURNS)

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about the one-hit wonder band Unit 4+2 and their hit song Concrete and Clay. It was one of the more popular posts I have written, and I always appreciate it when the Internet pays off one of the peculiar rabbits I chose to chase.

To my amazement, since I wrote that, yet more versions of the song have surfaced on YouTube, including a minimalist take by one of my all-time favorite bands, They Might Be Giants, during their early Dial-a-Song days.

Here’s a pair of Spanish ladies known as Baccara, taking their shot:

Fun fact: Baccara first found fame in the Eurovision Song Contest…representing Luxembourg.

Staying on the international scene, a clean cut vocal group from down in Australia called The Thin Men did a very buttoned-collar version for all the nice kids to dance to:

Tangentially, The Thin Men did a version of Mrs. Robinson that I find sort of obscenely catchy. It’s like the two sides of the 60’s cultural divide trying to have awkward makeup sex.

Sweden bought a ticket to this dance through their pop hitmakers The Lee Kings. The vocals have that trademark appealing Scandinavian slur.

The Bob Crewe Generation, an instrumental side project of Four Seasons songwriter/producer Crewe, produced this Herb Alpert-adjacent crack at the tune:

It was Crewe’s record label that released the soundalike Eddie Rambeau version of the song whose success prevented Unit 4+2’s original from realizing its full chart potential in America. Crewe was also the co-head of the best-named band of the 70’s, Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.

Jerry Lewis’s son Gary led his group The Playboys in a contemporary stylistic cousin that sounds like it’s trying to woo Annette Funicello:

Uhhhh, Finland? I think?

I won’t say this song is idiot-proof – hell, Yesterday isn’t idiot-proof. But it sure is elastic. Here’s a version from a New York comedy club with an unusual arrangement – four vocalists and a coffee wrapper.

Bonus invasion by Tom Jones song.

And if you want to talk about weird convergences, here is a cover version by Björn Again, which is (follow me here), a tribute band from Australia* otherwise devoted to covering ABBA, the pop group from Sweden* which is to this day the most famous winners of the Eurovision Song Contest*. If you told that to the guy from A Beautiful Mind I think his brain would explode.

One hit wonders are a special source of joy to me because they seem like miracles – where a singer or band so preposterously overachieves in creating a moment of joy that a higher power could be at work (maybe the one responsible for magnets.)

These aren’t even all the versions I’ve found. It’s a mystery to me how a song can be at once catchy enough as to be this ubiquitous while remaining, to a certain degree, still ultimately obscure to the world at large. It’s as if it just floats on the edge of our pop consciousness, a perfect mirage of a thing that never resolved into true fame. It remains so striking to me as this little thread running through the tapestry of pop music, one that produces more surprises every time you tug at it. And clearly many people are compelled to tug.