Let’s Talk About The Sad Tree and Pronuba

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The desert is a lonely place for Joshua, a tree who has never seen another tree like him. He asks everyone in his environment to help him find a companion…but although the desert loves him, nobody can help. Things change for Joshua one beautiful spring night when he gets a very special visitor.”

Christina Steiner’s new illustrated children’s book is titled The Sad Tree and Pronuba. The concept for her book started in 2007 when she took a trip to Joshua Tree National Monument located in California’s desolate Mojave Desert. “I became enthralled with the habitat and researched this unique tree. I read about the symbiotic relationship between it and the Pronuba moth and the story was magical.” She wrote a poem about her experience and the poem evolved into a creative non-fiction article which evolved into a children’s book.

 

Nature’s poetry

Poetry offers a creative outlet for Steiner. “It expresses intense experiences in very few words. I introduce fantasy and dream elements into my work and delve right into the unknown. Steiner writes often about nature’s never-ending wonders. Raised in Switzerland and steeped in Swiss folklore, “Books were my venue to travel the world and understand its wonders.”

 

On the bookshelf

Steiner loves a good story in any genre. “I have favorite books rather than favorite authors but if I read a gripping story I’ll seek out the author’s book menu.”

 

E-reader or print copy

It took Steiner many years to appreciate the e-reader. “I didn’t think Kindle would be a good option for me until I moved. I packed and unpacked boxes and boxes of books.” Steiner orders books online now and carries her Kindle wherever she goes.

 

In the DVD collection

A lifelong equestrian, it’s no surprise that Steiner loves a good western. “My favorite film is The Man From Snowy River (1982). An incredible horse scene, vast open country and cowboys riding across the silver screen.” 

Steiner enjoys cinematic films the most. Among her favorites: A River Runs Through It (1992), Brokeback Mountain (2005), and Australia (2008).

When asked if she has a favourite screenwriter, she replied honestly. “To my shame I don’t really remember film writers. Like books, I remember the content and the title more readily than the writer. I know this is horrible.” When all is said and done, Steiner remembers a good story and that’s what counts.

 

Early bird or night owl

The early bird gets the worm. Most of Steiner’s writing is done very early in the morning. “My brain feels rested and I’m the most creative then. However, when I’m in the middle of a writing a story I’ll think about it constantly. Sometimes thoughts just come and I try to make notes before they escape.”

 

The moth or the tree

I asked Steiner if she was more like the moth or the tree. “The question is interesting. I believe I’m more like Joshua, rooted to the ground, hypothetically speaking. Ultimately we cannot exist alone yet we are all interdependent. I believe everything exists for a purpose although it is sometimes unclear what this purpose is.

 

Last words

Christina Steiner lives in California with five big dogs. Her independently published book The Sad Tree and Pronuba is available NOW at Outskirts Press, Inc. and Amazon.

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If you are an artist (author, writer, actor, painter, sculptor, etc.) and would like to be interviewed, please shoot me an email at therese@fishlip.com.

Let’s Talk About Love, Revenge & Zombies

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Sometimes all you can do is start over, sometimes life doesn’t give you any other choice. Paul is at a point in life where it’s time to start over. The search for a new life leads him to a girl and a chance to be happy once more. All that joy is soon replaced with anger and a need for revenge.”

 

Travis Cotter’s new book is titled Love, Revenge & Zombies. The concept started with Cotter’s love for zombies. “I was fascinated with them and always wondered how I would react during a zombie apocalypse. I always knew that I would fight for the ones I love so I got the idea to write a story about that. There were times when the story flowed onto the page like it had always been there.”

Cotter’s journey from start to finish took just under two years. “Mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve been writing most of my life, but Love, Revenge & Zombies is the first thing I’ve published.”

 

Escape into another world from time to time

Cotter wrote short stories and poetry in school and he’s a fan of art in every form. “I’ve always loved to write and read. Creativity is a beautiful thing and everyone should speak with whatever voice they have and with whatever medium suits them. I find beauty in the arts and art takes many forms whether it be a song, a painting or a book. I could list more but you get the idea. Support the arts and escape into another world from time to time.”

 

There are days when the story flows and the pages fill

Cotter says he writes best in a quiet room as music plays softly in his headphones. “Some days it’s hard for me to focus then there are other days when the story flows and the pages fill. I love those days!”

 

I’m a fan of love

Cotter tells tales of the supernatural and horror sort and he always involves a kind-hearted hero. He says, “I love the idea of good triumphing over evil. The thought that one person can make a difference and bring hope is a great thing. I’m also a fan of love and I will always include it somewhere in my stories. So to sum it up, supernatural adventure stories with a hero and love! That’s what I like to write about.”

 

On my bookshelf

“I’m a sucker for any book about zombies. My favorite is World War Z by Max Brooks. I just started Zealot by Reza Aslan. For the most part I tend to stick with the supernatural genre, but I also read mysteries.”

As a young reader, Cotter was a huge fan of Goosebumps and also enjoyed Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Castle in the Attic and The Indian in the Cupboard.

 

E-readers and print

Cotter prefers old school print copies of books. “There’s something about the feel of a book in my hands that I love. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with Kindle books. I have many books on my Kindle and I hope everyone gets a copy of my book for their Kindle.”

Like many indy authors, Cotter self-published his novel using Createspace (an avenue for authors to publish print books). He navigated his way through the process and speaks favorably of the self-publishing experience.

 

A potential for zombie-like creatures

Of course, Cotter believes in zombies. “I don’t know if I believe in the actual walking dead but I do believe in the potential for zombie-like creatures. The technology and viruses are out there so the possibility of an outbreak that kills and makes people crazy is very real. Something like rabies or mad cow with a little bit of altering could easily cause people to behave like zombies. I hate to say it but some people are pretty savage and it wouldn’t take much to introduce zombies into the world.”

 

Advice for a zombie apocalypse

Cotter is prepared. “I try to be ready at all times but really you never know what could happen or when. Pay attention to what is going on around you and surround yourself with good friends and family. In the end it’s the people around you that are going to help keep you alive.”

 

In my DVD collection

“I am no doubt a huge sucker for any zombie movie, even the bad ones. And trust me there are a lot of bad ones. My all time favorite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead.”

“I absolutely love it. I watch it at least a dozen times a year. I’m a huge Simon Pegg fan.”

 

Last words

Cotter lives in New Jersey and is the father of three boys. Love, Revenge & Zombies is available NOW on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Createspace.

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For a bloody good time, follow Cotter on Facebook.

 

If you are an artist (author, writer, actor, painter, etc.) and would like to be interviewed, please shoot me an email at therese@fishlip.com.

 

Austin Film Festival 2013 Notes

It’s like I’m high or something. I’m buzzed with a super injection of excitement, inspiration, and motivation from the Austin Film Festival. It’s the same crazy combination of emotions that filled me up last time only this time I know exactly what to do with it. But first, a quick recap.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Austin Film Festival (AFF), it was founded in 1994 and was the first organization of its kind to focus on writers’ creative contributions to filmmaking. Hooray! Along with top-notch writers, the conference brings together producers, studio execs, agents, and actors. Every darn one of these folks is experienced, talented, friendly and receptive.

In addition to the Festival and Writers’ Conference, there’s also a ginormous screenplay competition and an awards luncheon. The 2013 honorees were Susan Sarandon, Jonathan Demme, Vince Gilligan, Callie Khouri, and Barry Josephson. These folks were all so good-natured and down to earth and don’t even get me started on Vince’s southern politeness. His lazy drawl and soft spoken demeanor make him hands down the nicest guy in the world. Hard to believe he wrote Bad.

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Salt Lick Barbecue

Meet! It’s what’s for dinner. We journeyed 25 miles out of Austin to the town of Driftwood and home of the original Salt Lick Bar-B-Que for a cozy “meat & greet” with friends both old and new. Our hosts knew the way to this special place and shared stories along the way.

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Word at the dinner was that Jerry Bruckheimer flew Salt Lick out to California to cater one of his parties. Hot topics included Max Adams’ The New Screenwriter’s Survival Guide, life in Tonga with Katherine Willis and forensic anthropology with Jocelyn Stamat. Please pass the ribs.

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After a coffee encounter with Brian McGreevy and a discussion of Hemlock Grove, working with Eli Roth, and the mysterious accent of a certain actor, we headed over to the Driskill for the

Nerdist Writers Panel

Moderated by the very energetic Ben Blacker, the session featured a conversation with Ashley Miller, Kell Cahoon, and Kelly Marcel. The series is informal and talks with professional writers about the process and business of writing. Ben covers TV, film, comic books, music, and novels on a Nerdist Writers Panel podcast that I must start listening to.

Kell imitated Larry David perfectly and Ashley’s story about how he met his writing partner (through an online Star Trek argument) made us all laugh out loud. Marcel on the other hand was flirty and silly. She giggled about how easily success came to her and was not permitted to talk about her work regarding Fifty Shades of Grey (which was ok with me). Her take would have probably been as topsy-turvy as her self-proclaimed scattered writing methods. I’m not sure if the panel was recorded, but if so, check it out.

Hybrid Genres

The key to an interesting panel is the moderator. This should have been an engaging panel since Ed Solomon and Norman Steinberg were involved but the moderator had the enthusiasm of a child going to a church service (yawn). Dull questions with a dull demeanor and a permanent grimace. Humdrum chit chat about melding genres and blending styles nearly put me to sleep. Hard to believe we were discussing Men in Black and Blazing Saddles. I caught Ed Solomon at another panel the next day and he was much more engaging.

Austin Film Commission Opening Night Reception

Come for the panels and pitches but stay for the parties. The first shindig was held at the Rattle Inn located in Austin’s trendy West 6th Street District.

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Free booze and free food. I met new friends, caught up with old ones and chatted the night away. Oh yeah, and If you ever find yourself in the men’s restroom, make sure you look up.

WGA West Late Night Welcome Party

More free booze and free food but the venue was too loud and crowded to stick around. We had one beer then headed back to the Driskill hoping for good conversation.

Driskill Hotel

Located in downtown Austin, the historic hotel is the nerve center for the Austin Film Festival. Everybody pours into the hotel bar after a long day and hangs out.

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Security starts to kick everyone out around one in the morning, but we typically stay until two, just in time to get some sleep before the nine o’clock panels.

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Quick-Witted Action

A pointless post-explosion retort makes Shane Black cringe. He actually wiggled in his chair a little as he described action sequences gone wrong. Scott Rosenberg and Ed Solomon also weighed in and offered their takes on writing memorable (in a good way) quick-witted action.

Script-to-Screen: BRICK

If you haven’t seen Brick (2005), check it out. If you have seen it, then you know how wonderfully quirky it is. Writer/Director Rian Johnson discussed his script and walked us through various film clips.

He discussed the dream sequence and how he worked it into the budget. In order to create the effect of something coming out of the tunnel and jumping up in the observer’s face, the scene where Brendan sees Emily come out of the tunnel was shot in reverse. You can see how the water appears to flow out of the tunnel, but in all the other shots, it flows in.

The kitchen scene had a good backstory. Rian described a pitcher that had a rooster on it. He liked it and used it as a prop. During a screening in France, an older woman giggled to the gentleman sitting next to her, “Le coque.” Rian defined that as a very good moment. One more note on Brick. It took him six years to fund the project. Never give up.

Deconstructing Alien

A memorable panel with John August and Ashley Miller. The two film geeks talked about why Alien (1979) is a classic sci-fi thriller as they presented film clips. Alien still manages to get a scream or two. First time festival goer David W. D’Angelo was seated next to me. His jump and scream made me jump and scream.

Special guest Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) popped in for a surprise visit. She was vivacious, gracious, and witty. She discussed her audition for the role of Ripley and how It wasn’t until some costume tests that she learned she would be playing the role of Lambert.

She talked about the opening hypersleep segment Veronica and Sigourney had to wear white surgical tape over their nipples so as not to offend certain countries. Apparently the facehugger rape scenes weren’t offensive.

The Rewrite with Terry Rossio

This was by far the most educational panel I attended. Terry Rossio discussed the rewrite process and did some live script edits that were submitted by festival attendees.

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He searched through a stack of scripts, then settled in on one and began a steady stream of cuts and edits. “Sorry if I’m being a dick.” he said, as he continued to slash words with the precision of Zorro. He was quick and effective. A real pro. He told the audience exactly why he was doing what he was doing. It made sense. It made the story more concise and got to the point.

He also addressed the use of “ing” and how to set the tone for an active screenplay. For example:

Keith is burping, Donny is surfing, Hooper is growling.

Simple active verbs are more immediate in action descriptions such as:

Keith burps, Donny surfs, Hooper growls.

Writing without the “ing” makes the screenplay more readable. It’s a quicker, cleaner read set in the present tense which implies action. Terry’s fun and popular rewrite session had lots of good ideas and suggestions that I can implement immediately.

Film Texas BBQ Supper

Catered by Salt Lick. Our mouths watered and everyone in our group looked forward to dinner. I stood in line for two bottles of wine and several glasses while the rest of the group took off to lasso dinner. Wait! Where’s the beef? Apparently, there was a little problem with the headcount and by the time we got there, the meat had moseyed. We moved on from our disappointment and filled up on beans, bread, potato salad, wine, and good conversation.

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Starz Digital Media Conference Wrap Party – 6th Street

Ok so we forgot about the party and landed ourselves on 6th Street. Most likely Texas’ best known street, I’ve only experienced it during Halloween time so I have no idea what it’s like normally. All I can say is that it boasts high octane energy and anything goes.

We spent some quality time with a mechanical bull then headed over to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. It’s a sing-along, clap-along, drink-along bar. The music is non-stop and speeds along from one song to the next.

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I doubt there’s a song these musicians can’t play. People danced. People fell down. People drank. I’m not permitted to talk about the ginormous penis beer bong and who rocked every last drop.

Driskill – Official Unofficial Late Night Party

We rocked it. Met new friends and caught up with old ones. Talk, talk, and more talk. Voices began to fail.

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Barry Josephson presents ENCHANTED

After a leisurely breakfast at the Driskill Hotel (fruit covered Texas shaped waffles) I checked in at the State Theatre for a presentation of Enchanted (2007). Susan Sarandon and Barry Josephson were on hand for a Q&A after the screening. Sarandon talked about how fun it was to play a dragon and I wondered if she would want to play another one.

She’s really good at it.

Conversation with Vince Gilligan

AFF’s Outstanding Television Writer Awardee discussed Breaking Bad, The X-Files, and Home Fries. Did I mention that he’s the nicest guy in the world?

Book to Screen to Musical: Big Fish

Author Daniel Wallace and John August talked about the adaptation process of Big Fish (2003) and its journey from book-to-screen-to-musical. A truly fascinating tale. Wallace was asked about how it felt to give his story to another writer. He was gracious and sincere when he said, “I always felt like my book was going to a good foster home.” Later when questioned about the screenplay process, he said, “John didn’t tell me how to write my book so I didn’t feel compelled to tell him how to write the screenplay.” Read Big Fish and watch the film if you haven’s seen it.

A Conversation with Jonathan Demme

Moderated by the one and only Paul Thomas Anderson. I have respect for both of these guys but the conversation drifted into a weird long-winded bromance between the two. I’ll blame my short attention span on a friend who mentioned donuts and fried chicken in the same breath. I was annoyed with the chit-chat and couldn’t focus so I left early in search of food…and a nice Chianti.

The Batmobridge

We finally had a spare moment to check out Austin’s wildlife. Hundreds of people gathered on and under the Congress Avenue Bridge to see North America’s largest urban bat colony emerge at dusk. The crevices under the bridge make an ideal bat habitat and there are thousands of the Mexican free-tailed bats. It can take up to 45 minutes for all the bats to vacate the bridge each night. They migrate in spring from central Mexico to various roosting sites throughout the southwestern U.S.

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Cooler weather and rain came later that evening and when we returned to see the bats the next night, they were gone.

Driskill – Another Official Unofficial Late Night Party

Skipped another party with free booze and free food and felt bad about it but the venue was across town and my boots didn’t feel like walking. I felt lazy. Apparently other folks ditched the Conference Wrap Party too. The Driskill was wall to wall writers. Good times!

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Hair of the Dog Brunch

Good food. Good drink. Bad memory lapse. From across the room I saw a man who looked familiar but for the life of me I couldn’t place. Courage comes easily with mimosas under the belt so I went over and introduced myself. I was relieved when he said that I looked familiar too. After a while, we discovered that he was a patient of the dentist I used to work for in Santa Monica. Guess I look different without my PPEs. We laughed. He was kind. He was Nick Kazan.

Vince Gilligan Presents: A Special Staged Script Reading of 2 Face

We had to queue up for over 2 hours in advance for this event to secure a seat for this Golden Ticket affair.

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It was probably the most popular event of the festival because of the nicest guy in the world and all. Directed by Rian Johnson, featured actors on stage included Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Giancarlo Esposito, Will Ferrell, and Katherine Willis (love her).

Gilligan wrote the script in the early ‘90s and it was a far cry from Breaking Bad. A lite dark comedy (if there is such a thing) about a man with schizophrenia. A racist by day and Rodeo Bob, a loving spaceman from the future by night. Sometimes the audience laughed hard. The concept was entertaining and Will Ferrell was perfect for the role. He embraced his inner red-neckness. Giancarlo Esposito’s line delivery was also very tight, powerful and funny. Such a treat to see him on stage.

When it was all over I was glad that it was all over. The story was preachy and Will Ferrell’s character reformation was uninteresting. I felt remorseful when the realization entered my head that my last script was better than the one the nicest guy in the world wrote. I looked to the sky and thought I would be struck down by lightning but nothing happened. It felt good to be bad.

Driskill Hotel and the Story of the Ten Little Indians

It was a gloomy night as we watched friends filter out of the bar and toddle home one by one. I fell in love with my friends all over again. I gave Austin one last kiss on the cheek and rode off into the sunset.

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A sequel? You bet your boots. We’ll see you next year.