Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Friday, January 31, 2014

Free Short Story, Coming Soon! [Blogging Every Day #31]

On this, the final day of my self-imposed "Blogging Every Day" challenge, I'm taking the opportunity to announce "Alexander's Shorts," an occasional series of standalone short stories featuring characters from "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain." The first story will soon be available for a limited time free in ebook and PDF only.

This time, I've sent Alexander to the real-life ghost town of Bodie, California, for an unusual encounter with some new friends.

If you haven't read "Food Chain," that's okay - you can enjoy Why do you think they call it a ghost town? on its own.

I'll be announcing the short story here, on Facebook and on Twitter. You can also sign up for the mailing list, to be alerted as soon as it's available.

In the meantime, here's a video from a trip I made to Bodie with my nephew Greg:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Than A Job [Blogging Every Day #30]

Andy Gunton (@andymooseman) recently shared a blog post he discovered, "Are you ready for the death of the job?" at the website for John Williams' book, "Screw Work, Let's Play." I haven't read the book, but the concept in this blog entry is worth considering.

Williams suggests that as we moved from an agrarian to an industrial economy, we're moving into an individual entrepreneurial economy - and can expect changes as profound as those during the industrial revolution. We will cease working for others, and work only for ourselves.

Williams claims that "People earning their living from a job will be in the minority in as little as six years' time." While I believe that timeline is unrealistic, the concept itself holds a great deal of merit.
Entrepreneurs don't need to ask for more. They
have to get it themselves.
(Courtesy The British Library)

For the most educated in the world, connected through technology to potential consumers worldwide, the possibilities are, in theory, almost endless. Online niche marketing gives us the ability to sell a product, perform a service, or offer a work of art to precisely those who would enjoy what we have to offer.

In theory.

As Andy pointed out in a Facebook discussion on this topic,  "Part of the problem Rich is that it requires a different mind set to what we've been brought up & taught to expect. I don't think the schools of today are catching up fast enough either & not sure they ever will."

If you've ever spoken to a successful entrepreneur, it's clear that entrepreneurship is a specific state of mind, and a very particular attitude. It requires the ability to persevere through hardship and rejection, and a spirit that allows creative thinking. Even with all of those qualities, success is never guaranteed. If you're risk-averse, entrepreneurship is not attractive.

The concept, though, fascinates me. I'm self-employed, but my book - a tangible product - is my most direct attempt at developing the skills and knowledge necessary to reach a specific niche audience.  One aspect of entrepreneurship hasn't changed. I have a good product, and I know the audience is out there. But they don't know I'm here. My task as an entrepreneur is to discover creative, cost effective methods to reach those audiences worldwide.

Understanding how to reach and sell to niche markets is a rapidly developing skillset that, in time, will allow many more people to be successfully self-employed. Even in the Western World, however, it may take a generation or two for those skills to become ingrained in the workforce.

The opportunity will be met. As some field workers moved into the factory, and some factory workers moved into the office, some office workers will eventually move back home.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Things to Do! [Blogging Every Day #29]

In yesterday's blog, I didn't mention a few additional activities that I'd like to pursue in the coming months.

First, I hope to create a fully realized book trailer / short film based on my book. I already have a very basic trailer available, but it's primarily text and basic imagery. I'd like to produce a live-action version, perhaps in coordination with the launching of book two. It's a major expense in time and money, so I've moved somewhat slowly so far, but as the reach of book expands, I'll make the jump.

For quite a while, I've also been considering the creation of an audiobook version of the book, read by the author. That's a time-consuming process, so I haven't yet taken that jump - but you can expect that shortly. I'm considering producing the audiobook initially as a series of free podcasts, and later making the compiled book available for purchase. As long as I don't hire a reader, expense isn't a factor.

I've also considered returning to my YouTube channel, which has been on the back-burner as I've pursued book-related activities. I was discussing the book for a while, but it started to feel repetitive. I'll consider other options, and my re-visit the channel as I create the book trailer. For a while, I had an informal web series, The Vlogger Interviews, in which I interviewed a wide range of YouTubers. I'm considering reviving the interview concept with a wider range of individuals - authors, entrepreneurs - and perhaps occasional YouTubers.

All this is great, as long as reserve at least some time to write....

You can follow my activities @rickflix

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's Next? [Blogging Every Day #28]

With the end of this month-long blogging challenge looming just ahead, the question becomes, What's Next?

While I won't necessarily hold myself to a daily blog, I will be posting on a more frequent schedule. Readership has been excellent, and it's an important part of my commitment to develop my social media "footprint" as an author.

With that goal in mind, I'm already pursuing other initiatives as well.

Some ideas:

  • I'm going to pursue the competition route for My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain - always a great marketing tool, should I be so lucky to be honored;
  • I'm moving ahead as efficiently as possible with the completion of the second book in the series, an important step in the steady journey to build my reputation as a writer;
  • I haven't had the chance to make many public appearances on behalf of the book and the issues it explores. I hope to have the opportunity to visit classrooms and other venues as time goes on. I haven't taken this path before, so I'm just learning how to make this happen.
  • A small but important recent step was having my book put into circulation in my local public libraries. I'm hoping to develop a closer connection with the community, especially local authors. As I said, as someone who has spent his life working in visual media, I haven't taken this path before. I felt an immediate kinship with the authors at the local authors event a couple of weeks back.
  • I'll be starting development on my third book, which will likely be a change of genre, and I'll also be offering some short fiction - you'll hear about that very soon.
  • I'm hoping to generate media coverage - blog interviews, magazine articles, local websites and newspapers, etc. - focused on my book and its bullying-related subject matter. Coverage by third parties (other than my own website) and invaluable in helping to build word-of-mouth.
  • On that same thought, I'm also hoping to generate more reviews. If you haven't already - please visit Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite bookseller. As an indie author, I need all the help I can get!
Thanks to so many of you  - friends and readers I've never met - who have read, discussed, and reviewed My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, I believe that we haven't come close to the book's potential. 

That challenge continues!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dogs Posing With My Book [Blogging Every Day #27]

In a bid to shamelessly exploit dogs for my own selfish purposes, I offer you Bazil, my sister's dog (on the right), and Moonie, who counts Mike and Amber Lidskin as his family. Both are posing with my book, and neither seem very pleased about it.

But hey, I made you look!


You can follow my further shameless exploits @rickflix

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unexpected Advice [Blogging Every Day #26]

Once again, as I approach the end of my month-long "Blogging Every Day" challenge, I turn to my iPhoto library for last minute inspiration. It's been a long day, though, so forgive me if this post lacks any sense of profundity.  It does, however, offer some good, basic advice.

First, I bring you this photo from Santa Cruz, California, which reminds us all to appreciate the world around us.

Or, more likely, to look both ways.

Either way, I suppose, you might find something unexpected.

On that same monuments day in 2012, Santa Cruz offered more solid advice that, I think, can be applied to any Big Day you might face in the future. One hopes that the reminder on this package would be enough for the reader to find adequate inspiration to unwrap the soap within.

I can't help wondering, however, the identity of the individual being quoted.

That particular trip in On that same trip, I discovered helpful advice in Reno, Nevada, posted inside my hotel room.  More intriguing, however, is the unknown story behind the poster. I can imagine a guest waking up one morning with a nasty surprise.

Signage is everything.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Battle of Book Two [Blogging Every Day #25]


For the past few months, I've been working on the second book in a series that began with My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain. For a while, I've been posting chapter updates on my progress as I struggled through the first draft.

Then I stopped.

I didn't stop writing - that process continues - but I stopped regular updates when I realized my progress through this second book wouldn't be as linear as the first book. I knew the general outline of "Food Chain," as it had previously existed as a screenplay. Though the story and characters would go through an extensive evolution, I knew precisely where the story should go.

More importantly, the first book was an unknown quantity to readers. I could always alter characters during the writing process.

Alexander, the main protagonist, is a fascinating character to create, and both readers and professional reviewers seem to have found him intriguing as well. Kirkus Reviews even warned that I risk "making Alexander unsympathetic by pushing his behavior from that of a risible obsessive to that of an outright psychotic." It's that edge of like-ability, however, that gives makes him feel authentic. Real individuals - especially kids - can't be neatly classified into nice, mean, gentle, cruel, aggressive or passive. Alexander's loyal friends like him for who he is, even when he's not perfectly behaved.

In the first book, Alexander lives in near terror of the threat of bullying, even if the reality might not be as perilous as he thinks. In the second book, he'll deal with the consequences of his actions near the close of the first volume.

The second book, though, has unique challenges. First, of course, the characters are well-established. Reviewers have written at length about Alexander and why he does what he does; one boy recently  presented a book report, cutting out pictures of kids that he though looked like the characters in the book. For the second book to work, Alexander and his friends need to start from familiar ground. Motivation has to make sense. My objective isn't to freeze Alexander in a single moment in time. Like all of us, he has his personality traits, but he'll learn from experience and evolve in his approach to the world around him. He can't be too brave, but he's not quite as fearful as he might have been at the beginning of the first book.

I didn't expect the second book to be quite the struggle it's become, but as it unfolds, it's an exciting process.

As those of you that have seen my updates on the book's Facebook page are aware, Alexander's strong personality has been a big help. If I veer off the path of believability, I can almost hear  him whispering in my ear, "Come on, do you really think I would do that?"

Follow my exploits, literary and otherwise, on Twitter at @rickflix

Friday, January 24, 2014

Who Walked Where You Walked? [Blogging Every Day #24]

At Vasquez Rocks, I visited a Star Trek
location. So what?
Here in Los Angeles, everything has a connection to movies and television. We're a company town, after all, and so much of what you see is shot in and around the Los Angeles area. I can easily take you to locations where iconic movies and television  shows were shot. The locations themselves may not be particularly special in themselves - but they take an extra meaning in the minds and sometimes the hearts of moviegoers worldwide.

The original Bad News Bears movie was shot in and around the community where I grew up. ET weren't far away. My high school has appeared in numerous films over the years, including The Brady Bunch Movie, Cher's The Mask and a couple of years ago, The Amazing Spiderman. The list is nearly infinite. Even where I live now, which is about 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, the area has served film crews since the beginning of the industry.

Within minutes of my home, Vasquez Rocks is an easily accessible park that has appeared in many movies and television shows, including several episodes of the original Star Trek.

Does it matter? Not really. It's a reminder, though, of the hidden history of so many mundane locations we pass through in our lives. Remember that tree that you and your friends used to gather under outside your high school? Generations before and after your time remember that tree with the same fondness but in an entirely separate context. That restaurant you frequent may have launched a thousand marriages, businesses, divorces and simple friendships. A single home may host generations of families. Children grow up, parents grow old, and finally move away. Another family moves in, making their own memories in the very same locations where another's family's history unfolded a generation before.

Who walked where you walked? Who lived where you live? "If these walls could talk," if you really think about it, is a mind-blowing concept.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Demise of Facebook? [Blogging Every Day #23]

An article posted yesterday on the NBC News website, Facebook like an infectious disease, will lose 80 percent of users, says Princeton study claims that Facebook is at the early stages of an irreversible MySpace-like decline.  A Facebook response, not surprisingly, mocks the Princeton study and playfully predicts Princeton's demise.

The question of Facebook's future, though, has been a topic of discussion for quite a while. Even with user levels at around 874 million, the future is never assured. Other studies, some even accepted by Facebook, show that teens are using the site to a lesser extent than in the past.

As Amazon is today what Sears was fifty years ago, it's quite possible that another concept five years from now may leave Facebook a struggling has-been. That's not inconceivable, and perhaps even inevitable.

Facebook is a form of communication, flexible to the individual user. To some, it's a more verbose version of Twitter, to others, it's Instagram or Tmblr.  To some, it's just a platform to further distribute content from those other sites.

Users are concerned about privacy issues, of course, but I don't think that concern by itself will drive users away. Google Plus, for all of Google's efforts, hasn't achieved anything near the following that Facebook enjoys, and is slowly achieving a level of the creeping complexity we've seen in its competitor.

As much as users complain about the site's endless tweaks and advertising experiments, Facebook won't quickly fade. It's become a utility - connecting communities far and near - as the telephone and newspaper - and even email - did in other eras. Families, friends and colleagues far and wide won't give it up unless there's something better.

And, in the name of MySpace, Friendster, and Compuserve, there will be.

For a while.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finding Inspiration [Blogging Every Day #22]

In trying to keep up this "Blogging Every Day" challenge, I've sometimes resorted to my photo collection for inspiration. In the picture at left, I'm climbing through a hatchway somewhere aboard the USS Pampanito, a World War II era submarine now docked permanently as a floating museum at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Generally I'll try to find a photo that either inspires subject matter, or indirectly illustrates a topic I'm already considering. In this case, the photo serves only as a trigger - I placed the photo, and began writing, but only the vaguest idea of where this blog would be headed.

There are probably hundreds of books about finding inspiration - but we're all wired differently. I've tried a variety of flash cards and other gimmicks to fire up my creative engine, but vague suggestions don't really do it for me. When I'm writing fiction, I'll find inspiration from other authors, both known and unknown, movies, music and naturally my own history. Finding inspiration, for me at least, can't be forced. It has to be somewhat organic.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read, for the first time, the classic short novel, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," by James Hilton (also the author of Lost Horizon). In relatively few pages, Hilton tells the story of a professor at a old British boarding school, as he looks back at the ups and downs of his life at the school over a period of several decades. In such a short novel, an epic story unfolds - and it's probably more powerful at seventy-four pages than it would have been if it had been seven hundred and forty pages. It's inspiring not only for Hilton's storytelling, but for his brevity.

While may consider "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" sentimental, it's effective and heartfelt.

For this writer, it's a rare inspiration.
The first edition, from Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I've Done What My 9 year-old Self Dreamed About [Blogging Every Day #21]

He's smiling underneath the table.

This weekend, I attended the Santa Clarita Public Library's "Local Author Celebration." I heard about it too late to participate as a featured author, but I decided to attend anyway and get to know some of my compatriots.

I've been to countless networking events related to non-fiction media, television and even motion pictures. This was the first writing-oriented event that I've attended since my book became available last year.

I didn't carry "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" with me. I didn't even carry my giveaway bookmarks (though i probably should have). I did have my new business card, which includes my book on the reverse side. I didn't go there to make a sale. I went there to learn.

I'm not a big fan of networking events - but this felt different. I have a book that's readily available, I'm proud of it, and both kids and adults seem to enjoy the story. So, even though this is my first book, and it's self published - general reaction has been positive. I have a simple mission: to find an audience. At an event like this, everyone's accessible, and so many have been where I am now.

Rich at Nine
The first result of Saturday's experience is that my book will now be available in all three libraries in the Santa Clarita Public Library system.

It's a small step, but when I handed over the book to the manager of my local branch, I realized that I'd reached a goal I'd set for myself when I was just nine years old.

I may have taken a bit of a detour for a few decades, but now I feel like I'm home.

And that felt great.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Standing Up for Right [Blogging Every Day #20]

The President Hotel, on Swan Lake.
[20]  In the 1930's, when my father was a young man, he spent his summers working at the President Hotel in the Catskill Mountains in New York. His Uncle Pete ran the hotel with a partner, Max Leshnick. The President Hotel was one of a series of resorts in the area that catered to a mostly Jewish clientele, and featured all-encompassing entertainment and recreation. An entire generation of entertainers got their start or broadened their popularity in the Catskills. The President, in fact, helped launch Danny Kaye's career - he performed there before he moved on to Hollywood.

Also performing at the President during this era were the Nicholas Brothers, a pair of young, African American tap dancers who would soon become a national sensation. The Catskills were one of the few places at the time where African American entertainers could expect to be treated professionally by their hosts - and could expect proper accommodations where they performed. The President was no exception.

The lobby of the President Hotel
Late one night, as my father and his friend headed into the hotel at the end of a long day running the hotel's boating concession, they came upon the Nicholas Brothers in the lobby. As it turned out, the clerk at the front desk was trying to turn them away, insisting that there weren't rooms available. Uncle Pete was asleep, and his partner wasn't around, so my father and his friend offered their own employee quarters. Fayard Nicholas turned to them, thanked them politely, but explained that it was important that they stand their ground and receive exactly they were promised. In time, Mr. Leshnick arrived, apologized, and made certain the Nicholas Brothers were accommodated properly.

The Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather, some years after my father
met them at the President Hotel (via Wikipedia)
The experience made an impression on my father, and he would recall the experience years later. My parents taught by example, and the story of the Nicholas Brothers provided a powerful lesson for their children. It was a minor story in an epic struggle, but for me, as a little boy, it spoke volumes about what Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights struggles were all about: standing up for Right.

A short postscript: about sixty years later, I had the opportunity to meet Fayard Nicholas, and shared with him my father's story. It was such an unusual experience in the Catskills that Fayard remembered it, too. I felt privileged to be able to let him know, so many years later, how much that story meant to my father and his children.

My dad, in his President Hotel days...

...and here I am with Fayard Nicholas, nearly sixty years later

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Creative Community [Blogging Every Day #19]


 As of today, I've exceeded my monthly readership stats on this blog over every month since it began in 2007. My previous best month was back in February, 2011 (I'm not entirely sure what "clicked" back then).

This time, my vastly improved stats relate first to the "Blogging Every Day" concept, and my personal commitment to (try to) create useful blogs as much as possible. Also, these blogs are much more narrowly focused on writing in general, my personal writing process, and "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain."
My old friend Mike Lidskin allowed me to launch my book
on his rockin' radio show, The Twirl, back in June, 2013. 

Previously, this blog has had a broader focus related to the relationship between old and new media. Over time, though, my exploration through the social media landscape (over two hundred YouTube videos - including my Vlogger Interviews) has led me back to storytelling, which is at the core of everything I do - from producing non-fiction content to video editing. Over the years, though, I put writing fiction on the back burner. Though being a "writer" was probably the first identity I embraced as a boy, I haven't pursued with as much dedication as I am now.

Why? Simply put: through social technology, I've surrounded myself with creative people the world over who enjoy sharing their passion, whatever it might be. I've come to know a number of YouTubers, some more prominent than others, who enjoy the creative process. Their creative energy led me right back to my first passion - and ultimately, my first book.

So, thanks for reading, and thanks for creating.

You can follow me on Twitter @Rickflix

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The End of Film [Blogging Every Day #18]

My father, who was an executive at 20th Century-Fox for forty-five years, never quite agreed with the film historians who mourned the golden age of cinema and complained that the industry was now all about money. "It's always been about money" he liked to point out. True, the days of the mogul have passed, and movie studios are run by multi-national corporations - but making money has always been part of the game. Studios may not take as many risks nowadays - but even then, as it is with any corporation - if you didn't make money, you went out of business. Fox itself nearly did when it bet nearly everything on "Cleopatra" in 1963 (about $40 million then) - adjusted for 2014 dollars, it's likely the most expensive film ever made. Only through a dramatic management shift, extreme belt tightening, and the phenomenal success two years later of "The Sound of Music" did Fox survive long enough to weather the storm. Studios today will rarely take such a risk - and are even more beholden to their investors and stockholders.

With the recent announcement from Paramount Pictures that they will cease film distribution altogether, the first major studio to do so, the "film" era is finally coming to an end. Film distribution is an incredibly expensive process - creating film prints and shipping them worldwide to individual theaters has become a luxury, particularly in a time when high-definition projection has advanced so far that - for the average moviegoer, at least - it's indistinguishable from film projection. Digital distribution is much cheaper, and will win the day.

Yes, I know, there is a difference, just as there is a difference between vinyl audio, mp3 audio and so-called HD audio - but, really, only purists will squirm. Complain as you will, it's not bad at all. It won't ruin the experience, and it's not going to change. Technology will continue to improve on the digital side, while the expertise to maintain a high quality production and distribution process on film will whither away.

Many prominent filmmakers still shoot on film (an interesting article about the debate), but I suspect that this will prove to be a generational divide as time goes on. The economics of using century old technology will make the transition complete, sooner or later.

What would my dad think? Even before he retired in 1987, he spoke of the coming era of digital distribution. He recognized that once the technology was there, it was inevitable. If he were around today, he wouldn't be surprised, shocked or disappointed.

Zac Ward, a YouTuber I've become acquainted with over the last couple of years, created this video about the massive projectors that brought us thousands of films (if you must mourn....)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Earthquake! [Blogging Every Day #17]

I saved the actual calendar page from the 1994 earthquake...notice
the unintentionally ironic comic strip...
[17] Twenty years ago today, the earth shook here in the Los Angeles area, when were hit with a 6.8 earthquake, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing several dozen people.  It hit early in the morning - before sunrise, in fact - and shook the world with the force of a jackhammer.  Freeway overpasses collapsed, communication was disrupted and the world was at a standstill.

And, that wasn't even the "Big One!"

We don't worry much about the weather here. While almost the entire country was freezing a few weeks back, temperatures here stayed in the 70's and 80's.

But there is that trade-off, in the form of a gigantic boulder just waiting to drop on our heads. We have small tremors every once in a while - most we never feel.

For those of us that have experienced an earthquake, the little tremors that we do feel take on a whole new meaning.  We always ask in those first few seconds, "Is this it?"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rising Bollards Ahead [Blogging Every Day #16]


I'll keep this relatively short, I think. I had too much going on today, and precious little time to blog! I already have a subject for tomorrow, though!

It's been a challenge to "blog every day." The rules are my own, of course, so I would suppose that there wouldn't be any penalty for skipping a day.

On the other hand, that would defeat the purpose of creating the challenge in the first place.

While I could plan ahead and create blog entries in advance, I think I would consider that cheating. One again - no penalty, but it would make this less of a challenge and more of a planning exercise.

If I were to continue this in some form beyond January, I would likely create a more predictable schedule. When I've written corporate blogs in the past, I made the task more manageable by creating "theme" days.  For example, Tuesday and Thursday might deal address topics related to writing, While Friday might be an update on my own writing projects.

For the moment, though, I'll continue to pursue my current challenge as essentially a "stream of consciousness"'s a good thing I have writing on the brain...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Is Your LIfe Your Message? [Blogging Every Day #15]


I'm halfway through my self-imposed "blogging every day" challenge! At the risk of creating a blog that's too short to be official (is there such a thing?) I'll leave you with this sign, mounted on a wall at the Gandhi Museum in India, which I had the honor to visit in 2006. 

It's an especially sobering thought, I think, when seen as a question: 

What is the message of your life?

In my case, I believe my newfound commitment to writing - my re-dedication to a lifetime passion - may be my attempt to discover and share my own message. That's not to say it's particularly important, but perhaps very act of self-expression is a message of encouragement all it's own.

You can follow me on Twitter at @rickflix

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What If All Kids Had a Privileged Education? [Blogging Every Day #14]

A while ago, I caught up with an eight part documentary series called, "Harrow, A Very British School," which aired last year on the Sky Network (I saw it on YouTube). The program follows the boys in a single "house" at Harrow, an elite British boarding school, through an entire school year.

The program offered a rare, friendly glimpse into a world that only exists to most of the rest of us in historical classics from Tom Brown's Schooldays and Goodbye Mr. Chips, and more recent works such as the films Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet's Society,  set in exclusive American boarding schools. This documentary portrayed an insulated, close-knit world with archaic traditions, but one of the few places where a well-rounded education is the norm (offering numerous opportunities for artistic expression, in addition to sports).

In England, political power is said to be wielded by what is really the original "Old Boys Network" of graduates from schools like Harrow and Eton and Westminster School, and there's no lack of controversy about the very existence of these schools in the modern era. For the limited purposes of this particular blog, however,  I won't address the extensive pros and cons of such schools, nor the concept of boarding, which here in California is extremely rare, even for the wealthy.

The richness of education that some (not all, I'm certain) of these institutions offer, and the demands placed on students have always fascinated me. Granted, wealth and privilege sometimes dictate just home much of a challenge certain students may feel the need to absorb, but the concept of a rich, challenging education intrigued me since childhood.

Public school administrations, teachers and students, of course, can create positive environments in public schools, but consistency across economic, geographic, religious and racial lines are ongoing issues.

At eleven years old, I moved from a New York suburb to a Los Angeles suburb, where I completed sixth grade. Perception, even at that age, was everything - I was conscious of the fact that the public elementary school offered by the gigantic Los Angeles Unified School District offered only a fraction of the programs and opportunities offered at the public elementary school I attended back on New York's Long Island.  In Los Angeles, we didn't have the music programs, athletic programs, art programs and science programs offered at my old school - even though the areas were equivalent economically. Even then, I was aware that this elementary school didn't value education as much as my old school.

Today, elementary schools in Los Angeles enjoy a selection of outside enrichment programs offered through various organizations, but they're not offered consistently across the board. In today's world, these programs are sometimes considered extras, and not critical to a worthwhile education. "Charter" and "magnet" schools with smaller classrooms and subject specialties have created better models in many cases - but they're not offered everywhere.

Of course, the reality of public education is that prejudices of all kinds may always interfere with the creation of a unified vision of a well-rounded, challenging curriculum. Anytime I've visited a respected private school, I come away wondering what the world would be like if every kid had those  opportunities.

You can keep up with my blog by following me on Twitter @rickflix

Monday, January 13, 2014

Extraordinary Minds [Blogging Every Day #13]

[13] I was (video) editing with a client tonight, so I'm once again posting a late entry, but still meeting my "Blogging Every Day" commitment!

I wanted to share with you a 2012 video I re-discovered today on YouTube. It's a Tedx Teen presentation - an independently organized, teen oriented version of the vastly popular TED videos. TED, if you're somehow unfamiliar with this fascinating series, features lectures from great minds around the world on a wide variety of subjects - science, the arts, self-improvement, technology - virtually anything. TED's overall theme is simply, "Ideas Worth Sharing."

Having said that, I'm sharing this video simply because the featured speaker is Jacob Barnett, a brilliant thirteen year old mathematician that, as my friend Lynette Privatsky said, is almost personification of Alexander, the central character in my book, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain."

Alexander is a quirky, obsessive, intelligent and hyperactive boy whom readers either love or hate. Even his friends find him a bit hard to take sometimes. I have no idea if the  real-life Jacob Barnett has such issues, but he seems like the kind of kid to which my character would relate. I enjoy writing fiction about kids like Alexander that defy expectations; I enjoying reading about kids in the world that do the same. It feels somehow grandly subversive when a kid like Jacob not only proves the experts wrong, but, by many accounts, may be a truly extraordinary genius.

Jacob's back story is actually quite interesting. When he was a toddler, he was labeled as severely autistic - some "experts" claimed that his learning disabilities were severe, and his prospects for the future were dim.

Jacob's story from there onward is extraordinary.   Here's an article on Jacob from October, 2013 that updates his story.

To keep track of future blogs, follow me on Twitter @rickflix

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's Not About Where You Live [Blogging Every Day #12]

[12]  In 2011, I attended BlogWorld at the Los Angeles Convention Center, a blogging conference (here's my original report), that seemed to consist mainly of services and publications aimed at helping individuals monetize their blogs. During the same conference, a "State of the Blogosphere" report was presented, indicating that most who have successful blogs really don't make much of a living at it.
Vidcon, 2012

I've also been to several incarnations of Vidcon, the YouTube conference. YouTube, of course is a growing industry, and monetization is now within reach of millions of YouTubers. Very few, however, actually have a substantial enough viewership to actually make a living as a YouTube content creator.

Don't get me wrong - in both instances, there are those who can make a substantial living creating regular content. YouTube in particular offers an unprecedented opportunity for talented individuals of all ages to achieve success that might have never have otherwise been possible.

For most, however, I believe "success" will come with the understanding that blogs, vlogs and other means of online expression aren't necessarily a destination, but part of a bigger picture. They're platforms for exposure, a means to build or become involved in a community, and tools to achieve wider goals. For some, they need only be an outlet for creative expression.

For all artists, from writers to filmmakers, musicians and actors, online expression can be a means to develop and build confidence in one's craft. More importantly, it can also be a important avenue to build awareness.

Achievement doesn't always depend upon building subscribers or viewership on a particular platform.

Success, after all, isn't about where you live, it's about who you are.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

And There Lies the Comedy (Blogging Every Day #11)

A quick thought today...

One of the reasons that I enjoyed writing "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain " is the knowledge that many adults seem to forget how rich and complicated the lives of thirteen year olds can become. Some even disdain the sometimes faulty or even bizarre reasoning of a kid trying to figure out how the world works.  Friendships, relationships and simple daily interactions are especially confusing.

Alexander and his friends, I hope, are a reminder that while to adult kids sometimes seem clueless, they are really attempting a sincere attempt to solve their problems. Unfortunately, skill and experience are often the prerequisites for what we tend to call common sense, and what results is profound kid logic.

And there lies the comedy.

Friday, January 10, 2014

One Third! (Blogging Every Day #10)

[10] I'm ten days into my "Blogging Every Day" experiment - a third of the way through the month. So far, I'm on track to record my highest monthly page views since 2011 (when I interviewed a popular YouTuber on my web series and the accompanying blog sent my views through the -relative- roof). Those numbers were tied to a single blog and vlog. In this case, it's both the creation of a series of blogs that focus largely on a single topic (writing), a daily schedule, and consistently sharing that content on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. Several of the writing topics have been shared by others - especially on Twitter - and that's encouraging.

My schedule for the rest of the month will be increasingly crowded, but I'm committed to meeting the challenge. As my writing activities expand, this is naturally the ideal platform to both share those activities, and share my perspective on a craft I love.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Creating Alexander - A Writer Vents (Blogging Every Day #9)

[9]   I'm just about midway through my follow-up to "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain." If this were only a game of filling up pages with words, I'm be in good shape, but I'm creating the second volume in a series, and that means both maintaining a sense of continuity with the original book and creating a story that isn't simple a rehash of the first book. As I've written in other blogs, that also means maintaining a balance in Alexander's character between his tendency toward obsession, and a vulnerability that (most) people find appealing.

Creating Alexander is walking a tightrope. On one hand, he'd secretly love to hide under his bedcovers all day and never face the world. On the other hand, he's constantly searching for a solution to all his problems. Those solutions rarely lead him down the path he expects, but he keeps trying. He's got good friends, but his quirky nature sometimes makes him a bit hard to take - and, for this author, hard to write. Keeping that precarious balance is an ongoing challenge.

The second book was well outlined, but Alexander, in a sense, took over once I began the writing process itself. He has a tendency to constantly analyze and consider his options - naturally forcing his author to do the same. Choices that seemed reasonable in outline form were the opposite once character and environment are actually put into play. Contrary to my expectations, I'm finding the second volume more difficult than the first.
Sometimes my boy Alexander seems like
a devil child...but I love him anyway.
I like to describe documentary filmmaking as putting together a jigsaw puzzle in which the shapes of the puzzle pieces are constantly changing, and the image is constantly moving...

...I think the same can be applied to writing fiction!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Resource Rabbit Hole! (Blogging Every Day #8)

If you haven't discovered the treasure trove of public domain material available through the British Library, check it out - over a million images of all kinds from the 17th, 18th and  19th centuries, available for anyone to use or adapt. Here's an article about this resource, and here's a link to the Flickr photostream where it resides.   It's a great place to find direct resources - or just inspiration. Some images are obscure, while others will seem quite familiar. This collection currently features images from just 46,000 books, from a collection of over 14 million - with more to come.  

Just don't fall down the rabbit hole!

The first two images are from a book identified as "Sedbergh School Songs. Written and illustrated by R. St. J. Ainslie," published in 1896. A quick Google search found that Sedbergh School, founded in 1525, is still very much in business.

The rabbit image is from a book identified as "The Bashful Earthquake, and other fables and verses ... With many pictures by the author," published in 1899. It's been scanned and it available in it's entirety at the Internet Archive.

The image below is identified as "A Little Tour in Ireland. By an Oxonian, S. R. Hole ... With illustrations by J. Leech ... New edition," published in 1892. It's actually available at Amazon.

I can give you a million more examples, but you get the idea...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Skewed Perspectives (Blogging Every Day #7)

[7] A while back, I visited the Glendale Galleria during a major facelift. Stores were still operating, but floors, walls, railings and ceilings were all being replaced or renewed to better compete with the more attractive mall just across the street.

Throughout this mall, large signs commanded mall visitors to look forward to the wonders that lay ahead: "Look Forward to New Glass Hand Rails," "Look Forward to Beautiful New Flooring" and "Look Forward to a Fresh Vibe."

While we may always look forward to a fresh vibe, I'm not sure how often anyone "looks forward" to new flooring or glass hand rails (Except, perhaps, store owners who might have been losing business to the shiny competitor across the street). I'm not certain if the mall owners were trying to build excitement, or simply provide comedy relief during the disruption, but I appreciated the signs as a reminder that perspective is everything. The mall owners might call this a "Fresh New Vibe," but perhaps their competitors would see the changes as a futile attempt to regain past glory.

A constant challenge in my writing process is keeping in mind the emotional/social perspectives of not only my central character, but of the others with whom he might interact. It's not enough to create a protagonist with strong opinions. Why those opinions are strong is just as important.

What sort of a person would look forward to New Glass Hand Rails?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Writing Psychotic (Blogging Every Day #6)

[6]  The premise of my novel, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" (find out more here) centers on thirteen year old Alexander, a boy whose skewed perspective on the world around him leaves him in abject fear of non-existent bullies and the terrible deeds they might be plotting against him. His paranoia leads him to make decisions that not only aren't in his best interest, but nearly transform him into just the kind of kid he fears the most. Half the fun of the novel (and, hopefully, the follow-up I'm working on now) is discovering Alexander's outsized reactions to otherwise mundane situations.

I believe that most people - artists of all types, especially - consider themselves quirky, odd or unusual in one way or another. As readers, we identify best with the true outliers - those characters who stand apart from the norm in one way or another. We sympathize with them, cheer for them, and enjoy their victories. The best hero, in this reader's opinion, is a flawed hero.

As a writer, I'm most fascinated by critiques of my work that analyze my main protagonist in psychological terms. Kirkus Reviews, for example, stated that I risk "making Alexander unsympathetic by pushing his behavior from that of a risible obsessive to that of an outright psychotic." I love that comment, and I don't mind the "risk" if it helps achieve a measure of authenticity.

After all, what thirteen year-old hasn't felt just like that at one time or another?

We're all unstable, unpredictable creatures. Our fictional equivalents should be, too.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mac vs. PC...Still? (Blogging Every Day #5)

[5] I use Apple devices. I have an iMac, an iPad, an iPhone, and an aging MacBook Pro. I enjoy the predictability and ease of working within the Apple universe. It simply works for me. I especially like cloud syncing, which allows my word processing, contacts and schedule to instantly update on all my platforms. With my iPad I can work on a document at Starbucks. As soon as I'm home, I simply access my iMac, and that same document appears, perfectly up to day.

On the other hand, if someone asks my opinion on whether they should buy a Mac or PC, I'm certainly not an evangelist. We're at a point in computer and software technology where so much is generally equivalent. I love Apple tech, and I'm not bothered by what some call a closed, controlled world. I don't believe however, that writing a book on a Mac is dramatically different than writing a book on a PC. If a writer wishes to buy a new computer simply for writing, and is more experienced in the PC world - and has a limited budget, I don't believe that buying a Mac is worth the extra expense.

This morning, I started listening to a podcast about self-publishing in which the ages-old (it seems) Mac vs. PC debate was dredged up one again. At this point in time, the argument itself seems archaic.

I wrote My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain on a Mac, using the Apple Pages word processing program. I used the Mac version of Microsoft Word to finish the book and predictably exchange files between both my editor and the online publishing mechanisms that prepped my book for distribution ("save as" didn't always lead to dependable results).

It works for me - and that's all that counts.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Writing Environment (Blogging Every Day #4)

[4] Suz Baldwin, my editor / proofreader, asked about my writing situation - what sort of environment do I require when writing?

I wrote a large part of the first draft of  "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," at my local Starbucks, and on hour-long train commutes to downtown Los Angeles. Required tools of the trade are my iPad and wireless bluetooth keyboard. I usually have a coffee or bottle of water nearby. General ambience - normal conversation or the rumble of the train - generally don't bother me, so I don't typically feel the need for earbuds. However, if there's abnormally loud, distracting conversation or music, I'll put on earbuds and listen to something in keeping with the mood of whatever I'm writing. This "mood music" must be instrumental - I find vocals distracting.

I've adjusted my habits a bit with the second volume of "Food Chain," as my extended time writing the first volume at Starbucks generated a larger universe of acquaintances there, and so created a more (distracting) social environment.  Now, much of my writing occurs in my home office or at the kitchen table. I don't play music or watch television. On the other hand, I don't turn off my phone, close all other windows on my desktop, or otherwise enforce isolation upon myself.  Allowing myself the occasional controllable distraction is an opportunity for brainstorming.

I'm not a stare-at-the-screen-for-eight-hours guy.  I most often write mid-morning and late evening, but rarely in the afternoon.

How about you?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Writing and Racing (Blogging Every Day #3)

[3] Today, I took some time off from my various projects and anxieties for a bit of R&R, which included a bit of indoor kart racing....

When I'm in a writing mode, as I am now, intense experiences like racing inspire my imagination, though not always as directly as you might think. In a race (or race-like environment, in this case), senses are heightened, and the driver is more intimately connected with the world around him - other drivers, the track, the race officials, the operation of the kart itself, the fit of the helmet, or even visibility through the helmet visor.  

Part of the fun I have with the writing process is creating the layers of texture that make a story truly immersive.  Human beings don't live a vacuum, after all. How we proceed through out day, or interact with one another may be reflective of our personal experience, our relationship with the other person, the environment in which we are interacting, and many other factors. Discovering what those factors are, and how they might influence characters in a story is a great adventure - and can sometimes change the entire direction of a plot line.

By adding intimate detail, I'm placing characters in a real world, and seeing how they react. For this writer, that's where a tale comes alive.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Greatest Strengths = Weaknesses (Blogging Every Day #2)

[2] I enjoy following Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur whose insight into effectively applying social media tools in achieving personal and professional goals stands apart from many of the "get-rich-quick" style books and websites.

Too often, social media is seen only as a destination, rather than a means toward an end. We've all "liked" Facebook Pages that remain mostly static. If you're a Twitter user, you've certainly followed users that only push out content, and seem to forget the interactive aspect of the platform.  Gary's the author of Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion , which I consider a primer on developing a constructive attitude toward using the ever-expanding universe of social tools. I'm currently reading his most recent book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, which consists largely of case studies of businesses small and large that have failed or succeeded in using these tools.

Most importantly, thought, I enjoy Gary's perspective as an active entrepreneur (as opposed to the ever-present "social media expert").  This morning, he posted a YouTube video in which he was asked during an interview to offer an example where a one of his strengths is also his weakness. His answer - he likes to "scale the unscalable." It's a good lesson, and worth a minute of your time:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Blogging Every Day (and Why)

[1] On YouTube, there are a number of traditions (or challenges) variously called VED (Vlog Every Day) April, December (choose your month), in the name of promoting vlogging and individual YouTube channels.  As I'm really not creating many YouTube videos at this point, I thought I'd give BED a chance (Blogging Every Day, though sleep is always an option!), and see what happens. For now, I'll call this BEDJ - Blogging Every Day January, and see what happens from there.

Some entries will be short - others quite lengthy. At no point, however, will I create a placeholder entry just to be able to declare that I accomplished my goal. My intention is to create something interesting and readable every day during the month.

I have several objectives:

First, I'd like to revitalize my blogging activity. I've been slowly moving back toward blogging again, recognizing it as a tool to pursue my writing related goals, and let people know what I'm up to in an interesting, ongoing basis.

It's also a good central location to share videos (on the rare occasion I create them!), photos, and other social media.

This blog began as a discussion about the relationship between social media and traditional media. With the publication of my book, I'm recognizing that social media has been the primary tool and motivating factor in understanding, creating for, and reaching an audience. I hope to share what I've learned - and what I'm continuing to learn - in the days and weeks ahead.

See you tomorrow!