the gravity of values and time


Opens wide Nov 7

Last night, I was very fortunate to attend the SAG-AFTRA screening of INTERSTELLAR at the IMAX Chinese Theater. Don’t worry – absolutely no spoilers here. If you like Chris Nolan’s work, you’ll enjoy the movie.

One note: there was a Q&A after with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. McConaughey told us they did not use green screen – Nolan had sets built, which is pretty astonishing looking back on the movie. I think the entire audience assumed it was green screen. It is definitely worth seeing in IMAX.

My big takeaway? Chris Nolan has respect for his audience. He doesn’t preach, he doesn’t condescend – he trusts the intelligence of the audience. I love that in any artist. He presents multiple viewpoints with clarity.

I’ve been considered this in light of the differences between film and television. The time constraints are very different – the actors in Interstellar had months to work on their characters. Chris and Jonathan Nolan did not need to turn the script out in days or weeks, but Jonathan Nolan does have those constraints on Person of Interest. Perhaps this is more about considering time in a new way – it is important when you as an artist explore other viewpoint with intellectual and emotional honesty. That’s missing in a number of shows on network television and in some movies, both in drama and comedy.

A small example: in comedy, funny and sad go together, but if there is a persistent undercurrent of bitterness – not a bitter character, but infused in the work, it wears on the audience. It’s not where most people want to stay. Is this another way of saying play to your audience? No. Just respect them and layer your work.


seriously, how could I not include a picture of this man?

What do I mean about considering time in a new way? Take time out to explore your own value system. Seriously. Get away from your normal routine. Go on retreat. Shake things up. Know your values and take a serious look at a few other systems, especially ones that you are genuinely unfamiliar with or for which you have strong negative feelings. Once you are clear and have enough information to refrain from proselytizing, your work will be deeper and richer – we all know when an artist has respect for us. You may not hit it every time, but if your intention respects us, we love you for it.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dignity of the person and the character of characters

droughtThere’s been a lot of bad news this summer. Drought, unrest, domestic violence, hacking the Cloud, hacking off heads… in the 21st century. We’d hoped we would be better by now.

One of the most important things the arts can do is allow us into another person’s world. Of course, if you set out to do that, you probably won’t achieve much of anything beyond preaching to those who already agree with you. But if you’re willing to allow it to unfold as part of the process, magical things can happen.

Some are calling the leaking of nude photos of celebrities sexual assault – no – sexual assault is sexual assault. What is closer to the mark is a disregard for the dignity of another human being. Intentional humiliation is attempted murder of the soul.

Disregard for the dignity of another human being. How do the characters you create feel about that

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version


At their best, stories help us understand each other and ourselves. If you can tell one honestly, passionately, through writing or acting, you will affect others. Watch the actors who allow their vulnerability to shine through; think of the books that stayed with you. What was it that resonated? If you are willing to dive into your unconscious, if you have courage, if you are willing to be still and let us see, you can give that gift. Michael Redgrave shows us the secret part of himself – he allows us to see his vulnerability – and a quiet performance becomes powerful and deep.

What do you know that is yours? That thing you’re fighting. Your success. Your failure. What do you feel deeply about? Why? If you allow the real you, with all the fears and insecurities and secrets to shine through, we will love you for it. And you will make our load just a little easier to bear.



Comments Off

Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , ,

Remembering 9/11: part of Project 2,996

Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, a must-read, just came out with this in The New Yorker 

My annual repost and part of Project 2996:

Robert Halligan Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 15, 2001.

Robert  John Halligan
Robert Halligan, Age: 59
Residence: Basking Ridge, NJ
Two WTC, 99th Floor
Aon Corporation, Vice President


To a proud Englishman, America is a country of vexing insufficiencies. Its supermarkets know not of H.P. (House of Parliament) sauce and tins of steak and kidney pie. Marmite, sadly, remains a mystery.

Several times a year, London-born Robert Halligan, 59, a vice president at Aon, an insurance brokerage firm, would cross the pond to stock up on such indelicacies. He would cheer on his beloved Tottenham Hotspurs, visit his sprawling family, including five adult children, and drop by a specialty shop to add to the locomotive steam engine models he had been collecting since his trainspotting boyhood. Every weekend he brought the old country to his wife, Jerrie, and their son, Trevor, in Basking Ridge, N.J., by cooking a lard-loving British breakfast (sloppy bacon, fried bread, eggs splashed with grease) and Sunday lunch (roast, two vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding).

Yet for someone who clung to his British identity, Mr. Halligan flourished in America, where he moved with Jerri, his American wife. He gardened here, played golf and danced beautifully. He was a kind, solicitous grandfather of 10 with a knack for joke- telling. And here he celebrated the holiday he loved even more than Christmas: as a citizen of two countries, Robert Halligan adored Thanksgiving.


Ehtesham Raja, Age: 28
Place of Residence: Clifton , NJ
TCG Software

Ehtesham U. Raja of Clifton, NJ was 28 years old when he died in the World Trade Center. He’d gone there for a conference and was in Windows on the World. He was a 1996 graduate of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia. He had his MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory. His nickname: Shamu, from his friends in Pakistan.

His parents, Raja Aftab Saeed and Begum Asmat Fatima, donated the land for the Arifwala Hospital, a 40-bed facility, fully equipped with diagnostic and curative services, inaugurated on January 19th, 2009. The hospital is dedicated to their son, Raja Ehtesham Ullah, who lost his life on 9/11. All medical equipment was funded by LRBT America. We have also pledged to fund the hospital’s annual operating budget. (note: the hospital is in Pakistan and fights blindness)

From the Emory Goizueta Memorial site (Ehtesham Raja ’98MBA):

“He was a very kind, caring, compassionate, loving, and intelligent person,” says his mother, Asmat Fatima. “He was respected and admired by those who knew him. His talent and sense of humor made him standout in any crowd. But it was his loving and caring attitude that always made me proud.”

Raja, born in Lahore, Pakistan, worked for TCG Software in Bloomfield, N.J. After graduating with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from Columbia University in New York City, he worked as a security engineer at Citibank on Wall Street, then, according to his Goizueta Business School application, he returned to Pakistan to work for Citibank Lahore, take the GMAT, and apply to business school.

“He was in the best years of his life,” says Fatima. “Everything seems to be going in his favour. After years of dedication and hard work he finally achieved this status. He had all the plans to pursue his career in finance. He was full of hope for his future.”

Raja also enjoyed sports. He was a swimmer and played cricket, squash, soccer, tennis, and polo while at Columbia.

A memorial service was arranged by TCG Software. “They were proud to have him working for them,” his mother says.

“It is still very hard to believe that he is missing and lost forever,” she continues. “I have to be emotionally strong as Ehtesham has a younger brother, who is at a very impressionable age.

“[Ehtesham] knew life and lived life. His time was limited but in that time he touched so many people. . . . May peace be with him now and forever. He will stay in our hearts and memories forever.”

UPDATE from a family member: “His father was one of the best pilots in Pakistan, he died in a plane crash (somewhere in the Himalayas), his wife had to bare with not only being a single parent, but also she had to bury his medals since there was nothing of him to bury…” and then her son on 9/11. Blessings to his family and may his mother find some peace and comfort in this world.

Rest in peace, Mr. Halligan and Mr. Raja.Never Forget.

world trade center bombing

Comments Off

Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , ,

when the demons win…

Robin WilliamsA lot has already been written about Robin Williams. His exuberant talent and kindness – our grief and shock. And about our misperceptions about depression and suicide.

When I was in grad school, Marcos McPeek Villatoro gave an amazing lecture on mental illness and creativity that I wish had been recorded. He’s talked about his own diagnosis on NPR. The room filled and soon overflowed and that was the moment I discovered that most of the people around me either had a mental illness or a family member with it. Quiet, hard-working creative people coping with various storms in their brains or those of a parent, sibling, child, or partner. My mother suffered from depression and, while I was a teenager, Valium addiction. I grew up with her threats of suicide, was the one who attended the family support group at the “pain center” (back then, a euphemism for rehab) that my father would not. When my then-boyfriend’s mother asked how she was, he later chastised my honesty in answering her, for drifting away from euphemisms and mentioning Valium addiction. Shame is the real killer. My grad school mentor, Rob Roberge, has written a brilliant essay on that subject.

We owe much of the arts and sciences to the mentally ill. Sir Isaac Newton was bipolar and one of the most influential scientists ever in the fields of physics, math and philosophy and yet said of himself: “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

It’s not news that people write stupid things in social media. “How could Robin Williams be sad with all that money and fame?” We need to be better than that. “I can’t imagine the pain…” Well, lucky you, but you have no excuse. William Styron and others have written about it. And please stop with the gloved blame – would you blame someone who had a stroke or heart attack? Just as either of those are not entirely a matter of diet and exercise (see Jim Fixx), Williams’ (apparent) suicide was not entirely an act of will – this was a storm of brain chemistry. This was not sadness, but an abyss. Williams stated repeatedly that he battled his demons in large part for the sake of his children. He fought for decades while maintaining a career in the public eye AND being uncommonly kind. He left us some 35 years of performances of astonishing range and did it with grace, courtesy, and humility. He treated people very well, no matter who they were. That is a rare and beautiful thing. He encouraged actors, comedians and improvisers – including friends of mine. He showed up at hospitals to visit patients without publicity. He entertained the troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. And he could have said the very same words as Newton, that he was just playing at the shore, but we know they both plumbed the depths in their own very different ways. Very different!


as Dr. Sean Maguire

Creativity is often accompanied by some form of mental illness. There are valiant battles waged daily that we never hear about. Robin Williams’ ultimate gift, the reason he was so loved, is that he was willing to share the struggle, his vulnerability, his humanity. Watch Good Will Hunting again and look in his eyes – that’s not only the pain of a character who’s lost his wife. He let his own pain shine through and touch us.

If you struggle with depression, with a mental illness, with an addiction, please seek help. Know you are not alone. Know also that we value you and your creativity. We know it comes at a cost. And let’s do better by those who wander our streets – that should not be part of a compassionate society. There is enough challenge in treating and living with these illnesses without fighting shame as well. Fighting demons is hard enough. And sometimes, God help us all, they win.

I like this clip because it not only shows his talent, but his regard for the troops and at the very end, his kindness



Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

a brief pause…

Thanks for your patience – been busy writing a eulogy for my brother (it was a great memorial celebration) and so on. Life should calm down and will be back with a new post soon. In the meantime, enjoy a graphic with the daily routines of creative people:


And the last 2 days of July, you can set your own price for my novel, WILLFUL IGNORANCE


Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


Guest Post from Grammarly: Are Style Guides Poisonous to Your Fiction Writing?

grammarly 2 This week’s guest post comes from Nikolas Baron of Grammarly. Thanks, Nick!

When I sit down to learn how writers write — their styles, preferences, and techniques — I fluctuate between feeling limited and focused. Most companies have official style guides to help writers communicate in a clear voice with tense, tone, vision, and style. Some writers find style guides constricting; but to become a published author, a writer needs to adhere to the guidelines of the magazine in which he or she wants to be published. Writers dream of being published in “The New Yorker” not only because of the prestige, talent, and luck they must have to make it between the pages, but also because they like the style of the magazine. Publishers have a distinct voice they want to resonate through the ink and text of their magazine. It is a good idea to look into what kind of material a magazine, newspaper or publishing company publishes before contacting the business with your work. Style guides help writers see the end of the tunnel and the path they should follow to a successful piece. Although they can be limiting, style guides are an important branch of the writing tree.

Writing fiction novels is far different from writing a short story and hoping to publish it in a magazine, newspaper, or literary journal. When you write a novel, you can write however you want, for as long as you want, about whatever you want. When you are a writer for a fiction literary journal or hope to publish a piece in one, it’s important to remember that a style guide keeps the magazine going. Readers are buying and reading that magazine for a reason; they like the content and style of the material. Violating the style guide and writing something outside the material defeats the purpose of having a magazine devoted to that particular niche. When you’re looking for a place to publish your material, do your research. Spending the extra few hours finding a magazine that caters to your style, techniques, and genre will not only show the editors you understand their goals, but your material has a better chance at becoming published. Also, when you submit your work for publication, an online proofreader can be key. Proofreading your work will help to incorporate different stylistic elements you identified in their previously-published pieces.

Would you publish a Stephen King short story in a children’s literary magazine? Probably not. This is the same sort of idea that goes into professional writing. You wouldn’t want to send a query letter to a science fiction journal if you write romance stories. It’s unprofessional, shows that you blatantly don’t care about their journal, and that you’re too lazy to spend a few minutes looking into what they normally publish. Styles of journals, along with their style guides, are critical to keeping your favorite publications going. By ignoring them, you’re only putting your publishing career at a disadvantage.

When you book a writing job, you want to make sure that you fit in with their style; you could be writing in it for quite some time. Do style guides limit grammarly 3you? Perhaps in some ways, but if you have chosen the right place for you to write for, those limitations will most likely be small. When you begin proofreading your articles, it’s a lot easier to fix and incorporate pieces of the style guide. It’s also easier to find those mistakes when using an online resource like Grammarly. Grammarly has a great proofreading tool that will help you look at your writing in a mechanical sense and identify your most common errors. If it seems like a style guide is too limiting, it could be because your writing is mismatched with what the editors are looking for. Although some style guides are extremely specific, sticking to a style guide is what keeps writers employed, and magazines, newspapers, and literary journals afloat by being consistent with viewpoint and style.

By Nikolas Baron

Nick’s Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Comments Off

Posted by on July 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , ,

Guest Post: Aaron Gansky, Stephen McLain & Heather Luby on Flash Fiction

This week, I welcome back my sometime collaborator, Aaron Gansky (WRITE TO BE HEARD) who has a great post along with  Stephen McLain and their guest, Heather Luby discussing flash fiction, one of my favorite forms. In fact, I just wrote the screenplay adaptation for The Green Bench, which The Citron Review was kind enough to publish a few years back. Welcome back, Aaron, and thank you!

Heather-LubyWelcome Heather Luby, managing editor of The Citron Review, to take a look at a very popular form of storytelling: Flash Fiction. Because the form is so short (less than a thousand words), authors must be careful to craft the story in a very exact manner. Aaron, Steve and Heather take a look at some ways for you to master flash fiction. These tips and tricks can even help you improve your craft in the writing of your novel. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Remember, you can always find Steve and me on FacebookTwitteriTunes, and Stitcher.

You’ll also notice that the book links below point you to Better World Books. For every book purchased on Better World Books, the company donates a book to someone in need. Great little program (and founded by Notre Dame grads – go Irish!) Now, on to the show notes:

Flash Fiction has several definitions, but the one we use at The Citron Review is a story of less than 1,000 words, which works out to be about three pages. While the form isn’t new, the popularity of it has risen dramatically with the proliferation of online journals. And because the form is so demanding, there are several things you should keep in mind as you write:


  • When you set out to write, don’t think, “I’m going to write some flash fiction!” If you do, you’ll probably write a story that’s uninspired, or too brief, or not completely realized. Instead, simply write your story. When you are done, if it’s come out as flash fiction, that’s probably what it wants to be. If, instead, it comes out longer, you’ll probably want to keep it at that length. Let the story determine whether it’s flash fiction or not.
  • Respect the adage “late in, early out.” You don’t have time to give us long, complicated background information. Start in the middle. Your readers are smart enough to pick up the pieces and put them where they go. Also, resist the urge to over explain at the end. The most common advice I give is, “cut the last two lines.” Your sweet spot is usually earlier than you realize. (More on endings later).
  • Create immediacy. Hit hard and fast. The power of a flash story is in its brevity, in providing enough details to create an emotional resonance that will impact the reader. This, more than anything, is at the heart of flash fiction.
  • Flash fiction puts a premium on words. Love language. Love imagery. Often, these stories are a type of prose poetry. They carry the same attention to detail, use imagery as symbolism, and, most of all, create a lyrical voice to tell an emotionally resonant story. Often, what happens is not as important as the telling of the events. The moral, the theme, is little more than the emotional impact it carries. Make us feel.
  • Try to keep the number of characters down. Too many can clutter your story. We only need one or two. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the best stories seldom have more than two characters.


  • The ending should present a moment of closure. It shouldn’t be abrupt (as if the flash is an excerpt from a larger work). While most flash stories have open resolves, they often point toward a final outcome. The ending is inevitable, but the inevitable is not shown.
  • Because flash is so imagery-driven, poignant images can often serve as a resolve.
  • The goal is to find the “truth” not the “twist.” The ending should be inevitable, unavoidable, but can be surprising. Consider the advice, “a great ending is one you never saw coming, but once you’ve read it, it seems as if no other ending would make sense.” This is what Flannery O’Connor referred to as the unexpected but inevitable ending. Poe says the final line of a short story should be like a flashlight that, once read, will shed light on the rest of the story, and illuminate the reader’s understanding in a new way. It’s a tall order, sure, but so is writing great flash fiction.
  • Some of our favorite flash fiction selections come from a book called Flash Fiction Forward. Namely, Hannah Bottomy’s Currents, which is a story written in reverse order. Each paragraph begins with the words “before that.” Because we being with the end, the end (which is actually the beginning) becomes especially powerful, and hits like a fist of bricks.
  • A note on “backward stories” and “stories in the form of book indexes” and other gimmicks: Try to avoid them. If you set out to write a gimmicky story, you’ll likely fail. Instead, write the story as the story wants to be told. If, after you have written it, you decide it’s more emotionally resonant to tell backward, say, or in the form of a book index, then go for it. But let the unique telling serve the story, rather than the story serving the gimmick.
  • Another great flash story is Popular Mechanics by Raymond Carver, which you can find in his collection of short stories called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Though it features an nontraditional ending, it is a story that stays with you for the rest of your life.
  • Some outstanding examples from The Citron Review: Jon Pearson’s Invisible as God is a fantastic example of a lyrical story-telling, a kind of prose poem, that elevates imagery and detail into the realm of the emotionally resonant. Also, Alan Stewart Carl’s Remaining, which is a more traditional type of story, but one that is very well executed in terms of precise language and detail.


  • Be sure to submit regularly. The process of submission (and the subsequent rejections and acceptances) will tell you much about what you’re doing right and wrong. Never be afraid to put your work out in the world. It’s the only way to see if your story’s wings are strong enough to fly.
  • Love language. Read a lot of poetry.
  • Invest in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction by Rose Metal Press. It’s full of incredible tips and tricks from all the experts.

Please leave your comments below. You can e-mail Aaron & Steve at


Posted by on June 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 831 other followers

%d bloggers like this: