Steven Barnes is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning novelist and screenwriter who is the creator of the Lifewriting™ writing course, which he has taught nationwide. He recently won an NAACP Image Award as co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with actor Blair Underwood and his wife, Tananarive Due. Nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Cable Ace awards, writer of the Emmy-winning “A Stitch In Time” episode of The Outer Limits, winner of the Endeavor and the NAACP Image Awards, NY Times Bestselling author, Steven has written comic books, animation, newspaper copy, magazine articles, television scripts and three million words of published fiction published in seven languages, making him one of the world’s most honored, diverse and popular writers.

“Edge of Tomorrow” (2014) and the path of growth

I have a student who enjoyed his girlfriend’s abundant sexuality, but couldn’t deal with the “Madonna/Whore” voices in his head, and the fact that she talked about prior boyfriends.  I worked with him for a year on attitudes, processes and so forth.   He’d been in therapy for years, and gotten no where.


And after a year, he wasn’t much better.  This engaged me, because my commitment is to helping people heal, and I just wasn’t helping him.   What was wrong?


And then something occurred to me.


  1. we create our emotions through a combination of focus, movement, and language.
  2. Anger is fear.
  3. The most powerful way I know to deal with fear involves physical movement.
  4. He was doing everything I asked, but somehow it wasn’t working.


So…either my model of the human psyche is wrong…or I’m not seeing something.  If my commitment is to helping him, then I have to FIRST start with the assumption that the model is correct, but I’m screwing up.   If that fails, then I have to adjust the model.


Something hit me: he talked about her all the time, with real pain.   Wait a minute: that meant he was “grooving” the old pattern neurologically, literally deepening and strengthening it with every repetition.


He had a goal.  He had motivation.  He was taking action.  What I”d missed was I WASN’T INTERRUPTING THE OLD PATTERN.


He TALKED about her, which created temporary relief (“someone understands!”) but actually stopped him from engaging with the issue.  Ever take your car to the shop, and suddenly it stops “pinging” and no one can cause the issue, so they can’t diagnose and fix it?


The ego is like that.   It will play peek-a-boo with your issues.  So…I ordered him to stop talking about her.   The next time he mentioned her, he had to pay me five bucks.  He shut up for a couple of weeks, focusing on his own emotions. Then he mentioned her again. This time I charged him ten dollars. Oops!   Again he shut up. And…within a couple of weeks of NOT being able to blame his emotions on her, he was startled to find himself making progress.  It was just terrific.


He mentioned her again a week ago.  Fifteen bucks.   “Dragon Roll” time at the local sushi bar. Yippee!


Ahem.   Now, finally, he is digging where the gold really is.  He is “bottling up” his emotions so that his physical work is actually processing it.  Whatever metaphor you use, what matters is that he is taking control of his life and emotions. And starting to integrate his life at a higher and deeper level.


Wonderful.  I LOVE this.




How can you use this?


Identify WHAT you want to change

Identify WHY you want to change it.

Identify HOW you will proceed, short and long-term.


Now…INTERRUPT YOUR OLD PATTERN somehow.  This can be, should be, like scratching a CD or DVD. Scratch it enough and you can’t play it.


Practice the new pattern, “fail successfully” and learn something.  Start the cycle over again, with the new knowledge.  What Why How.  What Why How.


Over and over again, until you reach your goal.




You don’t have to be a genius to see this pattern in fiction.  The character wants a goal.  They hit a wall, and won’t move forward until you increase the motivations. They take actions which succeed or (usually) fail, and in the process learn something. They try again.


Remember the Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow”?  Where he was fighting a war over and over again, dying horribly again and again but constantly learning?  Every time he failed, he learned at least ONE NEW THING, so that the next time he resurrected he could get a little further?


THAT’S IT!!!   The movie was too raw and obvious to be a classic, but it absolutely played with this principle.


The pattern was in my student (trying new things until he found a coach who could help him).  It was present in me (trying new things until I found the way to help).   And we are addicted to stories because they provide us with faith that efforts lead to knowledge leading to better efforts, in an ascending spiral that eventually leads to success.


Of course, your “coach” must be sympatico with you. And frankly, the more like you the “coach” (or role model) is, the easier it is to learn and apply the lessons.  So women seeking empowerment felt the “No Man’s Land” sequence in WW more than they had ever felt a similar sequence with a male hero.   And black women watching Florence Kasumba say “Move…or be moved” FELT that shit.    It resonated at a level they didn’t even know they needed to see.


And if you have had endless, infinite, daily role models you just won’t feel it.  Might even be in contempt if you lack empathy, if you are naïve enough to think you constructed yourself without outside help.


Right: you learned to walk, and talk, and read ALL BY YOURSELF.  Dream on.


This is why it is important to see ourselves as part of a continuing flow of humanity. That our art is an expression of our “is-ness” and emotions. See craft as the LANGUAGE by which we communicate our perception and experience. It all flows together, and always has.


There is a fascinating change going on in the 21st Century.  Images that are just…different.  More powerfully inclusive, especially along lines of race and gender. I see them as both symptoms and drivers of change.  And as I relish that future, they bring me joy.


For some…they trigger fear. And I suggest that you  heal yourself, and fill yourself with enough love and strength that you can turn around and help those who are willing to whisper that they are ready.


Help them identify the change they want to make

Help them connect with their reasons to change

Help them create a strategy to optimize their actions.


When they fail or relapse, help them see its just a part of the process. Why should you help them? Because YOU will have been the recipient of endless support by the men and women who came before you.


If you don’t pass it on…isn’t that a kind of theft?







Breaking Bread and Leaving Crumbs

I had lunch with Larry Niven yesterday, and we spoke of many things. The new Dream Park novelette, his moving, and his “Grandmaster” award from the SFWA.  With all sincerity, he expressed how much that meant to him.  It was a validation, a sense that his peers appreciate what he has tried to create, what he has done with the years of his life.


We all start as children, with a dream of growth and freedom and joy.  The problem is that unless we are Hunter-Gatherers, or in a culture where we will follow our parent’s footsteps in some simple trade, we just don’t know what it takes to become an adult: to be self-supporting, to find and nurture love, to be a parent.  And with every one of these pieces, we run into walls.


We struggle, and either figure it out ourselves, painfully, or follow school instructions or how-to books, or if we have the right combination of luck and smarts we find role models who already have the results, and walk in their footsteps.


Inevitably, there comes a point where the explicit instructions in “how to succeed” fail, because our individual circumstances are ALWAYS different from anyone elses.  We run out of “science” and have to discover Art.


To do this, you have to get all the basic pieces of the puzzle at Unconscious Competence.  At this point, you can start asking: who am I?  What is MY way of doing these things?  And you try and try and try, get knocked down a thousand times, and get up a thousand and one.


And if you have taken the earlier steps, and never stop…you wake up one day and you are not just an expert, or a master, but a master who can create other masters.  A grandmaster.


Larry did his work.  Wrote like a demon. Read voluminously.    Found his individual voice.  Wrote and wrote and wrote.   Worked with others. Taught young writers like me.  And wrote and wrote and read and read.  He felt the pain of losing awards, of having Hollywood dangle movies and yank them away.   Success and failure and joy and grief.


And kept going, until his peers looked at him and said: “this man is a master of masters.”  A grandmaster.



And in his heart, there is still the child who looked out at the world and said: “who am I?  What is life? What do I need to do to be seen, and heard, and gain love, and find tribe, and discover and share my gifts in the little time I have in this world?”


No matter where you are in life, that voice of doubt remains.  No matter how far and how fast you run, the horizon is always the same distance away.


This is the path of life.    My tribe are those who accept the challenge, or those who wish to.    There are others who wait for their lives to begin, who search for reasons they CANNOT, instead of ways to DO.


I know these people, and am blessed that they consider me worthy to walk among them, for all my flaws and failings, which are legion.  We are brothers, and sisters.  Some are horizons beyond me on the path.  But they have left a trail of breadcrumbs.


And some of them are close enough that we can actually break bread together.   I am not at their level. But they are wise and kind enough to see their  own soul in my eyes.






GET OUT nominated for four Oscars! Here’s why this is good…

“GET OUT” has been nominated for four Oscars: best actor, best director, best screenplay, and best film.    And as a superb example of a film that is both technically fine and a genuine expression of human concerns, disguised as a “mere” genre film I am ecstatic.  A movie like this succeeding allows us to dive DEEP into how it happened, and extract lessons we can apply to other works, and life itself.  It is a valid contribution to the human conversation.



I believe we can have a peaceful, healthy society, loving relationships, and act with integrity and consciousness ourselves as individuals.  If you have failed in relationships or to reach your goals in the past, in all likelihood the problem rested in the same problems that devil our nation and the world. And one of these is communication.  Simple, honest, direct communication.  If this is an issue for you, it isn’t your fault. You were not taught how to communicate directly, or to believe that you are beautiful enough that direct communication was desirable.  Better to project an illusion.  When those illusions crash against each other, disaster follows.


There is an entire world of people who will encourage you to remain a sleeping child, to believe that somehow lies are better than truth, that others can read your mind, or that you can read theirs.    Ask yourself: has this been working for you?


If the answer is “no”, for goodness sake draw a line in the sand and commit to a better, healthier way.  We developed language for a reason.  Yes, people can sign a 100-page contract and still cheat you. But we have contracts for a reason: they reduce HONEST  misunderstanding. And all human cultures seem to consider that a good thing.  Not perfect…but good.


This is how art can contribute to this.



Let’s look at another film.  SPOILERS lie ahead for the film “Arrival.”  Our point is to relate our two major axis: The Hero’s Journey and The Chakras, to see what they suggest about consioussness and creativity.


In this sense, the “Hero” goes on a journey to heal a wound in the “Chakras”: a threat to safety or comfort, a sexual need, a desire for power, an emotional yearning, an urge to learn and understand, or a wish to connect with spirit. I don’t think you can name a movie that doesn’t connect to one of these, and I doubt you can  point to an action you’ve ever taken that didn’t as well.


In “Arrival” you have a woman who is asked to aid in communication with aliens (survival and communication and intellect…and ultimately emotion and sexuality).  She struggles, hits wall after wall, finally has a breakthrough and begins to see the light, achieves communication and literally transforms into a new kind of human being in the process.      It is a “strong” version of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, and one of the best combinations of brains and heart of any SF movie  I’ve ever seen.




I remember a guy  who wanted love, and friendship, but was hammered by his relationships:  he gave and gave, and didn’t “get” in return.  Was devastated by miscues in relationships,  women who weren’t interested when he thought they were, or weren’t interested when  he was.


Heartbroken for the umpteenth time,  he came to me as a coaching client and said:    “I’m too empathetic.  I didn’t understand that others aren’t like that.”


Does the internal contradiction in this comment leap out at you?  Empathy means “to understand the emotions of others.”


How exactly does “I was too good at understanding other people to understand them”  parse?    Excuse me?


Doesn’t this REALLY mean: “I wasn’t as good at understanding other people as I thought I was.  I hallucinated that I understood them, when what I really did was projected my own fantasies upon them…and then was disappointed or hurt when they didn’t act according to my fantasies.”


In other words, when people don’t react according to your expectations, it is a call to WAKE THE @#$$ UP!




I had a girlfriend once who complained at me:  “I know what you want. Why don’t you know what I want?”  And yet, the tragedy was that she BELIEVED she knew what I wanted…but she didn’t.


She didn’t clearly speak her needs: she expected me to intuit them.  She ignored my directly spoken requests.  She thought she knew me better than I knew myself.  She didn’t, and it led directly to our breakup. She wouldn’t believe the things I told her POINT BLANK, because she thought she understood me.


This is a hold-over from infancy, when we communicated our needs and desires non-verbally (we didn’t have language).  And we search the rest of our live for this. When we find someone who can do it, we’ve found a best friend or a soul mate. How common is this? One out of a thousand?


Then for the other 99.9%?   You’d better communicate DIRECTLY AND CLEARLY.  Because if you can’t read their mind, you have no right to expect them to read yours. And if they ever surprise you?  You weren’t ‘reading their mind.  Wake up, will you?


I was fighting for my heart: it would have been easy to fall in love with her, get into a long-term relationship, even have children. And then down the road, this failure of her “theory of mind” would destroy the relationship. So…I set up what I call a “tripwire.”  It isn’t my proudest moment, but I did it.   I KNEW that she wouldn’t pay any attention to what I said. That she was lost in her own theory of who we were as a couple.   So I told her point blank that if she couldn’t do a specific thing she had agreed to do, she would have to leave.    Made sure she understood it.


Then, feeling like a bastard, I sat back and watched her ignore me.   She was SURE that I wasn’t serious.  And I was. And when the time limit was up, I asked her to leave.  She couldn’t believe it.   Sigh.  As I’d known would happen.


Yeah, I did that.  I had to. Like I said, I was fighting for my heart.




When we are babies, infants, our mommies and daddies supply us with our needs without verbal cues.  I think we spend the rest of our lives seeking this.  But is it realistic? The need for a “Morning Ritual” suggests that we can’t even communicate with OURSELVES efficiently without a crap-ton of work.    If you aren’t communicating with yourself, why the @#$$ do you expect others to understand what you want without clear, unmistakable communication.  And if you THOUGHT your communication was clear, and it wasn’t, doesn’t that imply that YOUR capacity to read intentions is flawed?  On what basis do you then say (in essence) : “I don’t know what the hell you expected, but if you can’t intuit what I want, you are EVIL.”


I was lost when we moved to Atlanta.I didn’t know who I was, because I was off the “map” of my life plans.  My anger, fear, pain, ambition, love, and hope were all scrambled.  As if my body, heart and head were not communicating.   The “Morning Ritual” forces them to develop a common language: motion, focus, language, emotion all operating together.   The Universal Translator of the internal experience, and as soon as I integrated it into my daily activities, life changed.  The different “aspects” of my personality suddenly understood each other. All my dogs were pulling the sled in the same direction, even if for only a few minute.  I had found “true north” and could measure everything else I did, all day, in terms of: am I making efficient and effective use of my resources?  Are we agreed on what to do and where we’re going?


It saved my life.  Maybe my marriage.  Certainly helped my sanity.




Children pay no attention to what you say, if it doesn’t match what you do.   Even if you ARE congruent, they may ignore you. But the very best you can expect is that they MIGHT do what you do if you are consistent.


Adults are obligated to move beyond assumptions to explicit language.   As I said, If you find someone who can guess what you mean without this, you have found a potential best friend, or Soul Mate.  All others…you’d better express yourself clearly, and be CERTAIN they understand.   Legal contracts can have pages of text precisely because, even between honest people, intentions and world views create misunderstanding.


Speak the same language, and you see the same world.   Fail to clarify that language, and you risk talking across each other.  And that is the road to serious, SERIOUS,  problems.


One of the reasons that art is so important is that it expresses a human experience.  The “craft” of art is the “language” that communicates what you are feeling.  The person on the other side, given a sufficient level of craft, will feel that communication. They may or may not find the message appealing.  Or…they may ignore it, or refuse to believe it if it contradicts what they presently believe.


For instance, “GET OUT” became a phenomenon because Jordan Peele spoke about race more honestly than anyone had done in a very long time.  Perhaps EVER in a genre film.  The miscommunications, the fears, the yearning, the pain and horror of the lies and ugly myths we have been programmed with about each other.  Both black AND white people have cheered it, at least partially because it has triggered conversations we’ve never had in America on this level.


Can we trust each other?  What will it take to move past the pain?  What will it cost us to open our hearts?


I remember reading numerous criticisms of it, saying it was unrealistic about race relations in America. Really?  The meaning of a communication is the reaction you get.  If millions of people say: “ah! I’ve experienced that!” THEN THE COMMUNICATION WAS VALID. You can say “I don’t think things are that bad” but you would be smarter to say “I didn’t know so many people thought things were that bad.”


We can go more deeply in to the implications of that another time (if you are aware of the negative statistics, but don’t think things are that bad, precisely how do you explain the statistics?    You’re gonna lean toward either nature or nurture.  Never met anyone really balanced between them.   Seriously), but here is the truth: if you have an assumption about what people feel, and they report to you that they feel differently, the problem is in your assumption.   You can say “I don’t think people SHOULD feel like that” and that is precisely like someone telling you that you don’t have the right to YOUR feelings.  If you like that, do it.  If you don’t like that, don’t.  It might be valid to say: “wow. How are you seeing things to react in that way?”  And you might even see that their emotions and perceptions are scrambled. But if you try to say “you shouldn’t’ feel that way” you are missing the fact that if you saw things as they did…you’d feel that way, too.



But if you aren’t testing your assumptions against results, you are not being adult and awake.   If you are, you notice how easy it is for us to misunderstand EVEN IF WE SPEAK BLUNTLY.  And if you’re smart, you get the potential for honest miscommunication out of the system, so that what remains is actual villainy.  If YOU communicate directly, you won’ t have difficulty attracting others who do.  If you can’t…you don’t.


And if you blame the world for what you yourself cannot offer, you are going to be very, very disappointed by life.







Be the hero of your story…or a victim in someone else’s

If we speak of myths, invariably there is a “hero” of the story.  It therefore becomes useful to consciously deconstruct that concept, so that we can create stories more efficiently, and also so that we can extract the value, the critical emotional and conceptual nutrients.



What is the most consistent pattern I’ve seen among successful people in ANY field?

  1. They know what they want. And they define it in POSITIVE terms.  Not “I don’t want to be poor” but “I  earn 100k a year”  (Note that they don’t say “I want to earn”.  That’s nice, but irrelevant. The point is to actually visualize, mentalize, emotionalize the desired state.  To see yourself possessing it, not “wanting” to possess it.
  2. They have the emotional power to go after it.   They may be scared, but they either have positive motivations that outweigh the fear, or they have found a way for the fear to empower them.  “Put your fear behind you, your love in front of you, and run like hell” is part of this notion.   They ruthlessly stack their motivations, manipulate their perceptions and even memories until they have a roaring fire of reasons to accomplish their chosen goals.  I don’t believe in lazy people.  Never met one.  I’ve met people who don’t have clear goals, or don’t believe their efforts will bring them a positive result that outweighs the pain.  Not one.   EVERY time a human being knows what to do to bring happiness, and believes their efforts will take them away from pain, they do it. Every time.
  3. They have a strategy to optimize their efforts.   Often, they learned this strategy from a mentor or role model–modeling is one of the very smartest things you can do.   Find people who have accomplished goals as close to your goal as possible, starting from as close to where you started as possible.   Examine their beliefs, values, actions, emotions.   By the time you’ve studied three of them, you’ll start seeing patterns. If their patterns are different from yours, CHANGE. And the more people you look at, the more these basic patterns will clarify. Unless you grew up in a home where people joyfully accomplished the goal you seek, there is a very real possibility that you have absorbed negative patterns you will have to break to reach your bliss.  Worse, you might have these patterns integrated as beliefs, core world-views, even part of your identity.


Highly politicized people are like this.  They HAVE to believe the world is this or that.  The same with the “sleeping”.  They HAVE to believe it isn’t possible for them to change.  Because if they did, they’d have to take actions that the believe will cause pain.   They may have to leave a tribe they have found, and human beings are powerfully tribal.  They may lose a core sense of who they are.


And this can be SO poisonous.    ANY identity is better than none.  You may think you are ugly, stupid, and worthless.  But by God, at least you know who you are.  Half-way to embracing a notion of beauty and power, you are at the “zero” point, floating in nothingness, no idea who you are.  You’ve destroyed the old identity, but haven’t yet clarified the new.  That can be TERRIFYING.


This is why you should start by loving yourself.  ANYTHING that stands between you and loving yourself needs to be removed. It is bullshit that got shoved down your throat somewhere along the path.   You were given that poison when you were too young to chew it up and spit it out.   This is so very sad to watch, but the joy is that it is never too late to reject it, and if you live in the moment the “wasted”time is irrelevant.


So start there

  1. What do you want?  To have a deep, unyielding sense of your own connection the universe, to God, to the source of love.  Whatever and however you conceive of that connection that works for you.
  2. Why do you want it? Because the purpose of life is happiness, to live in alignment with your heart and deepest values. Then to expand out to give to family and community. To joyfully accomplish your goals–not “accomplish my goals so that I can be happy.”   To give that same light and fire to the people you love, to show other wounded people that there is a way out of the darkness. To dance through life and enjoy the days we are given, while we have them to live.
  3. How do we do it?  There are countless strategies.  I teach The Ancient Child, Heartbeat Meditation, and The Morning Ritual, but every culture and tradition has methods.  Find someone joyful and find out what they do.  I promise: if you have the resources to read these words, there are people who started with less than you who have done more.  100% promise.  And they leave traces, footprints, wisdom, knowledge, opinions, life stories from which you can extract their mental syntax, use of physiology and belief systems and emotions.


It’s your life.   Own it! Be the hero of your own story…or a victim in someone else’s.  The choice is yours.






Creativity, and bringing down Stringer Bell


Remember “The Wire”?  The entire focus was to bring down drug kingpin Stringer Bell.  He was too well protected for the police to tackle, so for a time he seemed untouchable. Then they decided to create a special team.  This team took all the information they had, put each piece onto a separate card, and posted them up on a board.


Then, a week at a time, they drew connections between people, places, actions.  And when they did…patterns began to emerge and even if they were defeated week after week, we could feel the noose inevitably tightening.  We’ve seen this process before. We know how it works.


And ultimately…it did.


We’ve seen this in cop shows countless times, a pattern of taking what is known, clarifying your end result, and then drawing the connections until you have a pattern you can use to achieve your goal.


This is what we want in our writing.  When the unconscious process works perfectly, you just wake up with a fully  formed idea.  Sometimes people dream the ideas, so that they literally wake up and just have to write it down. But if you don’t have a blessed situation like this, you can follow this same pathway to success, imitate the way your brain works when it is operating at full efficiency. YES, there are “geniuses” who do this automatically. But if they don’t understand their process, if they have a breakdown they often don’t know how to get started again.  “Writer’s Block.”


  1. Write down everything you know about the project. Just dump it out.
  2. Everything that suggests a scene, even if you don’t know where it goes, should be put onto a separate 3×5 card.
  3. Put a rubber band around the stack of cards. Carry it with you. In spare moments sort through it.   Re-arrange.  See if different orders bring different feelings.
  4. Don’t worry about what you don’t know.  Focus on what you DO know.
  5. Continue to feed your unconscious stories and films.  Study structure so that you have a “sense” of the overall “circle of story”.  Seek to organize the cards into a pattern that “kinda sorta feels like a story.”
  6. Don’t worry about “nailing it”.  Just try different orders.  Add scene.  Throw scenes out.
  7. Just keep re-organizing.
  8. From time to time, take those cards and pin them to the wall in rows. Step back and look at them all at one time.  You can color-code for characters, themes, sub-plots. The point is to give your mind a simultaneous overview of the entire thing.
  9. From time to time, write a synopsis of the story based on your current “stack”.   No more than 1-3 pages long.  Read it out loud. Read it to a friend. Watch their face as you do.  Ask them what they FEEL about it.


What you’re doing is allowing your mind to form patterns, to wiggle the information around in different ways without pressure.  As you do, as you use index cards, post-it notes, outlining programs, synopsis, mind maps or anything else, you are looking at the same story notion from different positions, deliberately shifting from THIS to THAT to THE OTHER until you find things that make sense. I seek a sense of “music”, as if I am composing.  Looking for an arc of emotion.   FEELING my way through the mass of thoughts and scenes.


And…if you continually focus on the Hero’s Journey, you’ll find that stack of cards organizing more and more elegantly, until one day you look at it and BANG!




It’s a story.  And that is one of the greatest feelings in the world.







Creativity can be easy, and fun.   What we’re doing in Afrofuturism and THE SUNKEN PLACE is feeding your conscious mind patterns so that your unconscious has a foundation to stand on.  If you are a fan, you will deepen your appreciation of the brilliance of your favorite art. If a teacher, you will understand how to help your students as never before. And if you are a creator…you have just hit the mother load.




The Escrow Caper

Here’s a view of my process, regarding the new story: “The Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Escrow Caper. (As transcribed by Steven Barnes)”
1) First I started with a social issue I wanted to comment on (I was specifically asked to write an “if this goes on” story)
2) Then I roughed out, on index cards, a potential story.
3) Then I created a 1-3 page outline of the story.
4) Then I transferred that outline to Writer Duet.
5) I broke it down and expanded it in script form, five pages a day until I had a 35 page script that, in rough form, felt “right.”
6) Then I transferred that script to Google Docs to turn script to prose. Again, five pages a day.
7) Transferred that file to Microsoft Word for formatting and polishing.
Somewhere in the process, I gave Tananarive a link to the document. She reads and comments. I also talked through a critical and delicate aspect of the story: I want to be responsible and considerate about an issue that is…touchy.
And she is finishing her notes now. I think I’ll finish the story today and get it to the editor for comments. Note that this is so broken down that at no point do I feel stress or confusion. It’s just “what needs to be done today?”
I love that feeling.

A Spoonful of Sugar

“In every job that’s to be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun and SNAP! The job’s a game!”–M. Poppins.

Mary Poppins – A Spoonful Of Sugar (from “Mary Poppins”)

The most successful people in the world consider their work to be a game.



I love fantasy and SF films, and movies in general.    Storytelling. I consider it “meat and potatoes” of human society, not “frosting.”    I believe that artists should remember that they are BLESSED to be able to “play” to make their living, that their fans, readers, viewers need something back for the money and time they spend.  That if you remember that EVERY healthy person thinks the fruit of their hearts is precious, and you have an obligation to seek constantly to increase your value and communicate that value to the right audience, you have the best chance to make a living.


What are some of the values that you can provide?

  1. Your honest perspective on life.  That’s a precious one, and where you should begin. What do you actually believe is “true” from your own experience? What do you feel, think, what motivates you?  All of these help people answer the question “who am I?”
  2. Your honest perspective on other human beings.   Mine is that we are all basically the same.  If you believe otherwise, then have the courage to say it clearly.  There are enough people who will agree to support you, if you are honest and clear.  Don’t hide it–that is cowardly.    What do you think of love, and fear, and hate, and hope?
  3. If you have solved a problem in your life, you can easily create a story in which someone has the same challenge, and your solution helps them out of the maze.


Back to Mary Poppins.  So…the idea is that children must learn discipline and focused thought/action to become adults.  Without this, life becomes chaos. When adults don’t accept adult responsibility, the REAL children are not safe.  Adults, on the other hand, must not lose touch with their childhood enthusiasms, or life becomes a drain and a drudge.



So…children must learn discipline, and adults must remember play.  For children, the road is usually to wish to please their parents (and later their teachers).   Cleaning, obeying, courtesy, and homework teach the basic lessons that lead to the adult world. And as the first jobs available after school are usually minimum-wage jobs, you have to ask how you “climb the ladder” to jobs with greater fulfillment, more options, greater rewards.


Generally, it is by looking at the boss, learning his job, learning to see the company from his position. You strive to be MORE valuable than your current salary, and to learn ways of PROVING this to your boss.  Generally, if he BELIEVES that you make his life easier, and that you can leave to go elsewhere, he will WANT to keep you for his own reasons, and that leads to greater opportunity and reward.


You know what doesn’t work?  “I need more money.”   Yeah, you and everyone else.  What DOES work?  “You are cheating yourself if you don’t keep me. Here’s why.”  Now you are appealing to their selfishness. And that ALWAYS works.


How do you do this?  How do you perform a meaningless drudgery for enough time to become excellent?


  1. You must learn a way to become ENTHUSIASTIC about your job.  If not because you actually like the job, then because it can LEAD to a job you want, or because it will enable you to pay your bills to support people you love, or enable hobbies and enthusiasms.   Ever been out of work? Were you happy the day you got a job?  You can learn to recall that happiness, bring it into day after day.  Focus brings results.
  2. You must learn to COMMUNICATE the value you bring to the job.   Every human being is motivated by the urge to avoid pain and gain pleasure.  Show them how YOU decrease the pain in their lives, and if they believe you…if they believe that they will experience more pleasure by keeping than losing you, you are in great shape.  “Blowing your own horn” is kinda critical here.
  3. Enthusiasm leads to focused time. Focused time, if you are modeling excellence, leads to excellence. Communicating that excellence leads to reward.


So…teaching children to focus their enthusiasm even into things they don’t want is one of the primary jobs of parenthood.But REMEMBERING enthusiasm is the key to maintaining aliveness as an adult.


WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

HOW will you do it?


The “what” is to develop excellence while having fun.

The “why” is a combination of joy, contribution, security, freedom, reward.  Moving toward the jobs that have greater self expression. Working “for the paycheck” is dreadful unless the paycheck is clearly seen to provide for people or dreams you love.

The “how” is modeling excellence, communicating value to those who can reward you, having the confidence that you have been developing unique skills, and the ability to trigger positive emotions on demand.


If you can see that, then you can see that this little scene in Mary Poppins, filled with light and song and joy, is actually an important life lesson, told with artistry and technical magic, a complex moment expressed simply, and one of the reasons the film is a classic.






Our first SUNKEN PLACE class is in the can!

“The Class is Phenomenal!”–Lacroix Scott


We’re just starting to get the feedback from our SUNKEN PLACE class.  This is so wonderfully fulfilling.  Once you build the business structure, you can put 100% of your emphasis on SERVING THE STUDENTS.  Giving them everything you can, in a format that is both educational and entertaining.


We believe art is a critical human activity, the science of heart-to-heart communication. That drama allows us to both express ourselves and open minds.    This isn’t “just” about horror, although we certainly deal with the nature of it. Or “just” about race, although race has been a generational nightmare for millions of children of the Diaspora.   It is about what we are as human beings, the way we make sense of the world, and what we can do as individuals to create that shared future.


If you are a fan, a teacher, or a creator of dark fantasy (pun deliberate)–join us on an amazing journey.   Www.sunkenplaceclass.com

The Yang to Afrofuturism’s Yin

I still remember the first I ever heard of “Night of the Living Dead”. It was a Reader’s Digest article, and boy oh boy, it made the movie sound like the fall of Western Civilization. I HAD to see it.   Watched it for the first time at a  midnight show at the Wiltern Theater on Wilshire and Western, and I can tell you that within fifteen minutes after the lights went down, I was looking for the exits, planning which one I’d scamper out of if the people around me lurched up and started munching brains.


I was TERRIFIED.   And…I loved it.  Why?




We define “Horror” as a work whose primary emotional charge is that of fear.  It can be psychological (Psycho), science-fictional (Alien), or supernatural (The Exorcist).  Why do we like it? To answer this, we have to go deeper into the question of why people seek out art in the first place.


If “art” is self expression with craft, then the point is to project an attitude, experience, perspective, emotion onto an audience.  The audience will choose the kind of experience they want based upon what they need to adjust their tensions into an optimal range.   If tense, they might look for something to relax them (comedy) or something that will focus their  tension to take them higher and higher until a circuit breaker “pops” and they are back in relaxation.


Horror can be such a “circuit breaker.”   You have vague, intangible tensions in your  life, you go watch Leatherface hack up some teenagers, scream at the screen while munching popcorn, and for ninety minutes forget all about the mortgage.  The roller coaster ride: trigger those survival drives, and you are NOT thinking about how the boss is firing people, for at least those two minutes.


There are so many themes that can be addressed in horror, that there is a LOT of scholarly writing about how this or that movie deals with this or that social fear.  That would make sense, that different fears at different times are foremost in our minds, and movies that help us gain perspective will get folks lining up at the box office.  As individuals we need to adjust that tension into the optimal range: too much and we wither. Too little, and we never grow strong.


What would be a perfect horror film to address the current tensions between men and women?  Haute Tension?   Ms. 45? Teeth?  Sleeping With The Enemy?   I don’t know…but there’ve been a bunch of ’em.


What about racial tensions?   I think that this is much less explored, and GET OUT hit the bull’s eye for so many people that its become the most profitable independent film maybe ever.   Amazing, really.


What I suggest is that if you want to write or create horror, go DEEP into your own personal terrors. Find a nugget you haven’t seen before (at least in that medium, in that way) and have something to say.  What do YOU think and feel about this. Is there an answer (in the Exorcist, the answer to an apparently unsolvable riddle was faith and sacrifice) or are we lost?  What do YOU really think?


Then…you can either present us with what you really think, or you can have fun playing with the social tropes around it.  Notice the fantasy (the white virginal female of breeding age generally survives) and violate it.   Do this well enough and you have a horror-comedy like “Cabin in the Woods” or “Scream”.   That kind of hipster meta-movie is hard to pull off it you aren’t first to the game. Better to realize that “Scream” rested on a foundation of “Last House On The Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes”, straight-forward, ferocious, uncompromising horror deconstructing the sanctity of family, the most basic human social unity.  Wes Craven mastered THAT before attempting deconstruction.


Just as we suggest that writers begin with short stories and master those before moving to larger works, it is also smart to start with “basic” work before trying something more sophisticated.    If you are interested in expressing a social perspective (and most art does) understanding how others have done it will both help you avoid cliché and empower your imagination: imagination is primarily re-combining existing elements into forms we’ve not seen quite THAT way. All you have to do is connect them with your internal aesthetic, and you will be about as original as you can be.  Add a serious education in the tropes of your field, and you have a recipe for success.


The SUNKEN PLACE class is for fans, teachers, and creators of the dark fantasy and horror of the African Diaspora.  We can’t wait to share with you (heck, I haven’t gone through T’s class, so some of it will be a surprise to me!)  We’ll be discovering a century of amazing nightmares together.  It is the Yang to Afrofuturism’s Yin.  Afrofuturism is Dreams to banish nightmares.   The SUNKEN PLACE is Nightmares to enable our dreams.


We start this Saturday, and we’d love to have you!   WWW.SUNKENPLACECLASS.COM

Don’t Trigger a Feeding Frenzy


I’m never offended if people ask me to perform or present for free.   I have this thing called a “no” and another thing called a “counter proposal.”   Its not up to an organization to protect me.  It’s up to the Adult part of my personality, the “Daddy” to protect Little Stevie, who really does just want to get up there and shine and have fun.


Don’t develop that part?  And you  fall into the “it’s not faiiiiir!”


What is that expression?  “In business, you don’t get what you’re worth.  You get what you can negotiate.”


How about in sales?  “You aren’t in the business of X. You are in the business of MARKETING X.”


How about relationships?  “You will be attracted to people at your level and above. You will attract people at your level and below.”  If your “adult” self is developed, this is like hearing: “I won’t carry you out of the woods, but the path is right there.”   Waah! Carry me!!


Nope.  Every chipmunk in the woods knows no one is coming to save them.  Why do we so often feel it is “unfair” when people do a very typical animal thing:


If you leave a pork chop on the floor, and the dog eats it, it isn’t the dog’s fault.  It is the nature of dogs to eat pork chops that are on the floor.



Of COURSE people will try to get all they can for as little as possible. Nothing, if they can.  I remember talking about “Trust” with Swift Deer after someone had hurt me in a business deal.  “Don’t trust people” he said, that cynical bastard.   “Instead, RELY upon them to do what they see as being in their own self interest.”


Wow, is that ever negative…or is it?    What does that mean?  It means that YOU CAN TRUST OTHER PEOPLE TO THE EXACT LEVEL THAT YOU CAN TRUST YOUR OWN PERCEPTIONS.  Your own ability to figure out what they see as “their own interests.”


How to do that? First, get in touch with YOUR own motivations.  Do you, for instance, ask other people to be your Mommy or Daddy?


Remember that student of mine who was furious at his girlfriend for talking about her past lovers?   Why was he angry? (Come on, you should know this by now)…HE WAS AFRAID.  What was he afraid of?


“Mommy” wasn’t just giving her love to him.  What she gave him wasn’t “special” snurf snurf.  She gave it to OTHER boys snurf snurf.   Poor baby.


Boy oh boy, am I glad for her that she was smart enough to bring up her past again and again.  Otherwise, she might have fallen in love with him, and known, in her heart, that one day he would be angry and rub her nose in her past, and rip her heart out of her chest.


Why don’t we take adult responsibility for our emotions?   (“I provide everything I need emotionally.   My relationships with others are about what I want, and what I can give.”)


Why not take adult responsibility in business?  (“yes, my little boy loves to dance and make mommy and daddy laugh and clap. But I have to be `mommy and daddy’ now.   I have to be willing to market, sell, negotiate, and protect.  Because otherwise when I deal with adults who AREN’T Mommy and Daddy, they will eat that emotional pork chop I left on the floor.  LOVE ME! I will say.  “Sure,” they will answer.  Come dance for hugs.”


You want money?  Money is the adult world.   Better the hell be an adult, or your “kid” will be very unhappy.


If you go to someone, or the world, and say “be my Mommy or Daddy” what are you doing?  You are denying responsibility for your own maturity.  It is NOT their responsibility to do this. It is YOUR responsibility to do it. If you don’t have those chops, you had better the hell have a manager, an agent, a lawyer, a “minder”, a marketing and sales section to surround that little kid’s heart and protect it.


But when you demand that…they ain’t gonna do it for hugs.   You are demanding that they be adults, they deal with the adult world.  They are gonna want money, oh yes they will.


Now, if they are honest, they won’t take more than you negotiate. But THEY have a little boy, little girl to care for, too.  And they are going to negotiate the biggest contract they can, and you’ll be left with nothing if you can’t get “adult” about it.


What are the healthiest relationships?  Frankly, it is between two adults who ARE adults, but also in touch with their child selves.  Then their “kids” can play, but each “adult” is ultimately responsible for their own heart.  But even better, (say between me and T) sometimes my “child” is wounded and I just can’t quite manage to provide myself all the nurturing I need.  I’ve got a LOT in the ‘bank’ with her,and I can borrow her “Mommy” to comfort me. Feels wonderful.


But I have to be there as “Daddy” for  her little girl. And gladly do.   Wonderful little girl she has, and sometimes she is playful, and sometimes she is wounded and lonely.  She could re-integrate and heal on her own…but she knows she can come to me, and I will comfort her.


What would happen if I stopped comforting her?   It would be like a mouse searching for cheese in a maze.   If there is cheese there for a few days, and then you take the cheese away, the mouse will keep searching for a while…and then stop.   In a relationship, if things go bad, we’ll keep searching for the “cheese” for a while…and then if we are healthy, we stop.


And you know what?  If you aren’t honest enough to grasp that you were trying to get your partner, or business partner, or world, to carry the burden of being the “adult” without being willing to see that THEY want what’s best for THEM as well…if you try to manipulate them, guilt trip them, or tell them that they “owe” you anything other than honesty and perhaps kindness…you are being a child.  And the “adults” around you will sniff that. And you will bring out the very worst in even “normal” people.  The same instinct to burden them with responsibility for you will trigger their own tendency to seek unfair advantage.


And they you have a feeding frenzy.  Blood in the water.  Remember that line from “Broadcast News”?  “Wouldn’t it be great is `needy’ were a turn-on?”


It isn’t, except in other wounded people…or sharks.


Be your own parent. THEN I’ll let you play with my little boy.