Eurabia is Writers on the Storm Competition Semifinalist

My screenplay Eurabia is a Semi-Finalist in the Writers On The Storm Screenplay Competition. Out of more than 1300 scripts submitted, Eurabia finished in the the top 50 screenplays out of more than 1300 screenplays submitted. My screenplay Eurabia is set in the near future. In this dystopian story, America has lost the war on terror and Europe is controlled by radical Islam. However, the CIA has a secret plan to change the course of history… While I didn’t win the competition, it was great to get the recognition. Another nice and useful thing about this competition is the “coverage” I received for Eurabia.  Coverage basically is notes from a professional script reader on your screenplay, what works, what doesn’t, and what could be improved. I thought the coverage I received was really useful. It included ratings on structure, dialog, originality, premise, execution and even the title of my script.  Additionally, it included a couple of narrative sections that, while brief, offered concrete suggestions on how I could improve Eurabia.  Here’s what the anonymous reader wrote about Eurabia under Strengths/Weaknesses:

Really a great concept that is well-executed. The first part of the second act lacks tension, but otherwise the script is tight.

Second acts, in films and in life, are really tough. A second act is halfway through a movie when things start to drag or they introduce some wacky twist and you start to wonder about the film. It’s a fair criticism of Eurabia. When I wrote the script, I knew the beginning and I knew the end but the middle parts were a bit hazy. In parts of it, I was definitely feeling my way along, trying to figure out what was going to happen. Second act weakness is a common problem for scripts. I’ve revised Eurabia several times already. I can see the problem in the second act but am not sure how to fix it yet. The detail about “lacking tension” was helpful criticism because it highlighted what needs to be fixed. And here were their Reader Suggestions:

Consider upping the threat that he faces with releasing this ‘weapon’. Because he knows exactly where and when, the tension lessens. Possibly making the release a little less predictable might add some tense moments. May not be right for your script, but something to think about or play with. This is somewhat nit-picking, but this script is so close.

This is a note referring to the end of the script and a choice the main character has. It’s another good suggestion. Eurabia goes along in a very linear manner to a confrontation that’s talked about earlier in the script. Everyone can see it coming. Maybe it would be better to derail the train before it gets to the station. It’s an interesting idea. Overall, I was really pleased with the Writers On The Storm Screenplay Competition. The contest was administered professionally, the coverage was useful and the overall experience was a positive one. I’ve been on the other side of the table, as a judge for the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition, so I know how difficult it can be to plow through massive quantities of scripts of varying quality and still provide serious coverage of a script. With more than 1300 scripts, Writers on the Storm has done herculean work.

Check out the Eurabia Coverage (PDF) from Writers on the Storm.

Taking Time Off to Write

I’ve not been blogging much because I’ve been busy wrapping up my job. It’s been a great three years working on Ocean Explorer but I’m ready to do something new. My last day at NOAA will be October 15.

While I love working on web sites, I have another passion – writing. I’ve written a couple of short films, won the Film DC Screenplay Competition a couple years ago, and, most recently, was the screenplay competition manager for the DC Shorts Film Festival (crazy fun). I’ve also written articles and short stories. It’s time for me to pursue that part of my life for a while.  I’m going to take off about 3-4 months to write. I’ve been working on a novel for the past couple years and it’s something that I want to finish.

The novel that I’m working on is a dark comedy about DC, set during the summer before 9/11. I’m about halfway done with it and need large blocks of uninterrupted time during the middle of the day to finish it. 

I’ll be busy with other projects, too. You may find me at a Caribou sipping cappuccino but I’ll be working, trust me. I plan on really learning WordPress and updating this blog. I’m going to look for other writing opportunities, perhaps on other blogs or in print. I’m also going to market my screenplays and short stories.

And I have another idea for a book, as well. It just occurred to me as I was telling people at work that I was leaving. NOAA was involved in the production of the new Ocean Hall exhibit at The Smithsonian. Many of the people I worked with were part of this project so I joked with them that my book would be a mystery called, “Murder in Ocean Hall.” This idea started as a laugh but, the more I thought about it, the better this idea sounded. It would be fun to write and my non-reading friends might even pick up a mystery set at the Smithsonian. So, I might be working on this instead of my serious, “literary” novel.

This “writing sabbatical” will be an exciting adventure for me. Yes, to me, spending several months in front of a computer will be an exciting adventure… what could be more fun than having time to create? Wish me luck!


Eurabia is Writers on the Storm Quarterfinalist

I learned recently that my screenplay Eurabia is a Quarterfinalist in the Writers On The Storm Screenplay Competition. Out of more than 1300 scripts submitted, Eurabia finished in the top 10%. This competition was sponsored by Coverage, Ink., one of the premier script analysis services in the industry and the leader in low-cost, high-quality screenplay analysis. It was founded in 2002 by screenwriter and Creative Screenwriting magazine columnist Jim Cirile.

My screenplay Eurabia is set in the near future. In this dystopian story, America has lost the war on terror and Europe is controlled by radical Islam. However, the CIA has a secret plan to change the course of history…

Read the first ten pages online.

Reading Novels is Good for You


Is reading online actually reading? An article in the New York Times recently addressed that very subject, profiling the reading habits of teenagers and their parents. Many educators are concerned that kids would rather read off a glowing screen than dead trees. What kind of effect is this having on the ability to concentrate and absorb information? Even some adults are wondering if Google making us stupid.

The truth is that the generation that grew up with the internet has different information processing and communication skills and preferences. They are digital natives who are hunters and gathers of information from multiple sources, technologically adept creatures who then want to mix and remix what they’ve discovered into their own stories. Rather than being engrossed in the linear narrative of a dead author, they want to collaborate with their peers on fluid, hypertextual adventures, such as fan fiction.

Yet, let me rise to the defense of the novel. And not just because it’s an important art form that needs to be preserved. Novels teach essential skills, such as concentration, careful reading (not skimming web pages) and the ability to frame and express a story. These are vital for everyone, whether you’re a college student writing a paper or an executive making a presentation. The New York Times article has a great example on the importance of reading novels:

Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income, mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.

So here’s to the novel! Not only is reading Hemingway, Faulker or Fitzgerald a good way to spend an afternoon, it will also make you smarter.

Does the Novel Really Need Improvement?

Interesting story on ReadWriteWeb on an online novel in a new publishing format called “Quillr.”  The book is a supernatural thriller called Here Ends the Beginning.  The book is basically a mashup of text, video, photos and music.  How is this different than HTML? Do we need another format on the web to tell a story?

I think a blog, which is mostly just text, would make a much better novel. Blogs are also written in the first-person and are often very personal. You could read post by post as if they were chapters. I’m sure someone has done this before.

I’m a writer and a web person.  I love words, whether they’re on a printed page or a glowing screen. However, reading a novel is really an intimate experience that you create yourself, one that requires focused attention to enjoy. A web site with all sorts of bells and whistles detracts from that experience. I’m all in favor of the web but there’s a reason why novels have been with us for hundreds of years – it’s a format that works.

The Three Things Writers Need

I spent a beautiful spring afternoon at the Conversations and Connections conference held April 5 in Washington, DC.  This was a writer’s conference featuring “experts in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, writing for children, making connections, using the web, marketing, and everything in between.”  

But the highlight for me was the keynote by Mary Gaitskill, author of Two Girls, Fat and Thin and the short story which was the basis of the movie Secretary.  In her inspiring talk, she recounted her long and painful struggle for literary success.  Here are the three things she believes writers need:

  1. Comfort with Solitude.  You can go to conferences, join groups, talk to people online.  But, in the end, being a writer means spending time alone in front of a screen.  A lot of time.  When other people are enjoying group pursuits in the sunny outdoors, you’ll be pounding away on a keyboard.  You better like your own company.
  2. Persistence.  Success came late for Gaitskill.  She kept at it over the years, in the face of anonymous rejection letters from literary journals.  Family and friends pitied her and told her that she should pick a different career.  But she didn’t give up because being a writer was the only thing she wanted to do with her life.
  3. Courage.  Gaitskill’s fiction is unique and disturbing, exploring ideas and situations that can really bother people.  In addition to dealing with rejection letters, Gaitskill had to cope with venomous reactions from agents and others who took a visceral dislike to her work.  What’s great about Gaitskill is that she didn’t change her voice, that she kept her singular perspective despite the occasionally hostile reaction it engendered.

Steal Something of Mine?

Steal Something of Mine?
My bike was stolen. I knew I would see it again.
The Washington Post, June 27, 2002
(c) Joe Flood

I knew that I would one day see my bike again. I just knew it. My old Bianchi Broadway had been stolen off the back stairs of my building. I couldn’t believe that someone had gone to the trouble. The mountain bike was five years old, with worn tires, a temperamental chain, and a skein of rust on its exposed parts. To take it, my thief had to go up two flights of winding metal stairs, break the U-lock, and then carry the bike back down.

Looking out that Sunday morning, at the empty spot along the rail where my bike should be, I was surprised. I shouldn’t have been. Kryptonite named Washington, DC as one of the “Top 10 Worst Cities for Bike Theft.” Nationwide, it is estimated that 1.5 million bicycles are stolen every year. An experienced thief can take your locked bike in about 10-20 seconds.

I just couldn’t believe that someone would steal something of mine. It hadn’t been an expensive bike, but it was the first bike I had ever owned. And my Bianchi had been with me everywhere. I had commuted on it up the long hill to American University. Ridden on it on pleasant weekend excursions along the C&O Canal. Coasted down the Mall by softball players and tourists. Why would someone steal something of mine? According to the National Bike Registry, the most common reason for bike theft is to pay for drugs. The value of a stolen bicycle is roughly 5-10% of the bicycle’s original retail value. Bikes are even used in lieu of currency in drug transactions.

But now my bike was gone. I don’t know why I bothered to report it. The police didn’t even come by to take my report; I filed it by phone. And stolen bikes are rarely recovered.

Yet, I knew I would one day see my bike again. For months afterward, whenever I saw a red mountain bike I would stop and squint at it, looking for identifying characteristics. No, the handlebars are too straight. No, the tires are too narrow. No, the bike looks too new.

One summer later, I found her. I was walking past a dusty park a couple blocks from my apartment, a little worn square of grass where men sit and drink. I looked over. Something that looked like my bike was leaning against a tree. I stepped into the park. The frame was covered with tacky stickers and duct tape. There was a big gash in the seat. It looked like the gearshifts had been broken off and the tires replaced. But it was my bike. I could tell by the rust.

The bike’s owner, a short Salvadoran walked over to me.

“This looks an awfully like my old bike,” I said.

“No, no, no. Es mine,” he said, pointing to his chest.

“I’m not saying you stole it, but this is my old bike,” I insisted.

We bantered in broken English and Spanish.

“I don’t want no trouble,” he said. He led me out of the park. “You follow, you follow,” he said, waving me on.

He got on the bike and rode out of the park, me walking behind him. I was waiting for him to take off and pedal away but he never did. My heart was pounding and I was shaky. Where was he taking me? He was careful not to get too far ahead of me, coasting down the sidewalk, looking back at me.

He turned down an empty alley. I followed. He reached a wooden door in a fence and pushed it open. He waved at me to come in. Me and the new owner of my bike squeezed into a narrow passage between a wall and a garage. The door shut.

He went to go get someone. I waited in a small courtyard. A man, his neighbor, approached. When he got closer, I saw that he had a Spanish-English dictionary in his hands.

I explained that this was my bike.

The neighbor got the story out of the Salvadoran man. He and his friend had found it, among junk, along V Street. They had taken it home and fixed it up. They fixed up bikes they found in the area. The neighbor didn’t know where they got them from but that they weren’t thieves.

The Salvadoran got anxious during the explanation.

“Calm down! Tranquilo!” his interpreter said. “He wants you to know that he’s not a criminal.”

“No criminal, no criminal.” He paced in the little courtyard, looking up into my eyes.

I didn’t think that he was a criminal. He could have told me to get lost back at the park, or rode off when I was following him. He didn’t have to get his neighbor to try to clear up the situation.

He offered me the bike. I didn’t want it. The bike was ruined, and nothing like the bike which had taken me everywhere. I had bought another one a few months earlier. I told him that he could keep it, that I didn’t think that he was a criminal.

“No criminal,” the man said, happy.

“No criminal,” I replied.

“Problem solved,” the neighbor added, relaxing.

The neighbor asked me my name. Joe. His was Joseph. The Salvadoran’s was Jose.

“Hey, we all got the same name,” Joseph said, beaming. “Joe, Joseph, and Jose.”

“Joe, Joseph, and Jose,” Jose said, pointing at each of us in turn.

I squeezed the brakes on my bike one last time and left.