“Any Love (Cassandra Et Lune)” by Ken Stringfellow

Wow, I can’t believe I am already up to eight in my series “With Music.”   In each post I write about a time in my life, using a song that impacted me or reminds me of a moment.  The earlier seven entries included Ben Folds Five, Sheryl Crow, Beth Orton, Dean Martin, The Verve, Barenaked Ladies, and Tori Amos. This time I write about finding inspiration in Los Angeles.
Books

I am haunted by a song.

I sometimes hear it in my dreams, it is the one I might start humming when I am running an errand or absentmindedly finishing a chore. I’ve even been known to sing it to my children as they fall asleep.

This song has followed me for almost a decade and I believe it will be with me until I let one special book go.

I was sick of being a number.

There were a lot of students in the master’s program in writing at the University of Southern California and I felt like I always had to prove myself. Every class was the same, an introduction to the others in the room and then a slow stomp up the literary stairs to the top of the class. Maybe I would have had an easier time being in competitive classrooms like these if I went to a bigger college for my undergrad. Then I was a big fish in a small pond. I was the writer of the entire class of English majors. It may sound egotistic to say I ruled the school, but it felt like that as I went from writing workshop to workshop then.

But at USC it was different. It also didn’t help that I started the program in the middle of the year. Everything was settled by the students on their own personal rankings by then. You would see in the classrooms which students were worth listening to and which created the most eye rolling (and there were a lot of eye rolling). I was the odd man out, the question mark in the class, and I could sense it.

Those writing classes could also be stressful and aggressive. Students would argue about each others’ works, some teachers would spur it on (maybe even weirdly enjoying it) while others did their best to try and keep some control over their classrooms. I wish I could say I played it smart in the early months, biding my time and getting the lay of the land.

That would be a lie though if I said that. Continue reading

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Flashback Monday: “The Mad Man I Stole From ” From ME STUFF

CarIt’s Monday, and time for the fifth installment of Flashback Monday! (You can  other entries here, herehere, and here).  Each of these posts are part of my new collection ME STUFF. This post is called “The Mad Man I Stole From.” Here is a bit from the beginning:

I needed money.

I had just moved out to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. I was going to get my Master’s in writing and I had dreams of screenplays and television pilots, actresses calling me and pleading for a role in my latest projects. I also imagined myself wearing sunglasses a lot. The LA dream!

Now, I did have some savings before making the move. I had even set it up so my student loans would cover my student housing, but as the weeks turned into months I saw that savings stockpile dripping away thanks to food and a car loan, and maybe one too many trips to Disneyland.

My initial hope was to find work at a studio, but anything I would have gotten would have been so entry-level I’d be surprised if they even paid me a dime. I would be working for the experience and the contacts, probably a good decision for my career, just not for my livelihood. Plus, I had no idea how to make coffee. I assumed such a job would involve coffee.

When I first arrived in LA I did my best to get to know each of the professors (thinking that each was a possible contact to someone in the industry who might want a young, ambitious writer like me). One professor was quite fond of me since I recognized her from an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. I even owned a copy of that episode and she was thrilled to see she was listed on the back of it as a guest star. After that she gave me a series of odd little jobs, including once transporting some of her sculptures (she was an artist as well) in the back seat of my car. One of the statues was of an angel fallen to the earth surrounded by little rocks. I still occasionally find some of those little rocks in my car.

After eating dinner at her house with some of my fellow students (she was always having us over), she told me about this man she knew. Eccentric, she called him, a real character (“You would like him.”) and he owned a car company.

“A car company?” That idea floored me. How does someone just own a car company? Was he Henry freaking Ford?

“Well, the brand,” she explained noticing the expression on my face. “He is an entrepreneur and he is trying to start it up. He needs a writer. Are you interested?”

Me Stuff, front coverThis was actually a two-parter on the site. The first part you can check out here, the second here. Or, even better, you can grab a copy of ME STUFF which contains 40 editorials like this one and it is super cheap-o.

The eBook version of the book is only $1.99 (here on Amazon) and in print for only $8.99 (here on Amazon).

The Mad Man I Stole From (Part 1)

CarI needed money.

I had just moved out to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. I was going to get my Master’s in writing and I had dreams of screenplays and television pilots, actresses calling me and pleading for a role in my latest projects. I also imagined myself wearing sunglasses a lot. The LA dream!

Now, I did have some savings before making the move. I had even set it up so my student loans would cover my student housing, but as the weeks turned into months I saw that savings stockpile dripping away thanks to food and a car loan, and maybe one too many trips to Disneyland.

My initial hope was to find work at a studio, but anything I would have gotten would have been so entry-level I’d be surprised if they even paid me a dime. I would be working for the experience and the contacts, probably a good decision for my career, just not for my livelihood. Plus, I had no idea how to make coffee. I assumed such a job would involve coffee.

When I first arrived in LA I did my best to get to know each of the professors (thinking that each was a possible contact to someone in the industry who might want a young, ambitious writer like me). One professor was quite fond of me since I recognized her from an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. I even owned a copy of that episode and she was thrilled to see she was listed on the back of it as a guest star. After that she gave me a series of odd little jobs, including once transporting some of her sculptures (she was an artist as well) in the back seat of my car. One of the statues was of an angel fallen to the earth surrounded by little rocks. I still occasionally find some of those little rocks in my car.

After eating dinner at her house with some of my fellow students (she was always having us over), she told me about this man she knew. Eccentric, she called him, a real character (“You would like him.”) and he owned a car company.

“A car company?” That idea floored me. How does someone just own a car company? Was he Henry freaking Ford?

“Well, the brand,” she explained noticing the expression on my face. “He is an entrepreneur and he is trying to start it up. He needs a writer. Are you interested?” Continue reading

Toto the Spy: Dealing With My Little Brother

TotoThere is a legend around my brother’s beginning that may or may not be true. But really stories like this are best with partial truths, so I would rather not know how right this may be.

I was in preschool and my friend Gabe Gaddy (Yes, that is his name; I may have misspelled it though) brought his little baby sister in for show-and-tell. The reaction from the kids in the room and the teacher hit a nerve with me. Maybe it was jealously, I’m not sure, but when I went up for my turn I announced my mom was pregnant and I was going to have a little brother.

Yeah, I did that. Made up the entire thing.

Here is where things get a little muddy, either the story got back to my grandmother (who was head of curriculum for the school district) or it was the teacher calling my mother to congratulate her (I always like to imagine the story making it to my grandmother and her reaction), whatever the case my parents heard, putting them into a little bit of a pickle. Either they break the heart of their only son and have him announce his mistake in class (something that surely would have been memorable), or…

Less than a year later I had a little brother. Continue reading

Live in Los Angeles? Need a Photographer?

Example 1Hi readers,

As you know, I don’t typically do something like this. But over the holiday season, I had my brother, Adam Emperor Southard, take some new headshots of me for A JANE AUSTEN Example 2DAYDREAM and other appearances, etc. And I was so impressed I had no choice but to do this post. Yes, my brother earned my first official blog recommendation!

My bro has been a professional photographer in Los My family as The BeatlesAngeles, CA for quite some time and does a variety of interesting kinds of pictures from headshots to family portraits; check out his website here to see what I mean. Last year, I even had him do a photo of my family recreating a Beatles cover that we used for our Christmas cards. Yeah, his work is that awesome.

I hope you will check out his site and consider contacting him. You won’t be disappointed!

Walt and Me

I was not a Disney kid growing up; I became a fan of Mr. Disney as an adult.

It seems weird to say it, like I should be having my official “literary snob” business cards taken away, but this is one of my quirks (possibly embarrassing) and it was not something I was planning. I am a fan of the man and mainly that all stems from Disneyland.  Let me explain this better:

It was February 2000 and I had just moved from Michigan’s snowy winter to the surrealism that is Los Angeles. I was starting mid-term in the graduate program in writing at the University of Southern California, which definitely put me in an odd position. I was the new kid and many of the cliques were already formed in the autumn, when everyone else started. Plus, to be honest, programs like this are not exactly a place where people make friends; there is a lot of competitiveness in the writing world. You want to have the respect of your professors and be in with the good writers, you do not want to be part of the other groups, trust me.

So to say I was lonely and feeling out of sorts at that moment would be to put it mildly. I was not on my A game.

Anyway, I was watching TV in my grungy graduate apartment (seriously, my roommate was one of the messiest people I had ever met; I was terrified to get near the kitchen, deciding to live off food from the local Starbucks and canned goods), when an ad came up for Disneyland. Continue reading

The Fears of a Four-Year Old Superhero

My four-year old son has four superhero capes, he is very careful to choose the right one to wear on a given day.

He has two different superhero identities. They are Super Greyson and The Grey Lightning.  Super Greyson can fly, The Grey Lightning can run fast; both fight bad guys and monsters.

And yet, for all of these capabilities, my son (like any normal four-year old) has fears. So far there has not been a concern about monsters in the closet; we’ve been avoiding Monsters, Inc. for that reason (While I love the film, Pixar you open a possibility of a can of worms with that one!), but there are others that have crept up to surprise both his mother and myself.

Bad Guys

You think a superhero would be okay with bad guys, but his fear of them seems to have really grown in the last few months. Continue reading

A Writer’s Remorse: Shooting Myself in the Foot…

One of the problems of having an imagination is that you also become burdened by the “what ifs.”

What if I made that decision instead? What if I went with that agent or publisher? What if I didn’t lose that contact?

The trick is not letting these “what ifs” become regrets. And for me that is many times hard to do.  I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but many times in my career I’ve made decisions more out of my own “vision” of what I wanted to be, as compared to the opportunity in front of me. And in all of those moments I have walked away wondering if I had just shot myself in the foot.

Here, let me give you an example… We’ll start with one of the funny ones… Continue reading