Malawi Update: Pill Container Program Concluded

I got a letter in the mail the other day and meant to post about it, and then I noticed an upsurge in the number of people finding my blog by searching for information on this project, so figured I’d better get the info up here.

The letter was from the Malawi Project and explains that they’ve received 1 million pill containers and had decided to conclude that program and shift to other focuses. (These other focuses sound fantastic, and you can find out more about them on The Malawi Project’s webpage.)

Anyways, if you came here looking for information on that, there you go. If you know about other places people can send their used medicine bottles, please leave the info in the comments – I can’t be the only one who had been ready to prepare a second batch.

Writer Duet: A Great (Free!) Solution for Screenwriting on a Chromebook

When I first got my Chromebook, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a screenwriting app that would let me write plays and screenplays as easily as Final Draft. (Final Draft, for my non-writer readers, is the industry standard for writing in either format.) While there were a few online environments that allowed you to write in screenplay format, they were a) expensive and b) unwieldy.

A quick refresher: because Chromebooks operate in an online, Linux-based environment, it’s difficult to find software that’s compatible with special formats. While most well-known screenwriting software has versions compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, so far there’s been very little in the way of creating specialized software for Chromebook. At one point I heard that Google was working to make any app available for their ultra-lite notebooks, but to date there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on that front.

Anyways. I’m working on a sitcom pilot, and one of the practical challenges I’ve had to work with is making my edits to the text. My Windows laptop, which is limping along with the help of both external mouse and keyboard, has my copy of Final Draft on it – but at this point, the program runs so slowly that it’s frustrating to use.

I printed out and edited my script the other day, and was dreading finding the time to break it down into manageable chunks to input the changes.

Enter this morning.

I decided it was worth taking another look for screenwriting software that was compatible with both Final Draft and Chromebooks this morning – after all, the software scene is constantly evolving – and after some searching, discovered two things:

  1. My initial Chromebook write-up is one of the first page of results on the topic of screenwriting on the platform (yay!) and
  2. There is now a workable – and highly functional – Final Draft alternative for writers who are familiar with how that software functions but want to write in an online (Chromebook-compatible!) format.
A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

This alternative is called Writer Duet. And it’s unbelievably powerful, incredibly well-designed, and completely intuitive for anyone who’s already used to writing in Final Draft. It imports and exports to multiple standard screenwriting format, doesn’t require knowledge of markup or formatting, and best of all?

It’s FREE.

That’s right. FREE.

Sure, there’s a paid version (which, at $99 for a lifetime membership is a bargain) but so far the free version looks and feels just like writing in Final Draft.

This morning, while lying in bed icing my back, I was able to edit a 46-page script in a fraction of the time it would have taken on my laptop. There was no lag inputting or processing commands as the document got longer (which has been an issue in Final Draft), the formatting is highly intuitive (perhaps more so than FD), and the output is easily downloadable and back-up-able. Signing up took less than a minute. Imports of documents in .fdx were flawless (.pdf imports less so, but you shouldn’t be saving in-progress docs as .pdfs anyways). The program was so easy to use that I almost immediately recommended it to a friend of mine who’s taking his first shot at writing for the stage. (He was confused by it, but it took me a few tries to get used to FD, so I’m not counting that against Writer Duet at all.

If you’re interested in writing in stage or screen format, and don’t want to shell out $125+ for Final Draft, check out Writer Duet. If you’re on a Chromebook and despairing because you can’t find an elegant solution to the issue of formatting your stageplays or screenplays, check out Writer Duet.

I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

 

Please note, this is not a sponsored blog post, I am endorsing this program because it’s amazing and if you want to write in screenplay format for a Chromebook, it is far and away the best solution I’ve found to date.

Call for Submissions: Climate Change Fiction Short Story Contest

Hey, socially conscious authors! Want to win $1000?

This January, Arizona State University’s Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative is inviting speculative fiction writers to:

“…submit short stories that explore climate change, science and human futures for its first Climate Fiction Short Story Contest.”

41UM6llyj9L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_If that theme sounds familiar, you might recall the collection I edited and published several years ago, Hot Mess: Speculative Fiction About Climate Change (purchase link in the sidebar). Obviously, climate change – a phenomenon that the Democratic primary challenger Bernie Sanders calls the greatest national security threat there is – is a subject near and dear to my heart, and one that I think can be addressed effectively with fiction. While I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a follow-up collection to Hot Mess, seeing others take the initiative to start their own short story contests on the subject has me even more excited.

Also newsworthy about this contest: the judges will include none other than award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson, a science fiction legend.

With a deadline of January 15, 2016 and a grand prize of $1000 (and no entry fee!) there’s still plenty of time to polish up (or start fresh on) your favorite cli-fi themed piece of work.

What are you waiting for? The glaciers are melting, and it’s time to get to writing!

For full contest rules and details, and a link to submit stories for consideration, visitclimateimagination.asu.edu/clificontest.

 

Special thanks for information on this contest: Joey Eschrich, Editor and Program Manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination as well as Assistant Director, Future Tense, at Arizona State University.

Leftovers

wpid-1127150939-1.jpgIt’s the day after Thanksgiving, the turkey has been devoured, and everyone is wandering around my aunt and uncle’s house (well, everyone who’s up so far) in a post-turkey coma, tottering towards the coffee and slowly organizing their things.

I love Thanksgiving leftovers. Mushing a giant bowl of turkey, stuffing and potato together and then drowning it all in thick, delicious gravy. Nom. Followed up in a few hours with some apple pie and maybe some whipped cream and maybe even some cake?

Of course, the other thing one has to do on Thanksgiving morning is look ahead to the next few weeks of Utter Holiday Insanity. There are gifts to be bought and mailed, cards to write, parties to go to and people to catch up with. Technically, getting through New Years Eve marks the finish line…but then (at least where I am) we’ll be deep into the snowy season.

Last year, overwhelmed with all the things one needs to take care of when one has just moved, I neglected to hire a snow plow and just watched the snow pile up day after day. This year – two days ago, in fact – I called a plow company for an estimate.

Last year around this time, I started working on a sitcom pilot. I’m now steeling myself for rewriting both the pilot and the second episodes, thanks to some great feedback and some new ideas.

Last year, I was excited about moving to a little town in the country and taking on new challenges at work. This year, the challenges promise to continue being…challenging…but I’ve come to the knowledge that despite trying, I was not built for the country lifestyle. Something on that front may need to change in the coming months. We’ll see how it goes.

That’s pretty much how I feel about everything at the moment. I’ll see how it goes. What do you want out of life? I’ll see how it goes. Where do you want to move to? I’ll see how it goes. What do you want for dinner? I’ll see how it goes.

Actually, the answer to that last question is probably “leftovers.” At least for a few more days.

ACT ONE REACTION: Slaughterhouse Five

 

Sometimes, one leaves a theatrical experience and the foremost thought in one’s mind is, “That’s X hours I’m never getting back.” When attending plays as a reviewer (i.e. with free/comped tickets), I always stay through to the end. However, when I’ve paid for my ticket – as in this case – I no longer feel it necessary to sit through an entire production once I’m convinced it’s not getting any better. Please bear in mind, while reading, that for all I know the production takes a massive upswing in the second act and I missed out on something truly brilliant – though this writeup in The Buffalo News makes me doubt that was the case. Here’s my reaction to the production.

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre's season-opening production of "Slaughterhouse Five."

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre’s season-opening production of “Slaughterhouse Five.”

ACT ONE REACTION: SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE BY THE SUBVERSIVE THEATRE COLLECTIVE

Subversize Theatre Collective
Great Arrow Building
Manny Fried Theatre
Directed by Michael Lodick
Adapted by Eric Simonson

Saturday night, I left Slaughterhouse Five, produced by the Subversive Theatre Collective, at intermission. While the presentation was competent, it wasn’t compelling enough to keep me and my parents in our uncomfortable seats — or the overheated auditorium.

If you haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, the story of Slaughterhouse Five revolves around a man named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck” in the space-time continuum. The novel itself is disjointed, offering a broken narrative – the book incorporates parts of Vonnegut’s own time in the service and as a POW. While the script seems faithful to the story, even setting up Vonnegut’s narrator conceit, something about the production meant it never really seemed to offer much spark.

Tim Lane’s set is colorful and visually engaging, and its versatility allowed the players to move seamlessly from scene to scene. The brightest moment of the play’s first act came from Rick Lattimer, whose performance as Elliot Rosewater suddenly came to life during a conversation with Pilgrim (Shane Zimmerman) and his fiancee (Brittany Gabryel as Barbara). Suddenly animated, Rosewater describes the book he’s reading to Pilgrim, ranting about an alternate view of reality. For a few moments, there was a sense of welcome tension from the audience. Then it passed.

As the narrator, Tim Joyce kicked the play off with a one-man scene that set the stage. There were times when some mannerisms began to feel affected, veering more towards Mark Twain than Kurt Vonnegut, and smoothing those moments over would help the audience forget that they’re watching a performance. Generally speaking, there was very little about the performances that was notable.

One of many huge challenges inherent in mounting a production where each scene is only a few minutes long is that it’s difficult for the audience to remain emotionally engaged without a connection to each scene.  After nearly an hour of story, no one in my party felt a strong enough connection to the show to stay and watch the second half.

Fan of Vonnegut looking for new insights/perspective on your favorite author and one of his most famous works? You might very well enjoy this production. Casual theater-goer looking for a thought-provoking experience that also entertains? This might not be the show for you.

Copy editing article posted on Edit Edge Solutions, LLC

Edit Edge Solutions, LLC launched their website yesterday – and featured an article by yours truly.

Check out 6 Reasons Your Site Needs a Copy Editor for my take on why it’s vital that every business use a copy professional when constructing their website and marketing materials.

Edit Edge Solutions is a company that specializes in helping political candidates and small businesses improve their online presence, and is headed up by Elizabeth Dagostino, who’s spent over 15 years working on political campaigns at all levels of government.

(And as always, a shout-out to my mom, who regularly copy edits my blog. As always, I appreciate when people point out my typos!)

Haggis & Highland Games

wpid-0815151233.jpg

Smoked haggis! And no, i do not know what the sauce is, they called it “Scottish sauce” and I think it might have been vaguely related to HP sauce.

For as long as it’s been since I visited Scotland (too, too long!), I didn’t expect that the next time I watched Highland games it would be in Western New York. And yet, the weekend before last, I stuffed myself full of haggis and watched grown men send tree trunks flying through the air.

I heard about the Buffalo Niagara Scottish Festival from my mom, who had read about it in the Amherst Bee. A couple moments of hyperventilation and many frantic Facebook messages later, I was on my way to Buffalo with plans to meet up with a friend and her family for an afternoon of fun and a mild dose of Celtic spirit.

wpid-0815151419a.jpgThe festival was held at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, which is a pretty cool place way out in the swampy wilderness of Amherst. I haven’t visited the village aside from this trip, but what the museum has done is take old houses from around Western New York and preserved them on a plot of land where they can be toured and enjoyed. It was a fantastic backdrop to the afternoon, and at some point I want to try and go back to check it out on its own.

wpid-0815151320.jpgAfter filling up on haggis and a pint of Belhaven, my friends and I wandered over to the caber toss – the aforementioned throwing of giant, tree-trunk sized pieces of woods, each weighing (if I recall the announcer’s description correctly) just under a hundred pounds. As each beam was flung through the air, the crowd held its breaths, waiting to watch it go end over end. Once we’d watched both the caber toss and the hammer throw (done by professional exhibition athletes, not just guys who walked in off the street) for a while, we wandered through the vendors and checked out what they had for sale. Wares ranged from cookbooks and kilts to the skulls of mythological creatures. I managed to hold myself back from making a purchase; my friend picked up a Nessie soup ladle and a cookbook with a recipe for haggis that sounded a lot more appetizing than the one in my miniature Scottish cookbook wpid-0815151342.jpgfrom my grandmother’s house. (Hint: mine calls for bits of the sheep that are not included in my friend’s recipe. I’m hoping to get a copy of hers, authenticity be damned.) While I’d planned to get my hands on a scotch egg as a snack, by the time I was ready to eat again (that haggis was pretty filling) it was hot enough out that I went for a gelato, instead. By that point, the stage had filled up, and a band of kilted musicians was in full swing. There was an area for ceilidh dancing, but alas – my back was getting a bit sore by this point, so I decided not to risk incurring its wrath.

wpid-0815151302.jpg

Okay, fine, not ALL of them are wearing kilts.

Instead, I wandered around a bit more with my friends, people-watching and trying to stay out of direct sunlight, as I could feel my fittingly pale skin starting to warm up. (For those who don’t remember, I learned my lesson about staying in the sun too long a few years ago in St. Martin.) Finally, it was time for me to go. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to my car, thankful for the paved walkways that kept my feet above the waterline from the previous night’s storm.

0815151419

The view from the paved walkway – it’s easy to forget that the area is basically built on a swamp! Added nicely to the atmosphere, though.

I had a terrific afternoon, a great time visiting friends, some delicious food, and I left feeling more connected to Scotland than I have in a while. Next year, I’m hoping to get myself organized enough to go to the kickoff ceilidh – hopefully, I’ll see some of you there!