Op-ed: Rethinking the Shame Game

Op-ed: Rethinking the Shame Game

This past Wednesday, The Advocate ran an op-ed I wrote regarding the inherent flaws in the concept of LGBT people slinging back hate and shame at those who do the same to them. While The Advocate added an incredibly misleading subtitle about “turning the other cheek” (not something that I ever intended, because that implies passive acceptance of poor treatment rather than productive and peaceful challenging of it), the experience was quite interesting. Angry and hurt people who were supposedly part of my community tried to tear me to shreds in a way that illustrated the very point I was making, and people who said they agreed with my position told me they were nervous to share the article, because they didn’t want the negative comments to make them appear homophobic.

I will definitely have more to say on this matter, but for now, here is a link to the article and the comments! Take from it what you will.

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The Confessions of Jonathan Flite: FREE 50-Page Preview!

The Confessions of Jonathan Flite: FREE 50-Page Preview!

I’m thrilled to share with you the first preview of my upcoming novel, The Confessions of Jonathan Flite! It’s the first in an explosive new YA/Adult crossover series that deals with the global clash—and eventual meeting—of science and spirituality. The story, set against a nuclear terrorist attack in Geneva, Switzerland, follows a Rhode Island juvenile delinquent named Jonathan Flite, who is born in 2020 with memories of seven teenagers who vanished mysteriously halfway across the country, ten years before his birth.

I’ve been working on this series for over a decade, and I’m thrilled to release this first preview exclusively on my website. Keep an eye out for the full book, coming summer of 2014!

 

Click here for the FREE 50-page PDF preview!

 

Thanks for checking it out, and be well!

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Thank you to THE ADVOCATE!

Thank you to THE ADVOCATE!

Last Wednesday, I got an email from David Artavia of The Advocate. I had been in touch with the magazine’s editor in chief last year regarding my novel The Breeders and possibly writing something for them, but I thought I had stupidly burned a bridge by letting my slew of 2012 life curveballs temporarily derail that effort. Mr. Artavia, however, was emailing to give me and a number of other authors a preview of the June/July magazine section we had been a part of.

WaitWHAT? I thought.

I clicked on the link David had included and was thrilled to see that The Advocate’s Clea Kim and Diane Anderson-Minshall had been kind enough to feature The Breeders on a new list titled “20 Must-Read Books We Missed Last Year.”

Crazy!

I’m incredibly humbled to be on the list, and I’m so appreciative of everyone at The Advocate who took the time to read my book and deem it worthy of such an honor! Without further ado, here is the link to their feature. Be sure to check out all the other great books, too!

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The Rub With Paper: POD, Print Runs, Trade Discounts, and Returns

The Rub With Paper: POD, Print Runs, Trade Discounts, and Returns

We all have a dream of seeing our books in print, right? It’s an exciting time to be a writer, and you now have more options than ever before in publishing high-quality hardcovers or paperbacks. But with them comes an array of details you should be aware of prior to making any decisions!

POD

For many indie publishers, print-on-demand (POD) is a great option to have a professionally-printed book without having to pay thousands of dollars for an initial print run. While the cost of printing per book is higher than with standard offset printing, the money saved on both up-front printing and warehousing/distribution can be worth it. If you are on a budget but still want to have a printed book available, this is your best bet. Printing costs are taken off the front end of each sale, so there are no costs for you to pay out-of-pocket. The two major POD printers/distributors are Amazon’s CreateSpace and Ingram’s slightly more robust subsidiary, Lightning Source.

Pitfalls of POD and the Returns System

The biggest pitfall of POD is that making a book returnable to the warehouse, which is required for any major bookstore to stock a title, can bankrupt you. CreateSpace doesn’t allow for POD books to be returnable, but Lightning Source does. Say your Lightning Source book costs $7.00 to print on demand, and you’ve marked it as returnable. You’ve done a stellar job with marketing, and Barnes & Noble orders 3,000 copies for its stores. They end up selling only 1,000 of them, so they return the remaining 2,000 at your cost. Not only does Lightning Source shred these and simply print/ship you new copies, but they also charge you for the freight. Which means you would be out the cost not just of freight but also of printing. That’s freight + $7.00 x 2,000, or $14,000—a terrible loss. Thus, it would be a big mistake to make your POD book returnable. The downside is that most physical bookstores will never stock your book.

But POD Has Benefits! 

So, why consider POD at all? Because the costs are minimal, and your reach is global. Amazon’s CreateSpace, while having a more limited global reach for its free distribution, doesn’t charge a title setup fee. Lightning Source charges only a small title setup fee, an even smaller annual catalog fee, and $40 every time you upload a print file (either cover or interior). Even so, both options can make your book available anywhere in the world at the click of a button. Lightning Source, being a subsidiary of the behemoth distributor Ingram, ensures your book is listed as in-stock and available with retailers at all times. They can print within hours and ship overnight. Lightning Source also gives you multiple print options, including hardcovers with dust jackets and matte laminated covers.

Print Runs

If you don’t choose POD printing, you can also do a normal print run of your book, just as any other publisher would. You then would have the option of storing and selling the books yourself, or paying for warehousing and distribution, which could make it feasible for your book to be returnable (and thus stockable at bookstores). Keep in mind that warehouses charge for storage, freight, and return freight.

But Wait! You Can’t Forget About Trade Discounts

If all this wasn’t enough to make your head spin, you must also consider your book’s trade discount, which all major retailers require in order to list it for sale. All books sold through the usual retail channels, whether they’re POD or warehouse-distributed, will have a trade discount, usually 40% – 55%. Booksellers buy them at this discounted rate, then sell them for full price to make money.

As a self-publisher, you are responsible for your print costs. This combined with selling your books to retailers at a discount affects your bottom-line return. If you set your book’s cover price at $16.00, retailers might buy it for $8.00. If you choose POD, your book might cost $6.50 to print, and you would receive $1.50 per sale. If you choose offset printing and warehouse distribution, printing might cost $3.00 per book, and you would earn $5.00 per sale. Even so, the costs of freight, warehousing, and other peripheral services can eat into this profit. Discount rates can vary between POD and traditional printing, but it is essential that you are aware of them! For a long (but helpful) explanation, follow this link.

As You Can See…

There are pros and cons to each method of book printing. Figure out your priorities (Do you want to try selling in bookstores, or do you want to aim mostly for online sales?), and then make the leap!

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5 Things To Do Before Publishing

If you are reading this blog, chances are you’ve written something, and you want to pursue publication. But here’s some advice: don’t jump in right away! If you are hoping to earn credibility as a writer, there’s a lot you can (and probably should) do before making reality out of your publishing dreams. Here are my top five pieces of advice!

1. Write your book. Then rewrite it. Then get feedback from test readers who aren’t afraid to tell you which parts suck. Then, rewrite or revise again. 

The first part is obvious. Unless you’ve sold your book to a publisher based on a few sample chapters and an outline (this does happen with nonfiction), you’re going to have to rattle out those words. Know that 50,000 words is probably the minimum you want to go for any “grownup” book, and 120,000 words is probably the max, unless you are J.K. Rowling. When you’ve finished a draft, take a red pen to it yourself, then rewrite it from scratch while looking at the edited draft. You’ll be shocked at what can happen in this phase! It will help you tighten up plot points, themes, and general consistency. The feedback you’ll get from test readers after this step will be more valuable than if you sent them a first draft, because you’ll already have done your best to fix any flaws. Your test readers might see problems you didn’t, and they might raise questions you never thought of. Once you figure out which suggestions are worth heeding, you’ll have new tools to help subsequent revisions. After a few rounds of this, your manuscript will start to sparkle!

2. Read some of the great editor and agent blogs out there!

It may serve you well to do this concurrently with #1. Whether you want to pursue a traditional publishing deal or self-publish, your writing absolutely will improve if you learn what attracts industry bigwigs to a manuscript. The first agent blog I ever read “cover to cover” was that of Miss Snark, and it forever changed the way I think about writing and selling books. I also learned crazy amounts from Nathan Bransford, BookEnds LLC, and Kristin Nelson. You’ll learn how to gut your book into a single paragraph (which you’ll have to to do anyway for the back cover synopsis), how to grab readers on the first page, and how to blend passion with product. If you hope to release a book that sells, read these now! Note that some of these blogs are finished, and you’ll have to read backward through the archives.

3. Learn all you can about the publishing business!

When I decided to write my first book (which is still currently in its eleventh or twelfth draft), I knew nothing about the actual publishing business. I did my Googling, learned a hell of a lot by reading agent and editor blogs (see #2!), and thought I had a good idea what I was in for. When I decided to treat my fourth written novel The Breeders as an experiment and publish it independently, I realized just how much I still didn’t know. I almost worked myself into the ground learning how to design print and electronic books, how trade discounts and the returns system worked, and how to navigate the available options for international print and electronic distribution. Whether you publish traditionally or independently, learn about the business upfront! It will save you from surprises and disappointments down the line, and it’ll give you a leg up on figuring out your strategy.

4. Realize that the work is just beginning! 

If you are aiming to gain respect and make a name for yourself, your work will go well beyond publishing. Selling your book will require people to know about it. If you don’t have a traditional publisher that offers help with marketing, you’ll have a lot to do: writing press releases, sending your book out for reviews, building a website, building and maintaining your social media presence, and creating custom graphics for business cards, flyers, or the web. This is before you try to sell in bookstores or seek out that miraculous celebrity who will promote your book and catapult you to fame. Sometime during all this, you may want to write another book. If you are balancing all this with a day job, it can quickly become overwhelming. (I learned this the hard way.) Just prepare for it before you publish, and set standards for yourself to maintain a life balance!

5. Gauge your options!

Gone are the days when your only option to publish is to wait for an agent or editor to love your book, all while you sit on your bum, craving validation and wondering if you’ll ever make anything of yourself. These days, if you are talented, driven, and can afford to hire editing and design help, you can independently publish a book that is just as good as anything coming out of New York. Even so, it can be extremely difficult, and you’ll probably have only a fraction of the marketing power a traditional publisher could offer. You probably won’t have the clout to shop around your book’s film and foreign publishing rights, and getting it into brick and mortar bookstores will also be difficult. So, as stated in #3, learn about the business. Figure out if you’d rather sit and wait for your big break or if you’d rather make it happen yourself. No route is set in stone, and it will be an adventure either way!

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Self-Publishing Questionnaire/Checklist!

Here is my official checklist/questionnaire for self-publishers at any stage of the game. Don’t let it overwhelm you! You don’t have to consider all these things at once, and you can simply use this as a roadmap. Having been through this crazy experience, however, I know that I would have loved to have a “to-do” list upfront so that I could have avoided any nasty surprises or forgotten steps along the way! Even when I was working for an small indie publisher in Minneapolis, I came across authors who had not been informed about all these steps. So…for your sake…here we go!

 

Writing

  • Have you completed your book manuscript?
  • Have you written more than just one draft?
  • Have you sought out honest feedback from test readers, then revised?
  • Have you fixed up as many messy grammar and spelling mistakes as possible?
  • Have you compared your book to all the other books in history that you love, and does it give you the same sense of satisfaction?

 

Editing

  • Have you budgeted for an experienced copy editor?
  • Have you budgeted for an experienced proofreader?
  • Do your editors know the standard style guides typically used with your type of book?
  • Have you given honest consideration to their suggestions?
  • Have you done multiple rereads and absolutely finalized your content before sending it off to your designer and proofreader?
  • Have you scoured your book for typos (homonym errors in particular!) and continuity mistakes that made it past the editors? (This can happen even if you hire the best editors. Even Harry Potter had mistakes!)
  • Did you wait until your final, final version to convert to e-book format? (You don’t want to be correcting mistakes on two different versions of your book—I know this from experience!)

 

Production

  • Have you decided on publishing a print book, e-book, or both?
  • Have you reviewed the reality of publishing a print book (POD vs. a print run, returnable vs. non-returnable, warehousing and distribution, and trade discount percentage)?
  • Have you written your back cover/synopsis?
  • Have you written your author biography?
  • Have you purchased ISBNs from Bowker? (Buy a block of at least ten to save money! You will need one for each edition of your book.)
  • Have you registered for an PCN (Preassigned Control Number from the Library of Congress) and included it on your copyright page?
  • Have you sought out advance reviews/testimonials to quote on your book cover/marketing materials?
  • Have you set a release date after you knew for sure when your book will be available through all its distribution channels? (It can sometimes take time for your book to become available on sites like Amazon.com.)

 

Print Books

  • Do you decided between Print-on-Demand (POD) or a print run?
  • Have you figured out how wide you want your scope of distribution to be?
  • Have you decided on a size for your book? (8.5” x 5.25” or 8.5” x 5.5” are great for trade paperbacks; 6” x 9” or 6.14” x 9.21” are great for hardcovers.)
  • Have you decided on white vs. cream pages?
  • Have you budgeted for a cover design?
  • Have you budgeted for an interior design/typesetting?
  • Do you want to incorporate any special photos or graphics?
  • Has your designer justified your text?
  • …and made sure word hyphenation is clean/logical?
  • …and removed all widows/orphans?
  • …and made sure all drop caps, small caps, headers, footers, and other unique design choices are consistently placed?

 

E-Books

  • Do you want to publish just an e-book?
  • Do you have a professional, eye-catching cover that will look good as an internet thumbnail?
  • Does your e-book contain design elements of the print book for a consistent reader experience?
  • Is it free of coding/formatting errors (hard returns, font and type size inconsistencies, and images that run off the page?
  • Does it work smoothly on different e-reading devices and, if it’s in Epub format, pass the current Epub validations (which is required to upload to most e-book retailers)?
  • Have you considered working directly with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo? Have you considered further distribution though companies like Author Solutions or SmashWords?

 

Online Marketing

  • Have you created Author and Book pages for Facebook?
  • Have you signed up for Twitter?
  • Have you signed up for Goodreads and added your Author and Book pages?
  • Have you signed up for Amazon Author Central?
  • Have you signed up for the “Look Inside!” feature through Amazon Advantage so that potential buyers can preview your book?
  • Have you bought a domain (“www.________.com”) for your website? (BlueHost is a great place to buy and host with.)
  • Have you started a website and/or blog? (WordPress is a great option, and it integrates with BlueHost if you want to customize your theme.)
  • Have you considered creating a book trailer or video to promote your book?
  • Have considered a press release to announce/discuss your book, attract reviewers, and gain opportunities a blog tour or author interviews?
  • Have you considered a targeted “pay-per-click” ad campaign through Facebook, Goodreads, or another website that will reach your intended audience?
  • Have you signed up for Google Analytics and incorporated it into your website/blog?

 

Real-World Marketing

  • Have you printed business cards for your book (preferably with a QR code people can scan to reach your website)?
  • Have you reached out to potential reviewers personally and in a professional manner?
  • Have you sent free copies of your book to reviewers who ask for it?
  • Have you searched out and built relationships with local/indie bookstores and offered to do readings/signings?

 

So, there you have it! Check back sometime, as I may be adding a few more items I forgot this time around!

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A Matter of Life

A Matter of Life

I’m writing this post as something rather incredible is happening just down the street. Right now, I have a beautiful new niece being prepared for her first trip into the wider world—out of the hospital and off to her new home. She is wrapped in blankets and blissfully unaware of how momentous an occasion her birth yesterday truly was. Her parents, my sister and brother in law, are filling out the necessary paper work, probably smiling and stressing with excitement and nerves brought on by the lifelong leap of faith they have taken (again) to bring child #2 into our stunning universe.

New life begs some pretty crazy questions, if you allow it to. First, where does it come from? Yes, male and female reproductive cells unite to form a living being, but think back a bit further. Of the particles that banged into our universe 14 billion years ago, how is it that they combined perfectly to form building blocks for the matter that creates us? And then—and this is an even more mind-boggling question—what is the true nature of the spark that animates this otherwise dead combination of universal elements? What causes our human cells to divide, our neurons to fire, and our individual presences to lend the world value while we are here?

I have been struggling with all these questions lately. I am endlessly fascinated by the mysteries of our universe, and in the past few months, I’ve been making my way through books outlining the truths and theories brought to us by scientists who have—incredibly—devoted their lives to the possibility of finding answers. What I didn’t realize was how unsettling it can be to think about all this stuff day in and day out. As relevant as it all is to the life I live, it has thrown me for a loop. It has made me wonder yet again what the value of any of this stuff is—the Starbucks I’m sitting in, the tea I’m drinking, the sidewalk outside, the cars speeding by. If certain cutting-edge theories are correct, it’s all nothing more than threads of energy vibrating in different ways to create the building blocks of matter. So, any thinking person must ask: What is the point? Why does any of it (excuse the pun) matter?

Unfortunately, the only reward for wondering these questions is a big fat question mark. For me, the underwhelming number of hints it provides can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Yet my little niece gets to go home tonight. She gets to experience what it’s like to have loving parents who will someday make her giggle like crazy, cause her to storm off to her bedroom in sadness or fury, or inspire her to pursue her talents and interests. She will also meet her brother for the first time, marking for them a start to the joys and tribulations of sibling relationship management. They will fight over toys, travel the world together, and grow into different people whose values and opinions may not always align.

Isn’t all of this the true meat of life, the value granted by those perfectly-combined particles that have somehow become us? I have no answers about the secrets of the universe, but I do know that my niece’s existence is a miracle. She came from nothing, and here she is, about to start this incredible adventure we call life. It can’t be meaningless, because it’s just too damned amazing. Some strange gut instinct tells me that this new addition to world is a quick wink and grin from the force that bridges matter and meaning.

A few weeks ago, I watched a TV show that gave me an interesting perspective. It involved a virtual reality game where characters played without having any overall knowledge of the game’s purpose. It resembled a heightened version of normal life, and players simply . . . played. At one point, a character asked, “What’s the point of the game?” and his cohort replied, “Nobody knows. Some people think the point of the game is to figure out how to play it.”

I’m pretty sure this is a perfect allegory for our existence. The scientific pursuit of truth falls right into it, because ultimately it will inform what we as human beings do—how we play the game. My beautiful new niece is just starting out. What she doesn’t know and may never know (unless she someday reads this) is that she has already given me a hint, already made her first move.

Perhaps someday I’ll be able to return the favor. Until then, the game continues.

iStress

iStress

I just took a iPower walk.

To be frank, I’ve been on the brink of total seam unravelment. I’ve been overworking myself, dealing with personal stuff, and trying like mad to set the stage for future (and total) self-employment. Apart from my day job, the book work, the screenplay work, the photography work, the gym, the social life (which oddly has still been happening), and the rest of life, my soul is threatening to twist into a double knot.

This all is otherwise known as stress. We all experience it, and while it isn’t always avoidable, it should always be controllable.

For me, it usually isn’t. My brain won’t shut off. I wake up at 2:00 AM and don’t fall back asleep until just before my alarm goes off at 6:40. I go to the gym, but my workouts suck, because I’m too tired. Then, I worry about being tired and not being able to fall asleep (again), and sometimes this cycle continues until I come home from my day job one night, eat dinner, and crash right away. People say, “But the sun’s still out!” when I tell them I’m going to bed.

What is an iPower walk, then, and why does it help? Well, thanks to Steve Jobs, I have an iPhone on me at all times, and that iPhone has all my favorite music on it. Today, I was at my day job, about to burst (it was actually busy, and I also was dealing with book-related stuff at the same time), and I decided to take a spontaneous walk with Eminem and Lady Gaga.

I listened to only three tracks –”Not Alone” by Eminem twice, “Edge of Glory” by Gaga once, “Not Alone” a second time, then Gaga again for a round of “Hair.” If you know those songs, you know they’re power songs.

It’s always a surprise when I realize the art of someone I find amazing can lift me up, open my eyes, and make me realize once again that I’m part of something much bigger than myself, than my work, than all the little colors I paint my life with. I’m guessing it’s the same for anybody who experiences bursts of inspiration, regardless of the subject, reason, industry, or whatever. The brilliant people of the world–and I firmly believe everybody can have brilliant moments–share themselves. Those who want to be receptive can then embrace that offering and allow it to move them.

There’s no cure for stress like a fresh blast of inspiration—perhaps something that reminds you why you made certain life choices in the first place (at least the good ones).

For me, it’s experiencing work by people who have made it in the creative business. In a few month’s time, I will be holding The Breeders in my hands, in book form. It will be complete with exterior art, interior art, and a lovely ISBN bar code—the result of two full years’ worth of constant brain work, lack of sleep, and crazy life lessons. Stamped in it, invisible, will be the work of more artists than I can list here—heaps more than just the two I mentioned above. I wouldn’t be able to find joy in this work if I didn’t have people to look up to and measure my passion against. Peaking through their keyholes of life and allowing what I see to change me.

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It All Ends

It All Ends

I just spent the last hour trying to write a post about Harry Potter, chronicling my experience over the past ten years and sharing just why oh why it was so special to me. But the post didn’t work. It fell flat. It was so utterly personal that there was no possible way I could fit in all the details and make it matter to anyone else—not by a long shot. Upon munching on my chicken breast, peppers, and zucchini (cooked, raw, and raw—and actually sort of enjoyable together), I realized something special:

My Harry Potter experience was my own.

Anyone who has read the books and experienced the movies in tandem over the past decade can say the same thing. The story meant different things to different people—sometimes in ways that were life changing, other times in ways that were nothing more than afterthoughts. But one thing is certain:

This story did change the world, and we were lucky to be around when it did.

Not only did it speak to the hearts of millions of people from all different walks of life, but it also became a pillar of unity on a planet so often torn apart by difference. Perhaps even more important is that it tackled this key human dilemma head on and gave us heroes who stood up for what was right, just, and true.

Harry Potter was powerful enough to inspire human-to-human conversations in crowded airport security queues, bring strangers together for insane midnight book release parties, and inspire collective cheers from fans around the world who watched it together on the big screen—either literally or in spirit. It helped countless people feel like—and be—part of something truly magical.

To J.K. Rowling and all the agents, editors, lawyers, marketers, film producers, Warner Brothers executives, directors, cinematographers, set designers, actors, film editors, sound editors, sound designers, composers, and everyone else in between:

THANK YOU.

 
 
The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

It’s Oscar season again! Which means it’s also the time of year I ponder just why the hell does art matter, anyway?

I love the Oscars. I usually cry one to five times throughout the crazily rehearsed and orchestrated ceremony, despite the underlying politics and ridiculous lavishness. Every year, I wonder to myself, “Why is all this justified? When so much suffering and crap is happening in the world, why is it okay for us to take time to give a darn about silly celluloid (digital) fluff?”

Well, my answer balloons into something much bigger than Hollywood (and Wellywood!) can account for.

After 9/11, the Oscars ceremony was a sufficiently somber event, and it opened with Tom Cruise delivering a speech in remembrance of those lost on that awful day. But then, he said something that always resonated with me. It was a question, followed by an answer: “Should we celebrate the joy and magic movies bring? Dare I say it? More than ever.”

If we can forget the horrible fact that Moulin Rouge! did not win Best Picture that year, it remains one of my favorite ceremonies ever (let’s not forget it was also the year of The Fellowship of the Ring). Ten years later, I still think about it, and again, I wonder, why does any of it matter? This year, we can ask the same thing. Libya is in shambles, and there are still bodies buried in rubble in my dear sweet city of Christchurch, New Zealand. But those are just the recent CNN headlines. There’s more badness out there. A lot more.

The question of celebrating art and creativity during such times is a question I take very personally and seriously, because I have chosen to pursue a career (a life, really) in this arena. I spend most of my spare time sitting in my hovel or at Starbucks working on novel writing. I have one book out on submission and seven more dripping from my head onto the page. None of it is real; the stories are all made up; it’s all for fun and entertainment, really—mostly for myself, and hopefully someday for others. It’s no different with movies, which I also love writing and making (not enough, as of late).So, what is the point? Well, I think the vast majority of people in this country read books and watch movies strictly as entertainment and forget about the creative process that goes into them. Even the worst books and movies had to be written and produced. But think of the good books, the good movies. Think of the effort it took for J.K. Rowling to so brilliantly weave together the Harry Potter series. Think of all the different people it takes to create a film: the director, screenwriter, cinematographer, actors, gaffers, grips, set designers, set decorators, costume designers, script supervisors, editors, gophers, composer—it’s crazy, really! They’re all there to serve a creation, a work of good or bad art, that will then go out into the world and tirelessly try to gain an audience. In the film industry, the above people are not the corporate executives interested solely in the bottom line; they are the ones who are there because they find value in it (ideally, anyway). But, again, what value is there in any of this?

For me, the value is the human spirit. The drive to create. The celebration of the fact that art is a positive force in the world. That humanity doesn’t just have to destruct itself, it can also share itself and inspire. We can create products out of nothing that change lives, that spark dreams, that promote hope.

Jurassic Park changed my life when I was nine, Stephen King did the same for me about three years later, and then came Harry Potter, which is probably the reason I’m sitting here writing today. Woops, we can’t forget The Lord of the Rings (film trilogy), which inspired me to travel to New Zealand, where I found a home and made lifelong friendships.

It isn’t the beauty of a movie shot or a slice of perfect editing or a moment of brilliant acting that makes me cry during a movie; it’s the fact that somebody made that shot, edit, or brilliant acting moment happen in the first place. The fact that inspiration seemingly brought it out of nowhere and has now made me, a totally unrelated human, get tingles of epicality.

Not all important things in the world are bad. Art is a positive force. It is not just our human footprint but also a glimpse of the collective spirit that animates us. Whether you call it divine or simply a fluke of nature, that spirit is what keeps humanity going. It’s the thing that inspires people to help others out of earthquake rubble or rise up against injustice. It’s also what will make each and every one of us worthy of being remembered after our fleeting dalliance with life is over.

It’s nice taking time to appreciate the good things. For some people, that means sports. For others, that means good food, gardening, or even polishing their cars. For me, every year in February, it’s the movies—the lights, camera, and action that have so often created or inspired definitive moments in my life.

Why wouldn’t I want to celebrate?!

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