The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Never Waste A Day

Another legendary artist is gone.

For those of you who don't know, Leo and Diane Dillon were a legendary team of artists, of superlative skill and grace. They were in such wonderful synch that one of them could start a line, and the other would finish it. Magical. Leo died last week, and it hit me hard.

I had a wonderful lunch with Leo and Diane in Greenwich Village back in the 80's. I was so overwhelmed by the purity of their artistic practice that I ended up breaking down, depressed that the amount of commercial work that I'd done might poison the well. "Is it too late for me?" I asked, tears streaming down my face. Diane reached across the table and took my hand. Leo said: "Steve, if you can even ask that question, it's not too late."

RIP, Leo.

As always, I use the death of friends and family to remind me to work as hard as I can, for as long as I can, and to share absolutely everything, while there is time to do so. I encourage each and every one of you to forget the notion that there is no time, that it is too late. If you can even ask the question...
One of the things I'm doing is looking at my backlog of unproduced products. Each of these represents hard-won knowledge, and it is wrong for me to wait the perfect time and to create some elaborate structure to support them. So I'm going to be speeding up my teaching of material related to both fiction and life itself.

First up is the lecture "Writing The Thriller", recorded at the Write On The River conference in Wenatchee. Terrific stuff, almost three hours of lecture, plus the PDF workbooks, covering both the Hero's Journey (basic), the Chakras, and applying these critical patterns to the kind of stories that get your pulse racing and sales soaring! Order your copy today!

Writing The Thriller! My new course is available NOW. Live recorded MP3s, plus PDFs.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What Is A Character?

What is a Character?

I'm listening to a really brilliant talk on Writing Thrillers (it was done by a guy named Barnes at the Write on the River conference about ten days ago...oh, all right, I'm busted. It was me. But it really is great stuff) and one of the questions that arises is: what is a character? Or in the framework of the Hero's Journey, what or who is the "Hero" who is undergoing the journey?

Let's back up a bit, because both the Hero's Journey and the Chakras, the core of my teaching pedagogy, relate to the two questions at the root of human existence and awareness. Those two questions: "Who am I" and "What is True"?

The Chakras simply details the internal structure of a human being (different levels of growth or being) while the Hero's Journey relates to how a human being must interact with the world in order to progress as a spirit (or psychologically). In the process of the journey, he or she maps and explores reality, and asks the question "what is true?"

In a "trivial" film like "Avengers" the "who am I" is addressed for several characters as follows, moving between the "presenting personality" and the "real character":
Tony Stark's external personality: egotistical playboy. Real personality: self-sacrificing hero.
Captain America's external personality: "fish out of water Lost Boy." Real personality: natural inspirational leader.
Bruce Banner's external personality: reserved and terrified of his own anger. Real personality: totally in control and eager to smash.
Black Widow: external personality: cold and practical. Real personality: a woman in love, and deeply ashamed of her past as seductress/assassin.

And so it goes. By drawing a line between external character and internal character, even a "comic book" movie triggers our experience of our own duality...and sets up a dichotomy powerful enough to fuel a juggernaut.


(And all that thought was triggered by a single line from the talk I gave. Can't wait until I can offer you the whole thing!)

Thrown off balance

There is a gentleman who republishes posts I made several years ago about the spiritual path, and I look at those comments and don't know who made them. Why? Because they originated in a different part of my psyche. Deeper than the parts I've been able to access over the last year, due largely to the amount of chaos in my life, trying to stay balance for my family in a situation where my resources and environment are vastly different from anything I've had previously, or would ever have consciously chosen for myself.

But where I am is where I am, and I can't pretend it is something else. Looking back into my past is avoiding the moment. Looking forward to the future is avoiding the moment. The only time in which there is power is the Now. All else is a leach of energy, time spent studying the map as opposed to actually moving forward.

Oddly, moving forward is stillness and centering. Such a paradox: you can spend your whole life navel-gazing. Most people do the opposite: lose their lives immeshed in actions without understanding how those actions relate to our inner being. That is just as ultimately pointless as connection to inner being without connecting to outer work.

We must have both. And grasping that...or most honestly, during the MOMENTS when I grasp that, I glimpse a higher working to my life. My motivation for moving with my family, despite what it has cost me. On some level, if (when) I come out the other side of this I'll be a new person. A hopefully BETTER person. Stronger. Deeper.

And if that is true...then everything that has happened is just the Universe giving me another opportunity for growth. And it hurts. Growth usually does. And whether I grow or am broken by my experiences is decided by my ability to prevent stress from becoming strain. Which is connected to my centering and evidenced by my breathing.

Which is 100% my responsibility. So there it is: my ego can distract me from doing the right things, the things that would cause growth and...surprise! Ego death. And in the process allow me to blame the external world for my internal states.
Oh, it's clever, and kept me scrambled quite nicely, thank you. I'm catching my balance again. It's been a year, and I'm gaining perspective on the fact that about every seven years I throw myself a total loop, and it is another "cubic inch of opportunity." Take it, use it, grow with it, and it is mine.

Avoid it, deny it, disown it, and it is gone forever. This one is mine. I've paid the price, and the only sane response is to own the benefit as well.


Friday, May 25, 2012

What are my affiliations?

At the Write On The River conference last week, after my "Hero's Journey" talk, a lady asked me about my spiritual affiliations. Without hesitation, I replied "Zen Christian. Any of the principles of Christianity I can see manifesting in the processes of nature and the actions of animals I am happy to embrace. Especially where they map over with the red letters. The rest, I feel comfortable considering politics and opinions of less enlightened beings."

I am cautious about answering such questions, especially right after giving a talk. People mistake me for my message, and when "that" light goes on in their eyes I want to tell them they're talking to the wrong person. But that's not quite fair, either... those of us who have been walking the Path for a while have an obligation to answer honestly to those who seek truth. There are so many dead-end paths and approaches, and the least I can do it offer a caveat, and then an opinion.

So a few thoughts:
1) Look to whatever spiritual path you were offered in your youth. The lessons learned in childhood go deep. Look to see how those principles align with natural forces and the behavior of animals. That is your root. Select for love over fear, and see where you can tease out the roots from the political leaves, and the principle added by unenlightened followers.

2) Ask yourself where and how those principles lead to a strong and loving society, and where possible, where principles related to temporary political realities, rather than eternal truths.

3) When in doubt, choose love over fear. Most religious principles are not about "enlightenment" they are about being good, decent human beings sharing and caring in THIS world. That seems to be the doorway to whatever comes next.

4) Power is in the present moment. Every moment, we have the opportunity to re-create ourselves, change ourselves, heal ourselves. The past is gone, the future unborn. This is the only time we ever have.

5) Be regular in your practice, whatever it is. Find your spiritual actions in every aspect of your life. Either it is everywhere, or nowhere at all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Back From the River

I'm back from the "Write On the River" event
in Wenatchee, Washington. What a
wonderful trip! Drove into Seattle on
Thursday, rented a car and drove down to
Eugene, Oregon where I visited with friends
and then on Friday visited an Arts high
school in Springfield Oregon. Then the
next day I drove up to Wenatchee, through
 some absolutely beautiful country, where
I stayed at Kay and Tom Kenyon's lovely
 house. The next day I gave two lectures,
 one on the Hero's Journey and the
 other on Writing the Thriller.

Magic happened in that room. Got
comments back like:
"You've changed my life"
"The best talk on writing I've ever heard"
"I finally understand how it all works"
and, most satisfyingly, "where can
 I get a copy of that talk!!!?"

Well, more on that soon.

But meanwhile, the critical thing
to communicate is that I had no
notes, no real preparation other
 than printing up hand-outs. You
 can only get responses like that if
you are teaching what you know and
 live. It can't be theory. There isn't
a day of my life that I don't explore
and express the principles I spoke of.

And this is what I want for you...each
of you. Whether it is increasing your
 own output or teaching principles to
 others, you want to move your most
important skills to the level of "unconscious
competence" by:

1) Identifying a small number of life
 principles that can impact every aspect
of your life. I personally use the Hero's
Journey, the Chakras, and Musashi's

2) Study them and apply them in every
 major life arena: body, mind, spirit, and

3) Journal your application of the principles,
and see which of them are most useful.
How you are using them. How they
 interact, and do they interact smoothly
and powerfully.

There is NO WAY to hurry through this.
The first year is just a beginning. I've
been weaving these principles together for
twenty years, and still just starting to
understand. But one thing is clear: I have
to customize every critical principle and
practice to my individual needs: "off the
shelf" just doesn't cut it any more!

What about you?

P.S.--stay tuned. There will be a special
 announcement about the MP3s from the
Wenatchee lecture, coming early next week!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Working from the inside-out

The two workshops I'll be teaching in Wenatchee this weekend are
1) The Hero's Journey and
2) Writing the Thriller

I'm thinking that the definition of "Hero" is almost always someone who takes great risk for the potential of great benefit for his family or community. And that in the oldest stories of Heros there is almost always externalized risk and threat, with attendant action and dynamism.

The Thriller writer has to understand that the genre is primarily defined by the dominant emotion you want the audience to experience: thrills. I mean, this isn't hugely complex: a romance wants to trigger romantic yearnings and memories. A horror film wants to trigger the sensation of fear. A comedy wants you to laugh and release tension. Each has their own rules, but by studying the most successful films and books in each genre you can familiarize yourself with the methods and tropes associated with each.

I can tell you one thing,'d be well served not to think you're going to produce thrills with big stunts and special effects, just as you would be foolish to count on bloody SFX to produce horror, or mugging and slapstick to produce humor. Note the quote from Aristotle: "(Powerful emotion) may be aroused by spectacular means, but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior (writer). For the plot ought to be constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place." (The Poetics)

There it is. The emotions must be produced by a meshing of the basic structure of the situation with the basic nature of the characters, and be separate from the window dressing of effects and broad physical action. This, however, is writing INTRINSICALLY, working out the "bones" first. What most writers do is operate EXTRINSICALLY, from the outside-in.

If you look at the AVENGERS rendition of the Hulk, I believe you're seeing this in action. For the first time, the actor playing Banner also played the Hulk. Previously, "Hulk" was "acted" by the SFX animators--the computer folks. Now, not to slight animators, but they aren't actors . Yes, they take acting courses. But one would expect that to be exactly as effective as actors taking animation classes. I kept seeing something in Ruffalo's depiction that I never saw in Edward Norton's, or Eric Bana's.) It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally got it: Ruffalo's Hulk wasn't just a force of nature like the others were. It was an animal. I could feel its actions motivated by emotion, rather than the need to fill the screen with destruction.

And that, to me, was a world-class actor creating the core of the character, rather than world-class animators who have taken a few hours of acting classes. I think the artists responded by giving the Hulk's musculature more "reality". I felt like I was watching an anthropoid creature, with fantastically thick tendons and ligaments anchoring inhumanly powerful and springy muscles to bones stronger than girders. Its body accelerated and decelerated in segments--like real-world flexible objects--rather than all in a "block" as previous Hulks had seemed to do.

And I think Ruffalo set the context for much of that. Inspired. Began with an emotional truth: "I'm angry all the time" and constructed both a Banner and a motion-capture Hulk which, once "spectacle" was added, blew audiences away.

The inspiration of an army of SFX people might be compared to the inspiration of ALL your creative aspects (and it can be useful to actually consider your internal resources to be a crew, rather than a single "creative" aspect) to create the greatest work of which you are capable. Or the ultimate inspiration of an audience which suspends its disbelief more readily because they believe in a character, understand his needs, sees the threat and potential in the situation, empathizes with the goals and sees parallels in their own lives...and therefore has an investment in believing, a PREFERENCE to surrender, rather than leaning back, crossing their arms and saying: "I dare you to entertain me."

Write from the twin balance of situation and character, crafting each to the other, and you'll have joined the male and female generative energies that create an artistic "child"--and be on your way to creating a living work of art.

Known unknowns

Today the most important thing I can do is get ready for my workshop in Wenatchee, Washington, teaching Thriller writing and the Hero's Journey. I don't know what I'm going to say, but I know how I'm going to prepare myself.

Here's a quote from Think And Grow Rich about inventor Elmer R. Gates. "When Dr. Gates desired to draw upon...his Creative Imagination, he would go into (his) room, seat himself at the table, shut off the lights, and CONCENTRATE upon the KNOWN factors of the invention...until ideas began to "flash" into his mind in connection with the UNKNOWN factors of the invention."

And there you have it. You have a GOAL (create invention, get result). Proceed with FAITH (belief that there is an answer, and that you can and should find it.) Take ACTION (write down or concentrate upon what is known, or what you CAN do about a problem until you generate new ideas or perspectives about the unknown or intractable elements.) The last piece, keeping a powerful positive ATTITUDE relates to "faith" but isn't the same thing. I believe it is beginning with the emotion you wish to have at the end. Too many people postpone pleasure until some future point where everything is "perfect."

Things will never be perfect--take your pleasure now, a little bit every single day. This nurtures the "kid" part of you, which is where all the creative genius comes from in the first place. It's "let's play!" as opposed to "now it is time to work."

I'm cutting this short now. The weekend is coming, and it's time for me to play.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fractal Fitness

Today is a pivotal day.
1) I'm creating another piece of the puzzle for the Sexual Transmutation course. Very happy about that.
2) Preparing for the Write on the River workshops this Saturday in Wenatchee. Have to have the presentation planned out, my hand-outs, and the equipment tested for recording the entire 3.5 hours. Stay tuned!
3) I'm continuing my experimentation with what I call "Fractal Fitness"--and just wanted to touch on it here. The idea builds from the Five Minute Miracle concept--taking several short breaks during the day, totalling to five minutes daily.

At some point I realized that my home schedule allows me more flexibility than many have, and I started asking myself what a "perfect" program would be, from my POV.

Welll...there was an interesting thing. A "perfect" syntax was:
1) Meditation.
2) Joint mobility
3) Skill work
4) Fitness work
5) Recovery (yoga).

I do skill before fitness because coordination degrades when you're tired. Unless you're training for high-level competition, therefore, it can be best to do skill work before you're tired. Note that this entire sequence could take no more than a couple of minutes: ten seconds of centering, thirty seconds of joint mobility, a single MA drill, a set of Be Breathed, and then a yoga pose held for five breaths.

Only a couple of minutes, but repeated Five times throughout the day, you can actually make progress.

Now...what happens if you have 20-60 minutes for working out solidly a couple of days a week? Great! What about if you just expand out one of your 5MM sessions? Go deeper into meditation, yoga, mobility, skill, or fitness. You are creating Macro-micro cycles, stressing health, safety, and awareness. On a day you miss your "big" workout, you are still stopping, breathing, and working your mobility. On a day when you miss your "little" workouts, you are still working every basic aspect of your health and performance.

It's fun--can take as little as five minutes a day (say...doing five short Be Breathed ab sessions) or act as the foundation of a high-level fitness lifestyle or even professional program.

And the fact is that almost any skill is best addressed in short multiple sessions per day. What would happen if you took N-Back breaks during the day? Stopped to read Aristotle five times? Reviewed a set of index cards organizing a writing project five times? The possibilities are endless.

I remember a comment I've heard from several "master" level performers I've known. The truth is that a master is thinking about his area of expertise all the time. There's a little simulacrum of him chugging at the typewriter, the karate techniques, the yoga poses, the Om meditation, or contemplation of Shakespeare at all times.

This is a way to begin to integrate whatever is most important to you, at the deepest level, with a beginning investment of only five minutes a day.

Sounds like a deal to me!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Softly, softly...

The film project I've been hinting about has moved to its next level--the producer and I have exchanged notes, and we've agreed on the potential restructuring. This is a critical time, with more weighing on the steps I take in the next month or two than any other comparable period of my life. I will need to be SUPER on-point.

1) I have to be focused. That means meditating every morning, re-writing my goals, stopping five times a day to breathe and move.

2) My head must be clear. That means reading Shakespeare daily "Macbeth"), reading Aristotle daily (the "Poetics" and "On The Soul"), using N-back training to wake the old brain up.

3) My energy must be high. Plenty of rest. Eating well. Exercise and stretching and joint recovery.

4) I have to approach the project incrementally. To be honest, I've frozen in the past. LONG in the past, that's true, but I love this particular project so much that I don't want to take any chances at all. The "1%" rule, well...rules. Today, I will integrate the notes into the manuscript by creating a parallel Final Draft file and making broad notes. No pressure at all. La-de-dah, nothing going on here...

Softly, softly catchee monkey.

5) I am lining up my allies. That will be friends to talk to, writing associates to advise and brainstorm. My Mastermind group. Just arranged to have a work session with Charles Johnson up in Seattle. I'm teaching two workshops at the Write On The River conference in Wenatchee, Washington next weekend, and trust me, I'm gonna be thinking deeply about the connection between "The Hero's Journey" and "Writing the Thriller" and my rewrite.

There will be more, later. Now, to work...


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Back from Cali

Hi! I'm back from California, where it was a fabulous pleasure to see friends, relatives, and business connections, as well as AVENGERS and get lots of work done on about five different projects. Let's look at the way I nurtured body, mind, and heart on the road:
1) Body. Practiced Intermittent Fasting on the road. Plenty of fluids (driving across a desert is dehydrating!) and was careful to seek out salads on my eating days. Cheated a few times: I admit that I love Jack In the Box, and can't get it in Georgia. Sue me. Got plenty of rest--napped whenever possible. Used my parallettes, which are light and very portable. Did multiple sets of joint mobility during the day to counteract the effects of driving hundreds of miles.

2) Mind. Didn't get much "writing" done, but lots of planning for writing using stacks of 3x5 cards, simply pulling out a stack relating to one of several different projects, and combing through them, filling out cards, editing cards, replacing or adding cards. A nice way to combine linear and non-linear thinking. Met with about seven different people connected with various projects, set time-lines and goals, brain-stormed, master-minded and both offered and recieved assistance. Listened to about ten hours of Dean Koontz' "Mr. Murder"--which is a driving, straight-forward suspense novel that really kicks #$%@, perfect light listening when on the road and wanting to remind myself how it's done.

3) Emotions. Got lots of hugs. Friends, family, the connections I miss in Georgia. Saw my aunt and uncle in Phoenix, my sister and daughter in Los Angeles. And saw The Avengers, which was, while not perfect, possibly the best comic-book superhero movie ever made. That was enormously emotionally satisfying, and I can't overstate how important it is to "feed" that little kid inside me regularly. And of course, I meditated daily.

Even...or ESPECIALLY on the road, there is no reason not to feed every aspect of your existence.

1) What are you doing TODAY to nurture your body at a deeper and more focused level?
2) What was the last thing you did specifically to nurture your inner child, something extravagant and utterly absurd and wonderful?
3) When was the last time you told the five most important people in your life that you love them?
4) When was the last time you brainstormed your route to higher performance in your career, or a project which could lift you to the next level in your life?
5) When was the last time you checked in with your Mastermind partners to plan your next joint project, or brainstorm current ones?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Sex on the Radio

Taking off tomorrow for Los Angeles, traveling through Phoenix, where I'll be seeing friends, relatives, and working on projects. Juggling so many projects requires clarity, energy, and internal permission to well as simple organizational ability.

While in Phoenix, my emphasis will be on "Sexual Transmutation," the "forgotten chapter" of Think And Grow Rich. I've known Mukee Okan for over a decade. She is highly trained in some of the forms of sexual "magic" I've studied, and a casual conversation at a New Years party last December led to a decision to join our perspectives on energy, Think And Grow Rich, success, creativity, sexuality, Masterminding, and personal evolution into a course that takes this amazing, neglected subject straight on. Curiously enough, I originally began studying sex as a formal subject because I was unhappy with the way I wrote love scenes in my books.

Let's just say that I'm perfectly happy now, and leave it at that. Ahem.

We'll be doing a radio show together at 4pm MST tomorrow, discussing these subjects you can learn more HERE. (
Know that Mukee minces no words, and her approach to sexuality is totally unblushing, straight-forward and not for anyone who shies away from frank and somewhat frisky language. This is for adults only...but then, we're all adults here, aren't we?

For those who are interested in this subject, this is the opening salvo in our campaign to teach mastery of "second chakra" energy, joining it to foundational physical energy, and purifying it with heart-space emotional energy and love. Join us, won't you?