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Nov. 6 Book Talk to UT University Ladies Club at Chateau Bellevue

7 Jan

James and Annetta White, owners of Austin’s Broken Spoke, joined me in a presentation to the UT University Ladies Club at a dinner held in the historic Chateau Bellevue Nov. 6, 2019. Singer, songwriter and musician Ben Stafford Rodgers also sang some classic country songs.

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CAMEO book signing at the Broken Spoke Sept. 27, 2019

9 Oct

South Austin Costco book signing 10.23.2018

24 Oct
James White and I signed books from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Oct. 23, 2018 at the South Austin Costco while dozens of Broken Spoke fans stopped by to chat. That day Austin Utility Company had announced a “boil water” order due to serious flooding, so consequently the number of shoppers at Costco increased ten-fold. 

Oklahoma Book Festival 10.20.2018

24 Oct
I spoke on a panel at the inaugural Oklahoma Book Festival in Oklahoma City Oct. 20, 2018 together with Tennessee author Fred Minnick and moderated by The Oklahoman newspaper’s ‘food dude’ columnist Dave Cathey. Afterwards, one of my favorite Austin authors, Sarah Bird, signed her latest novel, The Daughter of the Daughter of a Queen. Later that afternoon I also toured the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. 

Boerne Book & Arts Festival 10.6.2018

24 Oct

Boerne and Shelley Sproull with us

Broken Spoke fan and my friend Shelley Sproull came out with her whole family to hear me talk and Christine Brown at Texas A&M University Press sold books. Singer and guitarist Ben Stafford Rodgers performed a few classic country songs and Deb Fleming moderated my talk.

OLLI group talk at UT Thompson Center

24 Oct

UT Forum book signing 10.5.2018

James White and I talked about the Broken Spoke and Ben Stafford Rodgers sang some classic country songs for a full house inside the Thompson Center at the University of Texas Oct. 5, 2018. Afterwards we sold and signed copies of my book for fans for the second time this year for the OLLI group.

Barton Creek Country Club book event 9.20.2018

3 Oct

James White and I spoke to members of the Barton Creek Country Sept. 20, 2018 about the Broken Spoke and signed copies of my book while Ben Stafford Rodgers performed a few classic country songs. Jenny Wren, co-producer of the 2016 documentary, Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke, also talked about the film and sold copies of the DVD. Marianna Dydek with Barton Creek Country Club organized our talk.

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Rotary Club of Austin book talk 8.14.2018

16 Aug

James White and I talked about the Broken Spoke for members the Rotary Club of Austin Aug. 14, 2018 following their regularly scheduled luncheon at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E. 8th Street in Austin. Ben Stafford Rodgers also sang a few classic country songs. Afterwards we sold and signed books.

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My article about TV show ‘Preacher’ posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

19 Jun

Actor and executive producer Seth Rogen (Superbad and Pineapple Express) and show runner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) did what fans of the comic book series Preacher thought impossible. They adapted Garth Ennis’s comic for the small screen and created season one as a prequel to Garth’s storyline on AMC. Season two airs on the AMC network tonight, June 19.

The show stars Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, a man possessed by a hybrid angel/demon, and his volatile hell-raising girlfriend Tulip O’Hare, played by award-winning actress Ruth Negga.

The writers crammed a lot of craziness, fire and brimstone into the first season. And this looks set to continue in season two, as the cast embarks on a road trip to find God.

Speaking at the SXSW 2017 “Making of Preacher” interview session hosted by Terri Schwartz, Seth Rogen, Sam Catlin and Garth Ennis discussed trusting your instinct, knowing where to draw the line, and translating the ideas in your head.

Schwartz: Welcome back to SXSW. You guys premiered the Preacher pilot here last year, right?

Rogen: Yeah, one year ago we showed the pilot here, and it was one of the most stressful days of my life. But it went well. Thank God we’re back.

What was the moment when you realized “Ok, this is how we can bring this to life in a way that no one has done before?”

Rogen: The truth is, we pursued it for years. The first meeting Evan and I had for Preacher was in our trailer while we were filming Pineapple Express in 2006. Then television went from being like the thing you watch on Thursday nights to like an amazing platform to do incredibly innovative things that you probably couldn’t even do in movies..

Ennis: A lot of executives who were further down the ladder the first time around, who were desperately trying to persuade their bosses that Preacher would work and it was the way to go, all of a sudden found themselves a bit higher up the ladder. And they were now able to say “This is the thing to do…Its time has come.”

Sam, you once described the comic as “profane, perverse and psychotic.” Did you break boundaries for the sake of breaking boundaries?

Rogen: I don’t think you ever want to do something just for the sake of doing that thing. We wanted a show that was audacious. I think when you’re reading the comics there are a lot of things that just can’t believe you’re seeing, you can’t believe you’re reading. You just can’t believe the story’s going in that direction. Those were things that we really wanted to have in the show.

When something is potentially on for years and years, it really has to have some emotional grounding, so it can never feel like you’re doing anything for the sake of doing it. It always has to feel like it’s born of character and story and emotion.

But once we feel like we have that, then we like to try to push it to the most original place that we can. Because there is so much on TV right now, originality is one of the beacons that calls people.

There are a lot of great things on TV right now, but there’s not a lot of great things that you’ve also never seen anything like them before. And that’s what we’ve talked a lot about trying to do.

Garth, what are your thoughts on some of the changes that were made?

Ennis: I think they made sense out of things in the comics that are just taken as given. I like the way that I can see that Jesse’s life as a preacher has grown over time. I like the fact that reasons are given for Tulip and Cassidy to be there, rather than just being coincidence.

In the comic book, everyone meets up by chance. I think I was just trying to get it rolling as fast as I possibly could. And also, I was 24 when I wrote that stuff. When you’re 24 you’re just thinking, “Let’s get on with it.”

On the show you’re going to need much more material. So it’s obvious there are going to be new things; there are going to be changes. I think they’ve come up with the right ones.

You set up many mysteries in season one. Did you have to stop yourselves from including too many?

Rogen: I think the first season deals with a lot with Jesse’s father’s side of the family. I think in season two we start to ask the question, “what was his mother’s side of the family like?”

How did you develop God as a character for season 2?

Catlin: It’s very challenging, because in Preacher God isn’t an idea, he’s not a way of looking at life; he’s a guy who’s out walking around. He’s missing and Jesse’s gonna be on his trail.

Have you guys received any notes from AMC telling you to lean away from some of these elements?

Rogen: We have not received a lot of that, honestly. They want the show to be good and they want it to represent what we all set out to make in the first place. We’ve had a couple of ideas that required like maybe a 10-minute phone call…But I do not feel like we are neutering our ideas, or holding back on the content that we want to be putting out there. If anything I’m shocked we are able to push it as far as we do.

Garth what has been your response to seeing some of these scenes coming to life, and knowing that some of the more controversial things are coming down the road?

Ennis: When we did the comic it was more by stealth. The imprint of DC Comics who did it—at Vertigo—had very sympathetic people in charge, but the actual publishers, the actual executives in charge of DC Comics overall, were not sympathetic. We got as far as we did by stealth, not by meaning to, but by not getting noticed by the wrong people. Now the right people are in charge, and that’s why the TV show is able to go as far as it can.

Do any of you have any concepts that you’d love to bring to life if you didn’t have to worry about backlash or limitations?

Ennis: Ninety percent of what I do is done without any restrictions but my own. In fact, in a couple of instances I’ve written stories where I’ve run into my own limits before I run into those of the publishers.

Rogen: Something I learned years ago is that the idea that you’re joking about between takes, when you say “no, we can’t do that,” that’s exactly what we should be doing. That’s the type of thing that people will really respond to. I’ve seen that happen first-hand, where there have been jokes between takes, and I’ve said, “You know what would be funny? If one of us said this: but that would be just too fucked up.” Then one of the other actors just says it the next day and it winds up in the movie, and being the line that people think we thought of for years and year and years.

If your instinct is “we can’t do that, but it would be really good to do that,” then you should do that.

Audience Member: How do you know where to draw the line?

Rogen: You’re asking a guy who almost started a war with North Korea! [The Interview in 2012.]

I guess you know I’m not the best person for knowing where that line is. I’ve found that you don’t know where the line is until you look back, and think “oh, that’s where the line was—a thousand miles back there?” Yeah, the line is not a deal. We talk more about, “Will the audience get this?” Or, “Have we done the work we need to do to translate this idea from our brains into the eyes and ears of an audience?” That’s what I think we do the most.

It’s almost like translating. The challenge has been taking into consideration every way they might not interpret it correctly, and taking into consideration every way that you might not do your job correctly in making them understand this thing that you want them to understand

But to me there is no idea that is not explorable. There’s only the limits of your abilities to articulate why you feel it’s an idea worth exploring, and articulate why you think the audience should be listening to your take on this specific idea.

Ennis: I would say when you’re talking about creativity, start with where you want to get to, and worry about the rest later. Because when you try to get published, or when you try to get your film distributed or whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll find out pretty soon where the limits are then. But you shouldn’t be thinking about that when you’re putting a story together.

There’ll be plenty of time to have people tell you “no.” But in the beginning, do what you want.

Please also read my article and see my photos on Creative Screenwriting’s website at:

My interview with Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

12 Jun

Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail discusses the importance of story authenticity, portraying mental illness, and playing with memory.

Hit television series Mr. Robot on the USA Network stars actors Rami Malek as vigilante hacker Elliot Alderson, and Christian Slater as the eponymous Mr. Robot.

To date the show has been nominated for six Emmys and received numerous awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Television Drama Series.

Mr. Robot was created by Sam Esmail, who thought about the storyline for 20 years before even putting pen to paper. In an exclusive interview with Creative Screenwriting, Esmail discusses the process of creating characters based on real people, the importance of personal experiences in storytelling, and how they have taken their time to reveal the relationships between their show’s characters, as they explore abstract concepts such as memory, truth, and the consequences of one’s actions.

You took great risks in writing season one of Mr. Robot. How did those risks contribute to the show’s longevity?

Honestly, we didn’t look at it as risks at the time. We were just doing what we thought was authentic and real, and we were exploring the character that we all were intrigued by and compelled by.

As long as those things felt good to us in the writers’ room, that was something that we were always on board with.

Because we hadn’t seen anything like this exactly on television or in the movies, to be honest with you, risk was something that just never factored into it. Once you start letting those external forces enter into the creative process, then it ends up being more about research and what you think the audience will like or what the audience hasn’t seen before. So we tried to keep that out and just really tried to tell an interesting story about a compelling character.

Your characters come from a variety of backgrounds, but they all share a similar mindset. How did you create them?

I’m very much about ‘you write what you know.’

This is pretty easy for me because I have a lot of friends in the tech world and in the hacker world. I’ve also just read about hacker and tech news just as a hobbyist. So I’ve been around these people and it’s really a very interesting subculture that I actually never thought was accurately portrayed in Hollywood, whether on film or TV.

I just really drew a lot from that, and I drew a lot from my own life, from people that I know. I took as much as I could from personal experiences, as well as from other writers in the room. Authenticity is kind of our motto in the room, and not only goes for the technical accuracy on the show, but for the people as well. In fact, more so for the people, because we wanted these to be very specific and very real people.

Your protagonist Elliot Alderson suffers from a mental disorder. How did you research his psychology for the show?

Again, he is based on people that I knew, and also from my own personal experience in dealing with social anxiety.

We also have a psychologist as a consultant who deals with people with Elliot’s specific disorder. We involve her in the writing process a lot in terms of just breaking a story to begin with, to kind of get into his whole point of view.

What it ultimately comes down to is that we want the experience of watching the show to feel like what a person suffering from this disorder feels, how that person would experience the events that happen in Elliot’s life.

So it’s a combination of bringing a consultant on, as well as just doing a deep dive into the disorder, and the friends and the people that we know with the disorder, and getting those details right. Ultimately it really comes down to showing the details, and showing the anguish of the day-to-day struggle of it.

I think that’s the thing that really resonates with Elliot, and the way that Rami portrays it. He asks those questions. Even if the script doesn’t have everything, Rami then thinks about it. He takes the time to dissect it and says, ‘Well, how would somebody with that disorder walk, how would someone with that disorder walk across the room?’

That’s not on the page, that’s something that Rami then researches on his own. And he also talks to the consultant. Then he gets that behavioral detail in there as well. Because authenticity is such a priority, it really just kind of all comes together from everyone taking a deep dive into their own respective department and figuring out that research. 

You portray a lot of his memory problems through hallucinations or visions and dreamlike sequences. Will we see more of these kinds of sequences in season three?

Yes, that’s sort of the rhythm of the show. I liken it to when you’re standing very close to a painting and you think you’re seeing one thing, and then you take a step back and you’re seeing a bigger picture. Then you take another step back and you’re seeing an even bigger picture. Every time you take that step the story gets reframed in a way.

That’s the way that I think we tell our story. There is a linear story, but as we fill in the details of the past, the present starts to get reframed. So we have this circular logic to our storytelling.

For example in the first season, you are following this relationship between Elliot and Darlene, and then once we reveal the past content of that relationship, everything before it gets reframed. So yes, that’s definitely going to be a device that we use moving forward.

It’s interesting that the audience doesn’t really know if what we’re seeing is real or simply Elliot’s perception of reality. Is Elliot’s perception of reality a metaphor for a current social and political environment?

Yes. I don’t think we intentionally do that, but because I bring so much of who I am, and how I feel about the world, and my worldview into the show, and I encourage the other writers in the writers’ room to do the same thing, it can’t help not be. These are the issues that are important to us.

We always talk about the show as almost being a period piece­­—almost—of 2015. Because this show still lives in that year, yes of course it is going to include the moral relativism of the world, and this sort of contradiction of truth and reality that we’re seeing now. That’s all sort of incorporated into the theme of the show.

Elliot makes his biggest game-changing decisions while not under the influence of either street drugs or prescription meds. Is this also a social statement?

Again, I don’t know if we make social statements. I don’t feel like it’s that direct, but we definitely include our own worldview.

When we make choices like that, we really first come from a place of character. We come from a place where we ask, “Is this the truth for Elliot?” And then we take a step back and ask, “What are we saying in general?” Because obviously TV is a mass entertainment form, and we know that in every episode we have a theme and we always want to speak to that. So yes, every decision we make, we always try to factor that in. It ultimately always comes down to a question of “Are we being honest in terms of Elliot’s emotional training?”

I noticed that Elliot’s disorder directly contributes or correlates to other characters’ deaths. How is he being impacted by other characters’ deaths?

I think Elliot is a very internal guy. He often doesn’t speak much, but then says a lot in his mind. Which is the contrast, and the way we use the voiceover: he is very verbose and open to us, who he considers as friends, but to others—to the outside world—he holds everything in internally.

Literally, season two is about that war within. That’s where most of the action in Elliot’s storyline took place, because we wanted to kind of underline that point. Elliot, the person he is to the outside world, is not the same Elliot that is living in this chaos within himself.

So these deaths are obviously impacting him, but in a very internal way; he’s internalizing all of that and that will reach a boiling point. That’s what this series is all about: how much of this can Elliot take on? How much of the consequences of his actions can he keep internalizing?

If the first season focuses on Elliot’s awareness and season two is the internal battle, then the third season is full-on disintegration.

Let’s look at some of the other characters in the show. Elliot’s sister Darlene  remembers their mother, and not their father being abusive. So their stories are completely different.

You’re right to see that contradiction, where her interpretation of the past is very different than Elliot’s.

That’s where we play a lot with memory. Elliot obviously has those issues where he is repressing both people and whole swaths of time. Again, this circular storytelling that we’ve embraced, is the reflection of how Elliot starts to remember things. As those pieces come in, you’ll start to see that the present storyline will continually be reframed because of the information we learn.

In season two, it seems that Darlene has grown up. How has her increase in commitment to her cause spawned that growth?

Darlene has her own sets of issues. I always say that the first season was really getting into Elliot’s head. The second season is about getting into everyone else’s.

Darlene has her own demons, and her own path that we have just started to scratch the surface of. It led to her being a murderer, and the way that Carly (Chaikin) plays that is in the moment after. As you look into her eyes, you ask, “Is that who she is, or is that not?” Is she playing a part, or is she really this way deep down?

The FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (played by Grace Gummer) suffers some serious internal injuries as well as physical injuries during the course of the show. What will motivate her to keep working?

I’ve always looked at Dom as sort of the flip side of Elliot. Whereas Elliot has weaponized his loneliness to essentially take down the economic order, Dom on the other hand uses her loneliness as a way to dedicate her whole life to law enforcement and to bring about justice. Those are the two polar opposites.

Grace, who brilliantly plays Dom, kind of speaks to that in the finale of season two, when she tells Darlene that she doesn’t necessarily think that she is a good detective, but the only reason that she’s gotten that far is because she has no life. She has too much time on her hands, and she has dedicated all of her time to it.

I think that’s what makes that character so special. There is a little lack of self-awareness about how good she is, but on the other hand she makes a good point about herself: she does have that flaw and uses it as strength.

The characters are so deep, so ‘flesh and blood’, that it seems like you’ve been working on them for years. Is that correct?

Well, not necessarily pen to paper. In writing anything, there’s always that gestation period where you’re just thinking. I actually think that most of writing is thinking.

So I’ve been thinking about it for years. I would say that I’ve had it in the back of my head since I was in college. It starts with just that inkling, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to tell a story about these people?’ It grows as other details come at you. Then you hit the monsoon of details, and it finally kind of translates to enough excitement for you to get on the laptop and say “I have to write this.”

So yes, in that way it’s probably been 20 years. Pen to paper, once I got to that point, and once I allowed all the forces over those years to sort of coalesce and come together and motivate me, then it just took a few months to actually write it.

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