Archive for May, 2011

Soundtracks for Writing: Also Doubling As a Girl-Positive Makeout Tape

I love having soundtracks for writing, or for making anything, really. I love finding out what other writers listen to while they write. I assiduously document and soundtrack every story and film I write. I even directed through music, giving actors a copy of the music I associated with their character. (Amusingly, one actress I worked with, I could just give her a song reference from my mixes on set and she knew exactly what I was after in her performance.)

While my last mix for the book was very “historical” (lots of late 80s/skate stuff), this mix was the latest batch of songs I wrote my last draft to and it’s much more about mood and theme. I gave a copy of this (on CD! old school!) to my best friend/muse and he noted drily that it sounded like a makeout/female sexual empowerment tape instead. Which is true; much of my book concerns sustained kissing, or wanting to be kissed in a sustained way, or recovering from such kissing. And yes, sexual power is a kind of theme in the book, too. But really: if my book were a person, I honestly would most definitely make out with it. And I don’t say that about many books at all! I’m sure that’s a very strange thing to say and I can’t fully explain it, but even when my book is making me crazy and sad and angry and full of doubt and self-loathing — I still love writing it anyway.

Here’s the track listing:

The xx, “Hot Like Fire”
I loved that the xx covered an Aaliyah song.

Thom Yorke, “Hearing Damage”
Ugh, I can’t believe I took a song from the New Moon soundtrack. But say what you will about the movies, their soundtracks have generally been solid.

TV on the Radio, “Will Do”
What straight girl doesn’t want a dude to express these sentiments to her at some point?

Lykke Li, “Get Some”
Kind of the “These Boots Were Made for Walking” of the year.

Jane’s Addiction, “Mountain Song”

The Walkmen, “On the Water”
I love how this sounds like a landscape, a dark, moonlit one.

Warpaint, “Shadows”
The whole Warpaint album is so part of the novel’s DNA that I feel like I should pay them royalties or something.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Shame and Fortune”
It took me forevs to warm up to It’s Blitz! but I’m glad I did.

Lady Gaga, “Bloody Mary”
I’m fond of anything song that sounds like Depeche Mode but sung by ladies, and this fits that bill. I love the Edith Piaf-like vocal as well.

Calla, “Dancers in the Dust”
I have had such a huge crush on this band for ages! Much of their whole oeuvre is makeout material.

R.E.M. “You are the Everything”
This song makes a direct appearance in the book.

Depeche Mode, “World in My Eyes”
Okay, okay, might as well put Depeche Mode in here.

Crystal Castles, “Tell Me What to Swallow”
My shuffle kept throwing this song into the mix one day as I was working through a weird, tricky passage in the book, and it totally helped. I’m convinced my shuffle is like my underworld spirit guide, leading me out of the morass of my own imagination into strange new places. Or something like that.

Tricky, “Feed Me”
Just a rad, slinky song.

I Made It Through the Wilderness: Notes on Finishing My Latest Draft, And Slaying My Inner Literary Snob

Whew! Clink your champagne glasses with me, my lovelies, because I just completed my second big, big revision of this draft! Yayness all around, please…I feel like Odysseus just come home! (Of course, he came home to a bunch of dudes trying to cruise his lady and pillage his home, so maybe that’s actually an apt simile.)

I’m behind schedule in the timeline that exists inside my mind: I originally wanted to be done with this mid-month, but I got so frustrated because the words just didn’t come. Well, to clarify: the words were there, but the new ones that I wanted to replace them with just refused to make their way from my head through my fingers and onto the page.

I’d sit there stubbornly for hours, staring at my screen, reaching into my bag of tricks. I changed cafes, ate chocolate, called friends, went shopping, took walks, talked in my head to my characters. Nada, niente, rien. How frustrating! And how even more frustrating because my stuck-age always occurs in the same freaking spot: that bit of story before what some screenwriters call the act break between act two and three. Crucial, momentous, intense: the bit where an old-fashioned story breaks off and lets itself be carried away by the currents of the actions you’ve so carefully structured to happen.

But I got through. And I have to say, I’m bubbling over, because although I’m terribly superstitious to say it, I think I’ve cracked the damn case. MY BOOK’S ALMOST TRULY DONE!

Of course, I may be regretting saying that once I read my new words next week and realize that it could just be a crazy pile of merde. But let’s pretend it’s true, so I can squirrel away my most recent lessons from this round of revision, and share them here with myself just in case I forgot for the next go-round.


The biggest breakthrough I made was actually because I began getting up before work to work on my novel. This normally isn’t a problem — that’s how I finished all my film school applications ages ago. (A part-time job in itself, I assure you, applying for film school.) But lately I’ve been beginning at 7AM, so this means getting up at 5:30AM. I am a night owl, so this was excruciatingly hard. I know I sound like a baby when I say it, but coming from a recovering insomniac who realizes how precious and beautiful sleep is, it’s a huge thing to shift. Something about devoting the freshest part of my energy to writing, though, really held true. I wasn’t giving my labor of love the scraps of my energy and attention, when I was tired after a day’s labor; I was giving the best of it instead. Early morning, plus the Pomodoro technique I told you about here, helped me focus and be highly efficient, and it made a huge difference. You truly cannot underestimate your physical condition as a factor, even when doing something so mental and imaginative as writing.


This may make sense only to writers, but sometimes you get to a point where you have an idea for where your big massive story could go, and you think it, and then there’s a tiny part of you that goes: Oh, no, that is too freaking crazy. You can’t go there. That is just too nuts! So you talk yourself out of it, because it’s a big risk: it upends your careful planning, takes you in an unpredictable direction, and what if it’s wrong? Then you’ve probably wasted at least one month on the mistake! I came to that point during writing this go-round, where I was just like, Hmmmm, okay, I’m a little stuck here, what can I do? (That actually sounds a lot calmer than I felt. I was more like, “FUCKING SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME? WHY CAN’T I FUCKING WRITE?!!!!”)

At first I thought it was a problem of craft, and I did all my little tricks to spook myself out of it. And some of them helped a lot, but then I got stuck again. I realized the problem went deeper: I wanted to do something super-outlandish in the story, but then it would bring me into Crazy Fantasy Novel territory, and I had kind of unresolved feelings about that.

Part of you may be thinking, “Duh, Kat! You’re writing about freakin’ werewolf skater boys! That’s total Crazy Fantasy Novel! Why are you tripping?” I mean, I love those books. That’s why I’m writing them, right?

But no, friends, I had to enter some Heart of Darkness territory here, mostly to do with a strange internal pressure I feel to be more “literary.” It’s kind of exemplified by an encounter I had during film school, when I ran into an old creative writing prof I studied under in undergrad. This person is a poet; I had been mostly a poetry writer as an undergrad and frankly, I had been very good, got published, won awards, etc. I was happy to see Professor and we caught up happily on a bustling sidewalk in New York, and when we got to me being in film school, this person kind of wrinkled their nose and expressed a little disappointment that I left the craft of poetry. “You had such promise!” was the phrase that I remembered most.

Ever since then, it’s just been haunting me in this subterranean way that I was barely aware of, like a little virus nagging at me in the operating system that is Kat. I had to wrestle with it, with the tension between what I “should” be doing and what I really wanted to do. Could I have been a good poet? I’m sure, actually; I was pretty confident of my talent in that area. So if I have all this talent, shouldn’t I be being more literary? Am I really wasting my potential? Am I wasting my time? Shouldn’t I be doing something more legit? Why am I writing such a ridiculous book anyway?

But the answer is so simple, really: Because it’s always been something I wanted to read.

It really just boils down to that for me. I’ve always wanted to read a really romantic, dark, sexy love story when I was a teenage girl, about a girl who was made stronger and more fully herself from love and romance, not weakened by it. One where desire and sex are liberation, not a way to diminish and disempower yourself. I like stories with clear, strong lines, heroic feelings, epic romances and mysterious boys. And yes, I love the supernatural: ghosts, fairy tales, dragons, battles, Tolkien, King Arthur, werewolves, demons, angels, all that stuff. Those stories are the ones that stay with me the most — why wouldn’t I want to aspire to that? And come on — stuff like “Buffy” are my favorite shows and characters ever. Let me be true to my heart!

So basically, I had to tell my inner Poetry Writing Prof to shove off and just roll with it. It was a bit like being my own literary therapist. And truth is, I’m still telling inner Poetry Writing Prof to shove off. But I do it enough to let the crazy happen, storywise, and boom! Energy, momentum, fire in the belly: exactly what my story needed at that moment. The story zipped along nicely, and now I’m gearing up to give it a read and hopefully one more polish before I stick a fork in it and call it done. Because, yay, it’s almost done, and I got to slay my inner literary snob for the time being.

On Generosity, Near and Far

Last week marked one year after I graduated film school, and oh, what a ride it’s been! I barely remember the event itself, because I was so sleep-deprived and tired from moving. And the months afterwards? Kind of an emotional haze as I decompressed from school and set about the task of recreating life for myself without the structure of school to guide me. How was I going to move forward? How was I going to make money? Such crazy pressing, pesky questions!

Here’s where I was and what I thought at the time: I’m going to shoot a short film in Thailand in the fall. I’m going to create a mobile-based, portable web design business for myself so I can travel and support myself. I’m going to stay based in New York. I was after mobility, freedom and solidity; I wanted to put a strong foundation under myself so I could focus on what really mattered to me, which was my art.

Instead, I did this: I wrote a novel that I’m now just finishing: a book that is dear to my heart and entertains me to no end. I took a regular gig so I could focus on writing instead of creating a business, which takes a lot of time to develop. (My gig still lets me work from home and travel at will, though, so I still have that down!) I moved from NYC because it was just too expensive to justify and am near Chicago instead as I make plans to travel to Europe in the fall and then spend some time in L.A. this winter. So there it still is: mobility, freedom and solidity, just in a different package than what I thought.

I’m telling you this because if you set your intention strong in your heart and know how you want your life to feel, you will rarely go wrong. That’s the big lesson I learned from Danielle Laporte‘s The Fire Starter Sessions, which I got a year ago when I still thought I would be building a web design business. I snatched it up immediately on her “Pay What You Can” day for $50 (it’s normally $150). It’s a massive book, workbook and set of videos aimed at digital entrepreneurs and that’s what I thought I’d be. It’s about a lot more, though, and is a lot more heart-centered than your average business development book. It’s about putting soul into your offering to the world. It’s got great business acumen, but even better, a huge, huge heart, and it was the heart part that gave me the courage to eschew my web design stuff because it just wasn’t sparking me in any way anymore, though I had a clientele and it was chugging along anyway. Even though I ended up not being an entrepreneur in the way I thought I’d be, I still think it was some of the best stuff I read: exactly what I needed at the time, and I was inspired by how someone could be so generous at a moment when I needed it most.

It’s Danielle’s birthday again, and she’s doing Pay What You Can day once more! I would advise anyone who ever wanted work to be meaningful, who ever wanted to build an enterprise for themselves that contained their heart and soul, to get on this, and quick — it’s only good till midnight PST TODAY. It’s a hugely generous act to offer one of your star products this way.

In honor of audacious acts of generosity to people near and far, I decided to buy Danielle’s book again, but this time for someone special: you! Yes, I’ll kick in my own dinero to buy someone a copy of The Spark Kit today (as Danielle is calling it now.) Just email me at kat (at) nogoodforme.com, telling me what you’re up to in terms of your life, and work, and what you want to build for the world in terms of enterprise and business, how this piece fits in the puzzle of your life and what action you are taking (and by when!) on your lil’ empire/enterprise. The very first small biz/art enterprise type who contacts me with all that good info will get it (I’ll update this post when it’s given away). I have to be honest and say that this is probably best for people who already have some kind of business/blog/passionate hobby going, but are looking to take it to the next level, either with wise, skillful action or renewed clarity and focus; if you’re casting about a business or project idea in the first place, I think there are better resources for that. I wish I could buy it for everyone, but I can’t, so this was the most elegant way I could think of. So read it over, see if it’s something you like, and I really, truly look forward to hearing from you and seeing how I can help you in some way, as Danielle did herself a year ago.


UPDATED: IT’S GIVEN AWAY!! I was actually surprised at how long it took. Loads of people emailed asking if the offer was still up and I kept saying, ‘Yes! Yes! No one’s stepped up to the plate yet!’ Because, yes, putting down your hopes, fears and plans is definitely daunting, and sharing them with someone is as well! But only the intrepid in these parts, especially if you want to strike out on your own! Anyway, I am psyched that someone finally took me up on my offer! It feels great to be generous, it really does.

A moment during a storm

It had been oppressive all day; I should’ve known that storms were coming from the way the air felt heavy and the smells grew sharp in the late afternoon. My niece, nephews and I even tried going for a walk, but clouds moved in quickly, winds began whipping the tree branches back and forth, and a smattering of rain hit us just as we turned back, screaming with a kind of fear and delight as gusts of cooler air rushed forth.

Still it was a surprise when the tornado sirens went on and stayed on, wailing loudly in the air. We piled in the basement, and even as branches flew off trees and the air turned dark and violent, the kids ran riot over the boxes of old toys, my youngest sister’s old poster of Kurt Cobain as a child looking down benevolently upon us, tacked up like an afterthought with the rest of her early teenage detritus.

“Who’s Kurt Cobain?” my oldest nephew asked.

“He was in a band called Nirvana.”

“Was he famous?”

“Well, he’s on a poster, so he is on some level.”

My nephew looked at the years of Cobain’s birth and death under the picture. “Why did he die so young?”

“He killed himself.”

My nephew took that in for a moment, puzzling it out. He’s 11. He had questions about the Rapture all weekend, and wanted to know how it differed from the apocalypse that’s supposed to happen in 2012.

We looked out the window together for a moment, watching the squall outside, and inwardly I worried about being so straightforward about suicide. He’s at a tricky age, where in some ways he’s so mature but in others he’s still so innocent.

“Why did he do it?”

“He was very troubled. But so are a lot of people, and they don’t go that far.”

He thought about it for a moment. “What do you do with troubles?” He sounded worried and somber, even for a fairly serious kid.

Oh, what a question, I thought to myself as the sirens wailed louder and the thunderstorm grew. What a question to begin growing up with.