It’s exciting to be where I can break down the Storyverse builder mechanics for teams, and individual creators. In the first attempts to work through the method with individuals, I could see their eyes glazing over—so it took some finagling to put it into a more digestible process.
Still, these courses are not beginner worldbuilding courses and workbooks. They require a basic understanding of narrative structure, and a fundamental awareness of standard worldbuilding practices. Essentially, these tools pick up where a lot of the other resources leave off—where the main-stream educational platforms and materials send writers off to do the thing.
But what if you’re a creator doing the thing, and realize there’s so much more that wasn’t covered and you’re fumbling around looking for the matrix key to unlock greater interdependencies to bring your work to broader scope, scale, and audiences?
Here’s an introduction video link to Mandalic Storyverse Construction. Workbooks and workshops for pre-order soon.
It was a rough day of issues related to country living; a water filtration malfunction in the most epic way, then spectacular rescue from my neighbors to help cap the water pipe and fix the generator, prep for the storm and cleanup the shattered tree limbs from the storm two days prior--I’m rethinking my winter plans.
The glass biolight sleeve had shattered inside the UV casing, shooting broken glass into the water system, and as I squatted in the shed, temperatures dropping outside, with my hands clamped over the pipe trying to keep the glass from entering the pipe system into the house—I realized many of the issues I’m cleaning up now could have been prevented with regular maintenance that I’d deprioritized during the push to get projects out and contractors settled.
In my panic in the moment, I forgot to reach for the shutoff valve for a whole thirty seconds.
My neighbors are amazing. Once I remembered the shutoff valve, then scrambled for a bucket to try to flush the system I’d managed to contain and capture the remaining glass—I ran to my neighbor to see if they had a 1” compression cap I could borrow to seal off the UV casing and bypass the biolight system until I can order a new glass sleeve. Both my neighbors rushed in ready to help stop the mess from getting worse. I wouldn’t have running water today without them. As it is, I’ll be drinking bottled water until after the hard freeze when I can flush the full system and do a hard reset on the filters and light just to make sure there’s no glass. (Also, bypassing the biolight means whatever comes out of the tap is basically straight river water from a very shallow aquifer—No drinky.)
The first storm that came through dropped a bunch of limbs from the 150-year-old Douglas fir, and shattered my favorite ceramic pots on the deck. Along with rattling the whole house and blowing my tarps all over the yard, the storm flooded the creek and pushed sizable debris around. It also dropped a tree in my neighbor’s yard.
Long story short, this is all just part of living so far off the beaten path. These are the daily issues. Much of which could have been prevented if I had been on my game, but I was not. That sleeve in the biolight system should have been pulled and washed when I shocked the well back in November, but I told myself it could wait a minute. So many other urgent things to tackle first. And now it’s a much bigger problem.
So new winter plans include re-setting the property so I can focus more freely. Yes, winter is my writing and building season—but if my cottage is falling down around my ears, I won’t be able to focus. The to-do list is significant. Basically, everything that wasn’t a top priority for the last 18 months needs to be prioritized over next six weeks. This will also free up some worry around the need to travel to LA and know the house is safe and well-tended while I’m gone. Also, I won’t ask the house-sitter to drink bottled water—the whole water system needs to be redone, flushed, and reset prior to having a sitter.
Plucking a sliver of glass from my hand today before sitting down to write was that moment of—I’m not sure this setup is working anymore. To be able to jump back and forth freely from the woods to the city, I’m going to need a more automated setup and system of upkeep. I don’t have one in place because I hadn’t seen that far ahead. So, now is the time.
This space needs to be a retreat, a safe place to return, write, produce and build (and recover) without interruptions between meetings and events in California. I’m sure everyone has a system to help maintain their sanity during those pushes. Thus, this space will need a reorg and a plan in place for it to run more efficiently and be that kind of safety net spot—at least for a while.
Meanwhile, the ice front is moving in. I’ve got the firewood prepped, the blankets piled up, and the laptop charged for writing. See you all on the other side.
The ice front moved in. Despite putting a heater on the water system, the pump still froze. So, it’s a good thing I had prepped with bottled water. Oye. Meanwhile two days of below freezing temps and I managed to get much of my re-write list knocked down and a bit of the studio organized. Huzzah!
Publishing is a storytelling medium I can happily swim in without feeling disoriented or overwhelmed. I have to remind myself it wasn’t always so. I have to remind myself that there was a time when I constantly needed bearing checks and a lighthouse to avoid the shoals.
The Hollywilds can feel like choppy waters, turbulent and chilly one moment, then warm and calm the next. The only orientation I have in learning not just a new medium of storytelling, but understanding an entertainment industry in the middle of its own structural upheaval and transformation is to look for the lighthouses.
Coming from publishing to screen is not a one-for-one match, of course. But it’s a lot closer than many other fields. Having a financial background and project management/business development backgrounds helps immensely. I’ll say boldly, that those backgrounds probably help more in the conversion to entertainment than any other creative experience I have. It also makes the case for diversifying skill-sets, and for having another form of employment or income that allows my creative side to breathe freely without being beholden to the whims or fickleness of others’ “creative” expectations—which are almost always financially incentivized… and not to my benefit.
When asked what I would do differently? I don’t know. I only know what’s working or not—and that will be different for everyone based on their skill-sets, desires, processes and willingness to grit (more on this in a minute). All I know for me is that the traditional pathways that I keep getting coached toward, by the most well-meaning and wonderful people, don’t actually work for me as an artist or an individual. “This is the way it’s always been done. These are the things you have to do.”
That doesn’t seem to roll in my favor, and from the looks of it—not much in anyone else’s favor either most of the time.
I’m not special. I have no delusions of being important. But I will say, The Pillars of Dawn is not a common size or proportion to what usually fits in those “always how it’s done” models. It’s a full storyverse. A galaxy of interconnected stories.
I can’t even tell you how many “what the fuck is this?” statements I’ve heard from middle-men. Or how many times I’ve been coached to make it smaller, easier, “dumb it down or the executives will be confused and pass.”
Yet, the first two studios we tried both seemed to spot it right away and are kindly reviewing it as a full scale Storyverse. I was asked to put the slides back in the deck that explained the original intent of the scale, and resubmit for review. My heart might just explode with happiness. All I wanted was for it to be considered in its fullness. It can be chopped up and meat-balled after that, because I understand full well that the production restrictions of film are real and resources are finite.
In publishing, I have carte blanche with budget. I can imagine or build or synthesize anything with raw, uncontained language. Words don’t have limits. The mind lives eternally in its capacity to dream ever-bigger.
Hollywild budgets have limits. Thus, while I adore that the scope is under consideration—I’m realistic enough to understand the probabilities. Don’t mind me while I soak it in for a minute, though.
There are tried-and-true paths for other creators. Somehow, my feet never found those. Maybe I pushed too hard to keep my independence. When my author friends were signing agents fifteen years ago, and landing publishing deals with the big houses—I refused to make the core changes that were required to move to an agency. (Take a male pen name, or a gender-neutral name or write other people’s projects, re-write Murder of Crows from Liam’s male point of view, etc.)
I declined two large publishing contracts because I refused to change the Avians to vampires, turn the Muses into men, or “add a magical school” to the core storyline. (If you read Sinnet of Dragons, you’ll know what I did there in a bit of a frustrated “kiss my ass”.)
While my friends were selling thousands of books and gathering thousands of reviews and quitting their day jobs—I was doubling down on a Kickstarter to self-publish and launch a publishing label, while working a corporate gig.
Don’t get me wrong. I tried to give up so many times. SO MANY TIMES. I might still give up. We’ll see. If there’s a coffee shortage, like, ever—I will just fucking quit at everything.
In the meantime, coffee and keep trying. Keep pushing. Keep annoying people by showing up. Keep irritating the way it’s always been done. Keep pulling on the loose strings. Keep whittling the knot in the wood.
Look for the lighthouses, avoid the shoals.
Here’s where the willingness to grit part comes in. Part A is knowing what kind of artist you are, or want to be. What do you need to feel fulfilled? There’s no right or wrong answer to this. IT’s YOUR WORK. YOUR LIFE. Do what fits you.
If you’re the artist who wants to meet a metric, make a paycheck, handoff to let others run the ball while you release creative strings and control. I recommend finding someone, a team even, who will set you up for the life of “handoff + paycheck”. Cool beans! Do that. Find your peeps. I’m learning the middle-men in the Hollywild love those types of writers and even expect it. If being fulfilled means hands OFF. Then you’ve got it made!
If you’re the “other kind”, well, then. You might be in for some grit work. Don’t panic. It’s going to be okay.
Look for the lighthouses, avoid the shoals.
Novelists are frowned upon by many (not all) of the middle-folk of this industry. The teacher in my showrunner course didn’t know I was a novelist and spent half an hour ranting about how novelists “think they’re writers but they aren’t. They don’t even know storytelling, and if you get stuck with a novelist for an adaptation, be prepared to have to handhold and placate in order to take their work and make it better.” Then he lamented no one wants to do adaptations because the writer’s original vision is so lame, and “his author” had only sold 40 million copies so wasn’t even one of those writers you should have to care about their opinions—not like George R. R. Martin or anyone valuable.
No need to take my word for what he said in his rant. You can purchase the class and download it for yourself—IT WAS FUCKING RECORDED and resold as a class.
Avoid the shoals.
If it had been a one-off, that would have been it, but over the last two years there have been multiple instances where similar statements have been made. Ladies, I hate to say this in writing—but every single similar statement that was uttered was made by a dude. Every. Single. One. Still, there are many wonderful male allies in the field. Don’t lose faith. They are here and ready to collaborate.
So, the data is out on whether it’s a dismissal of novelists in general—OR a male dismissal of female voices. Will get back to you on that one.
The point is that when you come in as a novelist there will be bias, and not in your favor when it comes to middle-folk, gatekeepers, and often the producers. And there will be yet more bias if you’re a female novelist.
Look for the lighthouses.
HOWEVER, not all hope is lost. One hundred percent of the time, my involvement with adaptation and my grasp on the source material has been a boost to the performer's interest and engagement. All interactions in person and via email thus far with performers have netted a surprising response, “If you’re going to be involved or be a producer and stay close to what you’ve written in the books—I’m in.” I did not see that coming. What a lovely surprise, especially after smashing my face against the other wall so often that my nose gets bloody whenever I even think of having to email a gatekeeper.
Male, female, non-binary performers have unanimously been encouraging, helpful, and interested in me remaining involved. This is both flattering and worrisome. Because I don’t know how much I’ll be allowed to be involved once I part with the options. So, my concern is that a few will drop out if I stop participating—and I really like them as people and as performers. The Pillars of Dawn won’t be the same without them.
The lighthouse here is that there is no apparent bias from performers regarding gender or storytelling format. HORRAY!
Willingness to grit is still sending those emails. It’s still bird-dogging the potentials. It’s still following up with the people who have already determined you to be low value, amateur, undeserving, or false. Worse, they have already decided you can’t script because you’re a novelist—or that the work you’ve submitted is too “something else that’s not quite right”.
Was the formatting wrong? “No, there were no errors. It’s perfectly clean.” (I had help!)
Was the method incorrect? “No, it’s exactly in line with method.”
What’s the problem? “Well, it’s not a shooting script, it’s a concept script. It’s just that it reads different from expected.”
Did I screw up the story? “No! The story is great. Concept good. Dialogue okay. I mean, the dialog could use some tweaking…”
Cool. I can do that. Is there something really wrong with it? “Well, it’s just going to be expensive. So expensive.”
So, it’s not the novelist thing—it’s the cost. “Exactly.”
Ah. More gritting, then.
Willingness to grit is annoying your agent when you know she’s busy. Willingness to grit is going back to those banks and making a case. Willingness to grit is taking out high interest credit to hire pros. Willingness to grit is clinging to your vision as long as you can. Willingness to grit is studying the aforementioned “ways it’s always been done” then finding enough of the similar ground you can live with that’s not a catastrophic compromise and blending it into the work so the “respect” has been paid, and the conversation can move on and the “stodgy old crabs” can feel like you at least earned the right to speak two sentences in their room. (Don’t worry, you can remove those pieces of the changes later, after their flinchy hackles have gone down. )
Willingness to grit is adding yourself back to the emails after a man has consistently removed you from the conversation. Willingness to grit is speaking up when the male producer in the room has asked you to be quiet so he can sell the concept, because “you don’t know how to sell yourself.” When really, he means, “I want to be lead and get the credit for X,Y, Z—before you open your mouth and contradict my plans for controlling your work.”
Willingness to grit is KNOWING that obstacles are present in many forms—and still finding a safe, comfortable, healthy way to navigate around, over, through, across, or under them to get to where you want to be.
Willingness to grit is also having a bingo-point in the back of your brain. That number or metric or moment at which you have already decided to pull the plug because the cost of being actively inhibited by a system or “collaborators” is financially, emotionally, or mentally detrimental or cost prohibitive.
Willingness to grit ends the moment I know without a doubt, there is no future for my work to be made to story-spec and with love in an industry that has no room or appreciation for the process or for me as an artist. That’s okay. I’ve got books to write.
Then bounce. Just peace out, knowing and believing no stone was unturned, no door left untried. Pack up and go live life—back in the woods, writing my novels, and discovering new creators to publish through the label.
Either way, life is good.
The most brilliant gift I can give myself as an artist is to work only with those people who can see me, the work, the vision. And if that’s not in Hollywood, that’s okay. It’s not going to stop me from creating, or writing, building a publish world or engaging with interested parties down the road.
The lighthouses are there to keep you from wrecking on the reef. Orient to the lighthouses until you’re safely in port—even if that port is back home where you started—no deal in hand.
Life is short. Go build something.
Best question ever from longtime friend and reader, Sharon. “If you had known the absolute mess you were getting yourself into at the beginning of this journey, would you have gone down this path?”
“Oh, good question! I don’t know. There are so many other rewarding aspects, I want to say yes.... but I would have prepared differently, and stocked up on more alcohol.”
The really funny part is that 2 years ago when I first decided to do this, Mark had asked me to write down my goals so he could help me stay on target. “Pick one that’s really out there, so you can surprise yourself or have something to reach for.”
It took two years, but we landed at that goal at the end of 2023. What happens next is anyone’s guess. I didn’t plan that far out.
I just wanted the full Storyverse for The Life Erotic, and The Pillars of Dawn to be considered for build out. The Life Erotic is smaller, more nimble and easier to move around, easier to place (I mean, aside from the sexy content issues.)
But POD… POD is a behemoth of a storyverse. It’s… massive, complex and cumbersome. It’s not a small world. Mark did his level best to help me trim it down, streamline it, make is smaller and more packageable. God bless him. More fruit baskets for Mark!
The truth is the POD storyverse was never made to be small or agile, nimble or easy to move. We always knew it would take a very specific kind of visionary studio and production team to see the POD Storyverse for what it is, and in a perfect world, they would want to play in it.
I get to play in it every day, so, I wasn’t worried about it. Not really. I mean. Okay. Maybe I was a little worried. One of my early conversations with him in the adaptation was, “I don’t know where to start—there’s so much story I can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s three worlds, ten primary characters, all their cohorts, 36 secondary characters and all the subplots, timelines, and like 172 ancillary characters, plus all the lore, histories, worldbuilding documents, pre-story prep and engines, woven throughout the Mandalic Story Structure. It’s a full Universe.”
He gave me some exercises to help me focus on which parts were the most important, and which parts to exclude because, “execs don’t care about that shit.”
Ah. Great way to start. No one cares about the 43 chapters of LORE?? Good to know.
It’s twenty years’ worth of build, some still in totes and stored on hard drives. My big stretch-goal, the pie in the sky wish, was to just have it considered as a whole universe at least once before allowing it to be chopped up and sold for parts.
The mini-version we built was still immensely satisfying and checked all the boxes for me to feel artistically contented. If we sell that smaller, compact version—I will still be greatly relieved and deeply humbled to be able to send POD out to a larger audience. However, there’s still that knowledge in the back of my mind that POD was designed to be so much more. It was made to be expansive enough to live within for a decade or more of mined material, and all the scoped transmedia materials to match. It was made to compete as an entertainment universe.
Again, not worried. Well… maybe a little.
Between the last two years of learning ropes and picking up the processes, I’ve pushed myself to learn how THEY do it. What is their process? What is their model? Which PMP steps are they most reliant on? And so forth. Workshops, classes, paid coaching, tutorials, private consults, books, pitch practices and more so I could at least sort of understand what was being talked about in the meetings I’m sitting in regarding my material.
Cross-train as much as possible, always. I will always advocate for this. If you’re a creative—learn other creative methods and mediums, so when you can see a gap or an opening, you can hold up the beam and buy some time for a bridge to be built. Also, in this case, I took a showrunning course so I would know how to be a better partner, supporter, and collaborator with the showrunners. That’s just courtesy. It’s on my end to make that stretch, not theirs. (Emmy winner, Gregori Martin, is the showrunner for TLE, and he's marvelous! We don't have a showrunner yet for POD, but I have high hopes!)
They will have their hands full learning a new universe and managing teams. It’s not their job to come to me. It’s my job to go to them, and to help hold up the tent while they take in the volume of the build and get oriented. (I built it, so I already know where everything is, and where all the bodies are buried.)
I’m excited to know what happens next! Curiosity is mixed with glowing humility and a warm tingling bubble of creativity I’m trying desperately to keep in check. It’s like the volcanic center that keeps my creative pilot light on just KNOWS bigger, more expansive space is about to open up for the next layer of creation and my engine is SO READY TO BUILD BIGGER! It takes effort to keep the build contained for the moment.
It’s work every day to find things for my brain to focus on so I don’t run ahead and keep ripping the trail. Wait. Wait for the cue to cut more trail, Athena. Wait for the next okay to build out, up, and across the chasm. It’s coming.
I have to remind myself I will get to build more—but for now, there’s some waiting that needs to happen. In the meantime, I can get back to my books and clear out some of those totes.
Do I hope to bring all that world and story to new audiences? Totally.
Do I hope they’ll have as much fun with it as I do? Absolutely.
Would I have planned better if I’d known what I was walking into two years ago? Yep. I would have gotten a wine delivery membership, and added chocolate to my Amazon pantry subscription. But, you live, you learn.
Then again, I supposed it’s never too late for wine or chocolate--- who knows what the next two years will look like….
Athena lives and writes in the Siuslaw Forest, Oregon.