...because becoming a professional writer isn't so easy
This won't be your typical About Steve Barancik page, where Steve Barancik - professional writer - crows about his successes.
What I am and where I've gotten is a product of my failures, not just my successes. (It's also a product of luck - good and horrendous.)
If you've arrived at this site, I'll assume you and I both share a love of writing. Whether because you're a writer or a reader, I'm gonna tell you the whole truth. That way you'll know who you're dealing with!
(Though, when it comes to my movie career, I have to leave out some details. A Hollywood contract is about 40 pages long, and it's written by the studios, for the studios. I want to tell you everything, but I don't want to become Steve Barancik, defendant.)
So here goes...
1982 - Taking a semester off from my studies at Duke University, Steve Barancik, directionless college student, bicycles across the country and keeps a diary. I discover I enjoy expressing myself... for myself. I had never enjoyed expressing myself for teachers.
1983 - I take my first short story writing course during Summer Session. The three hour seminar is broken into critique sessions of two different student works. At age 21, I write my first piece of short fiction.
I am amazed by what pours out of me. I am convinced I am a genius. I cannot imagine how we will fill up the hour and a half devoted to my critique after everyone finishes saying how wonderful the story is.
I truly believe there is nothing to criticize. (I am not making this up.) I contemplate whether my pen name should be Steve Barancik or whether I should invent a new name altogether. Perhaps Charles Dickens, Jr.
The moment for my critique comes. My teacher and fellow students have all read my piece over the weekend. The teacher sighs and says, "I think we can all agree Steve's piece has a lot of problems. Let's move on to the next story."
If it wasn't the most humiliating moment of my life, it came darn close. My story was so bad it wasn't worthy of discussion. The teacher wasn't going to insult the class by making them take it seriously.
Steve Barancik, writing incompetent.
I was at a crossroads. I could give up on the writing thing out of embarrassment, or I could press on, motivated by embarrassment.
I'm stubborn. I chose to press on. I studied my awful piece in hopes of learning why it was so awful. I took Beginning Short Story Writing again in the Fall semester.
The second story I wrote that Fall won the school prize for best undergraduate short fiction that semester and appeared in the campus literary magazine.
Ah. I was convinced, once again, that I was Steve Barancik, writing savant.
I graduate. Steve Barancik, B.A. Economics. Economics?
1984-1986 - The President's Council of Economic Advisers hasn't called. Woefully unprepared for the work world, I take a $5/hr job in phone sales. Next thing I know, I'm managing the joint. Steve Barancik, V.P. - Consumer Telemarketing.
1987 - After three years pestering hapless consumers, I have nearly lost my mind. I move to Arizona with my meager savings and the intention of embarking upon a career in fiction-writing while working part-time and on and off.
Taking the advice of my fiction-writing teacher (who, it should be noted, had to teach because he couldn't support himself with his fiction-writing), I start writing high-brow short stories, submitting them to literary journals.
1988 - After a year, I've failed to sell even one story to a high-brow literary journal. I begin to suspect:
1) I'm not so high-brow.
2) I'm barking up the wrong tree, and
3) Even if I had sold a story, at $10/sale I'd still have been barking up the wrong tree.
I begin trying to sell short stories to less snooty magazines that pay more.
My wife at the time is a Grateful Dead fanatic. I write a piece of short fiction (sort of) for the Grateful Dead fan magazine about being married to a Grateful Dead fanatic. They buy it. My first sale!
1989 - I sell multiple short stories to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, True Love and Modern Romance (as Stephanie Barancik), and even a couple porn mags.
(Yes, I'm truly ashamed of this, but at the time nothing was more important to me than a writing career. Remember, I promised you warts and all.)
One of the romance stories I sell and then rewrite as porn. (Or was it the other way around?) In short, I'm learning to write for specific audiences - a valuable skill if you want to make a living writing.
I am Steve Barancik, professional romantic mystery smut-writer.
Still, I'm not making a living. The magazines pay $200-$300 per sale. If I made a sale a week I'd still be poor. I'm making a sale a month.
Time to write a novel. I write a novel, inspired by my telemarketing years.
(I suspect now that the novel had some literary merit but also that, on some level, it stunk. I don't know for sure because I can't bring myself to re-read it.)
Time-Out From Steve Barancik's Warts And All Bio For A Useful Tidbit For Writers
Here's something I tell every writer's group and writing class I speak to:
If you've never experienced looking back at a piece of old writing and being mortally embarrassed by it, then you don't yet have the skills of a professional writer.
Lots of hope-to-be-professional writers have professional-level critical skills when it comes to the writing of others. But there's a certain blind spot that everyone is born with when it comes to their own work.
A big part of developing the skills to become a professional writer (or artist of any sort) is overcoming that blind spot. Sometimes I put it more bluntly. I'll say,
You have to learn how to hate your own writing... that is, your own bad writing.
And if you can't... that's okay! You can be what is often the happiest kind of writer: the kind who writes just for him or herself.
But I Want To Write For Others. How Do I Learn To Overcome My Blind Spot?
1) Learn to competently and constructively critique other writers. Joining a writer's group is one good way to do this.
2) Expose yourself to competent critiquing of your own work by other writers. (Again, a writer's group is a good avenue.) Get in the habit of listening to criticism, without responding.
3) Take with boulder-sized grains of salt the "critiques" of family and friends.
Back to the Steve Barancik warts-and-all bio. We pick up at...
1989 Cont'd - A successful agent offers to represent Steve Barancik!
Steve Barancik, idiot, makes the mistake of telling the agent, "I'll get back to you soon." (I'm waiting to hear from other agents.) He tells me to shove it and hangs up!
Apparently, if you ask a literary agent to read your 300 page manuscript, it's understood that you'll accept his offer to represent you.
I didn't know that! No one else offers to represent my novel.
1990 - I write another novel. My wife reads a lot of Jackie Collins type stuff, so I read a ton of it - hating every moment - and attempt to duplicate it. 600 pages.
Some nibbles, no bites. 600 pages.
I get a short story idea that I love but that is ALL dialogue. Halfway through it I realize - duh - that there's a word for fiction that is all dialogue. It's called a play.
I read the book, "How To Write A Play."
I get very positive response at a writers' conference to my new one-act play, "Nearer To Thee." I join a playwright's group and start writing one-act plays.
1991 - In what is starting to become a familiar ritual, it starts to dawn on Steve Barancik, playwright, that one-act plays earn their writers just as much money as short stories written for literary journals.
I am once again at a standstill. The notion of being a full-time writer doesn't seem to be working out.
I get a call. The adjunct professor of screenwriting at the local university dies in an accident mid-semester. A friend from playwriting group recommends me to pick up a couple of his classes.
Despite my complete lack of qualifications, the University is desperate. I read the textbooks over the weekend and become Steve Barancik, screenwriting professor, on Monday. It pays a little better than the literary journals, but not much.
I finish the semester, teach a full summer term, then make an intentionally unreasonable salary demand and am promptly let go. Using my newfound knowledge, I commence writing my first screenplay.
I entitle it Buffalo Girls. The seed of the story comes from my telemarketing experience.
I closely study one movie of similar genre because really, I have no idea how to write one of these things.
I obtain a copy of the script for Basic Instinct, which has just sold for a then-record 2 million dollars. I study it for format.
At age 30, I take a night job as Steve Barancik, pizza delivery guy, so I can write during the day.
1992 - I finish Buffalo Girls then show it to trusted writer friends for critique. I rewrite, then submit to agents.
An agent offers to represent me. When he says, "Think about it and get back to me," I say, "Not on your life."
I have an agent!
He begins to market the screenplay. The studios are intrigued but uninterested. (Translation: Good writing but not commercial enough.) I get to go to Hollywood and "take" some meetings.
My agent starts showing the script to smaller players. Two are interested. They each make insultingly low offers to option the script.
My agent pits them against each other in what H'wood likes to call an auction.
Neither bidder raises their offer. We go with the least insulting one. I quit delivering pizzas and become Steve Barancik, screenwriter, full-time.
1993 - It becomes apparent that the independent production company actually intends to make my movie! This will mean a significant amount of money. (Approx. 4 years worth of pizza delivery.)
I have completed my 2nd screenplay. I'm convinced it's commercial and absolute genius. My agent thinks it stinks and refuses to show it to anyone.
Buffalo Girls goes into production. The title is changed to The Last Seduction, which makes no sense to me but total sense to the Hollywood people.
I get a screenwriting assignment from a then very hot Hollywood Director/Producer. Two quite prominent writers have previously taken cracks at adapting the historical source material.
I am honored. It pays 10 pizza years.
1994 - The Last Seduction premieres as a made-for-TV movie on HBO.
I work for a year on my adaptation project without realizing that no matter what I write, they won't make it.
It turns out the project was revived because of an upcoming movie in the same genre that was expected to do blockbuster business. When that movie bombed, my story lost its chance of ever being produced.
Dumb luck: after premiering on TV, movie theatres start showing The Last Seduction. The movie critics love it! (The TV critics hated it.) I even get nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe screenplay award. (Losing to Quentin Tarantino.) Now I'm a hot screenwriter with my pick of projects.
I grab a very fun project about a female bountyhunter. (14 pizza delivery years.)
1995-1999 - I have paying work every year - very uncommon for screenwriters. Great assignments for high-profile producers and directors, great pay.
(My agent starts talking about me in the third person. "If they want a Steve Barancik script, they're going to have to pay Steve Barancik money.")
At this stage of my career, cash is a powerful motivator. While I'm writing nearly non-stop, nothing gets filmed, save for one picture I do a (last minute) production rewrite on.
(They use none of what I write, and the picture receives accolades from numerous critics as the worst movie of the year. My name doesn't appear on it.)
I manage to write one more spec (original) script between projects. It goes to auction... and no one bids on it.
I get a chance to make my mark in TV, hired to write and executive produce a pilot. The pilot gets made, but the network doesn't pick it up.
Something seems wrong, doesn't it?
2000 - The assignments have dried up. I've gone too long without getting a movie made. My agent advises me to write a spec script... and this time it had better sell.
I get to work. But...
Sick of writing so many words that no one but my agent and some low-brow producers ever get to see, I begin writing and performing stand-up comedy in my spare time. The only problem? Steve Barancik, comedian, has trouble remembering routines lasting more than 2 minutes.
2001 - My new spec sells big time! The 300 rewrites were worth it!
I'm now hot enough to get my highest paying assignment ever. Stand-up falls by the wayside.
2002 - HBO wants me to turn my failed TV pilot into a pilot for them - the hottest network around!
It's a good thing, because I bombed on my "highest paying assignment." They paid me for 3 drafts but ask me to stop after one.
2003 - HBO hates the pilot script. They paid me for 5 drafts but tell me to stop bothering after one. Apparently my screenwriting is starting to cause others pain.
It just so happens that I'm no longer enjoying it either. With a lot of money in the bank, I start asking myself what I can write that I would enjoy writing.
A movie comes out with me sharing screenplay credit. Lousy reviews, but I don't care. I got to play Samuel Jackson's part at one of the rehearsals.
My agent tells me it's time to write another spec. I do, hating every minute of it. I ask him whether I should write it under a different name, whether the name Steve Barancik is starting to be the kiss of death.
He says I'm not at that stage... yet.
An amazing 3 year old foster daughter enters my life. I hope like crazy to adopt her.
In what remains of my spare time, I begin to write comedic monologues loosely based on life experience, with the intention of reading them off the page on stage. I gather together a number of writer friends interested in doing the same thing.
We adopt the name Monolog Cabin and begin performing our own work locally, if irregularly, to generally rave reviews!
(It pays significantly less than pizza delivery, but at this stage of my life it turns out to be significantly more fun performing my own work in front of 50 people than to have a butchered movie playing in front of 5 million.)
Wanna read one of my monologues? Download Breakfast Food For Thought, copyright Steve Barancik, if you have Adobe reader.
Story previously published in Tucson Guide.
2004 - My agent hates my spec. It's unclear to me whether my writing has gotten worse or whether the business has changed and no longer values what I do. Probably both.
But I no longer really care. My foster daughter turns 4.
2005 - The bountyhunter screenplay I wrote ten years ago is now, a few writers later, a movie bearing little resemblance to the one I wrote. I get "shared story credit," which amounts to about one-eighth of a credit.
Still, it says Steve Barancik right there on the screen.
Bad reviews. No boost to career... and I don't care. I write my first children's story for my foster daughter... my audience of one.
2006 - A momentous year
Well, another movie is filmed, but I'm denied credit. The resultant film is apparently so bad that the studio can't bring themselves to release it.
Children's books are holding much more interest for me. I start thinking about how to market my own. (I've written a bunch by now.) One problem: I'm so tired of the film world that I don't feel like trading it in for the publishing world.
Who knew that MOST websites DON'T get traffic!
Deep breath: I find out that I won't be getting to adopt my foster daughter. In fact, I find out I won't likely be able to see her again, except in dreams and photos.
I make the mistake of turning away from the website to write another Hollywood script. Huge paydays remain tempting (but elusive). I find that the feeling of building something positive - for myself and for others to benefit from - is the most important thing.
I resolve to commit fully to the website for a goodly amount of time. How odd that something so "virtual" as the internet offers a writer his best opportunity to create something permanent.
Unlike a movie or a book, it doesn't wear physically with age. Unlike a movie or book, its readership/viewership isn't dependent on an expensive marketing campaign.
Because it's well-built, it receives a steady stream of new readers courtesy of search engines that have recognized its worth.
And unlike a movie or a book, it is something that will be mine forever. The rights aren't owned by a publishing or a production company. When I say a page deserves to go up on the site...
It goes up on the site.
Developments with this site arouse my curiosity about self publishing, and so I start up a site on the subject.
But I don't stop working on this site. In fact, traffic grows to a point that I get excited just to get up in the morning and see how many people visited me the previous day. Google alone now sends me over 500 visitors per day.
In fact, I now depend on Google to tell me how big my site is, since it's grown beyond my capacity to count for myself. (403 pages as I write this, according to them.)
That's right: my site is "book-length" (and then some) with no end in sight.
One new milestone: I've finally posted my own books to the site. I sell them electronically for a price way cheaper than I could ever afford by handing them over to a publisher, and that means sharing them with a wider audience.
Sharing the love for my daughter that inspired them.
So who am I now?
Steve Barancik, children's book writer? Maybe. Steve Barancik, children's book webmaster with mission of empowering writers and parents and getting better books in the hands of kids? Definitely.
What is your writer's bio going to look like?
I'll tell you one thing: these days, it had better include a website!
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.