PJ McIlvaine: The Winding Road

Doesn’t get much windier!

by PJ McIlvaine

Everyone’s path is different. Sometimes it’s easy; you query a few agents and get an offer right away. Other times, it’s a near miss or outright passes, or, sadly, total silence.

You wonder what’s wrong and fall into an abyss of despair and doubt. Why hasn’t everyone fallen in love with your pretty, shiny, new bauble that you labored on for months, even years?

The short answer, it’s a crapshoot.

The long answer, it’s a crapshoot.

God must love writers because She made so many of them.

Back in 2017, I was at a crossroads in my writing.

A little backstory here: for several years, I’d been the 24/7 caregiver of my Mom. For much of that time, her Alzheimer’s was manageable. She forgot things. Getting her to the doctor was an exercise in futility. She couldn’t see too well because of her cataracts (surgery was a fiasco). Unfortunately, her decline was shockingly quick, and she passed away in Hospice.

I’d begun and put aside several novels during that grueling period, trying to juggle Mom, my family, a full time job, and other assorted family dramas that ate up my time and energy. Being a novelist had always been a personal goal. As a teenager, and then as a young wife and Mom, I went to bookstores and envisioned MY book being on display there one day.

Someday, I told myself. Someday.

With Mom gone, I finally realized that someday was NOW, and a project that had been collecting dust on my hard drive came back to life.

So this is a roundabout way of announcing that I’m thrilled to be represented by the amazing Heather Cashman of Storm Literary. I can’t wait for you to meet Charlemagne, Violet, and all the other characters that have been taking up space in my head for so long (in a good way).

I think Mom would be pleased.

Pj McIlvaine is a prolific writer/author/screenwriter/writer/journalist. She has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, and a host of other places. Her Showtime movie, My Horrible Year (with Mimi Rogers, Karen Allen and Eric Stoltz) was nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Find out more about Ms. McIlvaine HERE. This article first appeared in her most magical blog.

Starting A Career in Comics

Mark Evanier, one of TVWriter™s favorite creative forces, is the possessor of more writing knowledge than just about every textbook except LB’s. Here he is answering one of the first questions every pro writer is always asked because – yes, it’s true – to this very day he’s still participating in his first life – writing comics!

by Mark Evanier

Richard Gagnon writes…

I have a nephew that wants to be a comic book writer/artist. He’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s at an age where his work is going to improve tremendously in the next few years. He has the potential to be a professional comic book artist. From everything I’ve read, being a comic book pro is more a labor of love than something that will be financially rewarding. I’d be interested in your insights on pursuing a career in comics. I’d imagine that the pay you get for writing comics is the least lucrative writing that you do (although it must be a sheer pleasure to see what Sergio draws from your scripts).

Well, first of all, most of what I do with Sergio is co-written, not always in the same ratio, so I never think of him drawing my scripts. I think of it all as what we produce together. That said, I often find great joy in writing comics because (a), I grew up loving comic books and (b), because of how few collaborators you have. On a TV show, live or animated, there are contributions by dozens and dozens…sometimes hundreds of others. You don’t even meet a large percentage of them and on a cartoon show, many of them may be located in another country and speaking a different language so what you do gets handled by a lot of strangers.

And their sheer number guarantees that some of them will not be very competent or on the same wavelength. On a comic book, three or four people are involved so there’s a real good chance that you’ll all be in contact, you’ll all be in sync and they’ll all be good at what they do. I loved it when I was working with Will Meugniot or Dan Spiegle or Scott Shaw! or…well, most of my co-conspirators. And yeah, the money was less than some other jobs but you have to factor in the stress and the time spent in meetings and arguments and such. Compare making $1000 on a job that’s fun and easy and quick with one that pays ten times that but has 20+ times the tsuris.

Personally, I’ve had good and bad experiences in each work area and there have been many non-monetary perks in each. I worked briefly as a story editor on a network adventure series and I probably made less per hour on that job than I made writing Scooby Doo comic books. And I had a lot less fun….

Read it all at Mark Evanier’s outstanding blog

PJ McIlvaine: The Summer from Hell

We like this image because it’s about searching, see, but not via Google, and this post is also about searching about something very, very, very important, and…we like this image. There.

by PJ McIlvaine

It’s a warm late summer night on the cusp of the fall season, and I for one will not be sad to see summer go.

May-July was busy. Heck, every month was busy. But I put my nose to the grindstone and burned through a revise and resubmit on a project very dear to my soul. I had a self-imposed deadline and was determined to beat it. Now no one was pushing me to work so hard except me.

But once I got started, I went into that wonderful writing zone and when you’re in it, you just have to ride the wave like a surfer. And once it was done, I breathed a sigh of relief and put my faith in the Universe.

And it was a good thing I hit THE END on that project because the minute I did, the Universe decided to unleash a proverbial horse potato storm over my head.

Now the summer wasn’t all bad. There were a few (a few) bright spots.

LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE, my debut picture book, got great reviews on Amazon. I did a couple of author events and didn’t embarrass myself too much.

I had a couple of really good hair days.

I have no cavities.

Succession on HBO came back, the best show on TV. As much as the final season of GOT rankled, Succession exceeded my expectations. Each week the writing and acting is superb. Brian Cox is KILLING it as Logan Roy and should win every Emmy in the book.

And after that…uh…

There were some weeks I thought it couldn’t get any worse, and it did, like a bad horror movie.

But even with all the drama and mayhem and chaos, I wrote.

Exhausted, some days I thought, why bother? No one cares if I write. If I stopped writing tomorrow, would the world as we know it cease to exist?

Jeopardy bonus answer: probably not.

But I’d know. And it’s not me. Writing is in my DNA. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. I have too many ideas taking up precious real estate in my head.

So though some days were a tough slog, I wrote, even if it was just a sentence or to jot down an idea.

I know it’s a cliche, but if you want to write, I mean, really and truly want to write, you’ll find a way.

Even in a Summer of Hell

Pj McIlvaine is a prolific writer/author/screenwriter/writer/journalist. She has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, and a host of other places. Her Showtime movie, My Horrible Year (with Mimi Rogers, Karen Allen and Eric Stoltz) was nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Find out more about Ms. McIlvaine HERE. This article first appeared in her most magical blog.

How My First Novel Became a Movie

Yeppers, kids, it happens. Sometimes first novels turn into very big scores. And/or big stories.

Or not such big scores and/or stories. As the old saying goes, “You don’t need to be smart if you’re lucky. But even if you’re smart you still need lots of luck.”

No, this TVWriter™ minion isn’t all that certain of what she’s saying, but Caren Lissner, author of Carrie Pilby sure is, and it makes good as well as very helpful reading.

by Caren Lissner

Five years ago, I got an email from two Hollywood producers who wanted to turn my first novel, Carrie Pilby, into a movie. I was thrilled, but reminded myself not to expect much. After all, in the years since the book’s publication in 2003, two other production companies had paid me a few thousand dollars each to option the rights for a year, and nothing had come of it. Should I really fantasize about my characters living and breathing on the big screen?

The novel tells the story of the nerdy 19-year-old Carrie, who graduated from Harvard three years early and has no idea how to date or make friends in New York. It was published in the middle of the “chick lit” craze, when offbeat single-gal books like Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing were taking over the publishing industry.

Luckily, reviewers said mine was one of the more original novels in the genre, and it went on to sell 74,000 copies worldwide. But nearly a decade later, I was struggling with revisions to a new book, still living in a tiny apartment in the town I’d moved to after college, and about to turn 40. I really wanted my writing to reach a new audience. Actually, I really wanted to be able to afford furniture.

Another colleague, a best-selling novelist, saw her project green-lit and script completed, but the project fell apart when, supposedly, two of the main producers became romantically involved and ran off together. Neither story was a complete tragedy; the authors got a little extra publicity for their books and some option money, usually $500 to $5,000 for each year the producers held the rights. But these stories had taught me to manage my expectations….

Read it all at theatlantic.com

All Roads Traveled Led to “Then Again with Herbie J Pilato”

NOTE FROM LB: The heading above is Herbie J’s official title for this piece, but just between us, I would’ve given it a different one – “The Way Life Really Works.” Hope you enjoy Our Pal Herbie J Pilato’s most recent piece!

by Herbie J Pilato

I’ve worked what many would term as “menial” jobs over the years, but I’d prefer to call them “meaningful.”

I used to joke that, wherever you go in Los Angeles, I either used to work there or I got lost there. And that’s more true, than not.

And today? Today, I’m the host of my own TV talk show on Amazon Prime, “Then Again with Herbie J Pilato,” and it even has my name in the title. Pretty cool, right? Dang straight it is.

But what? Did you think that happened overnight?


More like over nearly sixty years.

And every job or life experience that I’ve had in those close to six decades has brought me right to this moment – and I wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world.

I never did go the paper-boy route, and I wasn’t even an altar boy, but my first job was working for my Uncle Carl who as an ace carpenter. One summer, when I was 11-years-old, I used to assist with his various contract jobs. It seemed to be a right fit because I, with other kids in my neighborhood, used to enjoy building “forts” and “go-carts,” one of which that was even transformed into a mini-camper that (and that for reasons I can’t remember, we were forced to dismantle).

But my first real job-job was as a stock-boy for the local Bell Supermarkets in my hometown of Rochester, New York when I was about 17. That was okay, but more than anything, it gave me some early spending money in what my senior year in high school. But that job really “didn’t do it for me.”

The following year, I worked in maintenance for Topps Markets, another local grocery store. I used to sweep and polish floors, clean bathrooms, and power-water the meat room behind the deli-department in the back of the store.

That was a relatively easy, yet grueling job. But as with all my jobs, I try to make the best of it. I worked those varied maintenance jobs during the “Disco”/”Saturday Night Fever” era of the late 1970s, and I was always dancing and singing somewhere in the store. At closing hours, I used to grab one of the check-out counter microphones, and sing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.” It was one way to have a little fun, make my co-workers smile, and get dates.

But one day, while singing in the meat room, during business hours, a district manager was visiting the store. I introduced myself with my then overzealous nature (which really hasn’t subsided too much) by saying, “Hey! My name is “Herbie J Pilato…with no period after the J. But my friends call me ‘Disco.’ And that district manager glared at me and said, “Well, hello there, Disco. I sing, too, you know, and if you don’t keep this meat room clean, we’re gonna’ do some dancin’!”

“Ok, then,” I thought. And kept on doing my thing.

One year after that, the Marriott Airport Hotel was erected in Rochester, actually across the street from that second supermarket job where I danced in the meat room. I secretly desired to work in the front desk area of the hotel, as a bellman. But I applied in the kitchen, and got a job as a dishwasher and then food prep.

The dishwasher job was dreadful, and I hated it. But I made a few good friends in that kitchen, including the chef who soon promoted me to food-prep. But when I put too much mustard in the egg salad, that was the end of that.

About two years later, I finally applied for a front desk position at that hotel. The front desk manager was a friend of mine, and I thought that would help me get the job, and I ultimately won the position on my own merit. But during the interview, my friend-and-soon-to-be-boss told me, “I’d love to give you this job. I think you would be great at it. But I don’t want you to think that you’re going to get any special treatment from me because we’re friends.”

I was a little blind-sighted by that statement, but realized somewhere in that conversation was a test to my character. I passed and got the job, and excelled at it. I loved it. It fit my personality. I loved to communicate with people, was blown away when I got my first tip as a bellman, and it boosted my self-esteem when I learned how to conquer certain phobias.

For example, part of being a bellman meant driving the hotel van, taking guests to and from the airport. I usually drove the hotel’s station wagon, but one day I was instructed to drive the van…a much larger vehicle…because there was a larger-than-usual amount of guests I had to pick up at the airport.

When my boss said, “Herbie…please take the van to the airport.” I responded with, “The van?” He reiterated, “The van.” I was terrified. When he handed me those van keys, and as I exited the hotel lobby, and journeyed out into the parking lot towards “the van,” the vehicle in front of me almost appeared to be “expanding” as I got closer. It was like “the van” was coming alive, and I was in some kind of surreal episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

But I got in that van, inserted the key into the ignition, and drove off.

I was doing it. I was driving “the van.” I just “did it.” And that happened because of “Star Trek,” and I was no longer in “The Twilight Zone.”

Explanation: In one scene from the 1982 feature film, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” William Shatner’s Captain/Admiral Kirk turns to Kirstie Alley’s Lt. Saavik, and says, “We learn by doing.”

True that.

And that front desk position at that hotel ended up paving the way for my first professional job in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Nazareth College of Rochester (with a B.A. in Theatre Arts), and attending UCLA for a semester, I formally moved to Los Angeles. Then, in May of 1984, I became a Page for NBC-TV in Burbank, California – and that was my foray into television, where I ended up working “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” “The 1985 Emmy Awards,” various Bob Hope Specials, and other special shows and events like “An All-Star Salute to President ‘Dutch’ Reagan.”

The NBC Page position was originally contracted for 18 months, and I was offered an extension, but I declined. I wanted to be an actor. So, I left a corporate position at a major TV network and began my journey into the world of freelance and contract work, beginning with bit roles on TV soaps like “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “General Hospital” (I was one of the waiters at “Duke’s Restaurant” in the “Big ’80s”).

Later, I was a stand-in dancer for “Solid Gold,” and I even made an appearance on “The Golden Girls” (which I used to work as an NBC Page).

In between all of that, I broke my right baby toe, which forced me to stay home for six weeks. I started watching TV again, as I once did as a kid. One night, “I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later” aired on NBC. It was the sequel to the 1960s classic TV show, and I had worked the promotion for it in my latter months with NBC. I thought, “I should write a reunion movie like that for ‘Bewitched,'” which has always been one of my favorite shows.

I did so. But “Bewitched” star Elizabeth Montgomery wasn’t interested in doing a reunion movie. It was then I suggested a “Bewitched” Book, which she agreed to, and which was eventually followed by other classic TV companion books, including two biographies about Elizabeth (whom I had come to know quite well).

The books paved the way for my producing career with TV documentaries like “Bewitched: The E! True Hollywood Story” (which remains the 7th highest-rated “True Hollywood Story” in E!’s history), and Bravo’s hit five-part series, “The 100 Greatest TV Characters,” among many others.

I also started consulting and appearing on the “extras” for many DVD releases of shows like “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Kung Fu,” both for which I wrote companion books.

I then began contributing to Larry Brody’s www.TVWriter.com (where I now serve as Editor Emeritus) and writing for the Television Academy and www.Emmys.com. Also, too, I founded the formal 501(c)3 Classic TV Preservation Society nonprofit organization (www.ClassicTVPreserve.org), and my Television, Ink. production company (www.televisionink.blogspot.com).

And in between all of that, I was flying back and forth from Los Angeles to Rochester, where I was a primary caregiver (with my sister Pamela R. Mastrosimone) for both of my parents in their elderly years: a position that remains my most rewarding; one that inspired so much of my work, and has to this day, helped me to keep my priorities and my head on straight.

My Dad died in 1995, and after my Mom passed away in 2008, I found the courage at 48 years old to reinvent myself once again, this time as the host of various classic TV live events that were held at the Barnes & Noble in Burbank, California.

And it was those live events where I was plucked from semi-obscurity by producers Joel Eisenberg and Lorie Girsh that transmuted into my hosting and executive producing of “Then Again with Herbie J Pilato,” which began streaming July 1st on Amazon Prime (as well as Shout Factory TV, and other media outlets).

As it stands now, the show has received over 220 five-star reviews on Amazon.

That kind of rating is a little different than the rating I once received from my former supermarket meat room district manager, but as far as I’m concerned, all of it led up to this moment and are equally meaningful (and far from “menial”) in the big picture scheme of things.

Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society and author of several classic TV companion books.  He has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. This article first appeared on LinkedIn.Com.

Learn more about Herbie J HERE.
See Then Again HERE.