Author Archives: Billie Jean

About Billie Jean

Writer, reader, Auntie Mame wannabe.

My Shift Matters


Monday, July 11, 2016

I sit looking at the spot Philando Castile was fatally shot to take my shift. I still haven’t watched the full video of his last moments. I’m terrified it would break my heart. The last few days have been rough for me… for most of us. I’m afraid in this spot. Less than five minutes and I’ve already seen three different police cruisers. One with North St. Paul stenciled on its side which is over ten miles away. I assume they’re patrolling but I wonder if they are doing the same thing as me. Paying homage to the event, to the man, but they don’t have as much freedom as I do to stop and read the sidewalk chalk and signs. To smell the flowers and hear the flapping of the balloons in the pre-storm wind.

Across the street, another shrine. Three Native Americans take vigil there. I wonder if they are thinking about their people’s history of genocide and how it ended like I am thinking about mine. After the Civil War the South needed workers. The US needed workers. Our economy was failing. Because of the mass exodus of unpaid labor they needed people fast. So they taught law enforcement to arrest black people wherever they could find them and for whatever reason. Strong black men were forced into peonage (or as the documentary calls it Slavery by Another Name) to work the fields and mines to save this country from financial ruin. The rest of the country only heard the staggering numbers of black people being arrested and thought, “Oh, they really can’t control themselves on their own.” Ever since then cops have stopped blacks for being black and the rest of the country expects it. Most of them don’t know that this tradition of incarceration comes from a financial report 140 years ago.

A white man just stopped to talk to me. He tells me he’s surprised. He thought that all this would stop when Obama was elected president. I told him I never thought that and I wasn’t surprised at all. We are still a largely segregated country. One does not represent all. I should know, I spent my life being the one. A friend once told me that before meeting me he thought all black people were rude. I asked him why. He said his neighbors stop their car in the middle of street to talk without a care to the traffic they’re blocking. Clearly, he hadn’t met enough black people. If you haven’t met enough of a people to love some, despise some, and think of most of acquaintances you’d hang with you are segregated. I don’t tell him this but immediately wish I did because he says something I’m not expecting.

He says we need to get a fire and brimstone preacher on this spot and air it on TV. He tells me this is part of the end of days according to the Bible. “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” he quips. I challenge him saying what if God is in all of us and wants us to help each other. What if God wants us to know what to do by the history those that are living can remember? What if we don’t wait for God to solve this by pushing the reset button? What if today is not the beginning of the end but just the beginning?

I tell him I went to church on Sunday after a long hiatus because I needed company. I needed a place to share my anxiety and despair. I needed to know what to do. My spiritual leader knew this. She knew it’s what we all needed. She asked, “What’s your shift? What is the talent, the insight, the resources that God has given you to make a difference in this world?” I tell him mine is writing so that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking my shift today. I ask him, “What’s his shift.”

What’s your shift?


AFF One: In the beginning there is the web


For all of you going to the Austin Film Festival. I’ve gone to AFF the last two years and have some tips for you.

A small prologue, if you’re still debating on what badge to get. Upgrade to a Producer’s Badge if you can afford it, if not, a Conference Badge gives you all the same things except access to most of the parties and free drinks. So, if you’re a big drinker the extra 225 bucks is saving you money.

Now that that’s done let’s talk AFF schedule.

As far as the film festival part of AFF I recommend going to as many films as possible. Especially, if you are going to be in Austin past Sunday. I’ve watched many great gems over the years and only one dud. However, if you are only going Thursday through Sunday and your goal is to learn and network, skip most of the films. Go to at least one shorts program, there are a lot of filmmakers there. One might be your kindred spirit. Go to other films only if you have met, or want to meet, the filmmakers and want to support their work.

For the conference schedule, go over it with an eye on not only where you are, but where you intend on going. Get it out of your head that the only reason you’re there is to sell your script or get representation. Take a hard look at where you are as a writer and what you need work on. What is the common note from your readers regarding your scripts. Do they need more tension, better dialogue, surprises? Find the panels that discuss those things and take notes.  What do you do well that takes the most effort? Go to those panels too because even though you know how to make it work they might have something that makes it easier for you.

The most important tip I can give, is be flexible. If you have had it in your head all day that you’re going to see “A Conversation With…” panel because you liked his last movie and want to hear what he has to say but you’re in a great conversation with a fellow screenwriter who is willing to help you with your bad third act, forget the Q&A. Within the coming months, the On Story podcast will air the most informative parts of what that person had to say. The person you’re talking to right now might be the key that unlocks the blocks in your head. Or he or she might be a new friend with the same passion as you.

Never underestimate the power of a fellow human being that likes you and wants to help.

If there is an advanced sign-up that you weren’t able to register for but desperately want to attend, get there 20 minutes ahead of time and wait. They will have a few seats open after the people on the list are in. Conversely, if you want to get into a panel reserved for second rounders or semi-finalists and you are not one, don’t try. You’re wasting your time. I know.

Finally, mark all the options you had for the given time frame. Your first choice might be full. Or if you run late talking to someone you might want to have a secondary panel in mind that’s closer. No need to miss ten minutes of a panel across the street if there’s one down the hall you’d like as well.

No matter what, relax. Have a good time. You are surrounded by writers and people who love writers. That’s awesome.

Crowdfailing, Selfcess


So, originally the post I had written about my campaign was one describing my sheer discomfort about asking people for money. I felt like I was begging. Much like how I suppress outward expressions of anger, for fear of being perceived as the angry black woman, I didn’t wanted to be perceived as the lazy charity case either. Upon hearing my worries one of my twitter friends told me not to think of it as begging, but as crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, yeah, I can do that.

I made a decision to ask the social media universe for help. With a knot in my stomach and apprehension in my heart I pulled my big girl panties up over my boobs, yes, they’re that big, to ask for retweets of When the first retweet came through I felt like I had won the lottery. All but one of the lovely tweeps who I asked to retweet me did. Even though it resulted in zero new dollars, I felt like it was a personal victory. I climbed up on my soap box and shouted that I needed help. Others took up the shout saying I was worth helping. Amazing.

Even though as an adult I know there are people who enjoy me as a person, being an outcast my entire life has made me afraid of anything where I find out what people think about me. There are times I worry that someone will think I only want them for what they can do for me. I forget what I have to offer and withdraw. I become a wallflower, waiting for someone to ask me to dance.

Putting myself out there, asking for what I want, is difficult for me but I work on it every day. I do this for myself and for my career. I must convince myself that I deserve to want to be president and not just first lady. I deserve to be heard and understood as the smart, talented person I am.

Sixty dollars raised so far of a goal of two thousand. I suck at crowdfunding but I’m doing better at asking for what I want. So here goes…

I want you to support me. Financially at if you can. Or help by reading my scripts and giving notes. Or introduce me to neat people who will be an asset to my life or my career. By telling me if I am going overboard with asking for things. (Everything seems like too much for me right now, so it will be helpful if I have someone to tell me when I actually am being as annoying as I feel.) And most of all, by being your non-jerky self.

In return, I will walk through doors, hold out my hand, and open my mouth. I will welcome no, instead of dreading it. Most of all, I will never again be the one preventing me from achieving my dreams.

What We Know


We’ve all heard, “Write what you know.” Most of us have also heard that this is crap on a cracker. Because really, who knows what it’s like to be a Jesus figure with a princess twin sister in a galaxy, far, far, away? Or a queen that was born shooting ice from her fingertips?

What I’ve found out about my own writing is more disturbing than writing what I know. I write who I am.

If someone had told me that writing who I am is how I would access my ability to write quality scripts I would have smiled, nodded, and hoped it didn’t look like I thought they were stupid.  Writing who I am is too painful, too limiting, I would have said. And I would have been right. Sort of.

It’s important to write who I am, but through characters without my face or history. I have told the emotional story of my history with race relations in the 1990s through an ex-slave lawman in the 1870s. Of being hurt by relationships through a fat white woman who’s had sex with more men than I’ve kissed, and my struggles with fitting into society through a serial killer’s love for a model with an ugly face. Their emotional truths are all part of who I am, but I don’t know any of them.

I think I will always be a little scared of writing who I really am. Even now too many of my first drafts consist of me giving a stiff arm to my emotions. They’re there at the edges, smooth, shiny, but not quite real. Only when I rewrite, holding the script to my emotional soul like a babe on a teat, does the script seem to connect with my readers.

Writing it down feels like it makes it real. But it already is real. All those hurt, rough places, and the mean, unforgiving places, share a part of me with the awesome joy I hope to exist in most of the time.

Be brave, tell me who you are. Be an artist, tell me through a world you’ve never known.


ESCAPE a story of the suicidal


When you’re deep in the bowels of depression, that’s what the idea of suicide is to you, escape. All you think about is the end of your pain. To me it was the endless running in my brain of foreign thoughts. Of how good it would feel to just stop thinking. How good it would feel to stop having to live with this evil soup in my brain that made life a torture.

I had spent the last year and a half having genetically modified mouse cells intravenously added to my blood stream one a drop at a time, or shooting them into my belly through prefilled syringes. The infusions and injections did their job. My body was limber and pain free. But my mind. My mind fought each of those microscopic cells like a born warrior willing to give its own life for the eradication of the enemy. I stopped taking the biologics and let my body fall back into ruin because that pain was so much easier than the hell in my head.

When I was taking the drugs there was a tiny part of my brain that was able to stay afloat just enough to let me know that the thoughts I was having didn’t really belong to me. I know there are people whose entire brain is submerged and I don’t know whether to feel good or bad about that. They’re in constant pain but they don’t know anything else, so that gives them some measure of protection. My therapist says that the highest risk of suicide is when the person is getting better. When the depression is at its worst one finds it hard to get out of bed, much less find the energy to plan and commit suicide.

The only reason I’m alive today is because of my mom. I knew that if I killed myself it would devastate her and she might not survive. I had no desire to take her with me. Thank god I understood the damage that I would do to her, because I didn’t understand the damage I would do to everyone else who knew me. A suicide is violent act. Like a suicide bomber, it damages everyone around you.

In my group therapy, there was a beautiful woman in her fifties. We walked together on the way to our cars, we exchanged numbers. She called me. “How are you able to laugh while you’re in so much pain?” “I don’t know.” “But what are you doing?” “I’m doing all the work they give us. I follow-.“ Buzzzzzzzz. She’d hung up on me. I sighed and waited to see her at group. When I asked where she was that next group, I was told she had moved to a more intensive group. Oh good, I thought. She needed it. Three months later a former group member runs into a current group member and tells him how he saw her obituary in the paper.

The rumor burns through the group like wild fire. She’s dead. Our group therapist confirms it that night. She never left our group for another. She killed herself. The what ifs tumble through my brain along with every tool therapy has given me. My recovery is most important. I am not responsible for other people. You can’t save everyone. My conscience mind says, “It wasn’t your fault.” My unconscious runs through a series of pictures; she hangs up the phone and picks up the pills, the rope, the gun. If I had just called back she wouldn’t have been able to hold the phone and her weapon of choice at the same time.

Every suicide brings me back to that buzzing on the phone and the bomb that followed, exploding guilt and shame through my heart, her husband’s heart, our therapist’s heart, and the heart and head everyone that knew her.

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.

May she rest in peace. It wasn’t her fault either.

My Interview


This interview was a really fun experience for me. Danielle and I talked for over two hours so a lot of what we talked about had to be trimmed. That is why sometimes it sounds like I start talking about something random but it all connects. Really happy with the way it turned out.
All the resources I talk about and more are on my Info For You page on this blog.

Earth and Fire


I’ve never told you you’re a bad writer. That you are wasting your time and ink on reams of paper. I never have, but someone will. Whether they’ve seen your writing or not, someone might tell you this. Someone has told me this but I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen because I know who I am.

I am a writer.

Whether anyone ever buys a story of mine or not I have to write. That’s my truth. That is the ground I stand on. I had to learn to dig my toes into the dirt and let them grow roots so I can stand on my own even when others try to push me over.

Most of you that have met me know I laugh loudly and share freely. I’ve been told I’m trying too hard to be happy and personable when the truth is, I wasn’t trying at all. I was just being me. Unfortunately, when I’m around someone I admire I get quiet. I suppress all the bouncing and blurting in an effort to seem normal, only to amplify my awkwardness. The entertainment business, especially in LA, will try to tear you down for your differences. Don’t let it. Know who you are and what you’re willing to do. Stand in that truth and never let the fire in your belly, your passion, consume your humanity.

Fire can burn off the old to make room for the new. It can also, attract people to its warmth or send them running in fear. The earth can feed you, comfort you, and be the foundation to build on. But if you let others chip away at it, erode it, it will bury you.

As I talk to all of you, my fellow aspiring screenwriters, I talk to myself. I know these things I’ve shared with you these last weeks, but I have not lived them. There have been times I have let my fire be snuffed, stood still as dirt was shoveled on top of me. I don’t want to do that again. I know I have learned my lesson, but now for the scary part, to live it. I am preparing to live it. I will live it. This is my year. Is it yours too?

I wish you all luck but more than wishes I urge you to be prepared. Not only with your craft but with your soul.

This is the last of the life elements I’m posting. It took me so long to post this one because it scares me the most. I am still figuring out where I draw the line, and how far I’m willing to color outside of  it. I will treat myself gently if I fail. I will forgive myself and try again.

Try again.






My beloved fellow unestablished creatives, watch this video of Ava DuVernay’s keynote speech. No really. Watch it now. Link doesn’t work? Cut and paste the URL at the end of this post. I’ll wait. If you don’t have time for the whole thing watch from minute 6:45 to 21:30.

If you’ve ever been to an event with people who are where you want to be in the industry, you know what’s she’s talking about.

At times, desperation has clung to me like wet clothes. I’ve been around people who have power in the business where I’ve felt like I’ll drown if that person doesn’t give me a hand up. Sometimes, I’ve let myself drift away with the current because I’ve felt unworthy of their regard. Other times, I’ve flailed and splashed hoping to get their attention. When I finally did, I realized I had only succeeded in making them think I’m not OK in the head. There are times when I thought I was being safe, a fly on the wall. I’d go still at the fringe of a conversation and stare as I listened. I realize now I’m too damn big for no one to notice me. I was more like a dead body floating by than someone you’d want to invite to swim with you.

Some of us realize we’re doing it but don’t know how to stop. Some of us never realize how bad we stink of desperation. And for too many of us at the core of the desperation is failure. Sadly, we believed we failed to sell our script or make our movie because the right person has not seen our talent and championed our greatness. But really we’ve failed because we just aren’t good enough yet, and we will only be good enough by doing it again and again.

For so long, I’ve noticed that Hollywood runs from desperation. I’ve never quite understood why until I watched that video. I thought, don’t they see this person’s passion? Their commitment? No. What they see is that they will have to put their energy into that person with no guarantee of getting back success. There is only so much energy anyone can give. Lifeguards won’t carry you where you want to go, so why should the industry elite?

Learn to swim in the pool so that they know if they give you a flotation device you’ll be able to survive in the ocean on your own.



A story can contain a world, or a single heartbeat. A sad story can fester in your soul and break it, or shared with others, it can make us whole. A happy story can make us fly on wings of endless possibility, or cry to give release to the swelling of our being. Stories are so important to understanding our past, our present, and where we want to go in our future.

A story is life. One life. All life. Breath.

We all have the power to be tellers of stories, but some of us are blessed. Some of us are storytellers. Some of us storytellers have chosen screenwriting as our medium, and I want you to understand what that means to me.

My beloved fellow emerging screenwriters, I want you to succeed. I want you to know that if I tell you to use standard formatting, or to cut your script down from 300 pages, I am not trying to stifle your creativity, I am trying to help you have a better chance of sharing your story with the world. It hurts me when I see some of you fighting so hard to make it while shooting yourself in the foot. I want to help you. I admit, sometimes I express this too passionately. Other times, I suggest it in a wounded voice filled with concern.

I’m not sure if it’s because of how I feel about story, or my compassion for people, but I know I care too much. It’s odd that many of the men I know who care too much cover and protect their hearts with umbrage and sarcasm. Me, a heaviness blankets me. I get quiet as I mourn my failure to make you understand.

So, I implore you now, LISTEN. Does the person talking to you have your best interest at heart? Do they come from experience you don’t have? Wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others. Be wise, listen.

Is the example you’re holding onto the exception to the rule? That one guy who sold a script written in crayon on the back of reams of recycled paper is one in a billion. Don’t you want to do everything to increase your odds? Don’t you want to make it as easy as possible for someone else to read your story?

Don’t you want to make it easy to help someone else breathe?

Sheets in the Closet

Sheets in the Closet

As you know, Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA Clippers, was forced out of the closet as a racist asshole by a secretly recorded conversation between him and his girlfriend(?). Now let’s get a few things straight. Yes, secretly recording someone who you say you love is a dick move. Yes, once the recordings were released, what was said on them is fair game. And no, the shit storm that people think they’re raining on him isn’t effecting him any more than a single turd would .

The people who want The Clippers players to abandon the team until Sterling is replaced as owner haven’t stopped to think who gets hurt by that. It sure as hell isn’t Sterling. If the NBA is able to wrestle ownership from his cold dead hand, the team will have to be bought. So, the players would not get paid and fall out of shape while Donald Sterling gets millions of dollars from the sell.

If he had never been around black people, never been their friend, I’d say he might be able to change. But the problem with people like him is, you can never change their mind, and anything you do to hurt them hurts you just as much.

I don’t know why the NAACP sent Sterling his money back. There is no way I would have given him back a dime. Every bit should have gone to innovative black entrepreneurs so that one day, his place as a decision maker would be taken by a new black millionaire. That would make more of a difference than a returned check.

Sadly, the majority of people think that racism is confined to utterances of the “N-word.” We can see this by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to allow the eradication of affirmative action. No black person could truly get a chance under someone like Sterling without prompting.

Truth be told, being called Nigger has never been as damaging to me as someone I trust revealing their prejudice. I know every one of those players was shocked that this man that they thought they knew and, probably, liked, felt that they were not his equals. It’s that shock that is the worst part about his kind of racism. I have never trusted anyone that has called me Nigger, so I was never able to be truly hurt by them. For those of you who can’t understand what I mean, pretend that upon meeting someone the first thing they said is how beneath them you are. That they hate you. Imagine they told you that you were not worth breathing the same air as them. You would be taken aback, wonder how they could think that when they don’t know you, but you’d move on with your life without them in it. You would never let your guard down around them, much less, share a part of your soul.

Only you can hurt yourself more than those you let into to your life as friends or loved ones.

The best piece of advice my mom ever gave me was never to lend anything I can’t afford to lose. The second was never do anything you have to hide your face for. Donald Sterling’s mama should have told him the second one.

I’m not your mama but I’m telling you anyway. If you’re about to do something you would never do if your peers would know about it, listen to yourself and don’t. It’s not right and you know it’s not right. Otherwise, you would smile for the camera… or the recorder.