From Computer Geek to Published Writer to Transmedia Storytelling Toolkit Creator

By Greg Mandanis

It was not until the Summer of ’95, at an age of thirty-six, as husband of an extremely supportive, vulnerable community college English instructor, who was death threatened by two students over a grade, that I was confronted with a must-do situation to gain the confidence to right a wrong against the rampant forces of educational political “correctness” and an insensitive Administration, before it was too late.

computer geekIt was this inciting incident that was the catalyst which released my inner wannabe creative self, trapped in a boring, computer geek’s body–which also gave my wife a second life as a teacher.

It was my wife, Christina Artemis, my Greek goddess writing coach, who would teach me the true love for creative writing that set me free to create and the art of teaching by passing the gift of storytelling to others.

Here’s our story… It all started in ’88, when I was working as a computer specialist teaching kindergartners the MAC at a local elementary school in Silicon Valley.  Christina, was a part-time English instructor at two SF Bay Area community colleges.

One day, I read the The Economist magazine, I ran across an essay contest to convert missiles into plowshares.  Meanwhile, Christina was slaving away correcting hundreds of her students’ essays–escaping to the community pool where an inverted tower shape formation she viewed intensely, upside down– gets an aha-moment experience on how to save me from my horrid headaches– she simply suggested that I apply for the contest.

At first I hesitated to apply, telling myself I’m not a good enough writer, I don’t have time to make the deadline, which is around the corner.  Somehow, my level of writing amazed Christina, however, she commented that I did not use commas correctly—and compared me with that of an attorney. I was even further scared to get out of my nutshell because I suffered from bi-polar disorder, heavily medicated—which made it extremely hard to keep a job.  She convinced me to at least give it the old college try…

On the struggling writer front, I’m notified as one of the finalists in the ECAAR essay contest, so Christina recommended that I should turn it into a novel. Initially, due to my low self-esteem, I felt sorry for her that she actually thought my stuff looked scholarly compared to her twenty-five years of reading thousands of inner-city students’ essays. Finally, after her many pep talks, I gave in to the calling, embarked on the journey as another sucker punched, starving writer.

On top Christina being forced to quit her job, after suffering from a headache that mimicked a stroke due to the death threat by two students over a grade, I was let go from my high-tech geek job right after 911. When things seemed absolutely hopeless, in all of Christina’s gloomily existence suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, she never seemed to stop believing in the glimmer of hope that shone through the window in my cozy study.  Every morning, before the sun rose, I wrote at least five pages of the novel.

Christina continued to mentor me, as if she was my bullishly “tough loving” manager. She would continuously drive me to send out query letters and make cold calls to agents and publishers. She stayed up many a late night relentlessly edited my many manuscript drafts and hundreds of query letters–which all got rejected. That was part of the game: Accept rejection. Suck it up.

Christina even registered me for the San Francisco Book Festival, where I met a little old man named Jim Rankin, who owned Dry Bones Press.

Mr. Rankin, being a sci-fi buff, had found my wacky black humorous sci-fi novel to be quite witty, where he said: “It will find a sci-fi cult following, where teachers will quote from it to their students…”  So, he was willing to read the manuscript.

A year passed with no bites– just rejection letters. They were impersonal, photocopied, signed rejection letters, which made things worse.

Then, a friend introduced me to Carl Rose, a literary agent, who was willing to represent me.  Carl pitched my novel idea to many publishers large and small to no avail. One day, he heard that his former colleague, an acquisitions editor at IDG Books Worldwide, the original publishers of the “… For Dummies” series, were looking to publish a title on software project management.

Carl knew I worked in high-tech, so he convinced me to set the novel project aside, to try pitching the “Software Project Management Kit For Dummies” book proposal.

I also received a letter from Jim of Dry Bones, who expressed a strong interest in publishing the novel.

As it turned out, in 2000, “Software Project Management Kit For Dummies” did get published, which became a bestseller, where my former Cal-Poly track teammate and marketing manager at Microsoft was able to showcase the Microsoft Project 2000 free software trial on the book’s CD-ROM.

Two years later, “The Genes of Wrath” was published.

In 2003, Christina challenged me to adapt the novel into a screenplay. So, I wrote and she edited at least six drafts. After four years of this seemingly futile exercise, she signed me up for the Hollywood Screenwriting Pitchfest. I was initially petrified by the idea of pitching my story in less that two minutes in front of a bunch of scary literary agents and studio execs.

At the pitchfest, I attended this pitching workshop, where the writers would practice pitching in front of a panel of film school instructors. The instructors were working professionals in the business, who would very constructively critiqued our pitches.

There was one panelist, Jim Pasternak, the head of Directing at L.A. Film School, who was a great source of inspiration to me after my wacky pitch left the panel pretty confused. Jim saw through my cloud of confused prose and crazy, “out-of-line concepts,” overly complicated terminology and “unstructured” story structure.

Jim then shared one of the greatest gifts every writer should have– Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey ” approach to storytelling, based on the mythology book, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces,” of which George Lucas credits as the key to the success of the “Star Wars” trilogy.

After all, it is the “The Journey” is what over 80% of the Hollywood movies’ and games’ stories are based.  Joseph Campbell’s book brought back flashbacks of my high school graduation trip to Greece, when my Greek uncle first introduced me to this magical book that brought me back in time to my ancestral roots–resurrecting the museum’s statutes of goddess Athena’s, Zeus’ and Poseidon’s spiritual beings before my very eyes.

After the conference, Jim offered to tutor me one-on-one, where he very patiently walked me through “The Journey” step-by-step. It was then, that the magic started to happen. After hundreds of hours of writes and re-writes, I was finally able to write a pitch, treatment/synopsis and then screenplay, and present it in a convincing way to agents and studios. In 2008, Jim was very excited to finish writing, directing and shooting his comedy feature film: “Certifiably Jonathan,” starring Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams, produced and distributed through Warner Brothers. We met Robin at a SFIFF and that was a great moment in time.

Then in 2111, out of nowhere, the phone rang, it was Jim… He asked if I every finished my screenplay, “Your crazy story is the kind of story that sells in Hollywood,” and whether I needed his help…

As a gift to my wife Christina, our son Paul, in appreciation to Jim Pasternak, and to teachers and students of the media arts everywhere, my web developer friends, as a labor of love… night after night, after work and on weekends, for six years we built the YouScreenWriter.com — an online collaborative transmedia storytelling toolkit and learning center.

YouScreenWriter “demystifies the myth” of the Hollywood method, by automating Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” story structure steps into a very intuitive and thorough workflow process that poses all the right questions and offers all the right tools.

The vision of YouScreenWriter, was so that beginning writers and seasoned filmmakers alike can use this platform to go step-by-step, and soup to nuts, from the breaking of the story through the completion of a web video.

Some of the newer features have been driven by capturing the voice of the customer, from writers and artists from the screenwriting conference and alternative press expo (APE).  Writers and artists alike are looking for an online speed dating service that matches writers with artists, animators and voice over actors.  For those writers, screenwriters and artists who don’t feel they can complete an entire multi-media project by themselves, can turn to the crowd sourcing service, where you post your project, where writers and artists can audition online for the work.

Having a one-stop-shop with all of the tools, training and expert advice to write, direct, promote and publish quality content all online faster and cheaper to all publishing outlets, with only a browser, democratizes the process, by removing the barriers to access, where original creators own the means of production: “Where every hero can tell their story!”

The rest is history. Which all started with an English teacher-goddess who could see some creative spark in a computer geek, wannabe writer.

greg_mandanis_pictureGreg Mandanis is the author of the best selling Software Project Management Kit For Dummies (Wiley and Sons), and The Genes of Wrath (Dry Bones Press). He is the founder of YouScreenWriter.com, an online, collaborative transmedia storytelling toolkit, learning center to make it easier for media content creatives, to get all of the collaboration tools, training, and expert advice to write and publish original quality content to publishers and media outlets faster and cheaper. Mr. Mandanis lives in the Silicon Valley with his wife, Christina, and their son, Paul. You can reach Greg at Greg@YouScreenWriter.com 

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