Military Time: America's Got Talent Via Social Progress

America is going through LGBT civil rights boot camp, and it’s making our society stronger. Change, like recruit training, is hard. The results are worth it.

Recently joining our ranks in the march to equality: SCOTUS, the Boy Scouts, the Pentagon and Caitlyn Jenner.

When I was a kid I marveled at Jenner as she competed on TV in the Olympic decathlon, I had no idea she suffered from body dysmorphia.

You think it took bravery to eat the first oyster? Try being Caitlyn Jenner, living a famous, accomplished life while secretly knowing she was in the wrong body. When Caitlyn came out as transgender, she turned heads (some sideways) and opened minds. Soon after, the Pentagon announced that the military will allow transgendered people to serve.

Caitlyn would make a fierce Marine; I’d be proud to hunker down in a foxhole with her.

I say that as a former Marine. And I’m proud that current military personnel can serve their country regardless of their sexual orientation.

Jim Beaver, Justified, Veteran, Equality, USMC

But equality wasn’t built in a day. It’s important to identify and remember the bricks we laid on the path to LGBT civil rights. Of course we should celebrate the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the fall of DOMA, but we must remember what living through that time was like, especially without any public heroes. That pebble in our path warrants discussion.

When I was an underweight and insecure eighteen-year-old, I enlisted in the pre-DADT Marines.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing enlisting. I didn’t know where I measured on the masculinity scale. I didn’t know how to be.

Growing up in the 1970s, I had no gay heroes — because there weren’t any. Television portrayed us as flamboyant jokes. I didn’t feel that represented what I wanted to be when I grew up.

If gay people made the news, often the story focused on a crime of which they were accused (by merely being themselves). Gay pride was a secret thump in men’s hearts when an Elton John song came on. Any forward movement was a handcuffed walk of shame. Out was not in.

As a kid, I was too nervous to participate in school sports. What if they called me gay? I felt my different-than-everyone-else’s sexuality was obvious, no matter how well I hid it. I was small and weak, which made sense because I never went to gym class.

How was I supposed to feel good about myself when my sexuality (which had not yet been honed to perfection) was condemned by society? I felt nice and kind and smart and funny and rejected and hated and afraid. That internal struggle causes pain I wish on no one.

But I survived and thrived in the Marine Corps. As I trained with my platoon, I learned that everyone came in bearing some sort of a burden. Whether it was weight shame or an educational deficiency or a head shaped like a basketball—they locked that up. We all had to march to the same beat.

My fellow Marines were — and are — wonderful to me. They didn’t ask if I was gay. They also never asked for my pecan pie recipe. It’s an awesome recipe, but it has the same relevance to my military service as my sexuality does.

I believe it’s necessary to tell the stories of how our LGBT brothers and sisters went from handcuffs to heroes. It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t without loss. As we clutch the bouquet of congratulatory roses to our chests, a few thorns still prick us.

But we march ahead. We’re being noticed for how well we do something without the fear that we shouldn’t even be allowed to try.

It’s important for us as a society to learn that if a person is qualified for the job, and wants the job, he’ll probably do a good job. So now Boy Scout leaders can be gay. Duh. If anyone wants to sacrifice his time and energy for the betterment of mankind, let him. It’s difficult getting anything accomplished. If someone volunteers, grab him. And say thanks. That goes especially for gay and transgender members of the armed forces.

One of the greatest gifts I received from the Marine Corps, in addition to my memoir The Pink Marine, is camaraderie. I may no longer look like a typical Marine. My hair isn’t regulation length, and I wear every color but green. Yet I proudly extend my hand to any current or former serviceman. In a flash, we reach a solid bond over common experience, free from any mention of my sexual preference.

I served six years and achieved the rank of sergeant. I trained to defend America against bullies—vast nations of horrible bullies. I fought to secure my rights, and yours. With nothing expected and no questions asked.

Don’t you dare hate me with the idiocy of prejudice. Get to know me, then feel free. This is America.

Semper Fidelis.

This Marine Won't March Into Mississippi (Hate Doesn't Taste Like Chicken)

I just turned down a farm-to-table tour of Mississippi. As a food writer, they invited me to tour their farm--to-table movement. They are very proud of where they stand and offered to fly me in to witness their production.

One of the most important moments in my book, The Pink Marine, involves Mississippi. Marines’ primary mission is to defend our country. The U.S. government didn’t care about my sexuality. It wasn’t part of their job or my job. They equipped me with the necessary training and tools to be an effective Marine. As I was issued an M-16, I recalled the time when I was fifteen and visiting a farm near Jackson, Mississippi. I hunted for the first time. I held my first rifle, shot and killed a squirrel. And then our host cooked it and served it for our dinner. * Mississippi, you’re always full of surprises.

Homemade, Healthy, Yogurt-based Salad Dressing. Undressed.

I turn into my grandmother when I tie one on. An apron. I hear her guide my hand over the salt, Not too much, she says. As I stir, I check my arm to see if it has her adorable wiggle waggle yet.

In an effort to delay that jiggle, I work out and eat healthy. I cook as much as I can, using natural products unencumbered by additives. I lived through the eighties so there are enough chemicals bouncing around my in body from the disco daze. To make it to and through my eighties, I'm especially mindful of the ingredients in any prepared foods I buy.

This easy, healthy salad dressing recipe is a staple in my fridge.

The Disney Princess Life: Not That Great

So You Wanna Be a Princess?

On paper, being a Princess looks appealing. Almost fairytale-ish. But turn the page, lift the crown, look closer and you might stay in school.

First, you get one dress. ONE fucking yellow dress with a sash. And you have to wear that one dress in every scene until the very end, when you get married.  You imagine princesses with one of those closets like a dry cleaner where millions of different outfits go flying by like the sushi conveyor belt at Harvey Nichols in London. Nope. One dress. And it’s tattered cause it’s made by birds. Birds are shit seamstresses.


You know you’re motherless, right? Your mother died, most likely giving birth to you. And she was lovely. So lovely that your kindly father never remarries, drinks too much and whittles. ABC should launch CSI Disney and get to the bottom of this entire Queens dying bullshit. Of course this means that one day Princess, you too will be Queen and therefore die. So don’t get pregnant – you’ll never make it out alive.

Not to worry – your Prince is gay. Gay gay gay. Just look at him, riding in on his prancing horse, fresh from a spray tan, a teeth whitening, and probable barn romp involving other princes. When boys are that pretty, they like other boys who look just like them. It’s tragic men’s canoodling can’t produce kids -- a gay couple would have the most beautiful babies.

Everybody hates you. Go ahead, dance at the ball – twirl around all night. But know that everyone watching wants you dead. They don’t want to be you -- they just want you dead. Dukes and duchesses and court-folk are really mean. Don’t drink the punch, don’t eat cake, don’t touch anything pointy and never ever repeat one word three times – you’re constantly a wand wave away from poof.

Like your castle? Good, cause that’s the only place you get to go. There’s no other world for you. You think you’re going online to book a getaway in Prague? Like you’re getting on a public plane. You’ll crash through a glass wall, bursting your bubble forever. The world outside it not pretty. It’s not sunshiny, or sparkly and some troll drove out all the unicorns eons ago.

Why am I so pissed? Because I fell for the myth too and my midget posse left me for movie work.
Now I’m single, childless, and live in a cave hiding out from some witch. FOREVER.

Moral of the story: If it’s too good to be true, it is.

The End

Overseas Adventure Travel: Israel

No one told me that the Dead Sea sparkles. And I almost didn't see it.

Wanderlust struck me, so I spun the globe and threw a dart at a dream destination. Istanbul was rioting and Prague was flooded, so I headed to a more peaceful place, Israel.

As I planned the trip from home in the U.S., I let news and friends persuade me to limit my sight-seeing to Jerusalem only, under the theoretical belief that with Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy places under one tiny sky, I'd be safe. I cancelled excursions to Petra in Jordan, Bethlehem, Masada and the Dead Sea.

So You Want to Write For Television?

When it was time to bring my book of Marine Corps boot camp stories to market, I went into U.S. Marine mission-mode and sought out the best expert. I looked to publishing guru Jane Friedman. Of course I was star-struck talking to Jane, but she made me comfortable and confident about my book's future.

Once my book,The Pink Marine, was finished, Jane asked me to write a guest post on her blog that examined the differences between writing for televisions (my area of expertise) and writing a book (her area).

Once I stopped screaming in a high pitched squeal, I wrote this piece:


So You Want To Write For Television?

I’m a new author but an old writer. I have a television writing background so I thought all of my sitcom experience would translate into the literary world.

Wrong. It’s like using my Spanish to find a restaurant in France. I eat; but I don’t recognize everything on my plate.

I wanted to write my Marine Corps boot camp story as a book. How hard could it be? I dove in and typed “Chapter One” instead of “Fade In”. As I moved past the first draft of my memoir, The Pink Marine, and into the business part of the book process, I called my TV agent. I needed his business guidance, contacts -- his muscle. I went on and on for five minutes about how thrilled he must be to bring my book to market.

Turns out, “It’s your lucky day. I’m finally writing that book!” sounds to a TV agent like the teacher on the TV show Peanuts.

“Wahhhhh whaaa wwwwahhh.”

Thankfully I have that Marine Corps thing that I call into action. I made a plan, found Jane Friedman and she got me speaking the right language.

If you read my adventure/food blog EatGregEat, you know I need to fill my plate. I continue to write sitcoms as well as cook on television (and write those scripts) while I work on my next book.

I still have gobs to learn about the book world; but I’d love to share a few bits about the TV genre. I wrote for Norman Lear (don’t worry, as a Marine, I’m strong enough to pick up any name I drop). He once stopped me in the hall; I’m guessing he smelled my newness.

“There’s room enough in this business for everyone,” he said.

He’s right. It’s not easy to find that room. If it were, imagine the crowd. Still want to write TV?

Great! Wait, not so fast. First, watch TV – really watch it. Study the type of show to which you feel most connected. Pay attention to what happens the moment before a commercial (and there’re still Act Breaks on ad-free networks like Netflix/Amazon shows #thankyouShakespeare).

Listen to the characters. I recommend Friends. It’s not only funny; but also the writers served six main characters. Notice if Monica enters a room that’s on fire, she reacts only with the words available to her based on her background, education and experience. Now let Phoebe walk in that burning room and you’ll hear an entirely different speech. And Ross? We all know he won’t even go in the room.

Point is, like in your novel, your characters can’t sound the same. They’re not you, yet you have to get inside their imaginary minds and be them.

Rome the miniseries wasn’t written in a day. Once you can guess the character’s next move and you’re ruining television watching for anyone in the room with you, you’re ready to write a spec script. There are two types: one of an existing show, and one of a show you create.

Write a script for an existing show.
Kind of like an audition, you’ll write a script for a show already in progress. Yep, in order to be considered to write on any show, producers must see that you can copy someone else. Not just mimic; be better, be clever, be great. A voice that “gets it”. Gandhi preached “be the change” but the Marines taught me to “fit the mold”. I don’t have to tell you who wins in a Gandhi/Marine battle. (Note to self: write that script.)

Make it look right. 
Hollywood’s all about appearances. Search a site like Simply Scrips and legally download one from the show you plan to emulate. Type your pages as they do. Some have Scene A, B, C, etc. Others list them by 1, 2, 3. How many act breaks? How many pages are they? Yours must look exactly like that.  Am I saying that TV executives aren’t very intelligent? Not the ones reading this.  #letsdolunch

TV is formulaic. Act One, Act Two, sometimes Act Three, then Fade Out. Many shows are now filmed; therefore they look like a movie script where there’s a new scene with any time or location change.

Here’s a sample of a single camera filmed script scene. Notice that you write with a greater economy of words in a script. In a book, you can use a hundred words to describe how the color green makes you feel; but in script, paint the scene quickly and then get your characters talking. It’s okay to write entertaining stage directions but always put clever words in your character’s mouths. They need to spit out gold nuggets.

 INT. SQUADBAY – Night

Gandhi and a Marine wrestle. Twenty other Marines are crowded around. Mother Teresa is in the corner taking bets. It’s not going well for Gandhi.

GHANDI
I wish you peace, brother.

MARINE
I wish I could quit you.

MOTHER TERESA
Less talking, more fighting, bitches.

Old people cussing is comedy gold. Along the way I’ve learned a few other rules, brief enough to embroider on a pillow:

1. I never learn anything from praise.
2. If I have to explain a joke to someone, cut it.

Of course you’re also free to create your own show and write the pilot episode. They say there are only six great ideas, so go for it. Your own life is probably a sitcom or a drama right? I bet you work with a bunch of characters. That’s how shows happen.  And it can happen to you.  But before the hijinks commence….

Make your show unique.
Why your show? Those TV execs I spoke of don’t have all day. Shape your idea into an “elevator pitch”. You enter with eight Warner Brothers suits. You’re already going down – you get six floors to lift them up with your fascinating tale. When you hit the lobby you don’t want them to change the channel.

My book is optioned for television. The producers go out with this pitch: The Pink Marine is Orange Is The New Black meets Private Benjamin.

Were I pitching Pride and Prejudice: Sex in the City meets Downton Abbey.

Make your show last.
In addition to the pilot script, your situation must have storylines that are sustainable for at least four years. That’s the number of seasons that produced shows hit syndication and pay dirt for all. Those mink-lined indoor swimming pools don’t pay for themselves after one episode.

Tell us what happens in episode two. And then? After that? You’ll boast of wild plot twists in year two. And bizarre stuff in year three.  Guess who dies at the end. Oh wow – I have to watch that show!

The business side:
Today’s writing staffs are smaller. Gone are the days where Roseanne had thirty-two writers. She issued football jerseys and called for a joke, “You, #28, what’s a funnier word for orange?” #28 replied, “Kumquat” because “k” sounds are funnier in television dialogue (see rumaki, kabob, kaboom.)

Hours are long and you might be in the same room with these weirdoes, so as in any job interview you have to be someone they want to spend fourteen hours a day with. (BTW, a script doesn’t get funnier at 4AM, just more weird.)

You got homework:
Read Variety and Deadline every day. They’re free and you must know who the players are. Yes you do have time; get off Facebook (unless you’re following my EatGregEat page).

If you’re still turned on by the idea of television writing, I’m sure you’ve heard it’s a humbling business. Remember how I told you that The Pink Marine is optioned as a TV series? I’m not an executive producer/showrunner level writer, so I probably won’t get to adapt the book*.

 *In case my agent reads this, please know that I am totally up for that job.

Look, I had no idea what I was doing when I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. But I reached the rank of Sergeant. If I can become a U.S. Marine, you can write for television.

I wish everyone success. Television is a good medium for writers to find work. If you’re not in Los Angeles, you can still start the process. Write your spec scripts, send queries to agents, take an online course from UCLA.  And be a shameless self-promoter – you probably don’t even realize that I plug myself all the time on Twitter and Instgram and a website at www.thepinkmarine.com AND in case I forgot to mention it, I have a book you should buy.

Don’t give up. And never ever ever listen to anyone that says too much TV is bad for you.

THE END


Social media is important part of a book's marketing platform, and Jane's audience is vast. Having a piece on Jane's blog not only helped sales, but also made this Hollywood writer legit.

Have stars in your eyes, reach for them. If the Marines taught me anything, it's that everything is possible.

(Link to the original post on Jane Friedman's blog.)

Let Freedom Ring and Opportunity Knock

Last night there was a knock on my door. As first, it startled me. I guess I’m as jumpy as everyone else right now. But it’s my own door; of course I’m answering. When I feel fearful, I remind myself that I was a Sgt. in the U.S. Marine Corps. Plus I live in a secured building.

I raked my fingers through my second-day hair, checked my t-shirt for cake crumbs, leaned my eye against the peephole, and saw a woman. I opened the door.