Author Archives: Bryan Keithley

The 6 Types of Potential Employers to AVOID

avoidParticularly when you begin your self-employment business—whatever the business might be—the tendency is to want to please everyone and to engage every potential client. But as you progress, you’ll learn that certain relationships are not worth your time. And some may actually be detrimental to your workflow and your pocketbook. Here’s a list (in no particular order!) of six types of employers from which to steer clear.

The Passionate Partner – often with creative material, or even with straight business opportunities, some employers will beseech you to get “passionate” about the project and to become a true “partner” in the undertaking—usually because they want you to offer your work at a discount or base your pay on some sort of performance contingency. You’re in business to work and get paid, so view any such relationships with skepticism.

The Aggressive Power Tripper – these are the overly demanding and critical potential employers who require unreasonable deadlines or who otherwise expect you to say “How high?” when they say “Jump!” Sure, you’re in business to serve your clients, but there are easier relationships out there to profit from. As you progress in your career, phase out these power trippers.

Where’d I Put That Quarter? –  Anyone who is sketchy or full of delays and excuses about paying outstanding invoices is probably not worth your time. Their eyes may be simply bigger than their stomach, so to speak, and they might not have the cash flow to realize their lofty business goals. In any case, you have better things to do than collections.

Stopper and Starter – A potential employer may contact you, get really excited, tell you all about their grand plans and how you fit into them—and then drop off the face of the earth for a couple months, only to resurface and renew their excitement about the grand plan. You simply can’t rely on these people, whose ambitions may outstrip their willingness to roll up their sleeves, pay people, and get things done.

The Undecided – These employers change their mind like they change their socks. One week it’s one vision; the next week it’s an entirely different vision. Some contractors may not mind this roller-coaster ride (if you get paid for all your work) because, after all, their fickleness means you’re creating more work. Still, these employers may expect discounts in the form of free revisions or re-dos. Plus there’s the simple headache factor of not knowing what the employer wants because THEY don’t know what they want.

The Absolutist – The best employer-contractor relationship is a two-way street. The Absolutist’s motto is “my way or the highway.” He or she might require unlimited revisions, no upfront money or staggered payment schedule, or payment only if they are 110% satisfied. The translation to all of these hardball tactics is they are looking for any way to not pay you or at least delay paying you. If the terms of the contract can’t be reasonable, why bother?

Have you ever experienced employment under one of these intolerable employer types? Let us hear you horror stories in the comments!

Photo Attribution


The Setup-Payoff Model of Storytelling

From the Ascentive writer’s corner:

Cartoon GunPlaywright Anton Chekhov had a favorite literary concept now known as “Chekhov’s Gun.” There are a few ways to state it, but essentially, if a gun appears prominently in the first act of the play, it had better play some role by the final act, or else the audience will feel cheated.

This concept could be described as foreshadowing, but really it boils down to a very basic architecture of storytelling, the setup-payoff model. And the more you’re around stories, the more you realize how very ingrained this architecture is and how many facets it has, particularly in the Western tradition. Hopefully we can generate a couple of fresh perspectives with the setup-payoff model that can help with your own storytelling.

In Chekhov’s case, the gun was “set up” in the first act. Well, what does that mean? A lot of setting up has to do with prominence, which is a wishy-washy term but is nonetheless useful to think about. If the gun was merely one small part of a living room’s production design, and it was not called attention to by any character, lighting technique, etc., then it was not set up properly (if there is indeed a payoff at the conclusion of the play where a character uses the gun to threaten violence).

So, part of setting up and paying off has to do with the literary real estate you give to an item, theme, character, etc. If in your story you are taking pains to describe a particular item, chances are you are building an expectation that that item will be paid off; that is, that the item will reappear in some important way that impacts your plot. When we talk about “plot holes” or “gaps” or “loose threads” in a narrative, we are almost always talking about either a) setups that were not properly paid off, or b) payoffs that were not properly set up. Using a little reverse logic, then, if a story contains proper setups and proper payoffs, in roughly equal weights, that story has captured the essence of satisfying storytelling.

And really, so much of the stories we tell in whatever medium can be reduced to this extremely simple but endlessly compelling relationship. It’s not just items, of course, but themes and characters themselves, either on a macro or micro level. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s transformation into a generous, happy man (the payoff) would not have nearly the power it does if most of the story wasn’t dedicated to depicting what a grouch and miser he was (the setup).

The lesson to take away from this model and from Chekhov’s Gun is two-fold. When you’re “stuck” in your writing, reduce your problem to a matter of setup and payoff. Chances are, the solution will present itself because the setup and payoff are so organically related (or at least should be). Secondly, Chekhov’s Gun is a lesson in the power of brevity. When you overwrite, you actually run the risk of upsetting the precarious balance between setup and payoff. Obeying the tradition of setups and payoffs will keep your prose lean and purposeful.

photo attribution:Gun Failing by Andorand

Ascentive Around the Other City: 5 Great Old-School Los Angeles Restaurants

Rena and Erica get to share their favorite spots in Philadelphia every week, but as the only Californian on the team I’ve been feeling a little left out. With this post I’m changing all that! This is Ascentive around the other city: Los Angeles.

Visiting Los Angeles? Sure, you might visit the Zoo, Griffith Park Observatory, Dodger Stadium, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, or the Santa Monica Pier. But what if you’re after some good eats, and maybe even some history? To make the most out of your Los Angeles adventure, check out these classic destinations for great food and great atmosphere.

Casa Bianca

Casa Bianca Pizza
Since: 1955
1650 Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
(323) 256 – 9617
Casa Bianca is sometimes difficult to plan for– it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays, and only opens at 4pm on the other days. But boy, do they have great pizza, along with the usual Italian pasta and dessert offerings. As any L.A. transplant can tell you, California doesn’t really know how to do pizza—and don’t even mention California Pizza Kitchen, please! Casa Bianca does Los Angeles proud, though.

Canter's Deli

Canter’s Deli
Since: 1948
419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
(323) 651 – 2030
Located in West Hollywood, Canter’s Deli has definitely achieved landmark status, and for good reason. This is an old-school Jewish deli par excellence. It has a full delicatessen and bakery, and it has one of those “they have everything” menus, including deli standards like the Canter’s Fairfax: pastrami and corned beef sandwich, piled insanely high, with coleslaw. The deli is also open 24 hours—unfortunately, a rarity in Los Angeles—which has made it a popular hangout for celebs and artistic types.

Barney's Beanery

Barney’s Beanery
Since: 1920
8447 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
(323) 654 – 2287
There are a few Barney’s around, but go to the original and best on Santa Monica. Like Canter’s, Barney’s has a neverending menu, including a huge breakfast menu. They’re famous for chili, foot-long hot dogs, and a rather generous selection of draft beers. And the atmosphere is priceless—they were plastering stuff on their walls way before Applebee’s was. The crowd of bikers and bohemians might get a little rough for some, particularly on the weekends, but hey, that’s Hollywood, baby!

Smoke House

Smoke House
Since: 1946
4420 West Lakeside Drive, Burbank
(818) 845 – 3731
Given its proximity to the Warner Brothers soundstages, the Smoke House has long been a hangout for movie executives and Hollywood luminaries. Its moody, dark interior sets the perfect stage: walking into Smoke House is like walking into a time machine. They still have a “camera girl” snapping pictures at tables, a practice that would seem to have disappeared decades ago. Definitely worth checking out. Try their famous garlic cheese bread!

Musso & Frank Grill

Musso & Frank Grill
Since: 1919
6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
(323) 467 – 7788
This is the old school of the old school. Surrounded by the blight of tattoo parlors and cheesy knickknack shops following Hollywood’s decline and tourist trap transformation, Musso & Frank Grill literally has not changed. The waiters have been doing their thing for 25 years, and the booths are probably the same ones that Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, and Greta Garbo used. Musso & Frank has no interest in frou-frou modern cuisine: here it’s best to order steak, potatoes, and very dry martinis.

Did I miss any of your favorite L.A. eats? Or disagree with my CA taste? Let me know in the comments! I’m always up for taking a bite out of new spots in the L.A. food scene so feel free to leave your recommendations as well!

4 Reasons Why You Need a Table of Contents

Ascentive presents: Writer’s Corner with Bryan Keithley

Table Of ContentsIn the digital age, many self-publishing writers question the value of the good ol’ Table of Contents. Similar to doubts about the end-of-book index (which actually has experienced a steep decline with ebooks), the thinking is: Why bother? With digital bookmarking and keyword search functions, who uses the Table of Contents anymore?

Well, there are four very good reasons why your book should not only include a ToC, but should start with a ToC. And here’s why:


Ease of navigation – Even though there are keyword searches, older readers in particular prefer to navigate an ebook from the handy Table of Contents. Well-formatted ToC’s should include embedded links to the chapters/sections of the book, which make it even easier to reach a desired section. You want to give the reader more guideposts, not less, and a ToC provides a simple and logical “nexus” of guideposts.

Readers judge your book by your ToC – If you use a service like Amazon to sell books, the “Look Inside!” feature will often be used by readers trying to get a very quick “handle” on the book—that is, if they get past the description on the product page. So, you should take special care to develop a comprehensive ToC with catchy (yet descriptive) titles to draw skeptical readers in.

Agents and publishers judge your book by your ToC – Many authors use self-publishing as a springboard to conventional publishing, or they self-publish while also pursuing literary agents and publishers. In these cases, book proposals will always include a ToC (along with a sentence or two description of each section). These busy book executives may give your ToC a glance and decide whether your book has merit or not.

The ToC is a good guide for your own writing – At a basic level, chapters divide a book into manageable chunks—whether that division is in terms of plot, theme, food types for recipes, periods in history, or anything else. For beginning writers feeling an ebook is a daunting task, a ToC is a great way to “reverse engineer” your book. Break apart your subject into discrete sections you can handle, and your book will be that much easier to write.

What do you think? Any other essential tips for novice self-publishers? Fire away!

Don’t Be a Punctuation Punk

punk interrobangGood writers are committed to improving their craft. You really never stop learning how to write better, more clearly, and more concisely. And that’s why it’s sometimes nice to go back to the basics. You know, do a little soul searching, ask yourself the big questions. How about this one: What the heck is punctuation good for, anyway?

I’ll lay out my own little philosophy on punctuation—and feel free to disagree—but hopefully you might glean a nugget of wisdom or two for your own writing adventures. For me, punctuation is merely a shorthand to communicate the natural ebb and flow of the spoken word, and ultimately the thought process itself. Take our friend the period. He’s a good-sized pause, a meaty pause. A pause that announces, “Hey, I’m finished with that thought, and I might even hop to an entirely different thought.” Period’s younger brother, the comma, is a shorter pause, more like a stutter step. He’s more afraid than the period is of hopping to another train of thought; in fact, he’s very comfortable just giving the same train of thought a little more time to breathe.

If that’s a little too New Age for you, think of it this way: say what you’re writing in your head. If you naturally pause, it’s probably time for a period. If you pause less—that is to say, take less of a breath—a comma might be in order.

In our little punctuation family, the colon and semicolon are period’s big brothers. I would argue they represent even larger pauses than the period, which I realize flies in the face of certain conventional wisdom. But the colon digs drama: he likes “a-ha” moments. In the preceding sentence, the colon separates two clauses, the latter of which explains or qualifies the former. The semicolon has a similar penchant for the dramatic pause; however, his pause is a little gentler, a little more nuanced. He ties two independent clauses together quite elegantly, and yet he still possesses a certain dramatic and breathless flair that his yeomanlike brother the period lacks.

To complicate matters, you have the crazy uncles: the parentheses and the dash. (And please note: I don’t mean to gender stereotype any of my punctuation friends. My all-male gender assignments are entirely arbitrary.) Parentheses are the Wormtongues of the punctuation family. You say things in an off-hand, under-your-breath manner by using the parentheses. On the other hand—and there is always more than one way to do things—the dash loves to call attention to itself. The dash is bold, an abrupt interruption in tone or subject that nonetheless comments on or qualifies its sentence in some way.

There are of course other, more exotic punctuations you might try… but I think you have enough to chew on! The lesson here is to think about every piece of punctuation: to make deliberate decisions based on content, intent, authorial voice, and the pauses and inflections inherent in both speech and thought. What is your philosophy of punctuation? Any tricks to share? Let us know!

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