The Highland Screenplay Format


So I use the program highland to write screenplays and it has it’s own .highland file format which works fine, but when you check in the .highland file format you don’t get “diffs” in your git checkins. I did some research and came up with this solution.

Step 1:

Create a file called .gitconfig in your user’s $HOME folder… e.g. ${HOME}/.gitconfig

[diff "zip"]
textconv = unzip -c -a

Step 2:

Create a single text file in your git repo and name it “.gitattributes”. Enter the following:

*.highland diff=zip

Checking the .gitattributes file in will show diffs in the .highland files in the repo.

Luke's Loose Poop


By Tom Stovall

I didn’t know when I stepped out on the stoop,

That there would be a pile of Luke’s loose poop

Then the smell hits my nose and my stomach does loops

And my hair once bouncy, now does a droop

At the acrid smell of my dog’s runny poop.

I woke up early to work on some code,

This early, it’s really a lot faster upload,

And get values from databases in asynchronous mode,

In the morning silence of the pre-dawn peri-od,

On the laptop from work that I had borrowed.

There weren’t any signs that I’ve seen in the past,

Like when he needs to go out and eat grass,

He’ll lick the carpet around him fast,

And while he’s licking he passes gas,

It’s a sure sign trouble is forecast.

But he woke me up in the middle of the night,

Whining to go out in an urgent fright,

Grabbed my pants and shoes and flipped on the floodlight,

and when a patch of concrete was in sight,

He let go with a torrent of water and meteorite.

Then a thousand conspiracy theories come to mind,

Wasn’t someone poisoning dogs and making them blind,

I saw it on Maddow and she described her find,

Someone was tainting spicy pork rinds,

And going to the park only to leave them behind.

So, What did Luke eat and where did he find it?

This poop has nothing in it to bind it,

It’s like brown molten lava as it runs off the edge,

Of the steps that lead out of my room with my bed,

Wait, what is that I see? Is it… orange-red?

There’s something sticking out at an angle,

In the shape of a small little triangle,

What is that in this stratified sample?

His dog food yes, but something else inter-jangled,

Could it be he ate something he couldn’t handle?

And then I remember doing a favor,

Picking up off the floor with yesterday’s paper,

An empty bag of Doritos, Nacho flavor,

Luke ate the whole bag leaving none for later,

This mystery is no mystery, just misbehavior,

The sun’s coming up, it’ll be hot they say,

Not a chance of rain to wash it away,

This is a pretty heavily trafficked doorway,

I can’t just leave this fecal sorbet,

For someone else’s morning dismay.

I have to clean it. No choice, it seems,

Before my husband awakes from his dreams,

Before he fusses about dishes not being clean,

Before he’s even been out to the scene,

Of my dog’s affront to modern hygiene.

So I look for the bucket and some Mr. Clean,

My four-legged perp is no where to be seen,

Wait, where is the product of Luke’s latrene?

The only thing left of what was there is a sheen…

A wet spot where a dog-crime had once been.

Then I see her… Luke’s little sister.

She’s brown and Sometimes it’s easy to miss her.

She has a small amount of brown poop on her whisker.

My stomach turns but there’s no way to descist-er,

From repeating the last 24 hours, only with her.

Writing Update


When I was in school, I never did well in Psychology. It never made sense to me. When you line up the inputs, I could never make sense of the outputs. Math always made more sense because the equation was always balanced. The left side must always equal the right side. With psychology it was like they were saying two plus two equals jello. That’s why when some people are critical of your writing and they use words like “clunky plot”… what about the plot makes it “clunky”? I’m struggling to understand what about my writing is not making sense to the people that read it. That one day where they explained all of this in class… that was the day I was home with a stomach bug.

I didn’t get in to the Warner Brother’s TV Writing program. Like I said, I never imagined I’d get in the first time I entered. Unfortunately, they don’t give you feedback about what they didn’t like about your script so I have no way of knowing whether the whole script was flawed or I just didn’t get recognized because of some small technicality.

“We don’t know what we’re looking for but this isn’t it. Do it again.” Always a frustrating response to anything you do.

Someone once told me “Nobody fails in Hollywood. They just stop trying to succeed.” At what point do I decide that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze? I don’t know. But I’m certainly not giving up after one or two rejections.

I paid to have a reader read another one of my scripts and they described the plot as “clunky.” I need more instruction. I need more inputs. I need more people showing me where the gap exists.

Not sure right now where I’m going to get that information. Asking for input on anything like this makes me feel so vulnerable and needy.

(dramatic sob)


Another suitcase in another hall


So yesterday the company I work for let go everyone in the California office. They’re closing the office. This will be my 4th or 5th layoff in 8 years. There’s really only one song that describes the feeling:

I don’t expect my love affairs to last for long
Never fool myself that my dreams will come true
Being used to trouble I anticipate it
But all the same I hate it, wouldn’t you?

So what happens now?
Another suitcase in another hall
So what happens now?
Take your picture off another wall
Where am I going to?
You’ll get by, you always have before
Where am I going to?

Time and time again I’ve said that I don’t care
That I’m immune to gloom, that I’m hard through and through
But every time it matters all my words desert me
So anyone can hurt me, and they do

So what happens now?
Another suitcase in another hall
So what happens now?
Take your picture off another wall
Where am I going to?
You’ll get by, you always have before
Where am I going to?

Call in three months time and I’ll be fine, I know
Well maybe not that fine, but I’ll survive anyhow
I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion
But that’s no consolation here and now.

So what happens now?
Another suitcase in another hall
So what happens now?
Take your picture off another wall
Where am I going to?
You’ll get by, you always have before
Where am I going to?

Don’t ask anymore

“Another suitcase in another Hall” - By Andrew Lloyd Webber from Evita

TV Shows that Changed My Life: Part 2


The Sopranos

Show Creator: David Chase

The Sopranos taught me that you could like characters who do horrible things as long as there was psychological justification. David chase created characters who were horrible but entertaining. There wasn’t a single person in that series that I would ever want to know in real life. But watching them onscreen was magic.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Show Creator: Joss Whedon

At the time, TV had strict limits on what a Genre could do and be. Joss showed the world that genre rules were made to be broken. Looking back it occurs to me that that sort of experiment in TV could never have been done by any network that wasn’t as desperate for viewers as UPN was at the time.


Show Creators: Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille

Live before Pixar… Animation was for kids. Live action was for adults. That changed with Animaniacs. The show did adult jokes beside slapstick, some of which I remember to this day: “You can’t split us up!!! We go together like civil war chess pieces from the franklin mint.” Who can forget the rambling kid telling stories: “Ok, so onetime I was sitting on the porch and I felt a lick and thought it was a dog but it wasn’t it just just some guy who liked to do that. Ok, I love you bye bye.” Comedic Genius.

Reboot of Dragnet (First Season)

Show Creator: Dick Wolf

I remember watching this reboot by Dick Wolf having very low expectations. The writing was fucking amazing. It showed me that something could be uniquely derivative. That you could take something, honor the past and supersede the past with such a great effect.

The Jeffersons

Show Creator: Norman Lear, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross

It can’t be understated how much TV has changed American culture. I lived in the DEEP, DEEP south and the black people I saw (when I saw them) in the 1970’s were primarily poor, or at best lower-middle class, like my family. That’s just the way it was. At ten years old, I didn’t have the ability or language to question that view of the world. It simply was. The Jeffersons presented a view of the world where a black person was a successful businessman and lived in a New York High Rise with a maid …and the white people in the show were the “cracker-honkey-whitebreads”. That was a revolutionary idea to me. After the first few episodes, it was accepted reality. Somewhere a black person is rich and lives in a high rise with a sassy maid and a terminally white awkward neighbor. That was the reality simply because TV presented it to me in a way that made me laugh and enjoy it. And just that quickly the world was changed.

The show’s view of race seems so dated now, it’s easy to forget just how revolutionary it truly was.

Also the chemistry between Martha Gibbs and Sherman Hemsley has really never been duplicated anywhere since. Every show with a sassy maid thereafter was just chasing shadows trying to be a tenth as good as those two comedic actors at the top of their game.


Show Creator: Sol Sacks

Bewitched made me think about what I wanted my life to be as an adult. I wanted to come home to a house with modern furniture, mix a martini (though I had no idea what that was) and sit on the couch and talk about the day with someone. It’s weird how everyone remembers this show for the magic but I remember it for the mundane things that were so interesting to me as an adolescent.

Rockford Files // CHiPs

Show Creator: Stephen J. Cannell, Roy Huggins // Rick Rosner, Paul Playdon

The Rockford Files and Chips taught me that the only place on the planet to live was Southern California. I developed a real love for the setting. I think this was where my move to Southern California was first planted in my mind. The first time I walked on that hard-pack California clay-rock, I thought to myself… it’s just like on CHiPs!!!

Gilmore Girls

Show Creator: Amy Sherman-Palladino

Has there ever been a show that packs so much interesting dialog into 42 minutes? The show was completely built on dialog. Nobody ever did anything. They just talked about doing it. And talked about not doing it. Whether they should do something or not was a topic of endless debate and I continue to marvel at how well the back and forth of dialog created a show literally out of nothing.

Designing Women // Golden Girls

Show Creators: Linda Bloodworth-Thomason // Susan Harris

What can I say about Designing Women and Golden Girls that hasn’t already been said by a thousand other gay men in a thousand other kvetchy tweets, articles and blog entries. Sassy women with rich inner lives talking about their thoughts on sex, politics, and religion. They were wonderfully entertaining and the world will never see their like again.


Spiderman Sheets


I just watch the movie Attack the Block and I gotta tell ya’ the writing was really good. It was a cute movie. It’s a notable in that both John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Jodie Whittaker (the 13th Doctor on BBC’s Doctor Who) were in it and it was some of their “Early Work”.

I think it’s notable for a few reasons, only one of which I want to write about here: Spiderman Sheets.

There’s a scene where Jodie Whittaker goes into an abandoned apartment where John Boyega’s Character has been living and there’s a dusty disused Child’s bedroom where the bed is covered in Spiderman sheets.

Those few lines of dialogue and the vidual of the Spiderman sheets tell us everything we need to know about the last 10 years of John Boyega’s Life.

Fantastic writing. SHOW, DON’T TELL.

TV Shows that Changed My Life: Part 1


Mary Tyler Moore

Series Creator: James Brooks & Alan Burns

MTM was the first show I remember really enjoying with my parents. Until that time, I watched kids TV, alone or with my brother. MTM was a show I could enjoy with Mom and Dad sitting on the couch behind me.

Dad always got home early because he taught middle school band. Mom worked later. She was a A/P clerk for Pepesi Cola. Dad would have dinner ready. After dinner, my brother and I would lay in the middle of the floor on shag carpeting and mom and dad would sit on the couch, usually holding hands.

It probably wasn’t the first show we all enjoyed together, but it’s the one I remember. I remember everyone laughing. Whatever arguments or differences we had, everyone laughed for 30 minutes when Mary Richards made a mess of things.

Life was very, very good.


Series Creator: Larry Gelbert

MASH was the first show I remember changing my mind about something.

Poppa (my grandfaterh) was in World War II. My uncle went was in the Korean war. If there was a war somewhere, we supported it because not supporting it was not supporting the people fighting it.

Alan Alda taught me shows could present alternate arguments that prevail. You could be against war but still have a passion and love for the people who were fighting it. Alan Alda was a liberal’s liberal. He was so passionate about everything he believed in. I think Hawkeye was my first real role model.


Series Creators: William Hanna and Joseph Barberra

The show that taught me as a young child that writing could be bad and could get it completely wrong. I loved the characters so much and the series was so bad. It taught me I could love something that was utterly horrible because of my affinity for the Characters.

Star Trek (TOS)

Series Creator: Gene Roddenberry

The future belonged to smart people. When you’re a smart person in rural Florida and you attend school, you don’t have a great time being smart. Usually you either dumb yourself down to the level of your peers or you get beat up a lot. I chose the latter. Star Trek made me okay with being a nerd. The opening still gives me chills to this day.

Wonder Woman

Series Creators: William Moulton Marston & Stanley Ralph Ross

In the 70’s and early 80’s, guys were the hero. The story was about the guy. The women were the victim or there to help comfort the victim when the guy saved her. Wonder Woman was having none of your misogyny. She was nobody’s victim and if she was a victim, she saved herself. You can’t put a price tag on the lessons that teaches. Both men and women.

Three’s Company

Series Creators: Don Nicholl, Michael Ross & Bernard West

The first time I ever saw someone who was ok with being perceived as gay. Being gay was something that, if you were accused, you fought against it. Jack was not gay but was ok with being perceived as such. Truly revolutionary to an impressionable mind.

The West Wing

Series Creator: Arron Sorkin

Duh, Sorkin. Dialogue, Characters, world-ending stakes, a love of poetry, art, music… respect for the job people elected to office do. There’s no episode of this show that didn’t teach me something. Every dramatic TV writer on the planet in one way or another will live in the shadow of the “Two Cathedrals” episode. It might be the greatest hour ever teleivised. Cursing at God in latin? There aren’t five actors in Hollywood that could ever hope to pull that off.

Six Feet Under

Series Creator: Alan Ball

I watched the first episode a few weeks after I came out to my my mom. David’s journey was my journey. There’s a scene in the first season where David is on his knees praying not to be gay. Typing that last sentence literally brings tears to my eyes today. I was watching that episode with the few gay friends I had at the time and someone said something to the effect of “Who hasn’t prayed that prayer?” And then I knew that other people had too.


Coming out... Again


So last year I took a position at a company called, moving myself and my husband to Los Angeles. Basically the same kind of Drupal/PHP/ESScript work i’ve been doing but focused primarily on Drupal as a backing store for a REACT-based front end. If you don’t understand what that is, don’t bother. Understanding it is not important to the post.

It’s been a great year. I love the work. I love the site. I love the people I’m working with. My commute is 10 minutes. I’m paid very well.

But I’ve had a dream. For a long time this dream has gestated. A dream I haven’t dared share because it was completely ridiculous.

That dream is to write for the screen.

Yeah, I know. EVERYONE who’s ever moved to LA and bought a copy of Final Draft has decided they’re going to write The Great American Screenplay(tm). Or better yet, a screenplay about writing The Great American Screenplay(tm). I told you it was ridiculous like a paragraph ago.

It. Is. Completely. Ridiculous.

Especially given that I have such a good career that would keep me comfortable for the next 10 years or until I could retire.

But I can’t escape the dream. It chases me down. It reminds me in my sleep every night that I could be more… and that what I am now is less than my realized potential.

In my life I can point to a series of issues about which i’m passionate:

  1. The political climate in America
    It’s no secret a number of Americans were unahppy with the results of the election of 2016. I’ve had to face the fact that people who don’t care about literally anything but themselves are now in charge of our government and are making laws that pretty much only benefit themselves and they’re rich friends.

  2. Increasing violence against minorities (both LGBTQ and ethnic)
    I literally can’t open news apps anymore. If it’s not a headline about The President doing something stupid, embarassing or corrupt (or a combination therof) then it’s some innocent minority getting caught up in a violent event by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes it causes me to lose sleep.

  3. Increasing climate distress
    Every year this planet gets a little bit hotter because of the carbon humans keep pumping into the air. If you don’t believe this is true. Please stop reading now. I’m sorry. We’ll need to part ways from here. Climate catastrophe is a bus. It’s coming toward us. You can get on the bus going the other way or you can get run over. Your choice.

  4. Peak TV
    It’s no secret I love TV. Anyone who knows me, knows I grew up in front of a Television and continue to love the various offerings of broadcast, cable and streaming services. Two years ago I cut the cord and no longer have a cable box. I subscribe to multiple streaming services that add up to less than what I was paying for cable but with so much more of the content I love.

  5. Peak Comics
    The last ten years has seen comic book culture going mainstream. There has never been a time in my life where so much comic book culture is available both on the internet and in comic book stores. The stories of our comic books have become America’s mythology. The heros, American gods (no disrespect to Neil Gaiman’s fantastic work). I believe Comic Books and Jazz will America’s longest lasting contributions to the human experience.

These converging tsunamis are driving a desire in me for change. But I have a very keen understanding of my own impotance in afffecting change to both public opinion and/or public policy.

I can add my voice to the chorus of people who are saying the same thing I am on social media, and I do. But you can’t convince someone of something about which they’ve already made up their mind.

How do you change someone’s mind? How do you take a brain that truly believes climate change is made up by the Chinese to sell solar panels, show them data from literally hundreds of scientists and have them come to a rational conclusion other than “You’re trying to sell me something” ?

How do you take someone who calls themselves a “Christian” and convince them that the religious leaders telling them for the last 20 years to shun gay people are not actually encouraging behaviour that Christ would in any way endorse? And worse yet, that attitude contributes to the tacit approval of violence against people who are part of this current society’s “least of these” (to use Christ’s language)?

And not to beat a dead horse, here, but Sunday morning 10 A.M. is still the most racially segregated hour in American life. ‘Nuff said.

How do you convince someone who’s a 4th generation coal miner in West Virginia that they’re the one that needs to change and that coal’s days as a useful material on this planet are numbered?

How do you convince someone in Lousiana who feeds their family with money made working an oil rig that fossil fuels are endangering their children’s children’s ability to breathe clean air?

Cognative bias is the enemy. I go back to that old screenplay trope: Show don’t tell.

After last year’s election, I felt like the most radical thing I could do was to buy an electric car. I bought a Kia Soul EV. They’re not only better for the planet, they’re actually better at being a car. Much of the stupid stuff that normally breaks down with a gas car simply doesn’t exist in the electric drive train. I continue to look for other ways I can minimize the mess I make while I’m here on this planet. You should too.

I’ve also made the decision to write for the screen. I’ve done that by writing an entry for the Warner Brother’s Television Screenwriting Program.

To my blog, I’m adding my submission essay. I poured all of the tangled feelings about my dream into it.

I’ll find out in September whether or not i’m accepted. I just read a few days ago that there were 2428 submissions this year, the most ever in the history of the program. I’m under no illusions i’ll get in my first year of submission.

I’ve been down this road. I know the signs. Your first program never works. Your first stab at creating a feature for a website is never well-received.

You always suck. Every Time. Until you don’t suck anymore.

It takes 10,000 hours to get shit right. The only way past is through.

This summer i’m writing a few comic book adaptations in preparation for writing next year’s entry.

I haven’t told that many people about my dream to be a writer. So I guess this blog post is a sort of “coming out” as a writer. I’m here. I’m (hopefully) clear. Get used to it.



I stayed mostly quiet on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting, mainly because adding my “thoughts and prayers” to the chorus of Facebook and Twitter updates seems pointless and self-serving.

And also because the problem that created the massacre has yet to be resolved. It could happen again. At any moment the same group of religious zealots or maybe a different group of religious zealots could come busting in enforcing their vision of who God is on the rest of the world. Anywhere. Anytime. We all know who they are because they’re always the same people.

I can’t control the actions of other people. I can only control myself.

I made the decision shortly after the election to rededicate my life to creative expression: Taking it in and breathing it out. And since then I’ve been writing. I’m not sure what final form the things I’m writing will take or even if they’ll ever see the light of day. But what I can’t do… what I refuse to do… is nothing. In my eyes, bitching about how bad things are in whatever arena, politics, religion, entertainment, is completely useless and a wasted effort. Your mileage may vary.

If we owe the victims of the violence of this world anything its to embrace and enjoy the life we’re given and to create. Simply create. As Karen Carpenter once sang, “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing.” I plan to sing. And dance. And write. It’s not a reaction to anyone or any event. It’s simply to use my life and my voice to speak that which I know to be true.

I know this is long. Thanks for reading.

Entrance Essay


The following is my entrance essay for the Warner Brother’s Television WRiter’s Workshop.

I have a vivid memory from childhood of sitting in front of a 17-inch color television on Saturday morning in my footie pajamas, nineteen-eighty-something, watching “SuperFriends” and thinking to myself “I could write better TV than this.” Superman had no motivation other than to look like a hero, which made me hate him. Wonder Woman was wooden, two-dimensional, and completely extraneous to the plot. And don’t get me started on their take on Batman!

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to both consume and be consumed by stories. I grew up on Central Florida’s Gulf Coast… “Jesus’s armpit,” as we called it. During the summer, when kids “up north” would go to camp and play outside, it was nine thousand degrees with three hundred percent humidity, so all I wanted to do was stay somewhere cool and out of the sun.

Mom and Dad were both teachers, and mom was pursuing a graduate degree during the summer months, so she often took us to the library with her. I read probably two or three books per week during those grade school summers, and the stories I read became part of my DNA, making me the man I am today. “The Black Cauldron,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Dune,” “Dragon Riders of Pern,” Dean Koontz, Steven King, Judy Blume, Arthur Clarke: I read them all. I loved them all.

But, a boy’s gotta eat. As it turns out, good reading, language, and retention skills make for a decent software engineer. So, for the last 20 years of my life, I’ve written more software than fiction.

While doing some work for the Obama Administration in 2011, I accepted a contract and wrote a technical book for Packt Publishing (available on Amazon). In the book, I wrote a backstory thread, running the length of the book, about a family pizza parlor that needed a website. I worked the technical examples into the backstory. When reflecting on that writing experience later, it seems obvious that I had loved writing the backstory far more than I had the technical examples.

Maybe I’m good enough to make a living with my writing. Maybe not. But I am going to write. I have to write. I can’t NOT write. The only question in my mind is whether I’m a good enough alchemist to transmute a career writing software into one writing television.

Thank you for your consideration.

Tom Stovall



























































































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