Sunday, June 5, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Mine has always been a very difficult muse to pin down. She can be at times fickle, scattered and even maddeningly unresponsive. Consequently, I can go for long periods without finding the words necessary to express myself creatively. Because of this phenomenon, I admit to having had second thoughts about starting this writer’s blog. That coupled with the fact that I simply haven’t been putting in the kind of time to make it viable. I’ve waffled for weeks about whether or not to simply delete it and find other avenues to explore my writing process. I’ve come close a time or two, but something always kept me from pushing that button. Now I’m really glad that I didn’t.
Late last week I received an alert letting me know that somebody had commented on one of my posts. As it was the first time this had ever happened in the five months I’ve had this blog, I was instantly curious. Imagine my surprise when I found that the comment was from one of the editors I had lost touch with when I fled Phoenix three years ago. After tracking me down through this very blog, he wanted to talk to me about including one of my stories in an upcoming anthology he will be releasing through his new publishing company. I immediately wrote back. We exchanged messages and the deal was done.
Even better, it seems he is interested in looking at more from me. His niche is Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror with a queer twist. As the majority of the stories I’ve had published, including my first solo anthology, have been in the erotica genre, this will be a nice change. I have several folders crammed with more “mainstream” (meaning non-erotic) stories that will fit his bill nicely. Haven’t had much luck getting them out there, because they tend to play with conventions in unconventional ways and it’s hard to find just the right niche. I write ‘em and file ‘em away, in the hopes that someday their niche will come.
Who knew that could actually work? Though it sounds like I’m making light of this situation, this is certainly not a trivialization. I may be lackadaisical about the publishing process, but I am far from adverse to its lure. I am extremely grateful to Jody Wheeler and his doorQ.com minions for taking the time to hunt me down and offer me this opportunity. And, yes, I admit that it wouldn’t have happened, or would at least have been more difficult, had I deleted this blog. So it gets a reprieve of sorts and I get another promising gig. The muse works in mysterious ways. I guess good things really do come to those who wait. Or waffle, as the case may be…
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
The following article was written for my monthly column, "Art Happens," in the Las Cruces Bulletin. It was originally published in the April 8, 2011 issue, on page C20 of the Arts & Entertainment section.
In February of this year, the National Endowment for the Arts released the results of the Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPAs). Those results weren’t very surprising, but they did prove something that those of us who have made it our life’s work to advance the Arts have known for some time: there’s been “a steady decline in the rates of adult attendance at most ‘benchmark’ arts events—specifically, classical music and jazz concerts, musical and non-musical plays, opera, and ballet performances—since 1982.”
Much of what this study strives to show is that it is the decline of Arts education in schools that has led to this dismal state of affairs. Fewer art and music teachers in schools means fewer students being introduced to those finer things in life that John F. Kennedy said, call “forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color.” In light of the fact that the very same month this study was released, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by $43 million and to terminate the Arts in Education programs at the U.S. Department of Education by late 2011, it doesn’t appear that this trend will be changing any time soon.
So, what can we do about it? Well, I don’t know about you, but my belief is that Arts education begins at home. Like good manners and the idea that all men are created equal, an appreciation for things that better the human condition through the exploration of beauty and emotion are an ongoing pursuit, not something that can be relegated to one-hour slots in an academic schedule. And certainly not something that ends when academics are left behind in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Stopping to smell the roses, or count the stars on a moonless night; a trip to the local Museum of Art or to see a neighbor’s child in a school play; the gift of a book, instead of the latest computer accessory; getting out to see a live performance, instead of watching the latest episode of Jersey Shore; these are the things that truly shape our view of the Arts. Even better, there’s no time limit. You can start right now!
As the manager of one of the finest Arts and Entertainment venues in Southern New Mexico, I am constantly amazed by the quality of the performances that regularly pass across my stage. In the past few months alone, we have been treated to a heartbreaking and thought-provoking study of the Holocaust through dance, a Jazz legend, an Irish fiddle master, an Environmental Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, Julliard-trained classical musicians who have played the Vatican and royal palaces of the world and local performers who simply transcend the notion that greatness can only be found on Top 40 radio or in arena shows. Yes, all right here in Las Cruces.
The ticket price for each has been minimal and the attendance small, but the rewards have been many. To be told that an audience member was moved to tears by a performance, or that another feels he or she has been witness to genius, or that something important has been learned; these are the reasons I do what I do. Because Arts education never ends. It’s ongoing. It happens every time you or I step into an art gallery, a museum, a theatre or a performance hall. If you don’t leave that venue feeling that something has changed inside you, you have wasted your time. As amazing as YouTube can be in presenting imagery that can astound and bewilder, nothing beats actually being present, in the moment, while Art is being created out of thin air. Nothing.
The question is, how important is Art to you? In a time when newspapers are failing all over the country, because more and more people are getting their information from the Internet, how important is it to actually leave your home and experience a live performance when you’ve got the world at your fingertips and can see video clips of your favorite musical artist any time you want? Is that enough? Is there any reason to see a performance by an artist you’ve never heard of when you can be inundated by the images and exploits of Lady Gaga and, thus, be part of the national popularity trend?
If your answers to the above questions are “not very,” “not at all,” “yes” and “no,” then you, my friend, have no idea what you’ve been missing. Art is happening all around you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. And, as has always been the case, if you’re getting all of your entertainment needs from one source, you’re only getting one small fraction of the bigger picture. Because when the latest American Idol has been forgotten, Lady Gaga has been abandoned in favor of the next big thing and Charlie Sheen is nothing more than a sad footnote in the annals of tabloid history, Truth, Beauty and Passion will still be lurking in the corners of our society, enriching the lives of those who stoop to engage.
The truth of the matter is, Arts education begins--and ends--with YOU.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
What is the price of a soul? For me, it’s one percent of a film option. That’s how much I’m being paid to release my hold on a purloined property. Because of the terms of the agreement, I can’t give many details, but I am free to denounce the resulting travesty of justice to my heart’s content. Sounds like I’m bitter, but I’m really not. The situation has been dragging on for years and I’m just happy to be done with it.
As you’ve no doubt already guessed, the situation in question is theft of intellectual property. Years ago a friend and I wrote a stage play based on a classic 1950s science fiction movie that has been a favorite of mine since I was a child and is currently in the public domain. We are both huge fans of such musical adaptations as Little Shop of Horrors, Evil Dead: The Musical and Reefer Madness: The Musical. We just love that sort of thing and being the serial thespians that we are, it was really inevitable that we sit down and scribble out our own twisted take on the genre.
The result was actually pretty good. It was deadpan and true to the original, while being subversive and brilliantly funny. My partner in this endeavor is phenomenal at writing witty dialog and his expertise with double and triple entendre is masterful. He’s worked with other writers, including Peaches Christ and John Waters, and is very well known for his wordplay. To make a long story short, we ran into a little problem. We had a book, but no musical score. Neither of us are very adept in that area, so we decided to shop it around. That was our big mistake. Actually, the biggest was not getting the book copyrighted first.
Yep, you guessed it. One of the wunderkind musicians we were put in contact with was, and still is, a snake. We met with him once and he showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the project. Unfortunately, the ideas he started firing in our direction were not exactly brilliant. In fact, they were tired, hokey and more than a little juvenile. We wrote him off. He, on the other hand, wasn’t done. While we were busy talking to other people--including a very well known Broadway producer who was dating a friend of ours at the time and told us he was interested in looking at a completed project once we’d squared the music away—the Snake was busy plotting.
Some time passed and life intruded, as it so often does. I had a VERY messy divorce to deal with and my writing partner was pulled away to other projects. A year passed and I found myself living in another state. Then, one Spring day, I received a frantic phone call from my writing partner. He had just discovered that the Snake had entered a “new” piece in a national playwriting festival. Worse, he hadn’t even bothered to change the name. He’d stolen our property, dumbed it way down, wrapped his moronic musical numbers around it and was pushing it as his own.
We immediately contacted him to ask what the deal was and his response was, “Well, I thought you guys had decided not to do anything with it, so I went ahead and finished it.” He was completely unapologetic and added insult to injury by telling us that he had copyrighted his version. It was, so far as the law was concerned, his property. Yes, we probably could have made a big deal about it, but neither of us was in the position to hire a lawyer and besides, after reading his version of the script, we were convinced that his crappy, witless version of our property couldn’t possibly go far. Little did we know.
That play has now been produced by several theatre companies with questionable taste and is enjoying a modicum of success, though I’m convinced it’s only because it had a solid framework to begin with. The characters are all still the same, though the words coming out of their mouths are nothing like what my writing partner and I envisioned. For us, it’s a bit like taking the script for Little Shop of Horrors and letting the writers of the most recent American Pie moves have their way with it. Embarrassing, to say the least. The fact that we are not credited in any way is a blessing we’ve learned to live with.
Ah, but the plot thickens. Now, it seems, there is an independent movie production company interested in turning the Snake’s version of our property into a movie. Which means he has been working overtime to come up with a contract that would shut us the hell up, so he can pursue his lie. We’ve gone through several versions of the contract, in which we have been repeatedly insulted by stupid attempts at mollification, such as offering us a cameo role in the film as comic relief poking fun at our plight. Not funny in the slightest, but the man is a moron, so it isn’t surprising. We’ve gone round and round, with point spreads being offered and in the end have decided that it’s best just to be done with this business.
I don’t want to have anything to do with the finished product, IF there ever is one. Having working in the film industry for many years, I know there is a huge difference between having your script optioned and seeing it completed. Then there’s the problem of distribution. If this craptastic movie ever DOES get made, it will most likely find its way into the bargain bin at Big Lots before it ever makes it to Barnes & Noble. So, after much deliberation and hours of phone calls between my writing partner and the Snake, I’ve decided to settle. I’m selling that little part of my soul for one percent of the option price.
It just isn’t worth the fight anymore. I mean, it’s not the only thing I’ve ever written and it will hardly be the last. I’ve had my successes both before and after the writing of that script. And, if I have to be honest, as the time slips away, and as my writing partner finds more and more success in his own endeavors, the chances of us ever getting together long enough to orchestrate a musical score for our version are becoming slimmer by the month. Then there’s the problem of having to explain that OUR version is in no way associated with the Snake’s version. That’s not a discussion I want to have over and over again.
So, it’s done. The contract has been signed and a lesson has been learned. Never, EVER shop a property around until AFTER it has been copyrighted. It’s a very simple process and extremely important. By not doing so, we all run the risk of seeing our fresh, witty, intellectual properties mangled and morphed into a shambling pile of mutant fart jokes and musical masturbation numbers. It can happen. It has happened. I am a living example of this fact and have the paperwork to prove it. That and a check I will be very happy to spend. ‘Nuff said.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
They say it’s half the battle. Or is that half the fun? I guess it all depends on who one listens to and the disposition of the listener at the time. These days, it feels more like a battle to me. Sometimes there’s a little fun mixed in, but it’s still a battle nonetheless. Much has happened since my last post, the most significant occurrence being my 50th birthday on February 25th.
That’s something of a milestone for somebody like me. There were those, in my early, self-indulgent and, some said self-destructive years, who took bets that I would even make it to 30. Yet, here I am. I’m still somewhat unsure what to make of this “achievement,” but life goes on and for that I am grateful. I mean, it could definitely be worse. I have my health, a fantastic relationship and home life and a job that, for all its challenges, is still far and away better than any dreary, humdrum widget counting job in a factory somewhere.
Unfortunately, with entrance to the next phase of my existence has come an increase in workload that has me completely bogged down. No time for writing anything except press releases and newspaper articles, when I’m not conducting massive marketing campaigns for Art fairs, award shows and concert performances. Such is the life of an in-demand public relations flak. Which is funny because that hasn’t been my official title since the late 90s, when I closed the chapter on my PR career with Paramount Pictures.
There’s been a lot of water under that bridge, since then. Ups, downs and twists I could never have imagined, much less written about even ten years ago. And some day, I hope to get to that. The clock is ticking, but I’m far from ready to retire. Again, I shouldn’t complain, but I would so love to be able to jot down some of the various stories clamoring for attention in my over-saturated brain pan. It’ll happen, but when? I guess we’ll just have to see. In the meantime, I take comfort in advice such as the following:
"The most solid advice . . . for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough." - William Saroyan
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I had a very interesting conversation with the gorgon last night. Seems she feels that focusing my undivided attention upon her is making me a bit myopic. She may be right. I’ve always favored variety over the uniform, no matter how hot the person wearing it. One of the very reasons I’ve not tackled a full novel yet. Well, not fully. It isn’t that I get bored, really, so much as I tend to miss the finer points of the narrative, because the surprise factor has been negated and the long-range goals have become the paramount concern.
It’s a common problem amongst a certain kind of writer. There are those, after all, who cannot even begin to sit down and transcribe the unfolding drama within their cranial capacitors until a framework has been established, an arc formulated and a climax prescribed. Then and only then can they begin to add flesh, sinew and bone to their piecemeal creations. It’s the kind of storytelling much lauded in bastions of higher learning, where creativity is tempered and labels are eagerly earned by the easily led. Not that this is a bad thing, it just isn’t my thing.
No, I’m the type of writer who thrives on the unknown. I don’t necessarily need a framework on which to hang my phantasms. They cavort and gambol with Puckish abandon, whether I will it or not. For me, it’s enough to know that there is a story lurking, there in the darkness. A flash of promise. A beckoning finger. A glint of mischief in a capricious eye. A startling beginning that begs to be explored. That’s what I live for. Once my attention has been drawn and my mental quill liberally doused in the blood of Orpheus, it is the characters themselves who tell the tale. Most times I’m not even aware where they’re going with it or what the ultimate outcome will be. I’m not only okay with that, I crave it.
All of which makes it very difficult to return, day in and day out, to the same well of inspiration. Yes, the larger tale still begs to be told and yes, there are still a few surprises left, but for the most part, the narrative itself has been laid out like the Appian Way. Dangers may lurk around the bend, but the greater danger is creeping parochialism borne of predictability. We have come to the conclusion, therefore, that I need to step away from the book for a while. Gain an appreciation for the forest again. Which isn’t to say that I’ve given up completely on Otherwhen and the unfolding story within. Not hardly. We’ve just decided to take a break.
There are other stories that have been clamoring for my attention, of late. Dreams that have gone unrecognized. Voices that have become insistent. Visions that have become distracting. I may need to spend some time sorting through those and giving the stronger tarradiddles their due. Interestingly enough, some of those trifles may very well find themselves becoming part of the Otherwhen tapestry. They’re just that kind of concept. Others may not. It’s all good. All I really have to do is drag out the mental formaldehyde, and pin some of the winged beasties down on paper with an ornate punctuality. Get it out of my system, so to speak. Then I can return to the task at hand and give the gorgon her due.
She’s very understanding about all this, my lovely lethal gorgon. She should be. It was her idea. I wonder how much sway Pufnstuf had in the decision? Yeah, he was there, too, an officious maitre d keeping the rabble at bay while we sorted through our differences; distractions by Oscar Wilde and John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus ensemble orgy, notwithstanding. It’s a lush and fertile playground, my dream world. Which goes a long way toward explaining my creative ADD.
I blame it all on an oddly seductive Willy Wonka. The saucy gent has turned my head. Made me think of chocolate kisses bestowed by a lazy lash and the Hershey highways less traveled. There is a story there, just buggering to be told. And I, alas, am the humble instrument through which the madness must be funneled. I’m not complaining, mind you. Why should I? The gorgon has given her blessing, after all. And I, the avian primate that I am, must swoop to concur.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Finally, time to write. It feels good to be back in Otherwhen, even if it is only briefly. Still trying to parse through the whole Alice debacle. It isn’t really wonderland, after all. Problem is, the girl started out as an afterthought, inconveniently disposed of, if I’m going to be honest. Still, she has great importance later in the story, so fleshing her out early on stands to reason. I guess I’m just not feeling her, at the moment. Instead, I find myself falling in love with the elf, Ulric, all over again. He’s the one I really want to be writing about. I just hope I can do him justice in expanding his influence. He’s such a wild card. Just what Tristan needs, to be sure.
Side note: It’s the elder gods I’m really concerned about. Why do they do what they do? The eternal question, I suppose.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
It’s been a while since I posted here. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and do any writing at all. A necessary evil to a life well lived, I’m afraid. I am currently about 30,000 words into the Otherwhen Chronicles, but have had to put it aside in order to conduct the business of self-sustenance. Yes, the evil scourge of filthy lucre must be addressed from time to time.
In the past two and a half weeks, I have written three press releases, organized four concerts, a Vegas magic show and one art exhibit, dealt with frozen pipes and a hellacious head cold and designed two posters and the first of several book covers for the publishers of Renaissance Books. All the while jotting down notes for my novel as ideas and thoughts crash through my brainpan in need of release.
Some day soon I hope to find the time to sit down and pick up the Otherwhen thread again. That day will not be today, nor will it be this week. Still way too much going on. In fact, I don’t really have a quiet moment looming for at least a couple more weeks. We’ll see. On the 25th of this month, I hit the big Five Oh. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a writing binge for that milestone birthday. That would be sweetly satisfying.
As pipe dreams go, it’s among the best…
"The most solid advice . . . for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough." - William Saroyan
Saturday, January 22, 2011
As of this moment, I am 20,000 words into the Otherwhen Chronicles. What had existed previously as a series of loosely-connected short stories and vignettes is slowly being fleshed out into a full-fledged novel. This is proving both harder than I expected and easier in some ways, too. Easier, because having what amounts to a blueprint to draw from frees me from the contraints of plot development. I know how the story ends. Now all I have to do is fill in the blanks and smooth the transitions. Harder, because, as I’ve said previously, my predominant “style” is to let the characters tell their stories and go along for the ride as a transcriptionist of sorts
The latter is a very Bradbury-esque approach and one that has served me well through the years. Going back in to build upon already existing prose, however, is a new step for me. Oh, of course I’ve done something similar when I edit my work and find that I need to elaborate here, or clarify there, but I’ve never done anything as intensive as this. There have been entire scenes which have either been completely rewritten or disposed of entirely. In some ways, I feel like a vivisectionist, deconstructing the story at an almost molecular level, then reconstituting it in the hopes of giving it new life, like a latter-day Victor von Frankenstein. The method has both its rewards and its challenges.
Sometimes, I feel the need for a little advice, just to ensure that I’m on the right track. Writing, after all, can be a very insular pursuit. A while back, I remember reading a wonderful treatise on writing by the great Robert Louis Stevenson. Luckily, I bookmarked the website presenting those words of wisdom, so that when I felt my creative energies flagging, I might get a bit of a morale boost from somebody who actually knows a little something on the subject of writing. I mean, you can’t do much better than a recognized master in the art of literature, right?
A quick check in my bookmark file and I found what I was looking for: The Art Of Writing, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The following quote, lifted directly from Chapter IV: A Note On Realism gave me just the boost I needed, not because it told me what to do, so much as reminding me that I’m on the right track:
“A work of art is first cloudily conceived in the mind; during the period of gestation it stands more clearly forward from these swaddling mists, puts on expressive lineaments, and becomes at length that most faultless, but also, alas! that incommunicable product of the human mind, a perfected design. On the approach to execution all is changed. The artist must now step down, don his working clothes, and become the artisan. He now resolutely commits his airy conception, his delicate Ariel, to the touch of matter; he must decide, almost in a breath, the scale, the style, the spirit, and the particularity of execution of his whole design.”
These words and more can be found at the Literature Project, where Stevenson’s “The Art of Writing” are preserved in their entirety. As for me, it is time, once again, for me to don my working clothes and “become the artisan.” I just like the sound of that…
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
It’s not a snag. Not really. More a point of divergence that may or may not be an issue. It does, however, raise some interesting points worthy of discussion. It goes something like this…
When creating a situation in which the “known world” we live in collides with the “unseen world” of magic and legend, there are choices to be made. To begin with, does the collision bring about a blending of magic and technology? Or do the two negate one another? I’ve been wrestling with this concept all weekend. I blame this on J.K. Rowling. We’ve been doing a marathon run of the Harry Potter movies, mainly because my partner, Donny, had never seen any of them, but also because I like the milieu. Call it research of sorts.
In any event, Rowling goes out of her way to keep technology out of the picture, which I find very interesting. The story of the boy wizard, Harry, is said to take place in today’s modern world. Even so, one never sees a cel phone or a computer. The few televisions that do make an appearance are brief and most likely present to put context to the Muggles who are too wrapped up in their own world to take notice of the magical one surrounding them. This is an interesting approach
Donny and I had a short discussion about this phenomenon and it is his opinion that the author made a conscious decision. Because the children of Hogwarts are there to learn the ancient arts of magic, it would stand to reason that they wouldn’t have computers or cel phones. It makes a kind of sense. There are private schools in existence today that don’t allow cel phone usage on campus. Also, as an author of children’s literature, Rowling is providing an alternative to the technologically-based entertainment option that often finds kids plugged into laptops, cel phones or televisions for hours at a time. Okay, I can buy all that.
Still, the question of just how much technology to allow is a large one. There have to be rules about such things. Where Otherwhen is concerned, is it an all or nothing situation? If Club Dark’s neon sign works, why wouldn’t a telephone? And if a telephone works, why wouldn’t a cel phone? Would televisions still work, though cel phones and laptops don’t? If so, what are the physics that allow it to happen? I am FAR from a scientifically minded person, so I don’t have the answers. And because I have such a shortage of time in which to ply my chosen trade, spending too much of it following threads of minutia that really have no particular influence on the plot, is futile at best. It all comes down to color and texture.
In one scene, I have the protagonist Tristan Desmond enter an Elvish safehouse with her partner, Ulric. There she sees a group of elves smoking pot and watching re-runs of Happy Days on a decrepit television set. She also notices that the set isn’t plugged in. When she asks how it’s possible, she is told that the elves have figured out a way to capture the transmissions that are still bouncing around in the atmosphere, but that they are distorted and “unpure.” Hence the “plot” of the episode she’s watching, in which Fonzie has to rescue Richie and the gang from a marauding Shoggoth. She thinks nothing more of it and moves along. This scene is incidental, but adds texture to the plot, which has Tristan dismissing the elves as allies, because they are too wrapped up in the more hedonistic aspects of humanity’s lure. It also serves to show just how screwed up the once “predictable” world has become.
Is this a cheat? I don’t think so. I believe that some aspects of technology would still exist in this changed world, but because of certain influences, distortion would be a problem. Consequently, most technology would be abandoned, because it has become unpredictable. Telephones may work, but you may not always reach the party you intended. Cel phones and laptops would be far too unpredictable. Imagine the viruses that a magic-based society could unleash. And what about combustion engines? Those should still be viable in their most basic forms, though computer chips would eventually prove worthless in terms of efficiency. The ramifications are legion.
There have been plenty of writers out there who have dabbled in this magic vs. technology field. Some of them are favorite authors of mine, including Jim Butcher, Simon Green and others of the so-called “Gritty Urban Fantasy” genre. Then there were the made-for-cable movies, “Cast A Deadly Spell” and “Witch Hunt,” both of which follow the adventures of hard-boiled detective Harry Philip Lovecraft in a 1940s Los Angeles peopled by wizards, witches and other supernatural creatures. Each has its interesting points of departure, but no two milieus are the same. Which leaves plenty of wiggle room for an establishment of laws.
Ah, but those laws must be established and that is where the “snag” comes in. I’d rather be writing, right now, but until I get a handle on this whole technology angle, I can’t really proceed. It should be simple and expressed quickly, I think. As I said, it isn’t a major plot device, so it shouldn’t become a sticking point. It should, however, make sense. Much like the genre known as steampunk, it has to be logical in order to work. Nothing drives me crazier than a “world” that doesn’t make sense. Establish the rules and follow them. That, then, has been my latest challenge. Still, it is a progress of sorts…
Sunday, January 16, 2011
It’s been a week since I posted here. A week spent writing like a fiend and making great advances in the progression of plot and character development. Let it be understood, however, that those moments of writerly endeavor are far from regular and seldom focal points of any given day. I write when I can, stealing moments and setting aside hours when I can address the urge in private. Living in a household of boisterous energy and having a very busy life to pursue, it’s not often easy, but I take what I can get. As I don’t have much to impart on the process of writing, at this point, I thought I would give a glimpse into the other side of a working writer’s life. To wit, what this writer does when he’s not writing.
I love cooking and try to do it often. Unfortunately, because of my schedule and the hours I keep managing the local historic theatre/performance space, I don’t often have the kind of time I’d like to spend on this particular stress-relieving hobby. Enter the latest gadget in our kitchen: a bread machine, handed down by my partner Donny’s parents. Now I can create culinary delights (like this loaf laced with pesto, feta, sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts )at the same time that I’m writing! I love it. Does it satisfy ALL of my gastronomic needs? No, but it does offer some respite from that annoying rumble in the pleasure me center and allows me to substitute knead for need.
Connect With Touring Friends
Living where we do—at the “crossroads” where I-25 and I-10 intersect--we occasionally have musician friends drive through, while on tour. When that happens, and if they don’t have a pressing gig in some faraway city like Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, El Paso or Austin, we always offer a place to stay and decompress. This time around, it was dark glam goddess Venus DeMars who took us up on our hospitality, spending two nights, a wonderful day hiking in the nearby Organ Mountains and an evening of fireside musical bliss that will long be remembered by the denizens of this culture-starved household.
Play With Fire!
Having the kind of schedules we all do, the yard tends to get a little neglected. Okay, it gets a LOT neglected. After the nourishing rains of the Fall months, hardy weeds begin to proliferate and, if they’re not tended to, quickly overtake every square inch of available land. Which means that at this time of the year, we have to call out the big guns and blast them back to the nether reaches of whatever hell to which weeds wither away. Our friend Mike came by with his heavy-duty torch and we set fire to the entire yard, burning, raking and generally taking back the yard. It was an all day adventure and satisfied some deep primal need to destroy that which is unwelcome. Beats all hell out of taking out aggressions on door-to-door, pamphlet-pushing zealots sporting blue hair and Laura Ashley prints, no?
Entertain the Masses
I’ve already mentioned my job at the Rio Grande Theatre. It’s a rare weekend that doesn’t entail some sort of attention to on-stage performance. This particular weekend we played host to a visiting dignitary from the outback of Australia: William Barton, the “world’s foremost authority on the Australian didjeridu.” It was a magical afternoon of storytelling and foreign sounds. Highly enjoyable and definitely inspirational for those of us who are always looking for the unusual to spark an idea or ten in the netherfolds of our creative consciousness.
Ah, but a new week looms on the misty horizon and with it the promise of stolen moments in which I can return to the task of illuminating the exploits of the fiercely ungovernable denizens of Otherwhen. With all senses stimulated and engaged, it should prove most rewarding. Or, at least, characteristically challenging.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
It’s an interesting thing, the creative process. Though there have been volumes written and countless documentaries made on the subject, it still remains a mystery to most. I’ve spent the better part of the past 30 years or so exploring my process while reading about and listening to artists, writers, musicians, poets, sculptors, animators, actors and even video game designers talk about their own explorations of this elusive concept. What I have realized is that the Creative Process can be summarized pretty efficiently in two simple words: Whatever Works. There is no right or wrong way to be creative, so long as creativity is achieved.
Right now, I find myself in very unfamiliar territory, but rather than feel that I am straying from the formula that has always worked best for me, I’m actually enjoying the process of tweaking my process and putting it through its paces. After all, it was the creative process I know and understand that got me to the place I’m in now. As I’ve said before, I’ve been letting the citizens of Otherwhen talk about themselves and their surroundings for close to a decade; transcribing their adventures as I go, much like a musician writing down the music he hears in his head. Now I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m taking those individual orchestrations and rearranging them, full knowing what the outcome will be, and creating a more cohesive whole with an overarching beginning, middle and end. To continue the metaphor, it’s a bit like creating a concept album and I am loving it!
In fact, I’ve been plugging right along over the last few days and have now mapped out the entire book, scene-by-scene, and twist-by-twist. In the process, I’ve discovered a few discrepancies (easily fixed), a dead-end or two (backtracked and rerouted) and the need to explore and probably rewrite the motivations of a few of the existing characters. Sounds tedious and it is, but I’m still high on the possibilities and very much undaunted by the challenge. I’ll be hitting it again HARD first thing in the morning. There are a few elements I’d like to introduce and a scene or two in need of fleshing out. Just part of the process and one I’m looking forward to exploring further.
Meanwhile, here’s one of the stories from my new anthology, Dimensions Of Desire, entitled The Hero Trap. It comes courtesy of the Sizzler Editions Blog and my illustrious editor, M. Christian, without whom any of this would be possible. Not because I couldn’t have done it without him, but because I wasn’t doing it at all, until he introduced the means to do so and made me believe that the time was right. And isn’t that, in the end, what being a good editor is all about?
Thursday, January 6, 2011
I’ve hit my first snag. I’m now about 10000 words in to the new book and am realizing that there may be points of divergence here that I hadn’t counted on. The problem lies in the fact that the Otherwhen Chronicles began life as a round-robin experiment, in which I wrote the first segment then sent it off to another writer, who picked up the threads and wrote the next segment, then sent it back to me so that I could do the same and so on. It was a great deal of fun at the time, but admittedly not the best way to write a cohesive narrative. It was complicated by the fact that the first writer dropped out a few segments in and was replaced by yet another writer, with a completely different writing style. That continued for a while, until he too dropped out and I decided to continue on my own.
In a sense, what I’ve ended up with is an origin story that is literally all over the map. Plot twists are introduced that lead nowhere, characters come and go without explanation and storylines are left dangling, never to be picked up again. It’s very much like episodic television. Remember Buffy The Vampire Slayer? One week the characters would be very dark and the storyline dramatic, the next would be more comical and light-hearted and the next would be a musical. Fans loved it, but the overarching storyline tended to suffer. Just so this tangled mess in which I find myself re-immersed. The real difference is that we went the whole Perils Of Pauline route and tried to end each segment with a cliffhanger. The next writer’s task was to get the characters out of their jam, then build the story back up to another suspenseful faux conclusion. Very melodramatic. Not very conducive to smooth transitional storytelling.
Not that I am at all daunted by any of this. If anything, it just presents a new and unforeseen set of challenges. Somehow I’ve got to break down these unruly batches of prose into their base elements, either wrap-up the dangling threads or jettison them entirely and bring the story back to its arc. Either that, or rethink the whole concept of this book. There have been some very good examples of episodic, multi-writer tomes. The Borderland and Sanctuary series come to mind. However, since this particular “story” begins as a multi-writer manuscript, but eventually becomes a solo endeavor, it gets tricky.
A friend of mine once told me that the only way he can write his novels is to break every plot device down into segments and synopsize them onto 3x5 index cards, which he then tacks up onto a corkboard so that he can look at it, much like a storyboard used by film animators. This way, he says, he doesn’t lose track of the incidental moments that have become so important to the type of stories he writes. He can simply add or subtract index cards as he builds the story. Then, when he’s satisfied that all of the elements are in place, he sits down and starts writing. This is a very complex and sequacious way of approaching the craft. My style of writing has always been more freeform, much like what Ray Bradbury describes. I let the characters tell the story and many times I have no idea how that story is going to end until it is revealed to me. It’s a lot like watching a movie in my head and transcribing it as I go.
In this case, however, the movie is already in the can. Hours of footage that now have to be edited down to a serviceable and more easily manageable whole. I find myself wondering if my friend’s approach might not help, simply by virtue of the fact that it would allow me to keep track of all those untidy elements and either work them back into the storyline or extricate them entirely. He also tends to color code his cards, so that he knows which plot elements they are addressing. This, too, could come in handy here. What it means, however, is that I will be stepping away from the enjoyable task of word production and taking on the role of editor. Something I have a lot of experience with, but not exactly what I had in mind, right now.
Still, if I am to do justice to these characters and the tales they have been imparting to me over the last ten years or so, the problem must be addressed. Sure, I could just put it aside and start something new, but that would be taking the easy way out. This particular challenge will take far longer than originally intended, mainly because I have a full-time job and don’t have more than a handful of hours each day to devote to it. What I do have, however, is the drive to see it through to the end, no matter how long it takes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, now, and really, there is no better time than the present to make it happen.
So, I appear to have made up my mind. I’ll forge ahead. The how of it has yet to be decided. I’ve got a lot of reading to do and notes to take. Who knows, I may even discover something new and completely unforeseen along the way. In any event, this book will get written and, in the process, I will try to document its creation here. It may not always be remarkable, but I hope it will, at least, be illuminating.
Okay then… (sound of cracking knuckles) better get to it…
Monday, January 3, 2011
The process has begun. As the old year dwindled down and the new year sprang into being, I was given the gift of time away from work, away from phones ringing and impromptu meetings. I had an entire week off and I used it to my best advantage. Besides starting this new blog, I spent a great deal of time pouring through old files and revisiting the world of Otherwhen in earnest. What I found was not just another anthology waiting to be compiled, but an opus waiting to be realized. Those files are, in essence, the elements of a puzzle waiting to be constructed.
They had existed as a series of vignettes, character sketches, short stories and novella-length offerings up until recently. Though I had entertained the notion of one day compiling them all into book form, I’d never really given any thought to the logistics of the idea. In a sense, all I’d been doing over the past decade was compiling information and putting my characters through a few paces to see how they would react in certain situations. Sometimes those situations culminated in a conclusion, sometimes they didn’t. I wasn’t writing for anybody else. It was, admittedly, an exercise in self-indulgence.
All that has changed, now. Sitting down and going through the old files--putting them in a freeform attempt at chronological order, spreading them out and taking stock of the ragged edges--I have discovered that what I have created is a framework of sorts: A skeleton, with enough sections of flesh, muscle and tendon to identify it as a comprehensible whole. It must be similar to the feeling Dr. Victor von Frankenstein first felt when he took in the shattered pieces of fresh flesh lying on his laboratory table and recognized the possibilities his future actions could assert.
To take otherwise inert materials and sew them together, build them up and fill in the gaps, layer upon layer, until soon it is recognizable not for its individual parts, but for the wholeness of its being. What a rush! Suddenly ideas I had either never considered, or had dismissed due to lack of time or inability to follow the concept through to its logical end, are making themselves known. I can see the over-reaching arc of the story and recognize areas in need of obvious fleshing out or, even better, infusions of subtle subtext.
It appears that I have not one book here, but several. At least two. A little massage and manipulation, some necessary rewriting here and there, the creation of new scenes to tie others together; who knows, I might have more than two. I’m not going to concern myself with that, right now. Instead, I’m just going to do what my instincts tell me to do: Tackle the first book. Strip these written pieces of all artifice and find the kernal of storytelling truth in each one. Write the story that has always wanted to be written.
Just short of two thousand words written this morning and I find myself six thousand words into a new novel. The rest are like pages fluttering in a breeze, waiting to be addressed. Some will change, others will merge with new words and ideas, but ultimately a whole will be produced. I’m not giving myself a deadline. No expectations. Just the thrill of writing and the discoveries that are inevitable in the process. It’s a whole new year and I’m off to a rollicking start. Somewhere, a certain gorgon demon slayer is smiling.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I’ve never been one for “resolutions.” Especially the New Year variety; because, seriously, like anything I vow to “work on” in the new year is actually going to be decided in a drunken moment, surrounded by equally marinated friends and acquaintances, during the final hours of the previous year? I don’t think so. Peer pressure is never the key to personal advancement. In fact, I can arguably say that it is the antithesis.
“You’ve already given up on your New Year resolution?!?”
“Yeah, there was just too much pressure.”
“It’s only the 3rd of January!”
“So, I only made that resolution because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”
Who hasn’t been there?
No, I believe that resolutions as a parlor game have become standard issue in the big book of dysfunctional social enabling. As such, they have become suspect. Besides, if I decide to lose 100 pounds, or stop smoking faerie dust or terrorizing felines with loud noises and sudden movement, it won’t be something I tie to the symbolic turning of a new calendar year. It’ll be because a Valkyrie has whispered in my ear and instilled the fear of ruined reputations and dark confined spaces in me. You know, a prophetic vision of the future, Ebenezer Scrooge-style.
All that said, I actually have one resolution to enact for this new year, if only because it happens to coincide with all that symbolic trollop-flop. I can PUT it in the form of a resolution, without applying all the stigma that most “resolutions” automatically bring with them, simply by virtue of knowing that this was not a snap decision, but rather an informed one rooted in the irrefutable existence of the all-knowing Book of Destiny. After all, to make such a proclamation, then willfully refuse to call it a resolution, would be hipster arrogance and NObody can accuse me of being one of those… But I digress.
My resolution is this: I will dedicate as much spare time to REAL writing as is feasibly possible and regain the discipline I once had to make every available minute count. Whew. It may not sound like much to most, but it’s a tall order for the out-of-shape banana slug I have become over the past three or four years. Yes, I do write every single day, but most of the time it doesn’t go beyond an extended journal rant. Hey, writing is writing and I DO tend to get VERY colorful in my EJRs, but I still believe it’s time to up the ante a bit. Take advantage of the situations that have arisen and the opportunities that are being offered.
Unlike most resolutions, this one is far from impossible. I HAVE done it before--quite successfully, thank you—and there is absolutely no reason why I can’t do it again. Well… aside from the fact that I don’t have the kind of money coming in that I did back then. Or the luxury of working from home… But, hell, it’s a whole new year! A time for making changes, by all the feral gods! A time for making resolutions! After all, what do I have to lose but my personal dignity and the respect of my peers? Considering I don’t have much of either, this should be a walk in the park. At midnight. Naked.