A New Boss

You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You settle on a project, or maybe two, and you burn the midnight candle until it’s just a smoldering stub, and you tell everybody what your project is and how it’s your end-all-be-all raison d’etre and stuff…

But it isn’t. You fight the words and wrangle them into place. You beat yourself silly trying to find that structure, that style that sets you apart.You work until your mind bleeds to find the description that’s never been made.

But it doesn’t come.

It’s all the same hack.

I know. I’ve been hacking at the same project for, like, ever…

What to do, oh what to do.

Here’s something terrible that I shouldn’t tell you, but maybe you’ll see it.

I invented a producer, my writing boss. I gave her, (she’s a she) the complete and total task of managing my writing.

With Sydney (her name’s Sydney) in charge, I can mentally offload the task of managing my production to her. It sounds crazy, and I’m certain that is, but it has made my writing much easier.

Sydney’s a breeze to work for, because she doesn’t really exist, which means she hardly ever yells at me!

Yes, it’s nice to have a boss in the writing biz, even though, and I know you’ll agree, it’s crazier than a bag of wieners.

Now I just have to figure out to hit her up for a raise!

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The Golden Carrot of Immortality

You run marathons for the joy of running, right? Surely it can’t be for the prize money. But you don’t devote your life to it, either. What do I do? Oh, I’m a marathon runner – oh, and I also work as a nuclear scientist, you know, during the week.

But, you’re a writer. You know how it goes. Writing is like breathing – like running. When it flows it’s golden, and when it doesn’t, you worry about getting it flowing. Writing is… everything.

But, everything else is everything, too. Somehow, some way, we all find a way to weasel in a little time to write – as I’m writing this, my daughter’s getting a cavity filled.

But, where running is glorious simply for the sake of running, writing doesn’t achieve its true glory until it’s been read. Until you transform someone’s thinking with your ideas, writing is just a mental exercise.

You know the difference between writers and wannabe writers, right? One does, while the other wishes he did. Writing tons of stuff and packing it away, never to be read, doesn’t do it, either. If no one reads your stuff, you’re not writing, just expressing.

So, what can the prize be? I am truly blessed to work as a professional videographer, writing and telling industrial stories. I am married to a terrific woman, have three successful, wonderful children, and live in a great house in a beach town. Hello?

For all that, my writer’s eye is still attracted to that shining bauble of intellectual immortality, that celestial club that includes Shakespeare and Hemingway, Milton, and, yes, Rowling. That club that persists far beyond the wash of generations.

Isn’t that why you write? Aren’t your ideas larger than your life? Don’t your characters extend beyond you?

If you impress somebody – change their mind, make them laugh, bring them an image they’d never seen – is that it? Are you done?

Or are you like a machine, an authorial savant, cranking and cranking out scenes and images, ad infinitum?

Is there a prize – a golden carrot of immortality? Does it show up one day in the mail? And, if you got it, could you stop writing?

These are the things that keep me up at night… well, that and seeking the flow… and making sure the mortgage is paid and the plumbing doesn’t leak and getting the dog’s teeth fixed and paying the taxes and that odd ticking when I turn the car and my son’s upcoming wedding and finding a good school for my daughter…

You’re a writer. You know how it goes.

You You, You

Dateline, downton Phoenix, AZ:
Just saw a lady walking down the street in the 110° heat talking out loud to herself. No one seemed too concernered, although she was engaged in a pretty hefty argument.

You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You work out your character’s dialog, say things the way they would say them. Sometimes you find a catchy little phrase – spesk quickly, my time is not my own – that you want to hold on to, because it’s exactly what your guy Hector would say.

Sound of skidmarks. I start sweating, and it isn’t the heat.

Me, spinning through the conversations I plan to write. Crazy lady having phantom conversations.

Does she know she looks crazy? Does she know the other person isn’t there? Would she believe you if you told her? If you showed her a picture, would she not see the other person?

Are the conversations I quietly work out in my head during my walks not quiet at all? Do I simply not see people staring at me as I pass?  If you showed me a video of my solo, out loud, rambling conversations, would I even believe it?

It’s totally creeping me out, because there’s no way to tell if you couldn’t tell. Maybe we’re all sitting in cardboard boxes…

You know, writing is a lonely business. When you purposefully enter a world of your own creation, you walk a thin line between realities. Before you step in, make sure you believe what you believe. Maybe that’s what makes it such a cool art form.

Did I say that out loud?

Character Hijackery

Imagine setting up something really, really complex, like an Ocean’s 11 style casino robbery, or maybe a game of Sorry – okay, maybe not that one – but something really complex, that you’ve puzzled over for months until now, now, this very minute, you’re ready to go. To pull the trigger, dial the phone, hit Execute, or RUN, or whatever it is that sets your plan in motion. Good for you.

You’re a writer, you know how it is. You slave away over your work, because you love it, and it’s good for you, and because you have something that needs to be said.

I’m working on Novel Number 3, tentatively called The Terrible – it’s a joke that plays out in the… rats, I’ve given it away. Well, forget that part.

So, it may seem like I’m rambling, but I’m giving you crumbs. Clues, if you will. Because you’re smart, and you’ll piece it all together.

Did you get anything yet?

Sigh. Okay, here it is. I’ll use little words: I’ve started a third novel. My first, MARIGOLD’S END, is under revision, my second, DROPPINGTON PLACE, is self-published, and I can’t sit here on my hands and just die, can I? I mean, can you?

This third novel is carefully laid out, with four strong central characters. Well, it was four, but, just yesterday, I needed a transition piece, a moment that both gives us time and place and setting, but that also starts the storytelling ball rolling.

So I created this simple fellow – not much more than a name, really – to carry the news of the French ambassador’s arrival. Not so bad, huh? Except that he needed a little background, and a little definition, a little purpose…

And then the son of a biscuit stole my whole story! He’s none of the four dried up, dowdy guys I’d so carefully designed. He’s young, he’s brave, and he’s innocent.   Suddenly, the four guys are bit players to this kid’s story. What the heck? It’s like Ensign Checkov taking over the Enterprise! R2D2 piloting the Millennium Falcon. Wait, what?

All seriousness aside, I’ve been thinking about this story for a while now. My first novel was a labor of love – and very, very hard to write, rewrite, and… I think I’m on the seventh version. The second novel was just plain fun – I wanted to explore Elizabethan words, and magic, and make a young adult story that was positive and generous.

This new one, tentatively called The Terrible (I think I mentioned this already – please try to keep up), is my story. It’s my… my way of giving back. It’s set on the French/Spanish border in the year 1657. No, it’s not the Three Musketeers, but that book has always been my go-to for inspiration and grounding.

So, The Terrible is the story I was created to tell. It’s the novel that I became a writer to write. It’s the story – I think. I know you have a story like that – it’s why you write.

If it turns out bad, I’ll come up with some clever way to dismiss it. But, it won’t be bad, because this is the story. This is my story.

But, and here’s the part that is just crazy, this new guy’s story isn’t mine. I’m somewhere in this book, but I haven’t found out where. You know the guy has power, because he took over my whole dang life story just by getting named!

More to follow…

 

 

What Tiggers do Best

You’re a writer. You know how it is. You eat, sleep, and dream with other people’s minds. What would it be like to an inch tall, you muse, or in command of a shoe? For a writer, the world is full of little what-ifs and I-wonders.

But what happens when all your questions are answered for you?  When your quest to sort the world out is brought to an end.

My best friend, whom I subsequently married, and I used to puzzle over who was happier: man in his quest for answers, or the cow in the field who has no questions?

She thought that perhaps the questionless state might be a form of heaven. I argued that it seemed more likely a form of hell.

Heaven or hell, it recently presented itself to me in the form of the ultimate job. For a moment I hung up my writer’s spurs and thought I might settle in for the long haul, might hitch my horse to this wagon instead of my own.

It is hell. Might just as well shovel dirt onto my face, because there’s nothing deader than a creative that doesn’t create. Take these pencils from my hands – I don’t need them anymore.

As you’ll recall, Tigger searched the Hundred Acre Wood trying to find “what Tiggers lke best.”

What I found is that a writer is a writer is a writer, and perhaps that’s what this Tigger does best. Tiddily pom.

Do that Thing that You Do

 

You. Put down those fish crackers, I’m talking to you. Serious – this is a serious talk. No goofing around about anything. Just drop the crackers.

So, what do you do? Me? I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Technical writing, a little marketing, a little blogging, a couple of novels, a couple of short stories. It’s what I do. Working on a screenplay right now.

In fact, thank you for asking, it’s a screenplay based on my own novel, Droppington Place. It’s a funny story… well, okay. You’re right. We’re being serious here.

Have you seen Kubo and the Two Strings? Lovely picture, although a tad sad. It was made by LAIKA, a film studio in Oregon that makes handcrafted, stunningly animated movies. What could be a better fit? What better film company to make a major motion picture out of Droppington Place?

As you know, I’m a proponent of Gorilla Marketing – do little, expect lots. In this mode, we ask ourselves why we must go through all the hassle of selling millions of books. Why could we not simply approach LAIKA directly, make the motion picture, and then sell the millions of books? You know, it’s not really putting the cart before the horse: it’s more like they’re side-by-side. Boom. Anything could happen.

So I set myself out to write a screenplay from the novel. Piece of cake. I know the book forwards and backwards. What if I simply move these scenes around to make it more, you know, cinematographically friendly?

Well, three things happened. Three. You were expecting two, but, hey, it was three. Sorry to disappoint.

First, in reordering the book for cinematographic friendliness, I found a much better flow to the story. Rats. Now the book needs a rewrite.

Second, in retelling the story for the large screen, I found some motivations for characters I hadn’t seen before. Rats. See above.

Third, I had a revelation. A very sad, very tawdry little revelatory affair that hurts to write about, but you’re a writer. You know how it is.

Shakespeare is quoted as having written, “to thine own self be true.”

I was on an airplane, struggling with the screenplay, when the words came to me. Poop, I thought. I don’t want to hear these words.

The words came as clearly to me as if I had written them myself, but I’m not this good. It was simple poetry, and it hurt to read. It said, “write what you want and it’ll be great.”

Write what you want and it’ll be great.

Stop plotting and planning and pushing and prodding. Stop massaging and manipulating and maneuvering and marketing. What’s in here (taps on chest) is what’s important.

“Your lungs?” I asked.

I have written what I hope will sell, and hope you will buy. I haven’t written the Great American Novel. I’ve written something clever and fun and creative, and that I think you’ll like. I like it.

But the calling is to write what’s inside, and I don’t think it’s about my lungs.

What is the story I was created to tell? What can I give to you that will be great enough to make you think, wow, my life is now better? What epic saga lies inside here (taps on chest)?

Poop.

So, compadre, we have to saddle up another horse. It’s a long ride ahead, and now there’s another wagon to pull. Please don’t put the saddle on the horse that’s supposed to pull the wagon – you’ll just confuse things.

Okay. You can go back to your fish crackers now.

Ah, Camp Stupid

You’re a writer, you know how it goes.  Every moment you draw a breath is a moment to promote your book.

Well, say, I have a moment with nothing to do, and my super-smart cell phone right here.  What if I take this moment to submit a query about my book, DROPPINGTON PLACE,  to a literary agent.

Wait, I don’t have the manuscript… it’s parked on my Google drive, but an agent only wants the first ten pages. Hmm, how to edit it…

Wait! I sent a query to a different agent… that was a perfect letter! Alls I gotta do is find that letter and change the names and stuff…

It didn’t take long to take out the refeeencea to my dog and stuff, and change the names. That agent, the first recipient, had sent me a nice autoreply of no, thanks. I edited out references to that, too. 

Just one eye in the flointment…you can’t send a letter you’ve already sent.  Hmmm… no biggy. I’ll just forward it…

Okay, everything looks good…push the send and hope for the best.

Say, here’s an autoresponse from the new agent.  Thank you for your submission, here’s what you sent…

And there, in the inbox of this agent, is my submission letter, followed by my submission letter to the previous agent, and then the rejection letter from the other agent!

OMG!  How stupid can you be?  If I don’t make it as a novelist, I can always be the mascot for Camp Stupid!