Havisham – Just a Really Long Piece of Fan Fiction?

Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham – Does this look like a Catherine to you?

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I would never, ever take part in writing fan fiction of any sort and I haven’t decided on how I feel about other people doing it. Personally, I feel any creativity is good creativity and of course imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I think its better that I stick to my policy of not judging. But, to me it would seem as if I was raping the mind of the original author and I just couldn’t do that. In fact, when writing my own characters I spend far too much time agonizing about whether or not a specific character has the traits of another writer’s creation. Last year in a short story meant for the follow up to 5 Tales one character didn’t make the cut as I thought he was way too much like Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens. Probably wasn’t, but it was close enough for me.

 

I feel from everything I’ve read about Ronald Frame’s Havisham, it appears to be a very long piece of fan fiction and I’m vexed as to whether or not I should read it. My love for Dickens as documented in this blog by how much I fawn over his work should be well known to those who read this drivel. Therefore, I’m feeling somewhat assaulted by what I’m reading in the reviews of Havisham. I’ve never before let reviews taint my decisions on what to read, but this is Dickens for goodness sake and Dickens just shouldn’t be screwed with.

 

Anne Bancroft performed my favorite version of Miss Havisham in the 1998 movie Great Expectations

Anne Bancroft performed my favorite version of Miss Havisham in the 1998 movie Great Expectations

From what I’m reading in the New Yorker and the New York Times, the writing is good but the plot falls apart towards the end as Frame’s Miss Havisham meets up with the Dicken’s version. Both reviewers felt that Miss Havisham the narrator was far too sane and sensible to fall so quickly into insanity as the inevitable begins to unfold. That’s a pretty big flaw and really makes one wonder if the time should be spent to trudge through and possibly ruin the Miss Havisham back-story that certainly every fan of Great Expectations has created in their own minds.

 

It would seem to me that the merging of the two plots is exactly the reason I would never take on a project like this. When I read those reviews the image I had in my mind was of an underpowered sailboat trying to push through Plum Gut during a storm. Plum Gut is the area off Long Island where the Atlantic Ocean meets Long Island Sound. You can see where the two bodies of water meet which is tumultuous and dangerous and feels like the gates of Hell if you’re the person on the boat. The collision of the two plot lines would scare me to death and I know I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Why? Because I ain’t Dickens and no one else is either.

 

There’s one other problem I have with the idea of reading this book and its small but to me it matters. Dickens never gave Miss Havisham a first name. Now, obviously if you’re going to write a back story to an iconic figure you’re certainly going to have to give her a first name, or so it would seem. However, I think it would have been really cool if the author could have found some unique tool by which he never revealed the name – but hey, that’s just me. Frame named her Catherine. Catherine doesn’t work. My daughter’s name is Catherine but that’s not the reason I don’t feel it’s right for Miss Havisham. It doesn’t sound right; it doesn’t feel right for the Havisham personality we know, and in my case, love. I don’t know what it should be, but I know I spend a lot of time naming characters and rarely do it myself because I suck at it. My good friend Holli names most of my characters because she’s amazing at it. Perhaps Mr. Frame should have found a Holli, because the name stinks for this character and if you’re going to take on the greats – you really need to do them justice. If you couldn’t get the name right, why should I buy your book?

By the way, here are some of the names Holli thought would be good: Hilda, Eudora, Eunice – any of these would have been acceptable.

Write Your Way Out of Depression

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I’ve only been depressed once in my life and I hope to holy hell it never happens again. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through and the worst part was I kept beating myself up for being what I saw as weak. I’ve always been a happy guy even though I kind of go through life with a surly façade and I never believed that people could really get depressed. I saw it as just a cry for attention from needy people and I often accused friends of being as such. I regret that now. Depression is a horrific sickness and I have nothing but oceans of empathy for chronic depression sufferers.

 

What happened to me was I acquired a psychotic stalker who is now in jail, thank the universe. This was a client of mine who developed an obsession and did so many unspeakable things; I don’t even want to go into it. Imagine that – me, of all people not going into dark horrific and sick details? Extraordinary, I know.

 

Anyway, after about a month of constant harassment, which caused me to re-think my business and where I was in life, I found myself in serious danger. I would wake up at night and pull my gun out from under my pillow and look at it. I was never suicidal, I have far too big of an ego for that – but, I’d look down the loaded barrel and think about it. This didn’t worry me – it was just a dramatic response. What did worry me was I didn’t want to leave my apartment. I’m a social guy, not a homebody. I like to go out and see people – anybody really. I’m an amateur anthropologist and once I found myself not wanting to take part in life I got REALLY worried.

 

I had no idea what to do. I certainly couldn’t admit my situation to anybody – that would be weak. But, I did finally tell my mom – and thank God I did because that was the first step to breaking out of it. I would call her and sometimes I couldn’t even get any words out of my mouth – I was paralyzed. We’d just sit there in silence. Then some really good friends of mine began to make me go out and do things with them. That was a big help and really pushed me to seek out a real solution.

 

I didn’t want to commit to a shrink because I felt that despite its debilitating manifestation that the depression was temporary and I just had to find a way through the tunnel. I had this acquaintance I knew from some boards that I sat on who called himself a Business Psychologist. I really liked and respected the guy but considered his title pretty nebulous and didn’t have a lot of faith in whether or not he could actually help. Man, was I wrong. It took a lot for me to admit to him that I was suffering and suffering badly. He asked if I thought I needed to be put on medication and I said no. I don’t even like to take Advil so the thought of some kind of anti-depressant made me even more depressed.

 

This is what he said to me: “Jason, I’ve known you for years. I’ve heard your public speeches and I’ve read everything you’ve written for our boards. You can write yourself out of this depression. It’s what I do and I’ve advised hundreds of people to do it and it almost always works to some degree. For you, I think it will solve the problem and if you ever find yourself depressed again, you should do the same thing.”

 

I was dubious, but I was also desperate so I tried it. It took a week, but goddamn it if it didn’t work! And, it still works. At that time, I hadn’t decided to become a writer, but I do think the fact writing burst me out of that funk has something to do with my chosen profession. I ALWAYS feel great after a day of writing – even if I end the day frustrated or I’ve written absolute crap. Now, I can’t attest to whether or not writing has kept me from depression all these years because as I said, I’ve always been a pretty happy person, but I’m willing to consider it.

 

Don’t take my word for it because obviously I’m not a professional, but I would strongly suggest that if you feel a depression coming on or are chronically depressed, you should at least give writing a try. Here is a great guide on how to start:

http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Faculty/Pennebaker/Home2000/WritingandHealth.html 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers: Ditch Shakespeare

See ya Billy Shake

See ya Billy Shake

 

Enough Shakespeare.

Christ, how long has the guy been dead? I know he was an amazing timeless classic, but criminy how many more books, movies, poems, plays, tv shows, etc need to be based on all those tedious themes of his? It’s time for something else. There must be other more interesting platforms from which one can launch their art, or how about this: your own platform. If I see one more modernization of a Shakespeare theme, I may have to buy a thousand antique copies of his works and burn them on the town square.

 

I’m picking on Shakespeare because his is the most prominent name out there for thematic abuse by artists from the last four centuries. There are plenty of other examples out there with Dickens being one of them, but I chose Billy Shake to rant about because his stuff seems to scream be laborious with your words and situations and beat every scene into tedium as best you can at those who choose to base their art on his body of work. It was bad enough we had to suffer through it the first time let alone having to relive it again and again in the work of many millions of copycat stories throughout the ages.

 

So, what set me off on this tirade on surely the most famous author of all time? I was chatting with some stranger at my favorite watering hole in Woodstock, VT near where I live. The woman sitting next to me started up a conversation and we exchanged the usual “what do you do?” niceties and she said she was a writer. Now, I never tell anyone I’m a writer straight away because I like to study people and once you launch that missive I’ve found people tend to tighten up a bit and not be themselves. I usually use the stay at home dad thing, or go the retired private detective route.

 

The woman seemed pretty interesting so I asked what she was working on and found that she was just about done with her first novel, which was very Shakespearian in nature. Made me want to puke. The worst part being she mentioned a fear that the story may be too recognizable as having its genesis in Hamlet. “Bartender? Check please.” I don’t ever like to be rude and said nothing and instead listened briefly to her outline while waiting for the bill. She was worried for good reason and I really was dying to say something to her about coming up with her own thing, clearly she was smart enough and everyone has their own story in them and blah, blah, blah… But, I really didn’t have the energy.

 

I would rather have heard her say something like: oh, it’s a basic good vs. evil story, or it’s a Cinderella type love story, it’s a rags to riches thing (just don’t say Dikens-like), it’s a supernatural thriller, mystery, self help, calculator manual, Swahili translator – whatever, anything but, its Shakespearian. God, it makes my freakin’ teeth hurt. It’s time to ditch the Shakespeare. There is so much talent out there and so many great stories that surely we no longer need to rely on this dead fossil to be the foundation on which to build our own work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You DO NOT Have to Write Everyday to be a Writer

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As anyone who’s ever read this blog knows, I dig Anne Rice. I haven’t read every single word of her extensive offerings, but I’m pretty well versed in everything Vampire and witch and have never read a book of hers I didn’t love. But, it’s not just the books – its Anne herself. I’ve always felt like I could relate to her, as I’m pretty sure all of her fans do. For such a superstar in the literary universe she remains fairly accessible and communicates with a surprising number of her fans and followers on Social Media as well as in the real world at signing events and other appearances. She even answered me directly on a Facebook message. What I like the most is Anne carries herself not as a seasoned celebrity author, but as a real person who is constantly finding ways to re-invent herself, which she’s done periodically over the decades.

 

Thus, you can imagine my outrage over the years when I’ve heard various talking heads and armchair critics accuse Anne Rice of not being a real writer because she doesn’t write everyday. What kind of sanctimonious bullshit is that? Clearly, its ridiculous and Anne does address it quite often with the style and grace that is inherent in her personality while encouraging other writers not to take it seriously. I, too, have heard from many people that if you do not put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard on a daily basis, that you are a hack.

 

I understand for some people a routine is the key to success, but to suggest that a writer is not a writer unless their ass is stuck to the chair eight to ten hours a day is complete bilge water. If I did that, my stuff would suck so badly it isn’t funny. Most of my work takes years to put together. (5 Tales took four years) That doesn’t mean I’m not working on it everyday, I am. At any given point, I have at least five story lines swirling around my brain looking for an exit point. I write in bursts, as do many writers including Anne. You can’t force inspiration, and to do so just for the sake of keeping some kind of routine is only going to limit your work and probably will make for some boring content.

 

Possibly the reason I have chosen the hard way into this business – self publishing – is because I don’t want to be held to deadlines. Deadlines can do two things: 1. Make your work fantastic due to forced output, or, 2. Make your work suck moose genitals due to forced output. I won’t risk number two. I want my work to be organic so someday when I’m keeping the maggots company, my kids can read it and know the sentences I strung together in life were the ones I really meant. And, if that means there are huge stretches of time between writings – then so be it.

 

So, just like my rant about “killing your darlings”, I think the idea that you should write everyday in order to be considered a true writer should be filed away in the back of any writer’s mind as something some no talent ignoramus would spew from their frothing twisted visage. Write when you have something to say. If that’s everyday – great, but forced writing is obvious writing.

But What I Really Want to be is a TV Writer

I have always said that if I were to start over again there are some jobs I would love to try out. The first would be bartending. We all know I know a thing or two about bars, and after all these years of being a patron, I think I would make a great bartender. Plus, it would lend very well to my story development process. I think being a lighthouse keeper would be wicked cool as well. (I know there aren’t very many of those these days, but a dude can dream.) I like the idea of the solitude of lighthouse keeping and think it would also help my writing. Then a few years ago I realized there was one job I would REALLY like to have tried – television writer.

I would love to write for a TV show, or multiple TV shows. If I were to seek out a “real job” in writing instead of working on my own projects, that would be the ultimate job for me. I haven’t ever really tried to, but I did write for a friend’s mockumentary once and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

Being able to give a voice to an actor’s interpretation of a character is thrilling and so much fun. It’s as if you’ve taken one of your characters out of a particular story and actually molded a human model of them. Watching an actor pull on the character like a suit of clothes and make it come to life is an amazing and fulfilling thing to watch indeed. It also gives you insight on how to develop the character as the story goes on as you learn to understand how the actor will interpret what you write.

I don’t actually watch a lot of TV, but the shows I do watch are the ones that typically have brilliant writing in them and while I watch I can imagine how the writers came up with the lines and often think to myself “damn, that actor or actress must be so much fun to write for.” For example I love Justified, Elmore Leonard’s writing is just the most incredible platform for any writer to work from. I think cobbling together lines for either Timothy Olyphant (Raylan Givens) or Walton Goggins (Boyd Crowder), would be the kind of thing that would make you want to stay up for weeks. Or, imagine being a writer for Family Guy. That show has lost a little of its pizzazz, but the pop culture references are brilliant and putting words in either Brian the Dog or Stewie Griffin’s mouth, must be gut busting fun.

If I were to take this fantasy job out to its logical conclusion in my mind, the ultimate TV writing job would be for BBC. British Television is in my mind by far the best. The writing is funny, intelligent and insightful no matter what you watch. There are few shows in the United States that I would say have all of those elements. I’ve watched and loved so many British shows over the years its hard to pick a favorite, but the one I absolutely would have sold my soul to write for was The Thick of It with Peter Capaldi. It’s like an R-rated, much more realistic and much funnier version of The West Wing. Almost every line of every character’s script is memorable. Those writers surely were sad when that series ended; although they were probably all exhausted, but in a good way.

So, yeah, if I were to do it again… But, hey if any of y’all know someone in Hollywood – be sure to pass along my deets!

Like it or Not, You ARE the Main Character

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When I think back over the years at what kept me from actually doing what I wanted to do in my life – write, I realize that a big factor was not wanting to always be the main character in my stories – or, any character for that matter. It just seemed so trite and quite frankly, really scary. And, let’s face it; everyone who reads your work is going to immediately assume it’s you you’re writing about. Watch any interview with any author and almost always the first question from the interviewer is; “So, are you so and so?” After much self-deprecating bullshit, the author always admits there is a little piece of him/her in the main character.

 

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m glad that’s the way it works because I want to know something about the author I’m reading. But, for me I always thought – hell to the fucking no. Presumably, my mom is going to read my stuff and I just can’t bear the idea that she would have insight into the darkest crinkly corners of my poisoned mind.

 

I lived a pretty cool life and I’ve had successful authors advise me to build my stories around the experiences I’ve had. I was a private detective in Connecticut for years; something I hid from friends and family (I took “private” very seriously) under the guise of just being a guy who owned a limousine company and was involved in local and state politics both in the front line and behind the scenes. So, I was out there in the public pretty prominently, but the real story was I working cases for some pretty serious folk in some amazing and dangerous situations. I had an incredible team of people behind me all of whom had their own very distinctive characteristics and skill sets. They blew me away everyday.

 

So, while I agree with my author friends that my files could generate a plethora of best sellers, I owe it to my old clients and the people I met along the way to keep their secrets secret. I don’t even want to fictionalize the cases because they are so specific, the people involved would instantly recognize the story as their own.

 

Thus, I made a deal with myself, which really is like making a deal with the devil. I decided to keep me out as much as possible but to employ a certain alchemy in putting together the personalities and characteristics of my clients, employees and subjects from my case files in creating my own characters. One of my favorites is Charlie from Station Vermont, which appears in my book 5 Tales. Check out the excerpt here on the blog. The guy who inspired that dude is a real piece of work.

 

Then I realized omitting my experiences, personality and character traits from my characters is nigh to impossible and after many years torturing myself by de-constructing and re-constructing my characters to lose anything I saw as me-ness, I realized its ok to put yourself in the story either in a big way or maybe just a wisp. I prefer the wisp, but I would encourage anyone getting into this world to let themselves go. Everyone has a story and what may seem banal to one person could be someone else’s Great Expectations. Be yourself, people want to read about it.

 

 

I Don’t Want to Kill My Darlings – Screw You, Sir Couch!

I'm not listening to this old fossil any longer!

I’m not listening to this old fossil any longer!

The audio version of this post appears below. Just click ‘Play”.

 

 

I don’t want to kill my darlings. Quite frankly, I’m kind of tired of modern authors taking advice from Edwardian literary martyrs who apparently sacrificed their own time by doling out bits of wisdom to the less talented plebes and neophytes of the writing community of these past three centuries. The Edwardian martyr to whom I refer herein is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch the progenitor of the phrase “Kill Your Darlings”, which was originally “Murder your Darlings”, something he was adamant about.

Now, I have a theory on why Sir Couch was such a vehement proponent of deleting one’s best work before publication. I think it was competition. Those Edwardian authors were notorious for hating each other’s guts and I believe he was trying to stack the deck in his favor. Every writer has a certain signature in their work even if they cross genres. The reason we read a specific writer’s work and become fans is because of their style and I relish that. I like that I can pick up any piece of work under the Samuel Clemens name and know it’s really Twain. I’ll bet a donut that if we were afforded the opportunity to read Salinger’s previously unpublished work without even knowing it existed – that we would know it was his unequivocally.

There are lots of habits I would love to lose – like my horrific habit of using the word “just” all over the place. (Fortunately, I edit the shit out of those after the fact – but still.) Or, my dreadful grammar, which at times, embarrasses me beyond belief. But, as for some of my inherent style sheets – hell no. I write because I love to write, firstly for me and secondly for the reader. And, I don’t want my favorite writers to stop being themselves either. It’s disingenuous and fucking boring as well. Who wants to read the same style, form, cadence, etc? And, who wants to write that way? Not me, my friends.

I’ve definitely been a victim of Sir Couch’s. I’ve killed, I’ll bet, thousands of darlings over the years and I’ll never get them back. A few years ago I wrote a paragraph so disturbingly raw that while I was writing the placement of the words didn’t register in my mind – it was just born from some passion for this particular story. When I read it, I got chills. Something told me I had to cut it – that it was just way, way too much and too over the top. I would never be able to look at my mom, hell – my whole family, again after they read it. I passed it to my trusty group of pre-screeners and all except one loved it. All it took was that one voice of dissent to justify my own thoughts. I killed the piece and have regretted it ever since. To date, that was probably my best paragraph.

I’m not doing that anymore and urge all fledgling writers such as myself to eschew this nasty phrase and write to your hearts content. To Sir Couch, wherever your bones may be rotting and restless with the worry of the genesis of better writers than yourself – I say this to you, Sir (in the voice of Sir John Gielgud from Arthur) go screw yourself!