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

The audio version of this post appears below. Just click on “play”.

 

 

 

 

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.

Like it or Not, You ARE the Main Character

The audio version of this post appears below. To listen, just click on “Play”.

 

 

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.

 

 

Poetry Sucks – No, Wait, Does it?

Annabelle Lee

Annabelle Lee

The audio version of this post appears below. Just click on “play”.

 

I gave up reading poetry a quarter of a century ago, which is kind of ironic as the genesis of my writing passion grew from Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabelle Lee. When I was seven or eight, I made my mom read that damn thing to me over and over again. My mom was a real trooper as I spent hours asking her questions about what every single word meant and why Poe had chosen to arrange them the way he did. I realize that my love for a famous iconic poem doesn’t make me deep or intellectual, nor do I care. It would be far sexier if the writer’s spark had come from some obscure poet who killed him or herself by eating the only copy of their best opus and then aspirating on the vomit of their own words.

But, again, I don’t care. I just knew I wanted to learn how to string prose together like this guy did. Of course, that will never happen Poe was the master and I’m but a fan with a little imagination. As I went through school I suffered the same shit everyone does; Frost, Whitman, Yates…blah, blah, blah – searching for all the hidden meanings and trying to find some answers to life in general. I hated it. I’m not saying those guys don’t rock – I’m just saying it seemed a colossal waste of time trying to get into all these various heads.

At university I met tons of self-proclaimed poets none of which I became friends with. At that time, to me if writers were the gold standard of self-absorbed personalities then poets were the ones who set the standard. After awhile I coined the phrase “intellectual vapidity” and applied it to all the poets on campus. Then one night driving home from school, I heard some famous now dead poet on NPR saying how we all need poets to explain the universe to us. That everyone on the planet who was not a poet was somehow inferior and would struggle with our own existence until we take the big dirt nap. This guy probably thought we would struggle afterward as well.

Remember, I’m young at this point – twenty, or twenty-one at the most. So, I’m still impressionable and trying to feel my way up the slimy slope of life. I’ve never been one to judge too quickly or harshly and prefer investigating questions myself before rendering a decision on any given subject. Thus, I decided to write some poetry. I knew all the basic structures and understood everything from allegory to villanelle and since the white noise of ideas never shuts off in my head, I had plenty of material to forge into something hopefully readable.

After three weeks and exactly eighteen poems (I can still see the blinking MS/DOS prompt on my old Tandy computer), I re-read all of them and then called begging the NPR station to send me a tape of the interview with that nutty poet. I got it a week later, popped it into the player in my car on the home one night and listened to this guy’s pabulum once more. As soon as I got home, I looked at the printed out copies of my foray into poetry, neatly sorted them into a pile and placed the cassette from NPR next to them. I looked at the poems and said “you suck”, looked at the cassette and said “you suck even worse”, and then I ripped the pages into pieces and smashed the tape with a hammer, swearing to never attempt to write a piece of poetry, spend any time talking or arguing with a poet, and damning them all to hell. At twenty or twenty-one you feel like you have hell damning powers.

I’ve spent the last twenty-five or so years poetry free, being polite every once in a while when someone gifted me with a book of poems (usually Frost – easiest to find in the bargain bins, I guess) because the gift giver knows I love literature and trying hard not to grimace when someone told me they were a poet.

I’ve softened with age as one is wont to do and now have a still suspicious view on poetry albeit it a more embracing one. My good friend Ray Grant published a book of poetry a couple of years ago. You can find it here. Ray is someone I hold in the highest of regards, both as a thinker and all around Renaissance man. So, of course, I felt obligated to read his book (kidding Ray). I enjoyed reading Ray’s poems because I could relate the content to Ray as a person and my friend, and have gone back to his book on quite a few occasions. It’s also led me to be more receiving of other people’s works – although I do have to say, mainly of people who are not well known. I’m not sure what that phenomenon is, but I still find the classics boring and vapid. Maybe it’s just because I didn’t know those poets personally and thus couldn’t relate to what they were saying.

The point, if there were to be one is this: I’ve realized how personal poetry is and being the kind of person who loves nothing more than to entertain people with stories, I’m not ready to let the reading public into my most innermost thoughts and struggles. I’m giving poetry a stay of execution in my reading lexicon, but I still won’t be writing any poetry in the near future – or ever. Well, maybe as I’m about to take the dirt nap.

They Killed Brian!

RIP Brian Griffin

RIP Brian Griffin

Ok, so I go from Dick Gordon’s The Story going off air to a cartoon dog’s death on Family Guy. Hey, at least I have range.

Like most Family Guy fans, I’m completely distraught that Brian Griffin was axed off of my favorite adult cartoon. Family Guy has been a guilty pleasure of mine since it went on air back in 1999 and Brian the Dog was by far my favorite character. Who wouldn’t love a talking dog that drinks martinis and writes horrific novels? He also got the best lines in the show. Which brings me to why I like the show so much – the writing.

I can’t stand potty humor of which Family Guy is replete with, but when you put the slop through a figurative colander some really good juice comes out. The creator Seth MacFarlane is a brilliant writer and comedian and since he’s of my generation and comes from my home state, his pop culture references are totally relatable to me and bring back some great memories from my childhood. They once opened the show with the opening scene from The Great Space Coaster – I nearly bust a gut.

From what I understand, of all his characters Brian has the most characteristics of MacFarlane himself. I definitely see that and have watched both Brian and MacFarlane progress over the years. When Brian drank martinis, Seth drank martinis, when Brian switched to Scotch, Seth switched to Scotch. Brian is a tree hugging, pot smoking, Prius driving, womanizing Liberal and MacFarlane has never minced words on where he falls on the political and social spectrum and he’s rarely ever seen with the same woman. It was a very cool progression to watch – creator and character growing and becoming famous together.

The New Guy - Nothing Against Vinnie, But I want Brian Back

The New Guy – Nothing Against Vinnie, But I want Brian Back

I think from the brouhaha I’m reading in the news, blogs and on Facebook, Brian was certainly one if not, the most beloved character. So, why the hell would MacFarlane kill him off? I mean, this is a comedy after all, there’s no need to kill off a favorite character especially if he’s a cartoon dog. All I can think of is that it’s a “kill your darlings” situation. The producers said they wanted to “shake things up”. Well, they sure as shit have done that. A new dog “Vinnie” who also talks and has the voice and look of a New Jersey gangster voiced by former Sopranos star Tony Sirico, immediately replaced Brian. Kind of hacky, I think. I use the “kill your darlings” metaphor because I can’t help but wonder if MacFarlane is looking for a bigger challenge – like Brian was too easy to write, something like that.

I honestly don’t think this is going to work and cautiously predict a death knell for the show. Seth MacFarlane has made it no secret that he feels Family Guy should have jumped the shark five seasons ago, but insists on giving the fans what they want for as long as they want it. But, I have to wonder – is this what they want? I don’t. I want Brian back.

I Wish Robert Evans Was an Author

Robert Evans as Kid Notorious

Robert Evans as Kid Notorious

Ok, so technically Robert Evans is an author and I bet if he saw that tagline he’d defend his position as a published author by going into a huge self-aggrandizing yet bitingly self deprecatory explanation about all the success his book The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Notorious Life has had over the years. In fact, in his words: there has never been a more outrageous and unforgettable Hollywood memoir ever written. And, that’s why I wish he were an author.

Robert Evans is one of the best storytellers of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Of course, all his stories are about himself, but they are fantastically woven into spellbinding accounts of Hollywood through his ever-present sunglasses. There has to be a lot of fiction laced in with his actual experiences – there just has to be. In lots of ways I compare him to Hunter S. Thompson – so over the top there’s no way it can all be true. But, we, the public don’t seem to care. We remain fascinated by people like Bobby and Hunter. Their outrageousness is so compelling they just cannot be ignored.

Just imagine if all that energy Evans used to create his public persona were directed towards fiction. I’ll bet Bob Evans could really pump out a great fiction piece if he had wanted to. Imagine all the material he would have to work with just based on his own career. All that actual Hollywood drama that could be exaggerated into gripping tales of everything we love to read about; sex, power, glamour, money, betrayal, Hollywood – shit, a treasure trove of ideas right there to be hammered down and forged into timeless stories that surely would pass seamlessly through the ages.

Here’s where I think the problem would lie; Evans wouldn’t be able to break out of himself. The man has been so caught up in himself all these years there’s no way in hell – to him anyway, there could possibly be a more interesting character than himself. Most authors will grudgingly admit under interrogation that a little bit of themselves resides in each of their characters. But, when you have a personality as robust as Bob Evans’s, I could see where it would be hard to create anybody even close to as interesting as himself. Maybe that’s ok, perhaps I’ve missed something here; Robert Evans’s world and his recounting of it could be all we need.

Insight from Anne Rice

Anne Rice

Anne Rice

I got lucky yesterday. I follow Anne Rice on Facebook not just because she’s one of my favorite authors, but also because she engages her fans and speaks directly to them. I think that’s really admirable and I enjoy getting insight into her personality and process.

So, yesterday Anne posted a link to an obituary for Syd Field. Field wrote what became known as the Screen Writers Bible back in early ‘70’s. I’ve heard of it but never read it. Anyway, here is what Anne posted on Facebook:

“In this obituary for Syd Field, there is much talk of his bible for screenwriters. Sounds like a book that might be an aid to novelists as well as those writing scripts. Comments welcome. I didn’t know Syd Field or know of him, but it sounds as if he made a very valuable contribution with his books; and surely many people will be ordering them today for the first time.”

I replied something to the effect that I couldn’t see how this book could aid me as it would probably change the tonality of my stories were I to follow it, but that I always try and make screen plays out of my short stories in case Hollywood ever calls. Lo and behold, she answered me! I was shocked and engaged her for another couple of posts. Here is how she replied:

“I don’t know about that. Sometimes these books can inspire. Years ago I read Aristotle’s formula for great drama — written for tragedy in Ancient Greece — and it inspired me mightily with my novel writing…something on the order of plot, character, spectacle — creating pity and catharsis. And voila. Interview with the Vampire.

I do think screen writing techniques can help a novel. One of the most popular novels I ever wrote — The Mummy or Ramses the Damned — started life as a long screenplay. I converted it into the novel in the space of a few weeks. The structure of my screen play — which was quite sloppy with notes and such — helped the novel to become a lightning read.”

First of all, I was in awe and amazement that I was actually conversing albeit electronically with the great author. If I were ballsier I would have tried to pitch 5 Tales, but I’m not like that anyway. I was just happy to glean any wisdom she was willing to impart.

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about what Anne said. My problem is I tend to be too technical when thinking about screenwriting as opposed to novel writing. The reason being as I’m writing, the scene is in my head but I’m less worried about characters’ stage direction, speech intonation, the scenery in general and am more involved in the meat of the story. Therefore, panic ensues when I think about writing backwards from a screenwriting standpoint. I would look at the physical format of the writing and be too worried about forming the character to the motion and flow in terms of the stage or set.

However, if you look at what Anne said, it makes total sense. It’s like looking at the story from the top down. Taking the drama and emotion of the stage/screen and injecting it into your writing makes perfect sense to me now that I think about it. Those screenwriting techniques Anne talks about and surely Syd Field teaches in his books could be just the salve needed to repair an injured piece of work. I have to give it a try. Lord knows I have plenty of unfinished novels to try it out on!