Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Reading Road to Writing

The man who I stole this title from knows who he is.  He was my mentor for many years and I owe him an immense debt of gratitude for many things including honing my writing ability a great deal more than it was.

This post is about, well, the reading road to writing.

Shadows of the Empire

I remember the written word since before I could read.  My mother is a writer, my father, an English teacher.  There was many a night in the Cunningham household that we would gather 'round my dad in our one-piece pajamas and listen to Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder or something of the sort.

I remember my first chapter book, Reddy Fox by Thorton Burgess, and the world he created in my mind: that animals were rational and talked to each other like humans do.

I became a Star Wars fanatic in my grade school years and digested volume after volume of the "before, after, and in between the movies" novels, along with Redwall books, which were equally captivating.  My favorite of them all was Shadows of the Empire set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, featuring an awesome character, Dash Rendar - not overshadowed by the coolness of Han Solo only because the latter was at the time frozen in carbonite.  I immortalized Rendar in my drawings for probably a year straight almost every day after the book was sadly over.

I read a lot when I was a kid.  But it wasn't until college that I noticed how important it was for my writing.

The Volumes of Master Cunningham

I didn't write very well as a grade-schooler.  I mean, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't awesome either (like this post, which is pretty much just trying to get a point across).  I wrote as if I was getting paid by the word (like Dickens), and my teachers would have to continuously remind me to finish my story so I could finish my first draft before the rest of the class finished their third.

During my third grade year, I wanted a stuffed animal Simba (the main character from The Lion King) for Christmas so badly that I wrote a sappy piece of shit story about a boy (me) who "found the true meaning of Christmas" and then got the stuffed animal under the tree Christmas morning.  My mom cried when she read it.  Guess what I got for Christmas?  L.M.F.A.O. (and I don't mean the music group)!

During my senior year of high school, my English teacher showed me I could write if I wanted to.  I wrote a few fantastic stories and poems during that class, and since that moment, I've become an addict.  And it's been a wonderful, painful addiction.

In college, I made friends with another writer and literary freak of nature who remains one of my best friends to this day, and who I dedicated the above to.  It was he who showed me "the reading road to writing."

The Road

It's simple.  We imitate what we take in.  (That was the golden line, all the rest is fluff here.)  I previously wrote about listening to "Old-Time Radio" shows that gave me the cadence to write somewhat profoundly like the 1940's "Theater of the Mind" writers did.  The "reading road" was like it.

My friend compiled samples of writing from various literary works (he had literally read everything) and organized them into the different elements of story.  I also attended his writing club where he preached his theory and we practiced it.

Each week we would read an author and imitate his style.  I particularly remember the James Joyce assignment very well: the exercise of stream of consciousness writing was perhaps our favorite of the semester.

The idea was to take in as many great writers' works as we could, identify and assimilate their writing style, and add it to our own where we saw fit.  No two writers can or do write exactly the same of course, but all of us "stand on the shoulders of great men."  No one has written in a vacuum.  Our group was just trying to enhance the process.

My friend complimented me privately on how I could naturally absorb the styles of the authors and employ them in my stories.

"It's a talent and a passion," he said, "But you have to form it."  I will continue to do so until the day I die.

My Masters 

In grade school it was George Lucas and his minions; in high school it was Shakespeare; in college it was Dickens, Flannery O'Connor, Rowling, McCullough, and Twain.  Right now (and I mean 5 minutes ago and 5 minutes from now) it's whoever the hell writes 24.

The point is: if you want to write, read.  Take in the language from the best.  As I was doing research for my first novel, the same friend told me:

"Don't write one book until you've read at least 100."

I took his advice, "and that has made all the difference."

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Evolution of a Story

While I was living in Dublin, I received a phone call from my brother, Kevin, who spoke to me about an assignment he had received in his English Composition class.

"Write a story," the teacher said, "But at the beginning is a group of men hauling an SUV out from under the ice of  Lake Winnipesaukee."

No sooner had my brother told me this than my writer's imagination began to churn into a whirlwind.  Immediately I knew there was "something rotten in the state of Denmark" regarding the circumstances of the incident, and I had a rough motive and cause of the murder; and I began to piece together the narrative, as I have ever since that day, eight years ago.

This post is about how a story evolves in the mind of the writer.

What's In A Story

Robert McKee, Syd Field, and every major author I've ever read on story theory reiterates the same general principles.  You have Act One, Act Two, Act Three: setup of the plot, finding the solution, and the ending or resolution.  You have the problem, followed by the solution.  The main character battles with the enemy, who or whatever it may be; and wins or loses.  It's simple; and no matter how far an "innovative writer" may try to run from it, it is always present.  It's the classic plot: the heart of every "once upon a time."

The Big Idea

Seldom do stories up and plant themselves into our laps.  No; they are nurtured as they develop; and even upon hatching do they need precious time to gather themselves and learn to walk and grow until they are fully mature.

A story begins with an idea.  It may be a large, involved notion; or a tiny little aspect of a thought.  It can come from an article one has read, book he is reading, from a photograph (as with Ron Howard), an instance in one's life, the persons one meets, the very small characteristic of an odd thing noticed - all of this, everything has a story to tell; and the imagination can fill in any blank.


Would you like to know how that vehicle ended up submerged over night in freezing cold water in the first place (at least as I imagined it)?  Of course you would.

It was nothing short of murder, but the strangest kind.  You see a scientist had been driving the car, not even knowing if he was in reality or strapped to his contraption he was perfecting to manipulate the human imagination.  Our protagonist (now dead from freezing to death under water and drowning - which of the two was the final cause, I have not yet decided) had taken his own father from a nursing home and strapped him in his vegetative state to his machine; because, of course, it needed a living human brain to work from to surpass all purely artificially intelligent CGI.  However, the father becomes conscious of what is going on, and, though paralyzed, finds his revenge on the son who plays with fire by tricking him into believing what is real is virtual reality.  Hence the car in the lake, if you follow me.

Those are the bare bones of the plot.  Over the course of the years, my mind has churned over so many diverse stories, this being one of them.

Springing from the idea clings many other aspects to support it and give it life, limbs, form.  It's a mutation formed by a gravity of ideas becoming compelled to bind to each other in the writer's imagination.

In the writer's mind, he siphons out all that does not work: each plot element that comes to mind, characters, locations.  He then plays out the drama: he acts it out, a thousand times in his head.  He feels it; he almost lives it.  From there the drama is born: characters naturally exude dialogue, reason, action; the climax works itself up.  The writer repeats this over, and over, and over until something of substance is formed.

The writer wakes up countless times at night with the perfect idea to add to his project; he thinks of something else while on the John, while doing dishes, running, during class, driving, during work, or throughout any random moment of the day.  The ideas flow and the writer organizes them, orders them, and cuts out the ones that are rot.

Just the other day I was running at night, thinking of this story, listening to music.  I felt that the protagonist's "breaking bad" would need other consequences when others became suspicious of what he was doing.  Therefore, I saw him lock his friend and research associate in a radiation chamber, and after a few poignant words with the thick glass between them, he flips the switch, and kills his friend.

Will that make it in the final cut?  Probably, but it may be different by then.

This is how a story evolves, at least in my mind.

And at long last there comes a time after all the manipulation of events when the writer feels the story is a breathing animal and is ready to be unleashed and put to paper.

The End

It could be days, or years when the writer finally completes his work.  This is a catharsis second to none. It is similar to giving birth.

I once write an extensive project that took me six months to research and a full year to write.  I woke up every morning in agony because "it wasn't done," "I'm behind schedule," "it will never be any good."  After I finished it, I slept like I had never slept before.

Show me a better analogy for this.  If you have ever accomplished something as such you would say the same: that at the end of it all, you, as a writer, are reasonably happy (a writer is rarely satisfied with his work).  And a beautiful baby is born.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I Am Many Men

There was no real doubt in anyone's mind this year that Daniel Day-Lewis would get Best Actor for his incredible performance in the title role in Spielberg's Lincoln.  The already two-time winner of the same prestigious award methodically puts his whole being into his roles and becomes the character he plays, convincing the audience beyond the shadow of a doubt.

So it was with humor and love that he addressed a special thanks to his wife of many years during his acceptance speech for loving "ten different men" over the years of his renowned career they were together.

This post is about a writer becoming the characters he writes.

The Count of Monte Cristo

I first noticed the dramatic effect narrative has on, well, at least my subconscious, after watching the modern Jim Caviezel version of The Count of Monte Cristo, which Caviezel was good in, but lacked the fidelity to the stark story that Dumas originally penned.

I remember after the movie looking in a window in my parents' house, seeing my reflection, looking at my mannerisms, and I heard my voice was different - it was his: I was imitating Caviezel's Count, and I caught myself doing it.  I began wondering how many times I did this after watching films; and ever since I've noticed it, creeping in: I'll walk out of The Fighter with Mark Walberg and punch the air like a champ.  And then just laugh at myself.

Syd Field

I once read, and re-read, and re-read Screenplay by the renowned Hollywood script teacher Syd Field.  There are so many gems in that little volume, you really have to read it even if you are into short stories or novels - it's a great asset to narrative writers.  I digress.

He brings up this point that I will always remember about how the screenwriter's family, spouse, what have you should expect a little strange behavior from the writer who is writing his dramatic masterwork.  He explains that the writer often becomes the characters he writes: pacing about the room, acting the part, spewing the dialogue line by line.  Dramatic writers will agree - it happens.

And funny also is the journey from point A to point B of the story: the writer gets all worked up as the plot thickens and then feels victorious when he climaxes and ends it.  (That's what she said. Lol.)

Poe the Gnome

I do marketing during the day, wait tables at night.  One of my creations for our company Facebook/social media campaign is a lawn gnome we named after Edgar Allan called "Poe."  He basically does the Travelocity thing but promotes local businesses in the process.  It's an ingenius thing and it works: we get a lot of fans from that little dude.  (Find out more about him here on our company website.)

But I also write the blog and post about his adventures as part of the promo.  And the thing is, it's been a love-hate relationship with this guy and he's really screwing with my head.  I have to take him to the place where we are going to do the photoshoot (embarassing, taking a gnome around, try it sometime) and act out the pose for the pictures, and get into his "head."

But I remembered Syd Field, and felt I was a least doing it right.  I just don't take the gnome home with me.

Onward and Upward

It's really an adventure.  I have about a dozen narratives constantly in development, flying through my mind, that take on new aspects and whose heroes find new characteristics in the real life events of my own life.  It's almost a motivator for me: I'm not them but they are in me and their victories are really mine, their failures come from my own falling into the depths of it all.  And then I, they, we get back up.

I'm no schizo or multi-personality, I'm a writer.  Every dramatic writer knows it.

We are many men.

The Music of Words

I once taught Creative Writing in college.  It was to mostly ESL students, which was a little frustrating.  (It's okay, I suck at foreign languages too.)  I was teaching "story theory" when some of them couldn't successfully write a sentence.  I digress.

Anyway, I had to sit down and write my own curriculum, so I wouldn't be up there pulling shit out of my ass for an hour every week.

I was trying to figure out how I wrote, because I just did it and it was much easier done than said.  I recalled something my mentor had said to me while I was studying Humanities.  He was reading my masterwork and said something about how "it flowed, like music; you could almost feel what kind of phrase was coming next."  He meant that in the best way possible.

Listen To The Music

Since then I've realized it myself.  The music.  It's beautiful.  It's an internal rhythm that I can feel as I strike the keyboard over and over.  It tells me when to breathe and when to write in a period.  It's just that.

Shakespeare used iambic pentameter - poetry most similar to the human tongue.  I won't give you the details but haven't you felt the characters dancing on the edge of plain speech and poetry when you read those plays?  I have.  It's a connection: music - poetry - prose.

Another class I had mentioned that same point: prose is poetry, just more hidden.  The good writer doesn't deliberate as much but he still "feels" when and what sound word goes in the next spot.  I remember being a master of alliteration and assonance before I ever knew what those things were.  It's not bullshit: I just listened to what sounded good to me and imitated it in my head.  And then I wrote like that.

I used to stay up late most every night when I was in gradeschool listening to the radio: WRVO Public Radio.  They had "Old Time Radio Shows" from 8-12 midnight every night; and I memorized the schedule.  There was usually comedy, followed by drama, followed by suspense (my favorite show was the final one called "Suspense" featuring a famous actor or actress (their voice anyway) in a radio play about something truly bone-chilling.  Some of those shows were better than any film I've ever seen.  They called it "The Theater of the Mind."  That's all they had before TV and it was as important as today's shows are now.

I remember listening to the words: they had a cadence to them.  The writing style was old but it had a knack that was lost in today's world.  An elegance.  Looking back over the years, I credit much of my internal writing cadence to the master work of these unsung hero writers who penned those great radio plays.  Those were my books, though I read quite a bit also when I was a kid.

I Play Music

I've never been amazingly good at any instrument, though I was a bit of a jazz pianist as a 4th through 5th grader.  But I drew, and later I canned both the drawing and piano for the writing, which I never regret.

I don't ask myself what word comes next.  Sometimes I'll be stuck if it's a serious story or thing for work; but only for a moment (the Word Thesaurus comes to the rescue oftentimes) and then I find the magic word and the train runs again.

"It just sounds right," I told my class, when answering the question "How do you know what words to use?"  I realized I was that teacher who, after honing his abilities over long, hard work, just said to his newbie class: "Don't worry, just do it; it's easy," which is a really douche-bag thing to say when you are supposed to be teaching.  Like a ski instructor who throws you down the double black diamond on your first run and says, "Just Do It!"  I would take my ski off and split his head open!  Okay, not really, but you know what I mean.

I'm falling asleep and haven't completed all my work yet.  Tomorrow (today now) is another double and I'll be gone before the crack of dawn and not home til the day that follows.  Such is life.  I just had to get this in.  I have to write; it just flows and I'm damned if I don't.  If I didn't it would all well up inside of me and then bust.  So I write, and it sounds beautiful (mostly), like music.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Making Of A Badass

It took me about ten minutes to get my rear off the couch and get over to my laptop to stick to my writing schedule.  So I guess you could say, I'm still working on making my own ass "bad."

Part of the reason it took so long was because I was fumbling for a good idea to write about.  This one kept coming to me.  So I have to get it out of my system.

What Makes A Badass

In the narrative you have the hero and the anti-hero.  You've got the typical (well, he's not typical) Jack Ryan type: saving the world, doing the right thing; you've got the anti-hero - Cool Hand Luke going up against the corrupt establishment and exposing it for all it's worth; and there's even the dude in-between: the Jack Bauer type (now watching Season 3 of "24," let's say I found my downtime Netflix fix) - the guy who gets the job done at any cost, even breaking every protocol in the book.

We applaud all these guys and wish we had the guts to stand side by side with them.  They are all pretty badass.  They kick butt.  We could go on and on with the cheese-ball cliches here.

But what makes them tick?  I care because 1) I'm a writer and I like writing strong protagonists; and 2) because deep down inside, I, like most people, want to be a hero of some sort, do something good for humanity, save people and all that.

I'm taking a look at a couple people I think are badass to answer the question.

A Few Good Men

These are in no real order, besides the fact that I'm saving my fav for last.

Jack Bauer

Yeah, I know I just mentioned him but he deserves it.

There was a lot of debate in ethics class about him.  At the end of the day we didn't condone torture, I remember, because it goes against human dignity, civil rights, etc.; and from a practical standpoint, as Joan of Arc once said, "Torture me and I'll just say whatever you intend me to say" - it's a guessing game.

However, one can't watch the show ("24") and not admire the heroism of the man.  A couple of badass characteristics come up in his character:


Jack may be a lot of things but he's always willing to take one for the team, even when it means laying down his own life, over and over again.  That's no light matter.


At the brink of ever-increasing odds and imminent death, Jack doesn't play possum: he always tries to stay alive and "make the other guy die for his country" (from the famous Patton speech, movie of the same name).  He's always got the mission in mind and kicks ass to complete it all the fucking way.

Family Man

Don Corleone once said, "The man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."  Jack will do anything for his family.  (The end of Season One breaks my heart, no spoiler, you just gotta' see it.)

Steve McQueen

Sadly, Steve had to die five years before I was even fuckin' born (bastard!).  A lot of kids my age have no idea who he even is, or was.  (That's when I want to smash their head on a table and Clockwork Orange-like make them watch Bullit.)

Steve was a Marine, race car driver, did all his own stunts, and well-deserved being crowned the "King of Cool."  He never came off as full of himself.  It's funny how an actor plays a part but his own personality comes through.  I fucking hate some of these modern pussy actors who would cry if they broke a nail.  I won't name names but Steve McQueen is just the opposite of the spectrum.


This one you have to give to Steve.  He defined cool.  Watch him just walk into the room in any of his movies: he's so relaxed he puts everybody else on edge.


Jesus used an expression about Nathaniel, "the good disciple" in the New Testament (that's the ex-seminarian coming out of me).  He said, "There is no gile or hypocrisy in him."  I can translate that for the modern man.  It means: "there is no bullshit in him."  I fucking hate bullshit.  If you got something to say, some point to make, even something to try and sell me - don't fuckin' bullshit me.  And I do marketing.  You can imagine what kind of crap I have to wade through on a daily basis.

Steve McQueen's characters always cut to the chase, confronted the corrupt official, and in the most matter-of-fact, you-know-I'll kick-your-ass tough tone of voice said exactly what he wanted to say.  In just a few words.  And they were exactly those words most of us would think of five minutes or five days later (there's a French expression for that, something about going down the stairs, like thinking of the perfect retort to an argument after leaving the room; I do it way too much).  He was cool like that.  Of course, that was written in, but he embodied it.  You got the feeling he was like that anyway; and being a screenwriter myself, I know, you write scripts for particular actors.  Steve was a superstar.  Those lines were his.

Tough As Shit

He was a Marine.  Once a Marine, always a Marine.  Enough said, really (but I'm continuing to write).

Charles Bronson was a WWII vet.  You don't get a soft-handed Patrick Dempsey out there and call the movie Death Wish.  Fuck.  That.  You need someone that can convince you they really could kick some rapist ass.

There isn't a more exhilarating chase scene, in my opinion, than the Mustang verses the mob in Bullit.  He did his own stunt-driving, at a fuckin' million miles an hour in San Francisco no less - flying off the dips of the notoriously steeply inclined  hills.  In today's cinematography, some Fast and Go Fuck Yourself movie producer would play off mostly CGI, plastic souped-up muscle cars, camera angles, and stunt drivers.  McQueen had none of that.  And it's still the greatest.  It always will be.

Harrison Ford

Yeah, I said I'd save my fav for last.  Named my frickin' kid after him for [I try not to take God's name in vain]'s sake.

I wrote a blog post on him in my last blog (read it here), but there's plenty more to say.

A Real Man

Okay, I kinda' stole this from myself in the other blog; but it was mine anyway.  He's a carpenter, pilot, he spent Thanksgiving serving homeless people, he's accommodating to fans "unless I'm actually taking a piss at the time," he says.  And he values being a father, adopting a child (in addition to his own) with wife, Calista Flockhart.  I mean, the guy's Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Jack Ryan (as mentioned), and John Booke (Witness, you have to see it, just for the part when he confronts the tourists; and when he dances in the barn, something he ad-libbed with Weir): he's a fuckin' manly icon.  What else do you want?

He's Got Heart

(Also stolen from last blog.  Whatev.)  He's got that dramatic flair.  My encyclopedia as a kid (children of the internet age: those are big books with information in them stored alphebetically that you now find in a museum) said he starred in "mainly movies about men going through emotionally tramatic difficulties."  (I've been a fan a long time.)

If you haven't seen Polanski's (I know, chi-mo) Frantic ("... And like Harrison Ford I'm getting fran-TIC..." [someone say "Chinese chicken"]) then you missed out on the great heart-wrenching ending.  Or everybody knows "I love you" - "I know" from Empire (Star Wars 5, for you non-nerds).  You can't not watch Regarding Henry and not almost cry (come on!).  And - fuck it - Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have been Speilberg's worst Indy and primarily made to sell toys to kids, but every fan had to see it; and I at least got choked up when he tells Marion [SPOILER ALERT]:

MARION: Were there other girls?

INDY: A few.

[Dramatic pause.]

INDY: But they all had the same problem.

MARION: (A little pissed.) What was that?

INDY: They weren't you.  (Turns and fires bazooka.)

Gosh, that shit gets me every time.  (Lol.)

Makes Shit Happen

This is perhaps the most important point that all of these guys embody in being a badass, and the most important characteristic of a true protagonist by definition.  He gets shit done and makes shit happen.  He doesn't sit on his ass and wait for it and react; he makes everybody else react.

SALLAH: Indy, they're loading the ark on a truck headed to Cairo.

INDY: (Clenching his teeth, wiping blood off his chin.)  What truck?!

You know who Chuck Norris looks under the bed for at night?  Jack Bauer, who is hiding in the most-unsuspecting corner and has already shot Chuck Norris in the ass.

The point is: the hero - 99 times out of 100 - calls the shots as much as he can.  In his mind, there aren't excuses or "reactionary methods"; they fuckin' cut the bull and take it by the horns.

Let Me Tell You This In Closing

Well, it's been fun.  Hopefully this benefits the writers out there in writing better heroes and protagonists.  I know my scripts will (benefit).  And to the hero or heroine in all good people - go out there and kick some bad guy ass!

Good night everyone.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I Hear Voices

There's that chilling moment at the end of Hitchcock's Vertigo that inspired this title.  I won't screw it up for you if you haven't seen it.  I hate spoilers.

This post is about why I write.

The First Time I Heard Them

I'm in the middle of research for a screenplay I've been meaning to write for some time.  I won't get too into detail; it's still gotta be a surprise and the plot is still bare-boned, and missing several limbs, by the way.  Only hint, which is no big spoiler: it's about saving people who need help.

When I was seventeen I joined a Catholic seminary, where I stayed for the next seven years.  Seven years of silence, work, and study and some of the best and most terrible times of my life.  I learned a lot and am bitter about much of it, but that's another story for another time.  Everyone asks me why I did it then, and why I didn't leave even when I hated it inside.

It was the last night of camp.  I was seventeen, strong, full of a future.  I was one of the head counselors and I stayed up late that night talking to a friend of mine.  We were talking about life and shit like that.  I got this feeling, when we were talking about what to do with life, that a million people - I don't know how many but a lot - like a ton of people were looking at me and counting on me to do something for them.  At the time I thought it was become a priest.  It wasn't.

It was surreal.  I remember it like it was five minutes ago.  I could see their faces.  Like they were really there.

Rescue Me

I believe in God.  I believe everything happens for a reason.  I hate talking about religion and politics, especially politics, so that's all I'm gonna say about that except I feel like I was meant to write to help people.

I got a lot of ideas for films that involve social justice issues: child labor and the sex trade are in the top three.  That stuff gets my blood boiling.  Blood Diamond wasn't the best movie ever, but it was good and it made a point (and I almost cried when Leonardo DiCaprio breaks down after telling the story about how his parents were killed and then says, "I don't think God will ever forgive us for what we've done to each otha.'" It's a chilling scene, very well-acted.).  I always wanted to write the Blood Diamond for both those issues I mentioned.

Film, and the written word, are powerful media.  Drama brings catharsis when done well and can touch hearts as nothing else can, open eyes, and set minds straight.  That's the power of a good writer, if he (or she) can pull it off.

I feel like I've got all these things inside of me - great works of art - that just have to come out and do what they were meant to do.

My Eyes Won't Stay Open

I just ran like madman through the city of Syracuse.  I had shit to do earlier, so I drove to work.  I never drive to work - I run.  I run 4 miles there and 4 miles home.  5 days a week.  I'm getting pretty fit and I like that.  My adrenaline is always ready to pump for that trip, so if I drive, I'm bouncing off the walls at work.  That's how tonight was.  So I had to run when I got home and did, like crazy, through the city from James to Armory Square and up the stairs at SU, jumping up and down like Rocky Balboa, and then home.

Feeling a little better now.

My knees hurt and my eyes won't stay open so I'll end this and fall asleep watching "24."

I wrote five plays for a high school in Dublin while I was living there.  Got to direct one, produce the others.  There is nothing more magical then seeing what you have written performed dramatically on stage.  I knew every word that was going to come out of their mouths, every motion they were supposed to make, but when I saw it happen, it was so incredibly more awesome than I had penned it, it was nothing short of magic.  That's the only way to describe that.

At the end of the year, one of the young actors in the plays came up to me.  The plays were all about living a good life, etc., to help the kids.  Anyway, this kid tells me to my face that his life was changed for the better because of me.

That was one of the best things I ever heard.

I'm gonna write these movies.  I'm gonna finish them.  And someday everybody's gonna be able to see them.  And I'm gonna help those people that needed me to help them.

In the heart of every man there is a purpose, and in every writer it becomes a strong thing; it burns.  We don't fix pipes or design buildings or fight fires (per se); we write stuff.  Most of the time it's shit too.  (Hemingway said the fist draft of anything is shit, so this is too; and I'd agree with him.)  But some of the time, we make a splash, hopefully for the better.

Many a great thing has happened - good and bad - because somebody wrote something.  I wanna write something like that, good of course.

I will.

There's these people that are counting on me.  I believe it anyway.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Truth Is Harder Than Fiction

My apartment is pretty fucking clean right now.  And it's after one in the morning.  If you read my last blog post, you will understand how hard it was just to sit down and write this thing.

The Heart of the Matter

I left my wife three months and fifteen days ago.  If you haven't been through it, you don't know how incredibly shitty that sort of thing can be.  I remember sleeping on our couch those nights before moving out for good and imagining myself writing an Academy Award winning screenplay about a man who wakes up in his shitty-ass apartment on the bare floor the day after he leaves his wife and then decides to write a screenplay about it.  I imagined it would be something of the grandeur of Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, but with the dramatic feel of Kramer Vs. Kramer.

I already had things I wanted to write-in that happened to our character, and of course, my own experiences to come were to be a living research project for the film.  Well, as it turned out, there's not a lot I'd like to share about it.  The truth is definitely stranger than fiction but it's also harder to tell.  Hollywood inadvertently demands a certain level of "gloss" over everything in order to make people buy movie tickets, in order to put something enticing in the trailer.

I watched Silver Linings Playbook a few months ago, alone, in my shitty-ass apartment.  Probably my favorite movie of last year.  Awesome.  Moving.  Etc.  But you can't help but feel that the story was so removed from the way things really happen.

Flannery O'Connor

A lot of courage goes into writing from reality.  The fiction writer cannot escape it because his fantasies, however connected to the real world, are still in reference to what he sees and knows.  But the non-fiction writer has to answer to nitty-gritty, cold stare of the truth.

When I was in college I read every word published that was written by Flannery O'Connor.  She is a unique gem in the literary world.  I highly recommend her work.  I was glued to it.  My sister turned me onto her stuff because she kept raving about it and even wrote her bachelor's thesis on her.  I remember my sister telling me that O'Connor would often base her vivid, grotesque yet normal fictional characters on people she had met or knew around where she lived.  And sometimes these people caught on, as her work became famous during her lifetime, that they were being photographed in a literary sense in a very unflattering way, and let her know about it.

There is a story of an artist who was commissioned to paint the royal entourage.  (Tell me who if you remember; I, after all my Art History classes, do not.  Father Antonio would have a fit.)  Anyway, the boy paints all of them as they are, one by one; but each one, after seeing the painting, instructs the young artist to repaint them but to make them look better than they really are.  He does, but keeps the other version.  As the story goes, the king finally sees the finished product and comments on how far from reality the painting is.  The boy chimes in:

"Well, I did keep my original painting," he says.  The king sees the realistic work of art and orders that one to be displayed in the royal court, much to the dismay of all involved.  However, the truth prevailed, and the truth was told.

Percy Bysshe Shelley once said, "Beauty is truth, and truth beauty: that is all ye need to know on earth; that is all there is to know."  My favorite films and books are all those that most ring true.  Even if it is fiction it can display profound insight into reality.  That stuff strikes a chord in my heart.  I believe it does in all of us.

A Meeting of the Minds

The best thing I ever wrote was a story about a friend of mine I knew when I was growing up and working on a farm.  It was passed around in college almost as a great work of literature.  I was very proud.  However, the very day I found it published online by one of my well-intentioned friends who wanted to get me a little popularity and share my great work, I emailed the webmaster of the site and told them to take it down immediately.  The piece was true except the end, since there had to be an end and I wrote the ending in the future to complete the plot; and my friend has kids, and he was my friend, so I couldn't do it.  I couldn't publish that.  What was true - how he had hurt someone else (not me, for the record) - wasn't anything I wanted his kids to find out from my story.  But the events, nonetheless, forever left an imprint on my soul.

I don't think I ever will write what happened in the last three and a half months.  It is far too painful and would hurt many people I care about, my children included.  My conscience is clear but still there are things that don't fit in spaces where words go.  Writers know what I'm talking about.

A writer walks the earth differently than other men.  He is an emotional connoisseur: he records his feelings as he goes, sometime wallowing in them to get to some catharsis that more often than not never comes.  It is not a masochistic habit, it is an artistic one.  The writer becomes a prophet, a historian, a teacher.  "If you do this, this will happen to you," etc.  They call it "the moral of the story."  And we deal in stories.  It is our lifeblood, and we are like vampires.

There is a beautiful moment - it doesn't happen all the time - when a writer looks at his work and hears the ringing sound of truth in it.  It is an overwhelmingly invasive noise, yet warm and soothing.  It makes him clench his teeth and feel: "I've got something really good here; I've made something really good."  It could be a work of fiction, but the truth rings out in it.  And he knows he is done.  And will sleep well that night.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Dishes

If you ever want to write something, you will have a very clean house.  The opposite can also be said: if you want a clean house, try to sit down and write something of substance.  Every writer knows this to be true.

Procrastination Is A Bitch

Procrastination is a bitch.  I've had ideas of creating a new blog since I canned my last one almost two years ago.  Every time I write a new blog post for work, I wish I could be sitting down at home, writing one for me.

It's now after midnight.  I have to be up tomorrow at the butt-crack of dawn to feed my five-month old, wipe the shit off his ass (I love him to death, don't get me wrong), shower, complete my Spartan-esque physical training regime, and eat something (also part of the regime) before bringing my son to the babysitter and arriving to work early or on time.  So begins a 14-hour work day which includes an 8-mile run and another late night.  I will not get home until this time tomorrow.

I don't fuckin' care how long it takes me to finish the first post of my blog.  I don't really care that it's written spontaneously.  There will be a grammar error and a spelling error somewhere.  Most people will not read it.  The title of my blog is okay, it could be better.

The fucking point is: if you want to do something, fucking do it!

This Is The Beginning Of  A Beautiful Friendship

I don't care how beautiful your blog looks.  Mine's just fine.  I'm starting with this.  If you take offense at my language or subject matter, go fuck yourself.

I'm a pretty direct person, when you pull off the layers.  I can be a nice guy, most of the time; but it's mostly just formality.  I'm a good person.  I'll kick your ass if you're gonna hurt somebody.  I'm good like that.

I try not to make promises I can't keep.  So I'm not making any here.  I'm just writing.  A writer writing is a happy and frustrating thing.  It's like giving birth: though I know I'll never do that, I've watched it happen.

I am a writer.  I found that out some time ago and never wanted to stop.  I was a pretty kick-ass artist as a kid, might still be, but that fire went away when I heard what my words could do.  There is music; there is power that the one who penned the "mightier than the sword" cliche was getting at.  And that's a cliche.  So fuck it.

The Dishes

The dishes are dirty.  My son is sleeping and it was either that or start writing.  99 out of the 100 times I had this opportunity since five weeks ago when my Outlook reminder first popped up and said "Create a new blog" I've chosen the dishes.  Not tonight.  Not tonight.

I was watching "24" just now.  Season 2, Episode 10, 18 minutes, 15 seconds in.  I had been glued to the TV for all of Season 1, after which I realized it was not a good idea to do it again.

I read this quote that said: "To do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity."  I think it was Einstein.  I'm not looking right now.  You can.  If I continued my usual routine, I can't ever expect ever to write anything.

Robert McKee, renowned teacher of screenwriting, author of "Story," a book I worshiped in university, often noted the good screenplay takes a good six months to write.  Straight.  Full time.  I once wrote a documentary for a Hollywood producer.  It took me one and a half years, part time, while I went to college and juggled two jobs.  That's kind of why I've been putting that off.  My treatments (summaries of films) have been sitting on my computer collecting dust.  And I wake up in the morning with a new idea for each of them.  But don't write them down.  And dream of selling them.  But they are not written yet.  They are not even near to being written.

Today, is the first day of the rest of your life.  What the fuck are you gonna do about it?

This is what I'm doing about it.


Enjoy the blog.  It try to cut the bullshit and I've been thinking of making it a writer's reflection on writing.  But I'm not making any promises.

Goodnight.  It will be some time before I am done promoting it and finally go to sleep but enjoy your beauty sleep.

Feeling a little better now.


"It is written."