Wednesday, September 7, 2016

IWSG September 2016

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets on the first Wednesday of every month (except in leap years, when it happens on the first Wednesday of every month, the distinction being completely nonexistent, so let's...just move on).

When do you find time to write in your busy schedule?

Taking on the responsibility of working as my niece's primary caregiver for the next year means I have less time to myself than I've had previously.  It used to be, I could massage time a little, if I didn't have a lot, but that's just no longer possible.  So after she goes to bed, I have to figure out what I want to write, because now it's the split between blogging and writing, and writing has suddenly taken on a greater premium than ever.

I used to be a pretty nutty blogger.  I mean, I still technically have a heaping handful of blogs active.  But "active" is not very active these days.  I've slowed down a lot over the past year, but things are changing even more now. 

I have a lot of stories I want to work on.  Two comic book contest scripts are in the pipeline, and the IWSG now has a story contest, with a rapidly-approaching deadline.  I can easily write 5,000 words, but things are different now than when I was pounding out novellas this summer.  That's three projects, all needing to be written soon.  So I don't have time for blogging, or messing around, like I used to, and that's all there is to that.

It's a great change of pace, writing in the evening when you've spent the day interacting with a goofy one-plus-year-old.  Starting tomorrow (last night I started outlining one of the scripts), I should hopefully have gotten some of the work done, and come up with the new kind of discipline I'll need to make this work for the next year.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Burrito, the Night Circus, and a cat named Boo!

I've been fairly quiet the last few weeks, across my fleet of blogs.  I mean, more quiet, because there's no denying I'm no longer posting near as much as I did in years past, for a variety of reasons.  But recently it's because I've moved again, and taken on an awesome new responsibility.

A little over a year ago, Burrito was born.  Obviously, that's not her real name.  Anyway, Burrito is my sister's daughter, the sister I've lived with and/or near for most of the past decade.  Starting last October, we renewed the tradition when she went down to Florida for some training, so someone would be available to watch Burrito, and then we all went back to Virginia.  When we left Colorado, I saw Virginia for the first time, a fleeting glimpse, really, before heading back up to Maine so I could help make my mother comfortable in the little over a year she had left from a hellacious battle with cancer.  So I got to spend ten months in Virginia, get a sense of how my sister was living while I was away, and watch Burrito grow.

Now I'm a full-time caretaker of Burrito, since my sister has shipped out overseas, and couldn't take her daughter along.  I consider this a huge privilege.  I'm one of those people who never imagined they'd have such an awesome responsibility.  I've watched two nephews grow into early boyhood in Maine, but it's different seeing (nearly) the whole process firsthand.  I've seen a lot of behavior George Lucas stole for Star Wars (Luke Skywalker's reactions in The Empire Strikes Back, for example).

Anyway, that's just a little peek behind the curtain.  I'm don't tend to get too personal in my blogging.  You may be wondering why I'm talking about this on a writers blog.  The last month, I slogged through Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, which I picked up earlier this year at an airport, fully expecting it to be a magical experience.  If I had extremely limited literary experience, it would have been.  It was anything but.  I have no idea why a major publisher would have touted this as a viable adult read.  It was about as good as a young adult book would be.  In my Goodreads review, I called it Suzanne Collins' version of Lost, which was still being generous, because Collins would've included a nonsensical third act, like in Marvel movies.

What I decided about Morgenstern is that she embodies what has become an unfortunate trend in books, and perhaps the culture in general: personality before talent.  As far as I can tell, it used to be that you had to have talent before anyone cared what kind of personality was behind it.  But now you're supposed to have the personality, which kind of ends up overriding the talent.  Talent is meaningless and unnecessary in this equation.  It's a nightmare!

I'll now mention the other family member I'll be watching for my sister: Boo.  Boo is a white furball of a cat, whom I've known since 2004.  My decade+ tagalong with my sister has included many great experiences with Boo, who single-handedly (paw-edly?) made me into a cat person.  But as anyone knows, cats aren't dogs.  They don't just, usually, let you get close to them.  I wish we treated writers like cats treat humans.  You have to get to know their work before a relationship is possible.

Before Burrito, there was a lot of things I didn't understand about babies, and I think it benefited my relationship with her.  That's what I'm talking about.  Be more like Boo, be more like Burrito.  Be less like Erin Morgenstern.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Crime Against Art

In 1941, Orson Welles released his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, to the world.  It was to be the last movie he would have full creative control of, following by a career of studio meddling and diminished opportunities.  All this because of his abrasive personality.

I think this is a crime against art.  While it can't be argued that he never again made meaningful contributions to film, Welles should have been held up as the very pinnacle of Hollywood's early legacy.  For years Citizen Kane was the standard by which critics judged American film, and regularly topped their lists of the best movies ever made.  Just imagine if the filmmaker responsible for it had been encouraged to fulfill his potential, had been allowed to make films unobstructed the rest of his life...

Welles had a considerable ego, the product of an upbringing in which he was repeatedly told of the greatness that was ahead of him.  He literally thought he could do no wrong, that naysayers only got in the way, and that anyone who wasn't with him was against him.  There's always room for contradiction, and in fact is necessary for personalities like that, to help keep them in check, but what happened to Welles was a willful destruction, just as if someone had tucked Shakespeare out of the way, and thus deprived us of his later genius (there is in fact a clear distinction to be found between his Elizabethan years and the plays written under the rule of King James) and rich legacy. 

Because he was difficult to work with?  Because he was difficult to work with.  Sure, some of it was because he struck a blow against the powerful media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (you'd have to know now that this satire exists in Citizen Kane, because no one really cares about that anymore, except as intellectual curiosity), but Welles's idiosyncratic approach to his work was used against him just as impressively. 

It's true that hindsight often gives better perspective on the events of history, but sometimes the present speaks for itself, too.  Welles garnered Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor while winning for Best Original Screenplay.  You'd think that was proof enough of his talent.  It's also true that Citizen Kane wasn't a box office draw, and studios then as now considered this a primary factor in their continuing creative decisions.

Was that good enough?  I'd like to think not.  Today, that wouldn't be the case.  Young directors making a big splash with a small production today usually are given bigger opportunities the next film, and their future opportunities are defined by those results.  Welles, he was simply buried, and his every decision second-guessed.  Again, that's the nature of filmmaking, but with Welles, this instinct was particularly vindictive.  It makes no sense, but again, ego had everything to do with it.  Other people wanted to prove he wasn't as good as he, or anyone else, thought he was, and worked hard to prove it.  Numerous completed films were taken out of his control and violently recut (The Magnificent Ambersons is the most famous example), with the excised material callously discarded.

Some of this may sound worse from a modern standpoint.  Early Doctor Who was lost to history, too, because film preservation as we know it simply didn't exist in years past.  But my basic argument, that what happened to Orson Welles can be summed up as embarrassing to the history of art, stands.

Because people didn't like him.  Really?  One the great creative visionaries of the past hundred years, stymied because people didn't like him?  It's like saying Pope Julius II would have had the right to end Michelangelo because of their complicated relationship.  Thankfully, that one ultimately resolved itself (see: The Agony and the Ecstasy). 

To be a fan of Orson Welles is to be entangled in the debate of what could have been, following restoration efforts, comparing competing cuts (I own a set of the film Mr. Arkadin in which there are several versions to be considered).  Nowadays directors release their own competing versions (Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson routinely provide extended cuts, for instance), but that's not what I'm talking about with Welles (Terry Gilliam is a more recent example of this phenomenon, and as such his Brazil has a similar fate and collection).

What I'm saying here is that, within reason, stay out of a true artist's way.  It benefits everyone.  The best of art of timeless.  History understands that.  Cultures are made on the backbones of art.  When countries fade away, only the art remains.  I wish Orson Welles could have benefited from his peers thinking that way.  Because we all would have, in turn.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Miss Simon's Dime Novel now available!

This summer I've been hitting the books pretty hard...writing novellas, anyway, and Miss Simon's Dime Novel is the last of them.  Rounding out the Americana Trilogy, Miss Simon and her lover Jim Herbert have a discussion about that most hallowed of geek debates: whether or not it was cool for George Lucas to monkey around with the notion that Han Solo shot first.  To do so, Jim proposes examining a different story, a fictionalized account of early cowboy actors Jack and Al Hoxie (they stopped making movies roughly the same time John Wayne was making a name for himself), and a rivalry that results in another shootout (which, historically, never happened).  Does Jack Hoxie, the more successful of the two, shoot first, or his half-brother Al, who in real life was honored by the state of California for his role in ending a hostage crisis?
Jack's life was a crossroads of popular entertainment, straddling the line between the traveling Wild West shows of the 19th century and the dawn of Hollywood in the 20th.  He starred in numerous rodeos and circuses before and after his years making movies.  The closest you'd come to knowing anything about him now is Three Godfathers, a 1916 film featuring Harry Carey, a fact history remembers with the second remake from 1948 featuring John Wayne and Carey's son, Harry Carey, Jr., and later echoed by the smash 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby; if Wikipedia, for instance, were properly edited, all of these connections would be so much easier to make.
Dime Novel plays fast and loose with the facts, but they're all present, from the fact that Jack's father was commonly known as Doc Hoxie, to his mother's name being Matilda Quick (seriously, the guy's parents had the best names), to his stepfather being accused of murder, to his early first marriage to a woman named Pearl and the second daughter he later had being named Pearl, too, to...It's a dime novel version of history, from a modern perspective, as close to Quentin Tarantino as I'll ever get.  This is the Western for modern times, with the myth ratcheted way up and the humanity even higher (if that makes any sense to you, then you're exactly my target audience).
Writing it was the perfect way to end the summer for me, building on everything else I'd worked on, pushing the word count a little upward (it's the longest story of the four I've written this year), and because it's a drama about two specific characters, the focus remains tighter than what I've done lately, too (actually, it's the first time I've ever done a long-form story with only two main characters, unless you count Leopold's Concentration). 
As always, available in paperback and ebook formats. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Miss Simon's Brute released

I've finally concluded, and released, Miss Simon's Brute.  I've included with this post all the labels to where I've written about the development and history of this story here, but the most important thing for me is that this is a milestone for me. This is the story I was working on two Novembers ago, with the insane wordcount challenge I'd given myself, that I abandoned the day my mother was admitted to the nursing home where she'd die five months later, which began a lengthy writers block I hadn't been able to escape until this year. 
Brute is a version of the classic fable of Beauty and the Beast, which is a favorite of my older sister's, and I initially conceived of the project as a favor to her.  I set it during the War of 1812 (which has factored into other things I've written), specifically in the aftermath of the Battle of York, which precipitated the retaliatory burning of the White House.  The story ties together the lives of an Irish immigrant, an Indian orphan, a Canadian widow, and the eponymous individual, a hulking black man whose lynching motivates the shattered lives of the immigrant, orphan, and widow to find new purpose.  During the course of the story, hidden truths are revealed, such as who the Brute really is, which deepen its emotional impact.
Like Sapo Saga and Miss Simon's Moxie before it, Brute is a novella, a shorter work meant to focus my writing and give potential readers something meaty to sample.  Writing the earlier stories made it easier to finally work on and complete Brute, besides.
Brute also serves as a tribute to the writer Jerome Charyn, who through the support of Lenore Riegel has become all the more important in my life as one of the giants of literature, despite the fact that awareness of his efforts has remained at a minimum in the fifty years he's been producing his insights into the American psyche, past and present.  He often includes characters like the Brute in his stories, although for my version I chose to move the character front-and-center, whereas Charyn usually has him in support (unless he's Abraham Lincoln).  

You can buy paperback and ebook editions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Miss Simon's Moxie is released

I've just released Miss Simon's Moxie, a political satire featuring Miss Simon and Tim Laflamme, two characters who've previously appeared in my fiction, as well as the soft drink Moxie, which is hugely beloved for reasons not entirely to be understood, and celebrated annually in my hometown of Lisbon, ME!  Paperback and ebook versions are available.

Writing this novella was part of my continuing efforts to get back into the swing of writing, and also having shorter things available for interested readers. 

No, that isn't Frank Anicetti on the cover, but it might as well be.  Frank recently retired as the proprietor the Kennebec Fruit Co., which was better known as the Moxie Store.  He's a living legend in Lisbon, and is directly responsible for the Moxie Festival that brings thousands of visitors to town every year (incidentally, this occurs on the second weekend of July, so this coincidental timing is also somewhat fortuitous). 

Even if you've never heard of Moxie, you can also construe the title to indicate Miss Simon herself, because the old gal certainly has moxie, too...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

IWSG June 2016 - Writer(s) in the family...

(We join the regularly-scheduled-meeting-of-the-Insecure-Writers-Support-Group, already in progress...)

This past weekend I had a chance to visit with Wit's family again.  For those unfamiliar with Wit, that's the alias I gave my cousin last year.  She was my writer-in-the-family that I got to talk to about this sort of thing (writing).  She also happens to be fifteen.

So it turns out her sister likes writing, too.  Her sister, whom I'll call Soul, is younger than her.  I had no idea, until this visit, that she likes writing, too.  So it kind of derailed what I had intended to talk about during the visit.

I ended up, briefly, chatting with Soul about writing.  Turns out she likes writing in notebooks.  I told her that's good.  I'm told the act of physically writing is a good creative outlet in and of itself.  It stimulates the brain to think in ways it wouldn't when, say, typing on a keyboard.  I told her, truthfully, that sometimes I begin new stories by writing some of it out in notebooks I carry with me everywhere.

And that's pretty much the extent of my writing conversations from the weekend.  Never even touched base with Wit.  The weekend ended with possible plans to meet up again for the July 4th weekend.

I'm talking to you about this, not to remind you about Wit, or to tell you about her sister Soul, but because I'm sad about chickening out.  When I talked about Wit last time, I was flush with the idea that I had a writer in the family.  At last!  Their mother, and her sister, have always been among my kindest supporters in the family, and so it was nice to know they were fostering little writers of their own.  I mean, despite what the Internet may have you believe, writing is a lonely calling.  Isn't that the whole point of the IWSG?  (Maybe it's just me, but isn't the group better for alleviating loneliness than insecurity?  Well, it should be.)

Then again, I'm not sorry, because I knew exactly what I was thinking throughout the weekend.  I didn't want to come off like I was desperately trying to connect with them.  From my own experience, conversations are best when they happen organically.  I spent nearly a decade away from Wit and Soul as it is.  They grew up considerably in the time I was away!  So really, I'm just getting to know them again.

But it's good to know they like writing.  That's something to work on, right?  And that's what writers always do.  They find something to work on.  And we're always busy, aren't we?
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