Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writing Seuss (insofar as I can)

A few weeks back I finally wrote the script for a Dr. Seuss bio comic.  This is significant because "finally" can be extrapolated to mean "after about a year."

This was the third of three comic book biography scripts I've written for Bluewater Productions.  Early last year I wrote ones for Neil Gaiman and Mikhail Prokhorov, the latter of which was released last fall.  A few months after sending in those scripts I was asked if I wanted to do one for Seuss as well, and I quickly agreed.

That was the only quick thing about it.  For whatever reason (and I could certainly come up with a lot of excuses), I just didn't get into writing that one the way I'd done the Gaiman and Prokhorov scripts.  Those I was able to do the way I'd done the speculative work from the days when I was a regular on the Digital Webbing message board.  I could write a full (22 page) script in a day or two, without much development time at all.  That's exactly how I did the Gaiman and Prokhorov scripts, research and all.

Yet with Seuss I'd set myself up conceptually.  I didn't just want to write about Seuss, but rather do it in rhyme.  Chances are very good that you've read Seuss yourself.  You know how distinctive his work is.  I didn't want to mimic Seuss so much as evoke him.  There was a great FoxTrot homage to How the Grinch Stole Christmas that I'd read probably within a year of accepting the assignment, and I had also been reading Seuss again during infrequent visits back home in Maine where my nephew lives (he's since become a Big Brother).

This Seuss deal wasn't just an assignment.  I doubt any American who doesn't follow Nets basketball cares much for Mikhail Prokhorov (no offense!), and until his name was brought to my attention I'd never even heard of him.  Gaiman, of course, is a personal favorite, and that's absolutely why I was eager to write that one.  Seuss was different.  Gaiman is talented, but I'm not sure he's larger than life.  The only writers I would compare in terms of personal stature would be Stephen King and Dave Barry.  The key difference with Seuss is that he had a long life and has in fact ceased to be.  There are a lot of things that I got to learn and enjoy about him that I got to translate into the script.

For instance, I inadvertently duplicated one of his own creative experiences in the amount of time it took me to write the biography.  Seuss took a year to write The Cat in the Hat, his version of a more interesting classic primer being perhaps more of a challenge than he originally anticipated.  At this point in his career he'd already written numerous books and all of that followed earlier occupations such as advertising and the military.  The Cat breakthrough was followed in quick succession by The Grinch, arguably his two greatest and most enduring accomplishments.

I don't mean to compare myself to Seuss by any means, but I think I can understand what took him so long and why the way it played out was exactly the way it should have.  That's something anyone can appreciate, whether you work creatively or not.  I ended up pretty satisfied with the script.  What would it have looked like if I'd written it a year earlier?  I'm someone who believes there are specific moments where a specific work finds itself in a specific shape.  I was in a very different place a year ago.  I wouldn't say that my abilities are vastly different today than they were then, but the fact that I kept getting blocked tells me that it wasn't the right moment.  And I don't believe you can force your best writing.  (Although of course years of schooling certainly tried to convince me otherwise.)

Anyway, that was my big recent creative development, and I figured I should write about it here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Song Remains the Same reminder, more on Ark obsession

I thought I'd pop in and give a little update and further thoughts on that last subject I talked about...

Mouldwarp Press Presents #2 "Song Remains the Same" is still open for submissions.  I originally posted the guidelines in January (find them here), but considering that the deadline is in fact in December, there's no giant rush.  If you've been considering, or even writing, a story for entry, thank you very much.  If this is the first you hear of it, then you still have half the year to work on it. 

Now, last time I was here I was explaining my breakthrough on a manuscript I wrote in the fall of 2009, originally entitled Finnegan but since rechristened Modern Ark.  This was the first book (and if I'm being honest, the only one) that I made a concerted effort to sell to agents and/or publishers.  Obviously I had no luck.  And part of the reason why, I've come to accept, is that conceptually it can easily be described as a hot mess.  I like to believe in a good way.  I like literary fiction the best, the truly expansive (I like it in movies and TV shows, too) material that subverts most expectations but at its heart speaks very directly to the human condition.

To me, there're very few stories that speak as directly to the human condition as Noah's Ark from the Bible.  There's also Adam & Eve (and Cain & Abel), but I wrote a manuscript about them, too (Minor Contracts), the year after completing Modern Ark, in part because there were always the troubling biblical episodes in that one, one of several elements that made it so hard for me to summarize in any kind of concise way what it was.  Noah does in fact appear in Ark this way. 

As a reader, I've been fortunate to read a number of fascinating fictional takes on Noah, and I talked about that before, but here I'll talk about Noah a little more directly.

And before I go much further, it's recently been made aware to me that hardcore 19th century racists in fact used the story of Noah to justify their beliefs.  This is plainly idiotic, using the wording of how one of his sons was punished for bad behavior to try and explain why certain races in general must in fact be inferior.  If you know much more about that, I beg you to forget it.  If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, don't worry about it.  Suffice to say, my interest in Noah has nothing to do with that.

But Noah as a whole fascinates me.  As I related in the last post, you don't have to be particularly religious to care about his story.  There's a whole tradition that supports the basic narrative, and the idea of the flood is one that encapsulates a lot more than whether you believe in one god, many gods, or no gods at all.  The basic idea behind Noah's version is that the Hebrew god looked upon humanity and saw that it was very bad, and so he decided to press the Big Wet Reset Button.  But he spared Noah and his family (plus a lot of animals, all in their biologically considerate pairs).

If you want to think about that, there's plenty to think about.  Noah was supposed to be very old at this point in his life.  He had a wife and three sons, and those sons each had wives, too.  As with the Genesis account of all mankind being the offspring of two people, this is still a pretty small sampling to start from (but then, think of it as the old riddle of the chicken and the egg if you want), in a lot of ways an unlikely one.  Again, don't worry too much about that.

Noah is told that all mankind is going to be erased.  What does he do?  He builds the ark.  The dramatic elements that are commonly added to this part of the story are all Noah's neighbors who think he's crazy (see: Evan Almighty).  In fact, while it's common to consider the Superman origin story of his father Jor-El's efforts to warn his fellow Kryptonians that they will soon lose their planet is very much ...wait, if I explain it like that you already know where I'm going with it.  Suffice it to say, but observers normally consider Superman to be a modern version of Moses.  He's much more like Noah.

In fact, if you don't so much believe the biblical account, there's still the fact that the flood definitely happened.  Perhaps you can consider Noah to be the Superman who repopulated Jewish tradition.  (Superman was created by a couple of Jewish teenagers.  Read the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay analogy from Michael Chabon, or perhaps even Brad Melzter's fascinating Book of Lies.) 

Either way, the books I've read based on Noah all agree that it was tough going surviving on that ark.  It was a true test of the human will, and spirit.  Noah isn't really just about getting on a boat of preserving the future of life on Earth thanks to and in spite of extreme divine intervention. 

If I tried to do anything like that in Modern Ark, again I wasn't originally conscious of that fact.  But that's exactly what I did.  All of this is also a way of saying that I've been experiencing a lot of breakthroughs in my life, realizations of what's really been going on and where it's been leading, and it hasn't always pointed in the directions I originally thought.  Maybe I'll talk more about that here at some point.

Anyway, thanks for reading.
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