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Novel Ideas...

In my typical schizophrenic fashion, I've switched my writing efforts to my epic fantasy novel that I had let lie fallow for nigh unto 10 years now.  I had one of those OMG-where's-my-pen-and-notebook moments a couple weeks ago that took all those notes (a mighty stack of lined paper) and sketches and maps and character profiles and scenes and snippets and gave them a real foundation and purpose.  It defined the main characters and the two main, conflicting antagonists (complimentary, I assure you) and gave me hope for the first time in an not-exaggerated decade that I may get this written yet.  Some small pieces of it are actually artifacts from my very first attempts at fantasy fiction when I was around 11 or 12 years old.  

So now I'm working furiously away at it.  Well, pretty furiously.  Sometimes I'm poking at my paranormal YA novel.  And my supernatural thriller screenplay.  And my San Fran Noir screenplay.  And revising my short story for another round of submissions...

Oy vey.

So ANNNYYWAAAYYYY...

My beautiful wife is a quiet sort.  Shy and reserved if you don't know her, but wickedly witty once you do.  A little while back I was talking with her (to her? at her?) about whatever writing I was working on at the moment while she frittered away at Farmville.  I teased her about her gaming, saying, "You should use that time to write a novel, baby!"

To my utter surprise she did not tell me to make like an egg.  "Well, actually..."

Really?

She then launched into an explanation of this wonderful idea she has for a series of historical novels based on the her ancestral roots in New England.  After over 22 years of marital bliss (well, 22 years of bliss for me, about 6 or so for her!) it's a delight when your spouse springs a big ol' surprise like that.   

She has never considered herself a writer of any sort.  She doesn't usually think of herself as the "creative type."  I beg to differ.  She has a knack for communicating and sharing her thoughts and emotions with real clarity and honesty.  I believe she can do that on paper too.  I think learning a little craft would go along way to breaking down that newbie insecurity most of us have struggled with at one time or another.  It doesn't matter if nobody ever reads it, if only I do, or if the world does.  I would love to see her try, and I think she'd love to see it too.

I believe in you, baby :)

Lies and Pronouncements

I've decided that every time I make a pronouncement, such as:

- I can't write in the novel form...
- I only like to write dialogue...
- I've given up on this script and moving to the next...
- I'm going to write every day...

well, I've decided I'm really just lying in advance.  The truth is that it all depends upon the idea.  Some stories need to be told on a screen, some in 20 pages, and some in 500 pages.  They all have their own needs and I find I'm pretty powerless to dictate the way they should be told.

An idea comes of its own volition, in really strange ways.  In fact, lately they've revealed themselves more forcefully and vividly than in the past.  I don't know why.  Yesterday I arrived pretty early at the Capitola Book Cafe for Jonathan Franzen's book signing.  Having a few hours to kill, I bought a blueberry muffin (they were out of pumpkin) and a Caffe' Africano (strong and bitterly good) and, having the foresight to bring my netbook along, decided to get a little writing done.

I intended to work on my YA novel.  It's coming along nicely, and I'm doing alright avoiding the urge to start over every time I sit down to it.  but as I prepared to click the doc menu and bring it up, I saw instantly, like a panorama, a character in a terrible situation, how he got there, what he was doing there, how he and others would try to get him out, and how that would turn out.  It's only a novel.  There is no other way to do it.  I even had the title, which is something I occasionally struggle to discover.  I opened a new document and just slathered it onto the page.  It's all I can work on right now.  I'm trying to store a little bit of it in my psyche for when I'm slogging through the middle, but the images are so powerful, like sunlight in the middle of a lake.  The glare hurts my eyes and my head and yet it is so beautiful I can't look away.

I hope I can be honest enough to bring Caleb Scarborough Fenton to vivid, blinding life.

The Fountain

Sent off a short story I've been wrangling with for a good 18 months now.  After several workovers followed by a few months in the drawer, I've sent out "The Fountain" to Analog.  Hey, always start at the top, right?

I really love this story, and there may even be a novel in it somewhere, though I haven't found it.

The story centers on a fella named Harry, who is also our narrator.  Harry is a doddering 90 year old widower in the year 2057.  Much of life is as it is now, but revolutionary gene therapy has given humanity the ability to live beyond 150 years.  Not only that, they can reverse the effects of aging allowing these centenarians to live with the vivacious youthfulness of a 30 year old.

Only thing is, Harry isn't the least bit interested, much to the distress of his three 60-ish children, who themselves have the restored youth of fresh college graduates.

Hopefully in the next year or two I can refer you to the national print magazine where you can see how the story turns out.  If it dies on the vine, maybe I'll post it someday :)

For a free read email me, and I'll send you a pdf.

Crashing and Burning

Well, I crashed and burned in April for Script Frenzy.  Spent most of my writing time changing my outline and writing new notes, which I promised I wouldn't do.  Moreso, work just buried me, as I thought it might.  I have a really great, if stressful and demanding, job, so I can't complain too much.  Just real life.

So we're still working on "Underwater," but I've been distracted by my shinier, prettier little bauble titled "The Huntsman."  It's got BLOCKBUSTER written all over it. 

So it will likely suck.

Doesn't matter.  I'll finish a draft of Huntsman over the next few weeks, then go on back to Underwater while I let HM ferment.  Then UW can ferment while I go back for a rewrite.  If I play my cards right, you'll be treated to two major blockbusters by yours truly by the end of 2013 :)

Or I'll just still be complaining about finding time to write. 

Script Frenzy

Budding novelists have Nanowrimo every November, right?  Now budding screenwriters have Script Frenzy.

I've never done well with Nanowrimo.  The novel form just doesn't suit me.  I switched from novels to screenplays when I noticed that my exposition and description sounded like one-liners from scripts.

INT: THE PINK HAUNTED CASTLE OF HEFFLEBINK - DAY

Jarinko Bubbakins swats aside thick cobwebs and slinks down a winding stairwell.

That's all the exposition I can muster.  I don't want to spend three paragraphs describing all that crap.  I want to get to the dialogue, describe the actions in as few words as possible, and drive it to the next scene, onward to the end.

Not to mention 100 pages sounds far less daunting than 300.

My plan is to write 4 pages a day, getting me to the magic 120 at the end of the month.  A script page usually represents one minute of screen time, so a script between 95 and 115 pages is ideal.  120 gives me a little cushion.

I've decided to write a script with the working title of "Underwater."  That will not be its finished title, but the title hasn't come to me.

What has is the concept.  It's actually the result of a recurring dream/nightmare I was unable to shake the last few weeks.  It hasn't been overly scary like some nightmares I've had.  It's simply that it wouldn't go away.  The last time I had it a few days ago it was so vivid and strong I decided it was a movie my subconscious was insisting I write.

Here's the logline:  A Navy Seal training center is plagued by a water spirit that is killing the soldiers one by one.

Don't ask my why I'm dreaming of something like that.  Haven't been reading/watching anything about: The Navy, seals, Navy Seals, water, water spirits, bad spirits, blood... oh, wait, I've been reading David Simon's "Homicide," so there's the blood and murder.  Otherwise, I don't know where it came from.

I don't really care either.  My other projects are almost all oddball, indie type material, which I like quite a bit.  This one seems a little more like a high concept story to me, so I'm going to give it a go.  When the first draft is complete, if I'm successful that is, I'll be happy to send it to any readers interested, the only price being honest, brutal, unadorned, unrestrained feedback, especially the negative kind.

Should be fun.  If anyone else gives it a go, let me know.  We'll link blogs and keep track of each other.

Time to outline...

Meeting Bill

I met Bill for the first time today.  I found him to be one of the sweetest men I've ever met.  He seemed hesitant to talk at first, perhaps a little shy, but my friend who introduced us broke the ice and Bill just bumped from story to story.

He's 73.  He has five children but no grandchildren yet, though some may not be far off.  His story is relatively unique among stories of people living through and affected by World War II.  He is Japanese.  His parents were born in Hawai'i and he was born in Watsonville, California.  When he was 4 they took him to Japan to visit his grandfather and extended family.  They were still there on December 7, 1941, and they were stuck.  The next 13 years were filled with trial and tragedy, and he faced discrimination both there and on his return to the US in 1958.

I believe his story will not only resonate with people, but will reveal an unknown and a little surprising side of World War II.  It's one of those stories that to me will never matter if it's ever made or published, as long as his memories are recorded.

What I think interested him most is that I explained to him that all of our interviews and conversations will be preserved digitally, and that he'll have copies on disc of all of those memories that he can duplicate and pass on to his children so that his story is never lost.

He is going to ruminate on it for a few days, but my friend, who has known Bill for over twenty years, is certain he'll want to go through with it, if for no other reason than to get those memories down where his children can hear them and know them long after he's gone.

Some People's Lives

All of my script ideas are out of whole cloth.  Not because there aren't projects out there I'd love to adapt, but because I haven't the money to option the interesting things I find.

I've often been fascinated by personal stories that are unique and compelling.  In all honesty, I'm often a little envious at the writers who come across these incredible life stories quite by accident and get to write them to life, sharing them all over the world.  Often I've wondered how they could get so lucky.

Well, now I know.

I've just had one of the most interesting life-stories I've ever heard fall right into my lap.  A gentleman of 73 who has a very unique story, and who keeps thinking he needs to get it down on paper before his time comes.  I'll get to meet him next week so we can arrange a few interview sessions.

I think I'll leave it at that now, but I can already see so much of this on-screen - I hope I can do it justice.

Lines

I love a good line.  One with punch and a little twist.  I love to trade movie quotes with friends.  I adore Tarantino, even more as a writer than a filmmaker.

In a well-written script, a punchy line will show you the inner workings of a character, the way they think, they way they feel, what drives them.  I went to the movies last night (second time in four days, I NEVER get to go that often!) to see The Book of Eli, which I quite enjoyed, and which had it's own share of sharp writing.

But it was during the previews that I heard a line I just loved.  In the preview for the new Mel Gibson flick "Edge of Darkness," Mel is beating somebody up (go Mel!) and he says,

"You better decide whether you're hanging on the cross, or banging in the nails..."

Oooh, I love it!  Not only are we watching the moving pictures, but the line is painting us a picture to boot.

You can have a good movie with crappy dialogue.  Look at Star Wars.  George Lucas is a genius.  He can't write dialogue to save his life.  Well, okay, "May the Force be with you."  Everyone gets one right.  Other than that, it's as Harrison Ford once told George, "You can write this stuff, but you can't say it."  Frankly, that's why Empire Strikes Back is, in my opinion, so superior to the other five movies.  George didn't touch the screenplay.

As is my wont, I'll share a few more of my favorites, just for kicks.

"I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?" - Pulp Fiction

"Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax." - The Big Lebowski

"Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough." - Chinatown

"Kiss me, the liar's kiss that says I love you, and means something else." - Kiss Me Deadly

"We are all angels.  It's what we do with our wings that separates us." - Northfork

Here's hoping we have a few gems of our own stored away still.

I Was Writing Avatar

I finally saw Avatar today, possibly the last person in the world to do so.  To say I was wowed and amazed would, of course, be an understatement of massive proportions.  But along with the surreality of seeing such an amazing world realized on screen, I had a particularly unique experience.

I was writing this story.



Before I go into this, a couple disclaimers.

1 - I never pitched this story to anyone.  Never completed the book.  There is no way that James Cameron, who wouldn't know me from his garbage collector, could possibly have ever gotten any part of the idea from me.

2 - That said, I'm not expecting to receive any portion of that $1.8 billion dollars.

3 - This is simply informational, and to me, a story about the power of imagination and the commonality of human experience.  I make no claim that I could have turned the story into anything nearly as amazing and satisfying as Avatar was to watch.

4 - There will be either spoilers or strong suggestions of spoilers for Avatar.  If I am wrong, and *you* are actually the last person in the world to see Avatar, be aware of this fact and don't grouse if I give it all away, which I fairly much will.

The way I write and conceive of stories is to simply start writing and brainstorming.I have boxes of scraps and notebooks in my house, and keep notebooks strewn all over the place.  As an idea starts coming together, I'll grab a notebook and write it down.  If it's just a logline, I have a special notebook just for that purpose.  However, I often find that an idea takes flight and I can barely keep up with the notewriting.  So I'll put together a file and start stashing notes as more ideas come to me in close proximity to many different notebooks.

About fifteen, maybe seventeen years ago, I had this idea: What if I told the story of the Columbus-like discovery of a new land in a magic-laden, archetypal fantasy world?

Still with me?  Okay, here's the quick synopsis:

A fleet of large ships arrives in the new land, years after the initial discovery ended in mystery.  They begin immediately to establish a settlement, felling trees for buildings and fortifications.  They are attacked by bow weilding natives who shoot several then melt back into the forest.

After several of these attacks they send their head wizard and a detachment of soldiers into the forest to try to make contact with these natives and either convince them to stop, or scout them so they can be driven back and stopped by force.

So, there's just a hint of a similar theme, but there are many, many stories with similar themes, so that wouldn't be unusual, but let's go on.

My protag, this wizard, and his squad, are ambushed.  The squad are dispatched, but the wizard is taken back to the tribe as a prisoner.

Okay, we're still on standard trope territory, right?

Here's where it got wonky for me, though.  The woman leading the troop who takes him back to the tribe is the chieftan's daughter.  She takes him back to their village, which is a gargantuan tree, shaped over generations to form a vertical city.  Being unable to communicate with our protag, the daughter is tasked with teaching him the ways of the tribe.  He goes along with it, hoping both to carry out his mission and possibly escape.

In the course of learning their language and their ways of living, he learns that many of their people are individually bound to the trees (rather than animals) and that when those trees they choose (and choose them) are destroyed, the native dies too.  My protag realizes that when they were building their fortifications, they were also inadvertantly killing the natives.  The treebound natives are the foundation of their civilization, and the forest is their life.  The colony represents a world-changing threat.

Being a wizard and connected to the force of magic inherent in all of life, he decides he must help the natives and must try to stop his people from continuing their building and settling.  He goes back and tries to talk them out of it, but they accuse him of betrayal and he only just escapes back to the tribe.

As we learn on his return, the tribe have a prophecy that an outsider will protect their people in a time of great conflict.  In order to prove that he is the one, he has to go to... yep, their most sacred location in the forest, which is a sort of garden of eden.  When he is accepted in, he proves who he is, he communes with their deity, and he is also transformed into an uber-treebound, as he is bound with the entire forest, rather than an individual tree (I was reminded of this as Jake becomes a rider of the large dragon like creature to prove his worthiness to the Na'vi.)

He begins leading the tribes in attacking the colony, trying to drive them away.  Finally the military leader is tired of the attacks and the faltering morale of the colony and organizes a massive attack, having the remaining wizards work up a very diabolical series of magicks designed to assault the forest and the groups of natives as they prepare to move in on the natives.  The protagnist leads the tribes in an assault, and as it begins to go badly, he uses all the power at his disposal to call the very forest to life and overrun the colonists.  They defeat the military assault and send the remaining colonists sailing off dejected back to their homeland.

That's it.  There have been many stories of heroes going native, so the concept itself is nothing new, but just the similarities in the way the story worked out stunned me.  I laughed as I shared this with my wife and wondered if James Cameron would send me a million or two.  No such luck!  Fortunately, I have many other stories to tell, to which I sorely need to return.

I Hate Chapter One

I hate chapter one. I hate it because finding the real beginning is sometimes difficult for me.

Inside my mind, the story begins long before the action. Characters are born. They grow. They experience events that shape their souls, events that deflect them onto paths that eventually converge with the story I have to tell. Where to pick up the thread?

Any halfway decent writing book will tell you what most of us writerly types (published and aspiring) already know; you start the story right before the inciting event, that event which brings the protagonist into the key crisis which he or she must either solve or die.

Truthfully, I know *about* when to start it - within days, maybe hours, but I struggle with that balance of giving my readers (wife and mom so far) enough about Jane Heroine for them to understand why the inciting event means something, but not so much I bore them before they can get to the event.

Now I can reread the previous four paragraphs and realize I'm stalling, and this is what first drafts are for, doggone it. Okay, time to write.

Until next time...

AT