30 May 2006

annoying mid-life discoveries

It's odd to find yourself on the far side of 40 years old and still discover major facts about yourself.

I like asparagus, for example.

Growing up, I think my mom cooked asparagus maybe two times, ever. The first time was awful, and the other time was worse. All I can remember was an all-consuming sense of "this is some nasty stuff," and fighting every bite all the way down my throat, as if at some point the governor might call and issue a pardon for that mouthful of mushy gray-green unpleasance to which I was suffering in mid-sentence.

Turns out that it wasn't the vegetable at fault at all, but rather the cook. As I grow older, I realize with some amusement that my mom was probably just not that great of a chef, at least, not with vegetables. Mom didn't cook veggies — she interrogated them, subjecting them to heat, pressure, and open containers of Morton's salt until the poor little things confessed to both crimes against The Pope and the abduction of the Lindbergh baby.

Yellow squash, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus... all got a bum wrap in my childhood memory due to the way mom would cook them into flavorless semi-soft paste. The Apollo astronauts likely had more texture in their diet as they sucked supper from a series of toothpaste tubes.

Another discovery I've made in surprisingly recent days is that I am a morning writer, and that I cannot write when other people are moving around near me. When I mention this to people they always chuckle. " And all those years where you claimed to be a late night person...!

The thing is, I am a late night person, but I am a morning writer.
If you want someone to carouse and skate around childishly amusing activities of debatable legality and safety, then I'm your huckleberry. But if you want me to do any useful creative writing, you better get to me by noon, and you'd better have a pot of coffee ready, and some quiet disturbance free room in which I can bang the keyboard.

I'm struck by that right now as it's mid-morning and I feel like I ought to be writing, yet due to the fact that The Wife and three of the four kids are in the den, whining and crying and arguing and folding laundry and bugging me with things like "can you look at the Doppler radar online to see if there are storms nearby?"

Hemingway didn't have to deal with this shit. Or, perhaps, maybe he did, and maybe it explains his grisly demise. Regardless, I know that I can't do decent work in such a setting, and it drives me half batty to confront, as I have shit badly in need of getting done:

• a script which I now admit disgustingly will *not* be ready for June 1 contest deadlines as hoped

• another script which could stand one more brush-up before I start seriously flogging it to possibly useful partners

• another script which has made it to 8 or 9 prodcos but (apparently) never for useful effect

That's the stuff I've been working on. Beyond that I have:

• at least three other projects in half-started state, waiting for enough attention to give them a fighting chance at actually becoming "working projects"

• another bizarre and disgustingly commercial idea that is so mercenary and ridiculous that it surely will find interested readers the moment I announce the title, premise, and tagline

• offers from at least three other talented folks to talk about co-writing projects

And now I find (as summer starts, natch) that I am basically incapable of creating stories unless it's quiet, the house is calm, it's before noon, and I have coffee and room to walk around in odd circles. This was a huge discovery for me to look up and notice in recent months, as I'd always assumed I could force myself to write was my schedule allows, when in fact that I have to wrestle my schedule like a flaming alligator in order to get the time I need to do productive work.

Who knew?

Next I'll find out that I'm actually left-handed and had somehow never noticed.
last man to know B

18 May 2006

tick tock (and a fistful of Godfather refs)

The clock on the wall goes round and round...
round and round...
round and round...
The clock on the wall goes round and round...
...all through the day.

It's the morning of Thursday 18 May hereabouts. What time is it where you now sit?

I ponder that question as I sit and try to figure out if I truly have any chance of completing this silly damned western-slash-critters movie in time for some June 1 contest deadlines. if it were a question as simple as "can you get 45 pages done in [x] number of days?" that would be one thing, but right now I can’t even tell for sure how many days I have. I mean, I know when the deadlines are, but given the crazy schedule here at the end of the kids's school year, I'm not sure how many of those days I'll actually see.

Little league games. Tournament play. Birthday parties. Sleepovers. Cub Scout trips. Boy Scout projects. Swim lessons. Blah blah blah... yeah, this is the life I have chosen (and suddenly I hear Hyman Roth lecturing Michael about Moe Green...), but that doesn't mean that sometimes it doesn’t get a bit exasperating to look up and take hard inventory of exactly what this life delivers and what it prohibits.

If I had the luxury of writing 6 hours a day, every day, no matter what, my "career" would surely develop faster. But would that really be worth all that it would require that I give up to get there? Some would say yes, some would say no, and some would surely sit and give you the "confused dog face" of a half cocked head and a quizzical uncomprehending look.

Just when I think I'm done with the "distractions" (and let's be honest: these are not distractions so much as they are other obligations upon which I have consciously chosen to place emphasis), more come along. Or, again reffing Michael Corleone, "just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in." The real joke, of course, is thinking that you're ever going to change your own stripes to the point where things will change — can change. In my experience, people by and large don't change much once they get past age 10 or so. After that, the clay is set, the die cast, the grooves too deeply carved, and the best you can do is effectively plan and accommodate the patterns and behaviors you have adopted.

I'm looking at 57 pages in the can for a project which likely will require 95 or so pages to complete. After I get the 95 pages down, I of course have to go back and quickly tighten and improve those pages, and then I ought to have at least one more pass to make sure that things like names and verbs and, you know, words make sense. Then slap down cash, hurl the pages at the contest window, and pray that some faceless Ramen-slurping coffee-slinger with a useless BA didn’t have a bad fight with a girlfriend that day and opt to take out the frustration on my little baby as he skimmed through it as a first round reader.

In other words, I might bust ass to get across the finish line only to find that the effort was totally unimpressive to the one person assigned to score that effort, in which case we just hitch up the lederhosen and start all over again. The one thing that keeps it all from driving me absolutely bat-shit fucking crazy is the third and final Michael ref of the day:

"We'll get there, Pop. We'll get there."

'Course, it might turn out that I was born the wrong brother, and at heart I'm nuthin' but a Fredo.

In which case, worrying is just a waste of time anyway.

Which brings some small portion of comfort.

cannoli-keepin' B

08 May 2006

two kinds of wannabees

If you spend any time at all banging your head against the gates of Hollywood in this crazy fever-dream pursuit of screenwriting success, sooner or later you'll discover that there are two very different general classes of writers out there claiming to be pursuing that same goal.

On the one hand you have those folks who commit themselves to learning the craft and developing their skills and networking effectively to discover any possible inroad into the industry. These are the people who do things like work on draft after draft of the same script designed to have commercial appeal and fit established identifiable marketable trends and demonstrate a serious intelligent understanding of the business of the business. These are the people who go to industry gatherings and actually push themselves into the crowd to meet people and make connections. These are the people who work with something like a plan for advancing their career, and who don't waste much precious time at all fretting over every strike call but instead focusing on improving their swing so that the NEXT pitch is the one they hammer for a hit.

These are the folks who find agents, get scripts read, optioned, purchased, produced, and who generaly become actual working writers.

On the other hand you have those folks who commit themselves to portraying themselves as struggling writers prevented from achieving success due to events and personalities beyond their control. These are the people who do things like work for years on one never-quite finished draft of some huge magnum opus of limited or non-existent appeal, a project with no clearly identifiable market appeal and thus no clear justification for ever being considered, much less made. These are the people who opt for ceaseless online flirting and cavorting with fellow aspiring screenwriters and never really do anything to make their presence known to anyone who might advance their career. They very often sit and home and chat all night long with cyber-buddies, and the collaborate by the half-dozen on group scripts which completely camouflage whatever solid input and contributions one talented writer might be able to make to the group, and they swap reads with each other but never actually send a script out to anyone connected with professional moviemaking. These are the folks who often have thundering grand pronouncements to offer about all that is wrong with Hollywood, and usually they have some great insight which would guarantee better movies for all if only the morons in Hollywood would listen.

This group tends to generate a high percentage of the long-term members of online screenwriting groups.

The first group works on becoming better writers, while the latter group writes about how nobody wants to look at their work.

The first group treats the industry as a serious place of business and sets themselves on a course to make themselves sufficiently attractive as an asset that the industry has clear cause to offer them some sort of tryout. The second group treats the industry as a flawed mess somehow unworthy or unwilling to see the genius of of their own personal brilliance and humanity.

The first group works to find a chance in the business. The second group writes about needing a change in the business.

In a sense, this is a variation on the old "when life gives you lemons" scenario: the first group makes lemonade, while the second group shares wondrous recipes they'd use if only they'd been handed canteloupe or mutton or bulgur instead.

Now, it is entirely possible to engage in one or more behaviors from either or both groups. "Not chatting online" for example does not prove that you are a serious screenwriter with potential professional value and relevance (any more than the occasional session of chatting online indelibly marks you as a lost cause). My point is merely this: there are those who are serious about becoming a serious professional writer, and then there are those who like the sound of claiming to be serious about becoming a professional writer.

Neither class of people is somehow more or less worthwhile, but it's important to understand what you are doing (and/or what you are not) in regards to advancing either goal. It's easy to get distracted, and easier still to find yourself surrounded by folks with different priorities and intensities.

Look in the mirrror and be honest. Know your goal, then chase it down. But be careful that you're not wasting time by chasing down the wrong (other) path or running with a pack pursuing different quarry than what you seek, 'cuz either wrong path seems fraught with heartache and disappointment.

Here endeth the lesson.

06 May 2006

good fun with bad people

I have an odd rep among folks sentenced to deal with me on a regular basis in the real world: I'm not seen as a "bad" guy, per se, but there seems to be some never-quite-articulated understanding that I'm not eligible for membership on the "good" guy rolls, either. One friend (shaddup—I have friends... so far as you know) described me as "the most likable asshole" he'd ever met.

So I got that going for me.

The thing is, I'm always having to explain to people that I am not especially impressed by people who seem to be nice just for the sake of being nice, as sometimes there's damned good reason to not be nice, and if you're one of those ass-puckered types who drives around with a "MEAN PEOPLE SUCK" sticker on the back window of the medium-beige family OldsmoBuick and feels half-compelled to cover the ears and go LA LA LA LA! every time someone starts the old "There once was a man from Nantucket" line, then chances are you and I just aren't going to have a love connection, cha-cha.

No, I tend to prefer people with a little bit more... zing. A little more snarl and bite, and given that I'm sure we're all pretty damned sick and tired of the italics, I'll just cut to the chase and say it point blank:

I like smart aleck assholes with a touch of a mean streak.

So when I stumbled across these two blog sites, I was a happy little asshole.

Evil Editor

Miss Snark

Both of these fine snarling folks work in the lit biz as agents, and for those who don't understand (or have never had reason to care in the first place), theirs is a world where the sadly desperate come knocking all day long, hoping to find a publisher. And when the desperate squat huddled over a word processor for years, banging away on some mediocre (or much worse) pile of words they truly believe will be The Next Big Thing down at Barnes & Noble, agents often become the first outside eyes (in other words, "not the writer's mom/wife/best friend") to gaze upon the verbal shitstorm.

There's a reason agents and publishing types seem so cynical: they gaze into the maw of Hell itself on a daily basis. They get to read the heartbreakingly inept cries for attention and pleas for approval submitted by folks whose desire is real yet whose ability to pursue those desires seems tragically limited.

Or nonexistent.

Both Evil Editor and Miss Snark post queries and pitches and letters and respond with what some folks will see as hateful sarcastic abuse. I happen to find their comments and criticisms both hilarious and educational. I also find these comments a little bit tragic, since the people who most badly need to see and hear the hard brutal truth are often the least enabled to recognize it for such, preferring instead to ignore such capital-T Truth as just mean-spirited childish sniping, or arrogant insulting abuse abuse.

Life is hard, my pretties, and if you have serious hopes of sailing the wide wondrous seas of cheese out there, sooner or later you will have to let go of Mommy's hand and wander out to Where The Wild Things Are. And when you do, you will find that there are mean folks who care enough to try and help, and then there are mean people who care just enough to point and laugh.

A wise man once screamed "it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll." If you are serious about having your creative output seen and judged by those who might help your career, there will come a time when you reveal yourself as having either sufficiently thick skin or an overly thick skull.

Swing by Evil Editor and Miss Snark to watch some of this sorting happen in real time.