Something greater than yourself

You’re in service of something stronger than you. Like the story has to be stronger than you. And your certainty has to be stronger than anybody else’s because the story speaks to you. Not because it’s you. (It’s) because you say “Look this is what it needs, not me.” And you actually feel carried on. You go through the difficulties but you feel carried on in terms of faith and certainty — Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist Guillermo del Toro speaking at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

As a writer, you are in service of something bigger than just simply your existence. You are a storyteller whether the tales you tell are true-life or fictionalized.

It has taken me a lifetime to definitively conclude that I am a storyteller. Whether through images or words or a combination of both, I am a storyteller. That is something I am most proud of and is the most comfortable skin I’ve ever worn.

There will always be people who expect me to wear a different skin because of the way I look and the stereotypes/biases that come with it. I have to humour them. Or least humour them long enough to figure out what it is they really want from me and make the conscious and pointed decision to disappoint them.

My current writing project has pushed me onto another level of storytelling. It’s something I’ve always planned to do… push myself with each writing project. The field research is a part of this process. This story is so different from the first book. And I anticipate getting interesting reactions about it once it’s done.

I’m a ‘like it’, ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ kind of person. You can’t get more basic that that. I’m not crazy about over-analyzing things. Navel-gazing isn’t all that much fun in my opinion. I’ll leave that to the folks who like doing that kind of thing. Reminds me of dealing with a backseat driver. I’d rather kick them out of the car and let them fend for themselves rather than listen to them tell me what my thought process is. Adiós, amigos.

Those who really know me, respect me, love me and are weirdly entertained by me. And not necessarily in that order. Being weirdly entertaining wins out most of the time.

Four days into my field research, I have met people, with interesting stories, who are genuinely interested in me and the silly things I get myself into. If I sound surprised, it’s because I am. The idea of me actually being interesting to another human being is a bit baffling at times.

As a result, I’ll be walking away, at the conclusion of my field research, with a few more friends to populate my life.

The field research has been going great. A lot of information to process and absorb. I’ve been taking notes. Not everything I’ve been exposed to will end up in my current writing project. But there is always the chance some of that information will appear in future stories. I don’t know if I’ll absorb enough stuff to have a truly nerdy did-you-know moment á la Cliff Clavin from Cheers.

Anyway, there is more stuff to do this week. I brought books with me to read and I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. Ack. I really should set aside some time to unwind and read. There might be time near the end of the trip. But maybe I should start now. Hmmm.

For now, there is more stuff to process, to absorb and to be greater than the sum of its parts.

A revelatory moment

Movies are made on models, particularly in the last few decades. You read a script and it’s like three acts. Something has to happen to the character that has to go to the end of the first act so that the second act is going to evolve the things until you end the second act with a big problem then at the end, things are going to be solved or it’s going to be sad or whatever. And then you have casual dialogue in the first act, then it becomes open dialogue between characters and ends up in being big monologues. This is, for me, a travesty and I hate it. But that is how 99 per cent of the fare that is given to us in cinemas worksLuca Guadagnino speaking at the 2017 TIFF Talks in Toronto to promote his latest film, Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino is officially one of my favourite directors — along with Barry Jenkins, Wong Kar-wai and Guillermo del Toro. Actually, he is at the top of my list.

Admittedly, my paltry list of favourite film directors isn’t as meaty as my list of favourite film composers. I just might be pickier when it comes to directors. But then, I also haven’t made the time to see a lot of movies either. I understand John Cassavates is a director whose work is a must-see for those wanting to get their toes wet in the world of film and filmmakers. I probably should start with a small list of directors I need to watch.

There are a number of things that go into making my favourites list. I’m hardly a film geek by any stretch of the imagination. But I know what I like and it’s usually the intangibles that grab my attention and determine who makes the list. I probably should be more geeky about the directors of photography but I haven’t figure that one out yet.

So, why is Guadagnino at the top of my favourite directors list? Oddly enough, it isn’t because of any of the films he has directed. I confess to not seeing any of them except for I am Love. It’s impossible to forget Tilda Swinton. I should watch that movie again before I see Call Me By Your Name. And I should also watch A Bigger Splash. It was a film that had been on my radar when it first came out but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching it. I can be so delinquent.

The reason Guadagnino is my number one director is because of the quote at the beginning of this post. But there’s much more to that quote and how he approaches filmmaking, storytelling and the truth as it exists in a story.

When he spoke about the three-act story arc, my mouth hit the floor. It must have stayed on the floor for a solid 5-10 minutes. Guadagnino referring to the three-act story arc as a travesty didn’t shock me. What shocked me was that there was someone else who felt the same way I (more than occasionally) felt about adhering to a three-act story arc. I should have jumped up and down for joy upon discovering that there was a like-minded soul out there. But I was so surprised by what he said, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I heard it. It was revelatory.

In another interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, he talked about the concept of genre movies and how very much it was an American construct, a way of compartmentalizing things, boxing things. Personally, I think one of the reasons genres are used to categorize anything and everything in the entertainment and literary industries is it makes marketing easier for studios and publishers.

Coming from a European filmmaking point of view, Guadagnino noted that genres are not as adhered to on the other side of the Atlantic pond. All that matters, ultimately for him, is telling a good story regardless of what genre the story falls under.

I just might be living on the wrong continent. I could not love the man more if I tried.

If someone were to ask me what genre of fiction I write in, I’d respond with “I don’t think about genre. I think about the story.” I couldn’t give a flying fuck what genre my stories fit into. The only reason I describe my current writing project as falling into the crime genre is because my writing mentor labelled it as such. Before that I couldn’t tell you because I don’t think about genre. I don’t like boxing in a story in that manner. I have plenty to deal with so that genre will never be a priority with me. That may or may not get me into a shitload of trouble down the road but I couldn’t give a fuck right now.

With each genre, there are conventions a writer should adhere to in order for it to fit into that genre. I probably was aware of this as a reader on some sort of subconscious level. As a writer, not so much. I was informed by my writing mentor about certain things that never appear or are never really used in crime novels. I won’t discuss discuss what they were but rest assured, I was not impressed. Ultimately, the do’s and don’ts are things I can deal with although I’m probably going to push the envelope where the ‘dont’s’ are concerned. Not because I’d be doing it out of spite. It’s more the case of I can’t fucking help myself.

It’s my understanding that each genre has its own rhythm. The crime genre definitely has it’s own rhythm. I, on the other hand, am familiar with one rhythm — mine. So, to get a taste and feeling for the rhythm, I read The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane, Sin City by Frank Miller and Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval.

At the outset, I can’t tell you what I’ve learned from reading those books because it’s one of those learn-through-osmosis deals. Whatever I’ve absorbed will be blended into my storytelling rhythm. I suppose it will be one of those slow evolution situations that I won’t notice unless someone points it out because they see it.

Listening to Guadagnino’s words has added more fuel to a fire that has been happily crackling away. Now, it’s become a little brighter and a few degrees warmer. I might be understating the heat temperature, though. Just a little.

Now, I’m gotta get back to that fire and stoke it for awhile.

Hopelessly obsessed

Sensory overload: When the brain and nervous system is bombarded with too much sensory input from one of more sensory systems and is unable to process and sort out the incoming sensory messages.

I run the gamut of being either under-stimulated or over-stimulated. Sometimes, I’m somewhere in between. Sometimes, I hit the perfect balance. Most of the time, I’m moving from one extreme to the other. That’s always fun. Well, not really.

Last week, I had been running on over-stimulated where my writing is concerned. Everything else in my life has been running on passable. I’ve written more in the last two weeks than I have in the last eight months. I wish I could say I was churning page after page of really great shit. I would have to ask my writing mentor’s opinion on that. I wish I could say I’m almost finished writing the story of my boys. But it’s a bit of a dream at the moment. One that I aim to have come true.

Maybe you’re wondering what’s gotten me so damned over-stimulated. Well, you can blame Game of Thrones. I’m referring to the music that Ramin Djawadi created for season 7. There is this new theme/leitmotif he created specifically for the relationship between Daeneryes and Jon Snow. And damn it, it is so fucking beautiful to my ears. I love how he layers that theme with other themes. I love how he layers themes, Period. He did that with the music for Person of Interest and that is a skill I admire. Anyway, I downloaded the GoT season 7 soundtrack from iTunes on the Friday before the season finale and I have not stopped playing it. Then I came across this lovely video you see below. He talks about creating the score, themes, the process and what inspires him when he is creating the music for the show:

I already had heart eyes for the man because his musical and compositional skills are so on point. His work inspires me. But after watching the video, my heart eyes got bigger than I thought was possible. When he was talking about his writing process, I absolutely understood what he was talking about. I just got so damned excited listening to a kindred spirit.

The important thing is that I’m writing and I’m hopelessly obsessed with the story right now. I spent a chunk of the weekend writing and watching what my characters would do for their next move. And I couldn’t be happier. This is what I’ve been fighting for. This is what my boys have been fighting for. Time together to fuck shit up.

Yeah, at some point I’ll need to do laundry because it’s piling up and all my bath towels are waiting to get tossed into the washing machine. Guaranteed three, maybe four, loads of laundry.

Then there’s the business of watching the third season of Narcos on Netflix. You know things are good when you have to decide between writing and having fun with your characters or watching one of your favourite streaming programs. So far, the writing is winning. I’ll get to Narcos eventually. Maybe today will be the day.

Maybe I should just flip a coin.