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.

Save the forty winks for later

If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep anyone else up either — James M. Cain

When I work on a writing project, I tend to stay up longer than I should and bear the effects of not enough sleep. But then, I’m a night owl, so I’m not entirely sure my writing is really the reason I stay up at night.

Why do I stay up longer than I should instead of getting my forty winks? Well, for starters, there is the night owl factor that is impossible to ignore or be dismissive about. And my brain tends to get its second wind after midnight whether I want it to or not.

There have been numerous stories and discussions, online and elsewhere, regarding what time of day writers and artists work on their craft. There are early morning folks who get up before the rest of the household wakes up to spend an hour or two doing their thing before life demands their attention.

There are those who write in the late evening after dinner and the kids and spouse have toddled off to bed. There are those who don’t start writing until after midnight where the creative embers don’t start burning at their brightest until 2am.

I am clearly in the late night category. However, I also will write any time during the day. I steal moments whenever I can. 15-30 minutes here and there. A part of my brain is always with the story, always with my characters, always with my boys. My writing doesn’t just keep me up at night. It’s with me every waking moment, too.

I have yet to be told by some well-meaning person that maybe I need to be more structured with my writing time. You know how this is going to end, right? If anybody does make a suggestion that I be more disciplined about the whole process, I will tell them to go fuck themselves with a lubed up big black dildo. And I’ll say that with a smile on my face.

Anyway, the time I spend working on my writing project has been steadily increasing in the past week. And I’m enjoying it. It’s grounding for me. It means life is settling back to a rhythm that would be optimal for writing. And that would still include staying up until two or three in the morning since that is never going to change.

All of this is a welcome change.

Time to take a deep breath and immerse myself again.

Stealing moments

There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you — Beatrix Potter

I don’t know about using ‘delicious’ to describe writing the first words of a story. It’s not the first word the comes to mind but it is very appropriate. Personally, I think of ‘excited’ and ‘eager’.

There are other words or phrases that incorporate the word ‘fuck’, too. Examples of this are: I’m fucking excited; I can’t fucking wait to get to the keyboard and start writing; why can’t everybody leave me the fuck alone so I can write. You catch my drift?

Writing the first words are not just the only things that are delicious in the process of writing. Aside from coming up with the characters and developing their personalities, putting two or more characters together for the first time and watching the sparks fly — for all the right and/or wrong reasons — is absolutely exciting and intoxicating. These meetings are worth more than beer and popcorn. Depending on what is happening, you either don a hazmat suit or a wet suit and have a bottle of mezcal and a plate of chilaquiles for snacking purposes. Whatever you wear and whatever you dine on, it all equals fun times.

Would I describe it as a high? Yes. It’s a better high than smoking pot or eating ‘brownies’. You avoid the after-effects which includes having the munchies. The creative part of the brain gets all lit up and you’re ready to take on the world or, at least, take on your characters’ world. You just want to go in there and fuck things up because the characters are planning to do exactly that… fuck things up. You know what that means… all hell is going to break lose. ¡Maldito derecho! Think I said that correctly.

Something else that is delicious is writing the first words each of your characters utters in the story. It is the first real introduction of the characters to the reader. It’s not just a physical description of that character which is also important because it’s one of the layers for building and creating a character. A character’s first words is another layer. It sets the tone and offers a first glimpse into who that person is and what their story might be.

I have fun writing dialogue. I know there are folks out there who have a hell of a time writing dialogue. It’s always fun opening a character’s mouth and hearing what words go flying out of it. I don’t know why but I find writing dialogue way too much fun. Writing dialogue can be delicious. Writing certain scenes can be delicious, too. But I won’t go there right now.

With all these things that makes writing so appealing to me, it’s a wonder I haven’t dropped everything to just simply write. But living in a world where money is required in assisting you in having a roof over your head and food on the table, kind of gets in the way of dropping everything to do the one thing you feel passionate. Ok, you can argue that there may be more than one thing you are passionate about. I’m just simplifying.

Once again, life has temporarily gotten in the way of letting me dive completely into my characters’ world. However, I’ve gotten better or sneakier about being a stone’s throw away from that world. Now, stealing moments with my boys is more of an expectation rather than an exception. In moments where there is nothing but me and the music playlist either occupying the quiet or chasing away the noise, in the moments before I go to sleep, my boys come for me and we enter the world the three of us are creating together. We talk while we are on the move. There is much to do, much to sort out, much to show.

When life gets in the way, trips to that world are not as frequent. And wanderlust builds up. My boys get antsy, I get antsy. In the moments we steal, we do what we can before I have to leave them again. And they’re getting better about not pouting and behaving petulantly. Thank god for small mercies.

The moments we steal are precious. Words hit the page and the adventure continues. I know where my boys will be at the end of the story. But it’s their unfolding journey to get to their destination is what excites me. How do they get from point A to point B? If I or the boys change a seemingly small detail, how does that alter their journey? What if I change the role of another character — how will it affect my boys? These are things I’ve already done and they are for the better. The subtle and not-so-subtle changes mean nothing but fun for everyone involved. When it’s fun, nobody wants to leave. Even when it’s not fun, nobody wants to leave. That’s why when life interferes, it sucks being dragged away.

Fortunately, there is another week of life’s interference and then, my boys and I will have more quality time together.

But for now, we are satisfied with stealing moments to be with each other.