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.

Sound, imagery inextricably linked

I listen to music cinematically. I think about music and how it would make me feel when it’s put to an image, a moving image, and I love it — Walton Goggins

In the last three or four weeks, I’ve been obsessed with a musical mash-up between Blondie (Heart of Glass) and Philip Glass (Violin Concerto: II) which was created by Daft Beatles a few years ago. Titled Heart of Glass (Crabtree remix), I never knew this was a mash-up I needed in my life and on my writing playlist.

The first time I heard the song was on the July 11 broadcast of CBC’s q with guest host Ali Hassan. Hassan was interviewing Michael Perlmutter, the music supervisor for the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. They were discussing the rise of the music supervisor and how the Emmys finally created a category for outstanding music supervision.

Side note: Perlmutter didn’t make the cut for that category. Bummer.

Second side note: the job of music supervisor or music editor for a film or TV series fascinates me to no end. Soundscapes are just as important as the visuals and when you have a perfect marriage between the two, it is absolutely unforgettable.

The TV series Person of Interest was the first show I became aware of the music they used in their episodes. They used music by artists such as Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, The Kills and Philip Glass for two or three key scenes in every episode during the five seasons that they ran. It was smart use of sound and visuals to manipulate the viewer into feeling a certain way about a situation or one of the characters. Although the show probably paid a pretty sum to use the music of these artists, the real star, musically-speaking, was music composer Ramin Djawadi who created the score for the series. This is where I discovered his music and have remained an ardent fan of his work. The leitmotifs he created for the series were sublime. Mind you, his work for Game of Thrones is nothing to sneeze at either. Light of the Seven will always be one of my favourite works from Djawadi.

Watching this series made me think about the marriage between sound and imagery. It also made me want to talk to the show’s music supervisor, Djawadi and the show’s producers about their views on music and its role in visual storytelling. I just wanted to pick their brains. It would have been an eye-opening experience.

Anyway, back to Perlmutter and his CBC q interview. Assuming I heard the man correctly, the show submitted its third episode for Emmy consideration which featured the Daft Beatles mash-up. Then they played the song without naming it. Well, I nearly fell over when I heard the piece. I love Blondie. I love Debbie Harry. And I have an ever-growing appreciation for Philip Glass. Holy crap. Who knew these two artists could be mashed up like that and sound so sublime. I didn’t. And had I been PVRing The Handmaid’s Tale I would have discovered this little bit of aural heaven a lot sooner.

Of course, it’s a piece of music that fits perfectly with my current writing playlist. The piece is visually and emotionally evocative. It inspires my characters. It sets the right tone for them in some of the scenes I plan to write. It sets the wheels in motion.

My playlist is forever evolving and being fine-tuned as I work on the second novel. What the playlist looked like at the beginning of the writing process will look almost completely different by the time the first draft of the book is finished. What will remain are the core pieces that represent the characters and their relationships to each other.

Music and the writing process are inextricably linked.

I’m not sure when I started listening to music cinematically. I probably started when I was a teenager. Bits and pieces of images that would pop into my head because the music I was listening to at the time demanded it. I’ve always believed in the power of combining music and imagery, be it still or moving. But not everything I hear is cinematic. The pieces of music my brain registers as cinematic share some sort of intangible quality. I know what some of the commonalities are but it doesn’t completely explain the reason they affect me the way they do.

To be honest, I’m not all that interested in over-analyzing it. I go by gut instinct when it comes to music.

And now, I’m off to obsess over music and story.

Feline musings and lacking chill

I write in my pyjamas on my sofa surrounded by my cats. It’s a bit isolating — Allison Schroeder

I can’t say I write in my pj’s on a sofa. Not my perch or outfit of choice. I’ll pretty much write anywhere but I don’t find sofas ideal no matter how much back support they may have.

I will write with the laptop sitting on my lap with my feet propped up on another chair. I will write sitting cross-legged on the floor.

I’m not surrounded by cats when I write simply because I don’t have any cats in my home. Except this week, I’m cat-sitting for a family friend. A one-and-a-half year old ginger/sand tabby named Hoody. The family has only had him for a month. They found him at the local humane society. Nobody is clear on his backstory. The folks at the humane society believe he was living on the streets.

But he is exceedingly friendly and playful. If he was living on the streets, he wasn’t there for any extended period of time. He loves attention but I always default to describing him as needy. I can also describe him as lacking a little chill. I blame that on his youth and whatever occurred in his life prior to finding his forever home.

As I write this blog, the ginger furball is napping beside the laptop on the kitchen table that doubles as my office, my writing HQ, my perch of choice. He’s found some space amongst the chaotically organized research material that inhabits the table.

I did have a cat before. I had to put him down 8-1/2 years ago. He was losing weight and it seemed his kidneys were starting to shut down. There was no other option, if you think about it. That was all before I started writing. So, I’ve never had the experience of writing while being surrounded by cats. That seems a little distracting to me, especially if they’re not particularly chill which is something I highly prize at this point. Walking all over the keyboard is hardly endearing, either. I certainly won’t miss that when his family comes to pick him up next Monday morning.

I suppose Hoody’s presence is a good way to figure out if I’m ready to make room for a furball or two of my own. Heading into Day Three… the answer is no. I’m thinking my caretaking tendencies were satiated when I had the cat and the horse. Is it horrible to be counting down the days until the furball goes home? I love animals. I love horses. I love cats and other furry and feathered creatures. But it takes time and responsibility to have one in your life. I worry he’s not being entertained enough. I worry I’ll come home to find something he’s destroyed. Child-proofing a home is one thing. Cat-proofing a home is a whole different ballgame.

Schroeder said it was a bit isolating being surrounded by her cats while she’s in her pj’s writing something. Writing can be isolating, but not in a negative way. You’re isolated with your thoughts and ideas, the very things you want to put onto paper. I like being isolated in that way. Let’s me get into the heads of my characters and talk or listen to them. I enjoy my alone time with them.

The isolation I need probably doesn’t go over very well with family members or acquaintances who don’t quite understand. I suppose the fear of me possibly being labelled a hermit or anti-social doesn’t sit well with family. The creative soul misunderstood.

Anyway, I move through life knowing that the creative soul can, and will be, misunderstood. It doesn’t bother me. I’m past the point of giving a shit about what a lot folks think I should or shouldn’t do. However, if anyone tries to coerce me into doing something I ultimately don’t want to do, I will rain Hell down on them. Just a warning.

Now, back to writing and trying to help a feline house guest gain some chill before I lose mine.