Having no shame

The one thing that I think we need to reclaim as storytellers is to have no shame because when I see Bernardo Bertolucci tackle the story of The Last Emperor of China and make a magnificent film, I say why can’t I do whatever I want. Because when I went to America after my father’s kidnapping, they kept giving me mariachi, toreador and drug dealer screenplays and I said you wouldn’t send a Royal Mounted Police screenplay to Cronenberg. What the fuck are you giving me this stuff? The first act of racism we can do is against ourselves. So, we should not have it. We should be shameless and free to tell whatever story we want to tell Guillermo del Toro

There are many reason to love Guillermo del Toro and speaking his mind is one of them. I love that he believes storytellers should be shameless and free to tell whatever story we want to tell.

Yes, he works in the realm of science fiction, fantasy and horror, so yes, it seems he is freer in those genres to do whatever the fuck he wants.

My goal is to be shameless and free as a storyteller. I hate the possibility of being burdened with conventions and constructs that seem inherent in any genre you write in. That is why I believe in the story first. Fuck the idea of genres. They are a way of labelling a literary or cinematic story so it’s easier to market for the publishing companies or movie industry.

As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I don’t think of genre when I create and work on a story. It figuratively handcuffs me. There’s no room to breathe. There’s no room to push the envelop past the point of discomfort or unacceptability. Do I envy people who follow and work within a literary construct? No. It feels cookie cutter to me. It feels creatively stifling. It’s boring. It feels like I’d rather gouge my eyes out than conform for no good reason other than ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’ It’s not how I create.

I also hate the burden of the idea of appropriation. To be free and shameless in your storytelling allows you to be anything or anyone. But can you tell the story of someone who is not from your own ethnic background? Yes, I do. If you do the research, if you are respectful of the material, the people and the culture, yes, it can be done. It has been done. Hell, you can throw all the tried and true tropes out the fucking window and create your ideal world where your characters can live the way you see them.

The characters, void of ethnicity and gender, and their stories matter to me. Ethnicity and gender are just ingredients that add colour and flavour to the story. There are many other things that add colour and flavour — location, the characters’ backstories and experiences, the characters’ motivations and intentions.

Will I ever get called out for not telling the stories of my ancestors? I don’t know. But I do have a question for those who would ask the question of how could I possibly write something that I couldn’t possibly know like the back of my hand. I would ask ‘why would I intentionally limit my imagination and storytelling abilities because of my ethnicity and gender?’ I would listen to their response, then tell them to go fuck themselves.

During my field research trip, I had a number of epiphanous moments tied directly to my current writing project. These moments, on a certain level, were deeply personal and I can count on one hand the number of people who are and will be privy to hearing about these moments. It’s not something I care to share with everyone. But these moments will inform, shape and hopefully, add more nuance to the storytelling.

That is something I’m looking forward to.

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.

Not everybody, just somebody

I think that you’ve got to make something that pleases you and hope that other people feel the same way — Thomas Keller

Creating a photographic image, a painting, a piece of music, a piece of writing or even a quilt, has to please the person creating it. Sounds a little selfish? I think it’s more along the lines of taking pride in the work. It’s revealing what you can do or showing off what a little gumption (which includes taking a really deep breath) can get you.

It reveals a part of you that might not come out all that often in everyday life. It is your creativity. The artistic kind. It represents what you think is beautiful and what your artistic sensibilities are. It’s your artistic expression. Sometimes revealing that expression can be the most terrifying thing a person can do. It is a sacred space that most people keep to themselves or only share with their closest friends and confidantes.

But when you get the nerve to reveal that side of you to a larger audience, beyond the friends and the family, sometimes you have to remind yourself it’s impossible to please everybody with what you want to create. So, you must start with pleasing yourself. Be true to yourself. Create what you want and go from there.

When I started seriously pursuing writing as a more than a hobby (which was right from the get go), I didn’t pursue it for any real financial gain. These days, earning an income by just being a novelist doesn’t happen all that easily. Those who are well-established and have a proven track record with their writing can probably do it.

I started pursuing writing because it was a creative outlet I had not fully explored when I was much younger and I had wondered whether or not I could be a storyteller. All my other creative outlets had their moments with me. But all those outlets have led me to where I’m at now. I still have a strong interest in photography. It was one of my first loves. That hasn’t changed. But it’s been relegated to more personal pursuits rather than using it as a source of revenue.

I’m funny about the writing in that way, as well. I know folks who write for a living. They do corporate work or write for niche magazines and newspapers. Kudos to them for making writing their livelihood. Me? I can’t seem to wrap my head around juggling these two things: 1) writing to get paid and; 2) writing because I want to tell a story. Writing, for the most part, is a pleasure for me. And that includes the times I stared at a blank screen wondering where the fuck all those great ideas that popped into my head when I was driving home from work, had disappeared to. The process, with all its warts, is something I enjoy. But once money factors into it, writing will eventually become work. That’s the fastest way to ambivalence and disdain. I love writing. I don’t ever want to hate it.

You hear the odd person remark that they can’t believe they’re getting paid to do something they love. Must be nice. I have yet to utter those words. I think that experience is saved for those who were born knowing what they want to do with their lives and get the opportunity to do it. To be honest, it’s a goal I’ve never thought to aspire to. I have far more interesting words to utter.

I write to get something off my chest whether it be good, bad or ugly. Sure, there are other ways. But I think those activities are deemed either illegal or unacceptable or both by society’s standards. When I write to get something off my chest, it could be anything really. I suppose it’s one of the reasons I maintain this blog. Other things that I want to get off my chest are stories… like the one my two boys are telling me. Those I can’t blow off onto a blog post. That takes structure and attention to detail to get that off my chest.

I maintain this blog not to attract attention to myself, even though it’s kind of naturally built-in. I maintain it to keep writing and maybe to hone my keyboarding skills. I remember taking typewriting classes in school. Who here remembers typewriters? They were the clunkier, heavier versions of today’s computer keyboards. I think I managed to type 30 words per minute. No more than that. I should figure out how many words I can type out per minute now. Probably 30 still. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Do I ultimately care about how many people have read my posts? No. There millions of blogs out there. I’m just one little voice. If I hit five views for one day, I’ll be happy. If I get zero, I’m fine with that, too.

When I wrote the first book, did I care about how it would sell? Not really. I cared more that I told a decent story. The content of the book might not be everybody’s cup of tea but I never wrote it to be everybody’s cup of tea. Without a shadow of a doubt, the second book won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, either. It’ll be my cup of tea… with a bottle of mezcal off to the side. If you like my sensibilities, you’ll probably like it, too.

I’ve been told that if you write your book, an audience will find you. Or something to that effect. I’d like to believe that. I don’t write for the masses because it would be too hard to do. My brain isn’t wired that way. I have to be true to myself. I write because I think I have interesting stories to tell. And depending on how you define ‘interesting’, those stories are not what everybody wants.

And I’m ok with that. I never meant to please everybody. Maybe just somebody.