Next time

Stay true to your own voice, and don’t worry about needing to be liked or what anybody else thinks. Keep your eyes on your own paper Laura Dern

I decided quite a long time ago that when it came to creatively expressing myself, regardless of what medium it would be in, I had to do it for me. To do it for anybody else other than yourself is an invitation to disaster and disappointment. I’ve discussed this before.

And if you think I’m going to go into a fucking rant, you’re damn right I’m going to go into a rant. You can stop reading right now or watch the train wreck I’m about to create.

Now, with my first draft for the second novel slowly moving closer towards completion, I will have to deal with the concept of talking about it. I don’t have a problem with talking about it once the book becomes a tangible physical object. I’ll engage in a discourse with anyone who has read the book and is willing to have a thoughtful discussion about it. Key word being thoughtful. It doesn’t need any further clarification than that.

But what I was/wasn’t anticipating was reading an excerpt of what I had written so far to members of the writing group I belong to. This I should clarify. While I have no problem reading an excerpt, what I do have a problem with is people making assumptions about my characters without understanding or knowing what led up to the scene I was reading. I think there’s a term for this — psychoanalysis. And I’m referring to the making assumptions part.

Here. Let me try to explain without giving anything away about the storyline.

I read an excerpt/part of a scene that will be somewhere in the middle of the novel once it’s completed, to the group. After reading as far as I wanted to go, I got some reaction to it. It was all fine and dandy until one of them started psychoanalyzing one of my characters. I cannot tell you what scene I read because that would be considered a spoiler. I suppose you could consider the scene a bit incendiary. The problem with psychoanalyzing my character based on that one scene alone is that you don’t know everything that occurred before it. Not all the pieces are there.

And since I’m terrible at summarizing what the fuck is going on because I really don’t want to give everything away, this person came up with her own ideas about why this character behaved this way.

It really fucking frosts my lizard to hear her pull uninformed nonsense out of the air when she clearly doesn’t have all the details. Why not just listen to the excerpt and accept it for what it is — a moment in my character’s life and listen to how I strung a bunch of words together to make for (what I hope is) a compelling scene.

I did not ask anyone to psychoanalyze my characters. But if you’re going to do that, then please wait for the book to be published so you can read it before you tell expound your theories onto me.

Did I want to punch her? No, not really. But I did want to lose my shit. Instead, I tried to be nice about her uninformed and unwanted psychoanalysis of my character (one of my boys) and told her I would have to explain what happened before this particular scene.

Unfortunately, I did have to offer up one spoiler because I felt forced to protect my boy. She even misconstrued the end result from that. Yeah, I was this close to losing my shit.

So, the group now knows one of the major plot points in the story. It irritates me to reveal one of the cards I’m holding in my hand. But I do take solace in the fact that while they know one of my plot points, they don’t know the exact details.

I also know it is an issue that none of them are willing to tackle in fiction writing. The general reaction to this particular plot point was met with silence. Not because they thought it was a horrible idea. I think it was the nature of the subject. And probably because I am more than willing to go there. Give me a tough subject that interests me and I will go there. Guns blazing.

Anyway, what I’ve learning from this and the ranting is the next time I have to read something from my work and someone makes an incorrect psychoanalytical assumption about my characters, I will be informing them that I cannot answer the question because their remarks and observations are off-base and therefore irrelevant to the discussion about the story. Because once they read the story in its entirety, they will realize they had it wrong in the first place and I will have saved them from an answer that ultimately has no value to the discussion.

Next time, I will not hesitate to shut down the conversation and throw in a bit of dragon fire to boot.

Next time, I won’t be so nice.

Undeniable need

The greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world – to feel that one’s desire is too difficult to tell from despair — Wallace Stevens

One of these Mondays, I’m going to miss my self-inflicted deadline of posting a blog. It’s just a matter of time. Not that I have a ton of people waiting every week with baited breath for whatever kernel of silliness that comes spilling out of my mind.

But I like to be diligent and keep my commitments. Things are starting to ramp up over here and I need to implement my game strategy for the next three or four months. Short-tempered, short-fused or sleep-deprived might be adjectives you could use to describe me in the coming weeks.

Hmmm, I should balance that out with short intense moments of decompression, i.e. laughter with folks who know how to make me smile and anything else will make me let go and be in the moment. But doing a little field research will net the same results, as well. Oh, how I love field research.

This past week, I watched three films (in the theatre and on DVD) — Call Me By Your Name directed by Luca Guadagnino, God’s Own Country directed by Francis Lee and Leon: The Professional, a 1994 film directed by Luc Besson. All three films had me thinking a lot about story, setting, character, action/reaction. It also had me thinking about how each director’s values, sensibilities and aesthetics guided the way they told their stories.

I’m still unpacking what I saw. Actually, I’m unpacking a lot of things where the art of storytelling is concerned. In that regard, 2018 has been interesting and in different ways, intense.

I think in a future blog post, I’ll discuss Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country and perhaps, Moonlight, and why these films and its directors and actors have so deeply affected me, forged and reinforced the way I think about the art of storytelling and make me want to be a better storyteller.

It will probably be a long read. But if you’re willing to put in the time, you are welcome to read it once I lucidly form my thoughts and opinions about those films and what they mean to me in the bigger picture, creatively and artistically.

I used to gripe about being under-stimulated. Now, I’m just stimulated. But there’s always the threat of over-stimulation that can put anyone into a tailspin and result in a loss of focus.

The next couple of months threaten with unwanted opportunities that could easily lead to scattered thinking. I can’t let allow it to happen. The prize I’m eyeing is too tempting to lose sight of just because the swirling winds of semi-organized chaos created by others are trying to distract me.

God, I hate getting sucked in by the chaos of others.

The need and desire to learn, absorb and dream is strong and undeniable. Nothing must prevent that from happening. Ever.

Collaboration at its best

There is a lot to be said for collaboration, and it should be seen as just another way to do things — James Patterson

In my limited experience, the act of writing (in the physical sense) is a solitary endeavour. But I know writers can and do collaborate, especially in writing screenplays.

I’m more or less a lone wolf in that regard. Collaborating with anyone seems like being in a temporary serious relationship. But then, all relationships are ultimately temporary. Yes? No?

When the writing group (that I belong to) has its monthly meeting, I hesitate to share or talk about what I’ve been working on. And it’s not because I think someone would steal my story idea. I’m not worried about that. The only person who can tell a story the way I tell a story is me. Nobody else. I don’t care how good someone can mimic my writing, that person doesn’t think like me and it is something that can’t be replicated.

My hesitation stems from the fact I’m not all that interested in having anyone help me problem-solve anything I might be encountering as I write the first draft.

I like to problem-solve my way out of a situation without anyone’s help. I call it challenging my ingenuity. That may or may not be a good thing but I haven’t derailed myself yet.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this work-in-progress is my baby. I have this indescribable love and affection for these characters and I don’t easily share them with anyone. Only one person, my writing mentor, has read the work-in-progress as I work my way through the first draft. Three other friends have read snippets of it just because I simply needed feedback.

But my mentor and my friends haven’t been part of the actual writing process where the finer details of the characters are being hashed out over cups of coffee. I have one person for that. I like to think of him as my technical advisor. And as strange as it may seem, I do think of him as a collaborator. I’m not willing to say what kind of technical advice I am getting from him but he is key in fleshing out certain scenes for the first draft.

Last week, we had a fantastic three-hour coffee meeting. Seriously, my meetings with him are the best. Time flew by like nobody’s business. We covered a lot of ground and discovered how much we really had in common, with regards to how we look at life. Yep, a friendship in the making. While there are contenders for best coffee conversations, no one comes close to him. I can’t imagine anybody knocking him out of that position.

One of the great things about my technical advisor, aside from his knowledge and expertise, is his understanding of storytelling. In his line of work, he has read a lot of movie screenplays to ensure particular aspects of what the screenwriter has put together are plausible, realistic and accurate.

As well, he has been using his technical knowledge to write for a specialty magazine for the last 20 years. He was regaling me about a recent article he wrote for that magazine and musing about how much shit he could possibly get into for writing it. His editor is backing him up so hopefully, there won’t be much trouble.

Plus, he’s had a little experience with writing a screenplay for a short film, turning that screenplay into a short film and being its director. This was something I was unaware of and I’m glad he shared that tidbit with me. The film played at a few small film festivals and earned the lead actress an award at a festival somewhere in southern California. Some of the stories he told me about that time were fun to hear.

So yeah, he knows a little about writing and getting into a little bit of trouble.

I wasn’t expecting him to be so engaged with my writing process and my characters. But I really shouldn’t have been surprised. He needed to get a sense of my characters, the setting and the story, in order to give me his best opinion about ‘the devil’s in the details’ stuff.

I think I piqued his interest when I first approached him about picking his brain for the novel a year ago.

Before we met, I think most of his interactions were with writers who were screenwriters, not fiction writers/novelists. I think I had him hook, line and sinker when I mentioned a specific scene while he was helping me with some field research.

After the coffee meeting last week, he is pretty invested in my process after listening to some of the new scenarios I cooked up which were in need of his opinion. The reason three hours flew by so quickly was because we were so deep in conversation regarding my characters and their scenes.

There was a lot of ‘what if…’, ‘well, if…’, ‘I’m thinking it would be pretty cool if we had something interesting and cool like…’, ‘what does this character do/what kind of person is this character…’ and so on. Lots of questions were bandied about and answers were in good supply.

It was surprisingly easy to talk to him about the minutiae that belonged to my characters, even though there were times I didn’t think I was precise or succinct enough to explain what was bouncing around in my head. There was a lot of great back-and-forth, thoughtful brainstorming. And lots of anecdotal stories and laughs were had, too.

I can’t say enough about the experience of this kind of collaboration. This suits me to a tee. It is very much about having chemistry with your collaborator. I will always hesitate at the idea of collaborating because I don’t want to work with someone who rubs me the wrong way. I’d be spending most of my time wanting to strangle that person than work with that person.

Either I got lucky or this collaboration was always in the cards for me.

The relationship I have with my technical advisor just developed organically. It really does sneak up on you. Organic is a word he also uses when he talks about the creative process. He believes in allowing the process to grow and shape itself naturally. It’s beyond awesome finding someone who is like-minded. Warms my heart, I tell ya.

It’s great collaborating with someone who gets you, who is intrigued by you and doesn’t mind the fact that you might be a little more than off-the-wall.

Yes, I’m gushing. I tend to do that when I meet a super cool person with whom I have great chemistry.

He’s my kind of guy. He’s my kind of collaborator. Couldn’t ask for anything better.