Saturday, August 3, 2019

Pray for Drought

So, this just happened: dénoument.

In the most recent chapter (chapter 14, "Forgiveness") of the Æfintýri, book II, Jada's mom has forgiven both Siggi and Jada for their various sins against her, so, we've come to completion for Jada's mom: she can now let go of a lot of her anger, and, instead of being an obstacle to both Jada and to Siggi, she can, well, she can do whatever, because this conflict is now done.

Good, right?

Not for me as the writer, because that means that everything is done and that anything can happen.

Okay, no problem: next chapter. Jada's still at the hospital and things are now "all better" for everybody. Yay! Happy-ending dénoument.

But there's a problem now: I go to start chapter 15 and ...

... and nothing. Not word one comes out onto the page. What to do? Massive panic? Yup. At the disco? Even better!

Okay, so, besides having a massive panic attack at the disco, what are some things that I do when the writers' block hits me?


  1. Tell myself not to beat myself up, ... as I'm beating myself up. This is the most important rule for me. Why? Well, for sure, I'm going to go into the 'beat myself up'-phase, but – hey! – I've been here before. In fact, I spent one three-year period in writers' block. You think you have writers' block? Let me tell you about my writers' block! But beating myself up only causes the downward spiral, and the downward spiral is no fun and doesn't accomplish getting the words on to the page. Okay, so I have writers' block. Okay. So what? Who cares? Some people do ("geophf, next chapter, please,") but they'll live or they won't, just like me.
  2. Don't write. Okay, every author everywhere says, "You've got writers' block? Great! Get to writing!" I say, okay, fine, be that way, and get to writing, if that works for you, but here's what worked for me: I took the rest of the day off, I went to bed, and slept on it. The next morning (this morning), I had the next chapter in my head. Other things that work for me:
    • read: read some awesomely written work, and become inspired
    • watch: watch a movie that you can taste how well the writing of it was, and become inspired
    • walk: and smell the flowers, and become inspired
    • shop, at the mall: people-watch, listen in on one conversation, and become inspired
  3. Be grateful. What does "writers' block" mean ... literally!? (I win) (Confucius say: "He who says 'literally!' and in italics wins). "writers' block" means (literally!) that you're trying to write something, and you can't. Let's break that statement down:
    • You're trying to write something. Okay, stop right there. How many people are trying to write something. A lot, right? How many people are writing something? A very, very few. You've got writers' block because you've written something already, and now you're stuck. Well, pilgrim: you've written something already. You've just separated yourself out to the 1% of the world that has written something. Be grateful that God gave you this gift made especially for you: you've written something.
    • ... but you can't. Okay, fine. You can't write a single d-mn word. You are stuck. Be grateful. "God, I'm trying to write something, and I can't. Bless you, Lord!" God is tryna tell you sumthin', pilgrim! God is telling you this: "not now," or "overcome this," or, in my case: "I've got something so much better for you that what you want to write." Let's face it, writers' block is you could write something – anything! – that you know is going to be el crapola now, or you could just wait a minute, or day, or, in my case, three years, and write something so much better. Now, Benjamin Franklin says: "I'll take the speckled ax now" instead of the perfect ax at four times the cost, so balance what the proper waiting time is. What is the proper waiting time? Well, from my experience, waiting three years, or in the case of one PhD student, seven years, is way, ... way, way, way, WAAAAAAYYYY too long. Give yourself a day. Nothing still? Give yourself another day, but in this other day, do something different. The first day you moped? No results? So maybe try something from 2. above and see what inspiration percolates for you. And also be grateful. Thank God you have the ability to write and you have something to say that will touch hearts, then listen to see what God has to say to you to direct what you have to write.
Because you do have to write. You are a writer, and a writer writes the same as a human being breathes: to live. Writing is your life, but, more importantly: your writing gives life and hope and joy and a shared moment between you and your readers.

So, writers' block? Will it stop you, as it has stopped me? Sure. But it's there to remind you what you are: a writer, and a writer writes, and in writing, saves that one person, that one reader, who needed to read what you wrote today.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Conflict


What to do when you must write that tough scene?

Jada's mom has just come home after a long shift at INOVA to find Siggi, the mass murderer, in her house, after she told Jada never to see Siggi again, and to call the cops if she did.

Now this.

I'm not good with confrontation, but who is?

This is the writer's life. You have conflict: it must resolve or it must escalate, or everybody pretends to ignore the white elephant in the room.

But you, the writer, aren't writing the book to shy away from the hard choices. You, the writer, have to face them, then write them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Why I Use 750words.com, and why you should, too.

Writing is hard, and lonely, and disappointing, and gut-wrenching.

#fact

This site, https://750words.com, gives me the gumption (or the 'gumbo') to write every day, with

1. badges? WE NO NEE' NO STEENKIN' BADGES!



... with 2. streaks and timing, because I like to streak every now and then ...

NO! NO! I DON'T! THAT'S MY EVEEL TWIN BROTHER, SKIPPY!

with 3. feeling and concerns break-down and composition in the writing
... cuz muh writin's all 'bout teh feelz

with 4. Mindset whilst writing and time orientation

and with 5. word clouds (which you don't get to see)

And what does this all give me? It tells me where my writing is focused, and if I like that focus, I write more to that, but if I want to change my focus, I see where I am, and, as I change my writing, I see the change tracked

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Writers-Movies, Day 7: Seven Psychopaths

Day 7 of writerly movies and our lucky number slevin is Seven Psychopaths.


Seven Psychopaths is a perfect writerly movie for me. Why? Everything said in the movie is so ridiculously over the top, but then everything comes to pass exactly as was said.

Marty: "What do we do?"
Billy: "I say we take the bad guys out to the desert and have a shoot-out."
Marty: "What do we do in real life!"

And what comes to pass? A shoot-out in the dessert, but along the way, Marty has to write the screenplay for his guaranteed blockbuster, Seven Psychopaths ...

Wait a minute! Seven Psychopaths is a movie about the making of the movie, Seven Psychopaths?

Yup. Over the top? Yup. I mean, what writer has the mm-hm to write about writing about script he's writing? Besides Charlie Kaufman, that is.

And the title: 'Seven Psychopaths'? It's a paean of a psychodrama to ultraviolence, right?

Not according to Marty. "I'm tired of all these terrible movies about death and violence. I want to do something different. I want Seven Psychopaths to be a movie about peace."

Billy is not on board with all this. "Oh, instead of calling it Seven Psychopaths, why don't we call it the Seven Women who Realize They Are Empowered to be Whoever they want to be and Two of them are Lesbians and One of them's a Black Cripple in a Wheelchair? How's that grab you for a movie title, Marty?"

Seven Psychopaths is fearless in its terror confronting the world, and, at the same time, entirely self-deprecating. It's scary writing. It's scary having a girlfriend, and pretending to her, and to everybody else, that you're normal and can hold down a job and get along with people. It's scary being married to somebody of a different race, who is dying of cancer. It's scary losing your daughter to a psychopath, and wondering why God would do this to you.

Seven Psychopaths lives in the moment. Two thugs are bored, waiting to make their hit, so they start talking about Cuba. The head boss interrogates his dog-sitter for minutes until one of his sidekicks mentions he knows a guy returning dogs around town. Minutes. Marty, Billy, and Hans spend the latter half of the movie sitting around the campfire discussing ... well, life, but each of them have no idea what life is.

And the story itself, not the movie, but the story Seven Psychopaths.

Billy: "So, how does it end?"
Marty: "I don't even know how it starts!"
Billy: "Whoops."

Isn't that the writer's experience? You stare at the blank page all day, saying: "I have to write something!" immediately followed by: "But how do I even start?"

And what happens? Seven Psychopaths is not the movie Marty planned, at all. It changed, and it grew, and the characters grew, surprising Marty, and surprising themselves. One moment they were in the movie, then the next moment, they were helping to script the movie, then the next, they were bumping into each other, across scenes. Seven Psychopaths is a movie of, as Hans calls is, layers, and the distinction between the author, the movie, life, and the construction of the movie playing out begins to blur until these distinctions disappear, reappear, then, at the very end, are shattered.

You have a plot hole in your movie script? How about a psychopath give you, the author, a ring in the real world and threaten to come find you because of it, huh? How about that? Now, do you want to leave that thread dangling in your story and disappoint your readers, seeing that in doing so you're placing your life on the line?

There is one thing that Seven Psychopaths is intolerant of, and that's one-dimensional characters, but, instead of saying to you: all our characters are certified fleshed out, Seven Psychopaths, instead, introduces these characters to you as one-dimensional, plays them to their stereotype for a while, then  – WHAM! – your expectations are subverted in the most surprising, shocking, jarring ways possible. Pretty much everybody dies in this movie, but they only die because they refuse to live their lives small. The thug is not just a thug, he's a guy who grew up under both imperialist and communist Cuba, and refuses the be an idiot thug. No, he has to be an angry, bitter, refined, thoughtful thug.

That's how much attention Seven Psychopaths gives to one of the minions who has five minutes of screen time, and then he's another statistic, but – oh! – what a glorious five minutes. His five minutes on the screen were more impactful than most actors who land a contract in their own TV series! But not only do even the bit players get loving attention from the writer, but none of the characters get a free pass, from the alcoholic writer, to the psychopathic overly-friendly friend, to Quaker hell-bent on revenge, and having to live with the consequences of God allowing him his revenge. Even the psychopaths written into story are both nuanced and flawed. A pair of psychopaths go on a serial killer killing-spree, but do they go too far? A Vietnamese survivor of Da Nang takes his revenge on a bunch of vets, burning them to reflect the Agent Orange attacks in Vietnam. Or does he do this? Layered, nuanced, flawed, this is how Seven Psychopaths sees us in the world, and, folks, it's a hell of a ride.

What has Seven Psychopaths taught me?

  • Not one of these characters are perfect. Everybody has flaws, and these flaws can be niggling, but they eventually, no matter how small, lead to the character's downfall. Everybody goes down, so not only are these characters not perfect, but, further, they are irredeemable, but we love them all, because of their flaws? Nah, their flaws are annoying, so not because of their flaws, but, because, despite their flaws, each character has their own dignity and nobility.
  • Everything has a purpose, and everything stated comes to pass. Seven Psychopaths packs a lot in its 110 minute runtime, but everything comes to a resolution, even (humorously (black humor, yes)) the plot holes. This movie script is tight, covering a lot of territory, but not dwelling on any particular thing overlong
  • You can have it all: 'Peace, and shit' as Billy calls it, and ultraviolence, as Billy wants. In fact, Seven Psychopaths is a love letter to poor, psychopathic Billy. All he wanted was a friend, and a kick-ass movie with some guns and shit in it, and Marty gave him exactly that. And peace, love, and understanding, too. They both win, then. That's what Seven Psychopaths taught me. You can write a story that everybody wants to read with guns and shit in it, if that's how you're bend, but you don't have to sell out on who you are. You can pack a lot in there, and get it all said, and make it tight and compelling and honest, too. Seven Psychopaths is awesome that way, and your story can be that way, too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Writers-Movies, Day 5: Paterson

There is something magical about the movie Paterson



But, then again, there's something magical about every Jim Jarmusch joint.

Paterson is a poem; it's a love-poem to poetry, and it is actually a poem (several, in fact) being written on the screen as we watch the film.

If you've been to New Jersey (and I have been to New Jersey), the last thing you would think is 'poetry,' and if it were poetry you were thinking, it would be some industrial/manufacturing/dispossessed kind of poetry, no? But, surprise-surprise: William Carlos Williams lived in Paterson, NJ, and Paterson, the bus-driving poet, lives in Paterson, and, because it's a Jim Jarmusch joint, this little film works, and works beautifully.

Here, we have a poet that, unlike Miss Flora Post in Cold Comfort Farm who can sponge off of relatives (which we reviewed yesterday), Paterson is just a dude, so he has to have a job, and his job is being a bus-driver (so, Adam Driver being a bus-driver makes perfect Jarmuschian sense), and on his job, and walking his dog, and sitting at the bar, he gets to observe life, and record it in poems in his little poetry-journal.

Paterson is very much an observer, and the movie Paterson moves at this pace: it's unfettered by any need to rush into action and has an entirely unhurried air. Because of this freedom, the film gets to say a lot, just by watching the characters, and, not surprisingly, it packs in a lot more into this film than a blockbuster can afford to do.

It's funny: Avengers: Infinite Whatever, a film that cost one BILLION dollars to produce, has a plot that reduces to "must stop the bad guy" and has no character-development whatsoever. Paterson, however, looks like it was financed with a credit card, but we get to know not only Paterson, but his wife, his shift-manager, some friends at the bar, and even a bunch of punks in a five-four warning him about the dangers of dog-napping. And we get to learn about and to appreciate the city of Paterson, itself, so much so that it becomes a character in the movie. Paterson wasn't filmed in Paterson because it was just some j-random town they picked; no, Paterson was filmed in Paterson, because Paterson has a rich, living history. Paterson was filmed in Paterson, because it couldn't possibly be filmed anywhere else, and my hat's off to Jim Jarmusch in showing me a little town in New Jersey that, by the end of the film, I fell in love with and would love to visit, and walk about, and live there, and write poetry, and drive a bus, and listen to the conversations the locals have about ... well, anything.

And, I'll admit this: I wrote down every poem written by Paterson, and the little girl, in the movie Paterson.

Judge me.

Paterson informs my writing thus:

  • Plot? What is plot? My stories are character-driven stories, but they are not plot-free. I develop my stories from a plot-perspective – beginning, middle, end – and I have that nailed before I write a word, but then, each chapter, as I write it, the characters surprise me with their own revelations, and sometimes (every time? I'm not sure) I have to abandon the plot, because the characters say: "No. We're doing this now." And they say this, not because The Plot Must Change. No, they say this because the plot is immaterial to where they are now in their lives. They're not going to jump off a cliff now because that's just not who they are. Paterson is not a plotless movie, but it is a movie where the plot is immaterial. The characters make their choices that they make every day, the same choices they made yesterday, and the 'plot' naturally falls out from that, because there is no 'The Plot,' there is simply people lives their lives.
  • Settings. I research my settings. Why? I want to know where a turn in the road leads to a mountain view, or is the center of town ... empty? thriving? If it's New England, where's the Dunkin Donuts? If it's California, is it North or South California, on the coast or in the desert? I want a reader to be able to feel like they can walk in my book and breathe the air, and know what it feels like. Paterson brings the town of Paterson to life.
  • Paterson is a movie of rabbit-holes: a series of journeys with no destinations in mind, so it may be considered in stark contrast to the Lord of the Rings, where there always is a destination ever before the Fellowship. Lord of the Rings is a very tiresome and anxious movie (the books I found to be quite a different experience). Paterson is the opposite: you flow along with the movie, and are delighted to find yourself talking to a little girl who writes her own poetry, or find yourself by a laundromat, of all places, listening in on a rapper honing his craft, or, lo! and behold! what is a tourist from Japan doing in Paterson, New Jersey, but to visit the town where William Carlos Williams lived! Paterson lets you explore and discover and be and at your own pace, because our man Paterson is in no hurry to get 'there,' wherever this 'there' happens to be. Even in Paterson, New Jersey, one can stop to smell the roses.
Paterson is a beautiful little love-poem to Paterson, New Jersey. Take some of your precious time to watch this movie; it is time taken you will treasure.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Writers-Movies, Day 4: Cold Comfort Farm

"... and introducing (???) Kate Beckinsale!"
And with that, we're off to a rollicking start to one of the smartest period-pieces, Cold Comfort Farm, mocking every young aspiring authoress who wants to be the Next Jane Austin, in the style of P.G. Woodhouse and Oscar Wilde!

Golly, the Brits do have it lucky, they get Shakespeare, then they get all these other smart, wry, funny, observant authors, too. To be sure, they have their Darwins and Dickens (meaning: boorish authors who put you to sleep faster than chloroform), but the richness and depth and breath of writing one can choose from the œuvre is both daunting and humbling.

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, tackles this conundrum head-on: if everybody else has already said everything to say, and have already said it better, then ...

... well, give up?

"... the golden orb ..." Miss Post starts again, and stops again, in her writing at this point, groaning in frustration, reading what she's written.

Sounds familiar, authors?

But the thing is, she doesn't give up, she lives her life, which isn't a Romantic Novelization filled with Drama and Ponderous Poetry, but it's a bunch of farmers, bumbling though their lives. But the thing is: their lives are filled with Drama and Poetry, ... and silliness, and from abandoning what she thinks are the Rules of Writing, and living her life and observing the characters that populate her life, she comes up with a much more interesting story to write.

Miss Flora Post actually did have to give up. She had to give up her preconceived notions of "What a Writer Is" and "How a Novel Reads." When she gave these things up, she emptied her cup, so to speak (and, being a Proper British Young Lady, of course it was a tea cup), so that living life could fill it with something fresh and original and something that was entirely hers.

Cold Comfort Farm is a movie filled with expectation-subversions for this young aspiring authoress:

  • What writing is
  • What a novel is about
  • Who people are
Because, in the end, she didn't write the characters, the characters wrote themselves, but only after she opened her eyes to them as living, breathing, three-dimensional people, and not the stereotypical Seth and Reuben she dismissed with a quick sniff.

And when she did that, she did get her Romantic Ending, being swept off her feet by the dashing-yet-unassuming Charles and whisked away in his æroplane.

Both Stella Gibbon's book and John Schlesinger's movie get the humor just right. They mock both the characters and the reader at the same time but they do so gently. Why? because the humor is cheeky, to be sure, but kind, at the same time. The characters are portrayed lovingly and with understanding, but not at all blind to their follies and foibles. In fact, the authoress is abundantly aware of their shortcomings, and her own, too, and so I got the sense that she wrote Cold Comfort Farm just so. 'This is not a Jane Austen novel,' she says, 'this is just my little roman à clef. Not serious, but silly: just like you, me, and everybody else who takes their lives so seriously are.'

Cold Comfort Farm is an easy ride and a delight to watch that, surprisingly, stays with you long after the end-credits.

What did I learn from this movie (and book, as they are nigh unto one and the same):
  • Abandon what I am going to write, because that just doesn't work for me. What does work for me is wind up the characters and watch the sparks fly as the collide against each other.
  • It was a dark and stormy night is the exact set-up of Cold Comfort Farm, but the book and the movie showed me that the thickened fens of setting and the broody, dark characters have a surprising depth to them, and they can be funny, and they can change, and it doesn't have to be a struggle all the time, either.
  • As in Topsy-Turvey (another movie in this genre), taking a break from worrying over writing to live your life can actually inspire your writing, give you a fresh start, and be the impetus to give you the get-up-and-go to write or to rewrite that novel.
Remember, kids: 🎵 The Earth will burn and we will QUIVER! 🎵 Watch Cold Comfort Farm to spit out your tea, chorkling with mirth, when you get this reference, foreshadowed so delightfully by Flora's innocent "...but why are they called the Quivering brethren?"-query.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Writers-Movies, Day 3: Blade Runner

We continue our series of blog posts on writerly/writers/writing-movies with la crème de la crème of movies: Blade Runner. 




Blade Runner isn't only the best science fiction movie of all time, it is also the best movie of all time. There never was and there never will be a movie to top Blade Runner and ...

No, wait: there's Blade Runner 2049, a rare gem of a sequel that excelled its predecessor.



Okay? Are we on the same page here? Yes? Great.

Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are two sides of one coin that ask one question: what is it to be human? And even: what do we do to deserve our humanity? The Blade Runner movies ask us these questions. Whereas Blade Runner follows our protagonist through the movie, self-assured and comfortable in his humanity (where, in fact, he is not human, at all), Blade Runner 2049 follows our replicant protagonist through that movie, so lost and afraid, but growing into his. The irony in both these movies is that it takes the soulless replicants, striving for something they don't have, to teach us what we take for granted: our humanity.

What can be said about the Blade Runner movies that haven't been said before?

This:

The Blade Runner movies are the finest, most successful pieces of fan fiction ever to be realized.

Think about it for a moment. Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It was an entire world, with all the buildings disintegrating into 'kibbles,' people reduced to idiocy from radiation holding dead-end jobs on the pretext of keeping a society functioning: a society that had simply given up hope. So, what did people turn to? A VR religion that was a sham based upon the Sisyphean Greek myth, just so they could feel something, and a police force that had long ago (to nobody's knowledge) been taken over by the androids in their next step to take over the world. And, frankly, nobody in that story was likable, not our gum shoe, nor his wife, nor the Rachael android. They were all a selfish, indistinct, navel-gazing lot.

Ick.

So, how do you take all that in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and put it on the big screen?

You don't.

What the screenwriters, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, did was to re-craft the book into the story they wanted to read or to see: Blade Runner. That is to say, they wrote the best piece of fan-fiction in existence. They took the characters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and entirely changed the story around them, then entirely changed them, leaving their most basic motivations, to re-realize (or, in Battlestar: Galactica-parlance 'reimagine') the story to what we see on the screen today. But not only the screenwriters get credit for this, but the actor who played the relicant Roy Batty, Ruger Hauer, made his own contribution that is "perhaps the most moving death-soliloquy in cinematic history." They made a movie that had it all: life, death, love and redemption.

How can you top that?

You can't. Or so I thought. Then came Blade Runner 2049. What director Denis Villeneuve did was to replicate the movie Blade Runner, and almost exactly at that, but then turn everything on its head. Instead of the replicants not knowing they were replicants (as was the case for Deckard and Rachael), our leading leads, K and Joi, knew exactly what they were and their place in the world, but then Blade Runner 2049 changed the game when the movie introduced the game-changer, a baby.

For, unto us a child is born.

So, Blade Runner 2049, a Christmas movie?

And, like the original Blade Runner, this new movie asked the question. Now that the replicants have had a baby, what is the status of this child? And, since the replicants have had a baby, what is now their status? Furthermore, what is the weight, what is the value we, as humans, place on our children? The movie shows humanity treating both humans and replicants as material, but the replicants, when they learn that there is a child among them, they place everything on this one hope. Just as Children of Men showed us the very simple message: No children; no hope. Blade Runner 2049 gave the opposite message: One child; all hope. What is the value we place on a child, on children, on people, on the person sitting across from us. Blade Runner 2049 shows people and replicants as worthless because they are valued as such, then turns everything around and says just one child can change all that.

And, at the end of the movie, a Dad whose given up on everything, including himself, gets to meet his child he's never seen, and we get to see the light of hope, of love, reignite in the eyes of a man whose heart had gone stone-cold. Blade Runner showed Deckard as a machine, moving through the world, doing his job, just because what else was there to do? Blade Runner 2049 gave Deckard his redemption. The two movies are one movie, a complete story arc that took 40 years to tell.

What did Blade Runner teach me?

  • Maybe I've internalized this lesson for so long that I needed to be reminded of this in Blade Runner, but it taught me you don't have to be a human being to be human, and, conversely, being a human being does not grant you a free-pass to your humanity. The most human characters in these movies are the replicants, struggling, striving to earn their humanity, and they do, even if they don't live to see this victory. The lost, soulless characters are the crowds and crowds of people doing their jobs, going from a to b for no reason at all.
  • There is shame in being a writer of fan-fiction, and rightfully so: most fan fiction is of the Mary Sue-variety and has too many flaws for just one blog entry (and that is why I have a metric ton of blog entries addressing these errors). But what is fan fiction, at its heart? It is an homage to the source material. Good fan fiction – Blade Runner, Galaxy Quest, American Gods and (ahem) My Sister Rosalieretell and reshape the original so that you love the original more from what you've read in the retelling. "I write fan fiction." Sure, you can be ashamed of saying that, but know this: you're in very good company.
  • You have time. Both movies are 'slow' and have been criticized as being as such. But what is the payoff. You spend a lot of time with these characters, doing nothing: eating, looking at photos, walking in the rain, hanging out at a bar. Their cares become yours, and the payoff is that their lives have meaning and so do their deaths. To die here, in these movies, mean something, and, at that death, that story ends forever, and you don't get it back. These are my stories: my characters spend a lot of time with each other, talking, not understanding each other, and, finally, caring, and when a glimmer of connection appears for my characters, it means something to the readers who have invested all this time in my stories, and it means something to me. It's okay to spend the time, doing 'nothing,' in your stories when your characters matter to you, not only is it 'okay' to do this, but it's a measure of respect, and gives your characters grace that the world does not give them and does not give us.
The Blade Runner movies have shown me what humanity can be in a cold, uncaring world, and from that has shown me that writing can be something that you care about, that writing can be beautiful.