Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The May Update

Sometimes a working writer has only one project in the works. (Sometimes -- frighteningly -- NO projects are on the board...) Being in Single Project Mode is a rare luxury. You can work on one thing, in depth, until you get it right. You can do copious research, thoroughly immersing yourself in your project's nuances. When your work on that One Thing is done for the day, you can relax and do something non-writing related.

This, however, is not one of those times. So much has been happening lately that I felt a general update was warranted:

The Major Legacy Project for the USHJA is completed. A final edit of the galley proofs may come my way, but for all intents and purposes, the project is done. It's in the hands of the layout department now. ::sigh::

Ryan's book is nearly completed. All but two chapters have been drafted. The rest of the content should be compiled by the end of this month. Then, all that remains will be taking, editing, captioning, and slotting the photographs to illustrate the text.

I'm about half done with a book proposal for another project, based on the life of the subject for the biopic that my friend Paul and I have been working on this year. I love this aspect of my job: being able to talk with people who have made great contributions to some part of their world, and find a way to bring those accomplishments to the attention of a larger audience.

The biopic is in second-draft stage. We're in the midst of the re-write, punching up the characters, tightening up the scenes, and making sure the story beats make sense.

My friend, Sheila Gallien, script consultant to the stars, has finished page notes on one of my scripts. Her comments are flying across the Pacific as I type... With any luck, I'll have time to review them and assimilate them into the script, making it brilliant!!! enough to attract an agent / manager -- or at least a contest judge.

I'm gearing up to present a month-long Writer's Workshop to be held at the Coloma Library on Tuesdays in June. I love working with writers who are interested in improving their craft -- and especially love it when I don't have to travel and stay in a hotel to do so!

I've just signed a year's lease on a studio loft in Berrien Springs. Now, I'll finally have a place to work while Cassandra is in school. I'm also thinking of offering on-going writer's groups there, with specific targets -- one for non-fiction book writers, one for novelists, and one for screenwriters. Facilitating such groups would be a good way to force myself to produce more. Plus, it's always fun working with other similarly driven people.

School ends in three (count 'em -- three!) days, but the summer is rapidly booking up. With any luck, by the end of the summer, the screenplay will be done and pre-production will have begun on the movie, Ryan's book will be finished, and the book proposal for the Marathon Man will have sold.

Then, perhaps, I'll find the time to work on my Great Novel Idea. Right now, I'm just collecting notes (current count: 4 notebooks full and 8 books awaiting my research reading). Someday, however, that will be my One Project.

Not complaining. Never complaining. It is GOOD to have too much work. If I could only find an extra few hours in a day...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oprah OK's Frey's Way

or, Why Tell the Truth When Fiction is So Much More Interesting?

In a move that makes one go "Hmmmm..." Oprah has brought author James Frey (St. Joseph, MI native) back into the news. You remember Frey and his bestselling memoir "A Million Little Pieces" that languished in mid-list purgatory until Oprah featured it in her book club, launching it to instant best-seller-dom?

(I've heard it said that the 6 most important words in a writer's career are: "Thanks for inviting me back, Oprah.")

Then, those who had actually lived through the events described in the book noticed that the author had taken certain, erm, liberties with the facts. Most of the memoir was more-or-less true. (And one must always make certain allowances for the vagaries of memory in autobiographies and memoirs...) But many of the so-called "facts" had been manipulated to make them more interesting. After all, sales numbers don't lie...

(Regular readers may remember a rant on this topic early in 2006 when it was all happening.)

When the proverbial poo hit the media's fan blades, someone uncovered the fact that Frey's agent had originally shopped the manuscript around as a novel. Then Oprah called Larry King to apologize to her readers and say how betrayed she felt. Then she had Frey himself on her show and lambasted him for lying. At that moment, I was Oprah's biggest fan.

Frey lost much more than professional credibility and oozed from the public eye.

All was well with the world. Truth won out over fiction. Justice had been done, and Good prevailed over Evil.

Now, it seems, Ms. O. has changed her mind. Instead of calling Larry King to apologize for leading her fans astray, she has called Mr. Frey (who has a new novel out) to apologize to him for calling him on his fabrications.

Why would she do that?

It's been over 3 years since this little hiccup of credibility. Is it possible that Ms. O. has a memoir in the works and is realizing the merits of creative license? Or has the "Truth Scale" been discontinued for lack of interest -- to be replaced by an "Entertainment Meter?"

Time will tell...

I'm gearing up to begin work on a biographical project. At this point, I hold as an indisputable tenet that the story's Truth is king. I don't think it needs to be massaged to appease the masses' appetite for more. But if that all changes, it's good to know that Oprah will be on my side.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Scripting Christian

or: File This Under "Problems I'd Love to Have..."

So, Christian Bale is reported to have "forced" the writers of Terminator Salvation to have written a larger part for John Connor... and this is reported upon in such a way as to make the Dark Knight seem petulant and diva-like.

What a very dreary life some writers must lead:



WRITER: Hullo?

AGENT: Hey! Bale says he'll sign on to do your script, but only if you make his part bigger.

WRITER: Oh, man! I have to do more work? Writing words to be uttered by one of the more interesting and watchable actors working today? Are you kidding me? That could take hours. Days even...

AGENT: Right now, the part of John Connor is kind of small. You think YOUR name on the one-sheet is going to put butts in seats?

WRITER: ::grumble::


All I have to say is: Cry me a river!

Remember what they say -- "Directors are replaced because of a difference in vision. Writers are replaced because... it's Tuesday."

In Other News

I have a phone conference tonight with the subject of the biopic I've been working on for the past few months with my friend and colleague Paul Martin. We're going to discuss the possibilities for putting together a book that would expand upon the life story that the movie will explore.

I have a wonderful agent who has agreed to take a look at the proposal when it's ready. So... fingers crossed.

And if Christian calls, tell him I'll write him as many lines as he wants...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Seven Deadly Writer's Sins: #2

or "Haven't I Heard That Somewhere Before?"

When I was in college, one of my English professors had a sign in his office that read: Avoid Cliches Like the Plague. It always made me laugh.

Now, I'm not suggesting that cliches per se are deadly to one's writing. I don't even try to weed them out in my first drafts (which, incidentally, explains why I let so many slip by in blog posts). I use them as glorified place holders: weak similes that while away the time until the pithier, meatier metaphors arrive.

No, cliches are merely indicators of weakness or laziness. They are rarely deadly.

Cliched dialogue, on the other hand, is another story. Few things will kill your readers' interest faster than throwing something common at them and asking them to pretend they've never read or heard anything like it before.

Overly Cliched Dialogue (OCD) can appear anywhere. How to recognize it when you see it? Easy: it's the dialogue that exists NOWHERE in the real world. It is cliched because it only occurs on screen or on the printed page. And it occurs there often. Some of the most common include:

* I'm your brother (sister/father/mother/blood relative)...

This is common OCD. If one character is actually imparting news to another, it's a cheap way to ratchet up the drama before the obligatory scene where the newly discovered relations are forced to part.

Sometimes this line is an even worse offender. It is said to a person who is completely cognizant of the familial relationship. It exists only to tell the audience information that everyone else in the story knows. Really -- how often does one say, "I'm your brother and I need your help?" Never. Only in Hollywood...

* What the--?

Only in PG and PG-13-land do people say this. In the real world, people tend to finish this particular sentiment.

* I'm cold. I'm so cold.

This OCD always makes me laugh. It's the obligatory line that a dying character says to his or her beloved. It's like: "Time is short. I'm about to die. Let me give you a final internal temperature reading."

* Not on my watch!

My friend Karen can spot this one coming with unerring accuracy. She has been known to add it as an audible aside during movies for instant comic relief. Variations include She's gonna blow! and Let's get out of here! Personal guarantee: if the situation arises where something is about to blow sky high and we must immediately vacate the premises, I'm going to just start running, instead of providing exposition for someone who may or may not be watching.

* Who else knows about this?

With the proliferation of this line of OCD, you would think that even the characters in books and movies would know that the correct answer is NOT "No one."

* What place is this?

An odd example of OCD that is completely out of place in the real world. "Where am I?" is another one, but at least it rings half true.

There are many, many other examples, but you get the point. Even movies and books that I like suffer from the malady of OCD. Wolverine, for instance, has "I'm your father," "I'm your brother," AND "I'm cold... I'm so cold." Yeesh!

Stories and scripts that suffer from OCD bump the audience out of the experience. They remind the readers or viewers that this is, after all, just a stupid book / movie / TV show... and they could be doing something better with their time. Excessive OCD makes the audience start trying to guess the lines before they come. When the audience is successful, then the characters have become ::gasp!:: predictable. And that IS a sin.

In Other News

The major two-year-long project for the USHJA is finished! It went out without a hiccup, and -- dare I hope? -- it appears that all is well. I expect to hear more from the client as the week progresses. But, for the most part, that project is done.

The rest of the month is dedicated to finishing up the first draft and first edit of Ryan Gingerich's book. I'm on track to make that deadline. We'll see how things pan out.

When I'm not working on Ryan's project, my new novel idea is occupying all of my free time. It keeps me up until far too early in the morning, and could easily become a wonderful obsession. Much of the project is in the research phase of it. Robert helps with that, too. But what I have begun I really like. It promises hours of fun for the summer...

And I'm gearing up for a Writer's Workshop I'll be conducting at the Coloma Library on Tuesdays in June. I love teaching writers, and am revamping the workshop so it's more hands-on and interactive. Further bulletins on that as events warrant.

And now, Ryan's book calls. I have a chapter near completion, and hope to finish it and get a solid start on another one today.

So... I'm off to write like the wind and avoid cliches like... you know.