Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dave Roberts, Baby Jessica & Writing: Saving and Being Saved

Dave Roberts said of his famous stealing of second base -- in a game-breaking moment, he had to do it; everyone knew he had to do it; and, impossibly, he did it -- that the call gets closer every year. It's as if, in his mind, one day someone will be able to call him out and take it away from him. When he says this in the interview, you can see the real fear in his eyes. I get it completely. There are these moments when your adrenaline kicks in -- or there's a feat that takes a stretch of time, of headlong concentration -- and it seems impossible except that you have to do it. And then after you've done it, it feels even more impossible -- especially now that the adrenaline is gone and the lens widens again. The thing about writing when it feels like things are fragile -- when times are hard -- is that the work itself can become a refuge. This world, no, you can't control it, but for a few hours at a time, you can control the world of your novel, and you're released into it. During the most difficult times in my life, I've written. Not because the work needed me, but because I needed the work. It saved me. But, looking back, I can see how it almost didn't save me. In fact, in retrospect, the failure seems clinched. I think of the man who saved Baby Jessica. He didn't get her the first time, as I recall, but he asked to go down again. He knew he could do it. He knew he had to. He went down a second time and emerged -- with the baby. But years later, he killed himself. I wonder if he replayed it. If the call got closer every time until he didn't save her and couldn't save himself. This has to be a kind of obsessive-compulsive thinking, like the people who circle the block afraid they've hit someone. Maybe the best thing about writing is that you don't have to retire early. There are always more bases to steal and wells to go down into. You keep getting to confront failure, and because the job of writing a novel is so very long, you get to build the place where you can dwell, work, dream, make. And in this way, you're not the one who saves, but the one who gets saved.

Monday, October 6, 2014

On Being the Youngest and Raising a Youngest

I'm the youngest of four children (born after a notable gap) now raising a youngest of four (born after a notable gap). We were watching old videos from before my youngest was born. The older kids were going around saying what they wanted for Christmas. I was the interviewer and cameraman (saying things like, "Huh. A Playstation. What do you think your chances of getting that are?" And "Are the chances poor because it's 5 days before Christmas and this is the first time you've mentioned it?" etc...) And the youngest is watching intently because her siblings seem foreign, seeing them so young. It's a little surreal -- a world in which her family existed but not quite wholly. I get it completely. The first child has the sense that their existence created the idea of the family, the idea that there was no family before they came along. But, for the youngest, the family existed before they existed. My own existence felt like an add-on rather than an act of creation. I told the youngest this and, finally, she got to the heart of her concern. "If I'd been there back then and you'd asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I'd have said, 'A butler.'" And I said, "Wow. Imagine how much better our lives would have been all these years with a butler." This is why the youngest is so important, people. They think of things the older ones never have

Friday, October 3, 2014

On Nick Krieger, memoirist.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of introducing Nick Krieger who wrote a piece for my blog years ago and, in it, he gave this advice, which I printed and posted above my writing desk -- it was advice for raising children but also for my own humanity: "I wish someone had told me, not that my life would be hard, but that it would be phenomenally rich. I wish someone had told me that through my own self-inquiry and my own unique experience, my empathy would deepen, my compassion would expand, my gratitude for being alive would be huge."
And in my introduction, I talked about memoir -- that in telling one's story, each writer is lighting a path through the dark woods. Each of us has our own path to light. But what I love about memoir – especially those as thoughtful, as rich and keenly insightful, as generous and clear-eyed as Krieger's – is that when we face the forest or find ourselves deep within it at night, we see those other lights bobbing in the distance, small globes that dip in the trees – what I think of as our collective human experience sending out a glow – and our paths are lit here and there along the way, by the thoughts and words and shared experiences of others.
I'm so thankful for Nick Krieger. He read from his memoir NINA HERE NOR THERE -- http://www.beacon.org/Nina-Here-Nor-There-P819.aspx -- posting in case you don't know his work or the work at Beacon Press.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

PS to the post below.

Years ago, I started calling the screenplay "a plot poem" because as the image and language of a poem must be able to hold the weight of all that white around -- like a small house burdened by snow -- the screenplay has to also shoulder the weight of the whiteness on the page with image, yes, but also plot (which, to my mind, equals character). And I've always wanted a writing program in which, before you take a novel seminar, you first take a screenwriting workshop so instead of oil-painting in one corner of the canvas and hoping it works to scale, you can get a sense of architectural scale through the full-length feature. Just thought I should add this to my call, below, to possibly send on your otherly-minded undergraduate creative writing students my way -- happy to talk to them about what we do at the FSU Film School for our MFA screenwriters, again, yadda, yadda, etc...

Those Otherly-Minded Undergrad Creative Writers -- What to do?

Anyone teaching undergrad creative writing, I'd love to talk to you about the students who shows up in your classes, bent on veering the conversation to WALKING DEAD or SNL or Oscar picks, the student who might be interested in writing for film/tv. This is a different kind of student than you might normally send onto MFA programs in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction. In fact, this might be the student who drives you a little crazy. The student might be hyper-visual, but not language-driven. They might want to write comedic dialogue and have little interest in setting or the tone of exposition. They might keep asking permission to write a zombie story even though you've given the elegant warnings against it. This is the beginning of my third year teaching at Florida State's Film School, and I'm getting a feel for the screenwriting students we're looking for. Seriously, I'm happy to talk to you about our program or the interested students themselves. 

The program is intense, year-round for two years. They spend a semester in London, studying film and theater. They do one semester of production with the production students. They create a lot of work, screenplays, pilots, spec scripts, one-acts, stories. Last year, we had a pilot program for the graduating class that took them to LA for a week of meetings with pros in the industry -- producers, directors, writers, agents... -- a program we hope continues. 

Here's the link: http://film.fsu.edu/

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tedy Bruschi -- with some Novel Writing Advice.

Flipping stations on the radio today, I heard someone talking football in a way that made me stop and listen. I don't care about football, but, immediately, I had the sense that the game was being talked about with a depth of metaphors that seemed completely and utterly applicable to writing -- the craft and industry. It was Tedy Bruschi -- I now live in New England -- talking about the Patriots and he said that the defense was "chasing ghosts of motion." I came home and asked Dave -- who watches all sports -- if he'd ever heard this phrase. He hadn't. And it made me think of the novel as a form that offers endless ghosts of motion to chase. When you're in the middle of writing it, the novel holds all of these trick-heartbeats, peripheral what-ifs, endless variations to chase down. Of course I could offer the opposite notion -- that the novelist has to be open to change. In the best case scenario, the novelist is a servant following his characters as they urgently go about their business. In the football metaphor, I suppose sometimes the ghost isn't a ghost but the flicker of the ball, the possibility of an interception. Today, though, I saw those ghosts of motion. I felt that desperate desire to chase, and I saw the endlessness of all that chasing. It's the novel's ghosts that wander off in front of you into some mist and you can go and go and go and never finish any one version. He said a lot of other beautiful things -- about rookies and free agents that I could riff on too. But now, no. I might be the only person in America thankful for Bruschi's advice on writing, but I hear he also has some fancy rings.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jarkmen, another word for novelists ...

Signing copies of THE EVER BREATH for Mt. Aviat Academy and glanced at the cast of characters: Ickbee, Artwhip, Cragmeal (Former King of the Jarkmen), Dobbler, Praddle, Grossbeak, Coldwidder, Otwell Prim (the Ogre of the Webbly Wood), Erswat, Mr. Ostwiser, Swelda, plus some locales: Idgits Inkhorn and Plume Shop, The Office of Official Affairs, and Edwell's Hops and Chops House. The leads are Truman and Camille, but, to be honest, one of the characters I most enjoyed writing in my life was Binder Bigby of the Elite Bigbys -- a mouse puffed up with a lot of fear and ego who does the right thing. 

Side note: Jarkmen -- a real word. It means a vagabond counterfeiter of documents (as licenses, passes, certificates) -- or, to my mind, a novelist.