Theater Masks

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eight (depending on your math) movies and four TV shows that inspired me

I don't really know why it is, but we all love lists of things. I've never met anyone who said, "I hate lists." A recent conversation got me to thinking about movies and TV shows that inspired me. So I decided to make a list.

These aren't necessarily my favorite movies (though many are) and they aren't in any order. Just movies (and three TV shows) that have in some way affected me or changed my life in some way.

1)Fantasia -- this was the first movie I was taken to see as a child. Parts of it bored me, certainly, but I still remember looking up at Mickey Mouse moving those brooms and knew I would always want to come back to the movies.

2)The Sound of Music -- people who know me know this story because I tell it all the time. When asked, why do I like musicals, it stems from this movie. When I was about seven or eight, my dad got his first VCR. He wanted to test it out, checked the TV Guide, and asked me what I wanted to see: Superman or The Sound of Music? (I just realized: VCR? TV GUIDE? I feel so old!) I chose Superman (why wouldn't I? I was seven!) but my Dad decided to go with The Sound of Music anyway. The next day he sat my sister and me down to watch it and I was completely enthralled. A couple of days later he taped The King and I, and that was it - I was hooked!

3)The Wizard of Oz - the beginning of my love of all things fantasy. The Wizard of Oz carried me away to a new place, a place I loved to visit as often as I could. The Witch scared the hell out of me - I used to think she'd be waiting around corners of my house for me! - and I wanted the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion for friends.

4)Star Wars - along with the Wizard of Oz, these two movies hooked me onto one of the most important concepts in story telling that I know - the mythic hero journey. In ninth grade, my favorite teacher ever used these two movies to help us understand the heroic journey, and I've since spent many many hours studying it and learning how to adapt it. As it turns out, that journey can be used in so many ways, and many of my favorites can be traced back to the form. I always have the steps of the journey in the back of my mind, and I use it to teach my students about plot.

5)Casablanca - God, the writing is magnificent. No other movie has as many famous lines, and to watch as they come at you one after the other, perfectly in context of course, is just an amazing experience. The story ain't so bad, either.

6)The Princess Bride - I've stated before my single greatest influence as a writer is William Goldman. Well, it all started with this movie. It's my favorite movie of all time (well, this or The Wizard of Oz) and more than anything else it's all about the style. The language is so distinct that it's almost as quotable as Casablanca. The story is crisp, funny, quirky, and exciting. I model much of my writing after TPB, and I think it's made me all the better for it.

7)Monty Python and the Holy Grail/Mel Brooks canon -- I don't often write comedy, but when I do I base my rhythm on the language in these movies.

8)The Usual Suspects/Fight Club -- these movies knocked my socks off because I was completely surprised by the endings. To be able to flip a story around so that everything that came before takes on a different meaning is just an incredible thing. I've tried having endings along these lines in some of my stories - I don't think I've come close to pulling it off nearly as well by any means!

9)The Simpsons - for much the same reason as number seven on the list, the timing and mixture of TYPES of jokes are just brilliant and have influenced my comedy writing for sure. It's a bit scary how often I hear Homer's voice in my head.

10) Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Doctor Who - Again with the comedy rhythms. More importantly, though, both shows showed me how expansive story-telling can really be. There are no limits to what you can do on the page (heck, if they can do it on TV, think what can be done on the page without worries about a budget!). Both shows have such sharp characterization, one of their regulars, one that manages to quickly introduce and shuffle off new characters almost every week. Plus, the mixture of comedy and horror is just awesome. Besides, have you SEEN Once More With Feeling, Hush, and Blink? I mean, really, have you SEEN them?

11)You know what number 11 is if you know anything at all about me. I've talked about Lost on here already, I don't need to go into the details, but if Lost had never aired, I don't know that Before White or Sparks would ever have been written. If you didn't watch Lost while it was on, go start now. :)

I really believe movies and television, the good stuff at least, is on par with literature and art as medium that have the power to affect, influence, and alter our lives. I know it has for me.
What shows or movies have influenced you, changed your life in some significant way?

Monday, July 26, 2010

How I'm spending my summer vacation

I've been working hard on Goodson - it's been going very well so far. I've got a good 50 pages and the story has been flowing pretty smoothly. I have to say I'm pretty happy with it.

I've been reading a lot lately. Last night I finished The Gates by John Connelly - it was silly and light and thoroughly enjoyable. It fell apart a bit in the end, but it was definitely an entertaining read. I've also been reading Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel that has me totally enthralled. The writing is top-notch (by a writer of Lost, so what would I expect?) and it really feels like a movie in a book.

I've been taking full advantage of our Wii in two ways. On, I've been using a LOT of Netflix streaming. How I lived without it before, I have no idea. Two, I've been using the Wii every morning to exercise. It's fun, it gets me moving, and I've been pretty consistently doing it 3-4 times a week.

I've also been very into learning and playing games this summer since many of our friends are from our board game club. I've played more games of Dominion online and in reality than I thought would be possible. I've also been playing some poker online, though not as much as previous years.

Caitie and I are celebrating our first anniversary next weekend and going to Atlantic City for the food and wine festival. We're both very much looking forward to that, as well as to hopefully going to a water park in Northern NJ, the Renaissance Faire in PA, and to Niagara Falls some time in the upcoming month.

I've also been staying up very late every night and have no clue how I'm going to go back to sleep at a normal time come September.

A request to those of you who follow me. If you like what you see, please point my blog towards others - I'd like to build something of a following, and who knows, I may even post more then!

Yo Ho Yo Ho the writer's life for me!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Goodson Froog

I've been living with Goodson Froog for over a decade now. He first came into my life, of all things, as a result of a pretty bad teacher and a trivia game. When I was in grad school, I had to take a summer class called "Teachers as Writers." Great, right? Well, the teacher was a drunk (seriously, bright red nose, slurred speech) and told us to spend each period outside writing. Some of us took it more seriously than others.

I started writing about Goodson then, though I don't even think that was his name at that point. It was a three or four page story, but the most basic elements of Goodson and Operation Becky Boom Boom were there. His two friends, Rudy and Bren, who have become so central, were completely static characters, there as plot tools rather than actual characters.

I liked the story, but more or less put it away and forgot about it.

Then, the following summer, I was at a friend's house, and a question came up about a Swedish skier. I made up some name because, really, Swedish skier? and the name became a running joke for the night. I don't even remember the name any more. I may have it somewhere in some file, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that I decided I would write about the Swedish skier. I had no idea how that would work. The name was so ridiculous, I knew the tone I wanted right away. It was light and funny, not really the type of stuff I usually wrote.

Anyway, I thought that the Swedish skier would be a main character's friend. I didn't have enough to really write about the skier (and besides, what do I know about that?). So I wrote about a kid, the child of rich parents with a rich imagination. I figured he would grow up and on a trip meet the Swedish skier.

But somewhere in that beginning, not really knowing where it was going, Goodson (I had named him that now) took on a life of his own. The kid was a little snot, he was mean and he was kind of a jerk, but man, he was funny and his friends made me laugh as I wrote. I realized that the story I was writing would skew right into the Operation Becky Boom-Boom story I had put away the previous year, and I guided Goodson there.

It worked well, but it wasn't perfect. I had two problems: first, I had put in a bunch of extra subplots in the story about his parents, butler, and maid, but I didn't have a real finish for it. The adults' stories were weaved into the sixty page story, but certainly could be removed without really hurting the main story. Trouble is, without that, the story would have been much shorter and had no real through line to carry me to the Swedish skier. The second problem was that the story wrapped up nicely -- I didn't feel the NEED to bring in the Swedish skier, but I knew there was more to the story than what I had.

I put it aside for a long while - about six years. Every so often my mind would go back to Goodson because I liked him and Bren and Rudy so much, but I just couldn't figure out how to extend the story. I had tried once, written another ten pages or so when the boys were a little older, but it came to nothing really.

Last year, my students were trying to figure out what their class play (I had the kids write and put on a play each year) would be. They couldn't come up with an idea, so I offered up the Goodson story as a base. I figured maybe there was a play in it. The kids tried to make it work - they added stuff from the parents, added some plot twists - but nothing really worked. The play ended up never really coming together.

So again, the story was dead in the water.

Then, a couple of months ago, it hit me. I was approaching the story all wrong. I've been reading a lot of YA lately, and realized that while the voice I was using for the story was great, it wasn't really YA. It was more "adult humorous." I realized to make it work, I needed to change the voice -- so I thought I'd try writing it in first person. I realized immediately that Goodson wasn't the right voice for the story though. The whole point of the story is that though he's really kind of an evil kid, he's very likable. My second book, the one I was just finishing as I came around to this idea, was about a girl who needs to take on an evil persona and fight against the power it has over her (a simplification, but enough to make my point). The girl in the novel was toned down somewhat because I focused on her and couldn't make her TRULY evil and sympathetic at the same time. If I had Goodson tell the story, it would be too easy to make him sympathetic which would dilute the whole point of the story. As a result, I decided to have the story be told from his friends' points of view: Rudy and Bren. These two characters, who had originally been little more than tools, had developed their own personalities and own characters, and I thought they'd be strong enough to carry the novel.

I'm now about 40 pages in, and it's working GREAT. Goodson is coming alive again, and Bren and Rudy, by becoming the narrator, have been fleshed out significantly also. I more or less knocked out the adult side story, and put a sort of framework in which Rudy and Bren were the childhood friends of Goodson, who has become the world's first fourteen year old super-villain. They are telling his origin story.

As much as I liked where it was going, I STILL felt as though something was missing. I had Bren and Rudy talking as though they were writing TO someone. I tried an agent who was tracking him - nothing going. I tried using Goodson's voice, like in a journal. No good. I tried a superhero who is after Goodson and BINGO. At the start of each chapter, the superhero (who remains anonymous) talks about how finding out about Goodson from those who knew him would help him in his never-ending fight against the super-villain. The hero has a humorous voice which fits in perfectly with Bren and Rudy, and the three of them almost play off each other's testimony.

The story has evolved a LOT from those first three or four pages. I'm curious to see where it ends, but I'm VERY pleased with where it's going.

I knew there was something to Goodson, I'm so glad I'm finally finding out what it is!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Two...

July 4th weekend - spent in Ohio with Caitie's family. We had a nice time - and I finished the rough draft of my second book! Caitie wants me to just put it aside for two months now, not think about it, and come back to it later. I don't know how able I am to just forget about it, but I'm going to try!

Meanwhile, I already have the idea for book three (it's a reworking and expansion of a story I wrote ten years ago - wow, that long!). I had a solid core 70 pages or so of that story and could never quite figure out what to do with that. I realized when writing the second book that the middle grade fiction requirements on length are much much shorter than they are for anything else. I can make this third book a solid middle grade and tell it from first person of two of the main characters (mostly having them talk about the third) and I THINK I can make it work. Finally. I've gone through four versions of this story already - I know the core idea is solid, just trying to get the WAY of telling it right has been eluding me!