When movies make me rethink my writing

Image courtesy of Everything Everywhere All at Once

First of all: the new Michelle Yeoh movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once is coming out in wide release this coming Friday, and I recommend you go see it. It’s absolutely amazing, hilarious, and maybe more than a bit WTF did I just watch, but it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. It’s very hard to describe what it’s about other than that Yeoh’s character is a hard-working and utterly stressed out mom just trying to keep things from falling apart…and things do start falling apart, just not how you’d expect. Just…trust me and go see it.

So. What I meant to say here is that every now and again I’ll see a movie that makes me rethink my own work, whether it’s the style, or the way it unfolds. Often times its unique way of telling a story will inspire me to see my WIPs from a different angle. And, most of all, there are certain films like the above where I can “see the math of it” (as I like to say) — as a writer, I’m intrigued and often blown away by how the filmmakers have used different details, shots, edits, formats, and maybe even colors or angles, to tell the story in a specific way. They’ve allowed me to see how all the different threads of the plot, visuals and dialogue weave together to make a wonderful tapestry. Not every film does that to such a conscious degree, but when they do, those are the ones that have always made me want to run straight home, fire up Word and start writing my own.

When we left the screening of Everything Everywhere there were two things that stuck in my mind: one, I totally want to see this again to pick up everything I missed, and two, I totally want to see this again so I can study it. [Three, if you want to include I love the fact that I just spent half the movie laughing and the other half shaking my head in amused bafflement.] This film was so original and clever with its unraveling of cinematic and literary expectations that you almost don’t notice that it re-ravels them back together in an altogether new and unexpected way.

There aren’t too many films and filmmakers that will achieve that sort of unique creation that will resonate that deeply with me. There are a few anime directors that have done that — Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai are but two — but American filmmakers? Not that many will make that kind of film that will just hit me like that.

And yes, I did in fact work on Theadia after we got home. Heh.

Other creativity

Close-up of my Gretsch Electromatic

I admit I haven’t been up on my art sketching lately due to being so focused on Theadia, but I’ve at least made it a point to pick up my guitar and noodle around with it for a bit during my writing breaks. Sometimes I’ll just play a few covers I’ve taught myself, and other times I’ll play a few riffs that I’ve come up with over the last several years.

I haven’t written any complete songs in ages, but I have at least fifty or so partial melodies that I’ve recorded on my phone over the last five years, all under the Drunken Owl moniker. I’ve been thinking that one of these days I should go through them, pick out maybe twenty of them that I think are worth expanding on, and turn them into real songs. Maybe build an album out of them.

I always say how writing, editing and publishing a novel is very similar (at least in my mind) to writing, recording, and releasing music, so maybe it’s time I made good and went in the opposite direction? I mean, why haven’t I done so already?

Part of it is the writing style, really. Writing a novel is a long-term commitment, trying to weave together several ongoing thought threads into something cohesive and complete. My style of music writing is obviously from the Beatles School of Writing It In My Head. Paul McCartney has often spoken about the reason why his early songs were so memorable was because no one in the band actually physically wrote the songs down on paper other than the lyrics; he and John Lennon made sure they memorized their new creations before they brought them into the studio. My songwriting is very much the same…I’ll get the lyrics down and remember the chord progressions that go with them by scribbling the chords above the words and making a quick note of “slow, sounds like Joy Division” in the margin.

Nowadays I write the music first, and I’m finding that I need to relearn how to write the lyrics to go with it. The fascinating thing about this turnabout is my guitar style has evolved and gotten infinitely better! Giving myself time to focus on the instrument has made me learn so much more than I ever thought. I still can’t fingerpick worth a damn, but I can kind of fake it on some of my newer melodies. And that comes from finally allowing myself to figure out the secrets of my favorite guitarists. [One of my favorite secrets was learning that some of George Harrison’s best solos and melodies are actually simple chords with minimal embellishment. He just knew how to make it sound a lot more impressive.]

Anyway, like I said, it’s been ages since I’ve written a complete song, and I kind of miss doing it. Perhaps that will be my next creative self-test: taking a half-melody idea and spending a week working out a full production plan for it. What would the song be about? What mood would it evoke? How do I hear it in my head? And go from there…finally take that SoundForge software that’s gathering dust on my PC and make some rough demos. See where we go.

And maybe get a Drunken Owl record out of it…?

The Real Thing

There’s been some noise lately about a few companies and intellectual properties jumping on the NFT bandwagon, and this time they’re all about trying to convince everyone that it’s in an artist’s/musician’s/writer’s best interests, that they can make all sorts of dough fast and easy, just by creating these doohickeys! And surprising absolutely no one, an extremely high percentage of said creative persons are responding with a big fat NOPE.

I mean, other than the vague theoretical that an NFT is — a non-fungible token, which no one really seems to understand or be able to accurately describe in the first place, including those who are trying to shill them — these creative people aren’t really buying the idea of a person not owning, say, a signed book, or a limited edition vinyl record, or a one-of-a-kind painting one can hang on their wall, or a photograph printed by the photographer themselves, or a cd that one can get autographed by the band members themselves. That’s not what an NFT is.

So what is it? Who the fuck knows. In vague theoretical terms, it’s apparently an e-token of sorts. Something that says one owns not an original piece of created art or a copy of it that you can actually tangibly hold and appreciate in some sort of way, but…something that says you own said token that’s tied to it. You’re not a shareholder. You’re not an owner of the creation. You’re just an owner of the mere statement that you own something.

In short, it’s saying “hey look what I have”. What you actually have doesn’t really matter. You’re not even an insider or a collector. It’s the idea that you have it, and you can’t trade it for anything else. It’s a one-of-a-kind statement of ownership, with the pesky annoyance of what you own taken out of the equation. And in some weird theoretical financial world, that’s worth…something? I think?

So. Why am I yammering on about this?

Because I, as a writer, a musician, a photographer and an artist, have absolutely zero intention of getting in on that bit of vague theoretical nonsense. When I put my books out for sale, you get a book. I flipping wrote them on purpose. For you to read. Good Christ Almighty, why the hell would I want to put myself through multiple tireless months of writing, editing, revising, laying out and self-releasing novels otherwise??

If you buy my wares, you get the real thing. Not a vague theoretical.

The Fever Dream of Being a Creator

I’ve always wanted to create, ever since I was a kid. I knew early on I wanted to be three things: a writer, an artist, and a musician. Not just one or two of them — I wanted to be all three. It wouldn’t be something I’d learn overnight or through osmosis, of course. These were things I knew would be a lifelong learning experience.

The downside to this was that once I’d shared this dream with others, I was constantly reminded that, American capitalism being what it is, the expectations were super high. [Never mind the fact that whenever I mentioned writing as a kid, adults immediately expected me to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a reporter — which I did not want to do. I knew I wasn’t good at it, and it didn’t intrigue me. My strength is in making up stories.] Most of these expectations were learned by experience and by reading well-meaning advice books and columns: write this kind of fiction, always write in that style, shmooze with these people and you’re in. And in college: read these books, be influenced by that author, be a part of those scenes. I really hated that part of the creative field for a long time, to be honest: being forced into a mold I knew I wouldn’t fit into.

I tend to be the kind of writer who’ll read an article talking about bad things in fiction — prologues, dialogue tags that aren’t “said”, adverbs, whatever — and how I should never use them. Of course, the nonconformist in me (thank you, college radio!) always responded with, well, why not? I would use them anyway, not really to prove them wrong but to prove to myself that they can be used, one just needs to understand how they work to one’s benefit. For example, I play around a lot with unspoken pacing in my work as a subtle way to hint at impatience or exhaustion or whatever other emotion a character is feeling. It’s really fun to do and I’ve learned to pull it off. So I’m always worried that someone will read that scene and say it’s too slow, when I’ve spent a considerable amount of time deliberately making it slow on purpose. I know, it’s not for everyone, but I really enjoy doing it.

Anyway — I’ve been thinking a lot these days about just how much time and effort I need to put into my creativity and make it a strong career choice instead of just a hobby or a side thing. All this week I’ve hit 1000-plus words for all three writing projects, and just the other day I officially started up my Shutterstock portfolio page (it’s sparse at the moment but I’m working on building it up a few days a week). Yes, I’ve taken the plunge and also working on my photography. It’s long been on the backburner and it’s high time I started taking further steps.

That’s been my true motto with my creativity all this time: let’s see how far we can take this. It took me years to understand what I truly meant by that; I didn’t want it to mean ‘mavericky pushing the envelope’ or ‘shock value because I can get away with it’. I wanted that to mean, let’s take this creative outlet and play around with it, mold it into something worth expanding on, and make it a long-game career that I’ll always enjoy and dedicate time to. I did that in the late 90s with my writing. I’ve done it to some degree with my music playing. And now that I’ve realized I have another creative outlet that intrigues and inspires me — close-up nature and landscape photography — that I’d like to expand on. See how far I can take it. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it to some degree (again, always room for improvement, of course) and I’m willing to take that next step to make it happen.

I call all this a fever dream because it feels like one to me sometimes. Dedicating that much time, energy and brain power to creativity is kind of weird if you think about it because most of the time you’re starting with absolutely nothing and making something out of it. I won’t say it’s “magical” as I so rarely think of it in those terms, but it really is unlike any other day job I’ve ever had. It’s following an idea and having absolutely no idea where it’ll take me, but trusting that I’ll get there if I trust myself.

It’s taken me far too long to get to this point, I’ll admit, but I’m glad I’m there now, and I won’t look at it in terms of regret. I’m here now, so let’s embrace it.

Let’s see where it goes.

On Visualization

Storyboarding the first chapter of ‘Diwa & Kaffi’

I’ve said numerous times in the past that I’m a visual writer — that is, I tend to see my stories visually and try to write what I’m seeing in my head. Sometimes it works, sometimes it needs a bit of post-writing revision, but either way I try to tell the story in the best way possible.

Meanwhile, as a fun not-entirely-serious project to get back into the habit of drawing again (and maybe, slowly, getting better at it), I’ve decided to storyboard Diwa & Kaffi, which is one of my more visually-created stories. I wrote it fully seeing it as a Studio Ghibli film or a manga tankobon, so it certainly lends itself to that particular format.

The above page is one from page 6-7, just after Diwa and Kaffi have nearly gotten themselves in trouble all while being monitored by their fathers. Below is the text version:

“You’re right,” Samuel said, leaning back against the railing. “That game of theirs is a bit haphazard. It’s a simple game of catch, but it only tests their timing.”
“There was no coordination between them whatsoever,” the tintrite huffed.
“Agreed,” he said. “but it doesn’t have to be all about coordination, Gray. You watched Diwa navigate the garden almost flawlessly—”
“Almost,” Graymar snorted, flashing a quick fang.
“It’s about knowing the area,” he continued. “I know for a fact I’d have gone the longer way around the garden and playground and missed the catch entirely.”
“You were never good at catch games, Samuel.”
Samuel didn’t miss a beat. “You never wanted to play them! Seriously, though…I see potential. They were confident in their surroundings. They’ve been all over this estate for years, they know it backwards and forwards. I’ve seen them both taking a lot of initiative, helping the tenants, and chipping in during our quarterly festivals. They’re old enough to be our interns now. Diwa has been showing interest in the tenancy committee. He’s been active in the last few meetings. I’d be happy to show him the ropes. And he says Kaffi has an interest.”
Graymar lifted his snout quickly in response. “Kaffi hasn’t said anything about this to me.” Samuel had expected as much. Graymar’s relationship with his pahyoh – with anyone, come to think of it – sometimes required a lot of patience and understanding.
“He’s waiting for the right moment. Ask him, or at least let him know you’re aware of his wishes,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be interested.”
“Hmmm.”

I’m having a LOT of fun with this diversion, so I’m going to continue with it as time and inclination allows! I’m learning while I’m going too, dusting off a lot of my long-ignored film production/theory knowledge while also letting myself enjoy the creative process. It’s helping me visualize the characters better — in my head I can see what Graymar and Kaffi look like as tintrite, but I haven’t quite managed to nail their exact image as closely as I’d like, for instance — and in the process open up a possible new direction with my creativity.

Will anything come of this? I might shop the storyboard version around, or I might turn it into a webcomic, or it may come to naught. But I’m keeping the options open for now!

On Creative Outlets

Source: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative outlets.  I know, I know…in previous posts I’ve talked a lot about wanting to play more guitar, write more songs, make more art, but it was always in the context of trying to squeeze it in when and where I could, while also working on my writing.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about focusing on these outlets instead of always putting the novels first.  Perhaps instead of trying to brainstorm the next project, it’s time for me to give these two other outlets some serious stage time.  I’ve been recording more than a few song ideas and demos on my phone over the last few months (using the Hi-Q mp3 recorder app) and I think I can work with some of them.  I’ve long been tempted to find decent (and not expensive) multi-track software and do a bit of experimenting, so perhaps it’s time.

As for art…?  Good question. I have a few art notebooks, pens and pencils that are collecting dust as I haven’t used them in a while.  That’s gotta change as well.  I’m much more on an amateur level here, so this would be mostly for personal enjoyment than anything else, at least for now.  But yeah — I miss the enjoyment of drawing, even if it’s drawing my imaginary maps.  It’s a peaceful outlet that chases away everyday stress and makes me look at the world from different angles.  And I’ve always wanted to try new styles; I think I’ve burned myself out on drawing my Murph caricatures.  I’ve also been told (very often, actually) that my storytelling style is extremely visual, so perhaps trying my hand at visual storytelling might be something to look into.

I suppose these thoughts have been brought on by my recent decision to make a lot of personal changes in my life.  I’m not chasing away my novel writing, I’m just pulling it from center stage for a bit so the other outlets can have a chance to shine.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write novels; I want to prove to myself that I can play music and create artwork as well.

I’m very curious to see where this all leads me.

Source: The Garden of Words