yes I can

I got an interesting email the other day. And although I’ve hemmed and hawed about whether or not to share this, I decided to do so because I suspect others might benefit from my experience.

The note was from someone who claims to be an editor. Someone I know of through social media. Someone who had, on the advice of “high ranking writers” — we have ranks? I had no idea! are there medals? sashes? a dental plan? — decided to take a chance and see if this new guy — me! — is as good as they said he is.

The verdict?

I suck.

And, in their opinion, not only do I suck, but my work was LITERALLY unreadable. (Btw, that was in ALL CAPS in the email, so I REALLY feel the need to be consistent) Like, they couldn’t EVEN — again, ALL CAPS — get four pages in before they threw it across the room.

Now, what’s interesting about this isn’t the criticism — it comes with the job and I’ve heard much worse — it’s the list they kindly offered me.

Yes! A list!

Whoops, forgive me. I meant THE LIST. You know, a gentle reminder of what I can and cannot do as a writer. A little something to help me out — paraphrasing here — before I go back to school and take a ton of seminars and learn how to actually write a book, etc and so on.

So, this list of “Can’ts” included

  • I can’t structure my sentences the way I do
  • I can’t break formatting and ignore punctuation
  • I can’t ever, ever begin a chapter with dialogue
  • I can’t blend past and present in a narrative
  • I can’t ever start a chapter in the middle of action.

It was a very generous list. An exhaustive list. I needed a cookie and a nap after navigating, like a less-ambitious, slightly disinterested version of Marco Polo, this list. A great deal of thought went into this list.

Toward the end of THE LIST I found myself envying their free time.

Of course I responded and thanked them for writing and wished them well. I did not apologize for my work and I did not apologize for the way I write.

Because my answer to that list of Can’ts is

Yes I Can.

Again, the criticism is not the issue. Art is subjective and, hey, everyone has their own opinion. What I do is sometimes unique and it won’t always be to everyone’s liking. And that’s okay! No harm, no foul, right?

I’m just gonna do what I do regardless because it’s who I am.

What is the issue is an industry – which this person had decided to speak for, I guess – that actively bemoans everything sounding the same and the lack of new voices taking risks and then, when someone does find the courage to throw a curve ball, smacks them down because it breaks their rules. Raps them on the knuckles, brands them with the He Can’t Write label and pushes them to the back of the line until they “learn how to do it right.”

Well, even if it slows my ascent, I’ve never really paid attention to the rules. Hell, I can’t imagine a life (which is limiting enough, thank you very much) where I choose to limit MYSELF by quieting my voice by following rules.

Because you know what?

Those who do well, and I mean those who do well enough to break down walls, destroy boundaries and flip the script when it comes to how society see things, don’t do so by following the rules. They know the rules, understand the rules, know the limits and have worked within the limits. They’ve mastered building castles in that sand box and now spend their lives slowly pushing, testing, forcing these rules to stretch and bend and change.

But when they do this they put a target on their backs for all those armed with Lists lying in wait to bury them in an avalanche of Can’ts. And they endure that, all while paving the way to Freedom for everyone else. They go unread and misunderstood and discarded so the next crop can come in to find those earlier boundaries changed. And these new voices then build their castles in a bigger, somehow better sandbox.

Those who, supported by the rules, then decide to break them do this understanding the path they’re agreeing to walk. But do so anyway because their need to create the way THEY want to is stronger than their desire to be the Flavor of the Month.

So, if I write something that’s roundly rejected by Those Who Follow the Rules, that’s fine.

No, really. It is.

Listen, I have a voice, a unique voice, which often results in interesting stories uniquely told. That’s not going to change and if the bending and breaking of those rules disturbs someone’s sensibilities, I’m okay with that.

Because, truth be told, I spend my days surrounded by people telling me No, You Can’t. And, every day, week after week, year after year, my answer has been and will always be

Yes, I Can.

where the big stories are

I recently ran across an interesting – albeit brief – read about the current state of Hollywood. In it, the writers says

Part of Hollywood’s current decay was unavoidable. As a monoculture splintered permanently into niche groups, the idea of a film everybody sees and everybody can’t stop talking about fades further into the cultural past. The rise of cable networks willing to spend serious money on shows like “Game of Thrones” further dents Hollywood’s ability to be the main supplier of big stories.

The article then goes on to discuss how the business model they’ve created has painted them in a corner where heartfelt sincerity is out, out, out and big, big, big profits are in, in, in. Where audiences have, when it comes to summer movie-watching fare, either this superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved -or not) or that superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved – or not).

And if the superhero movies are all basically interchangeable and easily forgotten, where’s the magic in going to the movies? Short answer: there is none. Which is why people are staying home and watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or whatever.

Now, I understand the financial logistics of this. I know foreign markets (China, Russia, Israel, Germany) drive profit. That Hollywood, being a global business – as in the whole world and not just America, a fact we somehow forget here in the States – isn’t necessarily making movies just for the domestic audience which, in truth, feed less and less into their bottom lines.

Really, though, Hollywood knows films that are heavy on action, explosions, dudes in capes and light on dialogue are easily translatable for Chinese, Russian, German audiences. And if your business is making money – and Hollywood’s is – a film that translates easily regardless of borders is, or could be, the way to go.

But they’re forgetting one important fact. They’re ignoring the one thing that makes it harder and harder to get those butts in the seats:

Where are the big stories?

Really. Where’s the frickin’ magic? Why go to the movies anymore? Where’s that one film that slyly incorporates those special effects audiences love while giving us characters audiences care about, feel for and never forget? Because that’s the film this industry needs. Desperately.

Being the relentless optimist I am, I strongly believe you can have action and magic in a film without relinquishing heart and soul.

If you revisit franchises like Harry Potter or even The Hunger Games, those movies ticked a lot of boxes. Centered around strong narratives – remember those? – they both successfully blended the fantastic with emotion. They married action with heart. And they gave audiences necessary, important battles without abandoning reason or hope. Cities didn’t need to crumble, the universe didn’t need to quake and thousands of cars didn’t have to get trampled underfoot for those films to make their point and make an impact on audiences.

You see? If you have a true big story – not just a loud story – you can go simple. If you’re supported by a strong narrative peopled with unique, relatable characters, you can be quiet. And if those people are imbued with hope, heartache, anger, fear, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, doubt, strength, the story they tell, even without the predictable Armageddon, will be unforgettable.

Why? Because no matter how different that person on the screen is from those in the audience, they’ll be speaking the same language. A language which doesn’t rely on translation or destruction or annihilation. A language that can be felt in a place deeper than words.

Emotion.

If you really want to find the big stories in today’s Hollywood, the stories audiences are truly craving – reminder: everyone’s staying home watching cable — that’s where you begin. With what people feel. And if you can bring to life a solid story with a character who is blessed – or cursed – with the impossible and yet is still driven by their hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, disappointments and dread, a person driven by their emotions, that’s where audiences will go. In fact, that’s where audiences will go again and again and again.

I believe if you can reach into someone’s heart, speak to that part of them that wants to feel – it’s why we go to the movies, right? – and reawaken that innate hope we all have being part of something bigger while still entertaining, still dazzling, still scaring and surprising them, they’ll come. They’ll leave their homes, come to the theater, make a night of it and see that film. They will. We’ve seen it happen before. And, god willing, we’ll see it happen again.

But that journey has to begin with the heart.

Because that’s where the big stories are.

 

First of Five

And so it begins.

In a rare confluence of events — think a massive meteor shower pummeling the earth while a rare comet circles the heavens around a total Solar Eclipse as we discover a Kardashian with actual talent — I’m going to have five book releases over the next three months.

I know, right?

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First up, Horror 201: The Silver Scream

The definitive guide to filmmaking and filmmakers by the best in the field.

Horror 201: The Silver Scream, the follow-up to the Bram Stoker Award nominated Horror 101: The Way Forward, delves into the minds of filmmakers to see what it takes to produce great horror films, from the writing and funding process, to directing, producing, and writing tie-ins.

It’s a tome of interviews and essays by some of our favorite artists.

That’s right, film legends and authors such as Wes Craven, George A. Romero, Ray Bradbury, Ed Naha, Patrick Lussier, Stephen Volk, Nancy Holder, Tom Holland, John Shirley, William Stout, and John Russo want to share their expertise with you through informative, practical, career-building advice.

These are the folks behind movies and novelizations such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Dark Shadows, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, Buffy, Resident Evil, The Stand, Sleepwalkers, Masters of Horror, The Fly, Critters, Tales from the Crypt, Child’s Play, Fright Night, Thinner, The Langoliers, Ted Bundy, Re-animator Unbound, Halloween, Apollo 18, The Eye, Night of the Living Dead, The Crow, The Mist, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Horror 201 also entertains. You’ll see a side of your favorite authors, producers, and directors never seen before – combining fun and entertainment with informative career-building advice.

Horror 201 is aimed at arming generations of authors, screenwriters, producers, directors, and anyone else interested in the film industry, from big budget movies to the independent film circuit, as well as the stage.

The definitive guide to filmmaking and filmmakers by the best in the field.

Whether you’re an accomplished author or screenwriter, writing as a hobby, or have dreams of writing screenplays or making movies, Horror 201 will take you on a behind the scenes tour of the Horror movie industry from Hollywood to the UK and Australia.

Horror 201 covers:

  • Horror as culture
  • Scare tactics
  • The evolution of the horror film
  • Viewer desensitization
  • Watching your story come to life
  • Screenwriting advice
  • Dissecting screenplays
  • A production company case study
  • Tricks of the trade
  • Writing tips
  • Advice on Producing
  • Advice on Directing
  • Information about funding and distributing a film
  • Entertaining tidbits and anecdotes

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But wait, there’s more!!!!!!!

Horror 201: The Silver Scream is perfect for people who:

  • are looking to delve into screenplay writing
  • want to write their first screenplay
  • are fans of the horror movie industry
  • like to follow the careers of their favorite directors
  • are planning on infiltrating a different field in horror writing
  • are looking to pay more bills with their art
  • are trying to establish a name brand
  • are looking to get published
  • are looking for motivation and/or inspiration
  • are seeking contacts in the film industry

Amazing, right?

How about a cover?

Horror 201

Honestly, I love how the red of the car echoes the red in the title and the red in that other car. And the silver of the screen? With the woman screaming? To me, it’s ever so slightly reminiscent of —

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So, one release down, four to go. And what are those other four books?

An essay in the second volume of Horror 201: The Silver Scream; Forever Dark, an award-winning short story in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 2; an essay in Writers on Writing, Vol. 2; and Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast.

All between now and January.

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It just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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Okay, but, still, how cool is this!

Will update with links as the rest of these roll out.