Be yourself

Ernest Hemingway

“For a long time now, I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” ~~ Ernest Hemingway

I’m often asked how I write and what I write and how it all fits together. I have a variety of different answers for these questions, usually based on what I think the questioner is fishing for, but overall I have only one go-to answer: I write my work.

What does this mean? It means that I write what I want to write, when I want to write it and how I want to write it, and I pay absolutely no consideration to anyone else while I’m doing it. Now I may be writing to a specific level of marketability, or to an audience, but I’m writing my book in that vein. Not someone else’s book, not the book I’ve been told to write, but the book that came from my head in a way that only I could write it.

I read a book recently called Steal Like an Artist and the author, Austin Kleon, says that all creative artists start off as thieves. We have someone, or many someones, whose work we admire, and we set out to emulate them in our own work. This is what people mean when they ask, “Who are your influences?” So the first hesitant steps a writer makes when trying out his or her craft is to write something like what they’ve read and enjoyed previously. Not a pastiche, mind you, but something like it. These are different things.

Eventually those aspects of your work that are recognizably your own start to push forward and the theft recedes. Or at least it’s supposed to. There are writers who have never been able to escape the gravitational pull of their influences. There’s a writer I know of whose work is basically just reheated Cormac McCarthy, to the point where reviewers have to mention McCarthy in every review he gets. Not because he and McCarthy are equals, but because what makes him unique hasn’t overcome what he’s borrowing. But, hey, he keeps getting work and people buy it, so who am I to judge?

Continue reading

[REVIEW] Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career

Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, by Elizabeth Hyde StevensYou’d be hard-pressed to find a figure in the entertainment field more beloved than Jim Henson. This is the man who gave us Big Bird and Kermit the Frog and countless other cool, interesting puppets. He fueled our childhoods with Sesame Street, made us laugh with The Muppet Show and turned out a couple of genuinely classic films, including The Dark Crystal. I think if any of us imagine what we’d be like as a creative individual working in the television and film media, we imagine ourselves as Jim Henson. Everybody loved Henson and he loved everybody else. Who could ask for a better boss/friend/collaborator?

I’m not here to shatter that impression of him. I’m here to talk about Elizabeth Hyde Stevens’ Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, a Kindle Serial-turned-book that tries to break down the history of Henson’s career into teachable moments that will enable all of us creative types to be more like him: fun, happy and successful. If I say Make Art Make Money is not a perfect exploration, that’s not damning it in any way. I think Make Art Make Money is a terrific read. I will explain.

Continue reading

[REVIEW] The X-Files — “Eve”/”Fire”

The X-FilesI’ve already done some talking in these reviews about the two types of episodes found in The X-Files. These are: mythology episodes and monster-of-the-week episodes. As the show was originally conceived, The X-Files would have consisted entirely of monster-of-the-week episodes, as Chris Carter was enamored of the short-lived Darren McGavin vehicle, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Thankfully for us, though, he decided to change things up a touch and add the mythology episodes, which provide a sort of narrative backbone for the whole affair and thereby make The X-Files more than just a collection of spooktacular moments and a (mostly) coherent long-form story.

After the very well-done “Fallen Angel,” The X-Files decided to shift gears on us again and go back to the monster-of-the-week well. And as was the case with the previous pair of episodes we talked about in this space, one episode is good and the other is… meh. Not bad, just meh.

But let’s start with the good, shall we? “Eve” is a self-contained episode, as I say, but it’s an interesting departure from what’s come before because it’s actually, authentically creepy. A lot of people say they love “Squeeze” because of its horror elements, but “Eve” is a much more effective exploration of the genre. In the episode, a little girl’s father is discovered in the backyard of his house, drained of four liters of his blood — and, yes, this does kill him — but with no sign of the blood around, nor a struggle, nor anything that might point to foul play. Definitely a mystery.

Continue reading

[REVIEW] How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy IngermansonI go through cycles in my reading and can usually be found consuming some particular kind of fiction or nonfiction for a stretch of a few weeks or months before switching out to something else. Lately my preoccupation has been writing books, and I kicked off my exploration of this nonfiction category with author Randy Ingermanson’s book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.

I’ve heard about the Snowflake Method for quite a while now, and I was aware that Ingermanson, who wrote a few modestly popular Christian novels, was selling not only a book on the subject, but a piece of software designed to assist the process. I wasn’t ready to splash out $100 for software I might use once and never use again, but four bucks for a Kindle edition was just the right price.

Now I have my own way of writing books, and I’ve been using it successfully for some years now. There’s absolutely no pressure for me to change the way I go about my business, as what I do clearly works for me. But for the same reason doctors go to conferences to learn all the latest techniques and such, writers should also be on the lookout for ways to step up their game. Ingermanson may not be a bestseller, but he’s popular with his readership and respected for his work, so he’s obviously doing something right. I’ll steal from anyone to better my writing, and I was fully prepared to steal from Ingermanson.

Continue reading

[REVIEW] Miami Vice — “The Great McCarthy”/”Glades”

Miami ViceOne of the more interesting things about Miami Vice is that although it was a groundbreaking show in many respects, it still had a foot in the old world of TV cop dramas. I mentioned in an earlier review how today’s television series would have handled the Calderone storyline completely differently, possibly drawing out the final confrontation between Crockett, Tubbs and the Colombian mastermind for the entire season. Or at the very least half a season. But shows simply didn’t do that back in the ’80s, being firmly planted in the soil of episodic television. New episode, new story, reset at the end with no real changes.

Now Miami Vice did experiment a tiny bit with serial storytelling later on in the series, but these things were confined to mini-arcs of two or three episodes for the most part, which is not deviating from the norm all that much.

Whether Miami Vice would have benefited from a more serial approach to its plots is subject to taste. Personally, I would have liked to see more of it. Maybe I didn’t think so at the time, since I had nothing to compare it to, but I definitely think so now.

Continue reading

[REVIEW] Dracula Untold

Dracula UntoldUniverses! Universes! Universes! Everybody wants to have a universe in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and why not? The Marvel movies are making a fortune at the box office and one, Guardians of the Galaxy, is the biggest hit of 2014. Not bad at all.

Universal Studios — or Universal Pictures, take your pick — has been a major player in the development of Marvel’s universe, so it was really only a matter of time before they decided to stop sharing the wealth with Disney (who owns Marvel) and do their own thing. One can even argue that Universal Studios started the whole idea of a shared universe with their Classic Monsters series back in the ’30s and ’40s. In those films, eleven pictures of varying quality, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man had individual movies to their credit, but were combined in various ways in a few of the stories. This has been called retroactively the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe, and many of the films in that canon are a blast to watch even today.

Cut to today. Universal, spurred by their success co-funding the Marvel pictures, has decided to reboot their cinematic universe and bring all the classic monsters back, plus the Mummy. The Mummy, despite people thinking otherwise, was never a part of the shared universe. It was still considered a Classic Monster, and rightly so, but he never interacted with the Big Three of Universal fame.

Continue reading

writer-guy with blog