Hey, Everybody I'm Back (Or Did You Even Know I Was Gone?)

Hey, ya'll, I feel like I've been gone forever (about 12 days to be exact) and it's so nice to be back. I can only imagine what you've had to do to entertain yourselves in my absence.

As far as the absence goes, I encourage you to let your imagination run free in order to figure out where exactly I might've been this whole time. In the mean time, we've got a lot of catching up to do. Um...

Okay, well, maybe there's not that much catching up to do.

Since we last spoke, I began a Twitter campaign to get B.J. Novakactor/writer on The Office—to follow me. I have, as of this moment, decided to call the movement OccupyBJ. Today is officially Day #13. As of yet, Mr. Novak has chosen not to acknowledge either myself or the OccupyBJ movement. Feel free to go on Twitter and apply some pressure. And if you're wondering what it's all about, well, I'll save that for a later post.

I enjoyed quite a bit of the Twilight Zone marathon on Thanksgiving, before tolerating The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1. As for the Twilight Zone, I watched, among other episodes, "To Serve Man," which, now that I think about it, could've been an alternate title for Inside the Outside. And as for Breaking Dawn, I found it to be, all in all, pretty harmless. I was, however, disappointed to find that none of the vampires in Breaking Dawn sparkled, despite the story being set on a Brazilian island. Apparently there isn't much direct sunlight in Brazil.

Speaking of vampires, I made some significant headway in my vampire novel during my hiatus. I am, as of this writing, twenty-nine chapters (roughly 60,000 words) into my new novel. I'm so excited about the new novel and wish I could tell you more about it, but, for now it's sort of top secret—except, of course, for the vampire part. The novel is on pace to be around fifty chapters, so, at this point, it's more than halfway done.

My goal is to have it published by the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013.  Of course, if the Mayan calendar has anything to say about it, I'd best get this book done before December 21, 2012.

I've done quite a few cool interviews for "10 Questions for..." that I'll be posting over the next couple of weeks. You can also look forward to a number of new posts in "Books That Aren't Mine," as I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Unfortunately, my absence has interfered with my screenwriting project with Greg, but you can soon expect to see some new updates in the "ADAPTING INSIDE THE OUTSIDE" series.

And I guess that's about it. Until we meet again...

The Circle of (a Writer’s) Life: PART 2

When my friend and former writing professor, James Brown, invited me to speak to the students of his Advanced Creative Writing class, I was both excited and honored. In July of 2011 I officially became an indie author with the publication of my novel, Inside the Outside. Brown's students, being in the MFA program, will all presumably look to have their own work published one day and so he thought it'd be good for them to hear about my experience as an independent publisher. He'd set up Tuesday, November 15, 2011, as my day to speak. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about the presentation I wanted to give and the things I wanted to tell the students.

I wanted to tell them that I remember what it's like to sit where they're sitting, to work so hard on your craft without any real promise that you'll see your work in print. I wanted to tell them that I can relate to the anxiety and desperation that comes when you start sending your work out to agents and publishers, only to be met with rejection time and time again. I wanted to tell them about how I spent two years working on my "first" novel, only to have it rejected by every agent I sent it to, before spending another five years working on the novel that would become Inside the Outside, which, despite much interest from agents, was also soundly rejected. I wanted to tell them that when the time came for them to publish their own work that they had other options, that they weren't beholden to the system of traditional publishing, that there was more than one way to share their work with the world.

And while, when the time came, I spent over an hour speaking to Brown's students (who, incidentally, were both gracious and welcoming) about the pragmatics of independent publishing, what I really wanted to convey was hope. Because, the unfortunate truth about being a writer, or an artist of any discipline, is that, when you choose to pursue a career in your craft, you will be met by a seemingly endless line of people who want to tell you no, to turn around, to knock on someone else's door, or, perhaps, to stop trying altogether. Most of those people will never understand what it means to invest the whole of your heart into an artistic endeavor, to invest your love and imagination into something that, were it not for you, would not exist at all. And most of those people, the ones who say no, will never truly understand the crushing disappointment that exists on the other side of their rejection.

Because I know only too well that this is the world that many of Brown's students will one day enter, I wanted, more than anything, to provide them with the knowledge that there is another way. It's a road that strays from the traditional path, a road lined with the footsteps of rebels and mavericks. A road lit by the rays of hope, leading to a place where writers are free to take control of their own destiny.

The Circle of (a Writer's) Life: PART 1

In the fall of 2001 I transferred to California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), to study English and earn my Bachelor's degree. I was terribly excited to learn, soon after my arrival, that, within the English program, there was a creative writing discipline. I, of course, joined that track and away I went. Up to that point, I'd been toiling away at learning the craft of fiction writing on my own and, while I felt I was pretty good at it, I knew I wasn't where I wanted to be. So having an opportunity to learn about creative writing in the classroom from successful writers was a dream come true.

Unfortunately, the very first creative writing course I took at CSUSB was a less than positive experience. The professor, who was a successful novelist within her genre, wasn't very good at encouraging her students, let alone teaching us about the craft. More than once, she told us about how competitive and difficult it would be for any of us to get published (which is true) without offering any sort of silver lining. Beyond that, the feedback I received on my short stories was generally discouraging. Being that she was so successful, I was wiling to assume that she knew better than me and I came to the conclusion that I just wasn't a very good writer.

So, after the class was over, I decided to quit writing altogether, choosing instead to study literature. I did, after all, still enjoy reading, so I figured I'd become a literature scholar and that would help make up for the fact that I was a terrible creative writer. However, about six or seven months later, I found that I still had a jonze for creative writing that I couldn't quite shake. Even if I was terrible at it, I loved doing it—this despite not having written anything of substance since that first disastrous class. So I decided to take one more creative writing class, before quitting for good and focussing on other things.

The class I signed up for was being taught by James Brown, author of the acclaimed memoirs The Los Angeles Diaries and This River. Brown had been successfully writing and publishing for about 30 years when I showed up in his class, so, unbeknownst to him, I quietly decided to give him the last word.  If Brown's opinion of my writing resembled that of my previous professor, then I would take it as an unmistakable sign that it was time for me to give it up.

As it turned out, Brown was both exceedingly encouraging  as well as a great teacher. Slowly, but surely, I rediscovered my confidence and my writing flourished. I took as many classes as I could with Brown until I finished my academic career in 2006 with a Master's degree in composition.

Five years later, I'm still using the tools I gathered while under Brown's watch—the very same tools, in fact, that would become indispensable  in the writing of my debut novel, Inside the Outside. Since graduating, I've entered into my own career of being an English professor, embracing the opportunity to positively impact students the way Brown did with me.

And now, this week, my writing life will be coming full circle, as James Brown has invited me to be a guest speaker in the Advanced Creative Class he teaches in the MFA program at CSUSB. I'm so tremendously excited and honored to go back to my alma mater and stand in the same room where I learned my craft, to meet and talk to students who sit where I once sat, and to offer whatever knowledge I can to help encourage them as they prepare to embark on their own writing journeys...

To be continued in "The Circle of (a Writer's) Life: PART 2."


For Greg's side of this story story, check out the sister post on his blog.

Greg and I have been meeting for our regularly scheduled writing sessions for nearly two months now as we work on the screenplay adaptation of Inside the Outside.

The first three or four weeks were spent outlining the screenplay, which was both fun and tedious, often at the same time. One of the challenges I’m finding myself confronted with is overcoming the occasional bout of boredom that comes with retelling a story that I spent five years writing in the first place.

The process of writing a novel involves long, isolated hours of intense focus and concentration. It’s not just a matter of putting words on the page (though, to be clear, that’s a terribly important part of the process), but it’s also about working out the kinks of the narrative and the characters, thinking about the various subplots and how they interplay, as well as how every choice made will effect the larger story being told. While it’s a process that I love dearly, I’m only human. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was (and still is) to have completed my novel and see it in print.

So, now that I’m collaborating with Greg on the adaptation, there are lots of times where he and I are locked into sessions of intense focus and concentration, working out the kinks of the narrative and the characters, thinking about the various subplots and how every choice made will effect the larger story. And, occasionally, I find it challenging to garner up the proper level of focus or concentration, because it feels as though I'm putting myself through the same difficult process all over again, in order to tell a story that I've already told. But, without fail, I am able to shake off those temporary funks, because, among other things, it’s just too exciting to think about the potential of this movie.

When there is a scene in the novel that plays out perfectly for the screenplay, the writing is a simple matter of translating from one format (novel) to the other (screenplay), nearly verbatim. So, when Greg and I are lost in our collective concentration, what we are often working on is how to re-imagine a scene to make it work on film—or, in some cases, we must invent new scenes that don't exist in the novel at all. These are the times where our writing is slowed to a grinding halt.

Part of the challenge of inventing a new scene is every choice we make—every action and every line of dialogue—must jibe with what we already know is going to happen later. See, if we were creating a brand new story from scratch, we could afford to play a little more jazz with the screenplay. But, because we are working within a well-defined structure, every choice must be exhaustively scrutinized.

For example, in the novel there is a key storyline involving Pepsi Marlow and Idea Marlow. When writing the novel, I didn’t have to devote many scenes to their story, as I had the luxury of developing and communicating it through the narrative. If you read the book, you’ll find that there’s really only one scene between Pepsi and Idea, despite the fact that I created a substantive back story for their relationship.

In the screenplay, however, we don’t have this same luxury. We’ve had to write scenes for Pepsi and Idea that will develop and establish who they are and, more importantly, what they mean to Timber. Scenes that, in the novel, were more or less implied. This also led us to one of our first major departures from the novel.

In the novel, Daddy Marlow uses his power and influence as Divinity leader to force a relationship with Pepsi in order to spite Idea. While I never actually show you their interactions, it is unmistakably implied. In the screenplay, however, Greg and I decided it is necessary to show how (and why) Daddy Marlow decided to target Pepsi. This led to us writing a scene between Daddy Marlow and Pepsi that doesn’t exist at all in the book. The result is a scene that is equal parts powerful and disturbing. And, while it doesn’t exist in the book, it very much represents the spirit of the book.

NEXT TIME: Exactly who does the writing when Greg and I are in one of our writing sessions? And which one of us writes faster? The answer may surprise you. Or maybe it won’t. Or maybe you’ll find your reaction falls somewhere in the middle. Also, I'll discuss Christine Vachon's book, Shooting to Kill, and what influence it has had on the adaptation process. Stay tuned!