Monday, October 28, 2013

And four years later...

I can't believe it's been more than four (!!) years since I last wrote in this blog. In the meantime, Blogger has apparently decided to get its act together and revamp its entire dashboard, allowing, for example, for custom templates, custom URLs (for free!), and all kinds of other goodies. I'd long since transferred my other blog, My Inner French Girl, from Blogger to WordPress precisely because I wanted the ease of use and customization options that that platform has always offered, but I never quite got around to switching this one over.

Not that I would have had much time to do it. I started a little social media and content marketing company called Blue Volcano Media (also on WordPress, natch), and before I knew it, I was/am working excruciatingly long hours and wondering how I managed to hit the big 4-oh without too much fuss. Anyone can launch a startup, but I can see why so many of the featured startup stars in Inc. and Entrepreneur are in their twenties -- it takes a tremendous amount of physical, financial and emotional sacrifices to not only launch but also sustain and grow a startup, and I daresay that for most people, the twenties are when we are most likely to have these in abundance. By the time you hit your late thirties, you have families, mortgages, car payments, and a dispiriting number of friends who are far higher up the socioeconomic ladder than you are. Starting a new business isn't just a big, terrifying leap into the unknown at that point -- it can be downright insane.

So I jumped into the insanity.

It's been a big, crazy ride, one that I'm still on, but I've also had to step back a little as I realize how much of my writing I've sacrificed as well. For a writer, financial and even physical sacrifices are painful, but sacrificing writing is heart-ripping. It unmoors you and leaves you feeling almost vulnerable, even fragile. When your identity has been wrapped so tightly and intimately with writing -- the act of it, the thought of it, the very idea of it -- not engaging in it for so long leaves an insidious sense of being unwell. Maybe that's why I've often been sick the past four years.

Thus, returning to this blog is my attempt to heal myself. To return to what makes me whole and hope that all the pieces are still here, lying around waiting for me to put them back together again. For me, writing is more than an act of faith. It's an act of hope and survival as well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Who's intimidated by Virginia Woolf?

Well, I am, for instance.

Am reading Julia Briggs' Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, and am impressed by the woman's energy and devotion to -- obsession with -- writing. Despite being beset by frequent headaches, debilitating illnesses and awful depression, she managed to crank out brilliant short stories, books and reviews throughout her relatively short life. I loved that to her, the work was the most important thing. She saw her art as her profession, her vocation, something to take seriously. I struggle with this myself, sometimes imagining people telling me that writing is but a hobby, a frivolous activity that should only take place outside of the restricted hours of a real job. Woolf absolutely believed not only that her writing was her gift but the work that she was put on this earth to do. Would that I could have so much self-confidence.

I knew that she had created a publishing company with her husband Leonard (Hogarth Press) but didn't know much about it until recently. Apparently much of her work was actually published by Hogarth Press, making her one of those "self-published authors" so many people disdain nowadays. (I have a dear friend who still looks down on self-published books as a bunch of drivel written by ignorant amateurs who couldn't hack it with a real publisher. Yes, we're still friends, but we definitely don't agree on that point.) I've always wondered what it would be like to have my own publishing company, not just for my own work but for others. Now would be the absolute worst time to be a publisher, of course, not with all these consolidations and bankruptcies, but wouldn't it be something? Mine would likely focus primarily on works by women, both fiction and nonfiction, biographies, literary essays, philosophy, feminism, that sort of thing. Not so much the academic volumes but the more accessible work that can reach a broader, mainstream audience, the people who wouldn't ordinarily visit a feminist bookstore, for example. I'd love to work with writers such as Jessica Valenti and Amy Richards, writers from my generation and younger who have such exciting ideas about politics and social and global issues.

Maybe someday, if I win the Texas Lotto. Awfully nice to dream about it, though.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Movies as guides to narrative structure

One of my favorite "teaching moments" this past weekend at the D/FW Writers' Conference was Bob Mayer's frequent use of actual film scenes -- which he would incorporate into his PowerPoint presentations -- to illustrate the power of a solid narrative structure. I listed these in my notes as some of the films he mentioned and the specific scenes he cites:
  • Saving Private Ryan's opening scene
  • The Verdict, most notably: the scenes where he photographs the woman in the hospital; he meets the judge at the latter's home and begs to settle; the final scene in his office
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Broken Arrow, with John Travolta and Christian Slater
  • Walk the Line, specifically the scene where Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his bandmates are auditioning for someone and are told that the man doesn't think Cash "feels" the song. Mayer mentioned this scene several times throughout his presentations as a wonderful example of how artists must be passionate about their work, or their readers will immediately see through the artifice and lack of story
He mentioned many others, but these are the ones that stand out the most. I totally loved this unique perspective, since I'm such a huge film buff. He emphasized the importance of watching quality films closely, including all those special features on the DVD's, to see how scenes are structured and titled; how they build upon each other to create tension, a narrative arc; how characters are introduced, including the antagonist; how dialogue is written to distinguish one character from another. Mayer recommended that writers watch film commentaries, too, to hear how filmmakers decide on details to include in each scene, whether it's the burning cigarette in the ash tray in the background or the color of a woman's barrette. These little details are what add punch and interest to a story, the defining characteristics of the people and places and plots that make up a really good book.

I got to thinking about Battlestar Galactica, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and how each episode built upon all the previous ones, how the narrative structure stayed so tight, even through multiple storylines and characters and over four long years. What made BSG such compelling TV were the characters and dialogue, really, more than the storyline itself. [Spoiler alert!] Who knew that the Cylons would end up being allies to the humans? Who knew that the last shot of the entire series would include the "angels" of a Cylon and human? When did we, the audience, begin caring for the Cylons, sometimes more than we did about the humans? That's some good stuff there, and I bet if I go back and watch it all over again, studying each episode's structure and dialogue, I'll learn even more not only about the story -- because we always catch details upon repeat viewings and repeat readings that weren't obvious during the first go-round, and which almost always give us clues as to the author's or screenwriter's overall vision -- but about the characters themselves.

So now I'm raring up our Netflix account again, getting it ready for our move this weekend to our new apartment. We've had it suspended the last two months, but delivery should start up again this Saturday. We've a backlog of several hundred films, if you can believe that, but now I have an even more attractive reason to park myself in front of the TV and watch movies: it's research for my novel.

By the way, if you're interested in knowing more about how a successful screenwriter thinks and works, John August (Charlie's Angels, Big Fish,Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, The Nines, among others) has a great blog in which he discusses the art and science of his craft and answers questions from readers.