Hey, Folks!

So, did you have a moment or two, or three, this Holiday Season that was full of drama, good or bad, that you’d LOVE to put into a work of prose you’re writing?

You ever look at works by playwrights, screenwriters, and TV writers and how they can take moments from real life and make them dynamic and compelling and say to yourself, “Damn! I wish I could put things like that in my short story or novel?”

Well, whether your idea of a Holiday story is Die Hard or Hallmark Channel movies, multi-award-winning novelist and nationally syndicated film critic Michael Marano’s class at Boston’s Grub Street, SCREEN & STAGE TO THE PAGE: What Drama, Movies & TV Can Teach Prose Writers (starting January 10, 2019) will let boost your prose, giving you access to the incredible storytelling tools stage and visual media writers have been using for decades in the creation of Tony, Oscar, and Emmy-Award-winning narratives!

What kinds of tools are we talking about?

Well, chances are you’ve just had, or maybe had last year, an exchange around the Holiday Dinner Table that’d make for an awesome chapter in a novel, or a scene in a story. Take a look at this scene from Judd Apatow’s classic show, Freaks & Geeks (play from the 15:40 mark to 19:30)…

 

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/58193659″>Episode 4 – Kim Kelly Is My Friend</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/smokinrobocop”>smokinrobocop</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

In SCREEN & STAGE TO THE PAGE: What Drama, Movies & TV Can Teach Prose Writers, we will dissect the ways in which all the highs and lows and escalation of that scene are concentrated for maximum emotional impact.

What other kinds of tools will we learn to use?

Think about it. Is there a scene more clichéd than the police interrogation scene? 99% of them can be summed up to: “Hello, Detectives. Here’s the exposition you need to go to the next act, where you’ll get more exposition.” But with True Detective, novelist and short-story writer Nic Pizzolatto re-invented the interrogation scene so it became riveting drama in and of itself:

 

 

We’ll dissect exactly how Pizzolatto did it, so that what in TV format is binge-worthy can, for your prose, be page-turning!

Screen & Stage to the Page will meet for 10 weeks on Thursday mornings from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM at Grub Street HQ in Downtown Boston, 162 Boylston Street, 5th Floor by Park Street Station near the Common.  Click on this link to enroll!!!

Hope to see you all in January!

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I’m an artist who works in a number of fields. I even consider my work as a magazine interviewer an art, because I try, with my interview subjects, to collaborate on the creation of a unified narrative about their work. And as an artist, one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced has been what I call the “Art of Letting Go.”

What do I mean by that?

When I was very young, one of my first gigs was writing radio plays.

I can’t tell you the joy I felt during the very first read-through of my very first play when one actor in particular who played the heavy portrayed the character in a way I’d have never, ever have imagined that character to be played. I was a twenty-something, inexperienced shithead, and this guy took what I’d handed him and made it into gold. During that read-through, when this guy (whom I can’t name, because he’s SAG, and he was performing under the table with a pseudonym) brought his prodigious talent to my newbie words, my eyes dried out, because I didn’t blink as I read along as he recited what I’d written and completely rewrote it with his own artistry.

That was the first time I’d Let Go as an artist, and trusted my art to another person, and experienced the magic of what they brought.

Letting Go of Your Art is an Art.

And it’s an incredibly rewarding Art.

As an author, I’ve been blessed with never having a shitty book cover or illustration. Something I’ll never forget is when Tor’s Art Director Irene Gallo grabbed me by the hand and yanked me through the Tor offices to show me the glorious cover that Cliff Nielsen created for my first book, Dawn Song. I was stunned at the sight of it. I worked closely with my dear friend Gabrielle Faust to create the cover and interiors art of my collection Stories from the Plague Years, and I got a lot of joy out of that collaboration. (I hope she did, too!) Erik Mohr did gorgeous covers for ChiZine’s reissues of my work.

It’s a beautiful thing to inspire beauty.

And you can only create that beauty by Letting Go of your Art, and let someone else’s Art come to bear upon it.

As a circus aerialist who has worked with partners (both in the aerial apparatus and with coaches and choreographers and teachers on the ground), I can say it’s truly magical to be suspended in the air, to completely trust your partner and create something new.

Which brings me to novella-length scenario I wrote for Evil Overlord GamesSusurrus: Season of Tides, entitled “Angels of Our Better Nature”.

That’s a pretty great title, huh?

“Angels of Our Better Nature”.

I love it.

Guess what?

It’s not mine.

My title was totally lame. It was basically, “The Bad Guys”. On par with calling Dawn of the Dead something like The Mall Zombies.

I don’t know who at Evil Overlord came up with that title, but God bless them. I’ll probably find out tomorrow. Might have to send that person a fruit basket.

And do you see that beautiful illustration at the top of this blog post?

Here, I’m going to post it again.

 

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That illustration is the work of Duncan Eagleson, whom I’m sure most folks know from his incredible work on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The illustration depicts a character I created for “Angels of Our Better Nature” whom, quite frankly, I’m very proud of and very fond of. I’m very attached to that character, and I let her go, entrusting her to Duncan’s monstrously talented hands.

I just saw the illustration for the first time tonight.

She looks nothing… at all!… like how I envisioned her while writing the scenario.

Yes, Duncan got down the basics of what I described in the character sketch I submitted.

But in terms of essence… no.

That’s not the character I envisioned.

And I absolutely adore this illustration of that character so near and dear to my heart.

Opening the file of the illustration tonight, I had that wonderful, giddy feeling of Letting Go. I tasted the magic of it.

It’s intoxicating.

Just like what happened at that read-through of my play almost 30 years ago, my eyes dried out… experiencing something beautiful that someone crafted from something I’d made.

And that I’d let go.

Look at this illustration.

I truly hope, some day and somehow, you can see the beauty of it in the way that I am privileged to.

 

 

 

 

Hey, thought I’d drop a note and mention that I’ve done a project that I’m very enthusiastic about for the good folks at Evil Overlord Games for their fascinatingly complex Susurrus: Season of Tides game scenario.  With the really splendid help and guidance of Evil Overlord’s Chief Writer Victoria Root and Game Writer Phoebe Roberts, I created a narrative set within the world of Susurrus that was as challenging to write as any work of long fiction I’ve published.

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As a horror writer, I’ve been really eager to try my hand at a narrative form I’d not tried before. The Interactive Fiction format of Susurrus gave me that opportunity within an Urban Fantasy setting that is fully realized, layered and complex. I was given free reign to create characters and to use existing characters within the world of Susurrus while at the same time exploring the themes and motifs that define much of my fiction: alienation  in the modern city; the enduring legacies of ancient magical practices; redemption; finding grace in the face of adversity.

 

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Another real joy of working on the project was the chance to create story that dovetails with the incredible art that Sandman artist and comic book impresario and all-around brilliant visual artist Duncan Eagleson has created for the world of Susurrus.

 

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My contribution to Susurrus: Season of Tides goes live on Monday, November 20, 2017. A lot of love and sweat went into the creation of this work that is nested within a vast and complex fantasy world that I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to work within. Please check it out, and take the opportunity to explore the world of Susurrus. It’s a dark and lovely place.

WAIT! Can it be? A fourth class in the wildly popular series of Grub Street classes that combine the best of literary fiction techniques with the punch of genre storytelling? Yes, IT IS! In this newest instalment of Michael Marano’s “Smart Page-Turner” sequence taught at Boston’s Grub Street, you will receive serious hands-on instruction from a multi-award-winning novelist and nationally syndicated critic that will not only infuse your genre fiction with literary gravitas, but that will also infuse your literary fiction with the readability and popular appeal of fiction genres such as thrillers, mysteries, Science Fiction and Fantasy, erotica, adventure, etc. Classes will include writing exercises and workshopping of students’ fiction. Specific topics are outlined below on a week-by-week basis. This class expands on topics covered in Grub’s “Writing the Smart-Page Turner”, “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” and “Revenge of the Smart Page-Turner”, but is open to all. Recommended for those with previous workshop experience.

Where? At Grub Street’s Downtown Boston HQ, right by Park Street Station on the Red Line and Downtown Crossing, 162 Boylston St #5, Boston, MA 02116

Who?   https://grubstreet.org/about/who-we-are/faculty/#MichaelMarano

Michael Marano is a horror and dark science fiction writer whose first novel, Dawn Song, won the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. Stories From the Plague Years, a collection of Marano’s new and reprinted short fiction, was named one of the Top Ten Horror Publications of 2011 by Booklist. His supernatural crime novella “Displacement” was nominated for a 2011 Shirley Jackson Award. Stories From the Plague Years was reprinted in 2012 by ChiZine Publications of Toronto, who also reprinted Dawn Song in 2014, which will be followed by two sequels, A Choir of Exiles and Winter Requiem.

Since 1990, he has also been reviewing movies for the Public Radio Satellite System program Movie Magazine International. Mike’s pop culture commentary has appeared in many national publications. Marano is also a beginning circus performer, developing and choreographing narrative aerial pieces for the trapeze and lyra based on the works of J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick.

 

When? 10 Thursdays from 10:30am-1:30pm, starting September 7th, 2017

How? Enroll here! SCHOLARSHIPS ARE AVAILABLE! https://grubstreet.org/findaclass/class/the-smart-page-turner-reloaded/

OUTLINE OF THE CLASS

Week 1. Creating Suspense and Tension

What the hell is suspense? What the hell is tension? How are they different? How do they compliment each other? What are their components? We’ll dive in and examine strategies for creating suspense and tension in genre and non-genre contexts.

Materials: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca; Tracy Letts’ play Killer Joe; one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels.

Week 2. Using All Five Senses

Ever read something that’s just blah, because the author is only using sight and sound to tell a story? You have FIVE senses… so why not harness them all for your fiction?

Materials: Patrick Süskind, Perfume; Elizabeth Kata, A Patch of Blue.

Week 3.  Stealing the Storytelling Techniques of Writers for Stage, Screen and TV, Part 1–“Tapping Real Life”

Some of the best storytelling created today is being written for performed media. We’ll look at how these techniques can be applied to prose fiction. First up, creating “Slice of Life” moments…when there’s this thing that happened… and you really want to write about it in a dramatic way. How do you take a “slice of life” that everybody can relate to, and still make it interesting and compelling? How do you avoid the dreaded, “Yeah, so?”

Materials: Emmy winners Judd Apatow and Michael White’s teleplays for the high school comedy/drama Freaks and Geeks and parts of renowned theater director Peter Brook’s essay “The Open Door.” A short story or two by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Week 4. Stealing the Storytelling Techniques of Writers for Stage, Screen and TV, Part 2– “Using Place and Time to Define Drama”

Drama and conflict and personal growth can’t exist in a vacuum. We’ll look at the specific ways the time and place of your story can and maybe should define its emotional impact and arc.

Materials: Emmy-winners Matthew Weiner & Robin Veith’s teleplay for the Mad Men episode, “THE WHEEL” and either Greg Mottola’s Independent Spirit Award-nominated script for Adventureland.

Week 5. Stealing the Storytelling Techniques of Writers for Stage, Screen and TV, Part 3–“Creating Personal Conflicts”

 Ever find yourself amazed at how some playwrights can just have a few people in a room, and the emotional results are like a UFC Cage Match? We’ll breakdown how they do that.

Materials Nobel-winner Harold Pinter’s play, The Homecoming and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jason Miller’s play, That Championship Season.

Week 6. Using Stanislavsky to Create Characters

Actors have a whole bunch of great tools to get into character’s heads. So… why can’t authors use those tools, too?

Materials: Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs

Week 7. Using Setting, Part 1, The City

To really use an urban setting, even to in a work of realism, you have to tap a really unique sense of the unreal. Poets like Baudelaire and TS Eliot figured this out. And so have a few really great prose authors.

Peter Straub, “A Short Guide to the City”; Hubert Selby, Last Exit to Brooklyn or The Demon, Vera Caspary, Laura, Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place

Week 8. Using Setting, Part 2, The Wilderness.

When you have characters in the wilderness, the real struggle isn’t always with the external wilderness, but the inner one. We’ll look at ways to tap that struggle.

Robert B. Parker, Wilderness; Bonnie Jo Campbell “Bringing Home the Bones”

Week 9. Satire and Hyperbole

When you take something emotionally real and blow it up, you’re using the same tool that humorists use, even when you’re not writing about something particularly funny. We’ll look at the ways that satire and hyperbole can be used to be funny and tragic.

Rod Serling and Michael Wilson, Planet of the Apes; Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One; a short story by P. G. Wodehouse; John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy;

Week 10. Catch Up, Loose Ends and Review

 

Dreamt I attended a screening in a very large outdoor amphitheater of a newly unearthed work print of an unfinished _Lord of the Rings_ movie filmed in the late ’60s… and it was AWFUL. In order to appeal to the fucking hippies, the filmmakers removed Tom Bombadil and replaced him with some fucking longhair named “John the Bard” who looked like one of the Bugaloos and who sang groovy songs no doubt intended move lotsa units of the eventual soundtrack album. Groovy. The breaking point at which everyone got up and left en masse was when our heroes reached The Prancing Pony, and among the Hobbits there, in extra special cameo roles, were Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

Really.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I bought a new fountain pen: a Lamy Extra Fine Safari in Charcoal Grey and some fresh bottles of ink (in the classic colors of blue, black, and blue/black). Yes, much in the way that Veronica in the Archie comics will feel better about the world when she impulsively buys shoes, I feel better when I impulsively buy stationery and pens. (Worth noting: on the Archie-inspired TV show Riverdale this week, Veronica mentioned using a Mont Blanc.)

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When I got home, I broke in the pen by working on a scene in the novel I’m working on, A Choir of Exiles, on my favorite kind of paper, old accountant ledgers.

 

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Why old accountant ledgers? I wrote about that here.

Though I should say that these aren’t old accountant ledgers, anymore. I took the truly old ledgers to a print shop and had them make me a box of new tablets to the exact specs of the old sheets on which I first started writing fiction when I was a scrawny teen in the late 1970s/ early 1980s who looked like this (pretentious beard and all):

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And why fountain pens? I wrote about that here.

Here’s the current pile of A Choir of Exiles sheets I’ve been writing on said ledgers with said fountain pens, next to a bottle of absinthe for scale and to show that I’m still pretentious.

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But something occurred to me this morning… I never really thanked the person who introduced me to the joys of writing with a fountain pen, as opposed to the shitty ballpoints on which I’d learned to write cursive.

Anne Lindberg was a friend from college whom I’ve not seen in 31 years. Back then, I was busting my ass to to get a degree in History and Medieval Studies, taking a heavy load of classes that were very lecture-focused. Scribbling notes in ugly ballpoint (and sometimes felt-tip) while seated in those horrible plastic desks/chair hybrids took up most of my time. While we were hanging out in Anne’s dorm room one night, she gave me a fountain pen. Now, it was one of those basically disposable Sheaffer jobs that cost (as I recall) $2.95 back then, but I thought it was one of the most miraculous things I’d ever used. I couldn’t believe how the thing just skated over the paper when I took notes while in lectures, like these notes of mine from 1985, about Early Medieval Cosmology in De consolatione philosophiae by Boethius :

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By the way, did you see how I used the original Latin title of De consolatione philosophiae instead of just saying The Consolation of Philosophy? I told you I was still pretentious!

But back on point, the fact is, Anne taught me that the physical act of writing could be a  delight, that grinding a 19 cent, piece-of-shit pen into foolscap wasn’t the only way to commit words to some kind of permanence without typing. Since then, I’ve written probably a million words in fountain pen, maybe more. And for that, I owe her thanks.

So… wherever you are… thanks, Anne! Your random act of kindness to a college friend has had a lovely effect on my life and my craft.

 

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This is Stoopy, so named for his love of visiting people while they hang out on their stoops. He is the boss of my neighborhood in Boston, and looks upon all the humans living here as if he is their patron and boss… which he is. If your door is opened, he will calmly walk in to your place and make himself comfortable, often demanding turkey and other cold cuts before leaving. He walks around using the _exact_ center of the sidewalks, and only crosses the street at crosswalks, after looking both ways. Stoopy is Zen. Stoopy master of all he surveys. Be like Stoopy.

 

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Ordinarily when I write longhand, I use a Lamy Extra Fine Point fountain pen or a Shaeffer Extra Fine on old accountant ledgers. (Why old accountant ledgers? See this post: https://michaelmarano.com/category/lovecraft/) Why a fountain pen? I love the feel and flow of a fountain pen and, best of all, I love the scritching sound they make on paper. I use ballpoints all the time for note-taking and regular, everyday writing not related to writing fiction. But the sound ballpoints make on paper isn’t nearly as satisfying as a fountain pen nib’s scritching. I’m old enough to have begun my writing career on a typewriter, and to write in a way that is not associated with some kind of sound feels like a cheat. (For that matter, as a journalist, I’m of the very last generation to have worked in a newsroom with a typewriter and a teletype. All that wonderful noise and clatter helped me to focus and make deadlines. I still have a few sheets of used teletype paper in my files, on the backs of which I scribbled copy.)

Why write longhand at all? Simple. I get really fucking sick of looking at computer screens. Past a certain point, they hurt my eyes, and my hands get all achey from too much typing. Plus, it’s just a good idea to grab a pen, a tablet of paper, plop down in a coffeehouse or a library and just write, without any interfacing digital technology. I think it’s a healthy way to use different parts of your brain, so they don’t get all creaky and gummed up.

Today, though… I wrote with a Cross Medium Point. Why? Because in the novel I’m writing, A Choir of Exiles, I had to kill two sympathetic characters, and the ink had to really flow along with the mayhem. I gotta finish typing it all up before I make dinner.

Maybe I’ll play a sound file of a teletype machine going, so it’ll sound like a race with a real deadline?

 

 

I never met William Peter Blatty. Yet as someone who was not, as he was, educated by Jesuits, but was educated in History and Theology and Philosophy by people who were educated by Jesuits, I felt a certain intellectual connection to him and his work. And, as someone who has always loved a good joke, I admired the hell out of the guy who could pull a fast one over on Groucho Marx, as Blatty did when he posed as an Arab prince on Your Bet Your Life.

I hold Mr. Blatty’s thematic trilogy of The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and Legion in such high esteem because of the deep humanity and humor present in those works. Admirers of these novels, and their film adaptations, need only hear the following words to break out in an uncontrollable grin: “Carp”; “Rabies”; “Lama”. (Or maybe “Fritos.”) If you’ve read his comedic book Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, the question “Did you fuck my sister?!” will probably make you guffaw. His humor was always based on deeply human interaction. As was his horror.

It was with Mr. Blatty’s understanding of humanity, and our shared intellectual background (albeit, mine was second-hand Jesuit instruction), that I approached him to blurb my first novel, Dawn Song. I wrote him at the end of 1997. he sent me the following reply, postmarked Dec. 31…

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The generosity with which Mr. Blatty extended to me the courtesy of reading my book, and providing it with a thoughtful and very kind blurb that has graced every edition of it, demonstrated to me that the humanity present in his fiction was, in fact, the humanity present in the person. On this day of his passing, I know that I shall miss this person, knowing his humor and humanity are no longer in this world.

Inside the mind of author Michael Marano

Hey, Everyone! Just posting  for my students the topics I’ll be covering and the possible readings I’ll be assigning in my upcoming Grub Street class “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” The first class session will be on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston. The class will run at that time for ten weeks, with the final class taking place on Nov. 16, 2016. 

(If this seems like a lot of readings, keep in mind the lists below are tentative. I’m not going to assign them all!)

Grub Street is a non-profit creative writing center dedicated to nurturing writers and connecting readers with the wealth of writing talent in the Boston area. For more information on Grub Street, click here.

1. Creating Strong Imagery

How do you create effective imagery? How do you make imagery that’s…

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