Hey, Everybody!

Thought I’d give a specific hint of the kinds of things things I’ll be covering my upcoming Grub Street Class,  Screen and Stage to the Page: What Drama, Movies & TV Can Teach Prose Writers. It’s a 10-week class that will meet Monday Mornings from 10:30 to 1:30 at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston starting January 12, 2015.

Check out the really incredible scene below (which we’ll be dissecting in detail about halfway through the course), from Robert Redford’s adaptation of Judith Guest’s really amazing novel Ordinary People. The script was by the great Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent.  The scene below is not in Guest’s novel, but it has become iconic in that it so beautifully and intensely concentrates the emotional tensions that backbone both the novel and the film. Check it out:

 

 

What we’re gonna look at in Screen and Stage to the Page: What Drama, Movies & TV Can Teach Prose Writers are the ways that you can, and at times maybe should, look upon revisions of your first drafts not as polishings, per se, but as adaptations, much in the same vein as screenwriters adapting novels to screenplays. We’ll “reverse engineer” the ways in which Sargent created the above scene (by taking a look at similar scenes he’s written in other adaptations of novels, like The Sterile Cuckoo by John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War) and inserted it into Guest’s existing narrative. And we’ll figure out ways you can use the same techniques of adaptation that screenwriters use to the revision of your own work.

If you have any questions, post them below and I’ll answer them ASAP.

 

To enroll, click here: http://tinyurl.com/3ctj92f  .

Hope to see you guys in class!

Hey everybody! I’d like to announce my new class, Screen and Stage to the Page: What Drama, Movies & TV Can Teach Prose Writers. It’s a 10-week class that will meet Monday Mornings from 10:30 to 1:30 at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston starting January 12, 2015. Here’s the official class description:

Some of today’s best writing in terms of theme, character, dialogue, and plot is being done by playwrights, screenwriters, and teleplay writers. In this class, a nationally syndicated film critic and multi-award-winning novelist will show students how to use the tools of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights and Oscar-winning screenwriters for their prose fiction stories and novels. Topics covered will include ways to rewrite real-life incidents into tight and compelling drama, how to streamline exposition so it doesn’t stop your narrative dead, how to crystallize character-defining moments into a scene, and how to use the context of specific settings to amp drama. Classes will consist of analysis of plays, teleplays, and scripts as well as some prose source materials, group watching of films and TV episodes, and in-class workshopping of students’ short fiction and novel excerpts with special emphasis on how the tools of screen and stage writers can be applied to these works. All genres and kinds of fiction writers are welcome.  

So, how will that breakdown? Here’s a tentative syllabus of the topics I’ll be covering and the materials we’ll be looking at.

1. Tapping Real Life

So, 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.”

2. Awesome Exposition and Action

So, there’s all this stuff… background information… that the reader needs to know about in order for the plot to move forward. But to give that information to the reader, you can wind up stopping the plot dead in its tracks. Which can be close-the-book boring. We’ll look at ways to give the audience/readers the information they need while still making your narrative interesting and full of dramatic punch.

Materials Oscar-winner Paul Haggis’s screenplay for the James Bond movie Casino Royale,  with some comparison to Ian Fleming’s original novel. David Koepp’s screenplay for Jurassic Park with some comparison to Michael Crichton’s original novel.

3. Point of View and Emotional Development

OK… point of view is vitally important to telling a story. So’s character development. How does your main character’s emotional arc affect how you use POV?

Materials BAFTA winners Joel and Ethan Coen’s screenplay for True Grit, with some comparison to Charles Portis’ original novel .

4. The Scope of Time and Space and Hitting Emotional Beats

Let’s say you got a story that takes place over a long period of time, over a lot of geographic space. How do you keep a solid emotional core to something that takes place, well… all over the place, and for a long period of time? How do you pace out the emotional beats to keep that story going strong?

Materials James Vanderbilt’s WGA-nominated screenplay for the David Fincher movie Zodiac.

5. Creating Tension, Apprehension and Dissension

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.

6. Adding Dramatic Layers of Meaning to Your Dialogue

Wait! Did that person really just say that? Wait! Did that really mean what I think it meant? We’ll look at ways to load your scenes with different meanings and different emotional notes.

Materials John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer-winning stage play (and screenplay for) Doubt.

7. 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 or Alfred Sole and Rosemary Ritvo’s screenplay for Alice, Sweet Alice.

8. Putting Crystallizing Emotional Moments in a Scene

Sometimes, a dramatic moment can occur in a story that rips open a character so you can look deep inside to see what makes them tick. We’ll dissect a few of those scenes, to see how they can work in prose.

Materials Jenny Lumet’s screenplay for Rachel Getting Married  and Tony-winner Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

9. Adding Details to Make a Story Pop

The effect of little things can be huge in a story. We’ll look at ways to choose the right things to get the most dramatic bang.

Materials Brian Helgeland’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for Mystic River, with some comparison to Dennis Lehane’s original novel.

10. Mining Simple Conflict into Complex Drama

Sometimes, a really simple situation can be a really deep and profound exploration of the human condition. We’ll look at ways to use simple situations and conflicts to load stories with heavy emotional punch.

Materials  J.P. Miller’s teleplay Rabbit Trap and Paddy Chayefsky’s teleplay Marty .

To enroll, click here: http://tinyurl.com/3ctj92f  E-mail me at profmike AT mindspring DOT com if you have any specific questions or want any further information. Please note that scholarships are available for greatly reduced tuition. For more information on scholarships, please refer to the Grub Street page here. Deadline to apply for Scholarships is noon on DECEMBER 4, 2014.

SLUMMIN' IN SOMERVILLE

 

Slummin’ in Somerville–Comedy
Wednesday, 9:30 AM CBS
“The Whirlwind Wednesday”

Wackiness ensues when Mike, kind of behind on the new novel he has under contract and trying to get back into condition for circus training after an injury, has to deal with Jim, his kooky new neighbor (Paul Sand), an aspiring songwriter who belts out love songs every night dedicated to his girlfriend Gladys… whom he’s only “met” over the phone after she dialed Jim’s phone as a wrong number! Tony Randall guest stars as Jim’s agent, and Doris Day has a cameo as the voice of Gladys.

Paul Sand Guest Stars with Mike Marano in SLUMMIN' IN SOMERVILLE

Paul Sand Guest Stars with Mike Marano in SLUMMIN’ IN SOMERVILLE

*Sigh* I mostly write horror and dark fantasy. I want to write science fiction. But I can never _anticipate_ the future as a thing of absurdity or satire or terror. Each time I think of some future scenario, it’s overtaken by real life. A million years ago, I tried writing a political science fiction novel that just *became true* before I got far into it because of the candidacy of Ross Perot.  I tried writing about a near-future Great Lakes reality that just *became true* as Detroit imploded.

As a Science Fiction reader and writer, I can’t make up anything as insane as the Japanese Orgasm Game Show Challenge. And yet, it has happened.

I’ve been stuck in the writing of a dystopian SF novel for a while. I threw in a situation like the one below as an idea to sort of play with and explore as something going on in the background of the main action. I could never have come up with the really brilliant added touch of this craziness going on while the person was a.) fully clothed in a steam bath b.) in Alaska and c.) in January.

Here’s the explanation from Uproxx:

“Meet Kathleen Tonn, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from Alaska currently held by Democrat Mark Begich. Here she is in a video she uploaded to her Facebook page, one that features her speaking in tongues fully-clothed in a steam room, naturally. She apparently did this to try to convert a non-believer into accepting Jesus Christ as her lord and savior.”

 

Really… how could even Alfred Bester, Robert Sheckley, Alice Sheldon or William Gibson have topped this true event through any imaginative act of extrapolation?

The totally gorgeous new cover for DAWN SONG by Erik Mohr

The totally gorgeous new cover for DAWN SONG by Erik Mohr

Hi, Everybody!

Above, please take a look at the stunning new cover by Erik Mohr for ChiZine Publications’ reprint of my first novel DAWN SONG. I think it’s an absolutely stunning piece of work, and when Brett Savory e-mailed me the cover, I was in a coffee shop in Cambridge, MA, where I kinda embarrassingly expressed my delight almost the same way Jan Brady would, upon receiving a signed 8 X 10 glossy in the mail from her favorite Monkee.

The reprint of DAWN SONG will be coming as a Trade Paperback and an ebook in June 2014; the ChiZine edition will be loaded with a few extra goodies that have not been in any other previous edition of the book. It will be followed by a sequel in 2015 and another sequel in 2016, the titles of which aren’t really finalized yet, though I can assure you that DAWN SONG: BREAKING DAWN has been considered and soundly rejected.

For those of you who don’t know, DAWN SONG was first published in 1998, and went on to garner the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. According to some metrics, it’s still among one of the 100 most critically lauded genre publications, at # 72. (Hey, man… I’m right between Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Fredrick Pohl’s Man Plus on that list. That’s pretty goddam good company to be rubbing shoulders with!)

DAWN SONG is set during the first Gulf War build up of 1990, and is part of a mythology I’ve been developing in fiction based on the notion of a War in Hell… in which the struggles of various factions of demons in Hell for supremacy at once create, and are created by, the psychic shockwaves of conflicts on Earth. The book centers on the quest of Lawrence, a young gay bookstore clerk who’s come to Boston to create a new life for himself, and a Succubus who has also come to Boston to further the agenda of her demonic Patron in the War in Hell. I’ll be posting here about DAWN SONG some more in the future. But for now, let me sign off with a very generous quote from a writer who really helped me a lot in the development of my approach to this kind of material. Thanks so much for stopping by!

“‘The falling snow, dropping from the darkened sky, reminded her of the steady rain of souls upon the plains of her homeland. Although, unlike the souls, the snow did not scream.’ When I read those lines (from Michael Marano’s Dawn Song), I got up, turned on all the lights and checked the locks.”

“The author’s talent is unquestionable, his sensitivity and power of expression quite impressive. How rare to find a work of this genre written in so literate a style. It put me in mind of Anne Rice.”

–William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist and Legion

Hey, Everyone!!

Just wanted to let you all know about my NEW class at Grub Street, “How to not STINK! A Look at Bad Storytelling and What Writers Should Do and Not Do”

It will meet for 6 Wednesdays from 10:30am-1:30pm at Grub Street headquarters, (162 Boylston Street, 5th Floor Boston, MA 02116) starting on April 3rd.

Here’s the official Grub Street Description from their website: http://tinyurl.com/crswkzu

The most important thing a writer can do to become a good writer is to avoid being a bad writer. In this multi-week, multi-media class taught by an award-winning novelist and nationally syndicated film critic, students will autopsy a string of really bad examples of storytelling so we can all figure out why they’re bad and how not to be bad ourselves in the same ways. Strategies will be developed in class to make rotten books and films no longer rotten, or at the very least a little less rotten, so that students will develop a toolkit for writing fiction and other narratives that are … y’know … actually good. Students must be prepared to read some really bad fiction and watch some really bad movies. Class time will also be spent on in-class exercises fixing bad narratives, and on the development of a practical toolkit for actual good prose writing that will address issues such as world-building, character development, the right ways to apply background research to a story, and the application of sound logic to plotting. There will be workshopping of students’ fiction, emphasizing the application of good storytelling techniques from the toolkit we’ll be developing. For students with prior workshop experience.

Here are some of the topics we’ll tentatively cover:

*How to avoid clichéd characters.

*The importance of clear character motivation.

*How to structure plots that are logical.

*How to create conflict that’s meaningful, and not just an excuse to get your plot rolling.

*How to avoid bad imagery and mood.

*How to avoid terrible exposition.

*How to not cheat your readers with bad endings and resolutions.

*Does your protagonist really BELONG in your story?

*How to not use product placements in the place of real world building.

*How to not let your really awesome and fun research get in the way of your storytelling.

To sign up, click here:   http://tinyurl.com/crswkzu

If you have any questions, feel free to ask below!

Two years ago today, I wiped out on my mountain bike and broke my left elbow and smashed my right knee. This turned out to be a kind of happy accident on two fronts.

One: My left elbow had already been blown out for months from a weight-lifting injury (which was why I was exercising on my bike and not lifting on that day). Keeping the arm immobilized in a sling for two months actually healed the pre-existing injury.

Two: The elbow and the knee took a long time healing and getting back to 100%. To strengthen the ligaments and the tendons, I decided about a year ago to start going to circus school and taking trapeze, which has become an incredibly important part of my life, has become a new art form I have embraced and which has had the added bonus of helping me get over my heart-punching terror of heights. So, a lot of good ultimately came out the accident. It still HURT LIKE A BITCH. But I’ll take the rough with the smooth. Here’s a pic of the fracture. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Elbow

I have on a roughly 12″ by 9″ by 9″ area on my desk probably more computing power than existed in the whole world when I was a child (need to look that up, but I remember when a gigabyte was something possible in theory; the computer on the Lunar Lander had, I think 16 or 15 bits).  And what do I do with this power that had been unthinkable when I was a science-fiction-devouring kid?  Am I planning colonies on Titan? Am I figuring out ways to mine nickel and iron from the Asteroid Belt? No. I’m watching cat videos. Welcome to the Future!!!  Snow Cat

 

Peck_sy295

 

 

“I’m afraid the truth, to me as I see it, is more important than entertainment for its own sake. The unfortunate thing is, I suppose, I see a certain kind of truth only too clearly.” — Sam Peckinpah, in a letter dated May 13, 1969

 

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Hey, Everyone…

Thought I’d post the week-by-week breakdown of my new class at Grub Street in Boston, REVENGE of the Smart Page-Turner! which will run for 10 weeks at Grub HQ in Boston on Mondays from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM beginning on January 10, 2013. Here’s the official Grub Street class description:

The newest addition to Grub’s ground-breaking series of classes that combine the best of literary fiction with the punch of popular and genre storytelling. In this course, students will get serious “hands on” instruction that applies the characteristics of three archetypal figures from pop fiction–the Detective, the Outsider, and the Thief–to the actual process of writing fiction. The goal for students is to acquire a practical set of writing tools that can make scenes and narratives dynamic, emotionally involving and intelligent. Special attention will be given to strategies that can rework familiar pop fiction tropes so they can be used in fresh and innovative ways, which will entail a multi-week analysis of Suzanne Collins’ YA bestseller The Hunger Games. There will also be analysis of how the techniques of great screenwriters like Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby), Joseph Stefano (Psycho) and David Mamet can be applied to the “nuts and bolts” of writing popular fiction, be it romance, supernatural, adventure, thriller, crime fiction, science-fiction, erotica, etc. Individual class time will be devoted to the workshopping of portions of novels and/or short fiction. While this class expands upon topics covered in Grub’s “Writing the Smart-Page Turner” and “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” classes, it is open to all but recommended for those with previous workshop experience. Students should come ready and eager to read a variety of materials across a broad spectrum of taste, from Pulitzer-winning fiction to meat-and-potatoes paperback potboilers. Students should expect to be workshopped 1-2 times over the course of ten weeks, depending on the class size.

Please note that this is not a finalized list of readings and other materials selected for the course.

1. The Skill of Noticing

Ever notice that really good writers… well… notice a lot of things? The layout of a room? Clothing? Character quirks? Things that just ring true? Noticing things like these is a developed skill. We’ll start this course with a close look at how to look at things in ways that strengthen your writing.

Edgar Allen Poe, “Man of the Crowd”; National Book Award Winner Bonnie Jo Campbell, “Boar Taint”; Pulitzer Prize Winner Elizabeth Strout, “Criminal”

2. Positioning Yourself for the Right P.O.V.

Great! We’ve learned how to notice! But is noticing really observing? Contextualizing what you’ve observed is an important writing skill, too. We’ll look at ways to choose the right narrative “vantage point” that will make your writing richer and more resonant. In particular, we’ll look at the ways in which the use of outsiders and thieves as characters in the works we’ll cover gives the authors of those works unique opportunities to dig into human nature.

Christopher Nolan’s film Following [NOTE–This film is available streaming on Netflix and via IFC OnDemand, if not enough students have access to these resources, we may screen it in class]; maybe Jack Schaefer’s Western Classic ShaneRoland Topor, The Tenant; Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back,

3. Polishing the Turd–Practical Approaches to the Rewrite

Legend has it Steinbeck once said, “I’m not a good writer. I’m a good re-writer.” We’ll find ways to add/or subtract the right elements from a work by looking at the different tools that screenwriters and prose writers use to tell the same story. A re-write is basically an adaptation of a first draft, almost in the same way a screenplay can be an adaptation of a prose work and a novelization can be a prose adaptation of a screenplay.

Joseph Stefano’s teleplay “A Feasibility Study”; Michael Marano, “A Feasibility Study”

4. Set Decorating

One of the most common problems with new writers is the so-called “White Room Syndrome”, a failure of imagination on the part of the writer that makes it seem as if the characters are functioning in a vacuum. We’ll take another look at the readings and other materials we’ve gone over so far to pick out the ways that these writers and screenwriters have enriched their settings and characters through the use of specific and carefully chosen details.

5. The Art of the Mash-Up: Plots and Sub-Plots

How do you create sub-plots that work with your main plot, and don’t feel tacked on? How do you resolve your main plot, without leaving your sub-plot dangling? We’ll look at ways to weave your plots and sub-plots together so that that they feel like a unified, integrated whole. In particular, we’ll look at the ways that Oscar winner Paul Haggis could take individual stories by F.X. Toole, each with their own plots and story arcs, and weave them together into one great narrative, his screenplay for Million Dollar Baby.

F.X. Toole, “Frozen Water” and “Million $ Baby”; Paul Haggis‘ screenplay for Million Dollar Baby

6. How to Steal, Part I

There are, after all, only seven plots. How do you tell your story and make it stand on its own? We’ll look in detail at a great recent Smart Page-Turner, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and dissect its component parts so we can see the actual mechanics of how to pinch ideas and reconfigure them in kinda awesome ways.

Robert Sheckley, “The Prize of Peril” and The 10th Victim; Suzanne Collins,The Hunger Games [Note–We’ll be reading this YA book in its entirety, so please purchase a copy or get it out of the library.]

7. How to Steal, Part II

We’ll continue what we started last week, with particular emphasis on using some of the skills we’ve covered in the class so far to craft our own unique takes on the Seven Universal Plots.

Collins, The Hunger Games [con’t]; An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge; Bruce Joel Rubin‘s screenplay Jacob’s Ladder; Sunil Sadanand, “Waiting Period”

8. Watching the Detectives

We all love detective stories, but what does a detective do? A detective connects disparate elements to piece together a description of what has happened. Isn’t that also what a writer does? We’ll look at a great work of detective fiction for ways to piece together killer plots, anecdotes, scenes and character sketches.

James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss; David Seidler’s screenplay for The King’s Speech

9. The Epic Voice in Pop Fiction

So… you’ve got a third-person narrator for your work. How do you give that third-person narrator a voice with a real personality that’s suited to your narrative? We’ll find ways to do just that, plundering tricks that have worked for writers from ancient Greece all the way to the production offices of Mad Men.

William Goldman, Marathon Man; Jack Ketchum, “The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard”

10. Creating Tension

Ever read a scene that just sits there, on the page? We’ll find ways to use tension and urgency to hook battery clamps to a dead scene to make the little bugger dance.

Thomas Harris, Hannibal; David Mamet’s first-draft screenplay for the film version of Hannibal; Aaron Sorkin, “Pilot Episode” teleplay for The West Wing.

To enroll, see the listing at Grub Street here. Thanks so much! Post below if you have any questions.