Posts Tagged ‘Michael Marano’

I’m really quite bummed by the death of Wes Craven. As a kid of the 1970s and 1980s, the artistry with which he articulated the darkness that was thrashing around in the American subconscious gave me a lot of catharsis. I had the pleasure of interviewing him by phone back in 2010. He was erudite, literate, and intellectually deft. One of these days, I should transcribe the whole conversation.  But for now, on the occasion of his death, I’ll share the bits that were published.

Wes Craven

SINS OF THE FATHERS

by

Michael Marano

(c) 2010, by Michael Marano

First appeared in the December, 2010 issue of SciFi Magazine.

I was sitting down the road from the marsh where Wes Craven filmed Swamp Thing back in ’82 when Craven took time out from filming Scream 4 to phone about his upcoming movie, My Soul To Take.

“I very jokingly can refer to it as Stand by Me with knives,” says the man who picked apart the American Id when he brought us Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street. His voice is cultured and smooth as a really good whiskey, the kind of voice that’d be perfect for a late-night Jazz DJ in a rainy city like Seattle or San Francisco. “It’s about a group young kids, 16-year-olds on their sixteenth birthday. And were all born on the same night in the local town hospital… on the night that a serial killer who had seven personalities died. Or at least, seems to have died….”

“The legend in the town is that this man [is still alive and] is going to come back to take his revenge on the town. But also it is suspected that he did die, and that his [murderous] soul went into one of these kids, and that the rest of the kids have his other souls. All of this man’s souls were rather benign except for the one that was a killer, and that [soul] was operating without this man’s knowledge. So, it’s a matter of, ‘Should we watch out for the friend we have? Or should we be watching out for the killer who is coming to take his revenge on the kids?'”

In this light, My Soul to Take almost sounds like a perfect storm of Wes Craven themes. If you look at a lot of Craven’s movies, they seem to deal with atonement, even if the people doing the atoning aren’t responsible for the initial trespass that’s being atoned for. The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Deadly Blessing, the Scream series–all involve some dark wrong committed that fairly blameless people (who often weren’t even born when the wrong was committed) have to pay for. And they pay for them real bad. I asked him about that.

“Certainly it’s one of the most profound aspects of life itself, when you realize you don’t just have to deal with your own stuff, and what you have caused, but what other people have caused in the past and sometimes in the quite recent past, and in the case of families, maybe even you parents. That’s just always interested me.”

“This film to me, frankly, feels quite personal. My father died when I was about four, so I do have some memories of him and some of them are kinds of scary. Not that he ever beat me, or anything. But I think he was a very gruff man with a bad temper. That kind of journey of trying to find out who your father really was and whether he loved you or didn’t like you–what were the aspects of his life?–it’s a very personal one. And also, you know, I was raised in the Fundamentalist faith, or let’s say even more specifically with the Bible. And ‘The Sins of the Fathers are visited upon their sons.’ That is a profound reality in our lives.”

In the context of family dynamics, what Craven is talking about smacks a lot of the same chords as Greek tragedy–how the immediacy of something that happened in your family can rise up and wreck your life. Check out Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes if you want some familial knee-slappers. Craven has thrown-down with a lot of these themes, too. These family dynamics bubble under Last House, Hills Have Eyes, Elm Street, Cursed, People Under the Stairs and all three Scream movies.

“Horror films, in my mind at least, are kind of human experience boiled down to the essence and sometimes to a very primal physical threat to the physicality of the body, or the mind or the soul, to the extent that we can understand what that is,” Craven said when I brought this up. “These are very, very primal sorts of things. And the family is a great paradigm of that. It’s not necessarily that everything is the world is about the family, but in a sense, it’s a boiling down of the Family of Man….. To take it down to the simplest paradigm, it quite often is the family, or the ‘tribe.’ Some horror films are about the group of friends who go out to do this or that, or some member of the tribe gets killed, or whatever. But it is about these very simple entities that have to do with the world we live in, outside of our own bodies, and how that affects us, and what those people either have done in the past or what the immediate generation just before them has done. A lot of horror films start out with: ‘On this night, one hundred years ago, these sailors died because someone took the lanterns off the rocks!‘ and then you end up with The Fog. I just think that for teenagers, especially, part of the coming into maturity is finding out who your parents really are, and what they did, and how that affects you. And even wrestling with the question of ‘Am I ever going to be distinctly different from my parents?’, or, ‘Am I going to be haunted by realizing Oh my God, I’ve become my father?’ is something that can happen to you in your ’30s or 40s.”

In this context, the antagonist in My Soul to Take seems to combine a couple of elements that have been staples of horror and slasher films of the past few decades: the earthly killer and the supernatural bogeyman. In the early days of the slasher genre as we know it, the killers had no direct connection to the supernatural. They had a level of power and blankness that seemed otherworldly, just look at early Argento movies. Then Jason became an undead super-being. Michael Meyers became a Druidic spirit being. Then we got Freddy, Chuckie from Child’s Play, the Trickster from Brainscan, Horace Pinker from Craven’s own Shocker. Where does the killer in My Soul to Take fall along this spectrum?

“I would spoil the story if I told you,” Craven said. “But the possibilities are that this is a man who has died and come back in one of the souls of the children, or this is a man who did not die and who is coming back to take his revenge, or this is a man who has died and who has come back in his own form, that has kind of been haunting the woods. All three of those are the given options over the course of trying to penetrate the mystery of what really is happening.”

Craven has directed in wildly different contexts. He’s done episodic TV for the 1980s incarnation of Twilight Zone. He’s done studio movies like Music from the Heart and Red Eye. One of the reasons he wrote and made The Hills Have Eyes was that it could be filmed on the cheap in the desert, where no permits would be needed. The climactic chainsaw fight in Last House was shot in a house that associate producer Steve Miner was renting.

“Even the budgets for Music from the Heart and Red Eye were modest budgets. I think over the course of making a lot of small films and learning how to make them seem bigger budgeted than they actually were, we’ve been able to mount films that have managed to get a lot of bang for the buck. My Soul to Take I would say is kind of in the middle. It wasn’t a miniscule budget. It wasn’t a big budget. But we were dealing with mostly unknown kids–there weren’t any gigantic fees on that. We shot in Connecticut, so we got a big tax break. The same guy was writing producing and directing, and his wife was also producing [Craven’s wife Iya Labunka], so we kept our costs down. I think the unusual thing about this film is that it falls into the films I’ve made that were written and directed by me where I’ve had final cut. Which were most of my classic films, possibly with the exception of Scream, written by Kevin Williamson and which also had terrific writing, and Carl Ellsworth’s work on Red Eye–[both] were scripts that were in terrific shape and had great ideas and I was able to just step in as director.”

“But My Soul to Take is very much of a personal film. I was given the auteur’s version of making a film, so I was allowed to do what I wanted, with great support. And although we didn’t have an unlimited number of days to shoot, we were able to put a film up that was designed to be modestly budgeted, but has a terrific look. I don’t think anyone is going to look at it and think that this is guerilla filmmaking. But on the other hand, anybody who knows about film would see that we designed it in a way that would be fairly economical to shoot.”

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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.

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

Doctor Johansson packed his pipe with another bowlful of tobacco as fictional as the dreams I’d used as weapons.

—Would you describe yourself a serial killer if it would help your defense? To cop an insanity plea?

No, I am an avatar.

—I wouldn’t. Besides, I’m not going to see the inside of a courthouse. I’ll see the inside of a cheap coffin, first.

Here is the awesome cover for ChiZine Pub’s cover for the Trade Paperback

Just a teaser from “Displacement”, the opening novella of my collection Stories from the Plague Years, reprinted soon as a limited edition Trade Paperback signed by me and interior illustration artist Gabrielle Faust from ChiZine Publications. To learn more, click here. Hurry, because you can only pre-order the book until November 1, 2012. Here’s what Daniel Kraus at Booklist had to say about “Displacement”, which was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award: “[A] tale that takes several unexpected and delicious turns, somehow combining a Poe-like belligerence and a Clive Barker–like vividness.”

Thanks!

I love this quote…

“Few horror authors are better equipped to write about madness than Marano.”
–– Daniel Kraus, Booklist

Hey, Everybody!

I’d like to make a special announcement. My good friends at ChiZine Publications are putting together a really beautiful signed, limited, and I do mean limited, edition of  my recent collection of horror fiction Stories from the Plague Years, coming in December 2012. The bitchin’ new cover is by Erik Mohr. Check it out!

I dig the new cover a lot… we’re making the blood on the hands kinda ambiguous. Blood on a murderer’s hands? Or is it from Scarlet Fever? Or both? The concept nicely blends the theme of violence as plague that I explore in the book.

The new edition will still have the same Introduction by cyber punk godfather and Dark Fantasy legend John Shirley and the same gloriously gorgeous interior illustrations by Gabrielle Faust as appeared in the out-of-print hardback edition. Here’s one of Gabrielle’s beautiful illustrations…

This is a scan of Gabrielle’s illustration for one of the sections of the book, “Days of Rage”, which explores the idea of Violence as Plague that I talk about above. The mask on the table to the lower right is a Shakimi mask from Japanese Noh theater. It’s a traditional representation of… demonic rage.

The limited edition Trade Paperback will be signed by both Gabrielle and me. We’re really excited to to be putting this new edition together and making the book available to a wider audience, because the original edition from Cemetery Dance sold out in just nine days. It was kind of frustrating, to get really nice notices on the book–like being named one of the Top Ten Horror Publications of the Year by Booklist, the original novella “Displacement” getting nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award and the original novella “Shibboleth” getting an Honorable Mention from Ellen Datlow— and not have  any copies available anywhere to share with anybody.

Also, I am pretty psyched that this text of the book will be corrected. These will be the preferred versions of all the stories, both original and reprinted.

Now, when I say that this signed limited edition trade paperback will be coming out in December, that doesn’t mean you can just pick it up in December. You need to pre-order a copy from Cemetery Dance or ChiZine by November 1st, 2012! We’re only gonna print as many as we get orders for, so this really is a one-time offer, folks!

So, please place your orders soon, and if you know anybody who might be interested, please let them know!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Hey, Everybody!  Well, I am back from Readercon… had a most awesome time hanging with a bunch of my home-boys and home-girls. Will try to write a more complete report later, if time permits. I do want to follow up and say that I was not awarded the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella for which I was nominated (for “Displacement”). That award rightly went to Elizabeth Hand (for “Near Zennor”), whom I had the pleasure of finally meeting at the con after years of admiring her work. The mighty cool thing about being a Shirley Jackson Award nominee is that, while other awards give nominees official letters or certificates, The Shirley Jackson Awards give you… a STONE! Yes, a little mineral-based reminder not only of Jackson’s “The Lottery”, but also (to me, any way) of The Haunting of Hill House, and the stones that fell on Eleanor Vance’s home when she was a child. How freakin’ cool is THAT?

Here it is! Pretty cool, huh? It has a place of honor in my living room. I’m gonna name him “Pollock,” ‘cuz I always wanted a Jackson Pollock in my house. (Sorry…)

The cover of the current issue of SciFi magazine, featuring my interviews with Christopher and Jonah Nolan

Hey, everyone! Please check out, if you get the chance, my interview with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonah Nolan (screenwriter on The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises) in the new issue of SciFi Magazine. It’s on stands now! These two guys are really smart, and it was a real pleasure to talk to them about things like: the ways in which Bruce Wayne is like Gatsby; how A Tale of Two Cities applies to Gotham and the different approaches to urban chaos perpetuated by the villains the Joker and Bane. Thanks!

So… I guess I can write about this, now that Lois herself has blogged about it. I recently placed a short story titled “Reign” in an anthology edited by Lois Gresh and coming from PS Publishing called Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk. I’m really proud of the work, and the story kinda represents me coming out of a period of semi-retirement. (Aside from “Shibboleth” and “Displacement”, the two original stories in my 2011 collection Stories from the Plague Years, I haven’t placed a piece of new fiction since 2005 or so. And the fact of the matter is, these works aren’t too “original.” I wrote “Displacement” 20 years ago. And “Shibboleth” is, in fact, a chapter of a sprawling science fiction novel I’ve been unable to sell for about a decade.) I think more writers “retire” for periods of time than people really acknowledge. I remember when Arthur C. Clarke “retired” for a while in the late 1970s. Clarke, an avid SCUBA diver, claimed to have celebrated his retirement by photographing his electric typewriter resting submerged atop a corral reef. Alfred Betser, I think in an interview in Omni, laughed and said something like, “Oh, please! Arthur! No one retires from writing. Shut up and get back to work.” Soon thereafter, Clarke sold The Fountains of Paradise for beaucoup bucks (I seem to recall it was the highest advance yet paid for an SF novel). Bester, who was married to an advertising executive (what an episode of Mad Men that would make!), I think knew the workings of people’s minds pretty well.

But to the actual point of this blog post. Originally, Dark Fusions was to be published by Arkham House and would be called Arkham Nightmares. The guidelines stipulated, “The emphasis is on stories that capture the mood, atmosphere, and creative strangeness of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.” So, I wrote a story that I felt did just that. It became, as I chewed over premises, an homage  not just to Lovecraft, but maybe even more so to Harlan Ellison. (I’ll talk about the overt Ellison elements once the story comes out.) As a tribute to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, “Reign” represents a kind of coming full circle for me.

How?

Y’see… I wrote a good chunk of “Reign” longhand on a very specific kind of paper that I once used as a dumbfuck teenager, who at the age of 15 in the era of Punk Rock and Toe Socks was writing gawdawful Lovecraft pastiches worse than you could possibly imagine. Unless, of course, you were yourself a dumbfuck teenager writing Lovecraft pastiches back in the days when a nickel bag of pot cost a good and proper “nickel.”

Portrait of a teenage Lovecraft wannabe. I’m 15 or 16, here… with a head packed full of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Tolkien and Yog-Sothothery. Make your saving throw against awkwardness!

(I even sent one of these abominations to Ed Ferman at Fantasy & Science Fiction. At the time, I was crushed to get the form rejection. Now, even more than 30 years after the fact, I hope no one in the F&SF offices actually read the damned thing that I so lovingly bashed out on a manual typewriter… that my cover letter was enough for them to just open up the SASE and send it back.)

The paper in question was something I got tablets of from my dad, who had originally gotten them for his home office that he maintained in the basement of our house. Check out the picture here, with pen and ruler added for scale. [Click on images to enlarge]

A blast from my creative past.

Whippersnappers might not know this, but… back in the days when writing actually involved paper, and not pixels, paper was an expense. Consequently, if you were a dumbfuck teenager writing Lovecraft pastiches, you had to use whatever paper was available. Which is why my monumentally clever opening for a story satirizing 1950s monster movies that I wrote during the summer of 1979 (the summer that ALIEN came out and that has since been semi-immortalized in JJ Abrams’ Super 8) was typed on the back of a blank billing statement from the nursing home my parents used to administrate.

Behold! “The Creature that Was Marxist”. BTW, you may ask, “Michael Linwood Marano?!” Well, I don’t have a middle name. And at 15, I thought all writers should have middle names. “Linwood” was the name of a street in my neighborhood. Thought it sounded good. And “Linwood” was also a tribute to Lin Carter, whose Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series paperbacks defined what I thought Fantasy should and could be.

Behold! The other side of my literary endeavor.

These tablets of paper were kind of funky. The pads were 9″ x 8.5″ and there were  little notations in the lower right corner that said “4049G Rev 2-78” on some pages and “Form 4046-G” on others. I Googled those, and got nothing. According to my friend Lisa Morton, they’re accountant’s ledgers, like the ones her mom used when she ran a college bookstore. OK… that might be what they’re manufactured for and meant to be. But to me, they are specifically and uniquely suited for writing Lovecraft knock offs. Why? You see those columns on the left by the binder holes? Well as you were feverishly scribbling dumbfuck teenager Lovecraft pastiches, you could write little marginalia notes to yourself, so you can keep track of not only elements of your own story, but of other Mythos goodies that might be relevant. Things like “USE ELDER SIGN LATER!” and  “REF TSATHOGGUA FOR SCENE AT LIBRARY!” and “MAKE SURE COPY OF BOOK AT MISKATONIC LIB IS MISSING!” The odd marginalia of “DEVO RULES!” might also have been jotted down, but I decline to confirm or deny that rumor.

(Hey, I just noticed that on some sheets of these pads, those left-hand columns are bisected, and on others, they’re not. I wonder if the pads were defective, and that’s why my dad unloaded them on me. Or if he got ’em cheap because they were defective.)

Only one sheet of my dumbfuck teenager Lovecraft pastiches that I’d written on those pads survives. (A few pages of a dumbfuck teenager Ramsey Campbell pastiche do survive to my chagrin, as do a few Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu scenarios I cooked up.) I found it buried deep in my files in a folder marked “Teenage Epics” (a riff on the Undertones song “Teenage Kicks”; the folder in question originally housed the presskit for Child’s Play 3). And that lone surviving sheet’s not even a bit of proper manuscript, but a chunk of outline for the second part of a story that I think was going to be called “Legacy of the Lich”, or something appalling like that, the climax of which featured our hero using an electric grinder to grind a set of sterling silver dinnerware into filings that he packed into shotgun shells that he used to blast the undead, druid-y minions of an even MORE undead priest of Shub-Nigurath.

The one surviving bit of my teenage Lovecraft pastiche-i-ness. The image is blurry to lessen my shame as to how crappy it is.

Christ, what a piece of shit that thing was (though the setting was pretty cool as I recall, and I did come up with a phrase I kinda like: “The Sojourner of the Oaks”). Maybe it’s for the best only one sheet of outline remains. But that story was MILES… no… LIGHT YEARS better than another that I wrote about a Miskatonic University professor who goes some place where there’s an archeological dig and comes back the host of some evil thing or another and only his academic rival knows what’s going on and there’s a confrontation at midnight in the deserted university hallways and….

You get the idea.

(For the record, the opening line of THAT story was “Empty halls, dark and mysterious.” So, y’know… the reader would hafta FEEL how empty and mysterious those halls of the “Humanities Department” at Miskatonic U were.)

Shitty as those pastiches were, I still have fond memories of the frenzied altered states of conscious I’d go into hunched over those pads with a ballpoint or a Faber Mongol #2 pencil in hand, feeling the heat unique to the summer vacations I spent assuring the world of my legacy as the guy who would single-handedly bring Cthulhu into the 21st Century. Hey! According to Starlog and Heavy Metal, IRREFUTABLE journalistic sources, Paramount was making that awesome Cry of Cthulhu movie that was gonna come out in the summer of 1981. Cthulhu was gonna be HUGE! And Ridley Scott’s ALIEN had shown that there was a market for Lovecraft-y horror. I was gonna ride that wave to the BIG time!

But I digress.

Flash forward a few decades. Right before I started writing “Reign,” I found one, precious pad of that paper in a box of things I’d had in storage at my parents’ house. I thought back to the zit-faced troglodyte I used to be, and the fever that used to take me while I wrote Lovecraftian fiction on those funkily lines sheets of paper. I couldn’t resist. I wrote big chunk of “Reign” on that pad. It was a joy, especially because the original Arkham Nightmares anthology was going to be published by Arkham House. I thought back to how my dumbfuck teenage self would have swooned at the thought of that. And those left-hand columns? Jotting plot notes and thematic ideas in them as I scribbled was as natural and as comfortable as slipping on a favorite old leather jacket. It was me and my muse getting a little drunk and talking about the way we were. Crazy kids in love. Kind of a second honeymoon.

So… here’s my plea.

A bit of “Reign” as written longhand on that 34 year-old paper. This is blurry, as I don’t want any of the story legible until it comes out, of course.

If anybody knows how I can get my hands on more tablets of that funky paper that as far as I know hasn’t been in production since the Carter administration, please let me know. I’m working on some projects now, and I would love to crank them out longhand on those sheets. I have less than one full tablet left. I promise nothing I write will be as bad as “Legacy of the Lich.” For old time’s sake, I’d really, really appreciate it. Try me through Facebook, or e-mail me at dawnsong AT  mindspring  DOT com  Thanks!

So, I’m not really big on blogging all the time. I’ll Tweet and post on Facebook pretty often (maybe too often for the good of my productivity). But now, I kinda felt the need to write about  something that turned out to be a pretty interesting moment.

I’ve been taking trapeze classes at Esh Aerial Arts in Cambridge, MA for a while, now. There are a lot of reasons why I, at 47, took up the trapeze. I won’t go into them all, but I will say that two of the main reasons are that I wanted something new with which to strengthen parts of my body that have been weakened by injuries over the years (I’ve been lifting weights all my life, and hefting barbells just wasn’t fixing what had been smashed up, ripped, torn and broken) and I wanted to confront a fear of heights that I can trace back to when I fell out of a tree as a kid, crunching into every branch at contortionist angles on the way down and smacking onto concrete with a sound like that of an Atlantic sturgeon being euthanized with a cricket bat.

Me in the middle of a Straddle Up move onto the lyra. I think my feet are in the wrong position. Oh, well....

The recent incident I’m writing about now isn’t really about me. It really says a lot more about my amazing trapeze instructor Rachel Stewart and the talent of my friend RiN Waigand, a brilliant photographer who was in town visiting last week.

I'm doing the Arabesque on the trapeze here, in which you have to pull away one of the ropes around your head as you brace against it. By the way, Esh isn't this dark. RiN used a nifty exposure to cast a lot of cool shadow.

RiN came with me to Rachel’s trapeze class, and it really is a confluence of good fortune that she was in town, that she came to this particular class, and that she he had her camera with her.

Balancing on the trapeze in a standing position.

Up to this point, I’ve been doing trapeze as something physical. Something to fix and strengthen my body in addition to weightlifting, riding my mountain bike, and all the other jock stuff I do. As I gained more confidence on the trapeze and the lyra (a big metal hoop hung from the ceiling on which aerialists perform), I beat down my fear of heights. I love the circus skills I’ve been gaining. Love the discipline and the focus. Rachel’s a great teacher, and so are the other people at Esh who have coached me, given me pointers and encouragement. I love the art form of trapeze. But I never considered the art form to be mine.

But last week…

…RiN managed to capture a turning point.

Rachel had just taught me a  move called the Iron Cross, which is done on the lyra by wrapping your arms around the canvas-covered chains supporting the lyra from the ceiling and extending your lower body out at an angle, with your feet off the lyra, so that you are holding yourself off the ground using only your arm strength and core strength. Your body from the shoulders down feels free from gravity, and you can move along all these amazing axes in space and for the first time, in that very moment, I felt… “Holy shit! I can actually express myself with trapeze!” This was the very moment that I realized maybe, just maybe, trapeze can some day be an art form I can use.

Here are the pics that RiN snapped of that moment.

I think I've just gone airborne off the lyra.

There was this sudden sense that I could have a new relationship with gravity, and with how I could locate my body in space.

I've turned a few degrees here.

Rachel says that the Iron Cross is the move that is the most like flying. And yes, as a lifelong comic book geek, there was this weird, goofy exhilaration I felt for a second or two that I was doing something kinda superhero-ish.

Me learning how to move along new axes while doing the Iron Cross. I'm trying to control my breathing, hence the look on my face.

I’ve done the Iron Cross a few more times on the lyra since this moment. And it’s been pretty great each time since. But this was… y’know… the moment. Just felt a need to share it. Thanks for sharing it with me. And thanks go out to Rachel for being such a great teacher and to RiN for letting me post these pics.

Hey everybody! I’d like to announce my new class, Screen and Stage…to the Page! Using the Techniques of Playwrights and Screenwriters to Write Prose Fiction. It’s a 10-week class that will meet Wednesday nights from 6:00 to 9: 00 at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston starting September 12, 2012. Here’s the official class description:

Some of the best writing being done today, 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 re-write 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 and 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.