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How Novel

I’ve written millions of words over the years. Millions. I’ve penned over 20 screenplays and teleplays. I’ve written some short stories that I’ll never admit to. So I wonder what it is about a novel that is so darn intimidating.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years exploring the various aspects of the arts. I’ve created a web series and directed the first few episodes. I’ve got other film projects I’d like to work on in some capacity. But the more it I branch out, the more I appreciate the simplicity of a keyboard, a computer screen, and my own thoughts. I enjoy making films, but I’m a writer at heart.

The past year hasn’t been great for that. I’ve written, and what I’ve written is pretty good, I think. But I miss when it was just me and the keyboard, letting the story flow organically, not worrying about whether or not we can afford to shoot this scene or at that location.

I like screenplays. They’re structured. Organized. The story beats and flow makes sense to me. It’s all instinct to me, now. I don’t even have to try to hit certain goals when I write a screenplay. I just know when what needs to happen, and I can make it seem very organic.

A screenplay is meant to be a skeleton, conveying just what is necessary to generate interest and provide a map for the director and actors. It can be written eloquently, but it’s not a requirement. I’ve written these things for years, as noted above. I’ve got it down to a science.

Novels? They’re not organized at all. There’s no formal structure. No flow. No story beats beyond whatever the author decides to throw at you. That makes me a little more uncomfortable. They’re such sprawling, random things. How do you get a handle on it? How do you make sense of a massive story that takes so long to tell and has such a distinct and different flow than a screenplay?

Well, simpler isn’t always better. And lately, my muse has decided to kick me in my complacency and set me back upon the elusive path of writing a novel.

I asked one of my instructors years ago if it were possible to be a novelist and a screenwriter. He told me not everyone was able to make the shift. He himself had done so, because years of reading drivel in the form of B-movie, direct-to-DVD screenplays made him feel kind of “dirty” in a literary sense. He commended my “voice” – my ability to hook a reader with a comfortable narrative voice that reads well, and encouraged me to continue in my efforts.

And so, on I go. I’ve penned around 2500 words in the past few days. I’m excited to be delving back into this world (both the world of the story and the world of writing a novel). Shepard and my other projects will be going forward as planned, of course. This book is kind of a palette cleanser for me, a way to reconnect to my inner writer and to tell a story much grander than any I’ve written in screenplay format. It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.

Anyone else out there try to balance both screenplays and novels? What’s your preference? Why?

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Divergence

Where will you go when the road splits before you?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference

Robert Frost

I have to admit, it’s been years since I’ve thought about this poem.  As a literature nut who has straddled two worlds for most of his adult life, one would think I would have kept this particular piece a little closer to my heart.

At times, it seems like it’s a never-ending battle.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  The problem with that question is that I am, in fact, grown-up.  And all I can say that I am for certain, is indecisive.  I am not unique in this, nor am I the only one who has ever, or will ever, face these kinds of choices.  Left or right, fight or flight…such ponderous questions inspired one of the most well-known and memorable poems in all of literature.

My paths in the woods are career paths, specifically technology and entertainment.  I’ve walked this line for years, content to keep one foot on the tech path, and one foot on the entertainment path.  I write in my spare time, and work a full-time job in Information Technology.  I have a degree in computers, but I also am earning a degree in film.

It’s a curious combination, since scientifc, technologically minded people tend to be more left-brained, and creative people tend to be more right-brained.  Yet I’ve managed to straddle this line for over a decade of professional life, and the end result thus far has been a spectacular display of mediocrity.  Let’s take stock, shall we?

On the tech side of things, my career has been remarkably bland.  Oh, I have proven myself to be a hard worker, a self-starter with a talent for effectively managing processes and procedures and implementing improvements that save time and money.  I flourish in environments where I can contribute, and where my ideas are heard.  I have a good handle on technology and its practical applications in the business world.  Yet my I.T. career has been one stellar support job after another.  It is only now that I’ve earned a position that is more specialized and focused.  I’m comfortable here, to be sure.  And I’m drawing a terrific salary (especially in light of the few years in my twenties when I left I.T. for awhile).  Yet, things are stagnate, because there aren’t enough hours in the day to fervently pursue an I.T. career, manage home life, and continue with my “other half.”

On the creative side of things, there is no career to speak of: just a series of side projects, many of which have languished in “development hell” for years.  The efforts I have put forth, when I do put them forth, have been great, and very well received.  My virtual series, Frontiers, was at one time one of the most widely read fanfic series on the internet.  Yet, we’ve been releasing Season 3 since 2008.  I’ve begun several film projects that ended up being cut short due to various complications.  I’ve written several promising prose series that have a pretty big reader base, but they are stalled out early in the run.  Yet here and now, I’ve got a great web series off the ground, I’m planning my next short film, and things more moving with my classes.  But things are still stagnate to a degree. Why? Because there aren’t enough hours in the day to fervently pursue a career in writing or film, manage home life, and continue with my “other half.”

It takes a special kind of talent to straddle two sides of the fence.  It’s given me insight into reconciling different and opposing viewpoints over the years, making me something of a peace maker.  It’s allowed me to coax reluctant people into joining me on whatever damn fool crusade I’m embarking on.  But when it comes down to it, you have to take a side.  To walk that line forever is foolish and impossible.  One cannot serve two masters, at least not reliably.

I’ve never been more capable of venturing down one of those roads or the other.  Never been more prepared.  Will I have the steadfastness to choose technology and let go of my more creative nature?  Or will I have the courage to leave the relative safety of the familiar and embark upon that road less traveled?

In the end, it’s never really been about which I would choose.  It’s been about how long I could keep them both up.  How long I could kid myself into thinking it’s possible to keep it up forever.  How long it would take me to find the courage necessary to finally, fully commit myself. 

For me, there’s only ever been one thing I love, one thing that keeps me up at night, one thing that makes me giddy every day before work.  And my only regret, is that it’s taken me this long to realize it.  I’ve always “known” mind you – but the true epiphany, the true, self-permeating realization that I cannot possibly do anything else…that’s a little more recent.

I always thought that making this choice would be some epic event.  But it isn’t.  It’s a calm, quiet, private moment where something inside of me finally says, “Yes. Yes, you idiot, you’ve finally accepted it. Now go on and live your life. You’ve got a lot of wasted time to make up for.”

Two roads diverge in a wood, and I —
I will take the one less traveled by
And that will make all the difference.

 

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Lead Role Cast

“Bella Morte” Lead Role

“Bella Morte” (Beautiful Death) is my next project, once Season 1 of “Shepard” wraps in October.  It explores the life of a beautiful femme fatale, Jaiyana, as she is forcibly drawn out of retirement and hired to take on one final hit.  Even though I’m still refining the script for this short, I’ve had the rare pleasure of already casting the lead role.

Those of you who have directed anything, stage or screen, know that casting a project can be both incredibly exciting and very challenging.  Sure there are casting directors and talent agencies to help narrow down the choices for you, but ultimately it comes down to matching that vision of a character in your head, with actual, physical people in the room next to you, patiently awaiting their turn to audition.  This also means keeping an open mind about it.  You may have to compromise on that vision to a degree.  But sometimes that’s when the greatest magic happens.

While casting “Shepard” I was met with tremendous good fortune.  I was fortunate enough to be able to offer two roles the very same night as the auditions.  The actors were just that good, and that perfect for the roles for which they auditioned.  I very nearly was able to offer a third that night as well, the role of Jamie.  We had two strong contenders for the part, so I decided to do callbacks for them both and see how it would go.  Once we got rolling, the choice was obvious.  And honestly, it had been my gut instinct from the start.

Megan von Wertman is a versatile actress.  She auditioned for two roles originally: Jamie, and Shayla.  These two characters are so diametrically opposed to each other, I was actually surprised to see she wanted to take them both on.  Far more common was to audition for Allyson and Jamie – characters that were more similar to each other.  Megan could have easily handled either role, but I was very compelled by what she brought to Jamie.

Most times, the “quiet” girl comes off as being fairly bland.  But Jamie, in Megan’s hands, leapt right off the page, right off the screen.  Finding a pretty girl to fill a role like that is easy.  But finding one who can infuse a character with so much personality – especially given the brevity of the character’s sides – is much more challenging.

It was also about that time I noticed that Megan’s versatility could make her the perfect candidate for Jaiyana, the assassin brought out of retirement in “Bella Morte.” Jaiyana is a challenging role, to say the least.  There’s a lot more to her than just being a patient, precise killer.  So much more, in fact, that to divulge even the slightest detail would utterly spoil the film.  She has a lot of pain and grief to carry with her, and a profound sorrow that most people cannot begin to imagine.  If there is a place more tormentuous than hell, that is where Jaiyana resides.  But there’s also a humanity to her, a spark that makes her relatable, sympathetic to the viewer.  To have already met the person capable of tackling that broad range at this early stage is definitely a pleasant surprise.

It’s a rare treat at this level to have such consistent good fortune in casting.  I couldn’t be more pleased with my cast for Shepard – every one of them is exactly right for their roles.  And now, Bella Morte is starting things off in the same way.  Although we’re months from rolling cameras on this exciting short film, I greatly anticipate seeing Megan’s Jaiyana in action.

 

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Character Profile: Jason Shepard

“These kids aren’t my problem.”

It’s hard to imagine such a calloused and self-centered individual had such humble beginnings, but such is the case for Jason Shepard.  Born into a single-bedroom apartment (literally; his mother couldn’t afford insurance and had him at home), Jason grew up without luxuries like toys, disposable diapers, or medical care.  His mother worked three jobs to provide for them, after his father walked out soon after he was born.

Jason attended a poorly rated public school, where he was mocked behind his back for his limited wardrobe and the lack of a hot shower every day.  The constant taunting led to many fights and an ever-increasing build-up of anger and frustration.

Yet at home, Jason seemed content.  He enjoyed spending time with his mother at least once a week, and spent the rest of the time plucking away at a guitar she had bought him at a yard sale.  It was his most prized possession, and on it, he taught himself how to emulate the sounds around him.  He spent hours listening to the rock stations on the radio and picking out the tunes, then playing them himself.

Unfortunately, one of his mother’s job was working in a local mill, where she contracted a serious lung disease that prevented her from working.  After a friend offered legal counsel, she sued the company and the money won from the lawsuit allowed her to finally give Jason the kind of house and life she had always wanted for him.

High school turned things around for Jason.  His mother – with her health deteriorating – invested some of the money from the lawsuit and managed to make enough to provide for herself and Jason for a long, long time.  No longer ridiculed, Jason reveled in newfound popularity due in part to his impressive guitar skills.

Jason found himself escaping more and more into his music as his mother’s health declined.  He began writing songs, putting the lyrics to paper and then making up the tune as he went.  He also began casually dating Amber DiSoltes, a fellow Senior.  His mother had desperately wanted to see her son attend his Senior Prom, so he took Amber.  She told him how happy she was and how proud she was of him, giving him a strangely long embrace before he departed.

The next morning, Jason returned home to find his mother had died in her sleep.  He was devastated. He was invited to stay with his grandparents, but chose to move to New York instead, in the hopes of escaping his old life and pursuing a music career.  He left Saint Paul without so much as a goodbye, refusing even to take part at his own graduation.

Working as a Taxi driver in New York, Jason met up with Silas Bishop, a fellow aspiring musician.  Silas was playing a gig at a night club with his partner, Nathan “Nate” Reinke.  Their third man cancelled at the last minute, and Jason – who overheard this on a cell phone while driving the two to their engagement – offered his services.

The trio performed a few cover songs, and a few tracks written by Silas and Nate (which Jason picked up on after hearing the recordings just once).  By the end of the night, people were asking for EP’s and demos.  Silas and Nate offered Jason the job permanently, and Damned Azkus was born.

The band met with great success, eventually signing on with Interscope Records.  The band kicked off a brief tour in the Northeast to celebrate.  The album was a regional success, and a world tour was in the works.  Meanwhile, Jason had married Katherine “Kat” Veneziano.  A groupie for the band from age 16, she fell in love with Jason and married when she turned 18.

Twin boys soon followed, and “Kat” ended up leaving the road life to raise the kids.  Jason grew more and more distant, unable to find satisfaction at home or abroad.  He turned to drinking, had several affairs, and fell into a deep depression.  This life wasn’t what he had hoped it would be, and he had no hope left for any other kind of life.

After a late show one night, Jason took a groupie back to the hotel with him. Both were seriously drunk, and the girl, Tiffany, decided she didn’t want to wait until they were back in the hotel.  She climbed atop Jason, and the subsequent coupling resulted in a terrible car accident.  A piece of shattered windshield nearly tore Jason’s hand off.

After surgery, he was told his nerves were shot. He could never play guitar again.  The band was unable to find a replacement and their future deteriorated.  When Kat found out how the accident had happened, she took the kids and left.  Jason was utterly alone once more.  He spent several weeks in rehab only to fall back into old habits.  He landed in jail, lost his license, got it back, and repeated the cycle.

Perhaps it was fate that Jason ended up taking a trip into Virginia.  He had been drinking again, and was pulled over and arrested near Saint Paul. The arresting officer recognized him, and made a phone call on his behalf.  Jason went before Judge Harold Slate and was sentenced to community service, in the hopes of rehabilitating him.

Though he’s had a difficult life, it’s hard to feel sorry for Jason. Most of his current troubles are his own doing, and he doesn’t seem to care or look out for anyone but himself.  Yet deep down, there is a small part of him that is still that sad, lonely little boy who had only a guitar and a loving mother to get him through each day.

Fate has a funny way of bringing things full circle, and of forcuing us to confront the ghosts of a past we thought we left behind.  And so it goes with Jason Shepard, now standing at the beginning of a journey that will bring him face to face with shadows of his past and that will change his future forever.

 

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Enter, the Shepard

Welcome to Saint Paul, Virginia.

Nothing ever happens here.  Until the day Jason Shepard comes home.

“Shepard” is my first major creative effort outside of film school, and my first attempt at a web series.  It chronicles the story of Jason Shepard, a one-time rockstar who has lost everything to a string of bad decisions and run-ins with the law (both of which involving copious amounts of alcohol).  After he is cut a break by a sympathetic judge, he finds himself back home, facing a lengthy community service sentence at an old church on the verge of closing its doors.

Inspiration for this story came from a number of places.  I’ve always enjoyed the idea of returning to what you’ve left behind and facing your past.  It’s not an unfamiliar story, that’s true. But the thing about “homecoming” stories is that they are as varied and unique as the individuals who populate their worlds.

Jason doesn’t have much left at home. No family, and no friends.  Just one lingering connection, in the form of an old high school flame that he walked out on after the prom.  And, one new connection, in the form of an aging and very much atypical church pastor, who seems to think Jason would be well-suited for the task of working with the youth group.

I didn’t honestly expect much to come from this series at first.  It seemed like a neat idea, but I never planned on taking it anywhere.  The nascence really came from my own church pastor asking me to work with the youth at our church.  It sparked an idea that has since grown into this web series.

We’ve just begun production, and have two full days of work under our belt.  As things continue, I’ll offer production updates and insights on this blog, and we’ll take a look at the unique cast of characters that populate this small but fascinating world.

Until next time!

 

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Back to Basics

The new year is always a great time to think about starting fresh.  It’s an arbitrary and sometimes rather silly human custom to attach such significance to a date.  Dates aren’t “real” per se, but man-made constructs to help denote the passage of time.  Marking time goes all the way back to the beginning of human history (and some believe even before), although I grant you it wasn’t as extreme as it is today.

I’ve never been a “New Year’s Resolution” kind of person.  I’ve never really believed you need a new year to make a chance in your life.  And this is coming from a guy whose day of birth was actually ON New Year’s Day (January 1st, 1979 to be precise).  Nevertheless, the end of the holiday season does seem to be an appropriate time to re-examine things.  For one thing, it involves a degree of cleaning, as the Christmas tree comes down and the decorations are put away from another year.  It’s time to set things back the way they were (or change them, if need be) and, basically, “get on with it.”

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past month reading and reviewing some of my creative efforts.  I can honestly say that a lot of what I’ve written has held up pretty well.  But then I look at more recent writings and already they seem flat, stale, uninteresting.  In fact it’s hard to tell they were even written by the same person.

Life stresses have come and gone and changed me as a person – but I have let too many things get in the way of one of the greatest pleasures I have ever known.  I love writing – I love creating and crafting, of taking vague ideas and giving them form, structure, substance.  Writing is at the core of almost all communication, be it professional or amateur, for entertainment or personal enjoyment.  There’s not a single aspect of the process I don’t enjoy.  I even get a rush from clacking on a keyboard and seeing the letters appear on the screen.

Yeah, I’ve got it bad.

But I’ve also gotten away from that.  I’ve let other obsessions get in my way.  I’ve let life stress and other problems get in my way.  I stopped giving myself time each day to write.  (Okay, so I’ve always been terrible at writing to a deadline; I said I was good, I didn’t say I was perfect).

So yes, as the title of this entry suggests rather non-discreetly, it is high time I not only go back and focus on my original creative passion, but it’s also time I improve it.  Writing pretty words only gets you so far if you can’t do it consistently.  My personal lethargy (or perhaps laziness would be a better term) has been nipped in the bud on several levels in my life – including, now, this one.  I’ve had a screenplay that I’ve been writing off and on for about twelve years, now.  Twelve years!  (Its history predates that; it had been a prose story way back in Jr. High.)  It’s time for that screenplay to get finished, to see life again.  My VS, Frontiers, has stagnated severely thanks to an inconsistent release schedule (that was almost entirely the fault of yours truly).  The fanbase has sadly dwindled a bit, but a few have stayed on and for them, I will make sure this show gets done.  (Got a few plans in motion to gain a bigger readership, too.)

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  But what I am going to do is make a commitment to myself to become a better writer.  To stay focused on it.  To wrap up Frontiers, to get Clash done once and for all, and then to move on to projects I actually intend to film, like Eternia and The Way of Seeming.

It won’t be easy.  I’ll probably stumble, or get bored.  But things worth doing are often the most difficult to achieve.

Oh yeah, one more resolution: to stop using so many darn cliche’s.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Never What It Seems

“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.”
– Saint Augustine

One of my favorite parts of a new project is to see where it takes me.  It’s an adventure unto itself to work out those nascent details of a new script or story, to put in place the building blocks of what will eventually become a much deeper and more complex piece of work.

Part of the reason I enjoy this stage so much is because it’s the time where the project can undergo drastic changes.  For example, a day ago I had a certain expectation in my mind about where my current project would take me.  I thought I knew where the story was headed.  Apparently, I was incorrect.  These new characters, still trying to find their footing and identities, have already showed me the folly of my ways.  If I want to tell their story, I need to be open to telling it their way.

Of course, that’s a silly analogy writers often use to describe the process.  Though the characters may seem to be alive to us, they are really just extensions of ourselves and their voices – while perhaps clear and distinct – are still our own voices.  I suppose it’s fitting for this story in a way, because as I write this, I do so with the full intent of taking on one of the roles myself.  I’ve never been a big actor but I have plenty of experience and I know how to get what I want out of the actors I’ve worked with.  I’ve done two films so far – shorts, and relatively small roles, but valuable ones.  All roles that teach are valuable, regardless of size or prominence in the story.

At any rate, I’m happy about the new direction.  It’s not what I was expecting – it’s better.  Unexpected.  I’m confident it will make for an even better script.  So, as all writers must, I will continue to have faith in my work and faith in the characters and world I am crafting.  I can scarcely wait to see the end result for myself, but the journey to that result will no doubt be its own reward.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2009 in Writing

 

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