Thursday, April 07, 2011

Epiphanies and Inspiration

No column today: I'm not writing any this month as I'm just too swamped. Tonight's the dress rehearsal for the Camerata's production of Saint-Saƫns' Carnival of the Animals with me as narrator. Do join us tomorrow night for the performance if you can at 7:30 in the Picotte Recital Hall of the Massry Center. It will be lovely -- we have some amazing performers.


From Rome

I had a little epiphany this morning: Modern publishing is like science, extracting genre from organic story like chemicals from herbs. The best stories straddle genre. I already knew the falseness of marketing to strict genres; what I hadn't realised was its similarity to how medical science has sought to isolate the "effective" chemical and extract it from the plant. What they've been discovering of course is that all the seemingly extraneous elements play important roles in absorption and so forth.

Over at UAlbany they had John Patrick Shanley visiting. I went to the afternoon seminar, as always hoping to hear something that will kick my brain back into high gear. I loved his story about how Cyrano de Bergerac inspired him as young teen in the Bronx, being both tough, smart and a freak -- and getting all his friends pastries with just the power of his words. "That's what I do." He has a very direct (and funny) way of talking, as befits an ex-Marine from a rough part of New York. You can see it when he mentions telling a critique partner in exasperation, "I don't know why you're alive," because his script was full of "lies" and bad writing. But he also says how much he hungers to have the ultimate romantic connection. A lot easier for an ex-Marine to say that and be taken seriously, but you see within the snappy patter the guy who wrote Moonstruck. The image that gave birth to that film was his mother's face and the sky that he saw as a child and then she was gone and what was in the sky? The moon.

He got a little impatient with one guy who seemed to want to pump him for the secrets to success and repeated exactly what I have always believed: writing has shamanic power. You're not writing for yourself, you're writing for your tribe (and sometimes, to find your tribe). All I need, he said, is a torch in the dark telling my stories before a circle of people. "The problem with a lot of bad writing is all the subtext, I'm sick of subtext." People speak less when they tell the truth, Shanley said, because it always costs them something.

Things to keep in mind as I keep working on the talk. Trying not to think about Lucky Jim too much. Be truthful. Offer something real. Tell my tribe what I know.

6 comments:

Todd Mason said...

"[...]but you see within the snappy patter the guy who wrote Moonstruck."

I sure do. You feel about puns the way I feel about Shanley's work. Only you're more gracious about it.

Well, as I like to chant, nothing escapes genre...what's necessary is to use the elements correctly and honestly, with as fresh an eye as possible. And then get it down in a less Shanleyesque way than those before us, if at all possible.

Todd Mason said...

Break a leg tonight, if you're indeed not already performing! (Animal legs or any sort acceptable in this case.)

K. A. Laity said...

I'm not talking about escaping genre: I'm talking about artificially extracting what falls outside genre in order to market it. Being told you can't do something because it's X genre -- which does happen. Or "we only accept X" because we are a [insert genre] publisher.

Rehearsal went very well. I'm sure it will be a fun show tomorrow night.

Todd Mason said...

Nope, I'm not talking about escaping genre, either...the fact that nothing escapes genre means in this case that complaints about stuff Not Following the Rules are bullshit complaints. "Horrors! There are no blatant bad-sitcom Italian-American stereotypes in this film! What kind of heartwarming romantic comedy can it be?" "You got steampunk in this romance!" Utter idiocy.

K. A. Laity said...

Well, unfortunately a lot of publishers do make those kind of asinine statements. It may be idiocy but it's also a reality.

Todd Mason said...

There's never any shortage of idiocy, in publishing or anywhere else, of course.