So, some of you may remember the yellow binder post from a few months ago? If you do, thanks for reading and for sticking around. For those of you who don’t remember or haven’t read that post, first, thanks for finding me! Glad to have you checking in on my little part of the blogosphere. (Same to all of you, actually.)
Second, just as a catch-up since it’s been a while, I’ve been talking about my development as a writer off and on since I started blogging earlier this year, and the most recent posts have been nostalgic as I’ve looked at my older writing and shared my thoughts about it. This’ll be another post like that.
The blue binder comes from my college days. The first school I attended, I wrote mostly poetry, some of which was either published in a broadsheet my friends and I created or performed at hastily thrown together readings. The second school, it was all about screenplays and film treatments from my screenwriting class, and a brush with short stories. The blue binder holds most of that. Let’s take a look, shall we? Sadly, no cartoons this time, but there’s a bunch of other stuff. For instance:
- an unfinished plot outline for a film called Fortnight in Hell. A guy named Guy is filming a movie critic’s spot for the local news at the docks when a load of zucchini drops on him (“squashed by squash” I wrote. Did I mention I love puns?). His ghost visits the wake his family’s holding for him, but then gets yanked into a “death orientation” sort of thing involving pamphlets, forms, and the “Judgement Center,” in what looks like a high school gym. “Failure to comply with instructions could result in misplaced eternity.” I still like that line.
- “Here Comes a Truck”: a film treatment, shot outline, and shooting script for a proposed insurance commercial parody. Does Saturday Night Live still do commercial parodies? This was inspired by those. The narrator speaks of the benefits of having Prudential insurance as the audience watches a little boy on a Hotwheels get crushed by a tractor-trailer, all to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun” with new lyrics. Hey, I got an A on it. I guess my professor liked dark humor, too.
- a shooting script for a promo film, wherein I compare my birth to that of the birth of the universe, Christ, and the modern world. Yeah, I don’t know what I was smoking either.
- “I Have Seen the Future of Rock ‘n’ Roll: It’s Name Is Satan”: a film proposal, treatment, and shooting script that would show the evils of rock music to churchgoers, using the example of Frank Zappa‘s music and quotes. As some of you might recall, the early ’80s saw a huge freakout by uptight parents about the lyrics that the music industry was forcing their children (forcing them, I say!) to listen to and watch being portrayed in music videos. This led to the creation of Tipper Gore‘s fun-filled group, the PMRC, hearings on censoring music (wherein Zappa testified on behalf of the first amendment), and those lovely “Parental Advisory” stickers that don’t really do anything. This was my early reaction to all that malarkey. Got a B+ (the professor thought it was too short).
- “Fiction Script”: an untitled premise and presentation. “An evil fanatic has the ability to take over the world and only three people can stop him.” Doesn’t that sound exciting? It involves a 17 year-old female lead, her parents (who the villain kills), a 30 year-old screenwriter with a souped-up ’66 Nash Rambler station wagon (oddly specific), and the evil man himself, Nicolai.
- “Alpha and Omega”: the untitled premise and presentation above becomes a titled film treatment. Flesh added to the bones of what amounts to a political thriller with a little science fiction thrown in for flavor (can you say, “Deus ex machina?”). Our Nash Rambler writer can apparently affect things with his writing (or erasing, as the case may be). I definitely needed to work on plot and character development a little more (and come up with a better ending, jeez), but things have improved quite a bit since “Play.”
- “Meeting Across the River”: film treatment and shooting script. While I was in film school (UMBC, represent!), I was obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. That obsession came out in my work. This film in particular was my attempt to make a movie from Springsteen’s song “Meeting Across the River.” I’d already made an 8mm film with the song as the soundtrack for my basic filmmaking class the semester before. Now to try to turn it into a 90 minute script. Once again, I came up short. It’s a little more than 42 minutes (assuming one minute of film per page). Cherry’s radio in the song turns into a guitar, and the hero (now named Joey) becomes an aspiring songwriter who wants to take Cherry to California. Eddie just wants to work on his maroon ’67 Firebird, but the script has other plans. And poor Rita, she wasn’t even in the song and still ends up dead.
And that’s it for film stuff. What’s next includes a lot of poetry from my first year in college. As I may have mentioned before, some of it’s okay and some of it’s kind of awful. Just what you might expect.
Then there’s the fiction stuff.
- a barely begun story about 2 high school girls lost in DC trying to get home. An electrical problem forces them to leave a subway station before the train comes and they run into a homeless person who tells them that Jesus loves them as he hugs one of the girls. “But you won’t be wantin’ Him, will ya? It’s her you’re after. Yes, yes.” I have no idea where I meant to go with this, but I still like that homeless guy and want to know what he was talking about.
- an autobiographical vignette involving my grandmother’s house in Idaho. Architecture as playground.
- two copies of a story called “Fall into Wednesday” that I submitted to TSR in 1985. TSR rejected it, but the rejection letter included a lot of helpful criticism. The story? An alien pops up in a college theater where he’s discovered by a couple of students and their teacher. One of the students falls in love with him because of some sort of cross-species linking thing. Chocolate truffle kisses are involved. main complaints? Too talky and the characters’ reactions to the alien are too matter-of-fact, losing the story’s credibility. I see Mr. Price’s point. Plus it’s pretty damned goofy.
So, what do I take from all this? I think the biggest things that leap out at me are that I wasn’t afraid to try things, but, also, that I still needed a lot more experience, a lot more practice. Again, writing is a process. In the few years that had passed between the yellow and the blue binders, I’d learned a lot about writing things that actually make some degree of sense, and I’d started to figure out character and story. But there was still a long way to go. There always is.
Here are two of my old poems that don’t completely gross me out.
It’s an evil air tonight.
Dark, damp, and hot.
Self-contained, containing me.
I ache to breathe
to get out.
Tumble, my jeans go ’round
tangling with my towels
in wild embraces of passion
and desperation. Forever
on a treadmill till slowly
my quarter loses time and stops.
They lie still. Exhausted, warm,
a closeness brought about by struggle.
Camaraderie in a clothes dryer.
But I’ll let Frank have the last word. Censorship, or the threat of it, still plucks my last nerve.