In this second episode of the new season of our podcast, The Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, continues talking writing, reading, creativity, and more. Listen as Kurt interviews local author Geoffrey Girard about his writing process and his “other” life as a high school teacher — something Kurt and Geoffrey both have in common. Geoffrey writes thrillers, historical fiction, and dark speculative fiction. His first book, Tales of the Jersey Devil, is thirteen original tales based on American folklore. His upcoming book, Truthers, is young adult novel about a 9/11 conspiracy. Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
I think every one out there who considers himself/herself a reader has a secret desire to write a book, or at least has entertained the idea at one point or another. Writing a book is an imposing project, sort of like standing at the bottom of Mount Everest and thinking, “I have to climb that?!” So below are five strategies/tips for starting (and continuing) to write.
1. Start today.
I started writing when I was thirty, and had my first novel published when I was forty-four. Do the math. Sorry to go all Grim Reaper on you, but that invisible mortality countdown timer over your head is decreasing, not increasing, by the second.
2. Give yourself permission to suck.
Look, here’s what going to happen– you’re going to be all excited to write, then after an hour or so will realize, Holy cow! This is terrible. Why doesn’t it sound like anything I read? and will want to give up. Like learning how to play a musical instrument or how to juggle flaming bowling balls , writing well takes patience and persistence (and flame-retardant gloves.) And that only comes if you give yourself permission to be bad at first, and don’t give up when frustration hits.
3. Get an early victory.
Young writers, or anyone in a new endeavor, who have success early tend to keep at it. So I suggest giving yourself an early victory to motivate yourself to continue writing. Here’s how to do that–Pick a favorite scene from the novel you have in your head regardless of chronology and write that. Or instead of starting at year one of your demented family’s history, write about your eccentric Aunt Helen and her collection of toilet paper rolls she’s decorated to resemble the Founding Fathers, or whoever else you think you could do a damn fine job at. Whatever gets you excited to write, that’s what you should starting writing
4. Eliminate distractions.
Writers are great at finding reasons not to write. Some days I’d rather start my taxes six months early or clean the rain gutters out with my tongue than write. And once I do start writing, that’s when I realize, hey, I should check my email/Twitter feed/fantasy football line-up/etc. So eliminating those distractions and daydreams is essential. If you can, find a place to write without a lot of foot traffic, noise pollution, and, if really possible, away from the damn Internet. For this last one, there are a handful of fantastic apps out there that will shutoff your internet for a predetermined time while you write. It’s sad that I have to rely on this, but hey, whatever it takes, I say.
5. Write today, tomorrow, and forever.
If you don’t commit to writing everyday, you’re dead before you get started. I’m not talking about setting aside two hours everyday to write (do people really have that?!) but you must get some writing finished everyday. Yes, you’ll miss a day every now and then–for example, I wouldn’t suggest writing on your anniversary, unless you want it to be your last–and six out of seven days will do just fine, but write, write, write. My life is busy, as I’m sure yours is, but I try to get at least 500 words down a day. It adds up fast, believe me.
On Saturday, June 30, at the Main Library, the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence Jeffrey Hillard led a “Short Story Workshop” to help aspiring writers hone their craft and enrich their short fiction. The workshop involved a group reading of Lucia Berlin’s story “My Jockey;” helpful pointers on character development, dialogue, secondary patterns; and insider tips to help writers think about their work in a different way. In addition, the workshop included a curated list of reading recommendations selected by Jeffrey because of their “expert use of short fiction elements, techniques and moments.” For more tips, Jeffrey’s presentation, which has loads of useful suggestions, has been posted to SlideShare.
On Saturday, June 25, at the Main Library, the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence Jeffrey Hillard explored the foundations, options, trends, and how-to’s that make self-publishing a viable opportunity for writers of both fiction and non-fiction. Jeffrey touched on some of the pros of indie publishing such as improved control. Jeffery says, “the majority of indie writers state total control as most important rationale for decision” for indie publishing. He lists other pros such as: publication time frame is optimal, which is a radical change from traditional publishing; ability to forge a career as writer is more opportune than ever and reasonable; gaining gratification can be gained by seeing your writing career grow; gaining satisfaction in reaching your personal writing goals as a result of indie control. Jeffery adds, “your success depends on quality of book, production, & marketability.” For more tips, Jeffrey’s presentation, which has loads of useful suggestions, has been posted to SlideShare. Go forth and write!
Jeffrey Hillard interviews memoirist Christine Grote in this entertaining and evocative episode of the podcast. Christine’s two memoirs, Dancing in Heaven: A Sister’s Memoir and Where Memories Meet: Reclaiming My Father after Alzheimer’s, explore unique and fresh ground in the arena of Creative Non-Fiction. In fact, Dancing in Heaven breaks new ground in the family-medical-experiences sub-genre, as Christine incisively portrays of the joy, pain, wisdom, sacrifices, humor, and love that dominated the decades-long caretaking of her beloved, late sister Annie. Christine shares insights into memoir writing and also reads from a very revealing project-in-progress. Share your thoughts about this podcast in the blog comments below. Check back regularly for future “Inside the Writer’s Head” podcasts. Also, please consider subscribing to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. You may also rate it on iTunes and other platforms. We’d love to hear your feedback.
The screenplay for “The Revenant” was co-written by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito and Mark L. Smith.
We’re talking narrative. We’re talking the primary source of all storytelling, filmic or narrative print. In fact, we can’t appreciate Leo’s versatile acting in early films like “This Boy’s Life,” “Who’s Eating Gilbert Grapes,” or even “Titanic” without saluting the narrative that was first imagined and crafted on paper.
The original script. Or the script adaptation from a novel.
In the most recent Academy Awards celebration, the evening’s first two Oscars recognized screenwriting. The Academy of Motion Pictures launched its public tribute to the mega-star employees within its billion dollar industry by illuminating one of the most understated of the industry’s art forms.
It’s the actual art which every actor, actress, director, cinematographer, and producer must salute. Leo DiCaprio knew it so well on February 28, and to Leo’s continuing credit, he’s a humble guy, an acting dynamo whose genius lifts every script he touches to a peak that we also crave to reach as movie-watchers. Leo DiCaprio thrives on top of that peak, and he loves to carry the torch for colleagues and fellow artists that give him ample room in front of a camera.
To reach that precipice, Leo had to follow the writing. It gave Leo and his director words they could trust.
The results of screenplays – the writing that gives a movie life – constitute the simplest and most extreme reason these “employees” can take advantage of their longevity and diverse opportunities. Each actor interested in some role usually, at first, reads a screenplay that his or her agent, producer, or director-friend passes along.
It was appropriate that screenwriting was recognized first on February 28. The writing should be the first thing an actor sees. In recent Oscar ceremonies, screenwriting has been front and center as the lead-off award category.
I teach a screenwriting course, and it’s not an easy genre to teach, much less one in which to write. It’s always interesting to think where a film starts. With words. With visual images and dialogue put on pages. Sure, a film might start with a director or producer’s vision, but the real grind starts with the process of transferring that vision to the page.
As with “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” in 2015, those visions perhaps exceeded expectations on Oscar Night when both films were awarded “Best Original Screenplay” and “Best Adapted Screenplay,” respectively. It immediately occurred to me that the films’ epic productions perfectly transcended the words that were crafted to play out these visions.
My colleague at Mount St. Joseph University, Elizabeth Barkley, recently passed along to me a beautiful tribute to the script of “Spotlight,” one of her favorites in 2015. I’d asked her about the writing. She wrote, “The two worlds portrayed in ‘Spotlight’ are ones I know well: journalism and the Catholic Church. The script, especially the dialogue, felt authentic to me. The Boston Globe investigative team revealed frustration and excitement as they began to realize what they were onto. And they also felt fear, a natural response as they weighed the implications of their investigation for the Catholic Church. Church leaders, in contrast, came across as smug, convinced that no one could build a credible case against them. It was the ordinary Catholics in the film that rang truest: one reporter who had ‘fallen away’ from his faith, but still felt guilt, and another reporter’s grandmother, whose life had been intricately entwined with her local parish, so visibly shaken (no words necessary) at the end of the film as she pored over the story. Nothing fancy about this script – but it credibly captures the complexity of this heartbreaking, yet inspiring, moment in journalism history.”
Dr. Barkley points out honest, truth-to-power language in the film. The “Spotlight” script captured such varied tone.
The essence of a script or screenplay is pared down language. What are the most emphatic yet unadorned set of words you can craft for a scene? What are the fewest words possible that will do the most work, give the boldest understanding to how that scene, moment, and dialogue are to be played out? What can you, the screenwriter, convey promptly yet elegantly in your script that will energize an actor reading a role? How exacting can you be with words? This is all part of the art of screenwriting.
Yes, it’s an art form.
What makes it art? It takes creating scenes that drive energy, intrigue, and character interaction toward a resounding resolution. How the movie ends depends upon all points working in the previous 100 pages of the script, if it’s a regular feature film. No question that many poorly written scripts have given birth to thousands of poor quality movies.
Stephen King once said that the huge difference between screenwriting and novel writing was that screenwriting “forced the writer” to write in obligatory short increments. The writer’s imagination couldn’t wander; the imagination was required to dream up something that had to be major contained. No room for wandering on the page, cutting a delightful swath of language and robust lyricism. In the Hollywood-framed script, King said the writing couldn’t become unmoored and wander into something akin to poetry – not for long.
The next time you watch a movie, for just a moment, when you hear a spurt of dialogue, think about the writing behind the words. Lock into your mind the sequence; imagine the writer(s) penning those words. Imagine the fact that they could have been penned over and over again, until the perfect pitch, vibe, and delivery melded. Until what you hear rings with adulation, fury, real joy, utter disdain – whatever the tone, whatever the moment.
Think this, too: the acting, cinematography, set design, and costume creations were certainly reasons “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and “Room” won Oscars this year in multiple categories. But, their ultimate appeal can be traced back to a writer sitting alone in front of a computer screen, cranking out page after page of words, scenes, and directions. I’m sure the thought of a red carpet rolled out at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood was the last thing on the writer’s mind.
Jeffrey Hillard celebrates the return of baseball by sharing literature about America’s favorite pastime. Listen as he reads and analyzes the work of the late author and poet Dallas Wiebe. Wiebe, who died in 2008, was a professor at the University of Cincinnati and a well-known local writer. In the second half of the podcast, Hillard is joined by Charles Gabel, Senior Library Services Assistant at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Gabel, who also writes and studies poetry, shares some of his favorite selections from the Library’s collection, as we get ready to celebrate National Poetry Month in April. Share your thoughts about this podcast in the blog comments below. Check back regularly for future “Inside the Writer’s Head” podcasts.
The sport is a never-ending commodity. Soon enough, there will be the NFL draft, free agency signings and fanciful trades and trade rumors, spring football, the NFL draft-Combine in Indianapolis, and for those tightly-wound football aficionados, the NFL summer training camps will rise in the heat of July to stare down the mid-season flux of Major League Baseball. Like it or not.
Love it or hate it, unfortunately or fortunately, the sport of football reigns supreme in this country. However, what most appeals to me is to look inside the culture of a number of sports, and especially football.
I teach a literature course at Mount St. Joseph University called “Sports in Literature.” Given that my university has several hundred athletes in various sports, it should be obvious that the nature of the course drums up some interest.
In central Florida, there’s a region that remains iconoclastic, newsworthy, and at times controversial. Football in this region is god-like. And one of the most fascinating books on football since Friday Night Lights is entitled Muck City.
I count this book of journalism every bit as significant as Friday Night Lights. Muck City is an area in south central Florida whose name originated as a result of its proximity to the Everglades. Muck City has been ground zero for battles with storms and hurricanes. It is a wide land rich in farming. The area has produced vast quantities of sugar cane. It used to be the home of U.S. Sugar Company., Inc. The author, journalist Bryan Mealer, is quick to point out that as you drive into the city of Belle Glade, you see a sign that reads, “Her Soil is Her Fortune.”
It’s an ironic entrance into Belle Glade, which notably occupies one of the most impoverished populations in the U.S. According to Bryan Mealer and his research, Belle Glade city officials estimate that unemployment among its residents has reached a statistical figure of forty to forty-five percent. This is really disheartening.
Mealer fastens a shrewd eye on Glades Central High School as it reflects the transitions affecting the community of Belle Glade. The name of the high school was initially Belle Glade High in 1948. Mealer, who lives in Texas, journeyed to Glades, Florida to check out why this area so excels in producing superior football players and championship teams, and how the school and city have managed to instill a system of winning inside noticeable economic hardships.
This struggle is multi-pronged and takes its shape in the form of gang-related tension, drugs, and a general sense of uncertainty among youth as to what school will even help them accomplish in the future – except get them some sort of athletic scholarship.
Bryan Mealer stayed well over a year to get his story. His searching and research paid off. He was able to re-create a seminal portrait of the embattled yet productive high school and community.
In spite of the poverty level which will make any population desperate, many youth – and many of their families – turn to football as an outlet. Hopefully, for many, it’s a kind of saving grace. The power of this book springs from Mealer’s skill in digging into the stories of several individuals whose lives intersect and who will not be deterred by any sense of failure or being forgotten.
Belle Glade, Florida is a tough and uncompromising place for a young person to grow up. The pressure to win at Glade Central High permeates the book. The high school careers and stories of Jamarious “Mario” Rowley, Jonteria Williams, and Kelvin Benjamin anchor Muck City. Each has his or her own trajectory. What’s unique is how all three survive deep-rooted struggles inherent in living in Belle Glade.
Mario Rowley embodies the spirit and fortitude of an athlete who plays through multiple injuries. He does so in a demonstrative way. His shoulder is a mess; he tells no one. He keeps quiet. Mario rarely complains. He decides early in his senior year that his young leadership will help energize his fellow players to set their goal for a state championship and not veer from it – no matter what.
Muck City captures the depth to which Mario Rowley shelves his own personal needs and sacrifices his body – a torn muscle in his shoulder and a bad leg – to provide the impetus the team needs to advance to the 2010 state championship game against Cocoa High School.
In 2010, current NFL player Kelvin Benjamin, star wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, is inarguably the under-achiever of the Raiders. KB’s fellow teammates are not impressed. He is the best athlete and an undisputed star of the team, yet in spite of his injury, his lack of participation or zeal rubs the guys in a negative way. They admire him, sure; but the team realizes that it’s going to move on without Benjamin. For his part, Benjamin is looking far beyond his senior year of high school in 2010 to NCAA Division I scholarship offers and, possibly, to an NFL career.
He does have that lucrative NFL career now. But, in 2010, the “rise” of Kelvin Benjamin was depicted in a less appealing light. To his credit, today with the Panthers, KB is considered a hard worker, a generous teammate. At Glade Central in 2010, a very different KB ran the field.
My favorite student profiled is Jonteria Williams. She is an indefatigable student and cheerleader whose personal goals are anything but lofty. They’re straightforward and rather unique, actually, to Glade Central High School in 2010. Jonteria Williams wants to graduate with honors, pursue scholarship offers, and fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. One goal is to continue to help others.
Jonteria is as an asset to the student body and the cheerleading squad. She cares that her mother, Teresa Williams, is taken care of in the short term. Teresa is a strong and pivotal character in Jonteria’s life, and she won’t let her daughter deter far from her bright goals. Jonteria also mends a relationship with her father who, at this time, has been in prison a good portion of her schooling. There’s a scene involving Jonteria and her father on Senior Night that heightens even more the book’s emotional impact.
Muck City captures far more than football.
It’s a minor classic in the way it analyzes socio-economic factors in an impoverished region that influence athletics at the high school level. Except Bryan Mealer uses one football season of one, major high school football team in one community to isolate the relationships and monumental conflicts that stem from these rugged socio-economic factors.
You cheer for these Glade Central players, the cheerleaders, the coaches, the school, and the families, while simultaneously raising your reader’s eyebrows at the sometimes harrowing heartbreak that accompanies their journeys.
Jeffrey Hillard celebrates Black History Month by profiling some of his favorite African-American authors, including the Library Foundation’s first Writer-In-Residence Kathy Y. Wilson, Edward P. Jones, Colleen J. McElroy, and Christopher Gilbert. Hillard discusses these authors’ contributions to literature and culture, while breaking down their writing style and creativity. You’ll also get to hear some of their work as Hillard reads excerpts from their writing. Share your thoughts about this podcast in the blog comments below. Check back regularly for future “Inside the Writer’s Head” podcasts.
WARNING: Podcast contains some explicit language during the book excerpt reading.