Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat? Probably not, but still...rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.
--Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93
I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Read more
When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it's still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night Read more
Since I now have another two-year-old, I'm back to reading the simplest books to her at bedtime. Most of these books are innocuous, if occasionally incompetent (i.e., Big Snowman, Little Snowman, a Frozen tie-in book that probably takes longer to read than it did to write). A few are brilliant, such as Room on the Broom. But I'm here to talk Read more
One of my favorite and oft-quoted bits of writerly advice comes from novelist/filmmaker Nicholas Meyer: "Art thrives on restriction." Meaning that if you don't have enough of something--usually money and/or time--you're forced to compensate by being creative.
Here's a story that shows how that works, at least for me.
I've never written steampunk. I honestly don't even know if it's a Read more
Homegrown in Salt Lake City, Charlie Holmberg was raised a Trekkie with three sisters who also have boy names. She writes fantasy novels and does freelance editing on the side. She's a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukelele, and owns too many pairs of glasses. Her first novel, The Paper Magician, is now available. Follow her on Twitter for Read more
It’s been a while since I posted here; life’s been a bit overwhelming. But now I’ve got something new to share.
Over the past weekend I attended a combined reunion of my old college newspaper staff and fraternity. It gave me the chance to go around Martin, TN and shoot some video of the real locations that inspired those in my Firefly Witch stories. I hope you enjoy this little three-minute tour.
I was honored to be the first contributor to this documentary Kickstarter project, and rather than attempt to convince you myself, I asked acclaimed author Dale Short, one of the people behind the film, to explain where the idea came from and how important it is. And please check out the video trailer at the end of his article and consider making a contribution.
We like to think of ourselves as rational people, in control of our destiny by judiciously making the decisions our daily lives consist of—each choice as clearly conspicuous as the pair of branching roads in the famous Robert Frost poem.
We can maintain this illusion pretty well until we start thinking back on how many of those significant branchings-off have struck us completely out of the blue, the results of pure chance that we never saw coming.
My own most recent example is a workshop I was asked to teach for an organization of professional writers/bloggers in the Birmingham, Ala. area. The topic was “Interviewing for Story,” and the group’s program chairman had a great idea: Why not invite a guinea pig…uh, guest…the members could interview afterward, to test our newfound skills?
Our guest was the pastor of a local church: a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman in a business suit. His tone was friendly and approachable, and I settled in to hear whatever was par for the course, from someone of his profession and background.
That’s not what we got.
Rev. Lawton Higgs told us, in a matter-of-fact style, about a day in 1984 when a routine event changed his life: as new pastor of a large metropolitan church, he was always mindful of recruiting new members. One special focus of church growth was seeking out members of the community whose lives were “in transition”…a new neighborhood, a new job.
So when he saw a moving van at an apartment building near his church, he headed over to greet the newcomers. But mid-crosswalk he saw that the new family was black. His church was white. He stood there, emotionally torn.
Higgs “came face-to-face,” he recalls, “with my history, and my experience, and my struggles with all this ‘racial inclusiveness’ stuff, and my encounter with Martin King in seminary, and I was paralyzed there in the road.”
He says he realized that if he didn’t invite the new residents to church, “then God had no use for me and my ministry in Birmingham. I discovered that my beliefs were incompatible with God’s call to love one another.”
That was the day that the pastor became, as he puts it, “a recovering racist.” He’s since worked to found a multi-racial, multi-cultural church in a city still haunted by its civil rights past. He ministers to the homeless, and works daily as an advocate for the poor.
When our group of professional communicators had heard Higgs’ story, the auditorium was silent for a while. The old phrases “You could have heard a pin drop” and “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house” are sometimes overused nowadays, but in that instant they were unavoidable.
Before the day was out, another member of the writers’ group and I started formulating a plan to bring his story to a wider audience by writing and producing a documentary video about his experiences. With that in mind, we’ve just unveiled a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to bring the project to fruition.
Though Higgs’ life-change as a “recovering racist” is decades old, we’ve found that the story is very much a contemporary one as well. In “walking the walk” of his beliefs, he’s at times a lightning rod for opponents in the community whose views on race and politics are more in keeping with the region’s Jim Crow era.
At a juncture in America’s history when a bitter election campaign has brought to the forefront the deep veins of religious intolerance and racism in our culture, we’re confident that the story of “A Recovering Racist” will be instructive, inspirational, and challenging to everyone who cares about social justice and a spirit of reconciliation.
I invite you to watch our three-minute trailer, share it freely with friends, and consider becoming a supporter of our documentary video.
And if anybody asks how you came to find out about the project, tell them that pure chance sent you.
Recently, while reading the Janet Sternburg-edited collection The Writer on Her Work, I had an unexpected epiphany (I know, epiphanies are always unexpected, but work with me). It was the realization that my life in 2012 is almost exactly Anne Tyler’s in 1980.
Tyler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Breathing Lessons and The Accidental Tourist, contributed the book’s first essay, “Still Just Writing.” It begins with a list of all the real-world mundane events and responsibilities that keep her from writing when she wants to. The parallels with my own life right now–I’m the stay-at-home parent (or is the term “primary caregiver”? I can never remember) for two small children, and I write between events such as school, martial arts practice, acting class, various playdates and so forth–are pretty strong.* And I’m not the only one of my male writer friends in this situation.
The C-in-C back when we were full-time co-workers.
In all the essays in the book, the role of women in society forms a strong undercurrent. Comments from famous male authors explaining why women can’t be great writers (imagine hearing that in a college classroom now) are related, and examples from the past (Honor Moore’s tale of her grandmother who gave up painting because it was “too intense” is really fascinating) show how creative women struggled against both society and their own sense of isolation. In 1980 these struggles continued, but all the writers in the book have reached a point where they understand their desire to write is both irresistible and entirely acceptable, society be damned.
Now, the big difference with the life Tyler describes is crucial: thirty years ago, her life was the norm. It was what society expected women to do. It’s neither normal now, nor unheard-of, for the man to be the primary caregiver while the woman works out of the home. It is, in fact, a time when all the old roles described in Sternburg’s book are starting to twist and mutate. And sadly but perhaps inevitably, it’s being driven by economics, not social justice.
In fact, particularly within the so-called “creative community” of contemporary (and internet-linked) writers, artists and musicians, the traditional roles that Sternburg’s book discusses have certainly lost their edges, if not broken down entirely. Men can no longer find jobs lucrative enough to support their families; two incomes are the standard. In my case, my last full-time non-writing job did not pay enough to cover putting my youngest son in day care when he was a newborn. So I gratefully took the chance to become a full-time stay-at-home father, as well as a full-time writer. Both, for me at least, have paid off more than ever anticipated.
But are these changes permanent? Unless there’s a total collapse, eventually the economic system will recover, and jobs will become both better and easier to get. What happens to all these nontraditional families then? When the soldiers came back from World War II, women didn’t necessarily want to leave the work force to give the men back their jobs. And from that, eventually (it’s a hugely simplified explanation, I know) came the first modern feminist movement. So when jobs are again available, will men want to give up raising their kids to return to the traditional workplace?
I don’t know. We’ll see. But in the meantime, The Writer on Her Work has me looking at myself and my family with a whole new appreciation.
*Of course I don’t have her talent. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
Like pretty much everyone I know, I have a massive TBR (To Be Read) pile of books filled with probably awesome literature. Some I’ve started, and for whatever reason never quite returned to. Some I know I’ll have to make myself read one day. And some–often the unexpected ones–I pick up and literally can’t put down.
That’s the joy of reading that professional writers can lose track of. We have books we have to read for research, books written by friends, books that we’ve been asked to blurb…”reading for fun” often gets pushed way down the stack. And a lot of these books are fun to read, even if the reading is prompted by one of these ulterior motives. But there’s nothing like being captivated by something you didn’t expect to grab ahold of you so quick, and so tight. Horton Foote’s second volume of memoirs, Beginnings, did that for me.
Foote (1916-2009) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter. When Beginnings begins, he’s a 17-year-old just arrived in Pasadena to study acting. Before long he’s in New York, starting to write plays and begin his subsequent momentous career. He name-drops a lot of people you’ve probably heard of, and a few you haven’t, but what’s interesting is that he never presents anything remotely gossipy or aggrandizing about these people. They’re just the folks he met along the way, most of whom treat him kindly. There’s no backstage romance, no backstabbing, and not much back story: the book starts, tells its tale and ends. Heck, he even covers meeting his wife, courting her and their marriage in one paragraph. Simple, sure, but it’s the kind of simplicity that is as rare as spring in Wisconsin.
He also uses a lot of dialogue. This might seem odd in a memoir, because truthfully, who remembers that many actual conversations from years ago? Yet because he’s a playwright, and because he doesn’t present anything that sounds remotely “speech-y” or false, it becomes a non-issue. Most of the conversations simply convey information, the way they do in real life.
In fact, what makes Beginnings work so well is that Foote’s style is so minimal, and so realistic, that it’s virtually nonexistent. He does an extraordinary job of simply getting out of the way of the story, a lesson more authors (including yours truly) could probably stand to learn. If you’ve seen the 1983 Robert Duvall film Tender Mercies (source of one of those Oscars) you have an idea of what he does, and how well he does it.
Beginnings reads most of all like an elaborate “thank you” to the people who helped that young man from Texas make his way in show business. Its Texas-flavored graciousness is part of its considerable charm. I read a fair number of author biographies (most recently Low Road, about Donald Goines), and usually they seem to succeed despite their personalities, not because of them. Foote seems the opposite: he’s decent to everyone, and everyone is decent in return. It may not be entirely true, but I’d like to think it is.