Tues. Sept. 25, 2012: Writing, Dissection, and Process

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Sunny and cool

Busy work day yesterday. Some library this-n-that done, I’m almost caught up with the tarot students, I started on this week’s work in the Sustainability Course, the World History Course, and the Greek/Roman Mythology course. The dynamics in each class are fascinating to me — the tone set by the professors, the way students interact, the types of people drawn to each class with their stories — but then, I’m a writer. I’m going to go beyond the surface of the course and get into both the interpersonal dynamics of the material and of the people around me. That’s what I do.

Very dangerous, knowing a writer. Everything is material. But that’s part of why it’s so great to BE a writer! 😉

Speaking of writers, I hope you’ll hop on over to A BIBLIO PARADISE today and drop a comment for my colleague and fellow Cape Cod author, Steven Marini. He’s a guest on the blog.

Got through some more submissions, some of which were much better. I’ve got two more stacks to get through this week. Got out my material for Confidential Job #1. Pitched for a job that I don’t think will be a good fit, not in content, but in time frame, and I don’t think it will work out. Of course, I realized that after I hit send.

I also had an absolutely mortifying egg-on-face few moments — I’m a guest on a bunch of different blogs to promote both ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT and HEX BREAKER (and, then, soon, I’ll be appearing to promote DEATH SPARKLES and OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK). I keep track of what’s due when and where, and I wrote several of them in the last few days. Well, I thought I was late on one, scrambled, and hit send — to realize I’d sent it to the wrong person! Mortified. Absolutely mortified. I pulled it back, apologized profusely (I’d sent her everything she needed for my appearance) and then sent it off to the right person (who is very happy with it). Everything worked out, and everyone was cool about it, but I was still upset with myself. There’s a reason I’ve set up systems and organized things, and that’s so I can stay on top of multiple projects. When I make a careless mistake, I’m angry at myself.

My own work suffered yesterday, so today, I have to make up for it. I also have to do a major grocery shop over at Market Basket in Sandwich, which just makes me happy.

The furnace guy was here yesterday, cleaned the furnace and the ductwork, everything is great. Considering that it was 39 degrees this morning, and the heat’s kicked in for the past few weeks, I’m glad.

Watched REVOLUTION last night. (Spoiler alert). They came out with a bang, and now we’re getting into the episodes that both reveal and set up the future complexities. I had some frustrations — I need to watch again the scene after Charlie killed two men and she’s trying to wrap her head around it. I feel like there was a missed opportunity — Miles could have made it clear that you hope you never “get used” to killing (it’s obvious that, although he kills when he has to, he doesn’t enjoy it); he could have dismissed her concerns; he could have pretended to dismiss her concerns as a combination of not really knowing how to deal with her and also as a bit of misplaced “tough love” because he knows she’ll have to do a lot more killing before this is done (besides, she killed someone or several someones in the first episode when she and her friends came to help him in the Big Fight Scene in Episode 1. It’s not her first kill, although it’s the first of this type of kill). Instead, it didn’t really commit to any of the above. The actors had to work too hard in that scene — the problem, I felt, was in the material and in the direction. It wasn’t layered; it was messy. That meant the actors had to work harder to try to pull it off, and the work showed, instead of it being organic. That’s not a failure on the actors’ parts — they did what they could with the material, and the writing needed to be both crisper and more layered, and the direction needed to be more specific in that scene.

Why does this moment bother me? Because it could have been a pivotal point of connection and understanding in the relationship between Charlie and Miles. The actors reached for it, but the material, in this case, didn’t give them the support it should have. You’ve got to hand it to Billy Burke — when he’s in a scene with someone, he’s totally there. A lesser actor would have hung his scene partner out to dry in order to look better, and he did not. Those are the actors you want on your project, the ones who give and receive in a scene, rather than take. Giancarlo Esposito had a lot of wonderful small moments in his scenes, too — a more insecure, self-involved actor would have used some of those moments to chew scenery or wipe the floor with his fellow actors. He doesn’t need to, and he’s far more effective doing what he’s doing. I can’t wait until Esposito and Burke have scenes together. As a writer, while it’s frustrating to see that flawed material in something that’s on network (but not a surprise), it’s also interesting to break it down and figure out what could have made the material stronger, and yet still fit into the constraints of the production (the need for scenes to be truncated for commercial breaks). As someone who worked so closely with actors for so many years, watching performances grow and change night-to-night, show-to-show, sometimes on a daily basis, I feel for the actors, and I’m always fascinated by the development of material.

So, why am I going on and on about beats and scenes in a television series that, truly, has nothing to do with me? That whole dissection experience made me a little resentful that I’m not even included in a rehearsal for my play’s reading on Friday, and that the director hasn’t even spoken to me about the material. If I was in the rehearsal room and heard the actors speak the words, I could make tweaks for it to flow more naturally before the performance, which is going to make everyone look better. I don’t believe every word is gold simply because it drips from my pen. I believe in making the words better. Part of that is being in the rehearsal process. Because I will not be pleased if the director or actors take it on themselves to change lines without discussing it with me first (there’s a reason Dramatists Guild contracts don’t allow that). There’s a difference between riffing and improvising off material and just paraphrasing or changing it. The first two, in the right hands, can take the material to the next level. The third and fourth, almost all the time, takes all the air out of material. That would be a sign of both huge ego and huge disrespect on their parts, none of which are unusual in this business. What will really kill the material if the actors take a lot of self-involved pauses you could drive trucks through. It’s written to a very specific rhythm, the rapid-fire 1940s noir patter. Friday will be interesting. It could be amazing, or it could be a disaster. Either way, I know I’ll be taking a lot of notes, and subjecting myself and the pages to the same type of dissection that I do above.

On a happier note, I was thrilled that Damian Lewis won the Emmy for HOMELAND. In my opinion, he’s one of the top actors out there, again, with a lot of quiet, detailed work, and it’s about time he got recognition.

Alright, enough musing — time to get back to the pages and get my own creative work done. I’ve got a book to finish.

Devon

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010
Waning Moon
Cloudy and humid

It hit 90 degrees in Central Park yesterday, which is just wrong. It was only 80 out here, but still . ..

Did some good work on the urban fantasy. I’ve written what I outlined, so I’m flying blind for a bit, then outlining more.

Acupuncture was great. The traffic, in both directions, was a nightmare, and I wasn’t in as bad shape as I usually am. She also worked on my knee.

Came back, did a little more on the urban fantasy, but mostly had to let the treatment settle. I’m reading PD James’s book THE LIGHTHOUSE, which is very interesting. She moves POV in various chapters, but is consistent within a chapter, and shows us the mystery through several perspectives. I haven’t read her books in order, so I’m a little lost in the arcs that have developed over the series, but not so lost so that it’s distracting. It’s also set on a fictional island off Cornwall, and makes me miss Cornwall.

I’m learning a lot by breaking down this show on a craft level, so thanks for bearing with me. HUMAN TARGET was on last night, and, I’m happy to say, back on track, at least as far as I’m concerned. i nearly skipped it because the premise required such a far suspension of my disbelief, but I’m glad I watched. The writing and direction were much better this week. The two episodes I had a problem with were directed by the same guy, and this was directed by someone else. Huge difference. His work was really solid, and he let the actors fly, for the most part. Jackie Earle Haley’s Guerrero had the hair that reads well on camera again, AND he got to be very active in this episode, with actions including taking out a sniper and driving an ambulance. This production must OWN that frigging ambulance, because it keeps turning up in episodes. And I have to take a second to praise the crew on this show — the demands of this show means they’re flat out busting their asses at an enormous rate. It’s amazing that the continuity of the show is as good as it is. I’ve been there, I’ve had to watch for continuity, at least as far as wardrobe, so wardrobe and hair continuity and prop continuity are things I tend to notice. And it’s damn hard, especially when you’re working outside and so many factors can’t be controlled. You do the best you can and you hope that, if something doesn’t work, it’s small enough not to notice, or they don’t decide to use the take with the continuity error because the performance is better and the director figures no one will notice. Other than hating the Guerrero hair last week that read so flat on camera (in contrast to the texture it usually has), and that had to have been a much-discussed choice, not an error, I’ve picked up very little continuity stuff that bothered me — and not enough to write about. Script inconsistencies — that’s something else. But even that — they’ve been good about looping references and coming back to follow up on things set up in earlier episodes, and I admire that. As far as last night, Haley had both the writing and direction support to really shine, except for one scene, which I’ll get to later. It was set in New York, and, while the stock footage and art direction were more realistic than, in, say CASTLE (a show I enjoy for the dynamic between the actors, except they don’t even try to get the locations right, and it’s so obviously shot in LA not NY, but they pretend it’s NY and it bugs me), it still was obvious that it wasn’t New York. There were logistical lapses in the script — if Gerard AND Chance had hunted Connor, why didn’t Connor recognize Chance? And once Victoria spouted off about the uselessness of fencing lessons, you knew, in the final fight, she’d come out swinging a sword. Really, that could have been handled better. Not to mention that it was either a broadsword or a claymore in the fight scene, and if she took fencing lessons, she’d have learned epee (accent won’t come in, sorry), foil, and sabre. Totally different fighting styles. I fenced, remember? AND had stage combat training. So stuff like that drives me nuts (yeah, I know, short drive). Loved the actors who played Gerard and Connor — well-known faces, and the actor playing Gerard was just a guest on something or other I saw a few days ago. It might even have been CASTLE. The last Guerrero-Winston scene bothered me — it felt like the producers or someone had demanded it, and it was inorganic to the rest of the episode (and some of what’s been set up in the series). It was written so that what Guerrero said was somewhere between a sulk and a whine. Had the director of the previous two episodes been at the helm, I have no doubt he’d have forced Haley down that path. Fortunately, both Haley and the director of this episode were smart enough not to make that choice. Still, it didn’t ring true to me. Haley’s had to fight the direction in this show before, depending on the director — this was the first time he had to fight the writing. He almost pulled it off — he did the best he could with what he was given, and he’s so damned good that you want to roll with whatever choices he makes. But, let’s face it, once Guerrero sets his sights on something or someone — he’s going to win. Or die. Period. That’s what’s been defined in the character, and to have it challenged with something as weak as the context and content of that particular scene, rubbed me the wrong way. I also felt Chance should have been watched, in that last scene in the graveyard, to put an ominous button at the end of the episode. Next week is the season finale, and it’s supposed to show us Chance’s conversion to good guy Human Target. I don’t know if the creators’ reality can live up to what I’ve imagined, quite frankly, although I’m happy to see the character of Baptiste is back — he was so good in my favorite episode of the season.

Regarding the urban fantasy, I realized I have to go into NYC sometime soon and walk the neighborhoods where I’m setting the story. I’ve set in around City Hall, Tribeca, and the fringes of Chinatown and LIttle Italy. I’ve certainly spent enough time there,and I’ve shot on location there (part of it takes place while a cop show is shooting). But, as I sit here and write it, I’m drawing a blank on some important details. Pulling up the city maps isn’t helping. I have to get down there and WALK it.

I need to see the Native American Museum for another project, and that’s in the same neighborhood, so I may combine the two. The city’s not that far away, but it’s gotten so expensive to go in that I try to combine as much as possible. I’ll take the notebook and the camera with me and get some details.

I’m working out of town for the second half of next week, so it might have to be the following week.

Decent morning’s work on the urban fantasy, but not as good as I’d like. That’s because I’m feeling my way through it, rather than following notes on sections I’ve already figured out. I’ve also got a couple of B plot lines to weave in.

I want to thank Diane Parkin for the Beautiful Blogger award. I really appreciate it. If you don’t read her blog, you should. It’s fantastic, and she’s so on top of her creative life, she inspires me on a daily basis.

Back to the page, and, ugh, the taxes.

Devon

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010
Waning Moon
Cloudy and mild

I’m not a big fan of April Fool’s Day, because so often, practical jokes have an undercurrent of hostility and/or cruelty to them. So I just hunker down and try to stay out of trouble.

Yesterday was mostly about catching up. We’re in the home stretch of the workshop now. The scumbag landlords have fired their next shot, so I’ll be fighting with them a good deal over the coming weeks. Damn them.

Verizon apologized and is trying to make up for their unacceptable behavior before the Feds come in and kick their asses. They broke the law; they have to fix and face the consequences. Turns out they broke even more laws than the ones I thought. I’m not one of those consumers who is willing to roll over and accept it.

Elsa seems a little better today, perkier and less disoriented.

Didn’t get much writing done, unfortunately.

Really don’t feel like doing much of anything today, but that’s not an option. I decided I’m taking next Tuesday and Wednesday off. Granted, I’ll be doing stuff like taxes, but I’m going to work my deadlines around those two days and either get everything deadlined cleared off before or it has to wait until Thursday. I need a break. I can’t take the time at this minute because of the workshop, so I’ll take it after the workshop winds up next Monday.

The only thing I watched last night was HUMAN TARGET and I was disappointed. I feel guilty saying that, because I know it’s a show on the bubble, and I’d like to see it renewed, but I was frustrated. For awhile, it made steady improvement; now it seems to backslide. Again, the villain was vague and undeveloped, not a dimensional, truly threatening character. The rest of the elements were there for a cracking good story, but somehow, it didn’t come together. To me, it felt the direction was off again, and that the actors were fighting to overcome what the director ordered them to do. One of Haley’s scenes was so rhythmically off that I couldn’t believe that was the actor’s choice — I’ve seen enough of his work to know he doesn’t make those mistakes. That had to be the director’s demand. They’ve also given him a different wig for the role — so it looks like Guerrero went in for a trim — but it has less texture, a flatter color. It doesn’t read as well on camera. Over the past couple of episodes. although he’s had more screen time, it feels like they’re trying to make him a less dynamic and dimensional character, and it doesn’t really work. One of the things that makes the show work is the natural rhythm between the three lead actors, and when it’s been tinkered with in the way it’s been the last two episodes, it’s frustrating. You can take the exact same material and, had it been kept in the dynamic set up in earlier episodes, it would have taken the show to its next level in a positive way. I know the ratings fell sharply last week, so I’m curious to get the numbers this afternoon and see what happened this week.

Speaking of numbers, I was a Nielsen Family last week, for radio. I kept a radio listening diary, and I mail it back today. It was fun — except that Nielsen called and/or sent me a nagging reminder EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK. I told them in the diary that I found it offensive. I’m a responsible adult. If you ask me once, I do it. Every time you nag, it goes to the bottom of the list. And yes, follow-ups are “nagging”, in my book. I’m a grown up. I’m either going to do it when I agree to do it, or I’m not and you’re going to know about it. Don’t insult me with a “follow up.” Follow-ups are fine if you’ve never heard back and don’t know whether or not I’ve done it. But once we have an agreement, back off. Every time you waste my time nagging is less time I put into your project. All that does is make it less likely it will ever get done. The more someone becomes the squeaky wheel, the more I dig in and refuse. I completed the diary, but I said, if they ever wanted me to do something like this again, they had to cut the nagging or I wouldn’t do it.

Yeah, I need a break. Next Tuesday just can’t come fast enough!

Devon