Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why Write

By Jodie Cain Smith

Why do I write? The answer begins in early April 2003.

Employed as a puppeteer (that’s an entirely different story), I had spent three weeks driving Savannah’s Veterans’ Drive watching the Iraq War protesters do their thing. Mostly students at SCAD, they waved signs and shook their fists as I drove by in my Ford Taurus. Then, one afternoon, I almost hit one with said Taurus. Dressed in a white toga, the protester stepped in front of my car brandishing a sign that read, “Who would Jesus bomb?” My first thought was, “No one, Jackass!” My second thought was, “Brake! Brake!”

I pressed my brake pedal just in time to avoid catastrophe, but felt a tinge of dissatisfaction. My husband was with the 3rd Infantry Division near Bagdad, Iraq. Nearly eight weeks had passed since I’d heard his voice. I was struggling with being a tough Army Wife, exhausted from worry and angry with everyone and everything around me. I needed somewhere to place my anger and fear.

I parked in front of the Savannah Morning News office and marched into the lobby – a woman on a mission. “You are giving the protesters a lot of coverage, but no one is speaking for the soldiers’ families. Our story matters, too,” I loudly accused the first man I saw.

“Why don’t you write it then?” was his response.

“Fine! I will!”

Thus began my writing life.

I had no experience, no training – just stories to tell, passion to fuel my words, and a Sports Editor nuts enough to give me my first gig. For thirteen months I wrote the column “Married to the Military” until I couldn’t squeeze one more complaint, accolade, or camo-related anecdote from my keyboard.

So, now, why do I still write? Why do you write?

Looking for a simple answer, I turned to my friend Google. According to legitimate sources, Lord Byron claimed, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Steven King described his desire to write as a path to happiness, a way to enrich his readers’ lives and his own. Gloria Steinem stated that writing is “the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

Perhaps George Orwell proposed the most insightful explanation in his essay Why I Write stating all writers fall under four possible intentions, “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.” Then he cautions, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”  

So, maybe the answer to, “Why write?” is not simple at all.

My writing may not make others feel good, increase my online followers, or inflate my bank account, but life, the simple acts of living, still affects me, filling me with laughter and rage on a daily basis. No longer satisfied with my true-life musings, I now work to turn my frustrations into fiction. These stories, this life, must come out. I’ve got a bigger car now. I could really do some damage. Therefore, I write.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pitching to A&E

By Laura P. Valtorta

Recently I got invited to deliver a pitch to the A&E channel, and Im very nervous about it. The prize is a development meeting with A&E.

The cinematographer on the project, Lynn, says, Youve got this!

Yeah, right.

My filmmaking associate, Clabber, is not so sure. He suggests I write down and memorize the pitch. Thats a good idea. So here goes:
Hello. Im Laura Valtorta, attorney turned filmmaker. I grew up in Watertown, New York. Ive practiced law in South Carolina since 1992. I am the producer of White Rock Boxing, a feature documentary available on Amazon Instant Video, and director of the Art House, a short film accepted at 15 film festivals so far, including New York and Los Angeles.  
My current project is Queen of the Road a television series about commercial truck drivers. Truck drivers lead exciting, tough, and dangerous lives, and thats just while finding a parking space. Drivers can be delivering palm trees to a movie set, or working with the oil industry. They might find themselves sleeping in a Walmart parking lot for three nights. They might see their flatbed and cargo stolen.
What’s much more exciting is that with Queen of the Road were talking about female truck drivers. More trouble, more danger, more possibilities.
 We will be following several truck drivers in this series, such as Olivia from Kentucky, who has four children and drives in a team with her husband; Donna, who dreams of moving equipment for a rock band; and drivers like Jae. Ive heard that Jae is trouble, and Im looking forward to that. She lives in her truck with her dog, Mack. Her truck has a hood decorated with a painting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. 
So far weve been filming Milica Virag a Serbian-American grandmother, who loves art and karaoke and her grandson. You will see Milica in our video. Shes a talented driver who seems to have no fear of anything. When I went out on the road with Milica, I had a blast, and I learned something about truck driving. I know the audience will have fun watching Queen of the Road.


I say this, and then I show my two-minute promotional video.

The problem is, I will be catatonic with fear. But at least the pitch says what I want it to say.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Johnny One-Note

By Leigh Stevenson

We often think of artists, whether painters, actors, writers, musicians, dancers, et al. as endlessly creative. However, I submit that in spite of being engaged in singular creative endeavors, artists can be as dry as numbers on a page or prairie grass in a dust storm.

Regardless of having a reputation for being mostly right-brained, artists may have creative tunnel-vision. In order to balance and feed art its important to draw from other sources. Indeed, the right brain and left brain are housed together and operate in concert with one another. Its a joke among actors that dancers and singers make terrible actors and vice-versa. It could be argued they have poured too much into one skill set. Well, we cant all be Ben Vareen or Michaelangelo.

Contemporary novelist Elizabeth Gilbert took a break from writing and developed a love for gardening. She credits that pursuit with inspiring her novel, The Signature of All Things. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, a.k.a. George Sand, the nineteenth century French novelist, loved nature and in particular, bird-watching. When she felt depleted she left the bustle of Paris and retired to the country for periods of time to nurture herself.  Painting was one of the creative outlets Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the nineteenth century English writer, explored.

Members of our Columbia II Writers Workshop practice law, act in plays, consult and teach among other things while also producing memorable writing.

In her recent Columbia II blog, Kasie Whitener spoke of finding inspiration while traveling, specifically in airports. Some of what I consider my best work came while in a hospital waiting room. Sometimes by stepping away, stepping out your writing-comfort zone will yield surprising results. Step away from your computer or notebook. Please step away from your hand-held device. Be present. Use all of the tools that make you a writer.

It could be as simple as hiking, applying paint on canvas or as challenging as learning a new language. Did I forget to say you dont actually have to excel at any of these things? Its simply exercising unused muscles to make all the other muscles work more efficiently.

They say that you become old by not trying new things. Its also true that your art can become old and stale. Your art is all of who you are, what you see and experience. Its not just the talent for stringing together lovely sentences or carving an exquisite bowl or photographing the perfect sunset. Its all of who you are and what you do. Enrich yourself. No Johnny-One-Notes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Brian Barr is an American author of novels, short stories, and comic books. Brian has been published in various short story anthologies, including Queer Sci Fi’s Discovery, NonBinary Review No. 3: The Wizard of Oz, Dark Chapter Press’s Kill for a Copy, and various short story collections. Brian collaborates with another writer, Chuck Amadori, on the supernatural dark fantasy noir comic book series Empress, along with Pencil Blue Studios’ Marcelo Salaza for the art. His first two novels, Carolina Daemonic and Psychological Revenge, will be published by J. Ellington Ashton Press in 2015.

Writing From Love, Not Greed

By Brian Barr
“Your comics are good, man. You should just write more mainstream stuff, you know? Stuff that sells big on the market. Follow the subjects a mass audience reads, and just write that!”


Seriously. This is the gist of what a fellow comic book writer told me once, a year or so ago. A writer who liked my work but didn’t understand someone writing what they wanted to write, and not what they calculated as the hottest cash cow selling at the moment. How could I not follow a formula, a trend that would guarantee me instant success?

I don’t see the point. I write because I genuinely love to write. The stories I craft, the characters I create, and even the subject matter I deal with all strike a chord with me as a human being. Never have I looked at the bestseller list or a weekly book guide and thought, “Hmm. Goth aliens are in. Score. Gopher apocalypse novels sell big. Imma write me one of them there monster rodent novels! Guaranteed spot on daytime TV.”

Why transform my biggest passion into a soulless imitation of current fads?

We all have our talents. Okay, so let’s say that anyone in the general audience reading this blog is a business figure more than an artist. I get it. You’re like a Bill Hicks standup skit on marketers (my favorite one he ever did, YouTube it). You look at the margins, then strike for the gold. Every project, you’re narrowing down your demographic to whatever is in the top three slots of commercial literary lists.

I’m a literary artist first, an author that truly wants to express myself and have fun doing it. I’m primarily a creator, not a marketer. I strive to be an individual in my craft, not a follower in my ‘manipulation of products.” When people buy my work, I want it to be because they genuinely like my work, not because I found a quick way to take their money. I appreciate their purchases because they truly support what I’m about.

Every talent can be appreciated. We can appreciate a businessman, and we can appreciate an artist. One is even better when they’re a healthy balance of the two, and there are many great artists out there that know how to sell themselves.

The writer who gave me the advice on how to sell out bigger than Reel Big Fish did mean well. He was giving me the jewels for instant success.

I refuse them, because I’m not a sellout.

When people read my work, I want them to know they are getting my heart on a page. These are my words, my interests, my imagination, all without compromise. The Empress comic book project I co-create with Chuck Amadori and Marcelo Salaza’s Pencil Blue Studios mean something to me. The same applies to my novel Carolina Daemonic, the anthologies my short stories are featured in, everything to come. My influences are there, from Tad Williams to Anthony Burgess, Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Clive Barker, only because I’m inspired by these great authors, not soullessly trying to jump in their niches for big bucks.

I have the genres I’m drawn to more than anything, mainly speculative genres. Fantasy, science-fiction, horror, you name it. Never did I look to these genres as a lightning bolt route to the top. These are genres I genuinely like writing!

So, thank you, Mr. Writer for the great instant marketing advice, but it is not great creator advice. I’m going to keep doing what makes me happy, and sharing it with the world, just like my favorite creators do. There is still a market for a genuine love of creativity and self-expression out there.

Don’t believe the hype.