It took me ten days to write and perfect my
D.C., I stayed at a hotel called
the Windsor Inn that was the dumpiest hotel I’ve ever slept in. My room was
underground. The so-called “window” looked out into a hallway. The television
I was the second pitcher to arrive at the venue. Soon
all five of us were there, sitting around and twitching. Three pitchers were
women, two were men.
One of the organizers came over to announce the order
in which we would pitch. I was to go last. That meant an extra hour of sitting
around and stewing.
We filed down to the auditorium to check out our
“How does my video look?” I asked Josh, the organizer.
“YOU don’t have a video,” he snarked.
“Yes, I do! I have a two-minute promo that I sent in last
week. It’s an important part of my presentation.”
“It’s not here. Do you have a copy with you?’
I rushed to my notebook and retrieved a jump drive.
Luckily it uploaded quickly.
Things were ready to go, but I thought I would pass
out from fear.
Meanwhile, the auditorium was filling up. I was glad
to be seated on the aisle, and that I had memorized the route to the
bathroom. During the other people’s
presentations, I got up twice and headed to the restroom.
None of the other presentations grabbed me, even
though several presenters had great ideas. Great ideas were being wasted
because of stage fright.
What the hell. I walked to the podium.
“Hello, I’m Laura Valtorta,” I began. “Attorney turned
filmmaker. My project is ‘Queen of the Road,’ a reality television series about
commercial truck drivers.”
My first joke was “These drivers lead exciting,
dangerous, and difficult lives, and that’s just trying to find a place to
park!” The audience (starved for entertainment) roared with laughter.
I smiled into the camera and made my way a few
minutes later to the second joke. “Donna the driver warns me she’s very
conservative, but her wife, Carol, is much more liberal.” Big laughter.
The audience loved my video. Several audience members
came up to speak to me afterwards.
The bad part was, I lost!
The winner was Ann Marie Dinardo, with her show
Heroes,” a narrative re-creation of people taken hostage who talk down the
After the winner was announced, one of the panel
members gave us detailed critiques. He grabbed the arms of me and the winner. “It was
between these two,” he said. “They knew what their shows would be, from
beginning to end.”
The panelists did not find my truck drivers compelling
characters. Jeesh! If my truck drivers
are not entertaining women – I don’t know who can be.
Delivering the pitch was fun, and the cocktail party
that evening was a blast. I met Morgan
Spurlock and a bunch of D.C. film people.
I browsed the webpage of Writers Digest. Brian Klems’ article, How
Long Does It Take To Write A Novel?
piqued my curiosity. Mind you, I‘ve toyed with writing a novel, but I lack the
discipline. I can write a blog. I can write a magazine article. I can even
craft a brief for work. The whole frustrating thing reminds me of the 70s tune:
How Long(Has This Been Going On) by Ace.
reading that article, I realized that writing a novel is like a Premier League soccer
fan in a tattered East London pub. The mate
can give you a black eye, if you’re not careful. I want to share some of my
#1 - 2: Outlining and Drafting. It took me
Sunday morning and afternoon just to create an outline and draft two chapters.
Somebody told me to just write and worry about the grammar, the consistency and
other stuff later. That sent me back to the keyboard.
#3: Self-editing. How am I to replace every finely chosen
word that I took all day to write? Well, I’m not. Well, maybe. Somebody told me
to print out my draft and read it out loud. Hearing the mistakes is a good
thing. Somebody also told me to hire an editor.
#4: The 'experts' say a standard novel has 80,000 to
100,000 words. I don’t know if I have that in me. What I’m really saying is
that I need to get organized. Carve out some time after work and focus. Somebody told me to write 1,000 words each day as a
Thief #5: The 'experts'
say the re-writing process varies: a few weeks to a couple of years. Really?! I
guess I’m used to a deadline and then it’s over. Somebody told me to not put added pressure on
myself. If you do, you will rush the process and that’s not cool. Somebody also
told me to reward myself each time I hit an “ah-ha” moment.
#6: Listening to the 'experts'. I
would typically write three to five pages and stop. Go online and read a few
expert-related articles. Talk to some of my old newspaper friends. And get
frustrated again. Somebody told me that I am a procrastinator. Set a deadline
and stick with it.
#7: Writer’s block. Again, I would type three to five
pages and stop. I would watch CSI: Miami, Law
& Order, or reruns of Friends. Nothing could get my fingers
tapping on the keyboard. Somebody told me that there is no such thing as
writer’s block. Somebody also told me to respect my writing skill and put in
the hard work.
ago, publishers sought texts that reimagined literary classics with new
pop-culture elements in what Time Magazine
called a “literary land
grab.” The frenzy was in choosing which classic texts to twist.
There are a
million ways to tell the same story such as Marissa Meyer adopting Cinderella
to cyborgs in the futuristic “Lunar Chronicles” (2012). Fairy tales are
expected to be revived and re-told (think “Into the Woods”), but really good
bent-classic fiction focuses on universal themes to achieve cohesion in the
Well ahead of
the surge, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked
(1995) looked at the Wizard of Oz from a different perspective, examining
tyranny and disenfranchisement. Seth Grahame-Smith’sPride and Prejudice and Zombies (2008) deftly made zombies
as real a threat to Jane Austen’s characters as money, gender roles, and polite
authors’ lament that writers who use another’s work are unoriginal at best and
plagiaristic at worst, I’m thrilled by the literary acrobatics of such work.
of my favorite musicians, Ryan Adams, re-created the Taylor Swift album 1989.
This undertaking was remarkable for two reasons: 1) the original album was only
recently released (2014) and Adams’ version
followed only a year later and 2) he covered the entire album, every song.
A lot of
musicians do cover songs. Colbie Callait did this
mash-up of “Break Even” and “Fast Car” in 2011. Chris Cornell
recently released a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song made famous by
Sinead O’Connor in 1990. Many even do it better than the original. Stevie
Wonder recorded “Higher Ground” in 1973 but the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the
definitive work in 1989.
cover songs to pay homage to the original artists, to experience the emotions
and complexity of the work, and to redefine the art itself. While Johnny Cash’s
version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” seems like a wild mismatch — the former
being country music legend and the latter heavy-metal gothic rock band — the
subject of addiction created a bridge between the artists and the two
interpretations are equally haunting.
interpret one another’s work, either through critique and discussion or
analysis and debate, we elevate the art. By identifying and examining themes,
we sew ourselves into the fabric of our craft. We are redefining old stories
and paying homage to the work that came before ours.
sometimes called ‘fan fiction’ and writers like Stephanie Barron (The Jane
Austen Mystery series) have made a living at it. But it’s more than imitation,
I think. It’s a way of covering another artist’s work and by doing so,
elevating the entire artistic medium of storytelling.
I like the
idea that all writers are part of the same quilt, wielders of the same needle
and thread, blanketing the world in our stories. When we break out of strict
marketing genres and mix styles and elements, we create a world where anything
is possible. A fictional world.
"Save the cat" is a term coined by the late
Blake Snyder in manual of screenwriting of the same name. And while it was
created for the purposes of screenwriting I feel that it works just as a well
for a longer work of fiction.
The term is used to describe the scene where the
audience (or reader) first meets the protagonist. The idea is that the
character has to do something nice to make the hero like the character and
begin to sympathize with them- that it is important to make the reader's first
impression of the protagonist a positive one.
The term incidentally comes from the opening scene of
Alien, where the hero Ridley saves a cat named Jones.
This technique also helps to insulate the character
from backlash later on if that person makes a decision that is morally
questionable, arrogant, or even downright evil. The initial impression is
supposed to linger and the audience remembers that the protagonist is not all
bad, because he saved the cat.
I recently did an experiment where I wrote two similar
short pieces where the main character is attempting to escape from a sinking
ship. In one I had him furiously attempting to escape as fast as he could. In
the second the only difference was that I had him attempt to save the life of a
person who was on the verge of death by carrying him, thus slowing him down.
Overwhelmingly people preferred the version where the
hero saves the cat. I know this is just anecdotal evidence, but I'm convinced.