In with the New…But Single File…as I Grow Older

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I’m reminded of a sentiment from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita.  Toward the end, Eva Peron’s husband, Argentinian President Juan Peron, champions his dynamic wife’s enduring worth and accomplishments to his advisers despite her waning energy as a result of illness.

“But on the other hand, she’s slowing down.

She’s lost a little of that magic drive.

But I would not advise those critics present to derive

Any satisfaction from her fading star

She’s the one who’s kept us where we are…”

I am far from Evita Peron’s level of fame, fortune, and fabulousness (sonofabitch), but I recognize something in her predicament at this point in the show, and in her life.  She wants to keep on doing big things, but she just isn’t up to it.  The same is true for me.

Middle age has definitely made me record a cold-eyed stock of my life in all departments.  There’s a common trend in several of them: easing up.  Slowing down.  Mellowing.

Specifically concerning my storytelling and art, I’ve found that, while it remains my most fulfilling activity, I don’t have the energy or fire anymore that made me turn out two or three completed works a year.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s led me to focus more on quality than quantity.  The disappointing factor is that I have tended to outline some really kick-ass projects in the last couple of years…but lacked the drive to realize them.  Recent case in point: I’ve spent three months developing and building the outline for what promises to be an absolutely terrific illustrated storybook based on the adage that “It takes a whole village to raise a child”, the concept influenced by Lars Von Trier’s brilliant film Dogville…and the Universal monsters.

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It holds up in the telling.

I was ablaze with inspiration,  at a temperature that I don’t think I’ve reached since I started writing seriously eleven years ago.  I built a synopsis, developed the characters, the setting, researched photographs of the type of homes and businesses the characters would have; I wrote an eleven-page detailed treatment, from which I would have worked directly to create the actual story…and suddenly realized that the project had grown too big.  I had overextended myself.  I had set out to write a straightforward parable and wound up with a four-act epic. I didn’t feel I could do justice to it right now, having just published a full-length novel, written half of another, and being about to embark on creating two, going on three, storybooks for an anthology to be compiled many years down the road.  And so with both regret and relief, I shelved A Whole Village indefinitely.

I suppose I have a right to be tired.  I’ve worked my tail off on The Horrible Hand!, newly-published (for the second time; I was unhappy with the formatting at first).  There were three years of my life invested in that book.  Not only did I have to both write and illustrate it, but I had to painstakingly set the foundation for the follow-up novels and ensure that the first book stood on its own in terms of the context of those to come.  I think the effort shows; the story is entertaining (according to those who read early drafts), the concept unique, and the possibilities for future entries in the Eerie Series unlimited.  (For more detail on The Horrible Hand!, check the link I’ve provided here, which leads to an explanation of the ES’s background and projected future, and also a further link to where THH can be purchased.)  The only problem is that the concept may be too unique.  Potential readers may not “get it” because it’s too sophisticated.  Trying to explain that The Horrible Hand! is essentially a mystery within a mystery, but more than that–a novelization of a mystery movie that was never actually made, complemented by the backstories of the make-believe actors who never actually made it, as well as of the director who never actually existed, who mysteriously disappeared many years later, whose fate may or may not be revealed through future books in the series…all that is a little too much for people to chew at one brief sitting.  At least that has been my experience when presenting the book at a recent author showcase, and even among members of the writers group I belong to. Along with other details, there was much confusion simply as to whether the book was really fiction or not.  So…I don’t know if I succeeded with The Horrible Hand!  Ultimately, the best course for anyone who cares is to sit down and read the damn thing…upon which all will make sense.  Including the explanation for my first-ever use of a pen name, Corwin McCloud–even though it isn’t really a pen name–

Oh, hell; just tryyyyyyy it, you’ll liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it.  Alas, in this illiterate Second Dark Age, people don’t want to spend that much time trying to understand high-minded creative concepts, and they don’t read anymore, anyway.  But for what it’s worth…The Horrible Hand! is, at long last, published.

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I’m reminded of another play, Terrence McNally’s Master Class, in which opera legend Maria Callas, in the middle of one of her titular addresses, forgets herself and mutters before her students, “It’s a terrible career, really.  I don’t know why I bothered.  I didn’t say that!  I didn’t say that and you didn’t hear it!

Moving on…I’ve decided to work on those aforementioned two small storybooks as a way of decompressing from THH.  One is based on a summer art project, Shelley and the Blue Vampire; a sort of “crime-board” collage which tells the story of a young girl afflicted with depression, and how this influences her life decisions, leading to a tragic end.  It’s a better idea than it sounds, really.  It’s my attempt at timeliness, and to actually address a social problem across a broad spectrum of causes, including political and interpersonal.  So that should be fun, and not too much of a strain, as most of the work, text and illustration, has already been completed.

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The other storybook, Not Even Death, will be a quickie horror tale suggested by an eerie ghost story I heard about a year ago, concerning a babysitter’s (supposedly true) experience when the mother of his/her charge returned suddenly from her outing…with a strange, fixed smile on her face…and sat down at the kitchen table with her arms hanging utterly limp, not moving…not speaking…with the babysitter eventually learning hallwaythat the mother was killed in a car crash not long before…  Shivers!  Again, a fun little project that will give me a chance to experiment with illustration, which I love to do.  These “one-reelers” may become a regular form of respite from the heavy lifting of a major project, and as I indicated, I aim to gather them into a collection for publication at some point.  My effort from early1f this year, Bad Medicine, will also be included.

The other project on my agenda is to continue, and hopefully complete, Midnight Steps, the full-length novel that I started around two years ago.  It’s at the midpoint, and this tale of murder, mystery, and melancholy romance–all set against the background of the Roaring Twenties–will really step up its game in the second half.  The characters literally won’t have time to cry.  Hopefully, neither will the reader.  At least, Midnight Steps can be easily classified as a straightforward historical mystery.  And even from my personal perfectionist standpoint, I honestly believe that MS contains some of the very best fiction writing I’ve ever done.

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That’s the plan as 2018 draws to a close.  Notice I didn’t mention any other pending new projects, or the memoir, What a World, What a World, which is tabled at the moment.  There is the possibility of submitting a short piece of writing to an anthology being assembled by my writers group, but I haven’t thought about that yet.

I’ll update my progress on these projects in detail as I go.  For right now, I prefer to do what I’ve committed, in recent years, to doing throughout my life, as well as in my creative work: keep it simple.

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Art and Words Go Hand in Hand

This year, I decided to follow my passion, come what may; be that poverty (too late), famine, war, Judgment Day, etc.  And I’ve kept to that resolution.  Midnight Steps and What a World are both back on track, and accomplishing that was easier than I expected.  I’ve finally breached my junior high years in the memoir (latter), which I had been dreading, and I’ve entered the much darker (and faster-paced) half of the thriller (former).  Very excited about both projects, but was inspired by a recent flyer from a local art museum to submit some work for their upcoming exhibit…so, now, this temporarily will take priority over the books, as the submission deadline is July 22.

The first project is one that I created last year, an enclosed diorama which I call “Tower of Power” because it essentially represents the classic power hierarchy in the form of an expressionistic castle tower, outfitted with windows revealing the innocent, idealistic, and workaday population (bottom); the affluent  (second level); the ruling elite (third level); and at the very top, a sort of Eye of God, symbolizing the supernatural and spiritual forces beyond human comprehension which truly govern everything.  Interspersed are images and small sculptures/figurines carrying this concept further, i.e., faceless figures “behind the scenes” making things happen, and miniature chess pieces that suggest power games/political plays.

 

 

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It’s a rather highbrow, cerebral idea, but I like it, so we’ll see what happens.  I’d also like to turn the concept and visuals into a nifty little storybook, eventually.

Equally highbrow and pretentious–but with a much stronger message–is the other project that I recently started.  Shelley and the Blue Vampire is a visual story modeled on those “crime boards” used by police and detectives (at least on TV) to map out exactly how a crime was committed, when, by what possible suspects, and so forth.  I’ve wanted to do an art piece around this idea for a long time, and when I thought of how I wanted to realize Shelley, a haunting little tale that I had dreamed up around Christmastime along with Bad Medicine, I found the crime board theme perfect for it.  In short, the plot will be illustrated in 3D “photographs”, inside a glass-fronted shadowbox, of each scene, with a brief narration card beneath, reading to the effect of “Shelley at nine years, when such-and-such happened to her”.  The events–bleak and dire, in the style of a delightfully morbid little Edward Gorey Gothic titled The Hapless Child–will culminate in tragedy most timely–by gunfire, in a public park, which kills two innocent people.  The “Blue Vampire” will signify the depression which runs in Shelley’s family, and he will grow in stature with each appearance along the way, in a sense feeding on her as her mental condition deteriorates.  The timeliness is abetted by the presence of bullying, a failed welfare system, and of a firearm either held by a character or visible in the background of every scene, among which will be a drug dealer’s derelict abode and a politician’s office.  I want to turn it into a storybook as well, not too far down the road.

 

 

Yes, I’m expanding my comfort zone with this one, for my stories/projects almost never venture into politics or social issues.  But again, I thought this might be a neat idea to pursue, and I’m curious to see how it will be received (if at all) by the museum.  To be honest, I don’t even remember what the prizes are for winning submissions.  It’s the trip, not the destination, right?

The other time-sensitive work that I’m looking at completing, by early September in this case, is The Horrible Hand!  The head of the writer’s group, The Write Stuff, that I belong to has fixed a showcase at a local bookstore for eight members, on September 20th.  I immediately thought of this as a chance to show off HH and its concept, and see how people react.  Plus I would just like to see it completed, formatted, and in book form.

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The creative juices are flowing, if nothing else is at this time.  I even plan to start going to a local open-mike night for writers, and get this–I’m auditioning next Saturday for a local independent film about the day-to-day events in a comic book shop.  I’m kinda looking forward to it, even though I know that, should I be cast, shooting will diminish my own artistic time.  But…that’s what happens when you’re multi-talented, I guess, ha.

Oh yes…I’ve also decided to send The Blue Candle script to a theatre group I’ve worked and been acquainted with for years.  Just to get a response.  And for the same reason, I will be advertising Flickers on my local performing arts list, specifically in search of a photographer to take the shots of the characters in the “silent movie” scene fragments/illustrations throughout the book.

No one can say I’m not trying.


Good Medicine

A whole year has passed since my last entry here?  I guess it has.  The reason for that long hiatus is simply that I haven’t felt compelled to write about the projects I’ve been working on, because they hadn’t developed far enough until recently to really discuss them.

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The Horrible Hand! is completed, not finished.  It’s written, and it’s been read by a few people who seemed to like it.  The illustrations are done, so it’s just a matter of putting it together.  I’m in no hurry, though, because I want this book to turn out right.  It’s a personal favorite of mine, as well as the “pilot” for a series of other books to be created through the same concept–a novelization of a fictional film, accompanied by bogus history and behind-the-scenes articles, actor bios, etc.  And, yes, I would like to continue shopping it to various publishers and agents as I haven’t with most other projects.  I made a vow to myself at the beginning of 2018 that I would get my work out there, one way or another, whether through submitting to publishers, self-publishing and promoting, or publishing online.

Which brings me to the project I just finished.  Last November, I was suffering a serious depressive episode, made all the worse when my beloved Scottie, Finnigan, died just after Thanksgiving.  My heart was broken, even though I had had fifteen-and-a-half good, memory-filled years with him.  The grief made it hard to concentrate on Midnight Steps, the book I had been working diligently on for many months, and so, I shelved it at the halfway mark, and tried my hand at something new and different–a web comic.  Comics and graphic novels have perhaps never been more popular than they are now, or regarded more highly as an art form.  So, I decided to hop on the bandwagon.  I wrote a script, just as I would for a movie, and carefully gathered the images I needed to represent the characters and settings, which I planned to combine with my own black-and-white sketches to illustrate the action.  I did not anticipate that it would take me more than a couple of months, at most, to complete, but I rapidly found that even a short web comic such as Bad Medicine, as I titled it, is extremely time-consuming and exhausting to make.  That said, I enjoyed every minute of the process, even when I was ready to scream from the endless technical challenges, particularly making the lead character’s face and features consistent throughout.  At the end of the construction, I decided to add film grain and “weathering” to each of the frames, for I had wanted to give the impression in the images of an old, badly-preserved movie.

 

 

That was another month of work, not to mention replacing the dialogue balloons which were rendered illegible from the special effects.  Incidentally, for the balloons, I used a site called SuperLame, which allows for free creation of these.  This was a new experience, because I hadn’t worked with dialogue balloons, print or digital, since I was probably ten.  I guess I didn’t do a bad job for not knowing a thing about what I was up to.  The finished result was one hundred thirty-three frames, and took from January to mid-April to complete; a far cry from the “doodle” project I had envisioned it as, just something different to distract myself from life and the loss of my companion.  No matter.  I learned volumes from attempting it, and would love to do another one, although not for a very, very long time.  The story of Bad Medicine mixes and mingles themes old and new…a young psychiatric patient, Timthie Draven, is riding with his doctor, Dr. Pivott, through a bad storm when their car goes off a bridge.  Dr. Pivott vanishes in the river and Timthie is left to take shelter at the forbidding Hemlockhurst mansion, where a group of calculating relatives and friends have gathered to celebrate Lord Job Hemlockhurst’s birthday–except that he died not a half-hour ago from a fall on the stairs.  An accident?  Among these kin to the deceased is Chamelea Hemlockhurst, Lord Job’s granddaughter, who turns out to be in withdrawal from the same psychotrophic drug as Timthie, a (fictional) mood stabilizer, Gannerall.  Whose mental state is improved by the absence of the drug, and whose has suffered from it?  Was Chamelea deliberately not given her medication so that she would act suspiciously…the better to frame her for her grandfather’s death and get her institutionalized, thereby allowing the rest of his family and friends to assume control of it?   Or, did she really commit the crime in a psychotic blackout?  Most important of all…what does the story have to say about the threat of over-medicating those with mental illness, as is a very timely issue?

I’ve uploaded the first thirteen frames as the beginning episode of Bad Medicine here, at a web comic site called Tapas, reputedly the best one out there to showcase amateur comics.  It’s already gotten some views, and I’m intrigued as to where this might lead, even if I just make some new friends who are into expressing themselves in this way.

I didn’t write much new material for the memoir–What a World–but I spent a lot of time this past year editing it.  Had to rethink it, as well, and now I know I have to cut it back significantly (it’s only one-third finished and already one hundred sixty-odd pages).  But the concept, of exploring a hypersensitive man’s life and times, from childhood on through middle age, I think is on-target.  Those who have read excerpts have enjoyed it, most vocally.  I like the process of writing it, but there is always the emotional toll it takes, as well as the necessity of walking every memoirist’s tightrope–the balance between being nice and being honest.  I’ve dreaded attacking my junior high and high school years…especially since my college years weren’t much better and my young adulthood was, in many ways, worst of all.  I can’t help but think that I’m a late bloomer.  I really hope so.

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Predictably, Midnight Steps outgrew my original idea for it as just a short storybook, whimsically illustrated with, literally, rock-faced characters.  Once it took off, I knew I had a novel on my hands, and even though I had just finished The Horrible Hand!, my previous novel-length work, I leapt into it with both feet and was astonished at how my original idea shifted and morphed into something deeper and richer.  The central change involves the leading character of Ethan Hyde, whom I first envisioned as something of a sociopath, an irredeemable bastard who would come to a well-deserved, and very unpleasant, end.

But then I fell in love with him–it does happen with fictional characters, even our own–and so relented and have given him another chance, plus a kinder, if still flawed, disposition.   That doesn’t mean that Midnight Steps will be a fluff piece, oh, no.  These people, especially the leads, are going to suffer, grievously.  But I already know that they, and the story overall, will be better for it.  Ask me how I know that.

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For the illustrations on MIDNIGHT STEPS, I’ve gone with a sort of blurry, indistinct look which matches the murky tone of the story.

So…next on the agenda is a continuation of M.S. and What a World.  I’ve discovered, though, that despite my intent to keep my life simple (creative life included), I cannot function with only two projects bubbling at a time–I have to have something else; a third, somewhat smaller and more visual project, which allows me to really be artistic.  Bad Medicine is a perfect example of this.  I haven’t settled on what the next one will be, but I have some ideas.  And that’s actually the venture I look forward to working on the most, I suppose because it’ll be something completely new.

Other than that…I’ve joined a writer’s group here in town, and am slowly but surely making some acquaintances who “get” this creative craziness that overwhelms me to the exclusion of most other pursuits in life–relationships, marriage, accumulating “stuff”.  For a while there, I had grown a little wary of how much I was isolating myself in the name of art…but after pushing myself to get out there now and then, I was reminded again of just how boring most people are, and consequently, just how little I was missing by directing my energies toward satisfying my inner muse instead.  I’ll always be devoted to my family, and my few close friends, but I honestly have grown less and less comfortable around most people as I’ve matured.  I can’t help but think this must be intended…for if we artists weren’t inclined to keep to ourselves, how would we ever do what we do?


Everything Old is New Again

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Toward the end of 2016, I completed the monumental task of realizing my ambition for The Eerie Series, with its first installment, The Horrible Hand! As a review…the concept for the ES is a lineup of novels based on grade-B horror/suspense films made in the 1950s-60s by a fictional director, Anthony Miles.  The books focus on the action both before and behind the camera, the theme of redemption which runs throughout, and the tumultuous life of Miles himself.  The books are illustrated with public domain photos of people as actors, and of settings with which they are merged digitally.

The genesis for this project was, again in review, my childhood fascination with the Crestwood House Movie Monsters storybook series, which briefly retold the classic Universal horror films, augmented by stills of scenes from them.  Over all the intervening years, I felt that there was something there that could be built upon for a more adult (and completely unique) method of storytelling.  After several false starts, I set forth to put my inspiration to work.  And now, everything old is new again.

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The Horrible Hand! was written over a period of roughly two years.  I took my time with it, because I wanted it to be right; the ES project was a brain child of mine, and I felt I owed it as much time as it took to be realized.  Set in a greedy clan’s family mansion following the murder of their patriarch, the “novelized” version of the bogus title film follows the dark and stormy night after the reading of the will, which includes mysterious disappearances, vicious quarrels and ominous threats, secret skulduggery, and much soul-searching on the behalf of nearly all the characters.  Plus the phantom specter of the dead patriarch’s hacked-off hand, which terrorizes the household.

The story may not sound like much (and it isn’t), but my intent was not so much to tell a brand-new tale as to tell an old chestnut with a brand-new slant to its plot.  In this case, most likely as a reflection of my own life in recent years, I chose to bring out the theme of redemption for the characters involved.  Essentially, I saw that theme as a gift offered to each person in the story, who would then decide for themselves whether or not to accept it.  Just as we do.  And this theme, I have decided, will be the backbone of the entire Eerie Series.  It’s unusual.  It’s risky.  It may not be successful at all.  But I feel that it’s right.

It didn’t start out that way.  As originally conceived, THH was to be just another old-fashioned horror story told in a fairly unique way, with the background information of the director and players added for further intrigue.  But what I found happening as I progressed along with the writing was…I started to like the characters.  And not only to like them, but to feel for them.  I saw so much of myself in them and their various personal “traps” (and how could I not, for every writer exposes his subconscious in his work?) that I softened toward them, and decided to give at least most of them another chance.  And by so doing, I believe I added a layer of depth to the work which raises it reasonably above the routine.

The writing was a pleasure throughout.  I never felt roadblocked or stymied, or as though I had written myself into a corner.  The story really wrote itself after I had worked out the details of plot and character; this is usually the case, which is why it pays to do your homework in the prewriting.  And when the book was completed, I understood somewhat the notion of post-partum depression.  I didn’t want it to be over.  I literally MISSED the people I had created more than I ever had before.  I was actually sad to let them go!  And maybe this is because of that extra layer added by the redemption theme, which humanized them, through the influence of a spiritual author far greater than me.

Who knows?  All I can say is that after the last four years, and what I’ve seen and been through, I’m willing to freely admit that anything is possible.

By the way, I’ve already had a couple of people ask me if Anthony Miles, the creator/director of the ES “films” is me.  My answer to that is, yes and no.  The best way of putting it is that Miles and I share many attitudes and character traits, but he possesses guts and ambition as I could never match, to fulfill his dreams.  His history is not, in relation to me, at all autobiographical, but in essence, he is what I would be if I could.  Get off my ass.

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There is also Miles’s passing similarity to the much-celebrated Worst Director of All Time, Edward D. Wood, best known for his 1959 schlock opus Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Like Wood, Miles struggles against great odds early in his career to make his artistic vision a reality…however, unlike Wood, Miles has genuine talent and knows what he’s doing.

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My goal now is to self-publish THH by mid-September, around my birthday.  After that, I plan to give it a showcasing at two local libraries and a Books A Million.  It is currently being read by a circle of friends and acquaintances, to obtain their opinion; two or three have already responded very favorably.

2016 was not a good year for me (or anybody, apparently), so having THH to distract me was extremely helpful.  But around Christmas and immediately after, I went through a very dark period where I simply could not create.  It wasn’t that I was roadblocked; I have a million ideas.  I just lacked any kind of motivation or will to see anything through.  I know that another severe depressive episode was largely responsible, but I guess it may also have been that THH had taken so much out of me that I was tired, and needed recharging.  For over two months into the new year, I just scribbled out plot scenarios, and a few of them are really good; I plan to eventually use them.  But it wasn’t until about a month ago that I came up with what I think of as my “rebound” project.

Midnight Steps is a photonovel, a term that I coined myself.  Like Flickers and the Grymwyck series, it’s a long short story, or novelette, with illustrations.  In this case, I’m going all out in making the piece a homage to silent horror/suspense films, with its plot partly borrowed from three of Hitchcock’s earliest films–The Lodger, Blackmail, and Sabotage.  

Set in an unnamed city in 1927, MS is the story of a highly dysfunctional family who run a bookshop, which is merely a front for criminal activities.  The teenage daughter, June, falls in love with the family’s new boarder, Ethan…only to find out that he may be the psychopath stalking and murdering young girls in the city.  When Ethan gets June pregnant, and hits her, causing her to lose the baby, June’s formidable mother seeks revenge by poisoning him.  June finds out…and the pivotal question is, will she simply stand by and see it happen, or try to save him despite how he has treated her?

A lot going on there.  I think it’ll be fun, especially the illustration process.  I was inspired there by, of all things, the rock bed beside my patio, because every time I go outside, I see faces in the rocks.  Strange as it sounds, I developed a yen to do something artistic with this, and so my characters’ faces will be the various rock faces that have stood out to me, photographed, given expressions through photo editing software, and connected to other photos of the characters’ bodies, which I will draw.  The complete figures will be set against appropriate backgrounds found online.  I’m going for fun and for atmosphere, even calling the project “an On-the-Rocks Production”.  My thinking is that it will be a fairly brief endeavor, and not so demanding that I can’t see it through, but demanding enough to hold my interest until it’s time to wrap up The Horrible Hand!  MS is another instance of old fascinations breeding new works, for I have always loved and been inspired by the silent era.

Future projects?  I’d like to (maybe) do another puppet storybook featuring Mr. Teeth, and/or start another major project, which will most likely be a play.  I have several interesting ideas in mind for that.

Oh, by the way, I also played Scarlett O’Hara last fall.  No, really.

 


Home Again

So I’m settled in a new apartment and doing my best to begin a new life, with as much time spent writing and creating as is humanly possible.  Over the last few years, I admit that I’ve slacked off–a lot–mainly because I had so many internal and circumstantial factors to distract me from what I really wanted to do.  That’s all over now.  It’s good to be home.

In August of 2015, my play Closing Night was produced by the same local theatre group that mounted Dot’s Journey in 2013.  Everyone involved did a superior job, and the play received a very positive response.  As a spectator of some rehearsals and all performances, I was able to discern what needed to be fixed and changed before it faces an audience again.  And so, even with the problems which made themselves apparent during the run, I count the whole experience as a success.

As I begin 2016 and dive into the creative projects that I’ve outlined, I find myself taking a much more mature, serene approach to my work than I have in the past.  No longer will I apply stultifying pressure on myself to produce material that will sell, that will please others, that will solidify my reputation–even in the immediate area–as a respected man of letters.  I now do my work for myself before anyone else.  If others like it and want to buy it, that is the ultimate compliment…but not the driving momentum.  Not anymore.  I’m getting too old.

The projects that I want to pursue in the coming year are ones that I have described in much more detail in other blog postings.  Namely, I have decided to realize my long-held yen to make something out of the concept for the Eerie Series–the stories within stories about a fictional director and the films he makes, which I’ve had in the trunk for almost twelve years. The first, The Horrible Hand!, is proceeding rather well for  being the premiere project of its kind in my repertoire, calling as it does for bogus backgrounds on the people/actors involved in the film, as well as behind-the-scenes history and details of mishaps, feuds, and what-have-you.  The finished product will be a medium-sized hard-backed book (similar in design to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) with a novelization of the “film” by the fictional director, Tony Miles, and supplemented by background information, “interviews”, and illustrations, which are a particular thrill to do, as they require me to be ultra creative in selecting backgrounds and settings against which to place public domain photographs of real people mixed with my own sketches, to create movie “stills”.  I know it’s hard to really grasp what I’m talking about in mere words, but those who actually read the book will have no problem understanding the concept.

Boo loses her composure

My other project, with which I plan to alternate intervals of working on The Horrible Hand, is What a World, What  a World, a memoir/testimony which will detail the whole arc of my life through the last few years, through the filter of a highly skeptical gay Christian sensibility.  Deep?  Nah.  Some parts might be, but essentially, the tone will be sardonic, brutally honest, and funny.  I’ve made many false starts and stabs at this volume, but I wind up reworking it every time I sit down to move it forward.  My inspiration for this writing is humorist David Sedaris, and to a greater degree, memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who knows how to season his tales with just enough laughs to alleviate the bitterness…of which I’ve got plenty, honey.

Aside from that, I’ll be hitting the blogging hard–here and in my film essay column, Recommendations by Retroman, as well as other personal, autobiographical writing which very likely will never see the light of day.  I plan to reach out to local and online writers, and share some of my work.  I also want to stay in touch (through social media) with local film writers and directors who might be interested in taking on my plays and such.

Acting?  Only God knows.

If it seems that I’m rushing along perfunctorily here, it’s because I am.  For one thing, I have been as tired as I have ever been in my whole life since the move, and am not sure why, other than that I may have just “crashed” after functioning for so long in extremely challenging circumstances on sheer force of will and adrenaline, along with a liberal shot of God’s own brand of Red Bull.

In addition, I hunger to get back to work, not to talk about it.  It’s been a very long two years, and there’s much to be done.


Challenges Surmounted…So Far

Going on two years since my last post, I’m rattling, shaky, and loose in some places, but I’m still rolling forward.  Slowly.

I could be accused of living in my own world entirely, and it would be true.  But my response to such accusations has always been, “Why not?”  When forced to choose between fantasy and grim reality, with its thousands of worries, fears, shames, and dysfunctions, who could blame me, in my fragility, for moving bag and baggage into the last refuge available, which, unlike most others I have experienced, never lets me down?  (Plus it’s free.)

I’ve spent the past two years sequestered in that refuge of creation and self-expression, and it, along with my faith, has kept me alive.

Along with appearing successfully as Blanche Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (yes, you read that right), the main creative project I worked on through this time was Flickers, the epistolary short novel chronicling an interval–very similar to the challenging one I faced and continue to face—in the life of the protagonist, Philip Griffin, a warehouse packing clerk, living and struggling in the early twentieth century.  Deeply shy, even avoidant; sorely lacking in self-confidence and with no idea who he is, Philip’s dreary life takes a dramatic turn when he falls in love with Lucinda Styles, the niece of his sister’s employer, Eugenia Styles.  Lucinda is staying with Philip’s sister, Cora, prior to her arranged marriage to Edgar Bothwicke, CEO of Bothwicke Printing—which will allow for a merger between Bothwicke Printing and Styles Publishing; a merger necessary for the survival of the latter company.  It goes without saying that Eugenia Styles is hell-bent on seeing both the marriage and the merger through—but the first hurdle in her path is, naturally, Philip’s instant infatuation with Lucinda, whom he views as his female fantasy incarnate.  Unsettled in his complacent existence by these new, unfamiliar emotions, Philip soon finds himself unable to reconcile the fact of Lucinda’s inaccessibility to the point that he retreats into a dream world; in this case, the world of silent films, in which, like Walter Mitty, he sees himself as the hero of his own personal swashbuckling adventure/thriller tales.  How much Philip’s romanticized visions of those around him—particularly Lucinda and her unappealing suitor—actually mirror the characters themselves (or do not) is the theme of the story.

I admit that the completed (not finished, never finished) manuscript of Flickers (so-called due to this nickname for early movies) is much darker than it would probably need to be.  What could have been a sensitive portrait of a young man’s attempts to cope with unfulfilled fantasies morphed somewhere along the line into a blood-and-thunder melodrama typical of the times in which the story is set.

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And that is exactly the way I planned it.

Come on, now…this is Craig, after all. 

I’ve never been content to let well-enough alone and tell stories about real people living real lives and facing real problems.  I’ve always had to push it—to increase, as with a digital photograph, the brightness and contrast of gray truth to the level of stark black-and-white.  Larger-than-life, oft-times outrageously campy…that’s my style.  So lynch me.

Which is why I’ll never succeed in the world of “serious” writing.  This was affirmed to me about a year and a half ago by a professor of creative writing at my alma mater, with whom I conferred about continuing my education in this field.  His (not unkind) response was, at least the way I heard it, “Don’t waste your time”.  In essence, I am not a highbrow writer, I was never meant to be a highbrow writer, and I never will be a highbrow writer.  And that’s okay, because having nodded through some highbrow writing in my time, I don’t really want to be a highbrow writer.  Yes, those MFAs and Ph.Ds might get published in the occasional moldy collegiate journal, but, aside from a few other MFAs and Ph.D’s…who really gives a shit?

Dollanganger01_FlowersInTheAtticOn the other hand, the 1979 cult bestseller Flowers in the Attic, by the late V.C. Andrews, is still in print.  You do the math.  Let me tell you something—I like that story.  I liked the book, the 1987 movie, and the recent Lifetime remake.  I know it’s rather over-the-top and creepy in its subject matter and presentation, but that being said, it’s a terrific story about survival.  A story about surviving as a child locked away in the attic of a great mansion, abandoned by your mother and abused by a crazy grandmother, is still a story about survival.  And it happens all the time.  Just look at the news.  Different strokes for different folks.  I say tomato…etc, etc.  That’s my kind of literature, with a beginning, middle, and a satisfying end.  Sure, I admire people like, say, Flannery O’Connor, but I could never write anything to approach her stories like The Enduring Chill or Greenleaf.  I could never hope to achieve anything on the level of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (a personal favorite), or even five levels below them, so why knock myself out trying?  Why not, instead, write in my own individual style of gothic surrealism and if deeper themes emerge, fine.  Even with Flickers, the subtext is there despite the melodramatic trappings—they don’t hurt it at all.  So, again, I ask…why not?

It’s yet another way in which I am learning to accept my own limitations.  Fiction will always be my first love, although I have done some autobiographical writing which I would daresay is a lot better…but fiction is just flat-out more fun.

The original idea for Flickers was to illustrate it with photos of scenes in miniature, suitable to the silent film era, as actual silent film slides; a concept in keeping with the theme of Philip’s vicarious obsession with the movies he imagines himself and others in.  I’ve retained that concept, but have decided to go a step further and use real people for these shots, actors from the local talent pool, appropriately dressed on real-life “sets”.  It would basically be like shooting something less than a movie to create something more than a graphic novel.  I hope.  Anyway…next year I’d like to try it.Fairbanks-300x233

The other creative project which kept me busy throughout the latter half of 2013 was building my own chess set, something I had wanted to do for a long time.  The concept, like that of Flickers, revolved around the world of vintage movies.

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I made half the pieces to represent the forces behind putting together a film—producer, director, editor, and so on.  The other half is populated by the actors in the film.  The pawns are framed script pages (moviemakers) and, on the thespian side, shots from the “film” being made, featuring the actors in various individual scenes.

I know…I’m not a character on The Big Bang Theory, but I should be.  Anyway…I kind of resemble Sheldon with facial hair.  Or so I’ve been told.

The chess set turned omms_picture (10)ut to be one of the centerpieces of my art studio, Creations by Craig.  Yes, for six months I had an art studio that I moved into in late March and opened at the first of May.  I had been thinking about taking space at a local gallery for some time, and when I learned of opportunities to rent at the gallery, this particular space hit me immediately as perfect for two reasons.  One, the colors.  Red, black and white is a recurring color scheme in my visual work, and that is exactly how the room was painted.  The second reason was that it had just been vacated by a member of my church.  Those reasons were enough for me.  On its official opening May second, I made three sales, which, as I understand, is very good for this area.

I closed Creations by Craig in September of 2014.  I did this basically because I found that I don’t like doing art in a studio.  I like doing it at home.  Also, in the Canton, Ohio, area, there is no sustained interest in paying for art.  Not enough to justify paying the monthly studio rent.  Lesson learned, no regrets.

Looking ahead, I know what I would like to accomplish next year, namely laying out the background of a new concept, The Eerie Series. (More on that later.)  Over the summer and early fall, I realized an idea which has simmered for a few years, and only recently worked itself into a story that I felt compelled to write as soon as possible, as a play.  Titled The Blue Candle, it combines my ever-present goth ambiance with something of a spiritual undertone.  In short, I tried getting deep while staying fun, even a little deeper than I did with Flickers.  Maybe I have hopes of ending up highbrow after all.  Nah.

And now, aside from the Eerie Series, there are my last few major projects coming to completion; along with the editing of Flickers, the backstage murder mystery Closing Night, which has been picked up for local production in August, 2015 , as Below the Surface and Dot’s Journey were so successfully mounted inthe spring and fall of 2013, respectively.  (For more information on Dot’s Journey, look under Thinking Man’s Theatre.) 

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A rehearsal still from “Dot’s Journey”, my film noir take on THE WIZARD OF OZ, performed by the Canal Fulton Players aboard the St. Helena III in 2013.

I didn’t mention Below the Surface being produced?  I guess I didn’t.  That was my first full-length play, which I started writing in 1997 and finally “released” in staged reading form in 2011.  Like most of my other work, it treads the same tightrope between legitimate and melo-drama in its tale of a super-dysfunctional family, a sudden murder, plenty of psychological suspense, and just plain psychos.  The play was picked up by the Victorian Players of Youngstown, who gave it about the best, most respectful, and successful a first production as one could wish for, even unto asking me whether one of the characters would have magazines on her coffee table. 

Victorian Players Live Commuitinty Theater

A rehearsal shot from my play “Below the Surface” at the Victorian Players Theatre, Youngstown, Ohio, 2013

As with Dot’s Journey, the experience proved both unforgettable and highly therapeutic.  And humbling.  And nerve-wracking.  To sit in the midst of a paying audience, watching such talented people bringing my work to life; to know that they invested many hours of their time and energy into something that only existed because of me…that was and is heady stuff.  They will never know how much it meant at that particular time.  I can never thank them enough.

The Pack, the 272012 project which began in a blaze of ambition as my first “consigned” work, has now been quietly retired, unreleased.  This graphic novel, or Film in Print, is problematic to me because while there are good things in it, I feel that the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  A companion piece to Flickers, which followed on the heels of it, this Depression-era story of a young music teacher dismissed from his job for a suspected affair with a student never really clicked with me, in spite of my every effort to personalize it.  I was eventually informed by the party interested in publishing it that his publishing days were over for the moment.  Bummer.  As I indicated, there are some really good scenes and characters in it, but I am not sure that the story was entirely within my range or that I was completely up to realizing its demands visually.  Maybe it’s better than I think.  I don’t know.  That’s the curse of being a critic of one’s own work.

In the meantime, I launched a few smaller projects that turned out to be just what I needed—not demanding, but unique enough to fulfill the creative urge while I recharged my batteries.  First, I indulged another long-harbored interest—writing puppet plays.  I’ve always adored puppets, and when I read that one of my prime inspirations, the late Edward Gorey, wrote and produced these along with his gargantuan body of other work, I felt the time was right to give it a go.  So I wrote three short plays around Mr. Teeth and the other puppets I made a few years ago…and they turned out very well, at least in my regard.  I would love to see them mounted someday…maybe as the centerpiece amid an evening of old-fashioned vaudeville acts.  I even had fun with the titles; Mr. Teeth and the Quagmire Affair…Mr. Teeth and the Befuddlement of the Fallen Star…Mr. Teeth and the Canine Caper, or, the Bride of Mr. Teeth.

The other small project, also newly published through lulu.com, is a storybook based on the short film The Terrible Mr. CinderellaTeeth, which I had great fun making in 2011.  This time around, the story features the puppets I made in the lead roles, intermingled with the secondary characters from the film version.   What a gas it’s been!  Mr. Teeth returns to terrorize the beautiful Angelica Morningsong as The Girl and Justin Evergood as The Boy, with support from Madame Nightshade as The Girl’s Mother.  What this really is, is a fulfillment of a creative yen from childhood to make puppets and stories around them similar to those I found in a series of lavishly illustrated puppet “board books” which retold the classic fairy tales.  As a little tyke, I was utterly awed by the detail of these puppet characters, exquisitely costumed and carefully posed amid beautifully detailed miniature scenery.  Alas, I only ever had one of the books—Pinocchio—and had to wait until a year ago to finally obtain the others in the collection through ordering them used online.  From these I received my inspiration to remake Mr. Teeth in the mold of the puppet storybooks that I spent long summer afternoons as a child of seven yearning for.  Some dreams do come true!

MrT

The Terrible Mr. Teeth is now published through lulu.com and is available for purchase here.

terrarium

Also last summer, I dabbled in the art of terrariums and assemblage.  Terrariums have intrigued me since childhood—something about the idea of a miniature world preserved under glass always has; hence, my fascination with dioramas—and about a month ago I decided to try my hand at it.  I started simple, after doing the requisite research on exactly how to go about it, and these first three turned out rather well, if I do say so myself.  As always, the scenes are tinged with touches of the morbid, mysterious, and macabre.  What else would you expect from Creations by Craig?  (BTW, the terrarium at left is not one I created, but it is very much in the style I aim for.  More pics to come as I continue to build them.)

Assemblage is not a new endeavor for me, but it was only in the last year that I learned it had a name, this juxtaposing of various mixed media to present an overall shared theme.  I have long been telling stories through mixed media, but it wasn’t until the artist Joseph Cornell came to my attention, with his fascinating “boxes”, or collage art under glass, that I saw a new realm of possibilities for it.  Exploring his work (seen below) provided a huge dose of fresh inspiration.

Joseph-Cornell-Untitled-Medici-Boy-1942-1952

An artist’s work is never done.  Thank God.


New Start, New Projects

Well, I can say that my creativity is at a high ebb.

I won’t say completely why this is both good and bad…just that the soil from which my latest ideas have sprung is of the blackest one can till in the subconscious.

It has not been a good fall/winter.  Continuing family health concerns have caused almost unbearable anxiety for me and mine, but thank God, they aren’t as bad as they could be and are, at present, much better than they have been for a long time.  I include myself in this.  I, too, have had my issues over the past several months.  Again, I will not detail them here, as personal trials are not the focus of this blog, but I will say that I am a changed person-for the better, and for good, as Wicked put it so eloquently.

The Pack, upon completion, was raved over by the publisher of ReadFlicks, but alas…he isn’t publishing at this time due to personal woes of his own, so the project has been shelved for (hopeful) future distribution.

In the aftermath of the trauma that I faced in the fall and early winter, I began to experiment with a new art form that had intrigued me for a long time.  The idea is not new, but the execution was my own design.  I had the notion of telling a story on a block of wood, with a different scene on each face, along with one line of dialogue offering a cryptic comment on the action, and leaving the rest of the story up to the beholder to fill in.  I dubbed this new art form a “Cryptic”-natch-and made a total of eight of them.  I began with a two-inch wooden block, which I painted black. I then created scenes for each face of the block by combining my own sketches digitally with stock photography of background settings. The digital images were appropriately sized, printed out with laser ink, then cut out and decoupaged to each surface of the wood.  As I explained it on my new marketing platform for these projects, titled CrypticBaubles, on Etsy.com-if you are a creative person, or know of someone who is, this would be an excellent tool for brainstorming a story. It is also a really cool conversation piece unlike anything else you would be likely to find in a typical store. All the artwork is original, although the digital images can be duplicated for reproductions, if necessary. I have signed my name in permanent ink on one side.  And the muse was at last satisfied, having seen this intriguing little project through to completion.  Click on the link to CrypticBaubles at right for more information and pics.ImageImage

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On another note, I have begun working on a new creative project which has me more psyched up and excited than anything since Dot’s Journey.  This also is a new format-one that I have decided to call a PhotoPlay, being that it is different from the Film in Print or straightforward novel in that it will be composed mainly of text-a short novel, really-with various photographic sequences throughout, marking key moments.  The title of the work is In Frame, and it is conceptual in that it seeks to explore the life of a lonely young warehouse worker who pursues vicarious thrills through the many silent films that he attends (the story is set in 1919).  Eventually, the protagonist, Philip, will fall in love-and become obsessed with-an inaccessible romantic interest, Lucinda.  His increasing obsession will manifest itself in his dreams, which take on the appearance of silent melodrama/horror films populated with larger-than-life characters representing those around him.  I am really putting everything I have into this project, and I intend to take the utmost care with its execution.    The key character which gave me this inspiration is actually a relatively minor one-a chauffeur named Ivan, whom I have based on an unsettling recurring dream figure of my own-an emaciated, chalk-white figure in black, very much like Cesare in Robert Wiene’s classic film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was, incidentally, released in 1919.

Aside from that, I’m living the dream…an artist and writer who depends more and more on his work for sustenance as he travels down a particularly dark and uncertain path.  Sometimes I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel…at other times…well, I guess that’s what the Prozac and Klonopin are for.

I’ve also been offered the privilege of playing Ty Williamson in a local production of Del Shores’s Sordid Lives, described most accurately as a “black comedy about white trash”.  You have to see it to believe it.  The whole experience has been tremendously therapeutic.  God bless the director, cast, and crew for welcoming me aboard.

To end on a positive note-my play Below the Surface is currently in rehearsal at the Victorian Players Theatre in Youngstown, and according to the director, it is going very well.  He described a staging idea for the very end which gave me chills…why didn’t think of that?  The play will run April 5-21st.

And, Dot’s Journey will be staged again, full-out, aboard the St. Helena III in Canal Fulton, as a dinner theatre show, no less.  I’m not directing this time, and I am glad, because I haven’t the faintest idea how it will be done.  But that’s the fun of it, right?