I often think of my writing/art projects in terms of a theatrical season, in part because they are theatrical in nature and because, as with an actual performing arts group, I tend to have a line-up of ideas that I work on in succession, once I figure out exactly which of these ideas (from my trusty brainstorming binder labeled The Trunk) appeal to me enough to sustain my interest in them over the course of two years or so. For me, that’s usually how long a season of this type lasts.
And now I’m at the end of my very first season under what I call my new writing regime. I’ve written regularly and avidly since I was a child, but it has only been within the past two years that I’ve really decided what I want to accomplish as a writer.
As I am also an artist, I’ve always been inclined to combine my words with drawings. A few years ago, I discovered the delightful world of digital photography and various photo editing programs, and I was off to the races. I’ve never considered myself to be all that skilled at drawing and sketching, but I have grown to love sculpting, with my own fictional characters as my favorite subjects. So, it seemed to me that the logical choice in joining my writing and artwork would be through digital photography of my miniature “casts”, which would then serve to illustrate my stories, rendering them similar to stop-motion films in print.
Incidentally, that is exactly how I subtitled my very first work, later published through lulu.com, Dot’s Journey. This is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz as a film noir mystery thriller, written as a graphic novel, and illustrated with digital photography instead of drawings.
I think that Dot’s Journey will always be one of my favorite works, no matterhow many I create or how much my skills at photography, sculpting and writing expand beyond what they were when I wrote it. As I am a die-hard Oz fan to begin with, the whole experience was a love affair for me. To be able to rework the famous story, by L. Frank Baum, that we all know and love, and to filter it through my own personal tastes in movies (i.e., Hitchcockian thrillers and psychological suspense dramas), thereby fashioning something entirely fresh and new, yet familiar, was an experience that I will always hold dear.
I began, of course, with the character of Dorothy. Who could she be, besides the perennially sweet and innocent little farm girl from Kansas? In searching for a new identity for my Dorothy, I hopped to the opposite end of the spectrum and made her an ex-chorus girl, chain-smoking and hard-drinking, down on her luck and down on life in general, although she remained a kind and compassionate person at heart. I imagined her having a husky voice and world-weary manner not unlike that of the later Judy Garland in real life.
I chose to include many autobiographical references to my own life as the story progressed…due to my love of acting, the Scarecrow became Stephen Hayes, a very intellectual, sophisticated stage star whom Dorothy (Dot) met on the YellowTrail Express when she went to visit her long-lost father, Winthorne Owen Zolarde (the Wizard). Likewise, the Tin Man was presented as Todd Silver, a sensitive young waiter on the train with a penchant for drawing and painting…the Lion morphed into Lionel King, a very nervous stowaway on the train whose life dream was to write plays. And Toto? He showed up as Terry “Totes” Aberdeen, a young, orphaned train porter who was befriended early on by Dot.
The Wicked Witch and the Good Witch became, respectively, Winthorne Owen Zolarde’s estranged wife, Irene (her maiden name was West) and his very proper lady attorney, Miss Rosemont, who informed Dot of her father’s imminent death, and his desire to compensate for abandoning Dot and her mother long ago through making Dot the heir to his vast fortune…which Irene, recently released from an insane asylum, coveted for herself.
Are there Munchkins in this version? Sort of. Flying monkeys? No, but…well, you just kind of have to read the book to understand how I worked in all the expected characters and events of the original…still, work them in I did…and judging from the responses I’ve gotten from those who’ve read Dot’s Journey, I made something both fun and familiar, yet new, from it…with just as much brain, heart and courage as its predecessor…and that is exactly what I set out to do.