I never wanted to be a writer first. I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. At age 8, I asked the school librarian if she had a book on Spielberg.
She said, “No, but he’s a very interesting person. I think I’ll look for one and order it.”
I kept going back to the librarian nearly every day to see if she found the book and she eventually ordered it.
“It’ll take two weeks to get here,” she said. Once again, I went to the library every day and asked to see if the book arrived. I thought that maybe asking for it would speed up the process and ever time she told me that it takes two weeks to get to the school.
So as I waited, I tried to imagine what the book would look like and what it would say about Spielberg. I wanted to know about every movie that he made and what it would take to be a movie director. All I knew was that this was the man behind all of my daydream fantasies, and he got paid big houses and cars to make them. Movies allowed me to explore a more courageous side of myself that was not manifested in my interpersonal social life. I could be anyone I wanted after the credits started to roll, and I believed that I had a few characters of my own to share.
When the book arrived it was thinner than I thought, but I opened it and took in the new book smell. I could hear the glue of the bindings and the hard cover crackle. The pictures were in color, and I sat down to take them in.
I can’t remember exactly what was said about him in the book. Over the years I would take in more information about him and all the information seems to conflate to that book. But I do remember that this was the first time that I read a book that was purely informational. Until this day, I’m good at absorbing trivial information and consider myself an info junkie. I have so much data in my head that it fuels my imagination and serves as points of references in my mind. This book started it all.
The book didn’t help me become a filmmaker, but it helped me see the world more critically as non-fiction has allowed me to do. It helped me become a better writer and artist, who work deals with the critical analysis of reality and its nature.
“Mr. XYZ?!” Mrs. Cart hollered in front of the seventh grade class, “You want to write about Mr. XYZ?! This is supposed to be a paper about heroes. Do you even know who Mr. XYZ is?!”
. . .
The plan was to write a term paper that made me look cool. I chose an unsavory character from history. One who I’ve referred to as Mr. XYZ. Mrs. Cart didn’t follow the plan.
Back home, I paged through the Encyclopedia Britannica, looking to please her.
George Washington. Boring.
Thomas Jefferson. Boring
Abraham Lincoln. Boring.
Axel Rose. Taken.
John F. Kennedy.
The theme music for the film JFK blared inside my twelve year-old head. Three months earlier, Oliver Stones’ film suggested my first non-fiction idol. I wanted to be him as much as Luke Skywalker. I now had details in my hands to support those feelings.
I wrote the paper on JFK.
I turned it in.
Mrs. Cart read it in front of the class, said something about my turning things around.
I had written every word to get back into her graces and it worked.
I had found an acceptable hero. One that I fantasized about being.
I crafted a narrative. I was adored for it.
. . .
I had sold out, compromised.
But remained true. At least to what I wanted to believe was true.
My journey as a writer began.
The image above is copyrighted ©2016 by Marc Alexander Valle
I finished four screenplays as a teenager while my grades suffered. The first was called Land of the Lost River. It was a Spielberg-inspired story. It involved heroes fighting Nazis and dinosaurs, looking for the fountain of youth and messiah-like aliens saving the day in the end.
Then there was An Unserialed Surreal Christmas Carol. It took place in a small mid-west city. The main character, who attempted to move to Hollywood to make movies, got stuck in this city on his way there. No need to get into detail. Nearly all other elements resembled Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
Worn to Perfection was a script that I wrote for Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It was about two aging con-artists bonding together for one last heist.
Finally, there was Abduction. It was about a teenager who abducts the man that he believes molested him.
This is what I see now:
Land of the Lost River was about being saved from myself.
An Unserialed Surreal Christmas Carol was about being lost
Worn to Perfection was actually about the pain of absent grandparents. Elderly relatives that would have put my household’s anxiety in balance had they been present.
Abduction was about anxiety, depression, mental illness and my desire to be diagnosed with one. Because if you were as strange as I believed people saw me, and if you were alienated as I felt, than you’d want a mental illness to explain it too.
But like many teens did with their comic books and baseball cards, I threw out all of those pre-graduation drafts. The only thing I bothered to continue to work on for years was Abduction.
I cringe at the thought of reading a draft of that. And hope that I always will.
“Everything is small,” I said to Mrs. Reed, my second grade teacher.
“What do you mean, hun?” she said.
“Like everything I see is small.”
“What do you mean by small, sweetheart?”
“Like. . .I don’t know…small.”
“Well, does your head hurt?”
“Are you dizzy?”
“Is your belly achy?”
“Do you have to do a number 2?”
“Then I can’t send you to the nurse, hun. Sit down.”
The entire world looked like a miniature model. Whenever I experienced this state of consciousness, I told myself, “I’m really here. I’m really here. I’m really here. I’m really here. . .”Supposedly, the name of this neurological condition is called Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome, or Lilliputian hallucinations. The condition is marked by the feeling that the physical environment around the individual has shrunk. It’s usually experienced in childhood and passes in time as was the case for me.
Scientist are now starting to express the theory that reality is a hologram and that we are not really here. Try telling that to Mrs. Reed. She’ll send you to get a drink of water and sit you out for recess.
Sequel to sci-fi film. Crowded audience. The movie previews play. One after the other, it’s a preview for an animated kids film.
The animated animals do silly things. Make silly jokes. A man, three seats down, laughs. He laughs with his mouth wide open. I don’t find any of this funny. They’re jokes for kids, but somehow it tickles his belly. He sounds like Santa Claus ho-ho-ho-ing at a bar with friends. The lady he’s with laughs too. She’s not as loud, but she sounds like she’s enjoying herself just as much as he is. I’m disgusted. Is this all it takes for some people?
After several animated film previews, a preview for a superhero film comes on. I’m not a fan of these recent superhero films. They’re candy for tweens and fanboys. But I’m enjoying the preview for this one. It involves the government and the superheroes.
This can be good. Very philosophical. Risky even. I want to see it.
“I don’t get it,” the guy says.
“I don’t get it either,” she says.
Is this it? Is this the top of pops when it comes to being a successful artist? Entertaining this guy and his wife? Could I even have a conversation with them about anything other than football scores? I will not write for these people.
. . .
It’s not about writing for yourself. It’s about writing from yourself. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about perfectly expressing who you are.
I still entertain thoughts of being widely accepted by the public. But the style of my artistic output says that it won’t happen.
It’s hard to accept, but liberating in those moments when you do accept it.
Why is it hard to accept?
We have no right to see ourselves the way we want to. It violates who we actually are. And who we are is not always beautiful. It’s rough, it’s twisted, it’s a weirdo. But if we can express those things than we can create beauty.
. . .
The movie ended. It liked it. I went home. I sat down to write.
Nothing came out.
Meditation has taught me to forgive myself. When you have your eyes closed and you’re trying to concentrate on breathing, your mind drifts towards thoughts. It’s like trying to stare at the constellation, but the shooting stars catch your attention. You try to follow everyone to the Earth. Then you remember to look only at the constellation, but you’re hard on yourself for having taken your attention away from it. You tell yourself that it was alright to do that and you move on, staring at the constellation.
I want to apply this to writing. As I write, I feel a critic standing over my shoulder, telling me what’s wrong with my work. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s only a first draft and it will be better. I go back to the constellation of words before me, but he shows up eventually.
A writer friend of mine once said that Aikido is the most beautiful art form he’s studied. Ironically, he and I are involved in the one of the ugliest forms of expression there is. Writing.
Writing is a war with oneself measured by the character. No wonder it’s so unforgiving. No wonder it’s so rewarding.
I’ve decided to write 250 words a day for my novel. This number might change, but right now it seems right. This means that it will take longer than I hoped to finish a rough draft. I don’t want to push myself for some reason. Maybe I don’t want to get discouraged with the pressure of 500-1000 words a day.
So here’s my metaphor of the day. I’m in a dark castle at night, and I have only a box of matches to help me find a magical sword. I have to use any and every clue and mental faculty I have to discern where the sword might be. This is how this rough draft feels. And in the end, that’s what it will be. Very, very rough. It’s hard to get over the fact that it won’t be pristine, but I’m trying to enjoy the journey.
So any thoughts on a 250 word a day count for what might be a 100 word book?
I’m having a hard time getting started with my coming-of-age, dark fantasy. I’m going to try to write it from a first person’s view. It might not stay first person, but I think writing it this way might help me somehow. The narrator will be telling the story over twenty years after it happened. Can anyone out there tell me how something like this affects the storytelling? What is the difference between telling the story less than a year later and telling it twenty years later?
Rough drafts are like this. You’re digging for clay in the dirt. You’ve finally gotten to the layer where the clay resides. You grab some clay and throw it on the ground above. A pile forms. You keep grabbing some more clay and you throw it on the pile. There is a temptation to mold the clay pile as you dig for more, but you just have to keep digging and mold later.
Your rough draft is a search for the clay. You successive drafts are the molding of the clay. There’s a danger in molding what you’ve dig up too soon. The fresh clay covers up the moldings you made on the clay pile.