Writing Comedy…

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It is all in the words…

After working on three novels, some 340,000 words, work that spans seven years, I’m trying to distill the essence into one hour. Someone has to do it. I spend seven years working on three novels and a reader will be done with all three in 30 hours, more or less. In some sense I am engaged in a reverse engineering operation. Plucking out pieces of literary work and making a show.

 

Show is made of routines, transitions, bits and gags. It is a line by line process. We have to account for pace. The performer has to visualize what an audience will see. You memorize, rehearse, try them, adjust them, and finally you’ll emerge out the other end. It’s called a show.

 

And since I’m basically a variety act guy, having devoted 40 years to the non-narrative show I am embarked on the paradoxically challenging effort to do the non-narrative/narrative show. Not so much a story within a story as it is a journey tangled amidst the web of storylines.

 

And that is what I’m thinking about now. How to navigate this terrain, part narrative, part non-narrative, part literary and part spoken word, I feel like I’m on the right track because I feel a degree of dread and fear. That’s good. That points the way.

Let that Sink In

Mersey Hot Spring 267AAASmall

 

Two Times as Much Fun

We do not come into this world. We come out of the world like a leaf from a tree. I like that. We are not part of the world we are of this world. We belong.

Writing long fiction is based upon everything that might be part of what happens within our lifespan. We are born and we die, in between is life. Life is where fiction comes from.

In particular I do want to know where my characters hearts are drawn. Who do they love? What is their sex life about? At least so far I’ve wanted to account for how the main characters love.

I find the economic circumstances absolutely indispensable. Where are they? What are they doing? What forces are bearing down on them?

I want there to be some place where I can allow the characters to appear and reappear. In my first novel the place turned out to be a van that the character lived and traveled in.

Characters do have a psychological framework, but I prefer to construct my characters on the basis of what they want. What shortcomings they arrive in the story with I prefer to hold gently, it is part of the human condition, the shared humanity. They are not broken and don’t need fixing. They are thirsty, hungry, or attracted to someone and want something to eat, something to drink, someone to love. That’s enough of a fix to be in right there.

Write what you know. I like this advice. We can’t know everything about what motivates someone to act. We can guess that like us they may be happy or suffer. We may know they want or can’t have something no matter what they do.

And perhaps finally there is a lot of fun to be found in putting characters into situations that an author might imagine and finding out what they might do. How will they react to getting what they want? How will they feel about giving another character what they want? They aren’t the same thing, or are they?

A sexual farce explores reversals and revelations. Sex is next to nothing in fiction whereas seduction is nearly everything… Let that sink in.

 

 

Princeton’s Epitaph to Democracy

weathy toys small

The Luxury Yacht  Karma

That Princeton Study says the elite having captured the political process going back all the way to the 1980’s. The powerful have ended democracy in the USA. The novelist is always looking for a working model of the world. Billionaires, corporate titans and their paid operatives are running riot now. This is the paid for crowd. Fox Television isn’t a political ideological operation it is an oligarchic operation. Lower taxes, less regulation and free trade isn’t a consensus economic perspective, it is an elite belief system. Privatization of everything isn’t always the way to go. Our water systems, prisons, and national security agencies are best left in the public sector. Do we really want Wall Street setting our water rates? Do we want incarceration rates set by judges drumming up more business for privately held prisons?

Creating narrative is fun. Down at the personal level, human to human, a multitude of interesting storylines can be developed. But, if we really don’t have a democracy it means the fish are no longer swimming in the same ocean that Steinbeck or Sinclair Lewis imagined. I give a lot of thought to Buddhism’s model of mind. I don’t find dreams or childhood trauma always helpful in development of a character. Similarly whether we like it or not capitalism or some mutant ascendant version of some form of economics has escaped from the regulations used to constrain its most vile tendencies and here we are left to wonder when the next shoe is about to drop. I am pondering a narrative set in the wine country, and a man who makes wine being chased around the valley by a super wealthy woman. As he explains to her, “I can’t make love to you. It would be like going to bed with Lloyd Blankfein in drag…”

Pull the Curtain Back and Take a Good Look

“Of course the irremediable bitterness in Picasso’s soul, the power of the inner sanction he felt later in life to wound and humiliate others, had to come in part out of the paradox that the paintings that brought him the greatest sums were precisely the works which had cost him the most miserable days of his life.”

Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man

Norman Mailer

road sunset

 

 

The Light of Day at End

Picasso painted realities. He made visible realms other painters had passed over and left for this artist to discover. The madness of our present moment is that a powerless majority is reduced to a kind of civic paralysis over the misdeeds and mayhem our modernity is plunging us into. We quarrel about silly things. We know if not by fact, then by intuition, that all this is a distraction. Capitalism’s cloak of deception is being peeled back and we see, we know that the system is rigged and it is enfeebling us. Our ordinary minds are so crafty, so deluded, so clever as to get us into a mess that our best minds are unable to rise up and save all of humanity from. On one edge of myself I cleave the penetrating truth and with the other edge I struggle to understand that there are no best minds or ordinary minds, there is only one mind, and it is that one collective consciousness that is at risk of harming us all. That’s got Doctor Strangelove written all over it….

 

 HOT SPRING HONEYMOON

Gretel walked across the roadhouse saloon to the bar. She had a good angle at a reflection in a window and could keep an eye on her driver.

Lark picked a song, punched the code in and out came, “If you got leaving on your mind…”

Gretel turned and went out of character, extra big, and called to Lark. “Honey, that boyfriend is done breaking your heart,”

Lark fed more quarters into the jukebox, picking more songs, swishing her hips side to side, bobbing the bait waiting for the men in the room to take a bite of the lure.

 

Sunday aboard our Sailboat

aircraft carrier

 

 

What about a gentle breeze, warm sun and our dear friends Lori and RJ aboard our yacht Sweet Seas for an afternoon of conversation? While basking in the light, dining on guacamole, eating enlightened chips… toss in a beer, a glass of wine, steady beats from our favorite  jazz station….

We do a lot of kids shows. I wrapped a weekend at BayFest in Berkeley on Saturday, a fundraiser at Indian Valley Grammar School in Walnut Creek on Friday! Where we raised a handsome sum, you see those of us that have learned how to play to kids, we didn’t just learn to play to kids because it was another gig, another revenue stream. We play to kids because it is our passion…

The world wobbles and the world gets it right. Today at Emery Cove Yacht Harbor four of us dialed in the love and did one afternoon right down the middle, we pitched the perfect game, the hole in one… and we’re ready to do more…

 

Yes, I’m the Great Pretender

Who are you kidding?

Delusion abounds in this the age of information. We are deluded and misdirected in this ever increasingly complex civilization we have been born into.

I try to understand economics. I read about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. I listen to commentary on the radio. One friend is angry at labor unions. Another friend blames bankers for his problems, another affirmative action, women’s liberation and Greenpeace.

Changing the subject is a popular devise to bury a subject you’d rather not discuss. I thought we were in the midst of a Great Recession, that there were millions upon millions of people without work and needed a job?

A group of men advertising themselves as celibate go get their nickers in a knot over a topic most of us thought settled five decades ago! Not only does birth control as a burden fall disproportionally upon women, it turns out the attack on this burden is executed disproportionally by a group of men vowing to have nothing to do with the very thing women alone are burdened with.

In the age of delusion we don’t fix problems. We have problems and when we begin to feel as if one problem is beginning to be fixed we raise new problems. Don’t let the (expletive deleted) get you down.

 

There is this profound sense that we can’t change. There is this slow motion train wreck quality to our times. More delusion probably, all too many people think that everything is just great.

It is literally a miracle to me that somehow we have managed to make jetliners as safe as we have given our propensity to delude ourselves. Maybe we’re kidding ourselves. Maybe it is far more dangerous than we know?

Facts- they say are stubborn things, but it is looking like delusion is too. I don’t think we get up in the morning go into the bathroom and wash our face and look into the mirror and say, “who are you kidding?”

Even if we did start the day off with the admonition to play it straight with ourselves it seems we are all in our own separate realities. Life is not a series of distinct, autonomous events. Life is more a flow, one event pushing the previous event out of our mind only to find that event being pushed by the next and the next.

Of course living in a ‘fact free of consequences world’ allows us to simply all go our own deluded way. Since nothing bad has happened nothing bad will happen. That’s delusions greatest threat; what might be bad for you might well be good for me!

Delusion doesn’t require a mental deficiency of any kind. Perfectly healthy well educated people can be utterly and completely deluded. We don’t need any help.

But, when you wake up, when you make an observation, and it is apparently confirmed and verified to be true and then you don’t react, don’t do what you can to right the situation and you pretend that you can’t do anything about it, that’s the bait to the trap.

The modern world we live in might simply be too complicated for us. That’s the biggest delusion, or perhaps it is a stubborn fact yet to be reckoned with.

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I Feel like a Natural Woman

Soul on Fire

Do you listen to your body? Do you overrule yourself and go against instinct? If you are in an odd situation how do you feel your way through things?

Moving from performing to writing and then back again I am reminded of this physical guidance system built into our nervous system.

I put a scene together in a chapter of one of my novels, building it piece by piece, brick by brick until it finally comes alive. The words and actions of the characters when carefully constructed can create the illusion of an experience. It rings true.

My men need women in my fiction and I have no choice but to get out my set of tools and construct them. I grew up in a family with three sisters.

I was always so at home with the women I danced with. I became one of them. They needed to forget about my gender, at least while we were dancing, we had work to do.

The women were in a competition with one another. It was their turf. In class once I had been accepted I was allowed to observe how they would jockey for advantage with one another.

There was nuance. They veiled their thoughts. Their eyes spoke nothing. Then, all at once I might note one of the dancers stealing a glance. They looked away. In their eyes you could see their thinking.

First and foremost I saw women with a fierce determination. They all seemed tough. They maintained a resolute confidence. Even the second or third or fourth best dancer among the women danced as if they were the best.

After class they would allow that another dancer might have an edge but while they were on the dance floor in a studio they moved with grit and confidence. I admired the women because their strength of character was colored with such a rich and textured vulnerability that you would seldom if ever find in the men.

In many ways I am very feminine, and I don’t mean in some silly insecure sense of the meaning, but each of us is in fact not just all male or all female. We all have some aspect, some fraction that consists of the other gender, and that other is located within us.

One of the privileges of fiction is that it allows us to channel these multitudes of people that inhabit our being. We have a duty to honor them and to speak as truthfully for them as our received wisdom allows.

A human being is in some odd sense a repository of experiences that transcends this one mortality. We know things that have come stored in our souls. There is a vast treasure of humanity capable of speaking through us. It is a mystery some days and as ordinary as old wallpaper on others.

 *A neighbor friend of mine who reads novels voraciously enjoyed your “Bankrupt Heart” immensely. He especially appreciated the atmosphere of the boatyard, a place and milieu imaginative literature had not yet taken him. He was also taken by the depth and authenticity of the characters. *

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