Friday, December 14, 2007

Going Postal (part one)


A couple of days ago I spent over an hour in line at the post office. I timed it. Now, this is the holiday season and lines get longer... but I frequently stand in line at the post office, and the problem isn’t the number of people... it’s the post office.

We live in an e-mail world, now, but in the recent past writers spent a great deal of time in the post office. We knew how much things cost to mail, because we had lots of experience. The Writer’s Market book even had a guide to postage in the back, and from that I know how many *pages* are in an ounce of mail. When I first began writing, I wrote short stories. Mysteries mostly. I had a subscription to The Writer Magazine, and eventually to Writer’s Digest (the better of the two). I would also subscribe to any magazine I planed to write for - and usually these were magazines (I already had subscriptions to: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Mag, Ellery Queen Mystery Mag, Mike Shane Mystery Mag. I would read the stories every month and try to come up with something that matched the contents. The Writers Market gave you the address, the editor’s name (always good to double check with the magazine’s masthead) and the *exact* number of words and the *exact* subject matter... along with payment per word.

So, I would write a 2,500 word thriller with a twist end for AHMM, hoping to get my 2 cents a word... $50! You would send these stories along with a stamped self addressed envelope to return your story when they rejected it (and they always did). But that meant standing in line at the post office so that they could stamp the inner envelope, you seal the outer envelope, and they stamp that. Lots of work!

I would write short story after short story. Mike Shane Magazine paid 1 cent a word, they were located in exotic Florida, and the editor there started sending me little notes scribbled on the bottom of the rejection slips. I had a *huge* collection of rejection slips!

After the movie CARRIE came out, I bought the book in paperback... then continued to buy Stephen King books whenever they came out. I also read every interview with King I could find. He started getting published in men’s magazines... and when I looked up how much they paid in Writer’s Market, I had a new target. They paid *hundreds* of dollars! If I could get a couple of stories published every month, I could make a living!

Now, the odds of getting a couple of stories published every month were pretty low... in fact, the odds of getting *one* story published every month weren’t so hot - there was a writer, his name escapes me, who was famous for having one story a month in print... usually in AHMM. When AHMM and EQMM merged, he moved on up to the higher pay of EQMM (5-8 cents). A 2,500 word story at 8 cents a word is, what? $200? You can’t live on $200 a month!

So the men’s magazines were the key to earning a living. Playboy was the king - they paid $1k for a short story. And look at the guys who wrote them! Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Don Westlake! Oh, and those literary guys, too. And those were some great short stories - I read lots of them in collections.

And by then, Stephen King had a short story collection come out. By now, I was buying King books hardback, and would drive to Berkeley and stand in line *all day* with Wendy to have a one minute conversation with King as he signed my book. Wendy and I had a collection of Stephen King autographed hardbacks, and a collection of past due notices, and a collection of rejection slips from my short stories. Plus I was spending about half my life standing in line at the post office. Would men’s magazines be my salvation? Could I break in the way Stephen King had, and write my way up to Playboy and eventually the best sellers list?

- Bill


IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Six Pre Pro Mistakes... and how to avoid them.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Mom's meatloaf at home... part of the home experience.

Movies: ATONEMENT - On Sunday, John and Van and I met in San Francisco to see ATONEMENT, which has now been nominated for a zillion Golden Globes. We went to a brand new cinema in a brand new shopping center downtown - I think last year the three of us wandered around the construction site. The shopping center is huge - and has spiral *escalators* - I do't know how that works mechanically. They also have computerized touch screen mall maps... which don't work. All three of us seperately got lost using these maps. We were supposed to meet at the cinema a half hour before show time. Being the one traveling the farthest, I got there first. John was closest, he got there last. But we all had problems with these computerized maps. You type in the name of the store, and the map is supposed to show you how to get there... but instead it told me to go from level 1 to level 2 to an escalator on level 2N... 2N? I got to the escalator... and there was no sign of the cinemas... because they are on level 5 and the computerized map doesn't tell you to keep riding the damned escalator to level 5. In fact, it doesn't even tell you there is a level 5. It *only* shows you one floor at a time, and never showed anything past 2N. But we all managed to figure it out without the map - eventually you look up and see other floors and you go up and check them out... and on floor 5, the cinemas!

The story of ANTONEMENT is kind of ENGLISH PATIENTy, so some of you will probably think it’s boring as hell... but I liked it.

The film uses all kinds of different story forms - no doubt taken from the novel, from altering points of view to playing with the chronology... and had one of the most amazing tracking shots I’ve ever seen on film. Story begins at an English country estate on the cusp of World War 2 - Keira Knightly is the older sister, just out of college. She has a younger sister, maybe 12 or 13. The younger sister has a wild imagination, and writes stories and plays. She looks out her bedroom window and sees Keira and the hunky gardener (James McAvoy) standing next to the fountain. The Gardener makes some threatening gestures, and Keira *strips down to her underwear*! Then she jumps into the fountain, and her underwear becomes transparent! The sister looks away, thinking that the Gardener must be some sort of sex fiend.

That’s when the film zips back and shows us the exact same scene from Keira’s point of view. She has dropped something valuable into the fountain, asks the hunky Gardener to retrieve it for her, he jokingly refuses - gesturing for her to retrieve it herself. She says fine, strips down to her underwear, jumps in the fountain to retrieve the lost article, comes out... and her underwear is embarrassingly transparent, throws her clothes back on and storms away. All completely innocent.

The story does this a couple more times - showing us a character's point of view, then zipping back to show us a different character’s point of view. We see how different points of view can lead you to see the exact same action differently. When you only see part of an event, it can seem as if something entirely different is happening. Perception of the event is everything. Eventually an event occurs that creates a major story conflict - and *we* know that it has been misinterpreted. *We* know that things are not as they seemed... but we also understand how from that one particular point of view, the event was shocking and scandalous...

Then the story begins playing with chronology. It jumps four year ahead in time, showing MacAvoy (the Gardener) and the scars this event has left on him... He is now a soldier on the front lines in France during WW2. Wounded, he and his men just want to make it back to the pick up point where a ship will take them back to England.

Then the story jumps *back in time* six months, to show Keira Knightly working as a nurse in a London military hospital... and the scars the past event has left on her.

We keep jumping back and forth in time between the two, until we reach a point where we jump *forward* in time to see what has happened to the younger sister... and see her point of view for a while... and, of course, the scars the past event has left on her. Now a young adult, she is living in London, working as a nurses assistant in a military hospital, searching for her sister and MacAvoy.

These three characters are entwined in a story, and we jump back and firth between story threads, knowing that they all come together at the end.

Along the way, we get one of the most amazing tracking shots I have ever seen as MacAvoy and his men see the chaos and horror of war... in one never-ending shot through absolute hell. Completely amazing.

Another cool thing this film does is make everything completely logical - in one scene a character is opening a window to release a buzzing bee and sees something, in another scene a character spots a dropped piece of jewelry by a door, which leads them to open the door and see what is on the other side. This does a great job of removing coincidence from the story - one event leads logically to another.

I did not like the end of this movie - it does something that yanked me out of the story. Maybe the ending will work for you. It’s an interesting film, and tells its story using an interesting method. Changing points of view and playing with chronology.

After the movie, John and Van and I walked around looking for a place to eat. We went to a sports bar we had gone to before... it was packed. So we wandered some more and ended up at the old standby - Mels Diner. You know, from AMERICAN GRAFFITI. And if you didn't know it, walk into Mels and they'll make sure you know it. Wall to wall posters and pictures and even model cars from the movie.

After dinner we walked back to a high end bar where we had once celebrated New Years Eve several years ago. The place is the same, the waitresses have changed... but kind of stayed the same age. It's as if once a waitress is older than 28, they retire her and hire a new mid-20s waitress. We all flirted with her, but Van has this amazing gift - and he got a hug and kiss on the cheek when we left. I don't know how he does that. If I did some of the stuff he does, I'd be arrested or slapped. He gets a hug. Anyway, many beers later we left... and I took the BART train back.

DVDs: I've seen a bunch of movies on DVD, and I'll be filling in each part of this 4 part post with some info on them.

Pages: Yesterday I blasted out over 5 pages of brand new material on a script I've been rewriting. This script is *20* years old and really needs a rewrite. As I mentioned in an earlier entry about NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the problem with this old script was the *obligatory scene* was missing. I probably thought it was clever at the time - have the whole story leading up to this one big amazing scene... then just leave out the scene. If I were to see a movie that did that, I would want to beat the writer to within an inch of his life. So, to prevent myself from being beaten by audience members, I needed to write this scene. The most important scene in the script. The most complicated scene in the script... and I have just kept putting it off. Until yesterday - when I just *forced* myself to write it. My plan was to write a crappy first draft and fix it later. Instead, I fixed it as I went, and I really like how the scene turned out. One of the unexpected things about the scene is that it ended up providing a big dramatic moment for the *villian*. It humanizes him... which makes him more frightening. He's a real flesh and blood person - who shoots people in the head when they make him angry. That's better than a 2D villain who kills people because it's part of the job description. Anyway, the scene kicks ass and I really like it. Still needs some work, but it's better than I thought it was going to be... and it's DONE!

- Bill

7 comments:

Christian M. Howell said...

He's a real flesh and blood person - who shoots people in the head when they make him angry.

Now, that's a villain. I like throat-slicers too.

D. Montoya said...

Oooh... Uncle Bill is telling us a new story! And, it's gonna be a 4-parter! Goody. So does he get into Playboy? Does he? Can't wait to find out!

wcmartell said...

It's a 4 parter because I realized I could write one massive post every week... or break it up into parts and spread it out.

Since my posts often wander all over the place anyway, and usually have an equal amount of material in the IMPORTANT UPDATE section, I figured why not?

- Bill

Anonymous said...

Do you get into PLAYBOY or not...?

is being our question


***

With all due respect.

Aric Blue said...

Dude, get yourself a $10 scale, and use the www.usps.com --click and ship it. You pay, print out the stamp and all, and drop it at the post office(or get them to pick it up).

It's sweet!

And I too remember the SASE battle! (and the word count and always putting First North American Rights up near my name and address)

Milli Thornton said...

I feel bad because I know I'm one of the reasons Bill had to stand in line at the P.O. for an hour.

But I also feel good because on Saturday I received my package of "Crazy Eights" - 8 titles from Bill's Blue Book series, which I choose carefully (from the selection of 20) to help me finish my first screenplay.

Every morning before I write, I read Bill's daily tip. The recent tip addressing theme helped me figure out the theme of my movie.

Thanks, Bill, for all the great tips and the ongoing education you provide.

And the entertainment.

Maestro said...

As an aside, when they renovated The Forum Shops in Vegas, they added some spiral escalators. A bit of Googling turned up:

http://www.mitsubishi-elevator.com/products/escalators/spiral_es/index.html

HTH - Mark

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