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Posts Tagged ‘on writing’

Your Friday Recommendation #24

A few weeks back I wrote about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road being turned into a film that will be released this Thanksgiving, and in the process of doing some research for that blog post I stumbled across a new steelbook edition DVD of The Proposition, an excellent film which led me to McCarthy in a very roundabout way.

In this gritty western, a lawman (Ray Winstone in a pre-Beowulf / The Departed / Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull role) convinces an outlaw (Guy Pearce) to hunt down and kill his older, sadistic outlaw brother in order to save his up-and-coming young outlaw brother from hanging. The morbid theme of robbing Peter to pay Paul by sacrificing one’s evil kin to grant life to one’s innocent-yet-becoming evil kin carries an appropriate amount of weight and intrigue in this Nick Cave-scribed script. Cave also provides the soundtrack and while I’ve never been one to say, “Man, I better go pick up the latest Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record today!” kind of guy, but Cave knows the mood of his script well and composes appropriately.

The film isn’t for the weak-stomached. The killings are gory, the outlaws’ deeds are horrific, and the characters are filthy, I think Pearce’s skin is at least 85% coated in greasy dirt for the entire film. If one can get past subject matter that could make one squeamish (which, to me, should never be a reason to skip a well-made film), they’re going to find a well-crafted morality tale that never lets up on the suspense, beautiful scenery, or impressive acting. All of these positives must be what led Roger Ebert to think of this movie in terms of Cormac McCarthy.

In his review, Ebert writes, “Have you read Blood Meridian, the novel by Cormac McCarthy? This movie comes close to realizing the vision of that dread and despairing story.” This was the second mention I’d heard of McCarthy after reading Stephen King’s mention of the writer and a brief passage quotation from Blood Meridian as an example of great writing in his memoir on the craft, On Writing. It was enough to get me interested to check out both The Proposition and pick up a copy of Blood Meridian, and that’s how I found a new favorite writer.

My guess is this re-release is timed to help create buzz for the film adaptation of The Road which is directed by The Proposition director, John Hillcoat, and features The Proposition star, Guy Pearce, (his breakout role was as goody-two-shoes turned hardened cop Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential, though you may know him best as a tattooed Forgetful Jones in Memento) in a supporting role. Hillcoat is a director who knows how to create the right mood based on his source material and I for one am glad some studio executive was smart enough to hand The Road to a director who will likely do something appropriate and great.

The film came out in late 2005 and I caught the very last screening in the very last movie theater showing the film in Minnesota in the spring of 2006. I’m glad I made the effort to catch it, because it’s not an underrated film by any means (those who see it tend to enjoy it), but it sure is under-known. I hope more and more people see it, and this new, well-priced at $10 steelbook edition may help The Proposition gain a second life on DVD.

FYI, if you have the previous edition (which I had on my Amazon wishlist for nearly two years but never indulged myself in picking up) on DVD already, everything appears to be the same aside from the packaging. Steelbook DVDs are regular DVDs in a steel-lined case. The cover is etched into the steel and the package is lined with common DVD holding plastic innards. It’s neat, and some DVD nerds track these down like delicious cookies but for me, if it was no different than a regular DVD edition except for a higher price, I’m not sure I would be all that enticed. For the record, this is my first steelbook DVD and while I’m not going to go out and hunt them all down, it sure is pretty.

And if you’re still not convinced, here’s the trailer, complete with moody Nick Cave music:

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Your Friday Recommendation #20

Scrawlers writer Andrew’s prize is in the mail (oh, Andrew, your prize is in the mail…) and I’m in the middle of re-reading today’s recommendation, On Writing by Stephen King.

If you want a petty argument about the worth of taking the advice of a genre writer who appeals to the masses, with all due respect, take a hike. King is one who cares about the craft and he writes of his life emerging as a writer and hands out well-articulated thoughts on writing  with excitement and the enticement of a giant squid latching onto a sperm whale. In short, Stephen King proves one thing and one thing along in On Writing – he respects writing and that respect is both encouraging and contagious to the reader.

The book is riddled with pull quotes simple and smart enough to make a little poster on the young writer’s bulletin board. Here are a few:

“You must not come lightly to the blank page.”

I think this quote is what might surprise a non-genre fan or at least someone who assumes a lot about Stephen King just because he sells a few million books about parents who bury their children on sacred land so they’ll rise from the grave instead of simply parents who mourn their deceased children. Not many sentences into On Writing, close readers and aspiring writers will be quick to discover that King loves this art, just loves it. And with that love comes respect. The money’s great, no question, but it’s always, always, always about the writing.

“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.”

How many times do I have to mention my own fears in this blog before I shut up, man up, and step up with my writing the way King proposes a good writer needs to do? I’m getting there, I swear. That said, I recently joked to someone that their son needed to “man up” and they didn’t look too happy about it. I immediately felt embarrassed – how’s that for letting go of affectation?…

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

King is talking about audience. I know talented writers who have argued one shouldn’t have to worry about audience whatsoever, and for them that means during the writing process, while they’re rewriting, and even when they try and get it published. With respect, I disagree. Audience is an important notion to consider in writing. What King proposes is when one writes their initial draft they should focus on getting the words out, letting the story take shape. Then, when rewriting, decide what elements need adjustment or are missing or need to be cut because at that point, the writer is preparing the piece to go “out there” to an audience. This opinion is not for the writers who like to print one copy of their masterpiece, open their desk drawer, slide it in, and lock it away. I guess they always write with the door closed.

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.”

This sentence is from the last paragraph in the first portion of the book, the part that serves as memoir. King writes about battling his demons of alcoholism and drug addiction and feels a desk in the corner, implying writing should be a part of one’s life and not the center of it, will serve one a lot better than trying the opposite approach.

I’m inclined to agree. I’ve known people obsessed with writing (or for that matter, improv). They claim to write because they have to write, that if they don’t, like, omigosh, what would they do with themselves?! Writing is an important part of my life, but the day I “have” to write instead of “want” to write it’s time to reexamine my life choices. This doesn’t make me a lazy writer – cable TV and video games help on that front plenty, and at least I got rid of the cable – it makes me a writer who knows storytelling is a wonderful part of life, not the whole enchilada.

Same goes for those enthralled with improv; the folks who love it so much they eat, breathe, and sleep improv. They see every show, they read every Johnstone, Spolin, and Napier book and then some, they take every class in town and take all the workshops from out of town instructors, they talk about improv and nothing else, they do notes on their shows longer than the show itself, they can’t help but critique other shows instead of sitting back and enjoying them, they form their perfect improv philosophy and anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their minds no matter what their personal improv journey has been, and they make it their business to be near great improvisers in the hopes of some sort of improv greatness osmosis. Thing is, these folks grow so obsessed with improv that they can’t see the forest through the trees. They get self-exclusionary and forget the point: improv is a great thing to have in one’s life but improv does not a life make.

This perhaps sounds like a tangental tirade inspired by recent events or that I have particular people in mind – I honestly don’t, but bits and pieces of the above description could certainly apply to anyone involved in improv at one time or another, certainly including yours truly – but it’s simpler then that. I’ve been around the block and this is a blog about creativity. I feel improv is one of the purest forms of creativity out there and to me, creativity is a form of play. It will always seem unfortunate to me when one forgets just how fun it can be to play.

The last King quote I want to share is this:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Below the giant logo at Scrawlers.com, you’ll find two sentences: Writers read. Writers write. It’s the philosophy Barry and I had in mind when we founded Scrawlers and I’d be lying if I said this notion doesn’t owe a bit of debt and gratitude to Stephen King. He encourages the young writer to read everything they can get their hands on both to learn and to enjoy the written word, as well as write on a regular basis and keep it up no matter how tough it gets. That attitude is one we’ve tried to emulate ever since we read King’s advice and we hope Scrawlers helps pass it along, in some small way.

There’s a lot more in here, of course (King’s thoughts on passive verbs and his concept of “ideal reader” are worth the price of admission alone) and I encourage you to pick up your own copy. I have two copies and another on audio tape, the latter is what I spend my drive-time commutes listening to in late August / early September as a new semester crops up and I prepare for a fresh season of writing. Barry and I have our copies, Andrew is going to get his in the mail soon.

When will you read On Writing, dear reader?

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And the winner of the "Back to School" contest is…

Andrew!

Congratulations to Andrew for winning our “Back to School” contest. You can read his winning entry here. Andrew will receive a hardcopy edition of “On Writing” by Stephen King, a book we’ve discussed at The Scrawl several times in the last two years – including it’s appearance last week as Your Friday Recommendation.

Thanks to everyone who entered our contest. We’d love to hear from you about your experience. What did you like? What could we improve on? What would you like to see for next time?

Keep writing,

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Final day to enter the "Back to School" contest

Today’s your last chance to enter the Scrawlers “Back to School” contest. Enter to win a copy of “On Writing” by Stephen King by 11:59pm CST. Full contest details are at Scrawlers.

Who will win?…

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Still time to enter our "Back to School" contest

Just a reminder that Scrawlers is running a “Back to School” contest for one lucky winner to receive a hardcover copy of “On Writing” by Stephen King. See this post or the Scrawlers contest page to learn how to enter and get the rules. Don’t miss your chance to win this inspirational memoir with practical advice on creative writing to gear you up for a season of good writing.

The contest ends at 11:59pm CST on August, 28, 2008.

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Win a free hardcover copy of Stephen King's "On Writing"

We interrupt our infrequent blog posts about why we haven’t been blogging to bring you an official announcement for the “Back to School” Scrawlers Contest.

We’re giving away a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s “On Writing” to one lucky Scrawlers writer. One part memoir and one part meditation on craft, King delivers a well-written and inspirational book aimed at the young writer trying to rise above being a “merely competent” writer to become a good one. Readers will pick up King’s ideas on drafting, audience, generating story ideas, using life experience, and why reading is just as important as writing when improving one’s craft.

Scrawlers co-founder Nathan Melcher reads this book every summer right before the fall semester as an inspirational pep talk (the book literally becomes a “pep talk” when he listens to the audio version).

Using King’s book as encouragement has served him well and we hope to pass on that same possibility to you. This week at Scrawlers, enter for your chance to win “On Writing” by Stephen King.

HOW TO ENTER:

1. 1. Post a new story with the tag “writing” at Scrawlers between August 21, 2008 and 11:59pm CST on August 28, 2008. You may post one eligible story per day for a potential of up to eight contest entries based on your story posts.

2. 2. Post a comment on another writer’s story that meets the above specifications between August 21, 2008 and 11:59pm CST on August 28, 2008. You earn one entry per comment – only one of your comments per story is eligible. The potential for comment-based contest entries depends on how many other writers post stories during the contest.

We’ll announce winners by Monday, September 1, 2008. Good luck and get writing!

Learn more and get contest rules here.