Before…We Were Dinosaurs
I’ve been spending the past couple days wondering what it would have been like to write before the advent of television and film. And also, just how much of my own work is influenced, either directly or indirectly, by these mediums.
First and foremost I consider myself more of a reader. If given the choice between sprawling into a comfortable sofa or chair with a good book or vegging out in bed to a 12-hour NCIS marathon, eight times out of ten, I usually choose the book.
But on the flip side – I’m also a child of the 70’s, where the half-hour sitcom and one-hour crime drama (or hospital show) were standard fare. TV dinners were still actually called TV dinners because you could peel off the aluminum foil covers and chow down right in front of the tube on a Friday night while Bo and Luke checked out Daisy’s ass.
It’s hard for me, as a writer, to fathom a time before there were movies and television, just like it will be for my own son to try to fathom a time before the Interwebz…Yet, before TV’s made their way into everyone’s homes, families huddled around the radio for entertainment.
I wonder what it was like to be a Poe, a Melville or a Hawthorne – to actually ink their classics without the aid or the interference (and maybe that’s the point, or at least one of the points of everything that I’m rambling about here – whether these mediums aid or interfere in the writing process) of movies or television.
Unlike many writers, who report that they need absolute peace, quiet and silence to work in, I need the opposite – noise and confusion. I blame this on conditioning I received writing in a newsroom for 14 years. If constantly ringing phones and background chatter weren’t enough to break your concentration, then certainly the squelch and static of the handy-dandy Tandy police scanner (for the crime beat reporters) was. But eventually the cacophony of noise and intrusion changed and became a soothing lull that helped writing easy.
If I’m not listening to one of my iTunes play lists when I write (music is another influence on my writing that is gonna need it’s own blog entry), I usually have the kitchen counter TV, which rests just about 20 feet outside the dining room entryway where my computer is set up, cranked up to a healthy volume. Sometimes I have music and TV.
I had two influences at work on me when I wrote the Long Hunt (or at least when I began the novel. Others came into play throughout the writing process, but I started out with. One was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the other was the motion picture Jaws.
Before I go another step further – yes – I know. Jaws the motion picture was based off the novel, by the same name, written by Peter Benchley. If you’ve only seen the film version of Jaws, do yourself a favor and read the novel. I’m not going to completely spoil here, but there’s some interesting background story in the book that was removed from the movie. Also in the novel – of the three that venture out on the Orca to kill the shark, only one actually makes it back.
Despite the fact that Jaws was also a novel, it was movie footage and imagery that I had in mind when I started out with The Long Hunt.
I wrote The Long Hunt during November of 2008 as part of the National Novel Writing Month (also known as NanoWriMo) competition. I had just completed my first novel (Or at least one of my first novels – it still remains unpublished but I am moving forward with it), Fragments of Light. The first strains of the idea and plot for Fragments of Light formed in my head when I was a very young teen mowing my mom’s yard.
Yeah, talk about holding onto something. But I put it on the back burner and it stayed there for a good 20-plus years, which was probably for the better. I picked the idea back up and started writing it shortly before Hurricane Katrina struck here in southeast Louisiana. I resumed writing it after the turmoil from the hurricane settled back down and then finished the first draft around August or September of 2008.
I’m no genius by a long shot, but it didn’t take one to realize that if I ever wanted to “get serious” about writing, I wasn’t going to be able to take a 30-year hiatus between works. Simple mathematics of age was working against me.
It was around this time that my friend Karin told me about this Nano Wri Mo business. The objective of the competition was very cut and dry – write a novel of 50,000 words or more in 30 days or less.
When I first heard about Nano Wri Mo I was a little skeptical. The idea of turning out any sort of coherent novel in 30 days seemed unlikely, if not impossible.
I even doubted the 50,000 word limit, thinking to myself on more than one occasion, “50,000 words is a novella, not a novel.”
But I was wrong. The Old Man and the Sea, one of Hemingway’s masterpieces, fell in at right under 38,000 words and it is in most schools of thought considered to be a novel; sparse as it may be.
It was ultimately that work, Old Man and the Sea, that I had in mind when I began seriously toying with the idea of giving NaNo a shot.
Perhaps if I stuck to a very simple plot; like man catching a fish; or as in the case of The Long Hunt; man catching a wolf; and I didn’t introduce too many characters and sub-plots; maybe; just maybe I could pull it off. Simplicity was going to be the key though.
The simple plot structure of Jaws was also in the front of my brain – bad fish eat people, three guys go out in a boat to go kill the bad fish. Except with The Long Hunt it was – bad wolf eat people, two guys go out to kill the big bad wolf. Of course, me being me – I end up throwing a ratchet into the cogs of the story – but luckily in the case of The Long Hunt – it actually fucking worked.
What stories, whether from novels, plays, movies or TV shows have influenced your writings? Drop me a line and let me know.