Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Stories, So Far

It's been weeks since I've seen a "the year we make contact" joke. At the gym, the resolutionaries seem to be drifting away. The only New Year anyone is talking about is the Chinese one. 2010 is well and truly underway.


So it's not a bad time to take stock and evaluate the year to date.


Well, it’s been a busy year so far, but also one that’s off to better start than most of the past few years.


Things are going well at work, where the second anniversary of my hiring just went by. My family’s doing well; my children are learning and growing and thriving and doing more wonderful things than ever. I’ve been getting back to the gym, working on getting into shape again, and so far I’ve been able to stick with it.  


And on the writing front, although I haven’t been as productive as I’d like, I’ve been much more productive than I’ve been in previous years. I’m active in and enjoying my writers group, Cold Iron Badge is ongoing and I have several other projects on the go.


But they aren’t the projects that I would have expected to be working on, this time last year – or even a few months ago. I’ve recently changed the focus of my writing – or, perhaps, changed my goals to reflect the reality of my writing. This was the result of a good deal of soul-searching.


An existential crisis


Hmm. That sounds more Dostoevyskian than the situation actually warrants.


Regardless, I spent a lot of time -- over late last year, through resolution season -- thinking about how I want to move forward with my writing. About what I want to achieve, and how I want to achieve it.


I love comics, I love Cold Iron Badge and Xeno's Arrow, and they’re going to continue to be central to my writing.


But I don't see myself -- right now, with my interests, at this point in my life -- springboarding from those projects to other work in comics. (This is, of course, with all the usual caveats; if an interesting opportunity arises, I am certainly open to it).


Really, it's not like Marvel and DC were in a bidding war for my talents. This realization doesn't actually involve any changes to my approach.


No, the real shift has been on the other side of my writing: Screenplays.


I never had much traction as a screenwriter. I haven't had an agent in some time (which is a sordid and funny story that I probably shouldn't relate online) and never really had much success in professionalizing myself in the field.


My writing also doesn't really fit the needs of the Canadian market. The spec market for screenplays barely exists in Canada, and I like to write in classic, core genres that involve explosions and happy endings. I don't fit in with the art-housey, outsider-stancey attitude of Canadian feature film.


Grants? You can't get in the grant game here without credits, and you can't get credits writing the sort of movies I like to write.


And I've seen friends scramble and scrape, trying to make independent films here in the genres I do care about. But it takes years, and nobody gets paid, and the odds of getting your movie made, let alone finding distribution or achieving any kind of recognition, make roulette look like a sound investment strategy.


I'm pushing forty, and I have a family that needs me. I can't pick up stakes and move to LA on the chance of hitting in big. Hell, I don't even drive -- that alone means that I couldn’t cope with life in Los Angeles.


I could try writing for TV, because there is, at least for now, an English-language Canadian TV industry, and it's actually really good. Canadian TV is better than it's ever been, mirroring the new golden age of TV in the U.S..


But... I have no passion to write television, even in a golden age. To be honest, the thought of re-focusing on breaking in as a TV writer -- making contacts, writing a sample script for a hot show, trying to get a gig -- gives me the creeping horrors. I don't have the time or patience for it any more.


Screenwriting allowed me to learn a tremendous amount of craft and build my skills, and to meet some great people. But I've followed that path as far as I can. It's time to admit that it's not leading where I want to go.


So where does that leave me?


Insert your own pun based on the two meanings of "novel"


Yes. I'm writing a novel. I appear, a bit unexpectedly, to be writing several novels.


How did this happen?


Over the past year or so, I've been overcoming my fear of writing prose, which wasn't the only reason I was focused on scripts, but certainly played a part.


At the suggestion of my dear friend and former writing partner Nicole, I'm working on adapting a screenplay into a novel. It's an interesting process, and a reversal of the usual one; novels are often adapted for the screen, but it’s tricky to do well because they tend to be so dense; you have to leave a great deal of the complexity out, and sometimes that complexity is what makes the story work.


What I’m doing now is a different challenge; I'm embroidering, trying to turn a 100-page (with lots of white space on the pages) story into a much denser, more involved narrative. Essentially, I'm treating my screenplay as a fairly detailed outline for the novel, and adding to it. I've only just begun. If the process is interesting, I may discuss it further.


Plus, as some of you already know, I've been writing and posting a weekly prose story at the Cold Iron Badge website. It's not about the narrative or the characters featured in the comic. I thought that a side-story about two other members of the Borderland Guard would be interesting, fun and could also include some world-building details that I couldn't fit into the main feature. My first attempt was a short story; my second, which I'm still working on, is called All That Glitters, and it seems to be turning into something rather longer. It might indeed be a novel when it's done. I guess I'll have to see where the journey takes me. In the mean time, I'm having a lot of fun with the narrator and her adventures.


And I have another project on my mind. It's been on the back-burner, but the chunk of it that I've actually had written and sitting around for a while was sufficiently well-received that I'm really tempted to move it up the To-Do list.


The problem with being so rich in projects is that I have a limited amount of time to write and I really don’t like constantly switching gears, trying to get from the narrative, tone and character voices of one story to another. So I’m trying to prioritize, to set goals and stick to them.


And then there’s the question of professionalizing myself as a novelist, as I was never quite able to do with screenwriting. Finding an agent. Getting manuscripts out to publishers. Eventually, of course, the goal, the hope and dream: Selling a novel.


All of that is another part of the process, and it’s something I intend to chronicle here. After my year-long time away from blogging, I hope to begin posting here more regularly. We’ll see how that plan goes (see “limited amount of time to write”, above). We’ll see how all my plans go.


For now, though, and on balance, I’m off to a decent start.


So far, it’s a good year.