Want to Experience Bad Writing? Watch Madame Secretary, Season 5, episodes 17-19

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do, I want to enjoy myself – not be preached at. Earlier this year, I started watching Madame Secretary. Honestly, the first season had some issues, especially early on, but I thought the writing got stronger and more creative as the show progressed into the later seasons. Not long ago, I said to myself that I am really enjoying this show, season 5, for some fun story lines and intriguing drama. And then the writers dared to get on their high horse and started moralizing. It became nauseating. I almost stopped watching.

Moralizing kills creativity. And creativity, once slain, is a beast to resurrect.

Now, I’m not opposed to writing having a message or at least an opinion. I think writing is generally better when there is purpose behind it.

But, and this is a huge but, when writing becomes didactic, and doesn’t allow for open-ended inquiry and thought, it’s a HUGE bore. And that’s what happened with Madame Secretary.

The writing got bogged down in an endless and nauseating cycle of global warming, climate migration, and brow-beating moralizing that became predictable and a flat-out snooze-fest. This is not what I want for entertainment. If I want people spouting their opinions at me, I’ll watch cable news.

But if you’re writing for a network drama, GET CREATIVE!

When writing doesn’t allow people to think for themselves, it’s lazy.

When writing doesn’t facilitate dialogue from different points of views, it’s boring.

When creative writing is no different than watching cable news, please find a new job as a copy editor or web blogger. Get out of the entertainment business.

It took four episodes for Madame Secretary to begin to find its footing again. How did it do that? By getting back to issues that centered around the characters and not on a series of real-world crisis.

Hey writers, if you wanted to convince people to think certain ways about important topics, you did the exact opposite. You almost lost some viewers.

Please do better.

Sincerely,

Someone who thinks he can.

Novel Finished. Barely. What’s next?

Novel Finished. Barely. What’s next?

Sometimes writing takes a backseat to life. How dare it! Cutting into my writing time with family and barbecues and travel and house repairs and … You get the picture. And it’s all good, all the time. But even when I’m in the midst of enjoying some time away from writing, the bug to scratch out a few words and ideas is never far away. After all, I have been hopelessly bitten by the creative parasite which has been replacing my blood with writing ideas for the past ten years.

Even in the midst of a busy time in life, I was still able to finish my novel this summer, which was, at the very least, the baseline goal I was shooting for. My earlier summer-self had hoped to write two novels this summer. Well, I was fortunate to get one done.

Novel #9 – currently titled MOSES THE SINGER. It is set in Penang, Malaysia and involves a group of teen musicians and a homeless illegal immigrant. Of the five main characters in the novel, four are teens aged 16-18, so I will be marketing it as my first ever YA novel. As with all of my novels, I wonder how it is. What will people think? Will it be interesting? Gripping? Moving? Will readers have as much fun reading it as I had writing it? I suppose these are questions every writer grapples with.  The reality is, no matter how long one has been writing, these questions don’t go away, but I can never let them define how I move forward with a story. One has to be committed to the story and push the story from all angles in a relentless pursuit of making it the very best possible.

This is what I’ll be doing the next few months: revising. I will be completing a couple more drafts of the novel before passing it on to some beta readers for the frightening feedback.

This fall, I will also be pushing my plays as much as possible in hopes of finding a theatre which will produce one of them. I do have a short play hitting the stage in Penang this November.

On top of this, I’ll be directing Suessical The Musical for an international school, and I have another show called DUETS which will hit the stage in late October.

It’s going to be crazy busy, but that’s the way I like it. Except for the fact that my writing time will continue to be limited. Keep moving forward. That’s the only thing to be done.

Ironing Shirts & Writing Novels. What’s the Difference?

I bought a new shirt. It came in a box cause that’s how shirt’s are made these days, right?

It didn’t fit. I sent it back. Didn’t even need a box cause that’s how shipping is done these days, right?

I ordered another shirt. It fit great. I liked it. But it was cottony and wrinkly and I couldn’t go out into public looking like a wrinkled grape. Cause that’s how people think these days, right?

But I decided that the only way to iron out these difficulties was to, indeed, pull out my iron. So I plugged it in and heated it up. I pressed one side smooth only to realize I creased the underside because, obviously, I don’t know how to iron properly.

But I tried anyways, and one ironed-out crease led to two more creases which needed ironing out. It could have been frustrating if I would have been paying attention. But I keep looking at my shirt and thinking how nice it will be when it’s finished. Being ironed out. Which I certainly didn’t know how to do.

But being me, that never stopped me, the not knowing how to do something, that is.

So I pressed on.

And little by little my shirt started to look smooth. Those darn little collars were a beast. And around the buttons were a pain. And I still couldn’t figure out how to reach all those little shoulder spots without creating a new crease underneath. I mean, why does the fabric flip on top of each other like an unwieldy plot hole?

I worked and I learned and by the end of the my ironing session, I was satisfied with the end product and placed it aside. Not carefully, mind you. No, that would have been the smart move. I placed it aside in a clump until I realized I created new wrinkles. Clumping does that.

I put it back on the board and fixed those, and, with a stroke of luck and genius, I hung it on a door knob. Brilliant. No more wrinkles.

Later that morning, I put on my shirt. It wasn’t perfect. There were still some visible wrinkles, but I thought I looked good, and I was proud of the effort. I could have just thrown it on right out of the box, but I took my time and did it the right way–the best I knew how. Next time, my ironing will be much better, even if my shirt arrives in a box.

As I reflected on my ironing experience, I thought, isn’t this exactly the same as writing a novel?

Yes, yes, it is because there are only two ways to do things in this world: you either learn through experience how to best to iron-out all those unsightly creases in your plot line, or you just throw it on right out of the box and pretend everything you do is automatically amazing.

Writers, plug in your irons.

A Summer of Cooking & Writing

Summer has, so far, been a real whirlwind.  It is typically my writing time, and it has been again, to a degree. But it’s also been about family, vacations, travel, and food. Here’s a couple photos to prove the last point. I love cooking, you know, so when family gets together, there’s all kinds of good stuff going on.

Ribs on the 4th of July. How I missed ribs! Oh, and there’s bacon in the baked beans. How I missed bacon!

Cheesecake for my son on birthday. How I missed berries! This is a very simple glaze. Berries, tiny bit of water, sugar. That’s it. I was delighted to find black raspberries and so I thought I’d merry black and red together on one cake. It was a good idea.

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Cherry pie for my dad’s birthday. Full disclosure, my sister made the crust, but I made the filling and I picked the cherries myself. So that counts, I think.

Now that some of the family reunions have subsided, I’m back in full writing mode. Packed away a good 3700 words today on novel 9 and I have a full week of writing ahead of me, so here’s hoping for some great productivity.

Hope you are having a great, productive, and creative summer too!

 

 

Ugly Lucy, Pretty Lucy, & Me

Ugly Lucy, Pretty Lucy, & Me

I spend my summers on the outskirts of Celeron, NY which has the claim to fame of being the hometown of Lucille Ball. Celeron itself is on the outskirts of Jamestown which is part of Chautauqua County of Western NY. Jamestown and the region has been playing up the connection to Lucy for the last couple of decades. And why not? Who doesn’t love Lucy? I’ve watched the entire DVD collection! She set the standard for comedy and Jamestown and Celeron have been sharing the love every since. If you watch the show, listen for the references to Jamestown. They’re there.

A while back, the waterfront park in Celeron became home to a statue commemorating their favorite daughter. There’s one problem though. Take a look. That’s me and, wait, is that Lucy?

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Ugly Lucy. Not sure what happened, but this sculpture doesn’t quite catch the essence of the First Lady of Comedy. This sculpture received so much negative feedback that eventually a new statue was commissioned and you can see the results here.

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Much better. I’ll be using this park this summer to do some of my writing, and I will look fondly on both Lucy’s. Face it, we all have bad days and don’t quite look like ourselves. I may even have a bad writing day where I’ll be staring at a metaphorical statue of ugly Mark. But never fear, a wrong turn can always be made right.

In some ways, I wish the ugly Lucy was the only one in the park. I think that Lucy herself would have gotten a laugh out of it. Statues are rather pretentious. Ugly statues, on the other hand, might just strike the chord of authenticity better than a ravishing work of glam and glory. But it’s pretty cool that our local park has two statues of our local comedic heroine.

Here’s to you, Lucy.

Summer Writing & Smiles

Summer Writing & Smiles

I smiled today. It was nearly involuntary. It emanated like a ray of light piercing through a small hole. That smile was summer.

I’m finishing up my second year of living in Saudi Arabia and a whole two-month writing bonanza stares me in the face. Oh sure, there’ll be family and barbecues and fresh berries and cherries. There will be baseball games and fireworks and long bike rides through the forest. And there will be writing.

Summer is when I become a ‘full-time’ writer. It’s when my brain can focus for long periods of time on items I’ve been itching to get at for an indefinite amount of time.  It begins in five days.

I’ve accomplished a lot this past school year. I’ve produced two original shows which I wrote, and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I finished the editing and publishing process for book three of my trilogy. I’ve written four or five short plays. A couple of which have already been produced. A couple more will be part of next year shows. I’ve even made some series in-roads into my 9th novel — some 10,000+ words already on its way.

So as I sit on my back deck, sipping a cold beverage, with my laptop in front of me, I’m smiling at what I hope to be able to accomplish this summer.

Finish novel #9 – It’s my first novel set in Malaysia. It is also looking like my first YA novel with four of the five main characters being teenagers.  This novel premise wasn’t even on my radar until about 6 weeks ago when a curious phrase popped through my mind. That’s how novels germinate for me. Usually a phrase, followed by an image, which grows into an idea worthy of long-format writing.  Then I develop the characters and let the story loose to see where it will go. This one is flowing, so I hope a good month of steady writing will produce a solid first draft.  Maybe by mid-July? Let’s see.

Start novel #10 – Actually, I already have. This idea I’ve been playing with for over a year and a half. I even wrote the first chapter already and I know where it’s going. But it requires a little research, so it will take some more time. I hope to have a solid start to this novel by the end of August. How about half-written? Nice goal.

Play-writing – I never discount play-writing because that’s the form that comes the most naturally to me. I have a show I wrote last year called Crazy Love, but I want to add one or two more pieces to it, so when the muse strikes, I set aside my novels for the afternoon.

Excited for summer? I hope you are at least half-excited as I am, and if you are, you’re plenty excited.

When was the last time you … ?

Think. What do you love to do but haven’t done it for a long time?

I know. There are reasons why you haven’t done it. Everyone has excuses.

I’ve done something this past week that I haven’t done in about a year and it’s been real enjoyable: guitar playing and song composing.

I won’t go into all the ridiculous reasons that my guitar was packed away awaiting a move that never happened for a year, but I can attest that it really has been a year without playing it.  And I missed it.

And it struck me how that cliched comment about “it’s like riding a bike”  came to the forefront of my mind when I put the fretboard in my hand for the first time in 12 months. My brain and fingers remembered everything. It’s pretty remarkable. I forget stuff all the time, but all the chords and finger positionings came naturally like I never stopped playing.

I plucked out some chords to the melody I created that matched some lyrics I made which are related to a new novel I’m writing. Yeah, a bunch of strange connections there.

But the point it this: I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy writing lyrics. I enjoy composing songs on the guitar, and it felt great to do it again.

What about you? What do you love to do that you haven’t done in a long time? Try it out again. It’s been far too long.

I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics to my untitled new song.

RANDOM UNTITLED SONG LYRICS

Part of me is reaching, to set upon the stars

To grasp a piece of heaven, to lunge to places far,

       Part of me is crying out, to reach inside your heart,

  But I hold no ill will.

           No, I hold no ill will.

Part of me is trying. To understand this world.

Untangle all the colors that blindness tends to swirl

And form the ground beneath our feet that heaven’s gate unfurls

But I hold no ill will.

Yes, I hold no ill will.

The past it paints its canvas black with speckled sparks of light,

Glimpses to remind me of where I’ve been,

 The future holds the promises of many well-fought fights,

But I’ll never turn away from where I’ve been.

                 Cause I’ve seen the poorest soul be trampled to the ground,

 And I cannot turn away from where I’ve been,

        And I’ve seen the lights of fame adorning all around

Yet even more, it grips my breast, and hold it tight onto my chest

               All the places, good or bad, I’ve ever been

(copyright 2019 Mark W Sasse)