I answer questions about the creative process in the journal Crossing the Dissour

Greywood Arts of Ireland released their first online journal about art and creativity. It’s entitled CROSSING THE DISSOUR, and they asked me to participate in the multi-artist interview on the creative process.

You may remember that I had a writing residency in Ireland last year and had a terrific and productive time. I very much enjoyed thinking about the creative process and sharing some of my methodology.

You can read the entire interview at Crossing the Dissour. Here’s the LINK!

Check out all the great content from their first issue.

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If It’s a Fad, It’s Not a Lifestyle

A few years back I was getting a check-up at the doctor’s office. Weight-wise, I was not where I wanted to be at that particular moment, and she spoke the truth to me: “You have to do the hard work.” In other words, you aren’t going to lose weight without making the right choices, without being disciplined, without making sacrifices.  No-one can do it for you!

Boy, we hate to think that the things we want require hard work. Let me win the lottery! Surely an agent will discover my talent! World, please. Notice how awesome I am. Make it easy for me!

Ah, no.

You want to get into a top-flight college? Hard work.

You want to write a novel? Hard work.

You want to be a movie star? Hard work.

You want to lose weight? Hard work.

But here’s the difference between something being a fad and being a lifestyle. We all put hard work into particular things at certain times in our lives. I remember a particular diet I was on in 2005. I put in the hard work. I achieved the success I wanted. Then I stopped putting in the hard work. You can imagine the results. My fad faded. And my waistline, well, … yeah.

Same with writing. How many people are enthusiastic to write their first novel? They work and work and possibly even get it done, but when instant world-wide fame isn’t bestowed on them, they move on and never write again.

Hard work is needed. But sustained hard work, over years, without giving up, even in the face of little success or many unpleasant bumps in the road — in other words GRIT – is the only way that your hard work season becomes your hard work lifestyle.

I wasn’t ready to listen to that doctor about a decade ago. But more recently, her words are sinking in.

In 2002, when I started my first great novel, I wasn’t ready to make a lifestyle change and become a writer. I put in a minimal amount of hard work and abandoned it. It took another ten years before I was ready to put in the hard work of being an author for the long haul.

You aren’t going to reach your goals overnight. Or in a month. Or maybe not in a year. But much is achievable with a steady hand on the plow, ignoring the criticism, pushing back the doubts, and keeping your eyes straight ahead on what’s important to you.

Only you can do the hard work.

Are you ready for it?

Writing a Trilogy, or is it a Three Part Story

I’ve mentioned before how I am working on my first trilogy. My first five novels were standalones and I’ve always felt that standalones are more interesting reads because, well, they have a tight arc and a thrilling finish. I’ve never been one for built-in cliffhangers (let alone the ridiculous extra scenes that Marvel Studios has become famous for. Please, no!). I’ve never wanted to tease the reader or string a reader along. I just wanted to write quality stories, encompassing one person’s whole worldview in one story. Sequels, series, trilogies were just not for me.

Well, hey. What do they say? People change? So do writers, and that has led me to some unfamiliar territory. When I wrote my latest novel – still unreleased – the story, though quite tidy, didn’t feel over. There were unanswered questions and many new avenues to explore. I decided to thing about a sequel. It let me to a cool idea and then the story took off.

Well, no those two stories are becoming three. My first trilogy.

As I continue to punch away at the keys and discover all the crazy ways this story is taking on new life, I’ve realized that there is a difference between a sequel and a just a longer story. My goal now isn’t to write three related novels. My goal is to write one story, broken into manageable and gripping parts. A large arc over all three with individual arcs built into each section. It’s a challenging yet fascinating process, and it’s forcing me to approach writing in different ways from the past. This can only be good in a writer’s development. I’m excited about that aspect.

To make this work, I’ve dramatically slowed down the release of book 1 so I can finish book 2 and be well on my way in book 3 before the opening chapter ever sees the light of day. As my English colleague says, trilogies planned at one time are better than those with an added sequel. I agree. It’s all about coherence and allowing new ideas be applied to previous ideas. Lots of back editing is needed. Retroactive writing is tough to do once the first story is in print.

The plot of this novel is a challenge. It’s complex, with many characters. It has two main overarching stories which are connected. These stories have spawned subplots and minor characters and it’s a lot to keep straight. It’s a puzzle really. A puzzle I’m driving myself. A puzzle I get to create. I love that aspect of it.

So writers, push yourself. Try something new. Let your trilogies be standalones and your standalones be trilogies. It will be worth it in the long run.

See a Play: Write a Play

On September 24, I saw a terrific rendition of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” at the local performing arts center.

Earlier that week, I was starting to formulate a concept for a full-length play. I don’t write too many of them. In 2014 I wrote “The Secrets of the Magic Pool,” and in 2011 I wrote “Romans on the Couch.” I’ve collaborated on other full-length musicals and plays with students, plus I write dozens of short 10-minute plays for a variety of uses. I was starting to latch onto an idea, but remained unsure if it would come to fruition.

Well, Sept 24 arrived. I was riveted to the dialogue and the “zoom-in” focus he provided by intensely going after only four characters. The setting was simple, but the issues of life, dreams, hopes, and family lingered large. As I left the play that night, I decided I would follow Williams and make my new play only about four characters. One setting. One weekend. And I would push and develop the characters with purposeful intent to drive home the overarching themes of the play.

Yesterday, October 9th, I finished my play. (First complete draft, that is.) I became so consumed with the characters and plot that I grabbed every bit of time I could over 14 days to finish this full-length, 17000 word, one-hour and forty-five minute play. Over the weekend, I took Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and finally, Sunday afternoon to finish it. It’s called “The Last Bastion.”

I’m really pleased with it so far.

I don’t want to share any specifics about it yet, but I’ll be pushing it forward over the next few months. I need to do a lot of editing and re-writes, correct character issues, and work on word usage, so that will take some time. Once I’m happy with the overall script, I intend to do some workshop readings of it, hopefully with some professional actor friends, to get feedback for revisions. I want to send it to theatres in 2017 in hopes someone would be interested in debuting it. It’s an adult piece, blending politics, love, religion, culture, and family.

I love productive writing sessions, and they typically come through strong inspiration and solid source material. Thanks T. Williams for the former.

I am very much me. And so is my writing.

I am very much me.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that when I write, I focus on what I know.

I know Asia. Living here for twenty years will do that. Asia is probably forever in my writing DNA, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

What did Hemmingway write? The South Floridian wrote about the Keys in “To Have and Have Not.” (I loved that book.)

The war-time ambulance driver wrote the fantastic “For Whom the Bell Tolls” about the Spanish Civil War.

If you aren’t creating new worlds, it’s a tried and true practice to use what you know.

I remember when I was in college, I wanted to write an autobiographical novel of my life. I failed miserably. I never wrote one word. I wrote a few poems about my life to that point, hoping that it would thrust me wholeheartedly into my earth-shattering novel about an 18 year old who had no experiences.

Yeah, I was naïve. But that’s okay. It discouraged me that I had nothing to write about. Fantasy wasn’t interesting to me. I’ve always been about real-life human issues and emotions, and it just so happened that that 18-year-old had no interesting human issues and emotions.  So I stared at many blank pages until I realized one day that twenty years had passed and I hadn’t written anything.

But what did happen in those twenty years were experiences. Marriage, kids, happiness, sadness, new cultures, new languages, new people, diverse people, interesting people, unbelievable situations, strange food, motorbike trips into the mountains, and a glimpse of every human emotion imaginable.

These experiences have become my tableau. The sheet is no longer clean. It’s stained with all types of deliciously interesting situations. And as a writer, I am grateful for it.

So as I write my first full-length play in two years, I find myself once again using my Asian experience, my political interests, and meld them together in an interesting, fun and engaging new play.

If you are going to write, start with what you know. If it isn’t enough, give it a little time and let life fill in the details until letting yourself loose.

Thank you society. You are a writing inspiration.

I have found over the last couple years that news and societal issues have turned so corny and interesting that everything that happens seems to be fodder for a new play. I’ve also noticed that in my short play writing (of which I do a lot of) my plays are more and more talking about societal shifts in a rather satirical way. It’s so easy and fun to write this way and there are so many issues to skewer. I would love to, at some point, put together a full-length show, using a series of my society-based dramas.

One of the first plays I wrote along these lines was called “Almighty Might,” about living under an authoritarian government. “GeneRations” was a take off of that theme, related to a government which is learning how to control it’s people. I recently wrote “Safe Spaces” about the issues of having safe spaces on university campuses where people won’t be offended by opposing points of views. I have another one in the works on cupcakes. I can’t wait to write this one. Last year I wrote “A Writer’s Satire” about a new government agency meant to help writers to conform to the prevailing political philosophy.

So first, I want to thank American society for being so weird and unique. You’ve given me great stuff to write about.

The great cultural struggle between the traditionalists and the progressives is a wonder tableau in which a writer can glean some amazingly fun and meaningful insights. I’ve never known how easy satire is to write until I began to apply American cultural progression to my writing practices. Wow, it’s quite easy. I love it.

Keep it up, America. You’re an inspiration.

PS: I especially like to thank our current presidential contenders: Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Cruz. Wow! Great stuff there!

Mystery Genre? Maybe.

I’ve been working on a side writing project with four of my students for, well, has it been all school year? Yes, I suppose it has. We would have met in August for the first time, and we’ve been taking our time on this one.

It’s a play, untitled, and mish-mashed togethered in a variety of ways, but I do believe it’s starting to take shape. It’s a mystery.

It didn’t really start out as a mystery. It was more like a strange super-hero fantasy, but it has morphed into a game of intrigue, recrimination, and good ‘ole “who dunnit?”

I must admit. I’m starting to get a little fond of this piece and of the mystery genre as a whole. I’ve dabbled in mysterious writing before, but never really did a full-fledged mystery. What I enjoy most about it is trying to piece together all the angles in the most clever and unexpected way possible. I suppose nobody thinks “the butler did it” anymore, so should we make him the ultimate villain? (No, just kidding, even though there is a butler.)

We hope to polish off the first draft of it over the next month, and if I give it my undivided attention (which completely no longer exists in this world) then I think we can do it.

But it also got me thinking: how about a novel in the mystery drama. I did write “Spy Blue” – my play turned novella which is no longer available. But it’s more of a thriller type. I do intend to get back to that story someday and re-write it. But how about an actual mystery. A classically based mystery? I wonder how creative I could get on that.

It’s another option to tuck away in my ever-bulging binder of ideas. Will the time ever arrive when I have nothing to write about?

Boy, I hope not.