Saturday, December 22, 2012

MY FIRST REAL NOVEL: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been, Part 11

As I mentioned in my last post, what followed my brief foray into the world of Valiant Comics was a two-year-long stretch of absolutely nothing. The Valiant that I had written for no longer existed, none of the other editors I knew had any work to hand out, and as far as editors I didn't know, none of them were in the least bit interested in talking to me.

(That didn't stop me from cold-calling people, at least for a while, until I got discouraged. Sometimes cold-calling works. Other times it results in Bob Schreck telling you in no uncertain terms that no, you are not going to be given a chance to write Green Lantern.)

That two-year dry spell is the only time since the age of 13 that I ever considered not being a writer. Even then I wasn't really serious about giving it up, but I was pretty down on myself, and my parents were not yet convinced that it wasn't a huge waste of time; so during one phone conversation with my mother I remember saying, "Forget this comics stuff. I've got a job. I'm a businessman."

As soon as those words came out of my mouth, though, I knew I was lying to myself. I just didn't know what to do about it. I made a few efforts at connecting with artists, trying to get some indie projects going, but as any writer who's ever tried to get an artist to work for free has no doubt discovered, that's a lot easier said than done. Not that I blame artists for wanting to get paid; it's their job. Of course they should get paid. But I was broke as hell and couldn't pay them anything, so the comics I was attempting to put together were all still-born.

Eventually my depression worsened. I had begun thinking of myself as a comic book writer, and with no comic books to write, my sense of self-worth just got lower and lower. I wasn't a lot of fun to live with during this period, as my house-mate at the time, Josh Krach, would no doubt attest. I was always angry, flew into rages at the drop of a hat, and probably seemed like a truly miserable person.

I never stopped thinking about writing, though, depressed and angry or not.

One of the comics I tried to get an artist on board for was an idea I had had in my freshman year of college, involving a character called "The Priest," that came to me while watching a re-run of The Equalizer. That character eventually got overhauled and mutated and became J├╝rgen Steinholtz in the Top Cow mini-series Obergeist, but at the end of 1995 he was still The Priest, and I still wanted to do something with him.

I don't remember exactly when it occurred to me that maybe I could write something that wasn't a comic book script, but one day I came to that conclusion...and what made most sense to me at the time was that I should turn The Priest into a screenplay. After all, screenplays are written in script format, and wasn't script format what I was most comfortable with? Of course, I didn't really know anything about writing screenplays, so in preparation for my tentative foray into the medium, I decided to hit the bookstore and do some research. (The Internet was barely even a thing in 1995, and at that point I was still pretty hazy about what a "browser" was, so yeah, I hit the real, actual books.)

And that's where Quentin Tarantino rears his head again.

The book I settled on at the local Barnes & Noble was an edition featuring two of his screenplays: Reservoir Dogs and True Romance. I brought the book home, ready to absorb all of his techniques and nuances...but what I read first was his introduction, in which he stated (and I'm paraphrasing), "Film is a highly collaborative medium. Whatever you write in your screenplay, it will be changed, and it will be out of your control. If you want to write something over which you retain control, write a damn novel."

I sat there staring at those words for who knows how long.

Of course I wanted to retain control over my concept. It was my concept, wasn't it? But I hadn't written prose in years, and when I had, it was only very short short stories. Could I write an entire book? The thought of it was terrifying. Novelists seemed to me to be a variety of mythical creatures, almost, a breed of demi-gods. Did I have the nerve to try to be one of them?

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. No outside interference in the creative process. No other people to depend on. The whole thing would rest squarely on my shoulders. So, yeah, as it turned out, I did have the nerve. I had a Saturday off from work, so at about 11:30 that morning I sat down in a chair in my living room with an oversized sketch pad in my lap, and started making notes. The notes became an actual outline after an hour or so, and by 2:00 that afternoon I had started filling in a few details.

I don't know what sort of change had come over the expression on my face or the tone of my body language, but Josh got home at about 4:00, took one look at me sitting there scribbling notes, and said, "Oh--you're back!"

He was right. The depression lifted. I got a lot less angry. And I never again entertained any thought at all of not writing.

NEXT: Every Saturday for a Year


Marianna said...

Good for you!! Growing up with an Author for a mom, I quickly learned that writers simply can't NOT write. As depressed as you may have been, (we have all been there,) you don't want to write simply because of fear. But at the core,--you are in fact, a writer. My mom told me writers don't think about writing. They write. Don't ever give up Dan. As a person who had the absolute pleasure in meeting you in person, you're definitely going places. I really look forward to what is next for you! Best of luck!

Dan Jolley said...

Oh, no worries, I couldn't give up now even if I DID want to. Which I don't.

And as for what's next, there will be an announcement on January 1. :D