Pilgrimage

So I mentioned a little while back that I’d started work on Vol. 2 in the Mixtape saga,. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it will be a while before you see it. Scripts need to be written, obviously, but I also need to figure out a way to pay for the art/printing etc. given that each issue runs north of a couple grand. Plus each issue takes 2-3 months to produce (penciling, inking, lettering, assembly), which is a factor as well. In addition I’m debating whether to stick with single issues like I did with Vol. 1 or do a straight up graphic novel telling one larger story. And I’m trying to do all this without crowdfunding it through Kickstarter or IndieGoGo if possible. Chalk that up to crowdfunding fatigue; if everybody and their cat is trying to raise $ what chance do I have? Also that potato salad guy. Fuck that guy.

Plus there’s Real Life Stuff. I’ve been occupied on three different film and TV projects which have ben eating up a lot of time, though if any one of them pops the whole “how do I fund Vol 2″ problem gets solved so fingers crossed.

Which is my way of saying Mixtape Vol. 2 is on the radar but still a ways away.

But if you’re still hungering for your Mixtape fix, you’re in luck, because this is the part of the job I love. It’s where I tell you all about the comics that influenced Mixtape. All are readily available, and all come highly recommended by yours truly. Every creative endeavor is built on the foundations of the work that inspired it, and these books more than any convinced me that Mixtape could indeed be a thing.

LCOAL HC C1-C4 LAYOUT9.indd

The genesis of Mixtape came when I was packing my things to move to the USA.  This involved sorting through boxes that hadn’t been opened in a good number of years – since High School in some cases. Among the many things I uncovered were many comic books, and many mixtapes. And so, rather than packing things, I spent my time listening to these tapes, and reading comic books, and saying to myself “self, there’s a story in this somewhere”. By the time I moved to New York, the idea was already simmering – I knew I wanted to write something about music, and how important it is to a teenager.  I also wanted it set in the 90s. I didn’t have a format – a movie like Dazed and Confused?  A TV series like The Wonder Years? I hadn’t really considered a comic book until I was browsing the racks at Midtown Comics and saw a hardcover collected edition of a series called Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly.  Local follows Megan McKeenan, a young adult, over the span of a dozen years, as she moves from city to city, ranging from Portland Oregon to Chicago Illinois, to Halifax Nova Scotia, and to my old stomping ground of Toronto, Ontario.  I’m a fan of Brian’s from his amazing DMZ and Northlanders series, and as someone with a wanderlust similar to Megan’s I scooped up Local, and by the time I finished reading it, I knew what that “90s era rock and roll story” was going to be. The stories in Local are self-contained, each separated by a year and by the geography of North America as Megan drifts from one city to the next, changing before our eyes from a wayward teen to a young woman looking for a home. It spans 12 years and by the end of Local you really feel you’ve been on a journey. It’s like a comic book version of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and like Boyhood should not be missed.

boxofficepoison_lg

So when I moved to NY and started thinking more about Mixtape, I knew I needed to do more research. One book I had heard good things about was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. Largely because the project that became Mixtape was originally a novella called “Daydream Nation” about a 40-something who travels back in time to inhabit his younger self in the early 1990s. Then I read about Robinson’s Too Cool To Be Forgotten and realized that story had already been done, and done well. I picked up TC2BF because to know your enemy is to defeat him, but realized Alex wasn’t an enemy and I wanted to read more of his work.

So there I was in Midtown perusing the shelves, and saw Box Office Poison. I pulled it out and flipped through it, and a customer passing by saaid “that’s a great book”. Then a staffer said the same thing. Convinced, I went to pay and the cashier said “that’s a great book.” And you know what? It is a great book – all 600 pages of it, all deftly charting post college life with an array of colorful characters, a love letter to that difficult time in life when you’re clutching your college degree and going “now what”? I just reread it again too and love it even more.

Oh, there’s an “epilogue” of sorts. At MoCCA a couple years later I was wandering the aisles and found myself at Top Shelf’s booth where Alex Robinson was helping out. A woman was glancing thru Box Office Poison and I said “that’s a GREAT book”. And she bought it. Alex was happy that day.

AC

Hold on, your’re saying. A superhero book influenced Mixtape? Are you hiding something from us, Abraham? Do the teens in Mixtape suddenly manifest super powers? How can a superhero book be an influence on Mixtape?

Well, probably because Kurt Busiek’s Astro City isn’t really a superhero book; at least not the way I read it. Sure it’s about superheroes and the world they inhabit, but it’s much more than that. It’s about the people of the titular city and how their lives intersect with the superpowered beings who stand watch over it. It’s about a family moving to this city and wondering if they have a place among the heroes and villains who they share space with. It’s about young woman deciding whether to stay in the cloistered and protected neighborhood she’s grown up in to get an apartment in a different part of town. It’s about a man haunted by visions of a woman he’s never met, only to learn she was part of a life wiped out by a battle between good and evil.

But also because in its earliest issues, each Astro City story had a beginning and an ending; what you call “one shot” stories. And Mixtape’s structure has been the same; single stories spotlighting a single character, with the others running support. There is an overall theme and story that these individual ones comprise, more like a mosaic than an ongoing storyline. It’s the snapshots of life in a city and world where superheroes are real that linger the most when I read Astro City.

The-Waiting-Place-cover

As I’ve probably mentioned too many times to count, I spent my teenage years in a small town, and that was at the tail end of a life spent in numerous cities. To say I felt rootless is an understatement; in fact to a degree I still do feel that way. And The Waiting Place captured that feeling of house parties, aimless driving, dead-end jobs, and deciding what you want to do with your life. Focusing on small-town teens as they navigate the world unfolding in front of them I fell in love with the characters and their stories from the get-go. Also writer Sean McKeever was gracious enough to answer some questions and offer advice when I was in the planning stages of Mixtape. He’s good people. Check his work out.

Ghost-World

Everybody knows Ghost World, right? Dan Clowes’ immortal saga is a definite influence on Mixtape, but when I say influence I refer to the movie more than the book (which I read some years after seeing it). Chronicling the adventures of Enid and Rebecca, recently graduated from high school and realizing they need to get their shit together and soon, Ghost World is one of those stories that somehow manages to be both eccentric and real at the same time.  It’s also a funny, sad, touching look at that monent in life when you’ve drifted away from your closest friends without realizing it until it’s too late. The arc of Mixtape Vol 2 is very much Ghost World’s, as the five mains face not so much the end of their friendship but the moment where that friendship changes, like it does for Rebecca and Enid.

Sleepwalk

Any Adrian Tomine will do, really but Sleepwalk along with Tomine’s Summer Blonde were and are my favorites of his, and probably Mixtape’s true genesis. It was reading Sleepwalk – a gift from one of my wife’s publishing pals – that really crystallized Mixtape’s potential. Because I saw Tomine was telling the type of story I wanted to tell. Stories about the little moments where those moments become, for a moment, important. I knew with Mixtape I didn’t want it to be an After School Special about Big Issues. I wanted it to be about the cleanup after the big party, and about the little moments in everybody’s life where important things happen and you’re too self-absorbed at the time to realize it. Stuff like that last time you were hanging out with a group of friends at someone’s house, and it was the last time you were in a room together.

So there you have it; the foundations on which Mixtape is built. And while I could only hope Mixtape achieves a smidge of the acclaim as these other books have received, it wouldn’t exist without these books. I strongly encourage* you check them out, both to support these creators and their work, but also because these books have meant a great deal to me and my work.

* I also VERY STRONGLY encourage you to buy these books from your friendly local comic book shop. Pretty much every town has one and they’ll be more than happy to order it if they don’t have it.

** And ICYMI Mixtape 1-5  are available for purchase right now with both print and digital options.

Right Here Right Now

So I have this website/blog thingy. I’ve had it for four years now. You can travel back to the very beginning and my very first post in August 2010.

The whole point of this website was to give me a web presence. So whenever someone (like a prospective employer or person I met at some industry thing) punches my name into a search engine, this website popes up, they click through, read about me, read my works and go “damn this dude is good –  let’s throw money at him.” As you can imagine this hasn’t happened yet, but having a web presence in this day and age is essential for a successful yet somehow still struggling creative type. People read or view your work or just want to get some insight into you as a person, they can find out.

But sweet Jeebus I hate blogging. Hate. It.

If I’m lucky I can knock out one, maybe two posts a month. Contrast that with people who do it every day and I’m failing at it. Often I write and post just to make it look like the website is still active. Sometimes I’m inspired, other times amusing, and occasionally I say things relevant to the writing process. Once I even had a post go viral, though the subject matter – my discovery of David Bowie and Duran Duran – may have had something to do with it.  But my need to keep this website current means too often I fall into the trap of this little nostalgia bubble. I’ll write about stuff that happened years if not decades ago, and try to make some tenuous connection to present day, but more often than more often it comes across – IMO – as being too maudlin. Yes, I did shit when I was younger. Some was fun, some wasn’t, but increasingly it looks and feels like the sad reminiscence of someone past their prime.

That’s bullshit. I’m better now than I ever have been, creatively, personally, you name it. Cool stuff – a lot of cool stuff – is happening right now, and I hope to be able to divulge details on all of it very soon.

But what about the here and now? What is exciting me or entertaining me or making this a very cool time in my life and one that I’ll look back on years from now? What keeps me moving forward by not looking to the past?

Well, I’ll tell you.

jack-white-lazaretto-628x541Yes, I dig Jack White. Yes, I dig his music, his business model, his attitude. Yes, his attitude. Sure he’s a cocky asshole – and one of those types I can’t stand to be anywhere around – but if you were in one of the few genuinely *great* bands to debut at the turn of this millennium, formed your own record label specializing in vinyl albums of all things, while forming two other bands and producing a bunch of other albums before launching one, then another solo album of your own, you earned the right. Plus his new album Lazaretto is really good and you should pick it up now.

(And you should listen to the 7th track at least once a day like I do because it’s my fave)

gregory-s-coffee

Gregory’s Coffee. Picture a less douchey and less corporate Starbucks. They’re a NYC based chain and they do coffee right. Seriously, I need to grab an Americano there once a week, and they have a location conveniently close to Midtown Comics, so you can go grab your purchases and then read them at Gregory’s. Plus they bake their own croissants, biscotti, cookies, muffins, and donuts. Plus the WiFi is free and speedy. And unlike Starbucks their coffee doesn’t taste like ass. Actually screw the rest of this update, I’m going there now.

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House of Cards. Apparently it doesn’t hold a candle to the original (nothing ever does), and it gets awfully silly at times but damn if it isn’t totally addictive. I’ve been soaking TV up like a sponge lately as I’m in development on two different TV series of my own so naturally I like to see what’s out there so I don’t fall into the trap of “oh there’s totally a show like that right now, sorry you wasted all that time on your thing”. I’d also add Masters of Sex, Justified, Hell on Wheels, Turn, The Americans, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Da Vinci’s Demons, Downton Abbey and Spartacus to the mix. That said I’m not a fan of the whole “binge watch” - I need time to absorb what I’ve seen before speeding through the story. Like reading a really good book you have to apply the brakes to avoid racing to the end and wanting more.  But another thing I’ve found is the most TV I can handle at a time is 2 hour-long episodes. Any more and my eyes glaze over. Probably because I spend most of my day staring at a screen there’s only so much more of that I can take when I want to unwind. I am in awe and a little bit frightened by people who can tear through a season in a weekend, the “binge watch” that has become ubiquitous. Me, I’d rather read a book.  And speaking of reading:

ALL-AMERICAN ADS BOOKS (3)Taschen. In particular their All American Ads series. Partly for research as one of the aforementioned TV projects is set in the 1950s, but also because I find them utterly absorbing. Like:

GAYAnd:

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And let’s not forget:

(The "T Zone" is cancer)

(The “T Zone” is cancer)

I also enjoy the series because it reminds me of how the mundane and everyday can gain extra meaning once time passes. It makes me think of my parents growing up under the shadow of these same ads. It makes me think of the comic books in my collection from the 80s and 90s, and how the ads and letter columns are what keep me from selling them and converting the series into trade editions; it’s that “in situ” act of reading them knowing how things changed but at the time nobody knew the ending.  In fact I’d say vintage advertising is the best way to get a sense of how people lived decades ago and – aww, there I go again down the nostalgia hole. Moving on. …

coldinjulyposterMovies. I still watch them, I write them for a living. And increasingly the bloom has been off the rose. I enjoyed The Winter Soldier and The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Raid 2 and Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow but I didn’t love them the way I would have once (and I really disliked the Godzilla reboot after anticipating it for so long). And while I could blame The Movies for sucking, it’s not so much them as it is me. Tastes change and the stuff that used to get me excited before just doesn’t anymore. I want stories about people, not explosions, not comic book video game rebooted remakes.  And that’s why I keep watching and looking and occasionally find something unexpected that reaffirms my faith in the medium.

CIJMe and Joe Lansdale go way back as far as “author and fan” are concerned. I interviewed him for Rue Morgue a couple times. And Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep was directly responsible for me meeting my wife.

So in 2009 when I was on a set visit to director Jim Mickle’s Stake Land that he mentioned he and co-writer/co-star Nic Damici had optioned a novel called Cold In July, I perked up. “Oh, the Joe Lansdale one?” The fact that I knew this “obscure” novel and “cult” writer grabbed Mickle’s and Damici’s attention too. And as I mentioned already I’m something of a fan:

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As the “Lansdale” shelf in my office would attest. And that’s only half of them.

Flash forward to 2014. That adaptation of Cold in July is in theaters and On Demand as I type this, and if you’re a fan of vintage John Carpenter or just plain good storytelling and propulsive filmmaking, you owe it to yourself and to cinema to see it. It’s also kind of restored my love in the movies. It’s the type of movie I got into the movie business to make. It’s the kind of movie that keeps my faith in the medium.  It does all of those things despite the fact that having read the book several times I was in suspense throughout it (even though I knew how it was going to end). That, my friends, is the hallmark of great storytelling.

And if you don’t support stuff like Cold in July you’re just going to get Tran5former$.

CSCCarmine Street Comics because they’re one of the few brick and mortar stores who stocks Mixtape, and because they’re a great conduit for indie comic creators to find an audience for their niche books. They have artists in residence, they hold regular events and signings and podcasts, and are everything a good comic book should be; carrying the Marvel DC books on one hand, but giving over substantial amounts of precious little shelf space to indie books. Plus, unlike a lot of comic shops they’re not dudebro dickish to female fans and creators so visit them and glimpse the future of comics retail.

TravelI should probably announce right now that I won’t be at this year’s NYCC. My request for an artists alley table was declined, and while I am on the wait list, there’s a thousand people gunning for the same slot so it looks like I’ll be out in the cold. It’s not all bad news; I’ve applied to some other shows and hope to appear at them instead, and while I could apply for a NYCC pro pass and would probably get one, that leaves me to just wander around aimlessly without benefit of a place where people can meet me, pick up some books and so on, which is why I go to conventions anyway.

Besides, if I’m going to wander aimlessly I’d rather do it here:

Stockholm

And here:

Norway

And here:

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My wife and I last got away – really got away, in late 2011 to Paris. And we’ve wanted to go back to Europe since then. We’ve been diligently kicking money into our vacation fund. All we’ve been lacking is time. Stuff keeps intruding. So when the rejection from NYCC came in I told her we were going back in October. Not back to Paris but a tour of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and probably Iceland because why not? And because we only have so many opportunities to have adventures and the worst thing you can do, whether you’re a writer or not, is to pass up that chance to look at the world with different eyes.

So there you have it. Stuff I like in the here and now. And in 20 years time, assuming the Internet is still a thing, this blog somehow still exists and I’m amazingly still alive, you can read my ravings about how awesome things were 20 years ago and hear me wonder where I left my car keys damn it.

 

Supersymmetry

Ever notice how certain days or dates in your life stand out above others? Like, how you can have really specific memories about a certain moment or day, but if you were asked to recall anything about the day before or after you’d draw a total blank?

The evening of August 29, 1992 was a moment like that because it was the last time my High School friends and I were together.

Growing up I was always one of those people content to just do my own thing, preferably alone. Read, listen to music, even go to the movies by myself. I wasn’t a “loner” – I had friends and did things with them but I generally was fine with being by myself, even to the point where I’d pass up an invite to a party or other social gathering just to stay in. This is a personality quirk that’s been with me my entire life (and much to my more social wife’s chagrin). Largely because we moved around so much I was all too used to starting a new school, making friends, and having to say goodbye to them when we moved again, I started a new school and the process repeated itself. I generally did make friends, but there was always that first couple of months when I was more often than not forced to come up with my own fun. And even after making friends there was those occasions where I was more content to be by myself.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Yet it was during my senior year of HS that I discovered I actually had a sizeable group of friends - a core group of guys and girls who I hung around with. Sometimes as a group, sometimes one on one. It fluctuated in size and number – from 3 or 4 of us to upwards of 20 — but when you boiled it down there were 10 of us and on this particular evening that 10 were were doing our best to make that night feel like it was any other Saturday night – like we were trying to brush off the importance of the moment. But it wasn’t like any other night; at best there would be no other night like it for some time. At worst it would be the last hurrah, the “American Graffitti” moment that becomes legend and the basis for countless coming of age movies.

And comic books

And comic books

It was a party, and like any party it had its arc. It began slow at first as people began to arrive, then it hit that sweet spot where everyone’s there, there’s drinking, talking, laughter. Then it creats, you glance at the clock and realize you have maybe an hour before you have to motor. Then people start to leave,m and evenrtually theres just a few stragglers left, heroically seeing how long they can stretch things before they realize the party is in facto over.

So that was one of those parties with one notable exception; after this one ended it really was going to be over. It was fun but a little sad too. We knew this would be the last time (for a while at least) we’d all be together, but probably didn’t know it was in fact the last time we’d all be in the same room.

I was actually the first to leave the party, not by choice mind you – I had to be up early the next day to drive to Toronto to get settled into my dorm. My friend Nathalie was going to the same school and the same rez as I was so there’d be at least one friendly-ish face at my school (“friendly-ish” being a private joke between Nat and me). Moira and Elliott would be at a different school in the same city, and Chuck would be at one of the colleges nearby. Janet was also going to be in the same city though her campus was much further away from the rest of ours, and we drifted apart pretty quickly. Same with Jill, who went to school in a different city, as did Anthony; I think I saw them all that Thanksgiving weekend and maybe once the following summer, but after that I never saw them again.

But that core group – Elliott, Moira, Nathalie, and myself — we convinced ourselves college would be like High School only bigger. We’d still see each other regularly, and to be true the first year, more or less, we did see each other relatively frequently. We’d gather at a bar, or a restaurant, at one or the other’s residence and strike out from there for adventures. We’d hit our favorite spots, the Dance Cave at Lee’s Palace being something of a regular hangout.

Still there after all these years

Still there after all these years

But what we didn’t realize was we were already in the midst of growing apart. Other people started joining us – friends of our friends who were perfectly nice people but felt a bit like interlopers ot the rest of us. School also took a big chunk out of or time and the fact we were making friends with people in our programs studying the same things we were also drove a wedge.

I think for me the big wedge moment came in November of that year when I skipped going back to my town for my High School commencement (cap and gown, get your diploma and yearbook) because I had tickets to Mudhoney and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. So while everybody I went to school with –friends and acquaintances – were returning, I was in a mosh pit with some people from university I barely knew, and some I met just that night. I had already moved on by that point, and by the same time the following year had settled into my new life, the old one a memory.

I’ve been thinking about August 29, 1992  a lot lately but not for the usual nostalgic “God was it really so long ago” reasons, but because I’ve finally begun scripting the next Mixtape arc which in many ways is about that last night when the gang was all together. If the first volume in the Mixtape saga has been about bringing Jim, Terry, Siobhan, Lorelei, and Noel together, this next one is about pulling them apart, preparing them to say goodbye to their town, school, each other – their world.  There’s a teaser for this story in Mixtape #5 if you know where to look

Or if I just show you

Or if I just show you

It’s easier to stay in touch with people now, with Facebook and the ubiquity of social media. An 18 year-old can go off to college and still “see” their hometown friends every day if they’re so inclined.  We’ve lost the means really to completely lose touch with people. That’s supposedly a good thing though I think much of what makes friendships special is that so many of them are fleeting, lasting mere months or years, and then one day you wake up and realize it’s been even longer since you last saw them. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in this digital age the familiarity of seeing someone’s picture every day and reading their daily update is a poor substitute for actual friendship. You’re getting the highlights package as opposed to the real deal.

Friendships rarely end because of an argument or a fight (though some of mine have). They more often end because we spend our lives moving in different directions and intersect with the lives of others for only a brief time when our paths cross. We may take the same road for a little while but eventually one of us takes our exit leaving the other to continue on their path.

So for Jim and Terry, Siobhan and Noel and Lorelei Vol. 2 “Daydream Nation” will be the end of that safe environment of being around each other. They’re going off into the worlds to meet new people and experience different things, feeling the pull of their old life and those old friendships lose its strength. Staying in touch and staying together will be the challenge in Volume 3, which right now has the working title of “Come As You Are” coinciding with the rise of Nirvana and Grunge nation.

There’s a lyric in the final track on Arcade Fire’s Reflektor album. Titled “Supersymmetry”, the song opens with the following lyric;

I know you’re living in my mind; it’s not the same as being alive.

The context in “Supersymmetry” is death but it might as well be memory. Those people and those moments are alive in my mind but only in my mind. And no, it’s not the same. It never will be the same. That’s what makes those moments and memories magic and special; because they never come around again. And as I delve back into Mixtape scripting it’s shocking to me to see how many of those memories only needed words on paper to come back to life.

NOTE: Mixtape #5 is available on iBooks and Indy Planet, as are the other issues in the first Mixtape arc. I also have copies available through this website and I’ll even sign them for you if you like. Just let me know through the normal channels.

Endings … and Beginnings

It’s finished.

mixtape #5 cover-small

With the files out the door to the printer’s I can announce production on Mixtape #5 and Mixtape Vol. 1 is – to borrow movie biz terms – “a wrap”.

It’s oddly fitting that April 2014, a month that sees the first Pixies album since 1991, also sees the conclusion of the first arc in the saga. But, Mixtape #5 is indeed finished and indeed closes out the story begun in April 2012.  I’ve always been a believer that for a story to have resonance, it has to actually end.  And Mixtape #5 represents an ending of sorts. It concludes the journey our characters have been on the past five stories, bringing them together just in time to start pulling them apart.

So the question you’re asking is probably something along the lines of: “is it over?”

Believe me once you read this one you’ll believe it is actually The End.

Probably because this issue in particular deals with death, with losing a person you expected to see every day, and takes us back to that basement and that box of magazines, T-shirts and mixtapes unearthed on page one of issue one. We also learn the identity of just whose box of memorabilia it is.

mixtape 01 pag 01

While much of this issue will read like an end to the series rest assured it’s not – scripting has already commenced on the second arc, which takes our mains through their final months of High School and living in the same town together. College and real life beckon, and where these characters all end up will be surprising (at least I hope so).  Volume 1, which I’ve titled “Left of the Dial”, is really the first act of a much larger story. We’ve set our characters up and their central dilemma - how do we remain friends when it seems like the entire world is trying to pull us apart  – is the one that carries us through the second volume “Daydream Nation”, into the third, and beyond.

Speaking of surprises, we’ve included one (or several, depending on how you look at it) in this last issue of the first arc. Hopefully it’ll make you want to go back and re-read the first four issues (or check them out if you haven’t already).

Mixtape #5 will be available April 30 thru Indy Planet, and this website.  Digital versions of issues 1-4 are available on iTunes right now, with #5 arriving same day as the print version.  There’ll hopefully be a flurry of activity on the Mixtape front. Media copies of the newest issue have already gone out, and some interviews on the series and its future are in the planning.

Thanks again to all of you for your support of Mixtape. Believe me a black and white comic about teenagers and feelings isn’t the easiest of sells so I appreciate every person who’s read it and will hopefully continue to read it. It’s certainly been the most rewarding project of my career, and believe me when I say it’s just getting started.

Every (Fictional) Life Has A Soundtrack

I’ve come to realize I’m not one for writing or talking about my “process”. There’s plenty of other places online you can look to read about “process”, and there’s plenty of people who are happy to share what their process is. They’re all interesting and informative, and also contradictory and probably of little use to you.

Ahem ...

Ahem …

That’s because they’re talking about their process; they aren’t talking about what process works best for you.

Some insist on powering through the first draft and revising after it’s finished; others swear by revision as you go.  Some obsess on word count or pages per day; others are concerned only with “good” pages. Some brave souls rise at 5am and write for three hours before starting the day proper; others write in the evenings when the day is done.

Point being, you have to find a process that works for you. And what works for you will probably work for nobody else but you.

So here’s a piece about my process. Please feel free to ignore it.

* * *

For me it begins with the idea. Sometimes it’s a well-conceived idea; other times it’s just a rough sketch of one. From there I think about whose story “my” story is; the characters. Male or female, child or adult – I’ll try various combinations and complications before settling on POV. From there, assuming the story I’ve put together is any good, and the characters I’ve conceived are going to be interesting enough to follow, I clear the decks, close my door and start writing it. I outline before I draft, I treatment after I outline, I look for leaks and plug plot holes the best I’m able, and once that’s done, I start writing. Because if I don’t, this happens:

Sinking-Titanic-titanic-25510772-450-255

But before I do any of the above, I listen to music. Music may in fact be the most important part of my process. If I haven’t decided on what music I’m going to write to, chances are I won’t be able to do any writing, and what I do write will be shit.

Okay maybe not shit, but difficult.

My favorite approach to this is to assemble a playlist or mixtape to accompany whatever particular project I’m working on.  This is music that gets me into “the zone”, but more importantly into the character’s heads.  I’ll tailor a playlist to a specific character, and use the songs I choose to illustrate their personalities, their hopes, their fears, their everything. I’ll create several such playlists for any given project, and I’ll listen to them when I’m focusing on a particular character or subplot.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first I already mentioned; to get into the characters and the world they inhabit. But the second is more basic; to get me going. Because sometimes you just … can’t … get … into … the writing part of writing. You have lousy sleep or a lousy day, you’re at one of those points in the story where you’ve lost the plot.  You want to do anything but write.

That’s where the playlist comes in. Because you’ll sit there and you’ll listen to it, or you’ll throw it on your iPod and go for a walk, and pretty soon the story will come back to you. And once the story comes back to you, you find you’re able to write it down.

Now, this music doesn’t have to be of the period the project is set in. In fact I’d advise strongly against that. The reason you create a writing playlist is not to be authentic but to be real. To connect with the characters and the story on an emotional level.  So unless you grew up listening to Civil War era grassroots music, using that music to score your Civil War era story is going to make it a dry museum piece. Ask yourself what your characters would listen to if they were alive today (and seeing as they are your characters they are alive)? Would they be into rock? Punk? Country? Hip-hop? Try and see them as living, breathing people, not just words on the page and an idea in your head. Put yourself in their headspace and assemble a list of songs that relate to them, their trials, their troubles.

A long-in-the-works project of mine is a murder mystery set in Renaissance Italy. It’s a novel, my first (unpublished, though if anyone’s interested …), and it was written primarily to 60s British Invasion and 90s Britpop. There are two main characters, each with alternating perspective chapters. One was 50-something, the other a 20 year old. Any time I was writing for the older character I lived on a steady stream of Rolling Stones, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, and the Yardbirds. For the 20 year-old, it was Blur, Oasis, Elastica, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, and so on.

Pictured: a renaissance man

Pictured: a renaissance man

A screenplay I wrote about famed Canadian WW1 Flying Ace Billy Bishop was written to early 90s alternative; grunge mostly, but a lot of Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, early U2, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran. I wanted to capture a feeling of excitement in the lives of Billy and his fellow fliers, all young twentysomethings taking to the skies to vanquish their enemies. Because a substantial portion of the screenplay dealt with the after effects of being the most famous killer in the world, I balanced fast paced rock with more introspective music for the quieter scenes.

There are other examples. A suspense thriller I’m currently writing is being scored to a lot of Madchester era music, which is appropriate given the main character has walled herself off from the world and is living in something of a nostalgia bubble, so it made sense for her to be into the music she was into as a teenager.  A thriller I wrote for a prod co about an EMT on the edge had a lot of 70s Punk in the mix – The Diodes, The Demics, The Clash, The Ramones. Music that reflects the thoughts of a main character living on the edge.

And obviously, there’s Mixtape. A lot of people have asked about the role of music in writing a particular issue, and I’ve talked about that here and here. But the shorthand of Mixtape is every issue has a mixtape; a 14-15 track playlist assembled by whatever character is front and center for that issue. I start with the playlist in a lot of cases (I only really cracked issue #4 after cracking the playlist), but sometimes the playlist results from the plotting, as if the character assembled their mix in the aftermath of the events dramatized. Since I outline each issue with a great amount of detail anyway, by the time I’ve settled on the story itself I’ve got the playlist ready to go.

That all being said if your particular project is of a  period where music – contemporary music – is available, use it. If there’s an emotional component also, even better. A TV pilot I’m penning right now is set in the 1950s, so naturally that playlist is comprised of 50s Rock and Roll. This works on both levels for me as I grew up with that music, not because I was around in the 1950s, but because my parents were.  That was the music they grew up with and I grew up with it by osmosis (and on long rides in the family station wagon). Listening to the music the characters in this TV project would be listening to helps me understand them better, whether the scene or scenes I’m writing are being mentally scored to The Platters, Etta James, Ricky Nelson, or Elvis.

Not this Elvis. That's a different project.

Not this Elvis. That’s a different project.

Now, things I’m not a fan of using are movie soundtracks or scores. I know a lot of people swear by them, screenwriters in particular. And there have been times when I’ve thrown on chase music when writing a chase scene, or fight music when writing a fight scene. But the problem I always run into (and I’ll admit it may be a personal thing) is that the images I associate with that music – Indiana Jones chasing a truck, Batman chasing The Joker – are images crafted by somebody else, and those images have a tendency to infect whatever you’re trying to write.  Now there are worse crimes in movie making than riffing on something someone else has done to great success – and to be blunt, it makes what you’re writing a much easier sell.  But as I’ve become a more seasoned, confident writer I try and step back from those influences. I figure I have my own stories to tell, so why try and duplicate what’s been done, subconsciously or not?

* * *

So that’s it, really. That’s my process and it probably only works for me. But maybe it’s worth a shot if you’re stuck on a plot point, or something with your story that just isn’t working for you. Or maybe all you need is white noise to keep you from getting distracted. The point is you need to find what works best for you, and stick to that. Don’t let people like me or anybody else tell you what you’re doing is wrong because it’s not wrong; it’s right for you.  As long as what you do works for you it’s better to stay on that track than try and write like someone else.

Because they already do that.  Your job is to write like you.