Posts Tagged ‘Wilkes University’

Ross Klavan’s (a) “Schmuck”

August 12, 2014

Ross Klavan, the charismatic voice of the creative writing program and one of our beloved screenwriting faculty members, was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and process for his novel, Schmuck with The Write Life blog.schmuck

Schmuck takes place in 1960’s New York, where Jerry Elkin and Ted Fox rule the radio airwaves. Between Elkin’s zany dialects and impressions and Fox’s golden, straight-man voice, they’ve got it down pat. But if listeners could hear between the lines, they’d notice an undertone of tension between the hit team. Jerry resents Ted for his dismissive attitude towards TV offers, and his ability to sweet-talk the ladies. Even his own son gets the girl, Sari Rosenbloom, an eighteen year old bombshell that Jerry can’t get off his mind.

Between seedy, well-connected mobsters, a head-swiveling femme fatale, and a son that just doesn’t get it, Jerry navigates this post-war, Jewish-infused, zany, larger-than-life landscape.

Schmuck was published by Greenpoint Press and is available through their website, which can be found by clicking here: http://www.greenpointpress.org/gb_book_schmuck.html

You can also purchase the book on Amazon and through Barnes & Noble.

Schmuck is loosely based on your father’s radio show. Why write something so close to home?

The most famous joke about show business is the one about the guy in the circus who sweeps up behind the elephant. You know which one I’m talking about. He walks behind the elephant with a broom, clearing all the elephant crap and cursing to himself about how much he hates his job. And when somebody says, “If you hate it so much why don’t you quit?” He says, “What?! And leave show business?!” I’ve lived all of my life connected to show business and I’m sort of the guy sweeping up behind the elephant…and also the guy writing about the guy who’s sweeping up. All writing and performing is obviously based in your self since you’ve got no other place to begin. I’m lucky that my own personal lunacy–mishegas as the holy men say–leans sharply toward a combo of the masochistic and exhibitionistic. That means that I can exploit my own experience and then beautifully alter, embellish, form, shape, structure and compose until it both seems real and strangely heightened, both at the same time. It’s either that, or I go back into analysis.

Does your artistic work take from your real life often, and is it hard to balance between what’s real and fictional?

My work almost always takes off from real life, at least to start out. As for the line between real and fictional—I don’t know, it’s not so solid for any of us, I think. I like to jump back and forth across that line or blend both sides or step aside and see what gets called up from the dregs. That’s an incredible pleasure. Dream experience—that’s real experience, too, just a different kind. And like I said before, I’ve spent all my life around show business and I like writing about show business—not major movie stars and big money deals, for some reason that’s a snooze for me. I like the other levels. Clowns and jokers and radio guys who live in a world of TV. Where people are desperate and striving like their life depended on it and not usually succeeding. The screenwriter who can’t sell anything and who ends up shot dead by his mistress and floating in her pool, to me that’s a better story than the big names who end up on the cover of “Vanity Fair.” It’s plays more in my imagination. For a while, when I was younger, I supported myself as a reporter doing grunt journalism and you were supposed to be accurate above almost anything else. Eventually, my mind started to develop hemorrhoids. Even if you’re not going to be in the arts, I highly recommend living by the imagination as long as you’re not walking off a cliff.

“Schmuck” has been said to blend zany humor with a deadly somber undertone. Was it hard to write in such opposition?

It’s much more difficult to live with that opposition, which many of us do. It’s sort of like, one minute it’s all “ha-ha-ha” and you recognize the Absurd…then, when you see how absurd it all is, you start to feel it’s all so sad there’s not enough tears in the world to cry, and then you start laughing again because you hear yourself thinking that and it all seems so ridiculous. I tried to give Jerry Elkin that quality—underneath it all, he knows that we’re all sharing a misshapen rock spinning around in space and nobody really knows what the hell is going on.

Jerry Elkin is loosely based on your father. Has your father read the book, and if so, what does he think of Jerry?

My father died ten years ago so he hasn’t read the book—at least, I don’t think he has. I like to imagine that if he’s out there in that Great Radio Station in the sky, that maybe he got a few laughs out of it. He had a pretty wicked sense of humor that stayed with him until the end.

Do you have a specific process that you use when you write, and does “Schmuck” differ from your usual process because of it’s roots in your own life?

A theater director once told me that he went into rehearsal with a specific goal in mind for each particular session and then, when he got there, it was time to go home even if rehearsal only took five minutes. For some reason, that’s how “Schmuck” was written. Every time I sat down to work, I had a specific problem to solve—not a number of pages—but a chapter or a scene or a sequence of scenes to finish. Just what felt right. When that was done, I headed for the couch, lay down and put the “New Yorker” over my face. I also kept a notebook of ideas and lines and things to look at or change when I hit the next draft. Every project has something of its own character. I usually start off with a process of free association, just riffing and coming up with scenes and ideas that light up, even if they seem to be totally unrelated. Then, if I haven’t completely cracked up, I start finding some kind of narrative line that connects what scenes I’m going to use.

What the most important thing that you want to convey to an audience when you write, and how do you try accomplish that?

That’s an incredibly tough question to answer so I’ll hide from it as best I can. One way of looking at it—only the book itself can answer that question, otherwise there wouldn’t be a reason to write it. Also, you don’t want to get between the reader and his or her experience of the book–a writer has no business being there, you should be off working on something else or taking a nap. Then, overall, I’m going for something that’s tremendously alive and vital, or I hope it is, anyway—I don’t have any grand theories that make sense and I’m not smart enough to have any mind-bending ideas. But I hope the reader comes away at least with a feeling of life and enjoyment—like they’ve been hit in the head with some kind of weird tuning fork. And in a book, I think, you do that by rhythm, tempo, structure and a certain kind of language.

Sari Rosenbloom has been compared to Daisy Buchanan. Was this an intentional inspiration, and how else does “Gatsby” fit into “Schmuck’s” world?

Oh, yeah, there’s a definite “Gatsby” thread running through the story. Partly, that’s because I wanted to convince my audience that I’d actually read at least one great book. Also, growing up, I spent all too much time not too far from the real Gatsby House—or what was supposedly the house Fitzgerald used–and I got a feel for the parvenu’s outlook. Then, at one point, I started to think of “Schmuck” as a sort of “Gatsby” that’s told through the eyes of Meyer Wolfsheim, the Jewish gangster character, the guy who fixed the 1919 World Series. Which, by the way, is not a bad trick if you can get away with it.

You’ve written scripts for Miramax, Paramount, and TNT. How does your script writing differ from your novel writing?

At the gross level—which may be our favorite—a script has more people involved and you get a lot more money. But aside from the practical–there’s a common level in all narrative writing, I think, from commercials to novels to feature films. You’re dealing with characters and stories and people and you’re trying not to bore anyone. I wrote the film “Tigerland” which starred Colin Farrell but I did the script off the first draft of a novel I’d written. I’d worked out the story already, so it was much easier than starting from zero. For prose fiction–a novel can rest more in its language, going directly into the reader’s psyche, a mind dart. A screenplay has to do that also but it has to unfold in the reader’s imagination as a film, so that even a character’s consciousness is there to be literally seen, heard and understood in a medium that’s going to be watched and that takes place in time, somewhat outside of the viewer’s control. At some point, even if it becomes second nature, you have to care about that when you write a screenplay. I love film—I’d have to say that film and a kind of molecular understanding of what it is to write a screenplay have only been of the greatest help in other kinds of writing, especially prose fiction. It teaches you to move a story, not to be precious with yourself, to make everything count.

Your wife, Mary Jones, is a painter. Does her artistic vision bleed into your work, and vice versa?

Mary’s a terrific artist and I’ve probably learned much more from her than she’s learned from me. Her courage and seriousness and willingness to take chances, her connection to her own work and her respect for it, her ability to let it change…that this is part of everything she does and that she wears it lightly, I’ve gained from all this now for a long time. When we first knew each other many years ago, I remember once she lost a lease on her studio and was looking around for a new place. I asked her why she didn’t just rent a cheap apartment, what difference does it make where you paint? And she said, “Because during those times when you’re not selling anything or you’re stuck or you feel like everyone hates your work, it’s important to have a place to go that reminds you who you really are.” Maybe writers have to have a version of that, too…and since we don’t need a lot of brushes or canvases, it can just be in the mind.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Ah ha! The old advice question. Sometimes I hear writers say that there’s more bullshit out there about writing than there is about sex…but actually, I think, a lot of the writing advice is pretty good. It’s just…what do you do with it once you hear it? How do you make it your own? Can you actually sit down and use it? Then there’s this—I think what most of us want when we go after advice about writing is for somebody else to do the real work for us. I’m not talking about specific craft questions. But we live in a world that’s got a large sign across the sky that says, WARNING: DON’T BE ALONE IN YOUR IMAGINATION! And effort, pain or frustration? Forget about it, they get chosen last for the team. But that’s exactly what writers have to do and where they have to go, hour after hour. Real problems with writing are solved by writing. Eventually. Maybe painfully and with much frustration. OK, on some days, more easily. On some days, it’s like a tight muscle opening. So the best advice is that, ultimately, there’s no advice—you have to do your own work, day after day. Abandon all hope! Nobody can do it for you. And if you’re having one of those days when you think everything you’ve done sucks, you don’t deserve to live and you’re wasting your time at the pad or the keyboard…well, after you’ve screamed into the pillow, try not to have too much to drink and then, take a look at your stuff and try to see very, very specifically, exactly what it is that’s turning the blade in you. Try to see exactly what it is that you don’t like. Because that, exactly, can be fixed. With a generality, you’re screwed.


 

Ross Klavan’s work spbossklavanans film, television, radio, print and live performance. His original screenplay for the film Tigerland was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, he recently finished an adaption of John Bowers’s “The Colony,” and he has written scripts for Miramax, Paramount and TNT, among others. The “conversation about writing” he moderated with Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer was televised and published as “Like Shaking Hands with God,” and his short stories have appeared in magazines and been produced by the BBC. An earlier novel, “Trax,” was published under a pseudonym. His play “How I Met My (Black) Wife (Again),” co-written with Ray Iannicelli, has been produced in New York City, and he has performed his work in numerous theaters and clubs. He has acted and done voice work in TV and radio commercials and has lent his voice to feature films including Casino, You Can Count On Me and Revolutionary Road and the new Amazon web series Alpha House, written by Gary Trudeau. He has worked as a newspaper and radio journalist in London and New York City. He lives in New York City with his wife, the painter, Mary Jones.

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Corinne Nulton’s 14 Symptoms

May 20, 2014

A fellow Wilkes student, Corinne Nulton is currently running a fundraiser on IndieGoGo for her original play, 14 Symptoms, whichcorinneblogphoto will appear at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn, NY this summer. The page for the fundraiser includes a video featuring some of the characters from the play and the lovely playwright herself and can be found by clicking on the link above or the picture to your right.

She was kind enough to answer some questions about the play for The Write Life blog!

Tell me a little bit about your play. What’s it about?

14 Symptoms follows the story of four very different teenagers—an egotistical hacker, a predetermined serial killer, a cheerleader with an alter ego, and the ghost of the ideal best friend. The play unfolds as they collide online through chatrooms and games in both the present and the past in order to investigate or conceal a gruesome murder.

I’ve heard that the play was inspired by an actual murder. Could you tell me more about that? 

Intrigued by the mis-identities on the internet, I was drawn to the article “Murder by Text,” published in Vanity Fair in October 2011. According to sources, the real Kruse Wellwood and Kimmy Procter often passed each other in the hallways of their small high school. As a cheerleader, Kimmy seemed to have little in common with Kruse, an outcast whose abusive father was arrested. However, the online game World of Warcraft leveled the social stratifications that existed in high school. Kruse offered her a secret friendship through games, chats, instant messages, and texts. He would tease her about sex and death while engaging in the adolescent sport of video game competition, and despite his warnings, his confessed desire to kill her, all of his foreshadowing was shrugged off, because the chats did not feel real to Kimmy, who assumed Kruse was only as dangerous as his avatar. Ultimately, the story ends with an adolescent from a broken home brutally raping, dismembering, and burning a classmate with no real explanation as to why except for a blog entry listing the “signs” of a serial killer, of which, Kruse had all fifteen.

I realized this was exactly the sort of problem I wanted to artistically portray—the blurred boundaries between reality and cyber reality that gave Kimmy this false sense of security while also allowing Kruse’s cyber-girlfriend to listen to his murder confession, but wait months before calling police. The blog entry, likewise, filled my head with questions about fate.

While researching, I was able to access the private chat logs between Kimmy and Kruse, the integration videos, interviews with Kimmy’s parents, her facebook memorial page, and even a recent letter Kruse wrote to the judge overseeing the investigation. It was sickening how easy it was to access all of this information in our post-crazy society—no, I’m not hacker, but it was just all out there waiting on the internet. However, what I discovered was that Kruse, essentially, was a writer, a master at voice imitation and at reinventing himself through words. And as this brief description indicates, there were a number of philosophical, practical, and psychological questions left in the incident’s wake that would forever remain unanswered, which seemed unbearable.
However, my play isn’t an adaptation of this event for my characters are different individuals entirely facing only a similar experience. I hesitate to even say “was inspired by”. It certainly moved my pen for two years now as I tried to wrap my head around it, but the result is something that stands alone, bearing little resemblance now of the event that kindled it except for the names which I kept as a sort of tribute as the play evolved. It is by no means a justification, nor is it a definite answer to many of the questions it poses. It’s merely an illustration of these topics in order to inspire serious discussion.

What was the writing process like for you? How long did it take until this play was complete? How different was the first draft from the final?

A word on the writing process : Hell.

Since fourth grade I was a perpetual daydreamer, scribbling down bits of my imagination, but this was my first piece of substantial length and my attention span and sensitivity as a shy undergraduate could hardly bear it. Initially, I was obsessed with the project, and couldn’t wait to declare it as my creative thesis. I decorated all the walls of my dorm with serial killers and chatlogs and any bit of evidence I came across. However, after the first few months, I was bored with what was trying to write and ready to start a new short story but my mentor wouldn’t allow it. I had to keep with it, regardless of all the other issues I wanted to pursue. He also liked to make me think by responding to all of my questions with more question. I also wasn’t sure how to sustain interest for my audience or how to write convincing dialogue and for a while I couldn’t hear the voices of my characters. Draft after draft after draft I’d hand in and rewrite and hand in again and scrap and rewrite and complain and rewrite and curse mentor and rewrite and listen to it read aloud, curse, and rewrite and beg my mentor to let me quit and rewrite and listen to it again and rewrite. I’m pretty sure I killed a whole forest, and I took every edit so personally in the beginning that I grew to hate writing. But eventually I noticed my fiction was getting better, my imagination more refined, my dialogue more genuine with actual voices. I started getting recognized in the community, even if the play wasn’t in a state of progression but digression, and it served its first year and a half as a learning experience and towards the end things began to “click” into place.

And being in and out of Kruse’s head for months was hardly an enjoyable experience especially at first. I tried to write only in broad daylight in populated places after suffering several chilling nightmares, and I began regretting my dorm decorating, since it seemed too frightening or too overwhelming at times.

It wasn’t until recently I went back to review the play with new eyes using what I learned in undergrad with some of the new things I learned at the graduate level. I was more emotionally removed, too, which also helped in refining the latest draft. I used the contest mainly as motivation to review something I had tucked away, and its acceptance was a complete shock. Thus, the company is scrambling to gain publicity and adequate funds.

But as always, it’s still a work in progress. I’m sure it will continue to evolve in little ways throughout the next round of rehearsal as well.

How did you research the project? What sources did you use? Were there any surprising discoveries?

As mentioned I raided the internet for newspaper articles and found more than I should’ve, but I went in another direction, too. I read books on human nature, like “Radical Evil” by Bernstein and I studied philosophies on predeterminism vs. free will. I read memoirs of former children who suffered from abuse. I looked into serial killers and what they all shared or how they were different. I read about sociopaths and psychopaths and empathy disorders and passion murders. I even played W.O.W. But, more than anything, I read plays. I read close to a hundred in a single summer that shared those ideas and used language to manipulate, like Dark Play or Story for Boys and Speech and Debate.

What is it like seeing something you’ve written performed on the stage? Is it exciting? Are there some disappointments?

The first readings were unbearable—I couldn’t seem to separate myself from the words and from the audience’s reactions or failure to react. I’d just sit in my seat shaking. However, seeing it come to life in rehearsal has been a surreal experience, both chilling but also rewarding to experience the things I imagined and watched how the actors and director not only enact, but enhance my original words. Every now and then I will slam my palm against my head—and think, it’s not said like that! Timmy Flynn, for example, our original hacker-character barely knew how to turn his computer on, so he would murder the pronunciation of words like Linux, but he eventually grew so close to the character that in my rewrites I could hear his voice as Cam.’s voice—the two were one in the same by the end, which is sort of magical

corinnebiophotoCorinne Nulton is a recovering coffee addict and is one semester into Wilke’s MA/MFA program in Creative Writing. She recently graduated from the University of Scranton as an English major and has since become an adjunct professor and professional writing tutor at Penn State Worthington. As far as writing, she has had several short stories published in college literary magazines such as Esprit and Ellipses. . . and her ten-minute-play, Flesh, was a Kennedy Center Finalist in 2010.

Barbara J. Taylor’s Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night

May 1, 2014
Barbara J. Taylor received her M.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University in 2008. Her first published novel (and the first book in a series of three), Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night was recently selected for Publishers Weekly’s “Best Summer Books 2014” list. Akashic Books have also provided a description of the novel on their website:
“Almost everyone in town blames eight-year-old Violet Morgan for the death of her nine-year-old sister, Daisy. Sing in SingintheMorningCryatNightthe Morning, Cry at Night opens on September 4, 1913, two months after the Fourth of July tragedy. Owen, the girls’ father, “turns to drink” and abandons his family. Their mother Grace falls victim to the seductive powers of Grief, an imagined figure who has seduced her off-and-on since childhood. Violet forms an unlikely friendship with Stanley Adamski, a motherless outcast who works in the mines as a breaker boy. During an unexpected blizzard, Grace goes into premature labor at home and is forced to rely on Violet, while Owen is “off being saved” at a Billy Sunday Revival. Inspired by a haunting family story, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night blends real life incidents with fiction to show how grace can be found in the midst of tragedy.”
After hearing about the novel’s success and having enthusiastic discussions with other members of the Wilkes Creative Writing program who are excited about the book, I prepared some questions for Barbara Taylor. Luckily, she was kind enough to share some of her insights about her novel with The Write Life blog!  (Clicking on the book cover above will take you to the Amazon page where the book can be purchased.)
Your book Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night was just put on the Best Summer Reads list for Publishers Weekly. You must be completely thrilled! How did you feel when you saw that?
 
I was stunned and delighted. When you’re writing a book, you never think about how it will be received once it’s out in the world. I had a moment after I signed my contract where I realized people who don’t know me, people who have no idea how hard I worked, will be reading my book. That was a little scary.  
 
How does a writer get acknowledged by a publication like that? Did you have to do anything special to promote the book?
 
You’d have to ask the amazing people at Kaylie Jones Books and Akashic Books. They are responsible for getting Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night to places like Publishers Weekly. As far as first book experiences go, mine has been amazing. My publishers are so author-centric. I found a very safe place to land.
 
How long, from the original idea to the publication, did it take for you to produce this novel?
 
I started writing Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night in 2007 and finished my first official draft (with lots of unofficial revisions in between) in late 2008. I probably spent another year revising after that. My agent sent the book out, and while there was some interest, no one picked it up. I decided to move on and wrote the first draft of my second novel. Then, one summer, Kaylie Jones had an idea for restructuring the first book. I spent the next year doing rewrites, so the novel took about four years to complete over a period of seven years.
 
What was that process like? Was it an emotional journey?
 
The process was definitely emotional at times. My novel is based on a family story. Growing up, I always heard about the death of my Aunt Pearl, my maternal grandmother’s sister. She was baptized on July 4, 1918. Later that day, she and her friends were playing with sparklers and Pearl’s dress went up in flames. She survived for three days and sang hymns. When I was partway through my novel, I remember sitting at my desk, staring at the last picture taken of Pearl, a group photo from the day of her baptism. The picture was always in our house, but for some reason, it really hit me that night. This was more than a story. This was someone’s daughter, sister, friend. I sat there and cried as if I’d just lost her myself. 
 
The process was emotional in other ways as well. I started the novel just after my divorce, and my dad got sick along the way, so there were hardships. While it wasn’t intentional, I’m sure I poured some of that emotion into the work as well.
 
How much research was involved in writing this novel?
 
Since my novel is historical fiction, there was a great deal of research involved. I spent countless hours at the Lackawanna Historical Society, the Albright Memorial Library, and the Anthracite Museum. I also interviewed numerous people, visited mines, and read lots of primary source material.
 
You mentioned that the story was inspired by a family tragedy. Are there any other real life events that made it into your novel?
 
At one point in my novel, several of my characters get snowed in at a Billy Sunday Revival on March 1, 1914. Billy Sunday was a well-known evangelist at the time, and he held one of his campaigns in Scranton that year. My grandmother used to say she was born during the “Billy Sunday Snowstorm” where 2500 people were stranded overnight with the very charismatic preacher. I thought that would be an interesting setting for my characters.
 
What advice do you have for other aspiring writers/novelists?
 
Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Repeat.
 
And get involved in a writing community, be it a local workshop or an MFA program. Writing is such a solitary activity. It’s good to have a network of like-minded people to support and encourage you. 
 BarbTaylorBarbara J. Taylor was born and raised in Scranton, PA, and teaches English in the Pocono Mountain School District. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Wilkes University. She still resides in the “Electric City,” two blocks away from where she grew up. “Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night” is her first novel.
CONTACT:
Webpage: barbarajtaylor.com
Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/barbara.j.taylor729
Twitter: twitter.com/barbarajtaylor