Author Archives: Kevin Craig
As with life and love, so too goes the story. The heart of every great story lies in how it makes one feel. To make a reader laugh is a magical thing, but to illicit tears is just as golden. To do both is to deliver the goods as a storyteller.
I have always had a soft spot for the song The Glory of Love from the Bette Midler movie Beaches. It’s just one of those songs that encompasses the journey of life, and emphasizes the important equalizing balancing concept of yin and yang. It’s a good lesson for life and it’s a good lesson for fiction/non-fiction writing.
In the song, Bette sings:
You’ve got to win a little, lose a little
Yes, and always have the blues a little
And that’s the truth. It is important to carry the blues with you through life. It’s a balancing act to carry both joy and blues at once, but it’s also highly effective. To get the balance right in fiction/non-fiction is golden. Sure, everybody loves to laugh. There’s not many things better than experiencing a literal laugh-out-loud moment while your face is buried in a book. It’s so fulfilling.
One author who makes me laugh so hard and so much that I become a little shell-shocked and teary-eyed is David Sedaris. But the golden wand Sedaris waves before I get to the end of his stories and observations quite often has me teary-eyed for other reasons as well. In just a few short pages he can have me both laughing to tears and crying to tears…in such a stealth way that both emotions catch me completely off guard.
Why is Sedaris capable of this tremendous feat? Why does his reader experience such a roller-coaster of emotions in such a short space of time? He makes himself vulnerable. He makes himself authentic. He allows the reader to see the raw and the uncomfortable and the awkward and the honest. Writers have SO many things in their writerly toolbox. But if you don’t offer them up in a cloak of vulnerable authenticity, you could very well miss your mark. And it’s not just the sorrow that can be delivered this way, either. Sometimes laughter comes from the writer’s ability to take away the curtain and allow the reader to see just how vulnerable they are willing to make themselves. It’s often the absurd situations that give us the most to be embarrassed and ashamed of that are also the best wells from which to draw up a big ole bucket of laughter. Whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, it works. Make the reader squirm when your character squirms. Make them spit out their coffee in shock over your relived accounting of hysterical humiliation. Make them ache when your character aches. Deliver your words with honesty and reverence, even when, like David Sedaris in ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, you’re talking about the clump of shit in the toilet that isn’t yours and that won’t flush away and that you don’t want to be blamed for by your fellow party goers on the other side of the washroom door.
Life is laughter. Life is tears. Life is joy and sorrow, combined in a dizzying swirl of unpredictability. That’s a lesson that everyone learns on their own. When incorporating these things into your writing, the lesson is to just go for authenticity, relate-ability, sincerity. Don’t try too hard. If you try too hard, you lose the edge of vulnerability and sincerity. A good reader can tell when you’re trying to manipulate their emotions. Don’t try to make them cry. Tell them something that causes them cry naturally. Don’t try to make them laugh. That’s like saying, “Okay, please laugh now.” Just make your story honest. And don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself or your character.
Nothing feels better than a good ole lose-yourself-in-laughter moment, but you also have to let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of…writing and reading.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Or, so says Carson McCullers. I think it is no coincidence that when I thought of the content of today’s post, I thought of the title of that book. But it was another book I had in mind when I wanted to touch on today’s topic. WHEN EVERYTHING FEELS LIKE THE MOVIES is the book I wanted to bring up. But in borrowing the title of McCullers’s classic, I realized that her book also applies to the subject at hand.
Take this excerpt from the Wiki page for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (henceforth referred to as THIALH):
When published, the novel created a literary sensation, enjoying a meteoric rise to the top of the bestseller lists in 1940; it was the first in a string of works by McCullers that give voice to those who are rejected, forgotten, mistreated or oppressed.
Now, from what I recall THIALH was an extraordinary read. Admittedly, it’s been a few years now (perhaps decades) since I last delved into it. But it speaks to what I had in mind in the same way When Everything Feels Like the Movies (henceforth referred to as WEFLTM) speaks to it.
It would seem that there is, at times, an expectation of the writer to perhaps write the story that wants to be read by the masses. Be it the latest fad, trend, hashtagable getbehindable cause, or what have you. That expectation often feels a bit white bread in nature. Don’t interrupt the status quo. Don’t shake the foundations. Don’t deride the sleeping village that does not want to be awoken.
And then along comes a delightful little dish like WEFLTM or THIALH, books that challenge the envelope of comfort-ability. Books that break down walls and cause discussion. Books that people rail against. When I get the extreme pleasure of reading such a book, I am immediately grateful for the courage of the author, the agent, the editors, the publisher… The author has decided to write the story that was in their heart. The rest of the chain decided to embrace, love, champion the story.
It shouldn’t be a brave thing to write on a subject matter, concept, or theme that speaks to you. A great story trumps all other considerations. If you have a story inside you, don’t check on outside influences for permissions or viability before telling it. Sure it’s a risk to tell the story your way. It may not be the story that the world is looking for at the moment, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it. Maybe the world will fall in love with the story they didn’t know they wanted to read.
Sure, you risk telling a story that may never see the light of day in the publication world. Even then it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it. Every time a writer sits down to tell a story they are taking a risk. Why take a risk on the latest trend? Why take a risk on an expectation? Listen to your heart. It may very well be a lonely hunter…but it is also who you are. It’s where you live, wherein you will discover your authenticity.
If you write for ‘the man‘ you run the risk of inauthentic voice, of grasping for the hot trend. Trailblazers like Raziel Reid and Carson McCullers are trailblazers not because they were selling something that wasn’t already there in all its neon glory in the real world. They are/were trailblazers because they don’t/didn’t give a damn about anything but telling the story that spoke to them. They stepped on lines, crossed borders, took risks with topics and subjects as an aside to storytelling…not in order to shock or dismay or discomfort the bookburning crowd.
I think of what could have happened with WEFLTM, if someone didn’t take a chance on its perceived vulgarity, and I cringe. Some rallied against it, saying it was NOT Young Adult (personally, I challenge their understanding of the young adult market…and of young adults in general). I mean, it was the most authentic YOUNG ADULT voice I think I ever read. When it was nominated for CANADA READS and the GOVERNOR GENERAL’S AWARD…that’s all the validation the author, agent, publisher needed. They all took risks with that book and all the risks paid off. Why? Not because it crossed the line, not because it shocked, not because it was obscene (as some would have you believe), but because it was a damn fine story! One of the best young adult novels I have ever read.
What happened after the GG nomination was just noise. Ignorant people being affronted is as age-old as Puritanicalism itself. I, for one, am ecstatic that Raziel Reid walked the walk. They had a story to tell and they told it. It was the heart of a writer who wrote that story, not expectation. Expectation might have wanted a story like WEFLTM…but I’m betting dollars to donuts that that just is not the case. Expectation doesn’t like to take chances. Sure, it loves high concept and something new…but edgy and raw? Probably not so much. But sometimes it’s the books that come out of nowhere that impact the reader the most. There was a big gaping hole in the young adult market that was just screaming to be filled by When Everything Feels Like the Movies. I’m thrilled that Reid wrote the story they imagined in their heart, come what may. Reid knew its validity as a YA story…just as the publisher understood the same. Is that courageous? Maybe…more like authenticity firing on all synapses, if you ask me. They all just knew.
In short, I guess what I am trying to say, is to be a fearless writer. Don’t consider your subject matter above your story. Don’t not write something because you’re afraid to tackle a hot-button issue. Don’t look for the trend and then write to it (if you know anything about trends and publishing, you already know that the trend in the marketplace is a year or two or three away from the trend at the agent/publisher level…so it’s virtually impossible to strike out at the beginning of a trend unless you already wrote the book and arrived on the first wave of the trend).
Take a look at the synopsis of WEFLTM:
School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.
Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck!
But train wrecks always make the front page.
TRAIN WRECKS ALWAYS MAKE THE FRONT PAGE. But stories told exquisitely are not always about shock-value, even though they may shock. Sometimes, they just catch a thing in its spotlight at just the right moment. Do you have a story you’re afraid/nervous to tell? You’ll never know if it’s good enough, if you don’t write it. Courage in writing is just a matter of following your heart…and ignoring the expectations of others. It’s your story. Don’t let others tell you it won’t fly before you even get it out. You never know unless you try.
From my review of WEFLTM:
When Everything Feels Like the Movies is essentially the story of a teen who is larger than the small town that could never truly contain them. What sets it aside from other stories about breaking out of the small and into the limelight is that the character who is struggling to be contained is trans. Jude (Judy) deals with bigotry at every turn…including at home. But she is still able to dream big and have such lofty glamorous goals for herself. Her almost vulgar egoism and arrogance is a delight. Where it should turn a reader off, it endears her to them. We see the raw vulnerability in her swaggering confidence and self-love. True sarcasm comes not from pride, but from the shaky ego that wants to emulate pride. Jude is such a flawlessly written flawed character. He will remain one of my favourite characters for a long time to come.
Read the full review of WEFLTM HERE at Try This Book On For Size
It’s that time of the year again to start thinking about the most magical event of the year! The Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival is approaching. Billed as “24 HOURS. 6 NEW PLAYS. 1 CASTLE.”, Trafalgar 24 is that and so much more! It’s a virtual whirlwind of creativity, dished out in the extravagant setting of a mid 19th century castle in Whitby, Ontario.
A little about the Castle: Nelson Gilbert Reynolds built Trafalgar Castle as a private residence in 1859. After losing his fortune to gambling, Mr. Reynolds was forced to sell the castle. It soon became the Ontario Ladies’ College, and eventually Trafalgar Castle School. To this day, it is a school for girls…complete with dorm rooms to house students from all over the world. Once a year, during spring-break, the castle is handed over to Jeremy Smith and Driftwood Theatre for their fundraising gala, TRAFALGAR 24.
From the Driftwood Theatre Trafalgar24 Webpage:
Twenty-four artists receive a scant 24-hours to write, rehearse and perform six site-specific plays in Whitby’s beautiful 19th century castle. TRAFALGAR 24 is a theatrical event unlike any other, where the audience is right on top of the action as each of the 10-minute scripts play out around them in locations throughout the castle. At TRAFALGAR 24 audience members play a vital role of their own, helping to select one winning play to receive a commission for further development from Driftwood Theatre.
March 11, 2016 | 6:30pm Silent Auction Starts | 7:30pm Performances Begin | Trafalgar Castle, 401 Reynolds Street, Whitby
Now, here’s a breakdown of what happens from yours truly. I have had the extreme pleasure of being a playwright for this event SIX times! And this March (2016) I may or may not once again be having the honour of being locked into the castle overnight to cobble a 10-minute play for production the following evening. Here’s how it’s done:
- THURSDAY EVENING 10:00PM – 6 playwrights converge on the Castle. Jeremy (Driftwood Theatre’s Artistic Director) corals the playwrights and gives them their instructions. Write a 10-minute play in 8 hours. He gives them headshots of the actors who will appear in their plays and he tells them which room in the castle their particular play will take place in. Jeremy then leads the playwrights on a tour of the castle, stopping in each of the 6 chosen rooms to show them where the plays will take place. Typically, this is the room in which the playwright will write their play. They are allowed to use anything in the room chosen for them…but they are not allowed to add props that are not already there. That is that. 10pm arrives and the 6 playwrights retreat into their rooms and the playwriting begins. Jeremy goes home…plays are cobbled.
- FRIDAY MORNING 6:00am – 6 very tired disheveled playwrights are allowed to leave the castle. After, of course, they hand in their plays. 6 new plays. 6 worried, electrified, tired, sleepless, chaotic, changed playwrights. Never the twain shall meet— the playwrights escape and only then do the directors and actors converge on the castle. They all arrive at 6am. They are given their plays to read-rehearse-tweak-enrich-bring to life. I can’t tell you what happens in the next eight hours. I can only imagine that it is a more chaotic and boisterous eight hours than the eight hours before it! The creation really happens in this eight hours. I will always and forever be in awe of the product that comes from these eight hours. Actors and directors are wondrous creatures who should be revered.
- The tireless volunteers and organizers then prepare for the onslaught of the audience. This includes setting up the cheese and hors d’oeuvres tables, setting up the wine tables, and setting up the tremendous silent auction tables. REMEMBER–this is a fundraiser. The silent auction helps Driftwood Theatre’s fundraising efforts. They are, after all, a traveling theatre that gives Ontario Shakespeare in the Park all summer long. They need to fund this incredible Bard’s Bus summer tour. Trafalgar24 is the cornerstone of their fundraising efforts.
- THE AUDIENCE ARRIVES! I believe the audience is typically 300 people. These 300 are split into 6 smaller groups that will stay together the entire evening (apart from the breaks for hors d’oeuvres and wine, silent auctioning, speeches, and dessert). The 6 groups will wander throughout the castle, visiting each of the 6 rooms in which the plays will be performed and seeing each one in turn. So each play will be performed SIX times. Between performances, everything mentioned above takes place. Basically, it’s a magical night filled with theatre, wining, excellent food, shopping the auction items, and schmoozing. It’s a must see event that sadly only happens once a year.
So, that’s Trafalgar24.
If you are a member of the WRITERS’ COMMUNITY OF DURHAM REGION, you will have a special discounted price for tickets. If you are a member of the WCDR, you can book your discounted tickets WCDR tickets by calling 416-605-5132 or 844-601-8057.
I would like to thank Driftwood Theatre, and Jeremy Smith, for giving me my many opportunities to be a small part of this amazing event. Trafalgar24 is the crowning event of my writing year. Creating a play in 8 hours that will be witnessed ‘on stage’ by 6 audiences one short night later is an exhilarating, frenetic, terrifying, appalling, energetic, insane, impossible. All those things and more. I don’t think it matters what your role in the event is–playwright, director, actor, organizer, volunteer, audience, etc–if you attend, you will be amazed! YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS IT!
See you at the castle!
The Reasons is now available as a Kindle book at all Amazon locations.
If you have already read this book, please consider reviewing it at Amazon. If not, you can now pick it up with 1-Click for your Kindle or Kindle App.
With a mostly absent father, a deceased older sister, a younger sister on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up quickly. Though he tries to be a surrogate parent to his sister, their broken mother, Maggie, takes up a lot of his time. Annabel falls to the wayside and becomes a ghost in their chaotic existence.
When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family became so shattered. Be careful what you wish for. When his world begins to collapse from the weight of un-buried secrets, he focuses on a stranger from his parents’ past. Only by eliminating the past, he believes, can he make his family whole again.
The Reasons won the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s 2008 BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD.
Note: This title is NOT young adult.
Get it now with 1-Click!