Summertime, and the living is…restless?

It’s been a while since I’ve put in an appearance here. Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting really sick of opinions. Not just everyone else’s, but my own, too. The internet is a geyser of opinion and there are many a day that silence seems the only appropriate response.

Good news! The Full Lazenby, a short of mine that was published in last year’s Unidentified Funny Objects 3, will appear again, this time in Imaginarium 4 the annual compilation of best Canadian speculative fiction. And who is writing the introduction? Margaret <frickin’> Atwood. Jesus, I can’t wait to hold it.

I’ve been performing 3-4 times/month with Oakville Improv both in the family-friendly venues and over at the Moonshine Cafe. The group has really become quite fun and funny–not always the case in improv. Check us out if you’re local.

In real life, the last few months have been really tough. We’ve lost a parent and are worried about another family member who has become quite ill. We moved again, this time for permanence. Work, as always, is challenging in every conceivable manner. My health is good. My daughters are lovely. I’m learning to meditate.

And then there’s writing. I’ve come to accept that my process (as it currently stands) is that when I have an idea that I’m obsessed about and that if, on my death bed, I had not seen complete would be heartbroken over, I set to work. Now frequently, the various drafts and/or rejections kill the death bed regret and the project stalls. But I’ve been spending the last two months reading biographies, Italian history and literature as research for a ridiculously ambitious project. We’ll see just how far I get, but the outline is almost complete and it feels pretty cracking.

I can spin it two ways: What if there was a physics of the mind? or, more pithily, Freud and Einstein solve mysteries. Is your jaw off the floor yet? Are you losing your <frickin’> mind? Good. I am too.

Out of Line!

I spent the bulk of 2014 with a fantastic group of improvisers in the Bad Dog Ensemble Studio Series. We had such a great time together that we’re putting on a run of shows starting this Sunday under the name Meet Cute.

The format is one of our own creation that we’re calling Out of Line.Out of Line

So, if you’re in the Toronto area and looking for a fun way to spend your Sunday evenings, grab tickets through the Bad Dog website. The theatre holds about fifty so act now!

We will even have some great guests at a few of the shows.

The Unusual Thing

Recently, I’ve been trying my hand at long-form improv twith guidance from the experts at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (NYC division).

As a student in script analysis, I remember learning that a good opening scene would encapsulate the entire story. The conflict, the stakes, the tone—it was all there from the curtain, if you only had the skills to decode it.

Of course, that was script analysis, not script synthesis.  As a writer, independent of medium, it is a daunting task to compose an opener that condenses the conflict into a moment and make it dramatically interesting.

When I signed up for improv classes, I never suspected they’d be such a valuable tool to address that process.

In improv, the unusual thing, that initial moment when the status quo is disrupted, becomes the story. Okay, so it’s hella difficult, but in the moment that comes from a misunderstood line, an unexpected reaction, an intriguing idea, lightning strikes—what the hell is happening?  The game is afoot, and if you’re smart enough, the scene is scene is practically written for you.

Example:  You dive out on stage and shout “They’re shelling us!”  In your head it’s a WWI trench scene.  Except your partner dives next to you and says, “Why do they keep throwing turtles at us?!”  Now you’re off and running.  Your opener is over.  It’s a war story, which is not the unusual thing (as it could be in a WWI coming of age story), but that animals are being used as weaponry is unexpected by everyone.

As a writer, I’m rarely struck with an opening. More often it’s an idea, or a climax.  The beginning is composed outside of the lightning and thus it bears the pressure of being composed to accomplish something.

In improv, it’s the opposite. Stepping out, there is no middle, no progression, no end. The first moment that there’s a laugh or shock, a nidus is created for all that follows—a battle against a zoo, a pet store rivalry, the Planet of the Turtles movie that should have been. It could be any of those, but the choices would be guided by the level of stakes already chosen.  People in an Armageddon behave differently than those in a small business rivalry. The beauty is largely this:  by the time the unusual thing has happened, often so many choices have already been made that the decisions are in the past, not the future. 

I would have expected that the simplicity of this process would make a scene less compelling, however in capable hands that is rarely the case. In fact, it is the opposite. It’s us amateurs, trying too hard to write a clever scene that we’re simultaneously acting out to pay attention to the seed crystal of spontaneous creation.

Of course, it might be quite difficult (and wholly unsatisfying to everyone involved) to write a novel live…