Again I say, very soon (September 11 and 12) I will be in London to present a 2-day Writer’s Journey Master Class hosted by Raindance:
If you’re within reach of London, as are many of my friends and fans in Europe, please come and hear my latest thoughts about 3-D, polarity as an engine of story construction, techniques for building characters, and many other treats sampled from my upcoming book, MEMO FROM THE STORY DEPARTMENT. I’ll also present my templates for story design and character building, drawn from the hero’s journey in myth and movies.
THE 48-HOUR SUNDAY
This weekend I had one of those impossibly long days, a forty-eight-hour Sunday, caused by flying back to L.A. after a trip to lecture in New Zealand. We crossed the International Date Line somewhere around midnight Sunday, automatically re-setting the clock to midnight Saturday and starting Sunday all over again. Of course I wasn’t really gaining anything — just getting back the day I’d lost when I crossed the Date Line from East to West, ten days before.
I travel quite a lot these days, or at least this is a busy season after a couple of years of not much travel because of the world recession. I’m beginning to think that there is an element of time travel in flinging your body thousands of miles at three hundred miles per hour, five miles up in the sky. I notice that though all air travel is damaging to the body, it feels a bit easier, a little less stressful, to travel from West to East as I did on the return flight, because you are traveling in the same direction as the rotation of the Earth. You go where the Earth is going, you just get there a little faster. That’s not too hard on the human frame, just accelerating your movement through time a bit.
But in the other direction, flying fast from East to West, you are traveling against the rotation of the earth. In effect you are going backward in time, against the flow of the time stream, and that seems to be much more punishing on the body. The outward-bound flight from L. A. to Auckland was noticeably harder to recover from than the homeward-bound flight.
Jet lag aside, the trip to New Zealand was great fun and very eye-opening. First it must be said, New Zealanders are nice. Also thoughtful, considerate, helpful, compassionate, reasonable, and responsible, but primarily nice, and all the rest seems to stem from that. They reminded me of the people of Portugal, who were also open to human interaction in a way that I don’t see or experience very often in Los Angeles, where people are more guarded. It was refreshing to feel this openness in both countries, and I think it has changed me and how I deal with other people. I like it.
Kiwis are also smart people, at least the ones I met. I had good crowds full of intelligent people at both my events. The first weekend I was in Auckland to give a one-day workshop on Friday sponsored by the Romance Writers of New Zealand, a lively and whip-smart group made up mostly of women, as you might expect. I have always had a romance going for the romance writers and I hope I make their hearts throb a little. They were the first audience to really “get” me and my act, and they took the ball and ran with it, creating their own heroine’s journey templates to craft more intricate, realistic and emotional plots. The Kiwi romance writers gave me another hour on Saturday to talk about “the power of inspiration” and I Mused about how Memory is the mother of the Muses in Greek mythology, and how writers have to cultivate and harvest from their memory banks. I finished with a version of my “Trust the Path” story that always chokes me up.
I had an interesting discussion with one of New Zealand’s most successful romance writers, Stephanie Laurens, about how certain things we write, the best things, have the power to make us feel the same emotion every time we read them. The same is true in the movie editing room. Sometimes you get the right combination of music and image, the right catharsis from an actor, the right punchline for a joke, and it works on you every time, making you cry or laugh, giving you a shiver down the back, even after viewing it dozens of times. That’s a “keeper”, a bit you know will have to be in the book or the movie.
A lot of advance work had been done for this trip by the able organizers of my events, and so there was a lot of “press”, meaning I got interviewed about seven times for various media. The process opened my eyes a bit about how things you say in interviews and on your blog are seized upon, condensed and interpreted by future interviewers.
I noticed that anything negative or critical I had said, or anything negative an interviewer had said, was picked up and passed on by subsequent interviewers. In a print interview for an Auckland newspaper a couple of weeks before the events, I had complained about some changes that were made in translating parts of Patrick O’Brian’s “Master and Commander” series into the film directed by Peter Weir. From that point on, interviewers reading up on me assumed that I hated the movie and tended to throw me questions like “You really hated “Master and Commander”, didn’t you?”
In fact I loved the movie, saw it several times, and will see it again with great pleasure. No one loves the underlying material more than I do — I have read my way through the 20 novels in the series three times over and am embarking on my fourth voyage of adventure. Fans of a literary series like M & C or Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings are notoriously fussy and protective, and always find things to be disgruntled about in the film adaptations. I was bemoaning the loss of some levels in the movie version — the fact that in the world of the books, the ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, is not only a doctor and a naturalist, but also a valuable intelligence agent, the fact that he is not only Irish but Catalan, the fact that a formidable American opponent was changed to a French enemy in the film. But I know, as someone who has worked in movie development and has assisted in adapting many novels to the screen, something is always lost in translation.
In another instance of the media’s tendency to repeat itself, especially when negativity is involved, one of my radio interviewers picked up on the initial print interviewer’s dismissal of one of my keystone movie examples, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, as a not particularly good film. I hope people didn’t think I agree with him. I like that movie, was very moved by it at the time, and referred to it often as a structural and emotional model when writing development notes on other projects when I was working for Disney and Fox studios.
My swipe in this blog at one little part of “Julie and Julia” was also noticed and reanimated by one of the Kiwi interviewers. There’s another movie I liked and enjoyed, and I was only noting one element that didn’t quite work for me. To be fair, the same interviewer also picked up on my ecstatic and unaccountably tearful reaction to “Mamma Mia!” and encouraged me to talk about the positive experience I’d had.
Now that I know how the media machinery works, I will be more conscious when commenting on movies and books. I suppose one can manipulate the press — by tossing out a few negative comments about something, you can almost guarantee it will be brought up by future interviewers and article writers.
After being treated very nicely by the Romance Writers in Auckland, I took off for a few days and drove the gentle, hilly length of New Zealand’s North Island, taking five days to reach Wellington at the island’s southern tip. Along the way I sampled the wineries, marveled at geothermal vents, and struggled with driving on what to me is the wrong side of the road. I made a quick stop at a fascinating replica of Stonehenge that’s been plunked down in a sheep field, a project of local astronomy buffs to create a working Southern hemisphere version of the monument, accurately predicting solstice sunrises and other cosmic events.
In Wellington, a bustling, hilly city on a bay, reminding me of San Francisco, I did a one-day workshop for a local film initiative, Script to Screen. The audience were a mix of seasoned professionals and students, many from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Wellington’s Victoria University.
The Saturday event for Script to Screen was held in a very special place, Sir Peter Jackson’s post-production facility known as Park Road (because it’s on a street called Park Road). It’s housed in an impressive-looking building that could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. My lecture was delivered in a beautiful theatre in the complex, supposedly an exact copy of an old San Francisco movie palace. It was certainly lush and fantastic, done up in romanticized Moorish style with gilded mythological figures and touches of Alhambra-esque architecture. The ceiling twinkled with fiber-optic stars, representing the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.
I had a good response from the Wellington audience and was able to explore some of the more sophisticated aspects of the hero’s journey, such as the tragic option, in which the hero fails to learn his or her lesson or slides back into unhealthy behavior after a brief victory.
I held a four-hour workshop with the students from Victoria University on Sunday, a real highlight of my trip, arranged by their professor, David Geary. The students were very bright and seemed hopeful about the world of storytelling they are entering.
Now I’m back on the ground in LA, prepping for the next trip — to London for the Raindance seminar.