Author’s Interlude

Busy weekend of packing  (I know, you wish you were here), but sipping the AM venti soy latte (a triple today, for obvious reasons), and sharing some thoughts from a Starbucks porch, listening to (what I think, believe it or not, is) Dolly Parton.  Well, no, now it’s a jazz trombone.  Probably a whole blog post just right there in that transition.

This past Thursday I was given the honor of presenting the current “version” of Beam Me Home, Scotty!: How Star Trek Can Help Us Make Sense of the Brain, PTSD & Combat Trauma to a group of my fellow providers, both active-duty and civilian, at the monthly Grand Rounds for the Department of Behavioral Health at my for-the-next-couple-weeks current employer, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. (And here’s the required disclaimer: no, that doesn’t constitute any endorsement by the United States Department of the Army. It does constitute that  the Grand Rounds organizer was delighted that she had finally found someone willing to fill in the hour in the middle of a hot July that everyone else had managed to finagle the annual leave (wisely) to escape.)

I viewed it as an opportunity, two actually.  One, I figured it would force me to get the current draft more solidly in my head, even if it were not yet in print.

More importantly, though,  I hoped it would help me see if the story so far, as Shawn Coyne puts it, “works.”  In fact, early in his book, The Story Grid, he recommends his starry-eyed pre-authors take the audacious step of actually sitting down with a couple of people before one gets oneself too enamored with a project and then, over a cup of coffee (ideally paid-for by said author), actually speaking the story. He readily assures his readers: quite soon you’ll know if the story works.

Probably the more coffee that is drunk, the worse the story. One has to do something, after all, with all that time anticipating the dreaded question: so, what do you think?

My results?

Opportunity One:  Success

Opportunity Two?  Well, it appears at least for quite a few people:  Success as well.

(Although given the strictly-enforced prohibition against drinks in the hall, I should not over-interpret the anecdotal data when empirical data was lacking.)

Still, I was relieved, and quite grateful for the feedback that I received.  So grateful, in fact, I had to go back to basics.

In other words, what “worked”?  The Story?  Or The Story-As-Presented?

The world of therapists, medical and non, is the world of introverts. As some of you who have followed the blog for a while know, I’m certainly among the former. However, as some of you who have followed the blog for a while know, when push comes to shove, I can play a pretty darn respectable extrovert on TV, if so needed.

Perhaps that is why I was attracted to a televised adventure series for a metaphor?  Perhaps.

People asked me whether I’d ever studied acting. I had to smile. There are plenty of reasons, after all, to become good at acting. Julliard and the Actors Studio ain’t the only ones.

Yet my colleagues’ question got me thinking:

Let’s go back to Shawn’s most basic question, the one I’ve been exploring recently:  What is the Genre?  And to do so, let’s go back to his basic of basics, Genre’s Five-Leaf Clover.  Borrowing from the work of story structure’s modern paterfamilias, Robert McKee, and the latter’s colleague, Bassim El-Wakil, Shawn asks the five questions every author must ultimately answer:

  1. How long will the story will last?

  2. How far will we need to suspend our disbelief?

  3. What will be the style, the particular experience of the story?

  4. How will the story be structured?

  5. What will the general content of the story be?

Notice #3.  Think “packaging.”   Literary?  Theatrical?  Cinematic?   Musical?

Time to rethink this.  (Don’t worry:  not musically. Although, true confession:  there’ll be a few folks who’ve known me “since back then” who’ll even now be wondering whether I’ll be able to hold to that promise. We were all wild and crazy in our younger years, after all. Enough said.)

As I’ve written before, ultimately this story cannot be a book, short or long; dramatic, comedic, or literary.  There has always been a practical reason.  Even more, though, there has always been a more nagging, ethical-interpersonal one lurking behind the scenes.  Time to make both clear.

The practical one remains:  I have no rights to make one red cent from the project. CBS owns those rights, and CBS has not granted me them. Their rights, their rules. I cannot even publish an e-book on something like Amazon’s Kindle: they’re a business as well, and they don’t do free books. Can’t say I blame either one. Business is business.

This is an educational, public-service project, plain and simple.  Notice, CBS:  educational, public service.  Seriously.

The ethical-interpersonal one, though, has always been the more challenging for me. I can assure you that I’ve yet to meet a combat veteran who, once s/he has come to know me, would have begrudged my making money off the project.  After all, that is exactly what I do every day: I am paid, at various times by sources private and public, to serve combat veterans as they try to pave their roads back home.

But I can assure you: every combat veteran who first enters my office has a question at least somewhere in his or her mind, whether at the forefront or in the back nether-regions: Are you another one just doing this for the paycheck?

Is it ever going to be just about me?

Never forget: at least in the United States—and I suspect in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well, throughout the whole world, in fact—combat veterans are used to being “thanked” profusely for their “brave and special” service and then given a number and asked to take a seat along with everybody else.

Life (and creative projects) is/are problematic enough. Let’s take unnecessary ones off the table, shall we?

Education, public service.

So with that freedom in mind, what if it were that, indeed, the story “worked”as much for its medium as for its message?

Well, why don’t I get more data and see?

So here’s the deal: as I continue to put this “Big Idea nonfiction story” together, why don’t I, at least for a while, put it forward  in sound and work on it with you all in that medium?   I guess, in an odd way, I’m going to put on a “one-man show,” although not in the usual sense (or at least I hope so).  One-person shows, after all, usually tell a story about the narrator. I hope instead to tell a story about those whom the narrator has seen and heard—and the brain that those far smarter than the narrator have “seen” for him.

A few people have said that “the show” has worked so far. So now, you be the judge.

As a result, let’s hold off about Villains (what I’d previously promised as this post’s topic), for there will be several points in the “performance” in which that discussion will make more sense. Instead, to buy me some time (packing, remember?), let’s talk a bit about characters. And archetypes.

See you next time.


2 responses

  1. I did study acting in high school and college, and writers do have to know Method Acting – or else have a good instinctive bent for it – if they want the characters they create to ring true to readers.

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