Tag Archives: writing process
As I’ve said before, experience is the source of much of my writing. But what is important to me is not necessarily important to anyone else. It can be something I think everyone should hear: for example these lines from On the Edge, a full-length play of mine. (They came from an experience I had while working in the Pima County Detention Center as a social worker.)
Colin Pedophiles show love to their victims more often than their parents do. I’ve known pedophiles who are suicidal because they know that in prison they’re not going to be able to show their love to children, unless…mothers bring their children to visit them in prison… ‘cause they love children and know how to get parents to turn their children over to them…‘cause they know just what to do to get love back. They take love and make children do things you’d never…never talk about. Pedophiles…oh, my!
But should this passage be included in the play because I think it’s something that everyone should hear? (It could also be the reason I wrote the play; in this case it is not but it could’ve been. To me it’s that important.) Of course, what matters in the end, what should always be the case, is whether the lines fit in the play or not, are in character, and serve the plot.
What is expected of a playwright/writer is for him or her to overcome the temptations that come from wanting to be relevant; we have to be ruthless in our pruning. Good lines we love sometimes have to be tossed.
Writing, like all art, involves making choices. It is part of the process, and should have nothing in some cases (and everything in others) to do with content. No idea…the same goes for words…can be so precious that it can’t be cut. I once made this comment about words to a popular poet, and she became upset with me and argued, “Oh, but they (words) can kill.” And I won’t spar with her over that.
An interview at a school in a storage room with all the mops, brooms, chairs and miscellaneous equipment (setting), an interview of a teenage girl who had been molested by her father (plot and characters) was depicted in a play of mine called On the Edge. The original premise for the piece (training CPS workers how to conduct a proper interview) never worked; placing the struggle inside the mind of a CPS investigator did.
Good dialogue did not make this drama. What was more important was the trouble the CPS investigator was having with his daughter and that he had stepped over the edge of a black hole, an edge, by the way, on which all CPS investigators stay. What matters in the end, what must always be there, is this struggle. And, that the audience knows that this man is in trouble and has crossed or is about to cross a line he shouldn’t (hopefully the audience won’t be sure that he has or hasn’t). And…there is intentionally no clear resolution… what is good about the repetition of the words of children the hero can’t get out of his head (it’s driving him crazy) is that it emphasizes the message of play: that children can’t be protected without accurately reporting their words. Serious stuff, but serious stuff by itself doesn’t make a good drama piece.
This drama of mine is intentionally salacious. It’s that way because too often CPS workers sanitize what children say and in the process jeopardize any subsequent court case (another message). But the play, still (in spite of the temptation) must not be blatantly instructional. A playwright normally should try to avoid propaganda. It encourages a multitude of sins (preaching is one); Shaw and Brecht have been accused of being propagandists and Shaw to me is certainly preaching. Brecht, to me, seems to do the opposite. As a playwright, there is a fine line here that I always try not to cross; as a CPS investigator I was always aware of the black hole I could’ve fallen into.
How is this for passive writing and breaking the rules?
Matt Freeze extended a challenge to me, and I accepted it…and it had to do with me again taking up my novel about the Holocaust and not giving up on it. The rough, over-extended manuscript remained untouched for many years; there was a sense I couldn’t do anything with it because I hadn’t stuck to the historical facts. So Matt Freeze, and thanks to you, here is my latest draft of the first chapter of GOOD PEOPLE. Rewriting it involved pruning, working from the back to the front, and reading each sentence over and over again. Feel free to tear it apart. Good night, Randy Ford
GOOD PEOPLE By Randy Ford Chapter One
From the Redoutensaal Ballroom, the two brothers stumbled into Josefs Platz, dazzled by everything, melodies, women, and the joy and pleasure of dancing all night. Again they had forgotten their troubles, sang until they were hoarse, and yes, drank until they were drunk. And it was Johann Strauss who made the evening, the king of the waltz, through whose music they could still escape the ominous call for one Fuhrer.
The mood inside had been light and loose. The music flowed freely like the wine. The scent, the smiles, the quest for virgins kept them hoping for a little more. Did their hearts leap? Yes. ‘Keep smiling, Frauline.’
“Great, Karl. It really was great.”
Only through teasing could the two brothers be honest.
“You’re too serious,” teased Niki, as they strolled toward Michaeter Platz.
“Get you! Who proposed! You not me!” proclaimed Karl. Niki’s flirting and charm had gotten him in trouble. “Propose? Not me! You must take me for an honorable man. Yes, a nice guy. Instead, I offered her papa’s tickler.”
Karl pretended indifference and expressed his dissatisfaction with life. “The common man can’t stick his ass outdoors. It costs too much,” he blurted out. “You must economize. But it doesn’t matter. When isn’t there inflation? Inflation or deflation? Who’s to blame? Hey, what about those communist? Nazis? We’ve lost everything, brother. Blamed it on the Fohn, the wind.
“Yes, yes, blame it all on the Fohn.”
“Niki, Niki Hertzel, never forget me, always, always remember this night. Our father knows one of us has to leave.”
“No, Karl! Instead talk about the economy. Preach about it.” “Where is your gratitude?”
“Gratitude be damn!”
“Niki, the ungrateful son.”
“I’m grateful as long as he gives us money, but you don’t have to worry. You’re going away to America the beautiful!
“Shit, not so loud.”
“Indeed, you’re a lucky man.”
“Should I jump on my hat or simply shrug?”
“Will you really marry that bitch?”
For some time, Karl and Niki didn’t see the rally.
“No whore is worth it!”
Both brothers ignored the mob.
“Give me a whore any day,ha, ha, ha!”
Later, they congratulated themselves for not getting seriously hurt.
“What? We’re not Jews!”
“Gutter rats! Kneal!”
In the middle of Michaeter Platz, the brothers were grabbed by their shirts.
Their shirts were ripped. “No, no, no, no you don’t. Not our shirts. You don’t know who we are.” These words came from Niki.
“And we don’t care. You’re gutter rats; and rats are stepped on.” All this in Wien; above all, in Wien. “Don’t touch the shirt. Please don’t touch the shirt.” In vain Niki tried to save his shirt.
Their hell, and Wien’s, was there that night. “Easy now! Don’t want any trouble here.” This was Karl, as he got to his feet. “Didn’t you hear what we said? We don’t have a drop of Jewish blood in us. Our father is…” “Karl, don’t tell them. Let them find out when they’re hauled to court. And that will happen. I’ll see to it.”
“We’ve been dancing and whoring. Why spoil it?” Karl’s question barely left his lips before one of the thugs shouted, “Eine Volk, eine Reich, eine Fuhrer!”
“There you go, assuming we’re against you. We know where our bread and butter come from. Heil Hitler! Our Fuhrer he is, isn’t he?”
“Karl, shut up!”
Karl, however, becomes even more contemptuous and shouts “Eine Fuhrer! Horse shit!”
“Goddamn you Karl.”
“We’re not Jews, and they know it.”
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Ju-da verr-rrecke!”
“God save Austria,” Karl countered.
“What did you say?”
“Listen hard. God save Austria.”
“Don’t! He’s drunk! Hit me instead.” Before someone could hit his brother, Karl threw a fist like a heavy weight boxer. Luckily, no one was killed. The police arrived in time with their billy clubs.
Afterward Karl and Niki sat alone on the curb in front the Michaelerkirche. “And why not? I saved your ass.”
“You did not. If there is an ass worth saving, it’s yours. And look what they did to your shirt.”
“I’ll never forget this night.”
“As long as I live. Never.”
“I wish you could see yourself,” said Niki. “Mercy, you look like you were pulverized with a licorice stick?”
Karl didn’t respond. “So you’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Forget about that. Let’s not ruin a perfect evening.”
With a full voice and sudden ecstasy, the younger brother sang Mozart’s “Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio!”
“Tonight I’ve seen the future. I see how God plans to unify the world by force. We’ve stumbled onto the moral pioneers of a new age and all you can do is sing your silly songs. Whether we like it or not, Europe is through! Piss on Hitler. I say piss on him!”
“Europe is through,” Niki repeated sadly. “We can’t build a fence around Austria.”
“They’re thugs. Hitler doesn’t stand a chance. So, piss on him. Wien was gay tonight but with a hint of agitation for she knows the lights will soon go out. Lots of women. Good shopping! Well, Niki, it’s up to you. While I’m gone, look after mother and dad.”
“But what could happen? With dad’s position with the court, nothing.”
“I know. They’ll have Eva. And mother, well, she’s mother. But curse you for leaving. Curse you.”
“I’m not ready. I wish I could tell dad that I am otherwise occupied. America is too far away. I wish we could all go together to America. But I’m Austrian.”
“We all are!”
“Heil Osterreich! Heil Osterreich! And curse those who support Hitler. Poor Austria.”
“You could refuse to go.”
“And just how far do you think I’d get with that? The crippled old fool.”
“Mother is behind it, you know.”
“Her highness always was.”
“The truth is she gave us pocket money to get rid of us.”
“And if it weren’t for Eva, we would’ve died from colds.” Karl sang with simple, solemn, gravity, “Voi che sapete.” Then Niki with a swift, dipping, soaring “Ardor of Non so piu.”
“How about Grinzing,” said Karl, “where we always had a great time?”
“I prefer Krugerstrasse.”
“No you don’t.” “Krugerstrasse is closer, Krugerstrasse, where we learned the lessons of life. Krugerstrasse, the best whores, choice, finest quality, housewives. You’re going to miss screwing housewives.”
“And they don’t have housewives in America?”
“Yes, I’m going to miss everything, especially you. Hey sweetie, yes you! How about it, sweetie,” Karl repeated “sweetie”, laughing; “and the likes of you I have never seen.”
“I never knew that my big brother could be so…so…” Niki’s words got caught in his throat. By his own account, he deserved a ribbing. “I say; trink mit mir, sing mit mir! Glucklick ist, wis vergisst,” sung Niki. “Tonight, Mesci, Mesci, Mesci! Remember the kissing and the wine and the song, the song and the dancing, which by jiminy lady luck brought us tonight sweet Adele. She might be short, but how young and fair.”
“And of course she was almost bare.” Niki howled at that. Then he looked his brother in the eye and warned him, “Karl, be careful. Be careful what you say. Besides, Hitler might not be so bad.”
“Sieg Heil!” Then instead of a prim salute, Karl shook his fist, with a busted knuckle, and replied, “Look at it this way: Hitler could be the one person who can give us something to cheer about.” His color grayed. His eyes grew moist, and he sprung to his feet. He never saw the congregation leaving Michaelerkirche, the former parish church of the court. Rather than cheer, he yelled, “Piss on Hitler!”
Niki grabbed Karl’s arm and directed him away. Then a thug, worshiper, ran toward the brothers. “Heil Hitler!” shouted the thug.
“Heil Hitler!” shouted Niki back. Karl mocked Eine Fuhrier through mimicry. Instead of returning a proper “Sieg Heil,” he raised his right arm, cocked the hand back, and twirled a couple of times. Luckily, he lost his balance, and slipped on the curb. Had he not then started hiccuping and singing “trink mit mir! sing mit mir! mesci, mesci,” the thug would’ve kicked him. Instead, with the wave of a hand and dismissing Karl as a drunk, he yelled, “Ah!” and walked off.
“Throw them a bone. Niki, it’s your turn to give them something. Forget it, it’s all over. No one likes to see German maidens raped.”
Anyone who chooses to can rip it apart.
My experiences were, after all, my own and intentionally as wide as possible. I never made a living from my writing, which helped; but I almost always wrote (at least I’m still writing). Of course there were blanks, when I focused exclusively on what I was doing then (repelling was an example; bicycling throughout South East Asia was another one.) This variety is what I think is essential for a writer; and if I had planned it, which I didn’t (using a map in my mind was forbidden), my life wouldn’t have been as full. If that had been the case, I might’ve written more, but the scope of my writing would’ve been far less because I would’ve had less to draw upon. In my mind, when my memory is sharp, I have a great reservoir at my disposal. It has given me the confidence, right or wrong, that I can write about anything.
So in my study surrounded by books and with my hard drive filled with snippets from past projects I am confronted with choices because I know I don’t have time enough in the time I have left to even start all of the writing projects that lay in the back of my mind.
I also, as a family man, have other people I have to think about. It’s curious that I mention this, because if you were ask members of my family whether or not I notice them even half of the time they would probably respond negatively. To give them more, as I sometime have to, since I’m rarely there for them unless I’m shaken, is almost impossible for me because I’m single-minded and my brain never rests. I don’t know if I’m blessed or cursed.
By the way, I get my best ideas in the morning before I get out of bed.
Sometimes, for me more often than not, nothing is there but the desire to write. There is no true inspiration, and struggle with resistance is almost certain. These petty reasons for not writing, earning credence by thoughts that I’m not good enough, or not as good as someone else, seem huge. They seem insurmountable, and if I give in to those feelings they will remain that way…monumental. They have a life of their own, and an afterlife, and they can only be erased by putting words down on paper. They are those “I can’t messages”; but they do not have a foundation; they are not built on anything solid.
But the doubts are inbred, and they have a history. They have been granted room before, and in my case they come with a vengeance and stop me in my tracks. From the first grade I looked up to the wrong people; I put them on a pedestal; they seemed smarter than me; they were popular when I was not.
What the equation left out…I’m not good enough, therefore I can’t be part of their group… was my uniqueness. I spent most of my childhood on the outside. I remember only a few times when I was where I wanted to be and that I got the attention I craved. One time I won a horseshoe championship and got tossed in a swimming pool with all my clothes on. In elementary school, for one half year, I was class president. The terrible pain of feeling inadequate…still there sometimes and tonight was an example when my whole world seemed uncertain and I felt small and incompetent…returns when I let it.
I know I am not, after all, as incompetent and insignificant as I sometimes feel. I am built on more than dreams. I am a man of action, but my doubts, I think, have turned me into a workaholic. I’m driven, as I have to be, and this drive has sometimes been directed toward my writing. (When I have it, I feel good. When I don’t, I feel sick.) Consequently sometimes I can write a marathon; other times I can’t.
So to you all of this may seem oh so obvious and straightforward, but for me it’s not.
Now as a writer trying to avoid this trap…my feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, all of that negative self-talk…I have to jump into action. I can’t stay in bed and fret over not being as good a writer as Joe Blow, good o’ Joe. To do less might be easy, but it would be a detour from whom (oh whom, goodness me) I want to be.
I wrote two drafts of a novel about the Holocaust, after having read one book on the subject. (But unlike Mathias B. Freese I’m not a Jew and don’t have his perspective.) It took over two years…much of the writing in the University of Arizona Library…to complete my handwritten manuscript. It took that much time to write and rewrite nearly a thousand pages before I became bored with the project. The premise…that an “ordinary” Protestant like me more than likely would’ve been a perpetrator had I lived back then in Austria or Germany, had me locked in a struggle with myself. Could it be true or not? More importantly, if I had done my research and had the skills, I could’ve written a decent novel. To write an historical novel you have know the facts. Obvious? Obviously not to me.
For more than a thousand pages my characters either went along with Hitler or slaughtered their neighbors. So I rewrote history, with wrong dates and getting my places wrong. To add authenticity, I created my own German (I don’t know German). You see it was easier to make up stuff than to do my homework, just as it is easier to pull numbers out of the air than really add and subtract and multiply. But getting it wrong will always get you in trouble.
But the Randy Ford I know hasn’t always listened. Randy Ford wanted to get by without studying. Every time in school he took the easy route, and sadly got away with it.
I approached writing “GOOD PEOPLE” in the same way. I was motivated enough (four or five hours each day), then…in spite of not knowing my subject…to write two drafts; and I had more than thirty-eight chapters. In the end though, I had nothing, or anything I would want to show anyone. The Nazi killing machine, Hitler’s ultimate creation, was real enough without my mucking with it. But back then I was naïve enough to give it a try.
When I finished the two drafts I gave my manuscript to a Jewish librarian and history buff to correct my German. My guess is he stopped reading it almost immediately; and he wouldn’t say much about it. Now, with the objectivity of hindsight, I see how lazy I was. I did almost two years of work, writing almost every day; and when I finished I could only add it to the stacks of writing I have in my closet. I think the exercise was worth it because it kept me writing and rewriting for all of that time. I don’t know what you think. I think any writing is good for a would-be writer, but don’t expect anyone to read it.