Sunday, December 23, 2007


I'm a writing addict. Wish that meant I can't stop writing. All it means is I go through withdrawls when I don't, I'm high when I do it well, and I'm gollum when I do it badly. Other writers are like this, I hear. Not all, but some. Some could take it or leave it and sometimes I envy them. Might've left it myself years ago after piles of rejections--if not for the need. The need is a killer and a lover like any good femme fatale.

Some folks envy writers. I envy CEOs of large companies who like their jobs. They do what they like and get paid a few cool mil. I take a year to get a short story right and sell it for $100-200 bucks. Or, more often than not, don't sell it at all. Still, I love writing the way crack addicts love crack. I don't imagine CEOs love CEOing that way. Maybe they do.

People have asked me when I knew I wanted to be a writer. Age nine, which is true. What that means: at age nine, probably earlier, I began to get these stories in my head, slight variations on movies I'd seen, particularly Red Dawn, which I must've rewritten ten times at least. Mom didn't allow me to watch R-rated movies, so when I saw one at Dad's or a friend's house, it haunted me for months. Red Dawn, Friday the Thirteenth: A New Beginning, Creepshow, Conan the Barbarian, Jaws 3 (okay, Wikipedia says Red Dawn was PG-13, but I still wasn't allowed to watch it). These head-stories: they were obsessions. Had to get them down on paper or they'd torture my mind when I was supposed to be learning times tables.

In fact, the storytelling urge started before I could put pen to paper. I'd play out tales with my GI Joes, Transformers, Start Wars and Masters of the Universe action figures. Even timed them for two hours so they'd be as long as a movie. No action figure ever played himself. I always made up characters to fit the outcomes. Had a whole repertoire of gun-blast sounds. Love scenes tested what ways the figures could bend.

So some writers start early. These I think are the addited ones. Joyce Carol Oates is like that, though she's lucky enough to have the drive to write write write. She didn't play action figures as a kid. Instead, she copied down Faulkner novels word-for-word. Addicted writers get envied because we've always known what we wanted, what career--but that's bunk.

Being a writer is a job if you're lucky enough to get paid. Being a writer is a job if you do it to get paid (which is the worst occupational idea in the history of humankind). Being a writer is an addiction if you do it to keep yourself from short-circuting in response to all this longing to be other characters and know their hearts through narrative.

You fall in love with fake people and you dog them till you know what their souls look like. Then you fall in love with new ones. You fall in love with their jobs and ache to have their jobs. You're desparate to know what everybody is doing in private and you'll make up fake lives just to find out. "Choose" to be a writer at age nine and you're not choosing shit except a lifetime of having to want other people's lives--their souls, their jobs, their desires, their defeats. Not a choice.

I'm obsessed with telling stories, which ain't a choice either. Got to find new ways of telling all the time. Short stories give you options, novels more. But anything with that narrative drive can take hold of me. Had to spend a few years to learn how to write screenplays, though I've never written one I'd try to sell. Stoked by the idea of video game narratives, even though I've not actually owned a game player since the original Nintendo. Don't want to get sucked into playing a Playstation RPG for hundreds of hours, but I'd love to write one. Correction: I'd love to learn how to write one, figure out all the intracies of non-linear narrative and world-building. It's not the way I write, but I damnit I want it to be.

Heard about ARGs? Alternative Reality Gaming. I'm a Luddite about these technologies, but ARGs came to my attention when one of my favorite bands, Nine Inch Nails, released an ARG in conjuction with their (well, his) newest album, Year Zero. YZ's a concept album, so it's got this whole futuristic dystopia backstory to help explain the songs. Problem is, the age of MP3s makes explanatory album liner notes a no-go. Instead, NIN frontman Reznor employs a company to create an ARG for him. Story unfolds gradually to a large group of curious "readers" who decipher clues on concert t-shirts and mysteroiusly placed USB flash drives, clues that lead them to numerous websites that revealed bits and pieces of the narrative. Again, a non-linear narrative played out through an interactive readership, sometimes modified as the "game" progresses. NBC's The Office has its own ARG, Dunder Mifflin Infinity, in which you get to join your own Dunder Mifflin branch.

I can't pretend to understand, but I want to. My need for narrative fix is on overdrive with this. Mystery stories, spy stories, conspiracy stories. True, ARGs seem custom-made for tales driven by plot. Not a lot of hope for depth and complexity of character there. But who knows what new technologies can bring. So far ARGs have been used mainly for marketing purposes--not particuarly complex storylines--but it's a cutting edge area. Least, it is to me.

Comics and graphic novels, novelistic televison shows like The Wire. The Wire is better than a lot of novels I've read (I'm Netflicking my way through Season 2). I'm enticed by them all, not just to watch but to explore through creation. Voices calling out to me.

Wanted to be a writer since age nine, but that's not choosing anything. I'm writing a novel but I'm holding down the urge to seek out other character's lives, other types of narratives. It's a constant fight to stay focused. I supposed that's the human condition. Drives some of us nuts.

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