Still Life With Brass Pole
Book genre: Cross-Country Coming of Age Memoir
Date Published: May 17, 2011
What is your day job?
I’ve been a screenwriter since 1997, but I also teach classes and do some writing coaching and story consulting for production companies.
What is your book about (in a few sentences)?
At its heart, the book is about the things that made me want to be dad, but the logline is, “Young love and coming of age in the strip clubs.”
When I was 16 I was down from Oklahoma, visiting my dad in Miami. We’d been doing cocaine (my first time) for three days, and he asked me if I wanted to go to a strip bar. I said, “Sure!” and 10 minutes later I was in a car with Dad’s boyfriend on the way to an all nude club in the woods. That night was a revelation. I went back to Oklahoma the next day, and before the end of my junior year in high school my mom left town with her 23 year-old boyfriend, and my pregnant girlfriend was moved off to Texas by her parents.
This, and a roaring White Knight Complex, sent me on a demented, five year quest for a family of my own. I succeeded, but in between I was like John Cusack holding a giant radio over my head, searching for someone to rescue, until finally someone rescued me.
Most challenging part of the writing process:
Well, that’s an interesting question. I think we’re all like Christopher Columbus when we start a new project, bound and determined to find a faster way to the Spice Islands. Somewhere along the way, though – if we’re lucky – the story will start pulling us in the direction it wants to go. That moment of surrender, where you decide that all of your best laid plans need to be pitched so that you can discover America is it for me. Just getting there, and allowing it to happen, is probably the most challenging, and the most rewarding, part of the writing process.
That, and avoiding mixed metaphors!
What motivates you to write?
Fear of starvation.
Did you experience writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes, I have. I think that has more to do with anxiety or overwork than anything. I just read one of Willie Nelson’s books and he was talking about how Ray Price told him not to try to force anything when the well runs dry. He said that everything you do in between writing songs is filling that well back up. I agree. You can really get burned out and isolated if you neglect your actual (non-writing) life. And if you have no life, you’ll have nothing to write about.
How long did it take you to write this book?
About ten months, maybe a little less. I wrote the first 20 pages ten years ago, but when I sat down and got going, I found a pretty steady and comfortable pace.
Why did you decide to self-publish this book?
Well, I was dying to write this book, but I knew that my manager and agents in Hollywood wouldn’t have any interest in it. From their perspective, books are a huge gamble with very slim odds of paying off. And they are probably right. However, I was obsessed. So I just started doing it and didn’t ask permission.
When I got done, my screenwriting agent didn’t even want to read it. And what’s worse, I found there really isn’t much crossover between Hollywood and the publishing world if you’re not a name brand author. So, I wrote a bunch of query letters and five months later I got a good agent. It took another three months to negotiate the representation contract, and then we had to wait through the holidays. In late January, the book went out and we were hearing the same thing from about 70% of the editors who read it. That bit went something like, “Love the book, love the voice, showed it around to the gang, don’t know how to sell a memoir by someone who isn’t famous.”
After almost three months of this, I pulled the plug. I was just dead tired of swinging in the wind, particularly with something as personal as this. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could find my audience if I reached out to them. And so, I decided to try. Now this may wind up being the pinnacle of foolishness, particularly if you add in all the time spent writing the book. But no one goes into creative writing because the business prospects are great. Usually you’re plagued with passion, and that’s sort of where I am now.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book?
That it needs to take forever. I find tackling any kind of long form writing is a lot like going to the gym. A week or two of keeping your appointment with yourself to write, turns pretty quickly into a habit, and if you just let it continue, before you know it you’ll have your first draft.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book?
I love how unconstrained I felt writing a book. Screenwriting, even very good screenwriting, is sort of formulaic. There are points where certain things need to happen, and a limited number of pages to tell your story. You also need to be very linear, and show, not tell. I tried to keep the best of that cinematic process, and have fun from there.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion?
I’m just at the very beginning of this process, so I’ve been asking a lot of these questions. Putting one foot in front of the other, and just moving in the direction of your dreams, is really good all-purpose advice that has generally worked well for me.
Oh, and Goodreads is awesome. I just love it. I definitely wouldn’t join with a big marketing attitude about it all, because smart people can smell that a mile away. But if you’re a reader or writer, I think you can absolutely find a home there, and all that getting the word out stuff will happen organically.
I’m a writer – if I stop writing, I am nothing. -Wilbur Smith. Is this true?
No. I’m a dad, so I’ll never feel like I’m nothing. And I also think that if you have that artistic compulsion you’ll find a way to express it, even if you’re not writing.
That said, I am definitely much happier and more confident when I’m writing.
Inspiration is the act of drawing up a chair to the writing desk. -Anon How do you feel about this statement?
Oliver Stone said almost the same thing thusly, “Writing equals ass plus chair.” I love that, and I agree whole-heartedly. As long as you haven’t been running yourself into the ground, I think the best inspiration is just “drawing up a chair to the writing desk.”
Anyway, thanks so much to Sonya for inviting me to do this interview. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I hope you like my book.
- Blog: http://onthefencewithjesus.com/
- Twitter: @CraigWMachen
- Smashwords Author Profile