I wasn’t always a writer.
Calling myself that took me years, a very long time spent writing and rewriting before I could acknowledge that I‘d done enough to deserve the name. I found something late in life that wasn’t just something I wanted to be -- I found something I’d been all along.
I always told stories, in one way or another, long before I started stringing words together on paper. As a child I made my own action figures out of multi-colored pipe cleaners, masking tape and crepe paper, acted out my own episodes of Batman on a piece of slate flooring I’d salvaged along the way to act as a stage set. Complete with special effects, courtesy of stick on caps and a misguided experiment with a pool of rapidly evaporating pool of liquefied butane fuel and a lighter.
My pubescent brushes with pyromania aside, the focus of my play, no matter the props, alone or with friends, was always creative storytelling. When I drew pictures, there was always a back-story, an explanation of the image and its place in a larger event. Games with friends were reduced to role-playing as we acted out Batman episodes or Hardy Boy or Nancy Drew plots.
When I hit my twenties, fresh out of college, I had no real idea what I wanted to do. I’d fallen in love with movies in school, had a film teacher who gave me a referral for my first job on a low budget kids’ Public TV show that changed my life. I started writing scripts then, the perfect blending of my visual and verbal skills.
But fiction writing always lured me back -- the singular pleasure of telling tales not in pictures or words designed to direct pictures, but words as end product. I was a voracious reader -- New York made it easy, with lots of time spent on the subway, on trains or waiting in stations. The more I read, the more I wrote my own early attempts at short stories.
My day job was an education as well, a faster one, as I got notes on everything I’d written for filming -- notes that taught me how to develop deeper characters, establishing them in as little time as possible. I learned to pace a story, and most importantly, to finish one. I worked on children’s shows, but I wanted to make horror movies, like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Toby Hooper and Wes Craven.
And the fight was on. I did a lot of photography in there as well, exploring visual imagery and the effects of light and shadow on film. I figured out how to create a matte box for an old Graphlex 4x5 film camera I‘d bought a Kodak instant film back for, and made a series of imaginary twin self-portraits. This one was meant to be a take-off on the poster for Brian DePalma’s Sisters (seen in the background), but I couldn’t get the Siamese twin join clean enough then. I could fix it in Photoshop, but prefer to see it as a portrait of how I felt at the time, torn between two loves.
I made a few short films, expensive then when you shot in 16mm, between processing, mixing, negative matching and print charges. I started a LOT of short stories, some good, some bad, some in the middle. Over the years I did a lot of production work of many kinds, live action and animation, East and West Coast. It took me twenty years to take my fiction writing as seriously as I took my production work, but I feel like it wasn’t time wasted. One fed the other, and lessons I learned on my day job have helped me in my new vocation as a novelist. I hope that one day it will pay my bills as the TV work did for years, and still does.
In a way the photo captures the truth -- I’ll always be split between the two, even if the balance has flipped. Even as I’m writing more than I ever have, I’m also getting back into shooting and editing films on digital video. I still have two loves, writing and production, but they both connect on one level -- storytelling -- my one and only true love.