I have a number of rituals at the end of the year. One of them is to do some cleaning and decluttering. I always mean to do “Spring cleaning” around Spring, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Invariably, this means getting rid of a bunch of old boxes and such.
Perhaps it’s the human predilection for pattern recognition, but because of the recent passing of William Goldman, I’ve been thinking a good deal about writing as it relates to getting one’s writing produced in Hollywood… and how random the process can sometimes be.
For whatever reason, back when I was in school busy with acting training, many instructors felt the need to let me know that I’m not a “leading man” type of actor. My guess is they dealt with many acting students who would feel that was beneath them or represented failure. Little did they know that, having grown up with my Dad giving us Turner Classic Movies before TCM existed, I already enjoyed the work of George Macready, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Victor McLaglen — to say nothing of the rest of John Ford’s “stock company.” And I also was noticing and following the careers of the current generation of character actors whose work I kept on seeing and enjoying like David Warner, Bob Balaban, and Charles Martin Smith.
One of the better instances of this truth being delivered to me was from a director who was an actor himself — and he said that one needed to put in the work and work hard, and then in one’s 50s, things bloomed. Without prompting, he said, “You work hard, you’ll wake up one day and be a David Warner.” I kept my poker face on, but inside I was “Hell, yeah, that’s a goal!” It was incredibly motivating.
Goldman was, and will continue to be, enormously influential for writers and his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, is one I’ve given as a gift to several fellow writers, not only for its insights about writing and the writing process, but of that crazy fantasy land known as Hollywood.
Like countless others, my connection to “The Man” now best known for cameos in the films of a billions-dollar film franchise came early on. He represented my “ur-fandom.” Before Star Trek or Doctor Who, there was Stan Lee.
I am given to understand I am but one of many billions who met Stan. It was still wonderful to do so.
Even though films dominated my childhood, trips to the movies were not as frequent as trips to the library. And more often than not I would go straight to a well-remembered section of the Cherrydale branch library and check out Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, and, the perennial favorite: Bring on the Bad Guys.
Within those tomes were just not the stories of heroes and villains, but insight into Stan Lee’s origins as well. In his writing, he created the accessible yet aspirational persona of “Stan Lee” as surely as he conjured any of a seemingly infinite number of characters that appeared in Marvel Comics. “Stan Lee” was the indefatigable image of a creator and a writer: someone who used all the history and mythology and tales they’d grown up with and channeled them into his own stories. What kid couldn’t help but love that?
This persona became bigger for me and a whole Saturday morning cartoon generation with his narration of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. And “Stan’s Soapbox” in comics. And all the other small ways we fans were able to piece together information back when Chrome was a 50s car characteristic and before Netscape navigated a single web page. Okay, I’ve lost the younger folk.
Long story short: the character of Stan Lee was like a slightly dignified, but just goofy enough cousin of Uncle Grandpa. His passion was pure, his heart was consistently in the right place, and his enthusiasm was infectious. One of his superpowers was validation: you were right to be a fan, you were right to enjoy these stories, and for scores and scores of us, you were right to be an aspiring creator. That’s a hero to look up to. All the entertaining alliteration helps too.
Of course, the human Stan Lee had more nuance and shades of grey. As much as I and the all the remembrances of the past day cast the Stanley Lieber himself as a hero, that’s not ’nuff said. This long-form exploration of Stan Lee’s legacy from early 2016 by Abraham Riesman in Vulture nails some of the complexity behind Lee’s legacy. I promised myself when I read it, I’d include it in the remembrance I knew I’d one day write. It’s important to know that the creator of so many iconic heroes had flaws of his own. So do we all. In a sense, that’s the Marvel way, isn’t it?
Two of the podcasts I regularly listen to, Scriptnotes and Maltin on Movies, both note how a given actor or other creative artist regularly takes 10-20 years to become an “overnight success.” They note this, in part, because the whole idea of the precocious talent, the creative who does genius work just out of the womb, seems so engrained in our culture, you kind want to stop and say, “Wait? Is that really normal?”
It’s been a little while since a “Motivation Monday” post, so let’s just dive right in with UK author Mark Dawson’s piece on how to approach self-publishing, amply referencing his own experience from traditional publishing to now.
It’s recent (from August of this year) and I appreciate how it’s not paint-by-numbers. The five steps aren’t particularly easy, in part because none of them can ever be fully completed (perhaps “five processes” might more sense to some). I especially like that the last part is to “never stop learning”– which for a writer who enjoys research should, on one level be fun (though your mileage may vary with such paint-drying excitement like editing DKIM values to help your mailing list).
In any case, I found it to be a good reminder of what I’m doing and what I’ve yet to do in the creative entrepreneur realm… and perhaps you’ll find it useful too.