Writing as Adria Townsend and J. S. Laurenz

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Indie Jones and Raiders of the Lost Art

Last week I brought up Bufo Calvin’s estimate of 20,000 electronic Indie titles appearing per month.  Should we be surprised that everyone’s writing a book?  Not at all.  Since that first prehistoric campfire, we missing links have loved to listen to stories and loved to tell them.  It’s what made us human.  Cave paintings aren’t hunting diagrams, they are mystery suspense thrillers about the one that got away (be it the cave girl or the saber-toothed cat).  I’m all for going back to our spontaneous stone-age campfire days…as long as we can still have marshmallows. 

Story-telling is a lost art, not because people stopped telling stories, but because we’ve fallen into the belief that they can only be funneled through certain channels like tradpubs to be legitimate stories.  The elusive traditional publishing contract has long been seen as the Holy Grail.  Now readers are finding the landscape littered with other valuable artifacts, if they’re willing to do a little digging, by downloading sample chapters and reading blurbs. 

Speaking of stories, I met Al Hyslop ten years ago in upstate New York when he was directing citizen theater.  He has been an actor, a journalist, and most famously the Executive Producer for Captain Kangaroo and later a producer for shows like Sesame Street and 3,2,1 Contact.  I had the great pleasure of interviewing him.  His deft and clever answers which I collected for the locally-owned Chronicle of Glens Falls have shaped my view of the entertainment business.  Given his varied background, I posed this question:  Are you an actor that directs, or a director that acts?

He gave me this answer:  “I describe myself as a storyteller. I don’t mean I’m a liar, I mean I’m engaged in the business of telling stories.  Whether one does it as an actor, director, makeup person, stage manager, producer, or writer, it’s still trying to do the same thing.”

Whether I’m writing a travel article, recording an interview, digging into creative nonfiction, or making stuff up in a romance novel, I concentrate on that mantra from Al Hyslop:  good stories, well told. 

It’s that simple, because it’s what we are.  Our lives are stories.  There’s a beginning, a middle, and a most definite end.  (I think fiction is our way of trying to change that ending.)  It’s not rocket science (unless you’re writing the history of rocket science…).  Woody Guthrie once said, when playing guitar you only need to know two chords.  Three if you’re trying to impress a girl.  In writing romance, I’m out to impress women (and men, if they’re interested) who are looking for a story filled with tension, love, longing and a happy ending that doesn’t insult their intelligence.  I’m looking to entertain. 

The reason I keep dropping names is to prove how connected we are.  It’s obvious now, more than ever, with our social networks and virtual communities, but those are just mirrors held up to the nurturing communities we’re born into or move into, or create. 

Thanks for dropping into the dime store neighborhood. 

Next up on the cowgrrl blog, I’ll tell you who the following quote is attributed to.  You could, of course, just google it in the meantime, but before you do that, try to guess who it’s from, and more importantly when it’s from!!

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”
I’ll leave you with some more of my favorite quotes from Al Hyslop about his Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street days, excerpted from The Chronicle of Glens Falls:  

Q: When the camera was off, did the puppets, like Mr. Moose or Rabbit go right back in their boxes?
A: The puppets were ever-protected at Kangaroo.  No one was ever allowed in the studio, no one ever saw a puppet off somebody’s hand, nobody ever saw the Captain out of costume.  Indeed he got very upset if people recognized him on the street. 

Q: Why? 
A: For the age group of children involved, he was concerned not to shatter their illusions. We were very protective when he was in costume.  He was referred to as Captain, you never said Bob to him.

Q: What was it like working with Jim Henson and Henson Associates? 
A: They were terrific, they were extremely talented and at the same time, and these often go together, extremely hard-working and conscientious. What makes it fun is that it is serious business. 

Q: Any guest stars stand out in your mind? 
A: At one time or another, everybody appeared on Sesame Street, and/or wanted to.  You could be a major star, but the only way you were going to get respect from your children was if you appeared on Sesame Street

Q: What’s the difference between working with a professional actor and working with the citizens of Chestertown? 
A: If people take it seriously, whether they’re professionals or not, it doesn’t make any difference. What’s appealing is that it’s a human activity, and what one tries to do is exploit the rich variety of human experience. 

Q: What advice do you have for someone in this profession?
A: The chances of having a career as a performer are tiny.  It has a certain amount to do with talent and appearance and a vast amount to do with luck.  If you find the business appealing, then the opportunities are much broader.  Find a theater or a television crew and volunteer for any production opportunity.  They need runners, they need crowd control, they need somebody who can handle a screwdriver, somebody who can get coffee.  One must be willing to get coffee! The more experience you get, the more valuable and ultimately invaluable you become.

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