Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Of Pirates and Poets, Pawns and Kings
What’s the best background for a writer?” asked a young woman at a book signing.
“Everything,” I replied.
I wasn’t being flippant. At least, no more than usual.
Arthur Conan Doyle (above) practiced medicine before creating Sherlock Holmes. Dashiell Hammett worked as a Pinkerton before inventing Sam Spade. William Faulkner famously toiled in a post office, creating some sound and fury by losing much of the mail. Elmore Leonard (above, right) was an advertising copywriter who longed to write western novels. Joseph Wambaugh was a Los Angeles cop before he started making up stories about them. And in her first career, Danielle Steele was a plumber.
Okay, I made the last one up. But my point is that writers come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. ALL jobs, ALL studies, ALL travel, ALL relationships (even bad ones) are lethal ammo for the writer.
Here at Naked Authors, we have all worked at REAL jobs before sitting down to sweat blood onto blank pages. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a trial lawyer, a law school instructor, and a television writer, as well as a novelist. Yes, I know. I can’t hold a job. (I have it on good authority that James Grippando has been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king).
So what do we have in common? The love of the written word. An innate desire to tell stories. An aversion to offices, meetings, and power-point presentations with flow charts and profit projections.
One difference between novelists and screenwriters – and sure I’m generalizing here – is that a lot of the latter go directly from college to film school to spewing out spec scripts at Starbucks on Sunset Boulevard. In other words...no real life experiences.
I admire people who’ve actually done things, who take risks and switch careers. People who follow their bliss, to borrow Joseph Campbell’s expression.
I was thinking these thoughts the other day at a book signing at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. (One of the great independently owned stores in the country). A law school classmate of mine stopped by. Tom Derek (below) was born in Czechoslovakia shortly after World War II, his parents having survived German concentration camps. In his late 40's, Tom quit a cushy job as general counsel of the Miami International Free Trade Zone to come to Hollywood to act. For the past 10 years, he’s worked at his craft, pounded the pavement and has built his resúme. Like all the creative arts, acting is hard and filled with frustration, disappointment, and seemingly impossible odds.
I asked Tom why he does it.
“I have this passion to create unique characters that jump off the page,” he said, “that move people to a deeper understanding of their humanity and connection to others. Somehow, because of my background, surely I’d also like to make the world just a little bit better for having been here.”
Tom has a part as a P.I. in an upcoming independent feature. With his lived-in face and lifetime of experience, I’ll bet he knocks ‘em dead.