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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

I don’t know what what writer John Grogan’s dream was growing up in Michigan, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve two Hollywood actors eventually playing he and his wife based on an international best-selling book that he wrote.

But that’s the way it went down. The Marley & Me author is a good example of Mike Rowe’s “Follow your opportunities” school of thought.

“I got into writing by default because I was so bad at everything else. Algebra, geometry, French, chemistry, physics — they all escaped me. But writing, now there was a subject I could have some fun with. By eighth grade I was penning parodies of the nuns, and in high school, besides writing for the school newspaper, I started an underground tabloid, which earned me a celebrated trip to the principal’s office.  From there it was on to Central Michigan University, where I earned the princely sum of twenty-five cents per column inch writing for the campus newspaper while slugging away at a double major in journalism and English.

“My first full-time writing job came immediately upon graduation in 1979 when I was hired as a police reporter for the small and lackluster Herald-Palladium in the Michigan harbor town of St. Joseph. I rode all night with cops, photographed murder victims, picked my way through smoldering house fires and sat over coffee with grieving parents.”
John Grogan (Marley & Me)
About John Grogan

Grogan says his “ticket out of small-town journalism” was a fellowship at Ohio State University where he’d earn his master’s degree.  A second fellowship to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies took him to St. Petersburg, Florida. After that he got a job at Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. And it was in South Florida that a little dog named Marley came into his life.

Fast forward a few years and he and his wife would be portrayed in the film version of Marley & Me by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.

Follow your opportunities and be faithful in the little things. And as yesterday’s post pointed out, it doesn’t hurt your chances of success if you wake up early and get some early morning writing in before your day job.

Scott W. Smith

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‘I wrote from 5 to 7 a.m….’

“I’m usually a night owl, but when I wrote Marley & Me, I forced myself to go to bed early and get up early. I wrote from 5 to 7 a.m. and then ate breakfast and went to work to write my newspaper column. I averaged a chapter a week this way. I began the book in early 2004 and finished the manuscript right after Labor Day. My agent, Laurie Abkemeier, sold it the next month in an auction.”
John Grogan 
Harper Collins/Author interview

Let’s do the math at what Grogan accomplished writing two hours everyday for eight months outside his day job; Marley & Me spent weeks at the number 1 slot of New York TImes Best-Seller list, sold more than 5 million books internationally, and the movie version (written by Scott Frank and Don Roos) made $247 million at the box office.

Two things I’ve written extensively about on this blog are the importance of emotions and conflict in screenwriting, and the Marley & Me movie packs in both. It’s worth a revisit.

Note: The above quote was pulled from this 2009 post.

Related post:
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) Writers Elmore Leonard & John Grisham early in their careers also got up at 5 a.m. to write before their day jobs.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“If you can’t pitch an idea — if you’ve got an idea for a story, whether it’s a book, a TV show or a movie, if you can’t pitch it in like 30 seconds and hook somebody and make them believe in it, you’re probably in trouble…Many, many years ago, I had just finished A Time to Kill, and [my wife] Renee was in the kitchen cooking. And I said, hey, I’ve got an idea for you. Listen to me. Give me your attention. I said, okay, here’s the deal. A young associate finishes law school. He goes to work or a law firm set in Memphis, of all places, not one of your big, powerful Washington or New York firms. And he joins a firm that’s secretly owned by the Mafia. And once you join the firm, you can never leave. That was my spiel, just like that. I made that pitch. And Renee just stopped and she said, wait a minute. Do that again. And I did it again. And she said, that’s a big book. And that was The Firm. So that’s the way I get the ideas going.”
John Grisham
Interview on The Diane Rehm Show

The Firm became a best-selling book and then a film starring Tom Cruise based on a script by David Rabe, Robert Towne & David Rayfiel.

This is what Grisham told Rehm about having your novel turned into a movie by others:

“When you deal with Hollywood, you have to be realistic. It’s going to be something different. It is very difficult to adapt a 400 or 500-page novel into a screenplay that’s 120 pages and a two-hour film. And it can be done, it’s done all the time, but it’s not always that easy. Something is always going to be left out, something’s going to be changed, and you have to know that up front. It’s going to be something different. I don’t get too close to it. I keep my distance. I don’t go to the set and hang out. I go and meet everybody one time and then go home and wait for the movie to come out.”

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
John Grisham’s Writing Routine
John Grisham’s Outlining Process
Bad Ideas & Writing Poorly
Is It a Movie?

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)

The old Hollywood adage is “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” The thought there is people don’t want “message films”—they simply want to be entertained. Yet as I’ve explored over the years, one of the things that sets many fine movies apart is they’re about something. Call that something theme, call it a message, or give it some other name, but it’s the thing that resonates with people long after they’ve been entertained.

Movies as diverse as On the Waterfront, Toy Story 3, An Officer and a Gentleman, Erin Brockovich, The Verdict, The Maxtrix, Spiderman, The Shawshank Redemption, The Wizard of Oz, Driving Miss Daisy and It’s a Wonderful Life are all movies about something.

Many of John Grisham’s books and movies deal with some sort of injustice. And in the following lightly edited and abridged exchange from The Moment with Brian Koppelman podcast Grisham talks about that delicate balance between having something to say and writing something that’s entertaining.

John Grisham: I’m still grateful for what’s happened to me. I don’t take it for granted. I keep my feet on the ground. And I just try to help people and treat them fairly. And write the best fiction I can write year after year. My dreams have all been fulfilled, which is kind of sad. There’s nothing left to dream for—but I never dreamed I’d be here. And so I’ve very content where I am and very grateful.

Brian Koppelman: So what’s the reason you write now?

John Grisham: Some books and some issues really tick me off and I want to go after people. I want to expose something. I want to shed some light on an issue that maybe we hadn’t thought about. For example, the more I read about student debt in this county the more ticked off I get. At what the government has done, what the lenders have done, what some of these schools have done to entice students to come to school there with false claims of big jobs. So these kids finish college and have a mountain of debt—can’t get a job—anyway, it’s not fraudulent, but it’s not really right either. And that’s an issue that the more I read the more I want to explore it. And I can see a novel coming with that background, with that issue.

Brian Koppelman: That’s great.

John Grisham: Stuff like that can keep me awake at night. 

Brian: When you see injustices you want to write an entertaining book, but you want to get in there and expose it in some way and make us think about it.

John Grisham: Yeah.

Brian Koppelman: What do you think is the responsibility of your position?

John Grisham: I don’t feel responsibility just because of who I am and how big my megaphone is. Sure I have an audience. But you got to be careful with your audience because they don’t all share my politics. You can’t be intrusive with your politics in popular fiction when you’re trying to entertain people. So I really have to watch that. And I do watch it. I don’t feel a responsibility next year that might change something. My responsibility is to write a book that will entertain.  

Brian Koppelman: Even if the thing that fires you up to do it though is something that bothers you. You’ll try to wrap it in a package that’s digestible.

John Grisham: Sure. Oh yeah. Look forward to it. That’s what I want to do every time out.

P.S. For John Grisham and others interested in the student loan debate; Read the interview I did with friend and filmmaker Calvin Johannsen on his doc Broke, Busted & Disgusted.

Related Posts:
Sidney Lumet on Theme “The picture had better have some meaning to me.”
Put the Megaphone Down! “You’ve got to find a way of saying it without saying it.”
Duke Ellington
Diane Frolov & The Twilight Zone  “I think of a theme and then chose a story line or a plot to go with it….” Rod Serling
Michael Arndt on Theme “I read a lot of comedy screenplays and the disappointing thing—the reason most of them don’t work is because they’re not about anything.”
Writing from Theme

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“When I was younger and finally got an agent—I was turned down by everybody—finally an agent who said he would represent me I may have told my family there was a book in the works. I really don’t remember; it was a long time ago. I had read so much about how to get published and I knew that rejections are just part of the routine. And there are great stories about writers you’d been rejected so many times for great books and it really keeps you going. It motivates you. At the same time, I was a busy, busy small-time lawyer—wasn’t making any money—but I was busy. I was a member of the state legislator in Jackson, which took up a third of my time, plus my wife’s having babies. So life is really complicated. I didn’t have any time. This was a secret little part-time hobby of mine, if it didn’t work out that was okay. I had a law office. I had a career. It wasn’t like I was suicidal when I got rejection letters. [But writing] gave me a very big dream. I’d only been a lawyer for four or five years when I started writing. And once I started writing and the pages started piling up, it became this huge dream about writing full-time, and not having to be a lawyer. There’s a lot of frustration with the practice of law, and I was kind of burned out I think.  The dream got bigger.  And I thought with each rejection letter, maybe I’m one step closer. Keep submitting, keep submitting.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Whistler)
Interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman 
(11/1/16)

Note: Grisham has had more than 30 novels published and with an estimated over 250 million books sold he’s one of the bestselling writers in history. In addition to that he’s had 11 features film films produced based on his writings. Not bad for a small town southern lawyer who started out writing as a part-time hobby. Keep dreaming. Keep writing. And keep submitting. (Reading this blog is optional, but you must read this post: J.K. Rowling’s on the Benefits of Failure.)

Related Posts:
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection” Advice from a now Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Emma Thompson on Rejection & Persistence
Perseverance (Werner Herzog) “Perseverance has kept me going over the years. Things rarely happen overnight.”
‘The Anticipation of Rejection’ —“This is a business that’s based on rejection and the anticipation of rejection.”
Rod Serling on Rejection
Rejection Before Raiders
Mike Rich and Hobby Screenwriting
Damien Chazell on ‘Pushing Yourself’
The American Dream & Robert Zemeckis
Postcard #48 (Oxford) The literary tradition in Mississippi

Scott W. Smith

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