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Writer at Work:
Santas, Wizards, & Life behind the Curtain

December 23rd, 2016

jl-santaSo it’s December 1997. I’m driving north out of Oakland, toward Bigelow Boulevard and downtown Pittsburgh. It’s a gray day, light snow falling. Colored lights trim some of the buildings along North Craig Street, but it doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Then I see him.

I clear the rise toward Bigelow Boulevard, and there he is—fourteen-feet high and smiling down from a roadside billboard atop the snowy hillside. Red suit, white beard. It’s Santa. Or is it? I do a double take. This guy’s wearing rollerblades, sporting a Mohawk haircut, and throwing a peace sign. I slow down. Look again. That’s not Santa. That’s my dad!

Backstory: My dad lived a double life. Most of the time he was all pullover shirts, chinos, loafers, conventional haircut. You’d never look twice if you passed him on the street. But every now and then he’d get a call from the modeling agency. When that happened, all bets were off. He could become anything, and for a few years back in the mid-90s, one of those things was a kind of new-age Santa for the shopping district of Pittsburgh’s South Side. He’d go in for the shoot, they’d transform him, and a few weeks later—after he’d gone back to his quiet, nondescript life—his bigger-than-life persona would enter the world on billboards throughout the city.

oz-2In some ways, it’s much the same for writers.

There are exceptions, of course. Writers like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal come most readily to mind. But most of us prefer living behind the curtain, working the craft’s hidden levers and switches like the great and powerful Oz. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” we say, speaking through the grand illusion or our creations. It’s the duality that drives our writing lives–the desire to create characters more interesting than ourselves and send them into the world to be known, read, and appreciated while we remain safe behind the veil of fiction.

Which brings us to the picture below.

dream-team-vertical-2It was taken at a gathering for a new project that I’ll be sure to tell you about in a future post. But for now, what you need to know is that the picture shows directors Alejandro Brugués and Ryuhei Kitamura in the front, writers Sandra Becerril and the 21st Century Scop in the middle, and directors Mick Garris and Joe Dante in the rear. We all appear to be on our marks, but something isn’t right. I noticed the discrepancy days after the photo was taken. I looked, then looked again.

Can you see it? Look closely.

Is that Mick Garris’s hand on Alejandro Brugués’s right shoulder. Is that Joe Dante’s on Sandra Becerril’s left? No, that doesn’t make sense. The positions and poses don’t line up.

Looking again, I realized something that should have been obvious. There were eight of us in the photo. Writer Richard Christian Matheson had been standing right beside Sandra, but when the rest of us turned to face the camera, he ducked down and assumed the position of the great and powerful Oz–masked from view but nonetheless manipulating the image, adding touches that revealed his hidden presence. Now there’s a writer’s writer.

So what kind of writer are you? Do you foster a public persona to help promote your work, or do you prefer living behind the curtain? Drop me a comment if you have a moment. Facebook and email links are open (see the icons at the top of this page), as are the comment boxes below. I’ve received some terrific responses on my previous posts in this writer-at-work series. Sometime soon, I’ll have to post a compilation of those comments. Until then, watch out for Santas on rollerblades … and scop on!

Images

J. L. Connolly as South Side Santa. 1997.

Frank Morgan as The Wizard of Oz. 1939.

Alejandro Brugués, Ryuhei Kitamura, Sandra Becerril, the 21st-Century Scop, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, and the hands of R. C. Matheson. 2016

From Page to Screen:
Talking about Writing @ The Penguin

May 2nd, 2016

Robert A HeinleinIt all began with Robert A. Heinlein.

Back in the 1940s, Heinlein gave what may well be the best writing advice ever given, a five step approach to achieving success as a spinner of tales. And last week at The Penguin Bookshop, an attentive crowd joined me in a consideration of those rules and how they apply to the writing, selling, and adapting of the story “Traumatic Descent” (a.k.a. “This Way to Egress”).

From the story’s first appearance in Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone’s anthology Borderlands 3, through its numerous reprintings and recent adaptation for Mick Garris’s forthcoming feature film Nightmare Cinema, the story has certainly taken on a life of its own. And it’s a life it never would have had without the steps that RAH outlined some 70 years ago.

Penguin Sign WindowFor the record, here are the rules: You must write. You must finish what you write. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. You must put your writing on the market. You must keep it on the market until it sells.

Over the years, people have followed, argued, modified, and disputed those rules. A few years back sf writer Robert J. Sawyer added a sixth, and more recently commentator Charlie Jane Anders disputed them over at io9. Surely, there must be something to them to keep the conversation going for so long.

In any event, they’ve worked for me, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to share the reasons with the good people who stopped by The Penguin on April 27. If you were there, you know the story. If you weren’t, you can still join in by clicking the player below.

It all begins with a burst of 4:00 am inspiration back in 1988 and continues today with the development of Nightmare Cinema. Guess it pays to follow the rules. Scop on!

 Image Credits:

  • Robert A. Heinlein at work. c. 1965. from patrickmccray.com.
  • Penguin Bookshop window display and podcast photo by Mark E. Connolly, copyright © 2016.

Seeing Stories:
All-Star Story Night Preview – Part II

December 17th, 2015

joe reversed (2)Seeing is believing. With that in mind, if you still need convincing that you should be at this month’s All-Star Story Night at Riley’s Pour House, be sure to check out the links at the end of this blog.

My previous All-Star Preview featured audio from Anna Voelker’s June performance–a show-stopping, draw-dropping delivery of a piece titled “Cosmic Curiosity.”

Douglass Claytor House (2)This time around, I’m including two video performances. The first is from Joe Coluccio, who will be making his fifth appearance at Riley’s this month. The performance featured here shows Joe in top form, telling a tale that is at once funny and touching. Recorded by videographer Dean Mougainis at Joe’s previous Riley’s appearance, the clip provides a good sense of what you can expect when this master storyteller returns on December 29.

The second video features performance artist Douglas Claytor reciting “The House With Nobody In It,” a poem by Joyce Kilmer. Shot and edited by Riley’s house musician John Puckett, the video shows Douglas doing what he does best–presenting poetry from memory. Douglas last performed at Riley’s nearly a year ago, and we’re looking forward to having him back.

If you’re a fan of the spoken-word and you plan to be in the Pittsburgh area on December 29, you owe it to yourself to make this event. But you don’t need to take my word for it. See for yourself by checking out the videos below, and I’ll hope to see in a couple weeks when the All-Stars come to Riley’s for the storytelling night of the year.

Until then . . . scop on!

Joe Coluccio – “I am an Astronomer” from Lawrence Connolly on Vimeo.

Hearing Voices:
The Sound of Fantastic Fiction at KGB

September 27th, 2015

voicesTime travel is possible.

Thanks to Gordon Linzner and Rajan Khanna, you can attend a growing list of past performances at Fantastic Fiction at KGB. The reading series is hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, and since the 1990s it has featured readings by some of the top writers in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres.

gordon l audiojpgLinzner (right) and Khanna can’t take you all the way back to the beginning, but their podcasts at the Fantastic Fiction audio site can easily transport you back to the beginning of this year for readings by Andy Duncan and Gregory Frost or to early 2014 to catch Laird Byron and Paul Tremblay. In between, you can listen to the likes of James Morrow, Wesley Chu, Lisa Manetti, Ellen Gunn, Nancy Kress, and others. It’s all free and only a click or two away. Reliving the past has never been easier.

KGB sign1And yes . . . if you missed this month’s session — during which Tom Monteleone and I joined forces — you can catch that one too. Pour a drink, click play, and it will be almost like being there.  You can get all of the available Fantastic Fiction audio by clicking here. A shortcut to my September 16 performance with Tom is available here or by clicking the graphic below.

Go ahead. Click the link . . . and I’ll meet you on the other side. Scop on!

KGB

Images:
Detail from the cover of Voices, Fantasist Enterprises. Artwork by Jason Zerrillo.
Gordon Linzner records at Fantastic Fiction. Photo copyright © 2013 by Ellen Datlow .
The sign above KGB, 85 E. 4th Street. NYC.
Voices: Tales of Horror from Fantasist Enterprises.
Dark Voices Volume 1: Horn of Plenty from Borderlands Press.