A passion for writing

for as long as I can remember

Writing Blog

Sometimes people like what you write

Posted by Greg Miller on March 1, 2012 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Writing my new eBook turned from having immense fun to slowing to a slog. I think the reason was repetition. I was into a routine that got so automatic that somewhere along the way, my brain and all the muscle with any sort of memory left, realized I was settling into a routine. Subliminally, I hate a routine, and I am absolutely sure it has nothing to do with being a Gemini.

I had this chore, duty, semi-obligation to perform. At least that’s how it started out. I received this chirpy email from the sports promotion arm of my college alma mater that Loyola University was having a great basketball season. I am conditioned to mediocre seasons and less-than-impressive teams down through the years so a chirpy (I like that word because it perfectly described the tone of the email) notion that Loyola was having a “great” season did not impress.

I responded with the norm for me in that situation, a bit snarky and sarcastic about how my heart had ripped out too often by inflated expectations and admonished them to get back to me when they were 10-1 or so. I usually can’t leave well enough alone so in my email I dropped a hint of a long-forgotten and probably never repeated historic gem. I have this incredible memory for detail that drives people to distraction, especially my wife when I return from the store with this blank look, having forgotten a key item on the list and my cell phone, which might have come in handy.

A return email played to my vanity so I threw out another folklore gem from the short list of revolving items at the tip of my memory, ready for dispensing on demand. Then an odd thing happened. I told one particular story and the person on the other end of the conversation forwarded it to a contemporary who not only verified it as absolutely true but filled in the other half of the story. It was the other half that I could not have possibly known about and it solved a nagging question that I had been jangling around in my brain for the past 43 years.

So now it was declared that I had to come down for the alumni basketball weekend. I figured that 48 hours out of my life, about $80.00 in gas and tolls, and about $150.00 in hotel and incidentals would not be the worst thing and I might have some fun. I did another thing that turned what constitutes an “interesting” trip into whatever are the next three levels on the have-a-good-time meter – I sent a file with a chapter from my eBook about an incident that happened at Loyola during my college years.

That did it. That file was passed along to the relevant college basketball community and then some. By the time I meekly arrived, I was being introduced to a host of people as “the guy who wrote the Springsteen article.” Watching their eyes light up, my head swelled, my ego inflated, I was gratified, and all because the talcum powder of appreciative praise was generously sprinkled all over me. All for something I wrote.

I returned from what I thought would be a lost weekend in Baltimore to a whole new place in my writing. I remind myself when I find the right words to use on the right subject, the reaction of people who read my nonsense compels me to feel like I should be continuing to do this, write my stories, tell my tales, and enjoy what I do so much. I filed it away for those rough writing stretches to serve as the handy, go-to reminder that “it’s no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

Where do you get your inspiration?

Posted by Greg Miller on November 25, 2011 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (0)
How are you “inspired” to write? Some people get inspired, no doubt, scraping the last peanut butter from the bottom of the jar, trying to get the last bit of that sticky chemical from the swirling plastic nub at the center of the bottom. The whirlpool scene from the Pirate of the Caribbean might have been the afterthought of the construction of a peanut butter sandwich. Probably chunky peanut butter.

I have no problem coming up with ideas; some are just more usable than others. I think one of the best jobs in the world would be those screen writers who come up with a movie by sitting around playing “what if…” Leaving Stephenson's Treasure Island out of this, what Muppet movie was ever based on a book? In The Muppets Take Manhattan, there was a great cameo of Mayor Ed Koch. That must have been brainstormed when they came up with the original idea, like “let’s make this movie take place in Manhattan and we can have all these hilarious cameos.” What Ed Koch said was immaterial; whatever he said would draw a laugh. Make it in the least way funny and you get double-plus laughter.

When I was a press card carrying reporter I had all these opportunities that came up in the normal course of business. I filed many of those instances in the back of my head and I find that I am drawing on more and more of them lately. That means that they were either fortuitous opportunities that don’t come around that often or my life has gotten a whole lot more boring since those salad days.

The point I want to make is that when an opportunity comes along, keep a very open mind and try to be as aware and observant as you can be in the moment. If something looks odd or curious or even unidentified, ask the question. You’re there, make it worthwhile. Last summer I happened to cross paths with a cousin I hadn’t seen in 10 years. He mentioned that he would be in New York in August and that we ought to get together. As it turns out he has an unusual job. He’s the captain of a yacht. I mean yacht as in capital “Y.” He said he would berth at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan (at 23rd street and the West Side) and he had to babysit the boat that night so we could sit and talk. He also promised a complete tour.

How many times have I ever had the opportunity to peek into every nook and cranny of a large boat before? How about, never? So I made my way after work over to the Chelsea Piers that night, a pleasant balmy 68 degree evening in August. We sat on one of the three afterdecks and looked out at the Manhattan skyline as the lights came up, focusing straight ahead at the Empire State Building. My cousin was great, taking time to explain all the electronics, daily life on the ship, and how everything operated. He was patient with my 1001 questions. I’m not sure I’ll ever write about a boat but, should I have to consider a plot that involved a boat, I would be prepared or know where to go to ask a specific question, a great way to start. No pressure, just go and have fun and scribble a few thoughts.

Years ago, my publisher called me into his office, a paneled version of Ward Cleaver’s den, the location of many lectures to the Beaver. He gave me two tickets to a luncheon junket that was a promo for a movie. It would be the first review I ever wrote and a good start because I would be given identical opportunities in the next few years. I would be attending in his place and I could preview the movie and have a freebie lunch along with cocktail hour. I arrived at the huge movie theatre on Route 46, arriving several minutes early at a large dining room still being set up by the staff. The press corps, a motley crew of middle-aged adults, was bunched in a group at one end of the dining room and at the other was a collection of chairs, folded and stacked against the wall, some of those serving tray holders stacks, and a short-bearded man with a small felt hat, a trench coat and an umbrella. As I remember that day, there was not a cloud in the sky, no rain in days and no prospects of rain in the near future. Since he was clutching that umbrella on such a beautiful day I immediately figured out that he had to be the movie director. As he shyly backed away from the scene, he was moving into the stacked serving tray racks and they were pushing into the chairs and the whole arrangement was in danger of cascading down. I hurried over, caught the chairs and gently steered him away from the impending avalanche and introduced myself.

We struck up a conversation and I realized that I was a friend indeed and he needed an anchor because he was too nervous to face all those nasty press people alone. In fact, he was great one-on-one but looked like he was going to his execution when he was asked to stand up and greet everyone with a few words about his movie. He was 27 at the time. By now, he’s 61 and in between he’s learned to stand up to a bevy of reporters and calmly discuss his projects. Back then, he thought the press was the enemy, like they were going to find out that he was a canard. Success breeds confidence.

We had a great lunch and he was very open and friendly. He pointed out where the flaws in the movie were and told me to watch a scene were a man is being chased down the hall of a hotel and at the last instant jumps into an elevator, and into the open arms of four nuns. A close look reveals that the nuns were men, one even having a mustache. Naturally it happens so quickly the brain is fooled when the eye is not. The eye records the event but the brain only reports out what it’s used to seeing. Nuns don’t have beards.

For the record, that director was John Landis, whose next movie months later was Animal House. The movie we were previewing was Kentucky Fried Movie, made on a budget of $650,000 that eventually grossed $20-million. He went on to add to his credits: The Blues Brothers, 1941, American Werewolf in London, Beverly Hills Cop III, The Twilight Zone, Trading Places and Coming to America.

That whole experience got filed into the back of my brain file so that if I ever need to write about a conversation over lunch with a movie director, I’ll just know that it’s almost like every other lunch conversation. Having said that, I am sure the next director that I am discussing my movie deal with will be a vastly different experience.

The next time you have access to an extraordinary occurrence, flip on that recorder in your memory and then file the event for future “inspiration.” Some writers carry notebooks around, not trusting their memory. You could do that, and then toss that notebook onto a pile of scads of other notebooks and rely on some sort of personally developed filing system for a recall of which notebook had what experience. Or, have a memory like mine, wired for eclectic and strange recall. That’s how I am “inspired” when I write.