When I started looking into your biography as a creative, certain things jumped out at me, things like your references to Beetlejuice (you impersonated the main character from that memorable 1988 Tim Burton movie) and… Tom Lehrer! I wasn’t an AV department sort of nerd (they wouldn’t hire me), but as someone who still can recite from memory the lyrics to “So Long, Mom,” “The Masochism Tango” and “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” well, I could relate. Then there were your interests in film noir and Mayan history – the sort of odd combination that only a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast could really appreciate. And it turns out that you are actually worked with Pinnacle on their Flash Gordon Savage Worlds role playing game (RPG).
First, thank you for having me here.
Let me sort through this first part to start us rolling. I grew up listening to Dr. Demento on Sunday nights,or playing comedy tapes on road trips, so one of my earliest forms of learning storytelling was through comedy. I even tried my had at stand-up for awhile, but found I worked better as an improv-type comic than a tell-jokes-type comic. This played out very well when I got into gaming, as being a good game master (GM) is all about improvisation.
When I got the invite to contribute to the Flash Gordon RPG, I was blown away. I’d, of course, watched the 1980 Flash Gordon movie (produced by Dino de Laurentiis) and listened to Queen’s soundtrack on – get this – 8-track tape! It was an honor to work with Scott A. Woodard and team on the project. We focused mostly on the comic strips, which unfortunately left a lot of plot holes in my section, Tropica (the jungle kingdom on Planet Mongo, ruled by Queen Desira). So I had to fill in, or extrapolate, lost threads to make a solid narrative. Scott, however, deserves all the credit because he had to oversee all of us doing that exact thing to several kingdoms and weave them into an amazing book. When we got nominated for an Origins Award, I was honored to be a part of the team.
I can imagine. Outside of maybe technical writing, a writer usually just has to deal what’s in that person’s own head, not what’s in several others as well. Do you follow any processes to coordinate with the other collaborators working on this RPG?
Luckily, the section I worked on was one of the Kingdoms of Mongo featured in the sourcebook of the same name. We worked mostly on our own worlds, with coordination run through Scott. He kept all the balls in the air.
I’ve always thought that role-playing games made excellent teaching tools. I like that idea of self-inspection conducted through the creatures a person hunts – that’s cool. Of course, you’ve produced more than just RPGs You began your first great work, the “Noel R. Glass Mysteries,” with “She Murdered Me with Science” (“SMMS,” 2017) and the prequal novella “A Whisper to a Scheme” (2017), both sci-fi/noir-influenced works. You’ve also edited anthologies in a genre that I hadn’t run into before, but which I love the idea of – “Weird Western.” I also loved the NWA-inspired titles: “Straight Outta Tombstone,” “Straight Outta Deadwood,” and “Straight Outta Dodge City.” I’m interested a bit in what the synopses of these would look like, but moreso, I’m fascinated about the methods you use to get something like that down on paper. Do you follow routines, rituals? Where do you find inspirations for characters and plot twists? Or does it all just come to you naturally?
“SMMS” was actually originally released in 2008 from a press that went out of business (not due to me. LOL!) Kevin J. Anderson and Peter J. Wacks were kind enough to bring Noel R. Glass back to readers with the 2017 re-release through WordFire Press. I read both detective thrillers and science fiction as far back as I can remember. I had tried my hand at both separately (unsuccessfully, at first,) but eventually found the sweet spot with cross-pollination. Cross genre seems to be where my brain wants to go, as my weird westerns fall into that, too. I’ve a long running series of short stories, called the “Drowned Horse Chronicle,” about a cursed Arizona Territory town (I stand by the notion that this town is not the town my folks lived in for nearly 30 years, and any similarities is purely coincidental.) After some marginal success there, I got the opportunity through Baen Books to do a series of anthologies inviting some of the biggest names in the industry. It was an amazing experience. Everyone of them hit it out of the park.
As for my process, I wish I could say there is consistency. I have severe ADHD, and thus I write when I can, for however long I can. I used to call it binge writing: write until you’re full, and then go throw up from the stress over whether it’s any good. I have an office now, from which I run my company, Longshot Productions, out of. What’s nice is that it’s given me some consistency. I write more, in shorter periods of time, because my brain knows that when we’re sitting at the desk, it’s time to create. Sort of a self-hypnosis.
As for inspiration, everything is. Conversations, jobs I’ve taken, people I’ve met, books I’ve read, shows I’ve watched. My brain is a soup of 50-some years of sensory input that swirls up there and sometimes comes out as a semi-coherent story (thank God for first readers and editors.) I already have a work-in-process list that extends long after I’m dead, so coming up with ideas is nothing.
I would suppose that there would be pluses and minuses to having ADHD. On the one hand, you don’t get bogged down in details (I have a real problem with that as a writer), but on the other, finishing longer projects might become an issue. Having a routine, of course, would help at least in part with the hindrances. Do you ever find that the condition actually helps make sense of the swirl of sensory input you were describing?
Oh, I get bogged down with details, too, just not in the same way. I’m always following threads, countless threads, generated by each piece of research I do. I call it “going down the rabbit hole.” Often these threads will create new story ideas that I’ll develop (or not) someday. I have more stories to write than I have days left on this earth already, and I come up with more every day.
So your creative process is more of an impulse sort of thing?
When I get the freedom to write, I do try to accomplish as many words as I can get down in the time allotted. Then, during the next session I reread only what I wrote the previous time, tweaking grammar and such, then going on to write the next bit. I set aside four hours every week I protect religiously, and then write whenever life gives me leave to do so.
After I finish, I start from the beginning, reworking as a whole. If I have time, I let it sit for awhile and move on to other things, going back to it after I’ve forgotten that I wrote it, and then edit it as if it was written by someone else. After that pass, I send it to my first readers, adjust for their feedback, fix and send off to whatever: magazine, anthology, etc.
That makes sense. How did your company Longshot Productions get its start?
I went to Transamerica School of Broadcasting (now, Madison Media Institute) in the late 80s. (“Learn from the professionals who have been fired from the Radio and Television Industry!”) I started an in-house production company and named it Longshot Productions after an old comedy bit by Mel Brooks in Silent Movie (1976), “Miracle Pictures (‘If it’s a good one, it’s a Miracle…’)” So, “If it was a good production, it was a Longshot!” became a catch phrase around there. For several years after graduating, I worked in radio, did mobile DJing, and had two short films made. I recently resurrected it to do an RPG project, but now I’m moving back into video with a short animated film project.
I see. So, does this new animated film project involve screenwriting?
The plan is to offer authors a chance to turn their 1000-word flash fictions into five minute animations. It’ll be called the Flash Fiction Films Project, or something like that. 1000 words/$1000 to see your previously published flash fictions animated. It’s a chance for authors to bring “dead” stories back to life. (Maybe I should call them Re-animated Films? *wink*)
We’re still working on the particulars, but I am working with amazing animators and film school graduates to make this viable starting in late 2020. We’ll have a selection process, as not every story is animatable. We’ll be looking for stories with punch, or at least a punch-line. More details to come on my longshot-productions.net webpage.
That’s sounds like something to keep an eye on.
Going back to your childhood, I’m sure that living in Colorado and visiting relatives in Arizona must have had some effect on your choice of cross-pollination of genres. Did you get into playing cowboys as a kid, or was the interest in things “Western” from somewhere closer to adulthood?
I actually grew up in Central Wisconsin. Colorado and Arizona came later. I watched many of what were called “serial westerns” on Saturday afternoons, such as “The Valley of Gwangi” (1969), featuring cowboys on dinosaurs, or “Zombies of the Stratosphere” (1952), staring cowboys with jet pack. These stories shaped the writer I would become (e.g., the Flash Gordon RPG project, etc.). I played with a lot of Star Wars action toys, and when I did play with others, we just called it “War” with no specific enemy. It could have been with anything from Russians to aliens. I got a 3-wheeler ATV when I first moved to Wisconsin, and we used it as a “tank.”
I would guess from how you played as a kid that you probably enjoy writing the action more than setting up scenes.
I took an amazing college course on Narratology, based on Mieke Bal’s book, “Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative” (1985). It goes deep into the three keys elements of narrative such as the text, the story/plot, and the “fabula” (Russian formalist term for chronological order of events… character, time, location.) Once you start breaking stories down to these elements, you start to see that there is a balance to storytelling that isn’t just world-driven, character-driven, or plot-driven.
I enjoy telling my stories and try to keep these things in mind when approaching a new piece. What words am I using, and how will they appear on the page? What story do I want readers to walk away from the piece having experienced? Who are the best characters to tell that story, and where and when should it be set? If you enjoy writing, all scenes should be enjoyable to you, or the reader will feel it.
That’s fascinating. Russian literature features so many great stories and personalities, particularly from the 1800s, it seems the formalist era (from the Revolution to the 1930s) is usually given only minimal attention in Russian studies. I’ll have to go back and take a look at the theories you’ve described here. (Thanks for the pointer.)