I’ll admit that things would be a lot easier if we didn’t get along too well. Less complicated, really. And if I’m being honest, that’s what I thought would happen. I mean, I thought we’d have our five days of fun—our Summer Session 1—and I’d get back on the train to Brooklyn without wondering what you thought of me.

Here’s the thing: I take all of my MFA classes in Manhattan—seventeen credits so far. I’ve figured out the rhythm of riding the N train to 23rd Street, walking to 27th, taking the elevator to the 3rd floor, saying hello to George, workshopping a few pieces while staring at the Empire State Building, and going home. I’ve learned a lot about my own writing over the past year, and I’ve tried to become as much a part of “the program” as possible. I also managed to fend off the constant questions about my summer attendance with my usual vague silence.

In the end, I decided to pay you a visit, Southampton. Three credits in five days sounded like a good deal, and though I like the city, I don’t love the city. A chance to get out is always a welcomed break. Like I said, I thought we’d have our fun. But fun wasn’t good enough for you. You had to wear me down and withhold sleep, only so you could pick me up, give me too much coffee, then a few beers, and convince me that it was all for the greater good of my artistic character. Of course, you were right. You just needed to get my attention; you knew what I needed, and I didn’t know what I was missing. The whole thing felt like an initiation to a secret society or a support group for mildly dysfunctional artists. Or maybe just a welcoming family.

All I’m really trying to say, Southampton, is that you turned out to be much more than I expected. You are a community of inspiration, and I’m lucky that you’d consider me one of your own. Thank you.

-Patrick Dunn – http://www.patrickdunnmusic.com

Chris Byrd advised, “Westermann’s good for you. It’s all plot,” after I read at the fall 2011 MFA Student Speaks.

Embarrassed, I asked. “Who is he?”

My bad. For the past decade as a journalist, I was knee-deep in diapers then driving an Odyssey around Syosset, chasing three kids through childhood. I lived among the Joneses, watching folks keep up. I read novels—but cop procedurals were not on my nightstand. Two words “Exit Wounds” developed that photo.

I signed up for Plot and Pacing and Googled. Jeez!  Westermann will skewer me. We’re opposites.

Born at the dawn of Gen X, my mantra is don’t f*cking tell me what to do. Westermann’s from that generation—the golden Baby Boomers who paved the way.

Some stuff I’ve done:  wrote women’s articles with an indignant fist in the air (maiden name—yup); snuffed out a relationship with a “111th” precinct, anti-crime cop honored for catching bullets in his teeth; raised by Ronald Reagan-devotees (raised, not am) AND…I don’t like sports.

Perfect!

John Westermann and I will have a lot to discuss on my way to the slaughterhouse. Bite my tongue, bite my tongue. Learn, grow, dig this novel out of me once and for all. I will survive, come out alive, I will write better.

I was dealing with an athlete, retired cop turned gritty novelist…a life of quick reflexes and judgment calls. Cops size up folks fast—are all about physical energy. Mis-managed it, lose an eye or your life. Power’s in the containment.

They know what you’ll do when the shit-hits-the-fan better than your rehearsed crisis management game plan. Strategies play like movies in their mind…. If this happens, go left…if that…right. if he goes for his gun, I’m dropping to my knees… and rolling, up and out that door in a minute. No elevator, hop down three steps at once…

Dating “the cop,” in public, gun strapped to his ankle, he always sat against the wall facing the door. Never turn your back on anyone. Never leave yourself vulnerable. Never show weakness.

It all came back.

Dragging the novel out of the drawer, again, I pulled on my bulletproof vest and rode the Manhattan-bound train. I clunked the loose-leaf binder that bound my novel, X Marks the Spot, and five years of work onto the conference table. I flipped pages – no, yes—maybe. Ah, the beginning. I’m having trouble with the beginning…I read and got to…

“So, Roy’s a piece of work, huh?”  Peter said as the bartender brought our beers, carefully positioning the round bottles on the square coasters. I reached for my pocketbook…

Blathering on, losing my way, I realized—I had just turned my back. He sensed it.

“You know what that sentence is like?  The juice ain’t worth the squeeze,” he said.

What? Who was this guy? I was paying for this! He talks like a Damon Runyon character. I criticize myself enough internally. I don’t care if it was written in Sanskrit—give value-added comments – please!  Chris Byrd was going down.

But, Westermann was right. It’s a long way to the punch line and wasn’t worth the effort; red-penned that line.

We hit the streets, he, full of energy at 6 foot 3ish; me, huffing and puffing to keep up as he strode through the tip of Manhattan’s garment district.

“Penn Station. You, too?” I asked. He slowed his pace to mine.

Did I have to ride on the same train? Suffer the humiliation? I just wanted to go home, sulk, burn the manuscript, hide.

You know, I believe in things—things we can’t explain. Something said: follow. So, I did.

“Do you know so-and-so from Syosset?”  Yes, actually out of the 20,000 who live there and thousands who had blown through, I did know that ONE person. “My sister’s friend.”

“Nope, I’m not a Dead head.”  But, a patchouli-wearing music-obsessed woman.

Read his novels (read your teacher’s work. These people did it.  Don’t you want to learn how firsthand?)  Found it all: the physicality, alert, heighten senses of an athlete and cop, the shock-value grittiness, journalism of the twisted Long Island streets, a flashback for me to the cop, guys’ guy world I’d left behind.

Perched on a spec of time, a bird between flights, I sat in class or on the train, talking, listening. Westermann’s hands twirl as if flicking a lacrosse or nightstick as he talks. Seated at the conference table, behind him the city buildings turned to Freeport’s soupy Woodcleft canal.

Decades ago, he probably walked right by me pulling a 4 to midnight shift as I sat on the deck of Otto’s Sea Grill listening to the band.

Once, he said, “I did it!” an affirmation of years of hard work.

Another time he turned to me, “Do it.  Finish that book.”

Once, walking to the train, he was a block ahead of me. I tried to catch up, but he was too fast; couldn’t close that gap. I slowed my pace to its natural gait and let him go.

Mary Ellen Walsh is a second-year fiction MFA student working on a Rock ‘n Roll, Gen X love story “X Marks the Spot” set on Long Island. She is a public relations consultant for authors, musicians, visual artists and academia. As a lifestyle writer, touching on health, women’s issues and business profiles, her work has been published in: Newsday, New York Daily News, LI Pulse, Long Island Press, Wellness magazine and elsewhere. Walsh’s column “Mewsings” on Patch.com won first and second place 2011 Press Club Media Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for humor column. MaryEWalsh@optonline.net

Ask most beginning fiction writers what their stories are about and they can’t answer the question. They throw out things like love or courage, but usually they respond with open mouth silences. Those are my favorite. At least they seem to be thinking about it.

I once heard an author remark during a Q & A: “If I can describe my novel in a few short sentences, it mustn’t be a very good story.” This is a mistake, especially for a young writer to hear. It sends the wrong signal and allows the novice to be vague, which is often confused with being mysterious. Whether you’re willing to spend six months or six years writing one particular story, you better have some idea what it’s about. Or else, why do it?

In chapter eleven of Sol Stein’s How To Grow A Novel, Stein emphasizes the need for precision, comparing the experience of reading a novel to that of getting on an airplane. One is less likely to strap themselves in having noticed prior to takeoff the pilot nervously flipping switches with a confused look on his face. “Wouldn’t you rather be on a plane on which the pilot followed a checklist or knew it accurately by heart?” Here, Stein was talking more about voice and clarity of language, but the analogy works for structure as well as the writer’s intent.

If you, the writer, have no clue what your story is about how can you expect the reader to have any idea? There is enough chaos in life. Enough uncertainty and confusion. The writer’s job is to harness what he cannot understand and create meaning out of what is seemingly indecipherable. So MFAers, what is your story about?

Being a first timer at the Southampton Writers Conference this year, and after being reminded throughout the fall and the spring semesters once every week how great it was going to be, I naturally had some skepticism about how these few weeks were going to go. Now that I have experienced session one of the conference, I can joyfully tell you that those five days, while exhausting, were edifying, enriching, intellectual, hilarious, delicious, but even more importantly, those five days encouraged me more in my writing than any class ever has. And I’ve taken some pretty great classes. So I decided to make a list of the many highlights of the first session. You might not think all of these are important, but they are. Trust me.

1. The constant supply of coffee. Now I know this isn’t actually a literary highlight, but we all need our coffee. Especially writers. And their coffee is delightful. And you can always choose between iced or hot. So if you’ve just come in from writing on one of the many benches on campus under the hot sun, you can cool yourself off by making a Starbucks-worthy cup of iced coffee. If you’ve just had a lecture in the Antarctic temperatures of Duke Lecture Hall, why not warm yourself up with a tasty goblet of hot caffeine? I don’t know why you wouldn’t.

2. Helen Simonson’s voice. She’s from England, so her voice makes angles instead of points, her jokes are always funny, and her stories always delight. My favorite part of her reading was when she talked about the use of rifles in her book, and how she knew nothing about them until she held one and found power in the act of possessing it. Her lilting accent lowered as she described herself holding it, and I think, just then, we all wanted to be her. I mean, come on. Everything is funnier when you say it like Helen Simonson.

3. The library. It has windows instead of walls, the computers are shaped in a long squiggle, and it has a beautiful print studio where Scott Sandell can show you how to print anything you would ever want to print. Also, comfy chairs. Enough said.

4. Steady pulses of excitement that run through each faculty member. It’s contagious. And it affects us all. Julie Sheehan’s wide smile and supportive nods encourage while Robert Reeves’ inclination to introduce us all to each other widens our world. Emma Walton Hamilton’s long eyelashes and even longer list of resources pushes us to discover while Carla Caglioti’s calm countenance relaxes us when we feel too overwhelmed. They all radiate warmth and kindness, and this is what makes the conference so wonderful. This unabashed light.

5. Learning the deep secrets of fellow writers at open mic night. We support, we encourage, we cheer. And this makes many happy to be brave and read their words out loud. It’s the best way to get instant gratification. I have never been to an open mic night where I’ve been disappointed. It’s always something new that I haven’t heard before. And the brave readers are original for the simple reason that they chose to write these lines. And they chose to say them.

6. Mary Karr, the definition of fearless. Her low, crackly voice enchanted me and made me cry with laughter. If you haven’t heard her speak, go to YouTube. Now.

7. The hidden marriage of Leslie Ayvazian and Frederic Tuten. During a panel about imagery and voice, the four panel leaders had gotten on the subject of Armenia (an example of the fascinating range of subject matter in panels). Tuten said his wife’s mother was Armenian, and since Ayvazian is Armenian, she asked him what the mother’s name was. Tuten thought for a moment and said, “Uhh I think it was Ayv…Ayv…Ayvazian?” The playwright laughed and responded, “Oh so we’re married?” The lecture hall burst into laughter and for the next ten minutes, Ayvazian made witty comments on their apparent marriage, and only after Julie Sheehan, the moderator, wiped her face of tears, she continued the panel.

8. Taking notes becomes fun. Here are just a few examples of the notes I took in panels, lectures, and interviews.

“Every year you get a year taken away but in exchange you get a year of wisdom.”—Peter H. Reynolds

“No one will do your thinking for you. Tell me something no one has told me before.”—Mitchell Kriegman

“Do you care enough? That is how you write a book.”—Susan Scarf Merrell

“And the body becomes the soul, the soul, the body.”—Christine Vachon

While I could go on and on and while eight seems like only a few, I must stop now and go to sleep. For sleep is one item that I don’t get to put on the list, because attending the conference denies us all sleep, but for the good of our souls. While we don’t sleep, we meet another playwright at the corner bar. While we don’t sleep, we get to sit under that shady tree that everyone fights for before breakfast. While we don’t sleep, we think, we feel, and we hope for the next words that will float to us, showing us that the world is not solid, but layered, like each ocean wave that crashes over the last, reaching further for us, making us see.

Sarah and Dom at Summer Conference Reception

I showed up for my first Southampton Writers Conference in 2009 with a lot of enthusiam, a bite-size chunk of terror, and a huge, unmistakable shiner under my left eye, courtesy of a would-be Romeo with a pocketful of rohypnol.  Upon my arrival, I was mortified by the shiner.  I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, “I’m not like that – really.”  But by the time I had to leave Writerland and return to the real world, I decided that black eye was my new best friend.  After all, these people were writers. My mark of shame made me fascinating before I even uttered a syllable.

The first MFA student to approach me was Dominick Quartuccio, a fiction writer who featured an uncanny Christopher Walken impersonation.  I was sitting alone at a huge, round table.  Dom asked if he could sit down and proceeded to dump a cornucopia of organic vegetables on the table, dirt still clinging to the roots.  During the delightful exchange that followed, he got my shiner story and challenged me to come up with a better one.

Dominick ran the open mic night.  Ham that I am, I could not resist signing up.  I brought my guitar down to the tents, grabbed a beer, and shook.  It was odd for me to be nervous – I’d played indie pop show after indie pop show, often ending up on the bill with several other bands that had nothing in common except a lead singer with a uterus.  I was used to being a juke box – pouring my pearls out on to the stage while the audience caroused and conversed and completely ignored me.  For a lyricist, it’s the kind of artistic frustration you have to swallow like a horse-sized antibiotic if you’re going to play in public.

Dom called me up, and I wove through the folding chairs, hoping not to brain anybody with my favorite acoustic.  It was so quiet. I sat down and tried to look cool, hands visibly shaking as I fumbled with the pick, and started the song.  The intro chords crested, and I gave it my all.  Somehow, I remembered all the lyrics and hit all the notes.  When I stopped, there were five eternal seconds of crickets, then a crescendo of cheers and applause that knocked me out like a tidal wave.  They had listened.  Not only had they listened, they liked it.  I had never been more astonished in my life.  Years of hack-flavored horse medicine left me wondering why I even bothered.  On that muggy, starry night, it all made sense again.

Now that Mr. Quartuccio has graduated, I am attempting to fill his great big Hush Puppies as host.   They’ve even named it Afterhours, which is cool not only because it’s the name of one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs, but also because it’s a fun word to coo into the mic, all sexy-like.  Open mic night is a dream for both the voyeur and the ham. It’s your first chance to see how that sweet little old lady next to you in the lunch line is not only a delicious pervert, but also a genius poet.  The scary-looking biker guy has a memoir piece that will make you cry and offer him a hug afterward because you went through the same horrible thing.  The botox queen you couldn’t help but make fun of is not only conscious of her predicament, but has written a hilarious, tragic masterpiece of sarcasm you’ll be thinking about long after she’s gone home.  And that guy who was serving you drinks earlier has a collection of short stories so brilliant you’ll have to restrain yourself from throwing your panties at him.  And guess what?  This daunting company will listen to you, and you’re probably just as good as they are.

I believe it was the Mary Tyler Moore theme song that said, “love is all around, no need to fake it.”

You’re gonna make it after all.

“How to Publish Your Book: By Yourself”

            MFA students, college graduates, hopeful high schoolers, and everyone who has ever finished a manuscript, eager to share their work with the world, we all have one thing in common – we want to get published, dammit. And we want to know how!

But where to start? Like any modern web-based search, there’s a nearly endless list of publishing houses, literary agents, booksellers, and web marketers. If you google “publishing” you’ll get nearly 4 billion search results. So how to sort through all of the crap to find the help that you really need?

I recently self-published my second book, Pulse of Poetics, for print on lulu.com and amazon.com, including an eBook version for amazon kindle. These are two very convenient and cheap ways to get your work out there in both the print and electronic worlds. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of self-publishing websites to choose from but these two have worked for me as far as being relatively easy to use and cheap. Most of these online publishers will print your book for almost cost value, but just make sure with any publishing website that you read the fine print (there are often hidden fees). On amazon, Pulse of Poetics is about 170 pages but only costs about 4 dollars to print and another 2.50 or so to ship. Not a bad deal considering that you receive a print and bound book with a front and back color cover only a few days later.

Below are some links to useful resources for all areas of publishing. Even if you don’t buy my book (although I recommend that you do, it’s an awesome read), check out how it looks on the amazon.com page, and feel free to ask questions about these processes as you explore your own publishing options! (Tip: As you’ll see from my personal link, tumblr.com is a great way to organize your self-published links!)

–          My book’s publishing blog: http://pulseofpoetics.tumblr.com/

–          Self publishing:

For print: www.lulu.com

For eBook: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin

For amazon print: https://www.createspace.com/

–          Literary agents: http://agentquery.com/default.aspx

–          Literary magazines: http://www.newpages.com/literary-magazines/

Join us for one (or more) of our Southampton Arts summer events.

Tickets are free when reserved online at http://www.stonybrook.edu/sb/southampton/avram/tickets.shtml

Thursday July 19 – 7:30 pm Eric Fischl – The celebrated painter, sculptor and printmaker interviewed by the Parrish Museum’s Terrie Sultan.

Saturday, July 21 – 7:30 pm The Great American Mousical – Workshop presentation of songs and scenes from a new musical based on the book by Emma Walton Hamilton and Julie Andrews.

Monday, July 23 – 5:30 pm Reading Music – Pianofest & Southampton Arts team up for an evening of performance at the intersection of great music and great writing.

Wednesday, July 25 – 7:30 pm Play Reading by Ensemble Studio Theatre – A play or musical (title TBA) in development at one of New York’s premiere incubators for advanced theatre work.

Friday, July 27 – 7:30 pm Summer Launch of The Southampton Review – The annual unveiling of July’s new issue, with suitable onstage festivities and a slew of America’s best writers.

We hope to see you soon.

Southampton Arts

MFAs in Creative Writing & Literature and Theatre

Stony Brook Southampton

239 Montauk Highway Southampton, NY 11968

http://www.stonybrook.edu/writers

631-632-5030

Southamptonwriters@notes.cc.sunysb.edu

To Blog or Not to Blog?

A Grad Student’s Question

Should I start a blog? What do I post? How often? What styles and designs do I choose to represent myself and my work? All these answers come with time, but here are ten reasons for why YOU should start a blog:

1)      It’s the 21st century – get with the program, people!

2)      Build an audience of readers

3)      Expose your work to as many viewers as possible (It took 3 years but I have 30 subscribers and 200 page views so far this month!)

4)      Connect with other writers and resources

5)      Expose your work to meaningful criticism

6)      Learn to take and rebuff meaningless criticism

7)      Start to adapt to an increasingly Internet-reality-based world

8)      You have to promote yourself every way you can to make it in this business

9)      You never know what doors you’ll open

10)  It’s cool and everyone else is doing it

So if you’re nervous or unsure, but determined to be read, start a blog. You don’t have to devote your life to constantly updating posts and commenting on other writers’ pages, but blogging is just another tool toward accomplishing your goals if you’re serious about your writing career. At least give it a go. It’s not for everyone, but what do you have to lose? They’re easy enough to start. Here are some of the most popular and user-friendly blog sites:

wordpress.com

blogger.com

tumblr.com

Pic by Victor Giannini

Ah, Poe’s “Midnight Disease”.  Love the concept.  Ever seen the sunrise, fingers dead, sand-eyed and late for work … yet feeling like you got laid and stress is just a dream?  All those words and ideas aren’t blocking traffic in your head now.  You couldn’t help it, it had to be now, but there they are, on the page.  Again.  At least the first draft.  Of course it was worth it.  Whatever financial, emotional, social weirdness you must endure, even for just a first draft of … well … there’s nothing abnormal about shirking everything normal.  You’re driven, tough, smart, and in control.  Pretty cool, right?

When I had the luxury, I’d feed the Midnight Disease.  Success was a fix.  Got addicted to “saving” myself from it. Over the years I’ve been taught to summon the disease and tap the selfish, manic, work ethic.  With … varying degrees of success.  Still, with the fix fulfilled, success just creates craving, and worse, the failures keep fire the urge to drop life and burn that candle at both ends, and the middle.  To keep forcing myself after those ‘high white notes’ at any cost.  Yes, you’re likely one too.  The young, tireless, artists, so driven they’ll sacrifice everything to give back to the world.  Give back the gift of art, help someone else get through one more day.  So noble.  Um, yeah … not always.

It was embarrassing to learn that this romantic “Midnight Disease” could be a pathology called “hypergraphia”.  I don’t have it.  I’m just unrealistic and stubborn.  But now exposed to the concept of hypergraphia, thing’s ain’t so clear no more.  The sacrifices… the control …

As of now, hypergraphia isn’t currently considered a full mental disorder, since it’s mainly associated with physical errors in the brain.  But it’s also often associated with the manic and depressive states of bipolar disorder.  Regardless, here’s the physical aspects of hypergraphia:

“Several different regions of the brain govern the act of writing. The physical motion of the hand is controlled by the cerebral cortex which comprises part of the outer layer of the brain. The drive to write, on the other hand, is controlled by the limbic system, a ring-shaped cluster of cells deeply buried in the cortex which governs emotion, affiliated instincts and inspiration and is said to regulate the human being’s need for communication. Words and ideas are cognized and understood by the temporal lobes behind the ears, and these temporal lobes are connected to the limbic system. Ideas are organized and edited in the frontal lobe of the brain. Although temporal lobe lesions cause temporal lobe epilepsy, it is also known to run in families. Hypergraphia is understood to be triggered by changes in brainwave activity in the temporal lobe. Hypergraphia has been observed in 8% of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy.

 

It is also associated with bipolar disorder. Manic and depressive episodes have been reported to intensify hypergraphia symptoms. Additionally schizophrenics and people with frontotemporal dementia can also experience a compulsive drive to write.”

Midnight Disease … There are many famous cases of talented, accomoplished,  hypergraphiac writers.  Lewis Carroll, Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Asimov, Dostoevsky, King, Plath, and yes, Poe… but what of those clearly in pain, like Henry Darger?  Or Alan Hovhaness who:

“…carried paper and pen wherever he went and is known to have composed almost everyday, in shopping malls, restaurants, even on buses… claimed to have thrown over 1,000 of his early compositions into the fireplace in the 1940s whilst still a young man, and even at the time of his death, in 2000, had penned around 500 more, most of which are published.”

 

Well that sucks but still … inspiration, muses, mania, bravely forsaking the “normal” world for our artistic passions, rolling the dice to write something that could comfort, entertain, or even save strangers!  It’s a good thing! Not a disorder.  Some times it’s even sexy and dangerous … in a real dorky way, yeah, but still.  And all that insomnia, the torture of holding down a 9-5, odd social life, and yes, the weird drive for dangerously sexy relationships… it’s all for the art!  It’s all still a choice, right?  It means there’s something right going on, not wrong.  Right?

As of this writing, antidepressants are recommended for extreme cases of hypergraphia.  I do feel like an asshole for enjoying the eccentrically painful aspects of writing, but didn’t realize that some people never bought the ticket for this ride.  No choice, no reward of any kind.  But still, are those famous writers who refined and controlled their hypergraphia, lucky, cursed, or both?  Did they ever make a choice?  It’d be nice to write something as enduring as Oates or Asimov, or anything of true worth.  It’s not all fun and games, but I never considered the addiction to write as something needing treatment.  Yeah, it can be a fun life if you have the right luck, or are stupid enough to make the right mistakes … with the right luck.  But personally, my goal, truly, is to offer the same gift countless writers have given us.  Help someone get through one more fucking day, whatever way it works.

I’ve never been able to live with the idea of not pursuing that goal.  I’ve tried other paths.  It was actually impossible.  So I’m back here, and yeah, right now it really is past midnight, and I feel … confused by all this, but good.  I need to believe I’m doing this because of free will, and just because hypergraphia exists doesn’t mean every stubborn weird writer has it, but it’s wormed its’ way into my head.

So writers, artists of all kinds, when we put our work above all else, sometimes at great risk:  Are we being brave, trying to help ourselves, others, anyone?  Or are we self-medicating psychopaths, rationalizing for everything the vague promise of another fix, a book deal, and a legacy to leave behind?  Both?

Midnight Disease.

Well, I still like the phrase.

But now I pay attention to the second half, and things seem a little less sexy, a little more dangerous.  Getting older, the “normal real life” stakes are getting higher.  And … ah, crap.  Just realized it’s dawn again.  Sill, it all remains … sexy, crazy, dangerous, and possibly noble.  And I chose to stay up and write this.  Yeah.  Cool.

Right?

 

Inspired By:

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain

by  Alice Weaver Flaherty

 

“Hypergraphia is abnormal, but it’s not necessarily bad.  For us it is mostly pleasurable. You only suffer when you think you’re writing badly.” – Alice Flaherty

Pic by Victor Giannini

Pic by Victor Giannini

Victor Giannini once saw a unicorn cry.

He claims no involvement in that.
Sometimes he writes, draws, and teaches.
Victor lives at www.doomage.com

Where would we be without love and, most importantly, support in our lives? I could get all intellectual and look up the word support, but, nah, I’m too damn lazy right now and, besides, what if Mr. Webster doesn’t “support” the idea I’m trying to convey? So, anyway, let’s just run with the hypothesis that we all know the real definition of support.

Okay, okay, I’ll define it for you – the person(s) who has got your back. However, beware of said person(s) who is all about shoving knives in the back, or the person(s) too damn busy worrying about their own backs. In other words, these people look to either hold you up, tear you down, or keep you fully entertained (i.e. distracted), while life feeds you crap pie.

Now, if you’re willing to accept my revised, remixed and redistributed definition of support, then how does it apply to creative writing and character development? Is this even an issue? Well, those Oscar people thought it important enough to give a little statue man to the sidekicks, villains, and comic reliefs who help round out the leading man/lady, so why don’t you? How much attention are you paying to your supporting characters? Are you just throwing in caricatures and stereotypes to fill up the pages and cover up plot holes?

I see stories (films, novels, plays, etc.) as a microcosm of the world we live in, even if the world on the page, screen and stage are original fantasized entities – and one of the things being mirrored is the fact that we can’t go it alone. Sure, there are some of us who try, but the phone keeps ringing, the pesky neighbor keeps knocking at the door, and the stalker keeps ignoring that order of protection. If we think about sports, and forgive me if I get the following metaphor wrong because I know absolutely nothing about sports, every star player has a support team. There was Jordan, who played for the Bulls (I think) – and who had his back? Pippen, Grant, Paxson and the other players who rounded out the team (don’t ask me who; I think I did pretty darn good coming up with three names). And what about those rivalries – Magic and Bird, Wilt and Russell and, of course, Shaq and Kobe. You take away one and the other is less interesting, less spectacular and, maybe, even less worthy of being great. But what do I know about football anyway?

Stop and think about the supporting characters in your own life. Are they just flat, one-dimensional snore bores? If so, you need to get out and make some new friends. But chances are they’re vibrant, colorful people who say more about who you are for having them in your life – even those you consider enemies. When we write, we are pulling from our own lives – all the good, bad and ugly. Sometimes, this is done subconsciously, as we play out on the blank page our own struggles, issues and demons. There are times when a character doesn’t even represent a living, breathing human, but more so an idea, issue and/or problem we are struggling to get right in the real world we fall back to when we lay down the pen or turn off the computer. Look closely at those characters who just popped up at the last minute. Where did they come from? Why have you given them life? What can they tell us about the people and the world that you’ve spend countless hours building, and rebuilding, and rebuilding?

I have always loved writing and creating my secondary characters more than my hero, just as many actors jump at the chance of playing the villain. Why? Because it’s so much freakin’ fun. Because, while the spotlight seems to always be shining on the protagonist, the supporting characters can let loose and maneuver in and out of places and situations often times forbidden to our hero. Where would Neo be without Trinity, Morpheus and good old Cypher – and let’s not forget Mouse and his lady in the red dress? Everyone needs a virtual pimp. Sure, Dorothy taught us there was no place like home, but we got our true understanding of wisdom, courage and heart from those who had her back. Take away Kobayashi, Keaton, Agent Kujan and the rest of the gang, then who gives a crap about Keyser Soze?

Maybe every movie is an ensemble run amuck with screen divas puppeteered by the overruling box office. So to all those secondary characters, I thank you for your support.