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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Henry Garrison: The Inception (Which Has Very Little to Do with Christopher Nolan)




There was a time when all I wanted to do was write for television. Not local access television (I checked that off the list long ago, and wrote a four part series of articles on this very blog about it), but actual commercial television. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember-I have crudely illustrated stories about Godzilla from when I was eight years old to prove it-and being able to create something that would air nationwide, and having a budget with which to produce this, was an extremely tantalizing prospect. I even went so far as to write an official “Steel & Marsilio” pilot in case I managed to make some inroads with Comedy Central or some such thing. In order to progress with this goal, I moved to Los Angeles, one of the great epicenters of television production.
This move was ill-fated from the beginning. I had been unemployed for a few months before I moved, and assumed I would be able to find a job in L.A. before my money ran out. Not a television job, per se, at least not right off the bat; I wasn’t so na├»ve as to believe that I would just waltz right into a studio and have people begging me to work for them. Unfortunately, even retail work proved difficult to come by, so despite spending a good chunk of my day on Craigslist and sending out resumes left and right and diagonally, employment proved elusive. I only had a few friends down there, and with my extremely limited funds, going out, having fun and blowing off steam was not exactly in the cards for me. Hell, I was barely eating at all just to save a few dollars. Needless to say, morale was low, and my psyche was taking a beating. A full-on nervous breakdown seemed to loom over me at all times like an emo shadow.
I’ve never been a fan of passivity in the facing of impending doom, though, so I sought out some sage advice. Now, my sister’s boyfriend’s stepfather (quite a complex title, I know) is Peter Lefcourt, a longtime writer, and an excellent one at that, who has worked extensively in television but who now focuses mainly on novels. We met up at a Starbucks on Santa Monica Boulevard and I picked his brain (I’ve always found that phrase rather grotesque, incidentally) about my options and how I could help myself out. The only paying gig I had gotten at that point was a grueling 12 hour day as a studio audience member for “Deal or No Deal,” which by the way I don’t recommend as a career goal. Obviously, I needed all the help I could get. 
Over the course of my conversation with Peter, we discussed my aspirations and the sorts of ideas that I wanted to translate into television shows. As chatty and outgoing as I tend to be, one of the few things that I get bashful discussing are my creative ideas. I find it very hard to verbalize storylines in my head in succinct ways that do not sound goofy and/or banal, so I tend to keep such things to myself. However, I forced myself to mumble some things I was interested in writing about, and Peter posed a question: had I ever thought about writing a novel incorporating some of my ideas? I certainly had, and indeed had started writing no less than three novels at one point or another, but they had always fizzled out after a few chapters. There was this one storyline though, this one huge epic saga that had been marinating in my cerebral cortex for over a decade, this eternal idea that was born sometime during a particularly dull eight grade math class and had taken on a life of its own in the ensuing years. I had always envisioned it as a seven-season TV show, and had all sorts of story arcs woven throughout the overarching narrative. Rationally, I knew this would never be made into a TV show. But rather than simply waste this brainstorm that had gradually grown into a Category 5, what if I were to adapt it to a novel? Surely it would take a whole series of them, but maybe, if I could conjure up the will to do it…
I had much to consider on the walk back to the apartment I shared with three guys I barely knew (I walked everywhere, as I couldn’t afford to buy gas and wasn’t usually in much of a hurry). Did I really have it in me to write a novel? Sure, I had composed hundreds of pages of short stories and scripts and blogs, but a full-length book was an entirely different animal. One of my strengths as a writer has always been brevity, and writing a whole novel (let alone a series of them!) about a certain topic would force me to explore an entirely different avenue of creative expression that was foreign to me. Creative growth is wonderful and important, but rarely is it comfortable. Still, it was a potentially rewarding challenge, and certainly much better than letting my ideas rot in my rather inhospitable brain. If I couldn’t get it done, I wouldn’t really lose anything but the time I put into the project, and especially at that point, time was the only resource I had in abundance. Well, besides gumption, I guess. And despair, but that’s not really a resource, and now I’m getting really sidetracked. Anyway.
As I got to work, I faced the unenviable task of paring down my original mythology to make sense in book form. As is often the case, the simplest solution proved the correct one: I would make each book the storyline equivalent of a single season. This had the benefit of compelling me to purge a number of story ideas that sounded awesome when I was fourteen but that realistically didn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the type of story I was going to tell. It also allowed me to make some subtle references to future events from the very beginning of the storyline while having some idea when the events being referenced would occur. And with that plan in mind, in between e-mailing out resumes in my increasingly doomed search for employment and playing Super Mario RPG, I began to write the novel that would eventually become Henry Garrison: St. Dante’s Savior.
This was, of course, merely the beginning of the story. When utter lack of funds forced me to move back to the Bay Area from L.A., essentially giving up on my dream of working in television, the novel kept me going. Throughout ups and downs and trials and tribulations, the novel was my constant, and though it progressed slower than I would like, I was determined to never give up on it. And now here we are today, as my labor of love is available for purchase and I have to come to grips with the fact that I am now committed to writing five more of these things. As one dream burned, another rose, phoenix-like, from its metaphorical ashes. Now that it has come to fruition in the form of Henry Garrison, I am incredibly proud and somewhat awed. And also trying to figure out the best way to make some money off this so I don’t have to move back in with my parents again.

Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior is available for purchase right now. Picking up a copy will be the greatest decision you make this month, especially if you normally make average-to-poor decisions.

3 comments:

ybarshir said...

re: how to make money...start with goodreads. and yeah, don't move in with your parents again.. :)

ybarshir said...

oh yeah and pimp it on twitter, get a website, set-up a linkedin page, FB fan page, website, e-mail campaigns

Garrett Steel said...

I think it is safe to say you will not have to move in with your parents. Them moving in with you, on the other hand...