Kiss Chronicles

Kiss_Chronicles_Cover_Final

“The sound of a kiss” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”

Do you remember the very first kiss you ever gave or received? Virginia M. Sanders not only waited three decades for this auspicious event to occur but also made it the subject of her memoir, Kiss Chronicles. While her text is primarily targeted to females between the ages of 15 and 35, its message of love, loss and unabashed mirth will resonate with anyone who believes in the magic of romance and the priceless value of supporting worthy causes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

 **********

Q: Tell us the inspiration behind your new book, Kiss Chronicles.

A: To answer that question, I actually need to take it back a little farther, to what started the whole Kiss Chronicles project. Before I turned 30, I’d been feeling anxious that I hadn’t gotten my first kiss yet. And then after my 30th birthday, I wanted to take action, to do something that felt right to get that kiss. When the thought occurred to me that, hey, people have auctioned stranger things than first kisses on eBay, so why not? At first, I threw the idea out because the money in an auction involved made it a bad idea. Then the idea came to me that the money didn’t have to come to me — it could go to charity instead. And I fell in love with the idea. Then everything that happened after that eventually lead to the book.

Q: The craft of writing not only enables us to make new discoveries about ourselves but also to provide closure for certain events and relationships in our past. What was your own experience with this in penning a soul-bearing memoir?

A: By the time I began writing the book, I needed it. I needed to put every word down, one after the other, to process my feelings and thoughts and work past them. I needed to pull my stories together to see how I’d come to that point in my life. Writing Kiss Chronicles was like being at the narrow point of an hourglass, filtering sand through that point grain by grain. The process brought me valuable lessons and healing.

Q: What governed your choice to make Kiss Chronicles a nonfiction title instead of a novel?

A: Wow, it never even occurred to me to novelize it. Huh. But truthfully, even if it had occurred to me, I wouldn’t have done that. By writing nonfiction, I discovered that this was the one story I could tell that could never belong to anyone else. Still, I do look forward to going back to fiction writing.

Q: Fiction enables a writer to take more liberties with the truth and, in doing so, maintain a safe distance of personal privacy. Are there other differences you encountered over the course of structuring your story?

A: The difference between fiction and nonfiction…to me, writing nonfiction felt kind of like cheating because I already knew the whole story. I didn’t have to invent characters or their backgrounds. I didn’t have to build a world. I was never surprised when something I wrote went in an unexpected direction. Writing nonfiction was like adding colors to a sketched outline rather than facing the daunting prospect of painting on a blank canvas.

Q: Were you/are you a voracious reader? If so, who are some of the authors you most admire and why?

A: I love to read. I admire C.S. Lewis for his wonder, Tolkein for his astonishing commitment to his world, and Lewis Carroll for his nonsense. In more modern times, Rob Thurman and S.U. Pacat are both writers that I stalk, er, um, I mean I appreciate their talents. And Robin McKinley wrote my favorite book, the darkest of dark fairy tales, Deerskin.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I’ve started Les Misérables, unabridged, and let me tell you, this one’s going to take me a while. I expect I’m going to have to take a break from it once or twice and read something that’s pure, unrepentant fluff.

Q: Fairy tales are everywhere, frequently permeating literature, movies and stage plays with characters, quests and object lessons that subsequently feel familiar to us. How do you use this storytelling device in your own work?

A: I mention fairy tales more than once in the body of the book, but I also had fun with the theme by threading a completed fairy tale throughout the book, beginning each of the chapters (and ending one or two of them). I took my nonfiction story and turned it into a fairy tale allegory, which supports the through lines of the whole tale. And, of course, the fairy tale concept had an obvious impact on the cover.

Q: In one word, how would you describe your first kiss?

A: Spoiler!

Q: If you could go back and invite any celebrity to the kiss auction in your book, who would it be and why?

A: Ahaha, wait, what? You mean to be the kisser? I can tell you this for sure: It would NOT be Gene Simmons!

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: Stare at blank page. Walk away. Come back and stare again. Chew fingernail. Walk away and use the laser pointer to tease a cat. Come back and write a sentence. Shout with joy and suddenly write bunches of paragraphs. Realize that an hour has gone by and, oh, where did all those words come from? Good job. Eat chocolate. Repeat.

Q: Are critique groups a help or a hindrance in a writer’s journey to find his/her unique voice?

A: A critique group, a good critique group, will be the greatest asset on a writer’s journey to tell a story. As for finding a unique voice, I’m not sure about that. Although I’ve belonged to a critique group for four years now, and I’ve met many people through it, I have yet to meet a writer who didn’t already have a unique voice. The group might have some influence on how that voice gets refined, to help polish it and make it shine, but it was already there to begin with. The group, my group at least, has much more to say about the mechanics of the writing.

For writers looking to find a critique group, the first place to check is MeetUp.com to see whether there are any local, established groups. If that doesn’t work, poke around at a library and see whether a friendly librarian knows of any crit groups. Or try searching online for “writing group [your location]” or “writing critique [your location]” and see what’s out there.

If you decide you need to start your own group, you can set it up on MeetUp.com and make it a regular event. (My group started off meeting every other week. Now we meet weekly.) Try to have at least a couple of other people you know, writers, who can help establish a reliable core membership. You’ll also want to set up rules, such as how long critique submissions should be and how far in advance of the meeting people need to submit the text to be read. You can use systems such as Dropbox, Yahoo! Groups, or Google Docs to share files.

Q: Was the decision to self-publish one that you made from the outset or did you pitch through traditional channels first?

A: I didn’t decide to self-publish at the outset, but nor did I pitch to any traditional channels. I pitched through entirely non-traditional channels at first. What I really wanted to do was work with a cancer-related charity and have the book benefit it directly. And who knows? Maybe that could be a possibility in the future. But for now, I’m content to be self-published and still benefitting charity, albeit through a workaround.

Q: What do you know now about the pros and cons of self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: In traditional publishing, the author gets hears a lot of “no” on the front end, before publishing the book. In self-publishing, the author hears a lot of “no” on the back end, after publishing the book. In self-publishing, the con is that I still have to fight to get my foot in the door and gain acknowledgement, but the pro is that even while I’m doing that work my book is already out, available, and able to start collecting reviews and momentum.

Q: How do you deal with the bias of publishing a “free” ebook?

A: For me, it’s still early days. I don’t think I’ve had to face this bias directly yet. I know it’s out there, though, the opinion that an author would only publish a book for free because it just isn’t that good and wouldn’t sell. That’s not the truth. Sometimes great writers have valid reasons for making books or short stories free.

However, I’ve realized a terrible indirect downside to my book being free: I can’t hold giveaways. People love to get something for free that wouldn’t otherwise be free, and so many authors are using that as a great promotional tool, giving away free or discounted books and gaining attention in the process. It’s a valuable way to spread the word, but I can’t join the giveaway fun.

Q: You indicate that you wrote this book for social good and wanted to leave it to readers to decide how and whether they take action. Tell us a little more about that.

A: Yes, this book is devoted to raising funds and awareness for cancer research and patients. It’s a cause that’s very personally significant to me because I’ve lost two immediate family members to cancer. I have a fundraising page set up for the book on Razoo at http://www.razoo.com/story/Kiss-Chronicles. It’s a third-party fundraising site, so the money is going to the charity and is tax deductible for the reader.

Donations are great and very much appreciated. However, each reader is unique and might want some say in where the donation goes. I picked a charity that fights multiple cancers, but what if the reader would prefer to donate to a cancer-specific charity, such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? I welcome the reader to do that. And what if the reader doesn’t have the cash to spare but has some free time? In that case, volunteering for a charity event might be perfect.

Of course I’d like my fundraising page to do well. In fact, it can and will do well. But I also think that someone reading my book might be able to come up with a brilliant idea that I never thought of, and I want to encourage that. I realize, of course, that plenty of readers will simply read the book without taking action. Still, I believe in planting seeds of potential even if they don’t sprout right away.

Q: What would fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I once had a dream that I got my first kiss from a web comic character named Skids. True story. He was a good dream kisser, too.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Fiction! I want to write some short stories and work with some new characters with super powers and maybe even go back to an old fairy tale that’s still in progress. More blogging as well, so the nonfiction doesn’t get to go away completely.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I blog at http://kisschronicles.com, and occasionally I post on the BlogHer network site. And you can find me tweeting on @KissChronicle.

What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More

200_WHAT_ARE_YOU_laughing_AT

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps,” wrote English essayist William Hazlitt, “for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.”

While pain and loss are the common denominators that universally produce tears, identifying the elements that trigger giggles, chuckles, and rip-snorting, knee-slapping guffaws is much harder. Humor is not only predicated on whether we´re a victim, participant or observer in the hilarity that ensues but also age, gender, education, ethnicity, social status and even where we live. A penguin that walks into a bowling alley in a New Yorker cartoon is likely to generate adult mirth from an incongruous caption that mixes sophistication with silliness. In a children´s show, the same penguin isn´t funny until he gets hit in the face with a cream pie or tries to evade an oncoming rush of bowling balls. If someone trips over the penguin in America´s Funniest Home Videos and smacks his head on the ball-return mechanism, we laugh at the man´s clumsiness, disregarding the realities of potentially knocking all his teeth out or getting a concussion from which a blot clot forms and subsequently kills him.

Humor sits at a complex intersection between context and audience. And who better to explain what tickles our collective funny bones than Brad Schreiber, author of What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Let’s start with some general background about who you are, what you’ve done, and when did the writing bug first bite you?

I describe my writing background as “psychotically eclectic,” because I have written for film, TV, stage, radio, advertising, fiction, nonfiction and was once hired to write dialogue for a pre-recorded phone line called “Dial-an-Insult” but I´m not so proud of that. I attended Burlingame High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I actually became more interested in acting than writing. Then, I eventually was the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and Editor of the school literary magazine as well.

My writing career evolved from medium to medium and I now crossover in TV, film, books and theatre. Writers who work in numerous media find that some pay better than others, but those others sometimes provide greater artistic satisfaction so the trade-off is calculated and very worthwhile. I´ve always advised writers to try and develop their skills in one more than one area.

Some people are funny in person while others are funnier in print. Which category best fits you and why?

I think I am funniest wearing my flannel pajamas covered with the character Stewie from the TV series Family Guy. I think the humor writer who is “good in a room” pitching or has performance experience has an advantage over other comedy writers in TV and film. Success in those media is predicated not only on perceptions of your talent but your personality and ability to adapt to new suggestions.

Thus, the comedy writer who has performed onstage may well have this advantage. I don´t think more introspective humor writers need to be standups or in comedy groups, but I strongly advise taking an improvisation class at least once to loosen up, to expand their abilities, to free associate. When I was 18, I was in a comedy troupe in the Bay Area called the Burlingame Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately, an actual orchestra complained when they saw our name on the bill at a club, asking who we were and why they did not get the gig. Still, performing on radio, TV, stage and in recording studios helped me to gain confidence in meeting new people and promoting my work.

Humor covers a broad spectrum of everything from pie-in-the-face pratfalls to sophisticated wit and sarcasm. Tell us a bit about what kind of mirth appeals to different demographics and how writers can use this awareness to pen funny scripts and stories.

This is a tricky question. As I say in my humor writing book What Are You Laughing At?, humor is as personal as the clothing you wear, and sometimes in as bad taste. I´m not sure of the exact demographic for fruit-pie-in-the-face compared to meringue but I can tell you this: the more people you try to appeal to, the broader and less sophisticated the humor becomes. Thus, a comedy screenplay based on wordplay will not be as accepted in other countries as one relying upon physical comedy.

English male comedians like wearing women´s clothes. Perhaps because women get to wear more silk. I don´t know. But the English also have a love of wordplay, so there is room within the culture for sophistication as well. I think it´s dangerous to make universal assumptions about what kind of humor will appeal to Ecuadorians. Here´s an example of the unpredictability of humor to a specific nationality. After one of my books was published, I went to the Book Expo America in New York City. I met a group of German publishing executives at a party. They were dressed in suits, seemed very intelligent, business savvy and knowledgable about American culture and the corporate world. But when one of them mentioned not liking a type of food because it made him fart, they all erupted into laughter like a group of prepubescent boys. Then, they started talking nonstop about flatulence. But it would be a mistake to think all Germans like fart jokes. Or at least, I pray to God they don´t.

In the end, you should write humor from passion and from strength. As always, it is good to learn about all kinds of approaches to comedy. But I have to quote the great Bill Cosby, here: “I don´t know what the key to success is. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Who did you think was funny when you were growing up? Who do you think is funny now?

My mother, Mona, was an actor and writer and told great jokes, did voices and had a profound effect on my artistic development. I watched way too much TV as a child. I watched stuff that even bored me. But there were no computers then. I loved certain animated series, including Rocky and Bullwinkle, which had jokes for kids and adults combined. An early TV series I enjoyed was My Favorite Martian with Bill Bixby and the great Ray Walston. I don´t think the show would have worked so well if Walston´s humorous intensity, his commitment to the role, wasn´t so focused. The two antennae protruding from his head also helped.

 

I recall seeing Bob Hope early on TV and loving the quality of his material. Of course, he also had tremendous writers, including the great Larry Gelbart, who I was fortunate enough to get to know a bit. One of the great honors of my life was getting a blurb from Larry on my humor book, saying, “Finally, a how-to by somebody who actually knows how to.” Prior to the great Johnny Carson, Jack Paar exhibited not only a brilliant wit but an exceptional intelligence for a talk show host. I could go on and on. Generally speaking, I want humor writers and performers to have a unique approach to the world as they see it: I don´t want something warmly familiar. I want something that feels like it builds on the history of humor.

Tell us about your book, what topics it covers and what inspired you to write it? What’s the takeaway value you want readers to have when they’re finished?

It´s the only book I know of that looks at all forms of humor writing, both in script and prose form. It´s also the only book to have an out-of-focus, closeup of a laughing pig on the cover. You see, there´s a lesson right on the cover: As you laugh at the pig, it laughs at you too.

The book not only has over 75 excerpts from great humor writers but also writing exercises I have created. I used to teach Humor Writing at UCLA Extension and the book built upon my course materials. I also have insinuated some principles that apply not only to humor but to dramatic writing as well.

What are some of the common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to write humorous dialogue and silly scenarios?

Vulgarity for shock value. Cultural references that will become dated. Sketches that do not have a beginning, middle and end but repeat a situation or character flaw over and over. Using exclamation points and all capital letters to make unfunny dialog somehow funnier. DO YOU THINK THAT´S ALL IT TAKES!!

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about comedy?

I can tell you the worst advice I have ever heard and I have heard it more than once: Analyzing comedy kills it. Wrong. Understanding the flow of words, how juxtaposition creates humor, why shock and surprise work, all these things are important to know. I have a section in “What Are You” called Yiddish Sound Theory, explaining why certain words sound funnier than others that have the same meaning. You require talent to write humor but understanding principles will aid all writers of comedy.

What are some movies and television programs that you think lend themselves well to the study of comedic delivery?

I don´t believe in citing my favorite movies and TV shows and comedians too often because everyone´s taste is different. But I do believe you as a writer and/or performer should be able to tell anyone why you like one person over another. Is it about material or intonation or appearance or facial expressions or topics? If you force me against my will- which you are, damn you, Christina – here are some faves: Verbal dexterity in standup: Robin Williams. Uniqueness as a female standup: Phyllis Diller. TV ensemble acting: The Carol Burnett Show. Uniqueness of sketch writing: MadTV. The last American comedy film that I thought broke new ground was The Hangover. If you disagree with any of this, then I didn´t mean any of it.

What’s the most recent thing you laughed about and why was it funny?

I´m a playwright member of the Actors Studio in Los Angeles. After a recent reading of a darkly comedic play of mine, some folks, including Mark Rydell, who runs things, gathered at a deli. He told me how he knew the meekly humorous actor Wally Cox, who came over Rydell´s mother´s house for dinner once. Mama Rydell kept giving him more food and Cox kept politely saying he was full. Finally, when she ignored him for the fifth time, in his typically timid voice, Cox said, “Shove it up your ass, Mrs. Rydell.” Mark said his father laughed so hard that he cried. Now I ask you, if Cox was anything but mousy, would this line have elicited laughter?

If you could go to lunch with any comedian from the past or the present, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

Even though I knew him, I would bring Larry Gelbart back to life and have a nice, long lunch with him, shot on video, to keep for posterity. While he was not a comedian, he was one of the most remarkable comedy writers in history. His career spanned radio, TV, theatre and film. He infused his characters, no matter how flawed, with great humanity. He broke comedic ground with the TV series M*A*S*H, films like Tootsie, his remarkable theatre work, including Mastergate and films like Barbarians at the Gate. His adaptability, his perspective on the changing nature of humor and his brilliance with both comedy and drama in writing made him very special. He was also a mensch and I loved him.

What are you working on now?

I got the rights back to my first book, Weird Wonders and Bizarre Blunders: The Official Book of Ridiculous Records and I published it as a Kindle book on Amazon. My book about Jimi Hendrix is under option with me to write the screenplay. I am also adapting Becoming Jimi Hendrix as a musical and I am attached as screenwriter to a project about Formula One car racing that will be a big, international co-production.

Where can readers learn more about you?

http://www.BradSchreiber.com and also they can enter my name at http://www.RedRoom.com for more video, audio and reviews. THANKS, CHRISTINA! I mean, thanks, Christina.