Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Art is Hard

It was probably about a month ago now when I read Tony Laplume's, The Song Remains the Same It's a roman a clef about a young man growing up in rural Maine who likes Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Joel Schumacher movies, and WWE wrestling.  All of which are things the author is into, which is why I refer to it as a roman a clef because it seems largely pulled from real life.  That is what made the book interesting for me because it felt like I was learning something about the author through this fictionalized story.

Pretty much that same night I watched the documentary "American Movie" which was about a guy in Wisconsin in the 90s trying to make a horror movie called "Coven" (pronounced Coh-ven) so he could finance his magna opus "Northwestern."  It takes years to make the short movie with budget problems and so forth.  In the end I don't think he was really successful.

Then at the beginning of the month I watched "Birdman" again on HBO.  That's the story of a washed-up Hollywood actor (Michael Keaton playing a fictionalized version of himself for the most part) who writes, directs, and stars in a play of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."  It's meant to be the actor's big comeback, but the play ends up driving him off the deep end, to the point he shoots his nose off trying to kill himself and then finishes the job by jumping out a hospital window.

Then like the next night I watched "Lost in la Mancha" which chronicles Terry Gilliam's attempts to make a Don Quixote movie.  It took him years just to get the financing and then on the first day of shooting in Spain NATO jets are flying around to ruin the sound, a thunderstorm rolls in, and the 70-year-old French lead gets a couple of herniated discs and is out for weeks.  Despite that, Gilliam still tried to plug along, which tells you just how committed he was, though he has never gotten the movie off the ground.  I think now with CGI and stuff he probably could do it easier if he wanted, but that's neither here nor there.

Recently I watched "Magician" a documentary on Orson Welles.  He faced a lot of obstacles in making his movies from "Citizen Kane" on to the last ones he made.  It's funny that after "Citizen Kane" which was severely frowned upon by the studio system Welles was pretty much blacklisted from directing another movie so for the next few years he was in movies that listed other directors and yet he apparently was still doing a lot of the directing uncredited.  That either makes you really passionate or a huge control freak--or both.

After watching those movies, all this stuff congealed in my brain to come out with that profound message in the title:  Art is Hard.  If you really think about it, artists of any stripe put so much effort into trying to create something.  It's more than just raw effort; they often put themselves into it.  They pour their hearts and souls into something and in the former two cases it didn't necessarily amount to a lot and the last case it only led to a sad documentary.

I have a book sort of like Tony's called The Changing Seasons.  Though it's not entirely a roman a clef because there are some significant differences, but it's probably the closest to that I've come.  I was trying out that old axiom "write what you know" almost literally.  Anyway, I'm not sure I ever bothered trying to shop it to agents or publishers.  I think I never got up the nerve when I wrote it in 2003 and by the time I self-published it I realized no one was going to care anyway because it wasn't the type of story with vampires or werewolves or wizards in it.  I was dismayed to see that since I had published it on Amazon it had a grand total of 0 sales.  So I bought a copy myself just so it would have a sales ranking.  (Though I had originally published it under another name so maybe it sold a copy or two under that other name.)

Again it's an example of putting a lot of hard work and heart and soul into a project to the collective yawn of the world.  That's one of the hardest parts of art of any type.  You put hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades of work into something and then you show it off and people go, "Meh."  If they bother to notice it at all.

I should probably say to keep your chin up and keep trying and maybe someday things will pan out, but does that sound like me at all?  Actually that's what I tell myself about my job search:  keep trying because the next job you interview for might be "the one."  That's probably delusional, but it's the only way you can keep from giving up.

I do have to respect and admire when people do put their heart and soul into something.  It's different from what I was talking about in my "About the Author" post where an author makes their main character look exactly like them and have their exact same interests.  I'm talking about more than superficial details, about really putting your personal stamp on something.  It can be a lot of effort and personal tragedy for quite possibly no return on investment.

Or maybe I'm talking out of my ass.  That happens a lot, right?


  1. The thing about books is that there is so much competition out there that it's very difficult to get your book seen. Hundreds of books are published and buried everyday.

    With this book, the cover and blurb just don't do anything help. The blurb sounds like a love story, but it looks like horror or some dark genre with that cover. The blurb is way too short. I mean...tell me why this story is different from any other love story? Usually women are interested in love stories, so I would try to think of what might catch a woman's attention for the cover.

    Anyway, your post made me curious about it, so I bought it.

  2. I don't think art is hard. I think that life is hard. You don't have to be an artist. The world is soul-crushing and the pure capitalist culture that we have in the United States makes sure that most people who start at the bottom stay at the bottom unless you have an advantage to get out of it: 1) you are willing to lie 2) you are born beautiful and willing to use your physical assets to get ahead, 3) you are born to a rich family.



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