Categories
process Writing

Turning Oneself Into A Writer Fast

Or How To Learn Anything Fast

Last November, I finished the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo ) challenge successfully with 50,000 words.   I knew it was just a start.  It was a brain dump – a hazy idea of what could later be sculpted and crafted into a novel.

My fast journey to becoming a writer
Writing is easy – just add words! Photo by Jan Willemsen.

 

But what next?

I was a bit lost.   Yes, I’ve read a lot over the years, but haphazardly.  I didn’t have a great books list.  I knew I liked fantastical stories and really resonated with HG Wells, Jules Verne, William Gibson and Kafka.  I also love the magic realists Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino.   I also just love the wonder of Ray Bradbury, the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and the characterizations of Dickens.  But I felt like I was trying to write a rock song having never heard Elvis.   Or a symphony without knowing Beethoven.  I didn’t have enough context.

I went to NYU for music and missed out on a lot of the great history and literature courses.  I always felt that was a mistake and am thrilled to finally be correcting that.  So I began searching for the 10,000 foot view.  I usually look for the meta book, the one that will give me the greatest context.

I found a lot about writing mindset and technique which are great.  But for historical context, I’ve found nothing quite matches the  Great Courses (formerly called the Teaching Company).  Thesea are college classes online which you can download to your smartphone or have on DVD, or CD.

So over the last few months, I’ve been inhaling vast quantities of method books, college lectures,  historical overviews and source materials.  Here’s a partial list of my consumption.  I hope you find it helpful.

  • Story by Robert McKee – the classic.  I read it over 10 years ago and recently repurchased as audio book.  McKee is an actor and he really brings to life his sage wisdom.  Highly recommended.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – I’ve had this in my collection for over 10 years when I was originally creating a libretto for an original opera.  That project is still gestating.  But what a great book.
  • The Creative Penn podcast by Joanna Penn – Joanna is an inspiration for all writers.  I’ve discovered many great resources on her podcast including Dave Farland – see below.
  • Heroes, Gods and Monsters by Bernard Evslin – A great book that retells the old mythological tales.
  • Greek Tragedy by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver – a little dry at times, but a fast overview.
  • Some short video clips from great writers like  Robert McKee, Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Jonathan Safran-Foer, and others.  Good for a quick hit of inspiration.
  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks – I like how Larry has made this easier to visualize.  You can also see hitpoints in every story, film, novel, whatever,  based on his engineering blueprints.
  • History of the Ancient World:  A Global Perspective – Professor Gregory S. Aldrete – If I’m going to be creating fantastical fictional worlds, I better know what the real history has been.   This course is wonderful and well presented.  48 half hour lectures which you can binge on as you work out or clean the house.
  • Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature -Professor Thomas A. Shippey – Wow!  Shippey actually went to school with Tolkien and he discusses so many of the great characters of the world from Bilbo Baggins to Sherlock to Beowulf to Harry Potter.  Loved it.
  • Million Dollar Outlines by Dave Farland.  Dave has taught writing to so many successful authors and makes so much sense in this book.  I also heard his podcast interview at the Creative Penn.   I was so impressed, I enrolled in his online course.  See below.

If you have any suggestions to add, I’d be happy add them to the list.  Write in the comments below.

And, if you find any of these helpful, some of them contain affiliate links so I receive a small commission.  Just so you know.

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

Categories
food travel writing

Flying Morning Glory – A Journey Across Thailand

Flying Morning Glory

Back in the early 1990’s, I made a trip to Thailand to visit my father’s relatives.  It was the first time I was back since I was 6 years old when I came for a 2 week visit.  All I had remembered was the heat, the humidity and the rain as we were there in rainy season.  This time, I was there in the beautiful month of September and the air was much drier.   I had recently relocated to Hong Kong to join MTV-Asia as one of their first VJ’s for their new satellite channel on Star TV.  Being just 2 hours flying time away was too irresistible and within a month I was there.

My uncle Janjai, the third eldest, but clearly the leader of the family, decided that I must go see the north of the country and so we set off in a small beat up BMW with 2 of my other  my uncles on a week-long road trip to the northern city of Chiang Mai from busy, bustling Bangkok.  Not speaking any Thai, I had no idea where they were taking me, only that it was to see the country of my roots.

Our first day included stopping in and seeing the great temples and ruins along the way.  I especially remember Ayutthaya, with it’s many beautiful Buddhas and temple ruins.

Lunch was at a roadside restaurant beside a river under a canopy of trees.  Simple yet beautiful.  My Uncle said that this river ran through the entire country and on to Vietnam.   The rice server stood by us with a silver serving bowl and heaped serving after serving of lovely hot steaming jasmine rice to cool the flames of the red hot chili peppers.  I remember saying to myself, “I will never forget this moment as my senses are so alive.  My mouth as on fire!”  It’s no wonder Thailand is a Buddhist country.  I never felt so “in the present moment.”  You could say that chili peppers are a meditation device.

We reached the small town of Phitsanulouk by early evening.  The town is almost exactly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.   The skies were turning dark and we were hungry.  We checked into a reasonable hotel and ventured out looking for something to eat.

In the center of the town was a large open air restaurant.  It spanned across the street and on either side were tables with customer and waiters running back and forth.  All were ordering variations of the same thing:  Flying Morning Glory.  What the heck is that?  And just then a waiter took a tray and ran up a ramp to the top of a tractor trailer where large English words were emblazoned: “Flying Morning Glory.”

The waiter yelled out something like “Ready!”  The cook standing street-side with a roaring flame and huge wok, scooped up a bunch of green vegetables and flung them across the street above our heads to the waiter high on the top of the truck.  The waiter caught the goods and came running down the ramp to the serve another customer the specialty, hot, fresh and recently airborne.  Flying Morning Glory.

Recently, I went out to dinner with my Dad and my son in Queens, New York where there is a pocket of authentic Thai restaurants and groceries.  This is nowhere near as abundant as Los Angeles, but there are some tasty places.    We went to the now “discovered,” Sripraphai Restaurant, which even boasts Zagat ratings and a large crowd of mostly non-Thais.  My Dad spoke a few words in Thai and somehow we were whisked past the crowds and seated in a large spacious dining room.  When I first came to this restaurant back in the late 90’s, there was only one tiny storefront with plastic chairs and tablecloths.  Now, almost a decade and a half later, there’s 3 storefronts with modern decor, wine list and even a garden.  We quickly ordered and I asked for the “pad pak boong fai deng”  which is listed as “Thai Watercress” on the menu.

And suddenly…I was transported back to the roadside table in Phitsanulouk with the flying morning glory.

Categories
art film/video food joyful living

Empanadas – a film, a life, a recipe

My mother in law Beatriz passed away 3 days before Christmas 2010.  It was a long hard year when we heard the diagnosis of her late stage brain cancer.  She was such a well loved, vibrant, energetic and insatiably curious soul who could befriend someone in an instant.  So many of our friends who met Beatriz became instant friends.  One time at a beach in New Jersey, we met an acquantaince with a child adopted from Colombia.  She was excited to meet Beatriz who grew up in Medellin, in the state of Antioquia.  Within 20 minutes, it was like they had known each other for years.  When my wife and I lived in Hong Kong, Beatriz came for a weeklong visit.  Right away, a dear friend of ours made plans to visit her and to share recipes and shopping adventures.  The age difference of 30 years did not make any difference! They kept up writing letters to each other for years.

A few years ago, I had a sense that perhaps we should preserve and capture one of “Abuelita’s” signature recipes.  So armed with a basic point and shoot digital camera (a Fuji FinePix F20) I shot and edited this film Empanadas Antioquenas (in iMovie) and now it’s gone past tens of thousands of views on YouTube.  Beatriz has become everyone’s mother and Abuelita. I still need to add English subtitles, but you can pretty much follow along even without knowing Spanish.

In Loving Memory of Beatriz Valencia Agudelo

May 31, 1940 – December 22, 2010