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Scott Lax Blog

Writing Through Others' Eyes in Times of War and Peace

This past week I gave two 50-minute presentations and a reading at Chagrin Falls Middle School, and one 50-minute presentation at the High School. This being Memorial Day weekend (and Blossom Time in Chagrin Falls), I wanted to tie together the theme of THE YEAR THAT TREMBLED with Memorial Day, and the current wars.

Among other things, I told the students that I had a wide range of people that told me they liked the book and/or movie. Many were Vietnam veterans. Even though the book is written from the perspective of an anti-war narrator, Casey Pedersen, who had much concern, respect and sympathy for the service men and women that were involved in Vietnam. Others that have liked the book and movie (and play) had been anti-war protestors. And many were in between.

I spoke of the evening we screened the movie at Hiram College in 2002. A veteran of Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle group comprised of Vietnam vets, and Dean Kahler, who was shot and wounded -- and remains in a wheel chair -- at the Kent State killings of May 4, 2010. They shook hands and received each other warmly.

I had cousins that went to Vietnam, and friends. To those alive and dead I give my utmost respect. First because they fought for their country. Second because, as I told the young people, to participate in an unpopular war takes a special courage.

When I write about soldiers, or those left behind, widowed or otherwise bereaved, or other innocent victims of war, such as civilians, as a write I must put myself in their skin and see through their eyes. Very few people in this life consider themselves wrong, or evil. Nearly everyone does what he or she thinks is right, If we have leaders that betray our interests sometimes, be they the angle-shooters at B.P. or Halliburton, or Presidents Johnson or Nixon, it's the common people who suffer.

I think that novelists and story writers should side with the common people, however uncommonly brilliant or troubled they are. I am a common man; I don't write for the CEO of BP (or any company), or for political leaders (of any nation). I write for my tribe - those who must live with the decisions the leaders make; decisions sometimes based on greed and ambition.

Here's to those who have served. To those who have suffered. To those in victory and in defeat. To those like my dad who served during WWII, and to those in Iraq and Afghanistan now. Thank you, and may our country and its leaders be worthy of you, and make the right decisions and support you in your quest to bring peace to the world. Read More 

Professional Writers Should be Aware of Social Media's Impact as Well as Benefits

I'm not against social media -- far from it. While I don't do Twitter or Facebook for now (maybe when a new book is out), I think they can be excellent tools to connect with family and friends and clients and readers; and to market your writing in general.

But be careful -- those domains are not yours. I think the jury is still out (if not even in session yet) about whether you own your own words on domains that are not like this one, which is an Authors Guild domain (and thus I know they protect my rights, not infringe on them). Just make sure you own your own words if that's important to you.

And, too, if you're a professional writer, and you post using ungrammatical sentences and rant about things that you might better keep to a private conversation, you need to be aware that your words will stay out here on the ether forever. Or until the sun goes super-nova, anyway.

I write controversial things, and likely always will. But I stand behind them (or at least wince with the knowledge that at least once I stood behind them). I guess all I'm saying is think before you post. It's all too easy to publish these days. Professional writers need to self-edit more than ever.  Read More 

Actors, Show Business, and the Art of Story

I recently sent out an e-mail blast announcing two new workshops I'm teaching at The Chagrin Valley Writers' Workshop, which I founded in January of this year.

I've gotten some nice e-mails from old friends, including some show business pals from L.A. From 1998 until 2002, I did a five year stint as a movie producer, and, while producing isn't in my blood the way writing is now (and drumming was before), that experience - producing "The Year That Trembled," which was based on my novel of the same name - was an amazing experience.

One of the things I learned was how many talented and unique people are in the film business. Usually, on some level, movie people have a basic element in common with novelists and nonfiction writers: they want to tell stories. That's what drives them, whether they're behind the scenes, in editing, in producing, in post-production, in lighting, in sound, in operating a camera, in directing, and, of course in acting and writing.

Most of us watch TV and movies and enjoy them immensely. My fiance and I do. And every now and then I'll yell out that there's this person or that person who worked or acted in "The Year That Trembled," and I'll remember something about a particular moment in the creation of the film. I'll think of shooting a scene at 3 AM when it was so cold that everyone was in parkas except the actors, who were in shirt sleeves and never complained, because it was supposed to be a warm summer night. Or an indoor scene when it was over 100 degrees upstairs in a house where we were filming, and we were about passed out in "video village," and the actors and crew just hung in there and kept working.

Count me as a writer who respects actors, directors and other story tellers. To act believably, to pull off an effective scene, whether it's on film on video or the stage -- that's an art and a skill that is often lost in the reams of paper and billions of electrons devoted to things superfluous to the art: whose dating who; who's acting out in Cannes or Hollywood. That stuff comprises about .001 percent of the show business world. The other 99 plus percent is hard work indeed.

To all of you who tell stories -- by writing, by acting, or behind the scenes -- thank you for your continued inspiration to those of us typing away and trying to create more stories that you may someday bring to life. Read More 

Flaubert Unplugged

Most of us who are writers by trade (not a hobby) understand the blunt words of MADAME BOVARY author Gustave Flaubert: "Writing is a dog's life, but the only life worth living."

In this society, as in most societies, it's not a path to security and comfort. But it is a path to a kind of fulfillment that takes you deep into the meaning of your own life. If you get lucky, or are very good, success and the rest may happen. In any case, if you're a writer, or if you really want to be one, Flaubert's quote is strangely comforting.  Read More 

Avoid the Oil Spill of Twitter and Blogging about Nonsense and Nothingness

How will you know when you're a good writer? My experience tells me you won't ever know. Because the better you get, the more you know you don't know.

I've seen good writers turn into not good writers because of a few successes. It happens to writers like it happens to athletes or CEOs of companies or spouses: Overconfidence, arrogance, and entitlement.

It's spread over the Internet like an oil spill: preening to a faceless mass of "followers" (as if bloggers and Twitterers, by nature of their ability to pour out seemingly endless drivel, trivialities and snark, are actually accomplishing something), typers spew ungrammatical and baseless globs of words.

What, exactly, are those writers accomplishing? They rant, snipe and moan about their lives or professions; but what does this have to do with writing? Maybe it saves them therapy, but it's not making them writers, anymore than me tightening a leaky faucet makes me a plumber. I don't know what it is; maybe it's some 21st Century version of Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame, except it's a virtual, ethereal eternity of simply being known. For whatever that's worth. Is being known worthwhile in and of itself? As a writer, would you rather be like Lindsay Lohan or an excellent, but little known stage actor? Which do you think would give you more satisfaction, more sense of worth in your life and art? If the answer is the former, then type away and let it out there unchecked; if the latter, hone your craft.

This blog is for those who wish to write, or at least learn a little bit about the writing life. I don't have many answers; I may not have any at all. But I can share what little I've learned about writing.

If you want to write for publication, or write better than you do, you'll have to learn the craft; study the art, practice writing. Read, write, edit, take classes, do what you need to do. But don't delude yourself that pouring out your observations about your job or home life or politics - without controlling principles, without form, without evidence, without skill, without art, for goodness sake - is literary writing. It's not.

Avoid those that spill the oil and muck up the sea of intelligence in which we try to swim. A lot of people are writing away, writing thousands, millions of words - and in some sense, in the sense that they're writing instead of mugging someone on the street - I suppose that's a healthy thing. But it's not writing as art; it demeans writing as art. Throwing a burger on a grill doesn't make you a trained chef. that takes years and years of hard work and sacrifice. Throwing some words in a Tweet don't make you a writer.

Much journalism is going down - or has already gone down - a dark and stupid road to oblivion. Don't go down that road if you want to write fiction and nonfiction that actually makes a difference. Be a writer if that's what you want to be.  Read More 

"The Crack," My New Short Story, is Published Online and in Print

"The Independent" has just published "The Crack," one of my new short stories from an upcoming collection. I hope you can give it a read. You can get to it by clicking the link for The Independent to the left.

You can access it by clicking The Independent link or picking up a copy in and around Cleveland.  Read More 

Kent State: May 4, 1970 Remembered

Today is the 40th anniversary of the massacre of four students and the wounding of many others on the campus of Kent State University.

While members of the National Guard pulled the triggers, it was the toxic atmosphere in the country during the Vietnam War, and in particular, of particular government leaders in Ohio and Washington that provided the cause (the illegal invasion of Cambodia) and the match that lit the fuse (a hostile and confrontational approach to protest) that sent those bullets flying.

Concerning the National Guard, as with the War in Vietnam service people, I have always respected the fighting men and women of America who went there -- and stayed here -- and fought for what most of them thought to be a just cause. And I have mourned for their deaths and woundings; for those of the students at Kent that day; for the innocent civilians that were destroyed in Southeast Asia as a result of this horrible war.

So I wrote about it in a stay-at-home war novel, which begins three months after Kent State, called THE YEAR THAT TREMBLED. The Tyler Davidson and I produced the feature film of the same name (and which begins just before the events of May 4, 1970), which was written and directed by Jay Craven. Then I adapted my novel for a play that was staged at University School in October 2003.

Should you have interest in this event, and what it did to the psyche of America, certainly I hope you check out my novel and the movie. (Both are available on the Home Page, with links that take you to where you can buy or rent them.) But you can research this event yourselves, as well. You can draw your own conclusions.

My continued sympathies to the real victims of this tragedy and their families: Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20 years old; Allison B. Krause; 19 years old; William Knox Schroeder, 19, years old; and Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20 years old. My sympathies, too, to the National Guardsmen who have had to live with this - it wasn't their choice - and to more than 58,000 American service people killed and hundreds of thousands wounded; the millions of Southeast Asians killed; and to all those who suffered, some who continue to suffer to this day.

I hope we can make something of this. As the character, Casey, at the end of the my book, movie and play says, "I'm trying. I'm writing."

I happen to agree with Casey. In our modern world, it's easy to forget. The job of writers is to let us not forget. Read More 
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The Freelancers Union Weighs in on Writers Being Compensated

This April I wrote a blog post about protecting yourself as a writer. It seems as if I'm not alone in this concern. Below is a something from The Freelancers Union:

"The Check Is in the Mail (Ha!)
"The Wall Street Journal writes that freelancers are increasing taking on yet another gig: 'bill collector. Freelancers don’t have the same recourse regular employees do for when the boss—or client—doesn’t pay. That often puts freelancers in a bind—they 'don’t want to look like a jerk,' but they’re out big money. We're working on a few solutions to the problem, and we'd love you Tweet to help the cause."

...Me again: I don't Tweet, but I do blog, so again: remember that writing is a business, not simply an art and craft, and protect yourself accordingly. My blog on this subject is in the April archives.  Read More 

On Inspiration for Writing Fiction

Students and readers -- but most especially non-writers -- ask where I get inspiration for fiction.

For me, inspiration can come from anywhere. It can be somewhat mystical: The idea for THE YEAR THAT TREMBLED came to me in a flash, sitting in Robert Frost's meadow near sunset in the Green Mountains in Vermont. (I had the idea to write a book that begins and ends in a meadow; which is does.) It can be deeply subconscious - for two new stories that I have coming out, I typed the title and everything flowed from there.

I had no idea what they would be about. I typed, "Sleeping In," and ended up writing a story about a former New York City Wall Street Trader that slept through 9/11 and ended up getting fired, then became a high-society thief. (It'll be published this week.)

I typed in "The Crack," and ended up writing a story about a chef and his new restaurant; the story begins when the young chef/restaurant owner sees a crack in his new slate patio. (That will be published in early June.)

For another story that was published recently, "Sales Call," I also typed the title - what came out of it was a story about a young salesman in 1980 who gets snowed in at a Holiday Inn in Nebraska. He meets an older, wiser salesman, and his life becomes forever changed.

I filled those stories in with all kinds of what I call shelf items - memory, observation, research, and most importantly, imagination.

(I can't really say much about my new novel -- more on that later.)

I'll write more about inspiration, but for now, here's my advice: if you write fiction, trust yourself - don't censure yourself. Don't be too self aware and let it flow. You have an entire genetic memory stored in those cells of yours. You have your mind and imagination. Use them. They'll breath life into your characters and your stories.  Read More