Thursday, February 7, 2013

The End of Houdini

            My apologies for missing last week.  There’s just a whirlwind of stuff going on with the re-release of Ex-Heroes coming up in a few weeks (pre-order a copy at your favorite bookstore now).
            Anyway, an odd title this time, I know, but it’ll make sense in a few minutes.
            But before then, if you don’t mind, I’d like to brag a bit.
            Most of you reading this know I worked in the film industry for many years before I started writing full time.  That’s pretty cool, right?  I got to hang out with a lot of actors and actresses you’ve heard of.  I had lunch and dinner with several of them, grabbed drinks at the hotel bar with some of them, even played pool with one or two of them.
            In fact, if I may brag a bit more, I fooled around with one of them.  An actress you’ve probably heard of who made it pretty big shortly after our little liaison.  We got drunk at a wrap party that was being held in her hotel.  It was nothing too serious, didn’t last long, and we didn’t speak of it afterwards.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d written it off and forgotten it, but it’s a small point of pride for me. 
            Wow, you’re thinking.  Good show, Pete.
            Honestly, though, this isn’t much of a story at all, is it?  It’s not like we dated for any amount of time or ever hooked up again.  If I were writing the story of my life, it’d be a minor detail at most.  Barely even a plot point
            And, of course, you figure that over the past fifty years there’s probably been a thousand actors and actresses in Hollywood who could claim that kind of status—someone you’ve heard of who’s undeniably attractive.  And if any of them had vaguely normal sex lives and appetites, they could probably claim that level of physical interaction with at least a dozen people (probably a lot more in the ‘60s and ‘70s).  That’s somewhere around twelve thousand people who could tell the same story as me.
            So it really happened.  But it’s not that interesting.  And it happened to a lot of other people, too.
            Now I said all this to remind you about Harry Houdini. 
            I saw ads for that Cirque de Soleil movie around Christmas and I thought, wow, some production company did not learn from Harry Houdini.  The man's career tanked with films, because on film anybody can do anything.  At the end of the day, the fact that Houdini was actually doing elaborate escapes on film didn’t matter.  Even in those early days, audiences had realized that people in Hollywood could do amazing things on screen.  They could shoot somebody with a rifle, set buildings on fire, even turn a man into a monster.  Getting out of a pair of handcuffs was nothing.  It was commonplace.
            Y’see, Timmy, if my story is depending on the fact that it’s real and true to make it interesting... well, that’s just not going to cut it. The moment we get caught up in a good story and believe in the characters and the events around them--even just for a moment--they're real.  So no matter how powerful it may be to me personally, a true story has to match that level of interest. A real character needs to compete with fictional ones.
            The movie Argo is a great example of what I’m talking about.  I remember first reading about the events that inspired the film years ago, and I was blown away by them then.  It’s a heist story wrapped in a con game wrapped in a political tale.  That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?  And in the hands of a storyteller who knows how to structure his narrative, it’s an absolutely amazing story.
            Who cares if it’s true or not?  It’s just a great story.
             In both books and movies, James Bond is really and truly a secret agent.  So is Jason Bourne.  Chuck Bartowski’s a secret agent, too.  John Carter of Virginia actually traveled to Mars.  The Avengers fought Loki and a bunch of aliens in Manhattan last summer.  I remember it like I was there. 
            If my stories are worth reading, whether they’re true or not is irrelevant.  They need to hit the same levels as these fictional stories.  They don’t need to be action-packed, non –stop thrills, or tons of gratuitous sex and nudity, but they need to have something original and compelling about them that’s going to be interesting to more than a few dozen people.  I’m not talking about universal appeal, but maybe at least... y’know, solar-system appeal.
            More appeal than there was between me and that actress, that’s for sure.
            Next time, on a related note, I thought I’d talk a bit about love.  It's that time of year, after all.
            Until then, go write.

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