Thursday, November 14, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Growing as a Writer in 2020, Part Two

I’d like to introduce you to my friend John Winston Rainey. John is a screenwriter, a script doctor, a magician with words, accents, connecting with an audience, you name it. I have a couple stories to tell about him.

I first met John in 2006 at a reading I used to go to every Tuesday night. He was passing by, I think, and heard me read the first page of “Slices of Alice” through the window. He came in, and after the reading, he came up to me and point-blank asked me “Was that a poem?” I said that it was really more of a character study, but I considered it a poem, I submitted it as a poem, and that’s how it was published. I really didn’t think it could be anything else. 

A few months later, John emailed me and asked me to describe him. He needed a character for a screenplay he was writing. I hardly knew anything about him but little hints he’d dropped here and there, so I basically made most of it up. 

A Slice of John

John wakes up every morning at 6:00, not because his alarm is set but because the sprinklers go off outside his window promptly. John has not used an alarm in years, certainly not since he moved to this house.

While waiting for his morning tea to brew John does his daily yoga. He looks out over the hedge to the bay below and greets the sun. His stretches come naturally, a roadmap well-traveled by his lean body day after day. This centers and strengthens him for whatever may come. His breath is even and calm.

His house is stark. Although lovely, there is no sign of messiness or frivolity. There are no mementos. Dark floors, pale rugs, low furniture, very quiet. Many books are properly shelved or neatly stacked. A cleaning woman comes weekly to ensure that everything is just so. There is not even a dish in the drainer.

John is stark as well. Tall and angular, he moves with grace, with not a wasted gesture. When writing for himself he wears white shirts and listens to Debussy. When reviewing other people’s writing the house is silent. Even his walking from room to room leaves no sound. Sometimes he realizes he has not said a word to anyone since his last trip to the market. This makes him sad.

John has no pets. He has words. Words with clever repartee and gentle barbs attached. He practices them at the market several times a week. He always goes to the same store famous for meeting people and making connections. Normally observant, he does not notice. He does his shopping—fruits and vegetables to supplement the organic meals already prepared and delivered to his house to put in the freezer and cook at will. John favors a heart-healthy menu although he gets little joy from it. His doctor says he has the body of a man 10 years younger.

He does not remember how long it’s been since he inhaled the bouquet of a fine red, or smiled across the table at a beautiful woman. He aches for intimacy but acknowledges that perhaps what’s left for him is only to write about the possibility. Since she died he’s been existing with half a heart.

John is keenly aware of this around certain times of the year, particularly when summer turns to fall and the days get shorter. His holidays are tied to the Earth and he misses her around his holidays.

John is not a sad man, not at all. He is simply a scheduled man. A realist. The things most people would do for fun or relaxation, John does for research. He would not come back from somewhere hung over and sunburned, rather he would bring back with him the perfect description for the taste of salt at the edge of the sea as the world is waking. The poet in him has grown, not an even trade, but a small consolation.

I guess it worked because I think he used it.

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One day, John asked if I’d ever considered taking voice lessons. He said I read womanly poems with a little girl voice, and maybe some lessons would allow me to read the poems as they should be read. I have always hated my voice. I hate my voice on my answering machine, on YouTube, on the mic…what the hell, what harm could it do? He gave me the number of a voice coach and suggested I call.

It was one of the best calls I’ve ever made. I only took about five or six lessons from a woman who sounded like a gorgeous and sultry 40-year-old, who was in her 70’s. She helped me, and she helped Owen too! He listened to her instructions about breathing and found he was able to play trumpet and bassoon much better. She had me practice reading to a pretend audience all the way on the other side of her backyard. It was amazing. I don’t want to sound like Betty Boop and now I don’t have to. If you hate your voice, and you read often, you may wish to consider a few voice lessons. You won’t grow as a writer, but you’ll grow as a reader, and growth is growth. It’s something you might like to do in 2020.

Okay, starting with Alice, ending with Alice, and going back to screenwriting—if that’s something you’d like to do, you definitely should.  I told John that Susan Tepper, who you’ve met, said I should write screenplays. John said “I definitely think you should take a crack at screenwriting.  In my humble opinion, all great stories are about character and your "slices" are all about character specifics in lucid description. That is where story begins. Character is the seed of any story and character is the window that allows the audience/reader into the story.” Oh great, one more way for me to get rejected. But I’m not the only person who writes narrative-based character studies/poems/short fiction. If this is your passion, and you’d like a mentor or any kind of help with screenwriting:

John’s websites are & He’s transitioning from the former to the latter, but using both for now. 

In the words of Francis Ford Coppola:

“You ought to love what you’re doing because, especially in a movie, over time you really will start to hate it.”

Ha!!!! This is totally true for me with my writing. I hope it isn’t true for you. Whether it’s voice lessons or writing screenplays for the first time, both are growth opportunities that you can do in 2020 and beyond. If not those, find something that tickles you as a writer. Always be looking for ways to grow. And by the way, Francis Ford Coppola makes an excellent rosé named for his daughter Sofia, also a screenwriter/movie maker. Think about how much time you’ll have to write while waiting for the grapes to ripen!

Have fun. Write well. Try something new. Enjoy. xo

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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