Stripper-Turned-Writer (11.08)

March 21, 2011

If you’re a writer, particularly a screenwriter, you’d have to be living in a box not to know the story of Diablo Cody. Stripper in Minneapolis blogs about her life as a stripper. Producer/agent/publisher guy finds said blog, and turns it into a book, and then convinces stripper to write a screenplay. Jason Reitman gets screenplay, and they make Juno. Stripper wins Academy Award.

Juno was one of my favorite movies of that year, and I’m totally agree with the Oscar win. But I didn’t even know about the book until I saw it in some random pile at my brother’s house a few days ago. But being a fan of Juno, and of strippers in general (not to mention being someone who still has a yet-to-be-finished screenplay that’s set in that particular scene), I had to read it.

The book is called Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, and I read the whole thing in one sitting, in a marathon reading session that lasted from about 11 pm until 2:30 this morning. Rather than being a story about the “girl gone wrong,” it’s more of a “fish out of water” tale, as this desperately conservative (or so she would have us believe) 24-year-old suburbanite steps into her quarterlife crisis, and with it a seedy strip club on amateur night. Over the next year she hits an upscale gentleman’s club, an all-nude hustler bar, the peep show at a porn shop, back to a strip club, and finally a phone sex line, before it was finally time for her to call it quits for good.

One of the markers of Cody’s writing style is that it’s incredibly witty. The sort of thing I used to envy when I was … well, about that age, and convinced that the deeper you delved into the thesaurus, the more idioms you used, the more obscure and creative your analogies, the better the writing. One such perpetrator who comes to mind is the curmudgeon John Kelso of the Austin American-Statesman. (Side note: When I was in college I wrote a poem about a hyperbolically precocious squirrel. I came across that poem a few days ago digging through old boxes, and I still like it. But my favorite poem I ever wrote was called “From the Journal of a 13th Century Peasant”, which consisted of the title, my name, and a blank page.)

At some point I read an article that argued that good writers don’t need to call attention to their own writing in that way, and it cured me forever of that ambition. Every now and then I write something that violates the principle, like my recent short story, an attempt at Poe-esque American Gothic, where I literally spent hours in a thesaurus picking out every obscure word I could shoehorn into my story, and then hours more pulling all those words out. But I still like coining new words and phrases (if you can understand what it means, then by definition it’s a word, dammit!), and do so regularly.

But I no longer feel the need to litter everything I write with obscure references to popular culture or ancient classics. (In an interview with Letterman, Cody refers to herself as a naked Margaret Mead. The audience laughed and applauded. Cody mugged for them. I looked up who the heck Margaret Mead is.)

Regardless, there’s no denying that Candy Girl is exceptionally well told, because Cody has more than just a keen wit, she has an excellent grasp on story telling. This book includes every structural beat you would expect from a well-told story: solid turning points, as she goes from one club to the next along her questionable career path; a midpoint when she quits, but then just has to return because she can’t help herself; rising stakes as she does more and more, going from the partially-clothed to the all-nude to masturbating in front of fetishists, until she finally found herself as the Grade A stripper who took home the gold; and then the need to quit and exit the industry entirely.

Through all of it, the insights are candid; erotic but grotesque: the unmistakable stain spreading through the patrons’ shorts, the declining responsiveness of her genitals, the need to be better than everyone else for just one night, the power through all the objectification. And for that, we love the author, because she gives us, as all great writers should, a window into something we couldn’t possibly have known otherwise.

I like that she addresses, in the conclusion, her motives for doing this and the motives of most of the girls who take this career path. I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of exploiting stereotypes to call attention to them and offer a contrapuntal alternative. And this book does all of the above.

So all in all, a great read, and one that has me respect this Oscar-winning writer all the more.


Writers from Mudville – There’s Hope for Us, Yet

February 4, 2010

Gideon’s Screenwriting Tips just became my new favorite blog. Why? Because of this post they published earlier today:

Selling Screenplays from Outside LA

It seems that the Social Networking Age has finally reached the movie business.

Oh, sure, there have been miracles like Diablo Cody, but we can’t all be stripper bloggers from Minnesota, and until recently, nobody really believed that you could actually break into the entertainment industry without living in Los Angeles.I’ve been to the Austin Film Festival enough times to know.

There are still some who don’t believe it, but it seems that their numbers are dwindling, and just like with anything, it depends more on how each individual chooses to do business than the industry as a whole. Some producers need their writers on site, because they work best with face-to-face meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc. Fair enough. Others don’t give a crap, as long as you can write a good story, they can talk to you over the phone or over Skype.

To use the words of Ernest Thayer:

“Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, might Casey, was advancing to the bat.”

Of course, we all know how that one ended.

A guy who strikes out two thirds of the time is considered a damn good batter, but he still fails more often then not. So now that Flynn and Jimmy Blake have made it on base, we have the real work cut out for us.

10% Inspiration, 90% Marketing – Books & Modern Media

October 29, 2009

People hate technology. They really do.

Of course, this is a vast generalization, and really what I mean is that businesspeople hate technology. But even that’s not true, because plenty of businesspeople out there embrace it and use it for exactly its intended purpose – to provide a new way of providing something consumers want, and in exchange, receiving monetary profit.

Which means that it’s not that businesspeople hate technology, it’s that business-dinosaurs hate technology, because they’re too blind to realize that change is inevitable, so they should embrace it and figure out a way to incorporate it into their business model.

And for some reason, well-established artists seem to be least creative when it comes to inventing ways to take advantage of technology, because they’re so incredibly stuck in the old paradigm of Intellectual Property. I wrote about this several months ago, and as a self-published author of a fantastic book who’s completely loused up the marketing process, it’s something I think about quite often.

In response to how much easier it is to copy and distribute art today than it was even 10 years ago, an organization called Creative Commons has created a “some rights reserved” license, a.k.a. the Creative Commons license, which lets the copyright-owner choose the conditions upon which copying and redistribution are permitted.

By now, most people are aware, at least vaguely, of the existence of the Creative Commons license. Many, I suspect, still haven’t seriously considered using it. Why? Because using this license requires throwing out all the books you’ve read that tell you how to break into the business. It requires a D.I.Y. approach to publishing, and it requires trusting that if you give someone something for free, the money will flow in your direction. Stephen King tried this approach nine years ago, and it was ultimately unsuccessful. Fair enough – he’s already got a model that works for him.

But Cory Doctorow recently published a column in Publisher’s Weekly about how he’s done exactly that. Here’s someone who clearly has no problem coming up with ingenuitive ways of marketing his work, and has reaped the rewards as a result.

I think we can all learn a lesson from Cory Doctorow, Diablo Cody, Stephen Elliott, and the other mad artists working in the world of modern technology. Come up with something new, and dedicate your time to it.

Because the more time I spend in this business, the more I realize that there are few things harder than finishing a book – but marketing that book happens to be one of them.

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