Creative Interview

July 24, 2019

Today I’m not posting about my own books or commenting on the ins-and-outs of indie publishing. Instead, I’m interviewing a fascinating creative talent and former Michigan resident, Dale Johnson.

Welcome to “Painting With Light,” Dale.
Thank you. Glad to be here.

You have a fascinating creative background. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I grew up in the Detroit area. Blue collar. High IQ. Strong work ethic. A contrarian that follows the scientific method to solve life’s issues. An accomplished college and semipro pitcher. Clutch hitter because of my ability to tune out everything and focus on one thing.

I married young and moved to NYC, lived there 40 dream years and reached the top of my field at one of the leading ad agencies in the world as an EVP Exec Creative Director. Now run my own agency.

My wife (and best friend) died suddenly three years ago, so I moved to SF to live near my daughter. I am considered kind and respectful, but can have my angry moments.

Understandable. Where did you go to college?
Wayne State University in downtown Detroit.

What was your major?
Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. I also got a Marketing degree from the school of Business, and spent two further years at night school for a minor in journalism.

What were you like at school?
In high school I acted out, was a class clown. Independent, a kind of troublemaker with quips, followed a different drummer. I thought people who joined groups were giving up their individuality. I rejected school/society rules when they didn’t fit my scientific analysis.

Got kicked out of Physics class my senior year because I didn’t feel the teacher was teaching how to understand it, only wanted us to memorize it.

Were you good at English?
I was different. My teachers didn’t understand me. Extremely avant garde and offbeat but lacked grammar and structure training, so I rambled a lot…I wish I could say like Ken Kesey (the author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”). They didn’t know what to think of me.

Where do your ideas come from?
Countless ideas pop into my head just when I sit and think. They are random and it took decades to learn how to merge them into a concept and focus them correctly.

My years in management at the top ad agencies in the world taught me conceptual and strategic discipline, and how to not only understand an idea but be able to explain it to others. Generally, my ideas start by asking the question “Why?”

You were into marketing big-time. What led you into plays and then film?
I’m still in marketing, but am now also a filmmaker. I love advertising and mass behavior change and totally understand how politicians win. In my thirties I was restricted creatively to maximize mainstream commercial success in advertising, so I looked around for another outlet on the side. Writing novels didn’t work for me.

I discovered theater and fell in love. When I started to write plays, I wondered if I had anything important to say and if anyone would care. I apparently did, and created a cult following that liked my uncensored honesty and willingness to pursue controversial topics.

My play on date rape in 2004 went to the Philly Fringe, and my play on racism was optioned by the Theater League’s Broadway Producer of the Year. When I left my last job and started my agency, I switched to filmmaking in hopes of making some money, which plays never do.

Were there writers or filmmakers who inspired you?
When I discovered playwrighting I had been deeply immersed in off-off-broadway and performance theater. I particularly loved Karen Finley. At the Strand I discovered a book called In Your Face, about a theater movement in the 1950’s in England.

This was a time when a homosexual act would put people in jail. They believed that theater should tell the truth, that anything you didn’t do onstage you were denying its existence. It resonated with me and is my credo. People who censor you have an agenda, they don’t want a different opinion to be expressed. It’s natural of course.

People who question threaten the status quo. I followed that belief and was very provocative, but meaningful, and I had a cult following of mature, independent thinkers. One of my plays ran six months. I study art movements as well as artists and love every true artist. I’ve become very visual.

Do you have an “elevator speech” for your work?
I guess you could say it’s “the off off broadway of film” – but major distributors want Broadway.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
At first, I was chaotically creative. Journalism classes gave me some structure. Then I wrote in the ad business and became extremely disciplined. Too disciplined. I felt unable to create naturally, so took a sabbatical for a year and lived in Greece and France.

I wrote five hours a day, every day, and learned how to channel my subconscious directly onto the page without filtering it through my conscious. It was like dreaming for five hours, then waking up wondering what happened.

But I was still able to consciously “aim” the writing, just like I learned to “aim” my fastball as a pitcher. If you completely let go you won’t get it over the plate, if you control your body too much it won’t be relaxed enough to throw fast. It’s called a “controlled explosion”, that’s how I write.

What is the hardest thing about what you do?
The hardest thing is convincing people my work has mainstream appeal. They generally rely on stars in front of and behind the camera in order to finance a movie, so I have to hire stars and be one.

Do you have a favorite author? Playwright?
Several: Steinbeck, Robert A. Heinlein, Lincoln Steffens, Ernie Pyle, Gene Roddenberry, William Goldman, Billy Wilder, David Lean, Alberto Innaurato, Anthony Burgess, Gilbert Gotfried, Lerner and Lowe, Salinger, Mark Twain, Ken Kesey, Bob Dylan, Ferlinghetti, Rod Serling, Vonneghut, Camut, Dr. Suess, Ken Burns, Woody Allen, Kurasawa, etc. – and all playwrights.

What is your favorite book? Movie? Play?
There are lots of them: East of Eden; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Catcher in the Rye; The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, Volume 1; Contagion Theory; Casablanca; Clockwork Orange; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The Wild Bunch; Cinema Paradisio; Princess Bride; Don’t Look Now; Lawrence of Arabia; Sand Pebbles; The Battle of Algiers; A Thousand Clowns; Bridge Over the River Kwai; A Man for All Seasons; The Seven Samurai; Ordinary People; Lilies of the Field; and a host of others.

What is your favorite quote?
One of my own quotes: “Art is my religion. Truth is my God.” Or TheaterWeek’s quote about me: “When you watch a Dale Johnson play, be prepared to lose your virginity again.” Also from Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2): “First…let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Where can we find out more about your work?
Cinemaeveritellc.com

What social network sources do you use?
None. As a creator of entertainment, I need to be paid tons of money to entertain people on the internet and I already have two careers.

I don’t have tons of money, so I’m eternally grateful you decided to do this interview. Good luck, Dale…and thanks.
Thanks for having me, Ron.

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I will be joining other authors signing books at SterlingFest in Sterling Heights, Michigan this Saturday, July 27, 2019.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my two local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

How Are You At The Fine Art Of Table Sitting?

June 17, 2019

What Waiting for Customers Can Feel Like (Photo Courtesy of Pexels)

Most indie authors have attended a literary festival, or an organized book-signing. It’s an integral part of the way the book-selling game is played. I’ve gone to a lot of them, and I often think I’ve seen it all.

For instance, I’ve seen writers trying to attract readers with giant bowls of candy (OK…I’m guilty too).

I’ve even seen authors dress in character costumes and props. At one event I attended there was a man dressed as a pirate, right down to the tri-cornered hat, sword, telescope and eye patch. I didn’t find out how many books he sold, but he certainly attracted attention.

However, most authors are not nearly so outgoing. Most of them are introverts, not necessarily all that comfortable connecting with people and selling themselves.

I’m the first to admit it can be tough. You have to be engaging, but not pushy. There’s a fine art to it. An eye-catching display can help, if it’s not too gimmicky (I like to use a plain white table runner, with my name and the prize medallion from one of my books on it).

I also always have bookmarks that display all my current books and where to find them outside of the event. They give the links to my web site, my Facebook page, other social media and this blog.

Conversation is Key
But even more important than accessories and links, is conversation. If you’re able to force yourself to be a little more of an extrovert, you’ll often find yourself in fascinating exchanges, first with the other authors around you, then with readers.

There’s a special reason I think it might help to chat with other authors at the surrounding tables before the event gets underway. Networking with those other authors may actually help you to sell your own books!

You may not have the specific genre someone is looking for, but if you could suggest an author who might, you’d be surprised how often that is reciprocated.

Be honest about your own book’s content, and if another author has something you know is closer to what a customer is asking for, direct them to it.

Also, be prepared to tell others if you’ve read an author’s book. A sale can often be helped along by someone saying, “I’ve read that. It’s really good!” It also opens the door for other introverted wordsmiths to recommend you.

A positive, outgoing attitude is necessary to sell books. You don’t want to seem like part of the furniture, because conversation is what converts to cash.

Have your own elevator speeches ready, be friendly, and you may discover a passion that exceeds your anxiety about standing beside a table in the public eye for hours.

You may be a fabulous writer, but who’s going to know it, if you never sell a book? It can make your day seem like a solo afternoon looking down a cliff.

So, make eye contact, be energetic, smile and look happy. You may even sell a few books.

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I’ll be moderating the Rochester Writer’s Group Meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills, Michigan on June 18. Then I’ll be joining other authors signing books at Detroit Festival of Books at Eastern Market in Detroit on July 21 and at SterlingFest in Sterling Heights, Michigan on July 27.

**********

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my two local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered. So, please, let me know what you think.

Do You Enjoy Settings?

May 10, 2019

Character. Plot. Setting.
Of those three, which do you enjoy writing the most?

For myself (and many writers I know), character usually takes the top spot. Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest oneself in characters and their conflicts.

A place, though important, is a bit more difficult and, if you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting (I know I am), I’d like to share an approach that might help.

Treat Your Setting Like a Character
I’ve talked about this before. Memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. You need to explore how to assign equally vivid characteristics to your settings, and suggest those characteristics to your readers.

Let’s review some of the questions I’ve suggested you ask yourself when creating characters:

1. What does this character look like?
2. What is this character’s backstory?
3. What does this character want?
4. What secrets does this character hold?
5. What is this character’s conflict?

Now that we’ve reviewed the questions, let’s answer them … only this time not for the characters … for the setting.

1. Appearance
Most writers begin describing setting with question one, using a few sentences to set the scene. It’s the most basic aspect of setting and likely the most obvious. Consider this, from my award-winning novel, Reichold Street:

The day started as a humid, hurt-your-lungs-on-a-deep-breath morning. A blistering sun was rising over the railroad switching yard at the far end of the street. Its red-orange glare filtered through exhausted-looking trees, while sinuous heat ribbons shimmered over motionless freight cars, their rusty shapes defined like so many slumbering beasts.

2. Backstory
Like many great characters, the best settings have detailed histories such as this, again from Reichold Street:

He was looking at the old Cantwell Place. It was funny how no one back then thought of that old house as anything else. Cecil Cantwell, the only son of one of Brickdale’s founders, had built it. He had lived in it with his wife for more than seventy years. The house was there even before the railroad tracks were laid.

“Meet you by Cantwell’s.” Everyone in Brickdale, and in several other communities around it, knew that meant the east end of Reichold Street. People used it as a landmark.

Cecil had died the previous fall, about the time leaves started to turn. The maple in front of Mrs. Murphy’s house was a beautiful golden color the day I heard about his passing. I never knew exactly why he died. He was ninety-seven and I presumed he just wore out. His wife, a frail old stick, followed him a few days before Christmas.

The house had been empty since then. Someone came by and mowed the lawn each week, but no one tended the flowers, pulled weeds, or repainted the shutters from the old can of Leaf Green #502 on the shelf in the garage. Then the Toothpick Man showed up.

3. Motive
How can a setting have a motive? How can it want anything? You might be wondering, why should I care? Well, if you treat the setting as a character and consider what it wants, you add depth.

4. Secrets
This one may or may not apply to your setting but it’s a potent addition when it works. A setting with a secret is just as compelling as any secretive character. For example, take Stephen King’s spooky novel, The Shining. At the beginning of the novel, the Overlook seems to be an ordinary (although creepy) hotel. As the story progresses, we discover that the hotel has its own agenda and its own secrets.

5. Conflict
Great characters have conflicts, and so do great settings. listen to the implications of this excerpt from my novel, Blood Lake:

“Why did Luther call this Blood Lake?” I said. “I always thought this was the Watts Barr.”

“It is Watts Barr Lake,” Harold said. “You’d have known about the family name for it, if your father had done what he was supposed to.”

“Oh…” was all I could think of to say.

Harold pointed out into the lake from where we sat. “The stockade where Tsali was shot used to sit on the banks of the Tennessee River,” he said. “The natural flow of the river was right over there. At least it was until the TVA built the dam.”

“That doesn’t explain…” I started to say, still unable to complete my thought.

“There’s a lot of Burnett blood already in that water,” Harold said. “A lot of Cherokee blood, too.”

He went silent after that.

Suggesting a Setting’s Characteristics
I know you’ve heard me talk about show, don’t tell. It’s a fine rule of thumb. The same goes for describing a setting.

Show your setting’s traits through action. Cormac McCarthy didn’t just tell us the world was dangerous in The Road. He showed it by populating that world with marauders and cannibals. If your setting is trying to kill your protagonists, it’ll feel more like a character.

Developing the Arc of Your Setting
Characters have arcs. So, like characters, great settings often have arcs as well. This might sound like an odd concept at first, but it really can make a difference in your writing.

To build your setting’s arc, consider what your setting is like at the beginning of the story, what it becomes by the end, and what happens in the middle to make it so.

Maybe you start with an idyllic, pastoral country which ends up ravaged by war. Or your post-apocalyptic wasteland might be restored to beauty by the heroics of your protagonist. Or perhaps your setting stays just the way it always was despite what happened in the middle.

Whatever arc you choose, just knowing about it as you write should improve your setting.

Use these tips to make your settings feel like characters. You’ll be amazed by the results!

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I’ll be at Lev Raphael’s Master Class at Oakland University tomorrow. Then I’ll be joining other authors signing books at Detroit Festival of Books at Eastern Market on July 21 and at SterlingFest in Sterling Heights, Michigan on July 27.

**********

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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