Welcome to the two hundred and ninetieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with sci-fi satire novelist, screenwriter, games designer and poet Joe Velikovsky. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. I’m known as someone who can talk for England and today I have definitely met my match so I hope you’re sitting comfortably with a very large mug (or glass) of something. 🙂
Morgen: Hello, Joe. Please tell us something about yourself.
Joe: I’m currently based in Sydney, Australia… I’ve translocated myself a few times. Before this, I lived for 5 years in Melbourne – “the UNESCO City of Literature”, and before that for 5 years in Adelaide – (the city of Churches, some of which, ironically are converted into nightclubs), and before that, I was 5 years in Sydney (the City of – um, Infrastructure), and – before that, for 5 years in Newcastle, NSW (the city of Steel, also, occasionally rust), when I was studying at University there…
And before you ask – no – I’m not a communist – and, have never (consciously) had a `five-year plan’, stuff just seems to have worked out that way. Mostly due to various Game Writing & Game Design jobs appearing in places that required me to move there… Before university in Newcastle, I was a simple farm-boy from the desert planet of Mudgee, Australia. Henry Lawson (a famous Australian writer-type) wrote a poem, which my great-great grandfather is mentioned in, The Days When We Went Swimming. Gramps used to chase the young Henry and his childhood buddies with a whip, when they went swimming, in gramps’s drinking well. True story. I’ve also spent a few months at a time in London, Bangkok and Los Angeles… But, I’m back in Sydney now, mainly as I’m doing a Doctor of Creative Arts (in Film) at a uni in Sydney.
Oh no… Now, you’ll want me to talk about my Thesis… 🙂 Okay, so I’ll try and be brief: I’m studying a certain set of feature film scripts, to find if there are any common ‘narrative patterns’ underlying them – and then, I plan to make a film like them. And – Why do that? (Uh-oh, see what happens, whenever somebody talks about their thesis?) Some years ago, when I was at the Australian Film TV and Radio School (studying Screenwriting), for a research project, I read about a hundred textbooks on ‘Screenplay Writing’ and ‘Story Structure’, and summarized them all down into a page each*.
(* The results are in a free PDF here, by the way: http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/feature-screenwriters-workbook/15459299 and, the Summary / Literature Review itself is actually used nowadays in many universities, as a Fiction Writing teaching aid… It’s actually probably well worth a look, if you’re doing any kind of fiction writing… Also, it’s free.)
Anyway – as a result of all that reading – I got interested in Story Patterns, and that whole area of inquiry was also encouraged by Chris Vogler (The Writer’s Journey author), who was one of my teachers at film school, way back in the day. So; yeah. Anyway – I’m based in Sydney.
Morgen: Wow. A load of experience to write about. It sounds like you’d never run short of material. I have Chris Vogler’s book and although I don’t write scripts (apart from the beginning of one for Script Frenzy) it’s really useful. So, Joe, how did you become a writer?
Joe: I started writing sci-fi comedy stories, at age 8 or so… and later wrote some comedy sketches and short films, at school… Went to uni in Newcastle and did a Bachelor of Arts in Communications (screenwriting major)… While at Uni, in a 2nd year ‘Creative Writing’ class with John Hughes, I read out a satirical play I’d written (it was our weekly assignment) and, Jamie B Lewis, who was the Director of the Uni Revue at the time, was in the same class … The play got a laugh in class (an intentional one), and Jamie thought it might be a good fit for the Uni Revue… Then, the Revue went really well, and later on, Jamie also got me involved in a local Newcastle comedy-theatre company, Footlice Theatre Co… initially as a writer, and later on as an actor, director – and, whatever else (prop-maker, stage manager etc). Jamie and I later ended up working on a bunch of short comedy films together at Uni, and were also flatmates for a year… And in third year at uni, I got work writing TV comedy sketches, for a primetime TV show called THE COMEDY SALE! in Sydney… I used to commute every week from Newcastle to Sydney on the train and read books about Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Monty Python, all those early TV sketch-comedy guys. Then after graduation, I worked for a year at the University, in the Video Department, as a Technical Officer – teaching basic video production, editing and CG (computer generated) animation skills to students. That was a fun time, as I was still working in comedy theatre as well.
Then the year after (in 1995) I was accepted into the Australian Film, TV and Radio School, and that 2 years of fulltime study led onto other work as a Game Writer, Film Writer, and sometimes, an Actor and Director here and there. While I was studying at film school, I also started worked as a Script Reader / Story Analyst, for the major film studios in Australia (i.e. Fox, Universal, PolyGram, etc).
Funny thing is, while I was at Uni, I really wanted to end up writing novels, but at the time, I ended up getting yanked over into Filmmaking and Games. Good thing too. It was loads more fun, taught me so much – and also, kinda less lonely than writing novels… I did start writing a couple of Stephen King-style novels at Uni, but I abandoned them both after Chapter 2, as I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and anyway, all the film stuff, and having girlfriends, was all keeping me too busy…
Also in 2nd year I took Horror Film Studies, I soon got fascinated with the psychology of Horror… What scares us, and why, and also – why does Horror-Comedy work so well? I was studying things Aristotle’s theory of Catharsis, and watching films like Evil Dead 2, and writing essays on the semiotics of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Tod Browning’s Freaks, and Rosemary’s Baby, etc. Good times. By the way Morgen – I really dug your short story, APRIL’S FOOL. Great horror story, deliciously dark, and a truly-satisfying end-twist. I’m a massive fan of ‘end-twist’ story writers, people like Rod Serling, Roald Dahl, Phillip K Dick, etc…
Morgen: Oh, wow, thank you. I’d not thought of April’s Fool as horror but to be compared (even in a small way) to Roald Dahl (my favourite author)… his complete short stories would be my desert island book.
Joe: Speaking of funny and dark twists, as it happens – Jamie (the guy who got me started in writing at uni) has just made (written, directed, and starred in) an amazing – and brilliant – comedy film – MIKEY’S EXTREME ROMANCE. Keep an eye out for it… easily, the funniest – and, edgiest – comedy feature film I’ve seen in years (and I watch a lot of comedy). Black-comedy genius… totally original, off-the-wall – and with loads and loads of heart. It’s `the video-diary of a stalker in love’. (Great tagline too – It’s not “stalking”, it’s “extreme romance”…)
Morgen: I always say I write dark and light and that sounds like a great mix. What genre do you generally write?
Joe: Lately, I mostly write Sci-fi satire… I’ve written a few novels in that genre, and a few feature film screenplays, that have been optioned – as well as many produced short films, and some TV.
Some of my film and game work is online, here: http://www.youtube.com/joeteevee
I also wrote a thriller-horror feature film, CAUGHT INSIDE which is coming out in North American cinemas this year (2012). It’s won a few awards…
Last year, I also wrote a Zombie-Bushranger Horror-Comedy-Action Musical Spaghetti-Western Buddy Satire stage play… There’s a Blog for it here: http://theabercrombiezombie.wordpress.com
It’s based on the true story of a very famous 1830’s Australian bushranger, who nobody knows about. Ten men were hanged in Bathurst in 1830, as a result of it. (As a result of all the bushranging, not as a result of my stage play.)
Joe: But as a “Transmedia Writer” (i.e. film, games, tv, comix, novels etc), I’ve actually written in a lot of genres… In games – I’ve written sci-fi comedy, sci-fi thriller, and sci-fi horror. In film, I’ve written sci-fi, comedy, thriller, horror, mystery, and a road movie. In comics, mainly sci-fi comedy.
I really like genre-blending, and genre-bending… As Charles Darwin might say, it results in ‘hybrid vigour’.
Morgen: I like that. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Joe: In games, I wrote LOONEY TUNES: ACME ARSENAL (2007) which sold over a million copies on Sony PlayStation2, Nintendo Wii and Xbox360… I also wrote on a few very big games over the last year, but legally I can’t actually talk about them, until they’re released (another year or two).
Morgen: Your secret is safe with me (because I don’t own a games machine, unless you call Word Drop on Facebook any kind of competition :)).
Joe: In comics, I wrote Dr N Sayne, which was a mobile-phone comic strip, written under the pseudonym `Tesla & Taylor’. Deane Taylor (of Tim Burton movies-and-games fame) was the artist, I was the writer, and Tesla is my middle name (as in: Joe T Velikovsky).
As for pseudonyms, my new satirical novel, A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols is a ‘confessional’ tale, and also a ‘Bangsian fantasy’ (i.e. the narrator is totally dead) written by an unreliable narrator – and – that one was actually written under his name. (Oscar.)
Morgen: Ooh I love unreliable narrators. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Joe: After working for 20 years as a professional writer (mainly in Screenwriting, i.e. film, TV, and games) I think I have had about more rejections than most Gen-Z kids have had hot-downloads of pirated TV shows… I find, the best way to deal with rejections, is to draw a really-unflattering portrait of the person rejecting your stuff, and then, put it up on a dart-board inside your house. Also, maybe later, you can sell them the lousy portrait that you did of them, as long as they don’t mind all the weird little holes in it, and stuff. Also, if they ask you “Why all the little holes?” you can just say, “It’s the new thing”. And, if they reject that idea, then sheesh – maybe all they can do is reject things, and – if so, then, I ask you – Isn’t that a little ‘negative’? – I say, we should embrace things in life, not reject them. Also, whenever I get rejected, I re-read this book, and instantly feel like I’m on the right track, by being rejected.
Morgen: That’s hilarious. I especially love the Normal Mailer one. I’m not sure that publishing has caught back up. 🙂 You mentioned earlier that ‘Caught Inside has “won a few awards”, could you elaborate and have you had any other successes?
Joe: Yes, my produced films and games have won loads of awards, but I always request cold hard cash, over an award… I mean – can you buy a cool new car, and impress babes-who-are-impressed-by-cool-new-cars, with an award? Award, schm-award… CAUGHT INSIDE actually won the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival, and a few others as well. Some games I’ve written have also won awards. I’ve had about 20 short films produced, and many of them have actually won lots of awards… A film I wrote called Retro Sheilas won over 30 awards, I think.
Joe: I haven’t yet entered any of my novels in any competitions. Maybe I should… I hadn’t even thought of that. So, Morgen – I’m very glad we spoke about this; thank you for bringing it up.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. 🙂
Joe: As it happens, in the past I’ve actually been a judge for the national Writers Guild, and also the Director’s Guild… So, it’s probably high time I stopped judging other people – and, started being judged… But people are always so quick to judge, and especially if they’re overseeing a Supreme Court Case. Judge Judy is the worst of them all; shameless.
Morgen: Comes with the job description. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Joe: Yes, I have an excellent agent – Rick Raftos. Rick’s one of the biggest and best agents, and he also handles people like John Marsden, the author of the Tomorrow series of novels and films, which you may have heard of. Great series.
Morgen: I had a quick peek – they have done well and probably reached England but I haven’t heard of them, sorry. 😦 Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Joe: Yes – my new novel A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols is an eBook on Kindle, and I self-published it, as it’s too controversial for a mainstream publisher. And yes, I also read lots of eBooks… I love both paper and eBooks, even though my very good friend and best-selling author Marcus Gibson recently made a very convincing info-tainment video on “Nine Reasons Why E-Books Are Better Than Tree-Books”.
Morgen: It’s hilarious (I’ve put the link on my forum as there’s just that very discussion going on). As an owner of both formats I do love them both but there’s no doubt that electronic books are here to stay, and take over, although I don’t believe that we’ll lose paper books.
Joe: I’m like the annoying guy who loves PC and Mac equally, and likes Blogger and WordPress equally, and likes E-Books and Tree-Books equally… Most people really want you to ‘pick a side’ so you can argue about it, and I flat-out refuse. (Unless of course one side is very-obviously winning, and has way-better weapons, in which case – I’m with them, and let’s annihilate the other guys and then take all their stuff.)
Morgen: I’m with you on the eBooks vs pBooks but sorry, not on the PC vs Mac (Mac every time) and Blogger vs WordPress (WordPress – as if anyone reading this had to guess). I’ve had all four and find my two choices far less troublesome. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Morgen: Oh, doesn’t it. I have snippets of writing time at the moment, mostly when I’m at the park with the dog. 🙂 Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Joe: I like Oscar in A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols. He’s 18, so I’d maybe cast a younger Ed Norton or Michael Cera. Someone who could do a goofy Gen-Z nerdy kid. But then, the producer would probably make suggestions like these: http://storynotesfromhell.com
Morgen: Wow, he wouldn’t be backwards at coming forwards would he? (I love that expression :)) Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Joe: Yes – at first I did this amazing piece of digital artwork for it, but then I realized the spirit of the work is the `punk’ aesthetic (i.e. “three chords and the Truth in a badly-ventilated garage”) – so then I made the cover as minimalist as possible. I also made sure that the website looked like it was made in a hurry. The spirit of the novel is a satire of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye, so he (Oscar) sort of has a serious case of the “who cares?” and I really wanted that to come through. Uber-Disaffected American Youth.
Morgen: A legend to follow. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Joe: Apart from my PhD thesis – a satirical novel, about the CIA. I bet they’re reading my emails now, and this interview too. So, if I disappear mysteriously, don’t call the CIA, they’ll just pretend they never heard of me, or, if they have – that they don’t even like my books anyway. Call the FBI instead. Or the Freemasons, or something. Those guys know everything, they’ll know where I am.
Morgen: I could offer you MI5, MI6 or Scotland Yard? 🙂 You said about ‘writing time’, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Joe: Yes, I write every day, it’s a compulsion I guess. And, Morgen, I agree with your point about 300 words a day = 100K words a year… Luckily, have never suffered from Writer’s Block, possibly as in Film and Games writing, you don’t ever have the luxury of it… It’s like “Do you want capital-A ‘Art’, or, do you want it by Tuesday?” sort of thing.
Morgen: I’d only just worked out that equation (not because I’d tried) recently and it’s astounding. 300 words sounds (is) so little yet if we keep doing it we’ll have a NaNoWriMo novel in six months (or you could do what I did and write a 43,000-word one in the October then a 117,540-word one in November :). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Joe: Yes, I actually Plot them up the yin-yang – with Outlines, and Scene Breakdowns (a sentence or 2 about “what happens” in every Scene). Of course, whether I then “stick to that Scene Breakdown religiously” when I’m in the middle of ‘writing it all out, in prose and dialog’ – is another thing, as of course – once you’re “there”, in the Scene, writing it out, sometimes a Character may independently really want to take their own action off in a whole different direction than the one that seemed (and felt) “most right” during the Outline / Scene Breakdown stage…
So – yes I do start out with a very clear plan, and then I do try and execute it, and – usually – it works… If not, I find you can always fix it, in the rewrites. That may be why I’ve never had Writer’s Block… Also I have about a hundred of these Story Templates, and sometimes, I’ll choose one (depending on the Genre, and Style of the story, etc) but other times, when I’m tired of formulas, I’ll mix a few of them together to defy everyone’s expectations, including my own sometimes. After seeing (and studying) how certain Story Patterns work (from that research project, back at film school) I arrived at place where, I realized “Structure gives you the freedom to be creative”… So, I think it’s the old ‘Agency (freedom) versus Structure (rules)’ philosophical question… You need both. In screenwriting (for film and games, anyway), there are about a zillion rules (again, see my free PDF on it), and yet – within that set of very strict, formal rules – you can also have infinite combinations of things. And have any Story / Theme / Characters, that you want. Structure is just a shaping tool, like a cake mould. You still need to choose the ingredients, and whatever. Maybe also lots of nutmeg, and some banana-skins too.
My novel A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols is based on the Joe Campbell / Chris Vogler ‘Hero’s Journey’ template, but it’s also a satire of that Story Form – so it intentionally subverts the form, as well. And it’s also a mash-up of 3 other myths, which is a device I wanted to try – as these crazy days – as Paul Schrader (the guy who wrote the movies Taxi Driver and Mishima) wrote recently, most readers / audiences / people are in a state of ‘narrative exhaustion’ (possibly also due to ‘ubiquitous and omnipresent media’ – on games, and iPods and smartphones*), and – the ‘mash-up’ is in vogue – for example, sampling in pop music, and in satirical literature like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, and Android Karenina, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, etc. (* See Paul Schrader article here)
Morgen: My favourite aspect of writing is when the characters take over but nutmeg and banana (skins)… mmm, yum. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Joe: For choosing names, I kinda just cheat – and use websites, that show you the meaning and origin of names… (Such as http://www.meaning-of-names.com/names/a-names-1.asp) – And you Morgen? (I did see the Tip for this, in your ‘365 Days Workbook’… which, also strikes me as a great idea.)
Morgen: <blushes> thank you
Joe: And, in general, I think ‘Believability’ comes from ‘nailing’ something specific in your “3 dimensions of Character” (i.e. Physical, Psychological, Social, and Cultural) as early as possible, then as long as the character stays `consistent’ in their thoughts, behaviour and dialog, and doesn’t break the old rule “A Martian wouldn’t say that”.
And yes, I know that’s 4 dimensions, and not 3, but that’s because “three-dimensional characters” is a misnomer, and by golly, I say everyone needs to stop calling it that… People should say four-dimensional characters: “These characters in this novel aren’t believable, I just don’t feel they’re four-dimensional”. I think we all tend to forget that we live in a 3-dimensional Universe, but also, Time is the 4th dimension, and that’s why, the Earth and sun traces out a DNA-spiral, as it moves through Time. If this makes no sense, then watch this 5-minute clip by this utterly-crazy guy… He’s crazy, but – he’s actually got a valid point, in this instance. (And besides, sanity’s overrated…) Why Earth Is Not Orbiting The Sun As We Are Taught
Morgen: I started to but then got distracted (as I do easily) by a 19-second UFO clip touted on the right-hand column then one with a woman walking through a ghost then… sorry, where were we? 🙂 Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Joe: Yes, I write all of the above… Non fiction would include – things like my Writer’s Workbook (see link above), and there is also sometimes some poetry in my books… I’ve had a few short horror-comedy stories published (‘I, SPARTACUS’ and ‘ROADKILL’). I’ll also publish my DCA-thesis findings, as a textbook… (er, in about 3 years).
Morgen: 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Joe: Great question!
Morgen: Thank you. 🙂
Joe: 20 years ago, there was tons of editing needed on my stuff… Mostly, my dialog all needed rewriting – as every single character sounded (spoke) just like me, and – only Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino and Don DeLillo can get away with that… So I had to do an editing pass for each character, and make very sure that, their dialog style was ‘differentiated’ from each other…
But then, after about 10 years, one day, or, overnight (or both) – I noticed something had ‘clicked’, and it had somehow sort of mostly become subconscious or instinctive. And, now – after 20 years of fulltime screenwriting, luckily, most everybody who reads them, says that my `first drafts’ read like most writers’ fifth drafts, or whatever…
So, in my case, it’s just a matter of practise… but I’m a great believer in The Systems Model of Creativity, as developed by Mike (Mihaly) Csikszentmihalyi… I highly recommend reading his work ‘Creativity’, and also a book by Keith Sawyer called “Explaining Creativity”. It says that, most so-called ‘creative geniuses’ usually spent about 10 years, learning and practising their craft, before creating their “masterworks” that we all know and love them for.
Which also ties in to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory, outlined in ‘Outliers’… where he says, guys like The Beatles and Bill Gates all spent about 10,000 hours, before they ‘cracked’, er – whatever field they eventually ‘cracked’… either in music, or computer coding, or whatever. Also Bill Gates was a keen poker player, which probably sets you up great, for a career in business. Stanley Kubrick was a genius chess-player, so, he really understood the consequences of all the ‘choices’ he had available as a filmmaker, before making any given choice… no wonder he was a cinematic genius, as I think filmmaking is one of the most complicated things anyone can do. Apart from making videogames, which is: ‘filmmaking’ plus – software engineering – and with ‘emergent systems’ thrown in for good luck. Insanity, pretty much. The fact that any feature film, or any ‘10+ hours videogame’ ever gets made just amazes me, let alone, if any of them are actually any good.
Morgen: 🙂 I always say it’s about practice. New writers can be too hard on themselves. If they were put in front of a canvas or piano would they be expected to draw / play a masterpiece? You seem so knowledgeable about a lot of things, do you have to do much research?
Joe: Yes, and no. I actually did 20 years of fulltime research, for my novel A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols, as – it’s a satire on the whole process of making VideoGames… So I just looked back over my professional working life, and “wrote what I knew” pretty much.
But – as a Game Writer and Designer – you do an incredible amount of research… Mainly as a Game Designer has to “play God” (which is exactly the Theme of my novel) – and, has to not only understand all the ‘entire ecosystems of the game world’ that they’re creating, and how they all interact, but also – even those aspects that are outside the limits of their game – just in case, they have any effect on the ‘game world’ itself… As a result, most Game Designers “see the world” verydifferently to most people, as they tend to (involuntarily) look at the entire world, and all the systems within it, through the ‘lens’ of a Game Designer. Pretty soon, you can see which systems are inefficient, and how many things could be designed better… In fact, it seems that most things happen in the world either ad hoc or by accident, and, the world, by and large, runs on mistakes and misunderstandings. Most things are actually utterly-ironic, when you examine them really closely. For example, the old rule that “people are promoted to the level of their incompetence”. You’d expect everyone who’s at the top of their field to be “the best at what they do” or “the best person for the job” … yet, on close examination, that’s actually incredibly-rarely the case… We have this illusion that ‘everything’s under control’, but in fact, the world is one big outta-control snowball, careening down a hill – and, we’re all tap-dancing on it. That’s all another utter miracle, that never ceases to amaze me.
Morgen: Tap dancing on a snowball, now there’s an image. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Joe: I love first-person POV, as I love stuff like The Catcher In The Rye, Generation X and also White Noise by DeLillo. My novel AM SO AS is written in first-person… It’s just fun to really ‘become’ the narrator character. Third-person POV can be fun too – but is not as interesting – or flexible as ‘unreliable first-person POV’…
But Game Writing is essentially all 2nd-person, in a way… Game Design ‘Walkthroughs’ (when the game is being designed and written) are essentially (if not literally) something like this… (i.e. where ‘You’ is ‘The Player’):
“You open the holo-door, and You go into the inter-room. You pick up the hyper-sonic-screwdriver-gun lying on the table in front of You. You turn left, and You see: a 3 and ½ headed goober-monster. The goober-monster lunges and bites You! You unleash heck on the goober-monster with the H-S-S gun. BLAM! Goober-monster implodes sideways; (awesome). You totally pwned that GM. You now hear a cry for “Haaalp” coming from the holo-cupboard in the corner and You move to investigate…” (etc)
So, after 20 years of game writing, 2nd person POV is very familiar to me… But ‘unreliable first-person POV’ is where ‘the most fun’ is to be had in a novel, in my opinion. Mainly as anything goes.
Also – I always like to show my screenwriting students this film, when First-Person POV comes up: The Lady in the Lake (1946) – Trailer and I’m in a few groups, one is called The Decent Ventriloquists.
Also Morgen, I read your short story THE DARK SIDE and obviously it is second person POV. I thought it was great; very effective, as in the second paragraph, my heart-rate went way up, and I got an adrenaline shot, and that continues, right through to paragraph number five… It’s very effective as a thriller, very visceral and scary. Could actually even make for a very cool videogame sequence…
I also liked GHOST from your Story a Day May compilation.
Morgen: Yvonne, if you’re reading this, you have competition for being my number one fan. 🙂 And I have a feeling your fellow Australian Rosanne Dingli will be the first to ‘like’ this interview on Facebook. 🙂 Thank you for all your kind words, Joe. I’m going to go and blush in a corner now… well, after the interview. :)You mentioned second person in games and I used to love Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone’s adventure books (where you skip around the chapters like a snakes and ladder game) so it’s no wonder I love second person now. You’ve done so much writing over the years, do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Joe: Yeah, actually – loads of my very early stuff, things written when I was, like, 12… But lately, I have been thinking of publishing some of that stuff, as it’s sometimes super-interesting to see someone’s writing, before they actually “learnt the rules”. It’s pure ‘agency’, and no ‘structure’, just intuition… It’s actually the same reason that I much prefer the ‘rawness’ of kid’s pictures (and, paintings), to viewing adult artworks. ‘Adult stuff’ (artwork) is so ‘polished and perfect and consistent’. I really wish I could draw with the same freedom I had as a kid, rather than, now… (I was also a professional cartoonist for a few years, at uni).
Morgen: I love cartoons (and part of the reason I had Adrian Teal do my avatar). My mum dislikes it and most people say (when they see photos of me) that it doesn’t do me justice (which his flattering) but I love it. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Joe: Favourite thing is being in what Mike Csikszentmihalyi calls the ‘flow’ state, also known as being in “the zone”, and what Joe Campbell calls “bliss”. Mike has a great TED-Talk on it here.
My least favourite thing is, when you work on a project (like maybe a film, or a game) with about 10 Producers – and maybe also as many Executive Producers – and, they all want to contribute ‘creatively’, and – they all think they “know how a good story should go” – despite, maybe never having studied Story, nor Writing, nor done any of it professionally, before…(!) Sometimes, it’s great fun on a really big project – with loads of stakeholders – if they’re all ‘on the same page’ to begin with… But, oftentimes it’s also a complete nightmare, that drives the writer utterly insane. I’m thinking of ‘Story Notes From Hell’ again…
Most surprising stuff? Hmm, probably, learning just how many Writers – who are now considered literary giants – were unappreciated in their lifetime, and, even had to initially publish their own stuff, before everyone realized they were a `genius’. e.g. Kafka, Poe, Flann O’Brien, and JK Toole… Even guys like James Joyce and Marcel Proust had to pay to self-publish their work, initially… they were rejected(!) So, what does that tell you..? Possibly, something about, an out-of-control snowball. See: http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2010/11/10-incredible-artists-unappreciated-in-their-time
Morgen: They do say a successful writer is one who didn’t give up and I believe that Dean Koonz had over 500 rejections and he didn’t do badly… and just look at the rejection list you posted earlier. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Joe: Three things…
Firstly, read as much as you can, in your chosen Genre. Read the ‘classics’ – and the new stuff – and, all the in-between stuff. In fact – if you can, read every book on this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books
Second, I would suggest read this thesis by Dr Elizabeth Paton – in its entirety. I am serious. It’s brilliant: Creativity and the Dynamic System of Australian Fiction Writing (see `02whole.pdf’)
The researcher interviewed 40 published authors with 400 fiction books published between them.
Even though it’s focussed on Australian authors, the information in it equally applies, across all nations, creeds, colours and lederhosen sizes.
Also the 3rd advice I would give, is – get into a writers group, much like the ones you run Morgen…! It’s crucial to have a small group of writers, who can workshop or give feedback on each other’s work. I’m in a few groups, one is called The Decent Ventriloquists, and includes novelists, and screenwriters and even comics guys, who do things like this: http://www.darkoz.com.au/decay.html
And the 4th piece of advice would be, probably – even if you’re not feeling blocked, to buy your 365-Day Writer’s Block Workbook, and – even if you don’t try all the exercises, just read all the ‘Tips Of The Week’. In my opinion, there is actually much more than AS$2 worth of really sage writing craft advice there, in those Weekly Tips, alone. For example, What if – that bunch of tips, in fact, even just one of those tips, becomes ‘the tipping point’ for an aspiring writer, between ‘not getting published’, and actually being published? – is that worth AS$2? So, in fact, that’s probably, my hottest tip. And what’s more, Morgen, I tip my hat to you, for writing that book.
Morgen: Oh my goodness, praise indeed. Thank you. :*) I labelled it Volume 1 because I have plans for other volumes and am delighted that someone of your experience could find it useful. <peeling smile off face to resume serious interview> If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Joe: Maybe James Joyce (and, I’d ask him to explain what Ulysses ‘really’ means…), Carl Jung (just seems like a nice guy), and Flann O’Brien (author of The Third Policeman, my favourite novel, and I highly recommend the audiobook, read by Jim Norton). As for the menu – I would arrange it all for 11am, and we would just drink tea – and, like in Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, we would have madeleine cakes, and dip them in the tea, and then, see if we all were reminded of anything. I think, that would be a pretty good ice-breaker, also.
Also, if I could do it twice, the next night: Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen and Cleopatra. I think they’d all have some pretty good stories… (Also, Cleopatra was supposed to be pretty hot.) In a perfect world, I would also invite Billy Shakespeare, but nobody seems to know who he really was, not even him. Was he Christopher Marlowe, or Sir Walter Raleigh, or what?
Morgen: They do look like each other don’t they (Shakespeare / Raleigh) and not far apart in years (1564-1616 vs 1554-1618). Mmm… And I love the fact you have the men in sensible day time then the women in the evening to let their hair down (Cleopatra had a lot, I think?). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Joe: Yes – “Everything’s ironic – even this sentence…” (It’s the first line of my new satirical novel about the CIA.)
Morgen I liked in your short story FEEDING THE FATHER, how you said this: The letterbox voices have gone quiet. ‘Neighbours’ starts and I laugh. “Everybody needs good neighbours” the voices sing to me. Well we don’t. Neighbours are nosey.
And not just because I’m from the Antipodes… (I’ve only seen one episode of Neighbours…) I just thought it was a really great ironic moment, in context. And I love irony… can’t get enough of that good stuff. I also really love the irony all through Charlie Kaufman’s film ADAPTATION.
Morgen: I saw ‘Adaptation’ a while back and didn’t really get it so I must definitely watch it again. And thank you for enjoying FTF. My last review (on one of the sites it’s on, I can’t remember which, said that it put her off reading any of my writing ever again and she was glad it was free or she’d have asked for her money back) so it’s interesting to see how two different people feel about it. I’d had a few 4* and 5* ratings so I wasn’t that bothered – pleased actually that my work is being read and that someone feels so passionately (albeit it negatively) about it to leave a comment. Only about 5% of people do, which is a shame because authors love to hear what people think – it’s they only way they know if they’d doing something right (or wrong in this case, not that I’m going to change anything). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Joe: Yes, quite a bit of stuff, I guess… I teach ‘Transmedia Writing’ (films, TV, games, novels, comix) now and then, at various universities and film schools. I’m also a professional Story Analyst and Script Reader for various government institutions… I was also a professional Script Reader for the major film studios for many years, but haven’t had time to do that lately, as I’m too busy writing my own stuff… I’m also currently Script Editing a feature film, for one of Australia’s most successful writer-directors, which is actually loads of fun. I do some Transmedia Consulting, too (helping people turn a novel into a film, or a film into a novel, or a film into a game, or all of the above).
Morgen: That’s why you don’t get writer’s block because you’re too busy doing so many different things. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Joe: Yes, I actually play darts at home a lot, mainly with some pretty-average drawings, of people who have rejected my work… And – actually, I used to do all this super-macho stuff, like boxing, and body-building, and hunting, and shooting stuff, and camping and surfing and motorbike riding, and, skydiving and all that – but, that’s probably because I had way too much testosterone – like, I dunno, a Hemingway-type or something. Maybe lately, I’ve just become lazy… I still seem to make films a lot, and maybe that’s why I don’t have time for anything else, much. Currently, I’m mostly just reading like a nutcase, but that’s because of this PhD (or DCA – or whatever-it-is I’m supposed to be doing). I play guitar and write songs sometimes too… I have a band, our 2nd album is being released this year… Some of my solo stuff is online also, it’s pretty silly and goofy, just me fooling around: http://www.myspace.com/joeteeveemuzak
Morgen: Just listening to ‘When you drop a lightsaber’. I love your titles. 🙂 I’m on MySpace but haven’t done anything with it. Maybe I should put my podcasts on there… or something. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Joe: Loads! My free workbook on ‘Story and Screenwriting’ (but it has awesome tools for any fiction writer, really)
Dr Paton’s thesis: Creativity and the Dynamic System of Australian Fiction Writing
Explaining Creativity by R Keith Sawyer
Creativity by Mike (Mihaly) Csikszentmihalyi
Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder
On Literature by Umberto Eco
Reflections On The Art Of Living by Joseph Campbell
Morgen: I’ve heard such good things about ‘Save the cat!’ I must check it out. And I didn’t know Umberto Eco (he of ‘The Name of the Rose’) had written a how-to book. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Joe: Yes, lots. YouWriteOn, Book Country, Goodreads, Authonomy, WAENetwork, and a whole bunch, on LinkedIn. They are actually all terrific – for feedback, reviews, contacts, info – and all of that good stuff.
Morgen: Ah, beloved LinkedIn; probably where we met. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Joe: Mostly poverty, and being totally mis-under-appreciated, in your own lifetime… Ah me, it’s all glamour, this Writing Life. But, on the other hand – if you write, maybe you’ll ‘come to know yourself better’ through your own work – and, what’s more, you’ll probably actually have a deeply meaningful and rich, rewarding inner life, which is actually pretty rare, these days and apparently money can’t buy that stuff… My favourite film of all time is Fight Club, and favourite novel right now is Generation X by Douglas Coupland, so that should tell you something about where I’m currently coming from… Or, not. 🙂
I also think Transmedia is the future of writing. Creating a Storyworld across multiple media (novel, film, games, comics, etc). See here, for more on that. That was a talk about ‘Transmedia Writing’ that I gave at last year’s National Young Writers Festival. Also, we’ll see more and demand for content as robots take over and we have more leisure time. If this sounds crazy, maybe have a read of George Friedman’s book, The Next 100 Years, and check out the documentary Transcendent Man by Ray Kurzweil. I sometimes consult for The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which Ray’s involved in.
And also, the near future is writing content for when Games Invade Real Life, and I recommend Jesse Schell’s 2010 DICE TED-talk on that. The DICE awards is like the Oscar awards for games.
Morgen: I’m three days away from leaving my day job so already on the bread and water in preparation. 🙂 (Still listening to MySpace, although it’s gone on to a random selection. It’s great; like the radio without the sometimes-annoying DJ. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Joe: At my Writing Blog – http://on-writering.blogspot.com
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Joe: Yes, thank you Morgen – as I’m in Kindle Select, I’m going to try and co-ordinate it – so that – the day that this gets posted, on your Blog, my book (the satirical novel one, A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols) is free to download that day, on the Amazon Kindle store. (And, you can maybe use ‘Kindle Reader for PC’ if you don’t have a Kindle… also free)…
So, if anyone would like to download it (my satirical novel about Videogames and God), then in theory you will save AS$3… as – that’s how much it is, when it isn’t free. Then again, you’re not really ‘saving’ that AS$3 in money, if you weren’t going to download it, in the first place. And yet – there it is.
Morgen: I do have a Kindle (a month-old one). Thank you. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Joe: Yes! I love asking other Writers this question…
Do you think a novel can actually ‘change a life’? (And/Or – have you ever seen it happen?)
Also, Morgen, before you answer, please allow me to unpack that a little – I know that, quite a lot of people, who say “Wow, this novel is awesome, it totally changed my life…” but in fact – and ironically – as far as I can see, that book only made them more the way they already were… (i.e Novels are wonderful – for expressing things that we didn’t know we already felt, until, we saw how the author expressed it so beautifully, or succinctly or, just plain clearly…)
But, it seems to me, what people usually mean by that statement – is: “After I read that book, I started seeing: the world / people / my dog / alfalfa / war / the government / short people / gays / straights / those crazy 3-D ‘magic-eye’ pictures / Generation X / or, whatever – in a different way…” And that’s brilliant, but – to be honest, they never actually changed their lives, in any major way…? (Or did they?) Usually, they always: kept the same job, lived in the same place, stayed in the same relationship, voted the same way they usually did etc etc…
Just for example, did anyone who ever read any Beat Generation classics, like say On The Road suddenly: go hitchhiking in Mexico, take loads of drugs, have loads of wild casual sex, and listen to jazz, etc – who, wasn’t already probably going to do something like all that, before they read it, anyway…??
I mean, I’d absolutely love to think that, a novel could affect someone, so profoundly – that, say: a ‘right-wing voter’ could read a given novel – and then, totally change –and vote left-wing... (say.) And I know people who swear by Ayn Rand’s stuff (Atlas Shrugged, etc), but they were possibly always right-wing psychopaths in the first place, and Ayn Rand just gave them a philosophical and ethical framework to do it in so they didn’t need to feel guilty. (Not that they felt guilty anyway, as that’s what psychopathy is.)
But – as far as I can see – and I’ve been slightly vexed about this, for over a year – this has never happened, not even once…(?!) Also, just for the debate’s sake, let’s exclude people who: have ever read a novel, and, it made them (inspired them) become a Writer, because – in a way, if this theory is correct, that’s actually just more people writing stuff, that (potentially) doesn’t change anything.
And – one more thing – (that also informs this question) – I actually wrote my novel, hoping to change something really BIG in the world (and I’m not going to say what it is, you will need to read the book to see what it is… 🙂 And also – if, going in, you already know what it is I’m trying to change about you, then – you may avoid my book – so that, you don’t risk changing that exact thing about yourself, just in case, my book actually works. And if it does work – then, hmmm, that’s pretty amazing.)
Anyway – Morgen? What say you? (or – anyone who is still reading this, LOL)
This is a super-tough question, I know… (and, no Non-Fiction books allowed! LOL :))
Morgen: To (sort of) answer, I often come out of the cinema (I have a cinema season ticket so see at least a couple of movies back-to-back a week) and often feel profound (the latest being ‘Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud’) but then it fades and I go back to being me. Not sure if it makes me any more of me but films definitely make me feel more positive (usually – even that film – I lost my father just before 9/11 so I was crying buckets at that film… not difficult, I’m a slush). As for books, if a book doesn’t push you into having some reaction at the end then it’s failed… failed may be a strong word but I know if I’ve got to the end of a story and it’s felt a damp squib then I’ve sort of resented the time. At least with a duff movie (I’ve some of those because there’s only been one film I’ve wanted to see so see one I’m not sure of) it’s only an hour and a hour. That said, since I’ve started writing (about six years ago) I find I do analyse books (so it takes me longer to read than most people) and if I can work out why a book has left me with no emotion then it’s not a complete loss.
Thank you so much, Joe, I really enjoyed chatting with you. My bum’s gone numb so I’ll probably go and stand in the corner until my blushing’s gone. 🙂
I then invited Joe to include an excerpt of his writing and he said…
Okay, thanks Morgen. Below is a poem I wrote (about writing), using: the 100 most-commonly-used words in the English language. As an interesting aside: (and, I use the word “interesting” very loosely here)
No matter what language we speak only 100 words make up about half of daily speech.
The average person uses only about 2,000 words, and that is all it takes to be fluent in any language.http://www.duboislc.org/EducationWatch/First100Words.html
(The 100 Most Commonly-Used Words in English, rearranged by JT Velikovsky)
What were we…?
Use each one.
Two more go…
See their number:
Oil on water.
No way – I can have them at call-?!
My “first part”, down now;
These – would make her like him.
(Had – but not by all…)
This was for “He”, or from out “his”
About an “Up…”
(More) than – who has been its “other”…
How, if people will,
Then – some could.
Be that as it may;
Which did she do?
When your long day is said there –
They are with you.
Award-winning Transmedia Writer Joe T Velikovsky is often writing a feature film script, a game, a novel, and a graphic novel, all at once.
His published writing credits include: a satirical Transmedia Novel about videogames, A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols, the thriller-horror feature film Caught Inside, a non-fiction work, The Feature Screenwriters Workbook (available free online), the mobile-phone comic strip, Dr N Sayne (illustrated by Deane Taylor) and the comedy stageplay, THE ABERCROMBIE ZOMBIE.
He works as a Transmedia Writer (film, TV, games, novels, comics) and Consultant, and is also a Script Assessor for the Writers’ Guild. He has frequently been an invited guest speaker at the National Screenwriters Conference, the National Young Writers Conference, and the National Game Developers Conference.
Currently he is writing a satirical novel about the CIA, script editing on a feature film, and researching a PhD on `Story Patterns in Successful Feature Films’. He also writes a weblog on writing, at http://on-writering.blogspot.com.
I’ve only just twigged that Joe’s other initials are TV and he writes scripts. I’ve got a cold, I’m allowed to not be with it. 🙂
Update October 2012: I revisited this interview on my Blogspot blog, and asked Joe how what he’d been up to, and he said, “I just got back from the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle NSW… Among other things, I gave a talk on: INDIE SCREENPLAY ANALYSIS. Also at the fest, I met and hung out with Ben Law (cool guy, author of the new book “GAYSIA”), Lawrence Leung (cool guy, comedian), Marieke Hardy (the columnist/author), and standup comics Lochie Williams, Ben Jenkins, and a few other literary types there… also did a talk on Pitching with Christian Lander, author of the blog & book “Stuff White People Like” which I find hilarious (as it nails/describes me so well). His blog http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com has 90 million hits… (ie wow 🙂 all really good fun…” Wow, indeed. I just have another 80,910,000 hits to go. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
- Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group (http://novelwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/508696639153189)
- Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group (http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/388850977875934)
- Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group (http://scriptwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/319941328108017)
- Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group (http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/544072635605445)
We look forward to reading your comments.