Inspiration–What inspired you to become a writer?

6 Feb

What inspired you to become a writer?  Believe it or not this question came up last night for me when I was watching Madonna during the halftime show of the Super Bowl.  Her appearance, drawn on a moving float pulled by gladiators and costumed in cloth of gold, was –well, what was it?  An homage?  A parody?  A rip-off? – of Cleopatra’s Entrance Into Rome seen in the 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz film starring the late, great Elizabeth Taylor.

(I will pause here to express my awe-stricken appreciation of Ms. Ciccone’s exceptionally inflated ego, in that she would actually attempt to insert herself into Taylor’s place.  My stunned reaction was precisely reminiscent of my first sight of her in the “Material Girl” video, where she was costumed as the late, great Marilyn Monroe.  I was tempted to ask myself, as I did then, “What’s wrong with this picture?”  Madonna seems terminally undersized when she sets herself up in opposition to those truly great icons of 20th Century film stardom and it’s sad that she can never – quite – become what they were.  It must be so disappointing to her.  The fact that producers and executives are forever lavishing money and venues on her so that she can try again and again seems just another sign of our age’s own cultural impoverishment.  But – and I freely admit it – this attitude just may be me at a cranky 61 years of age, lamenting the “good old days” which usually weren’t.)

But Madonna did get me thinking…

In her wonderful biography of Maria Callas, Adriana Huffington (then Stassinopoulos) wrote that she had been caught by Callas’ magic when she was twelve years old.  She went on to philosophize that, for most creative people, something usually appears on the horizon at this time to interrupt the placidity of childhood, something that grabs you by the throat and yanks you out of babyhood into the world of adult appreciation.  Suddenly your world is no longer bounded by your neighborhood streets.  Instead, your world has become all wonderfully huge and, best, unexplored.  For Ms. Huffington, it was Callas.  For me it was “Cleopatra”.

Of course, the groundwork had already been laid.  I had always loved history, particularly Egyptian and Roman history.  The first movie I can remember seeing was “Land of the Pharaohs,” which starred Joan Collins as Nellifer, whose “treachery stained every stone of the pyramid!” (as the movie posters screamed.) The first adult book I remember reading, at ten years of age, was “The Egyptian” by Mika Waltari.  And then there were all those films like “The Robe”, “Demetrius and the Gladiators”, “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus”, all of which became my own personal fantasy worlds.

Then, when I was twelve years old, “Cleopatra” came into my life and everything abruptly came into focus.

I had not heard much about it, which is strange because the film’s tumultuous production and the adulterous love affair shared by Liz and Dick had been the most reported news events of 1962, generating more articles than even the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I remember that I was sitting in a chair at the La Mirada Shopping Center’s barber shop, waiting for my turn to get a haircut, when I picked up the Life Magazine that featured the cover story, “Cleopatra Barges in at Last.”  For the first time I underwent what could only be called an out-of-body experience. I literally fell headlong into the black-and-white production stills and was aware of nothing else.  The buzzing sounds of the electric shavers and the snips of scissors faded away into nothing. I don’t think I even responded when my name was called – for here was my fantasy world come alive at last.  They were photos of a past-life that I only suspected I had lived – and even the patterns on the costumes seemed thrillingly familiar.

In short, I was hooked.

I literally saw the film again and again and again.  Though many people find it turgid and slow, I became aware of wonderful words for the first time.  Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ script taught me that the beautiful placement and rhythms of speech can be as exciting as any car chase or yellow explosion.  And, more, these famous personages from history became instantly recognizable as more than mere historical placards; instead they were thinking, feeling, and achingly flawed people – just like me.  (In fact, the dysfunctional relationship between Cleopatra and Antony that Mankiewicz depicted was that of my own parents, but we won’t go into that today.)  In other words, I knew these characters; I lived with them.

What I want to say is that Joe Mankiewicz taught me how to write.  At first I slavishly copied him, endless rewriting “Cleopatra” in various teen aged forms.  But like the students of the master painters, who copied even the brushstrokes of their mentors, I gradually became free to develop my own style.  My first two books, “Year of the Hyenas” and “Day of the False King” were my own versions of those sex-and-sandal epics from the 1950s and 60s.  And, having written them (and successfully, too) I felt free to finally do my own work.  I’ve both been inspired by and have now exorcized, “Cleopatra”.  My newest novel “The Stand In” is the first in which my truest voice can be read, and it’s wonderful to know that even at 61 I am capable of growth and change and refinement.

So here’s to Joe Mankiewicz, Elizabeth Taylor, and even Madonna.  Without you I couldn’t have been who I am today.

My question to you readers is – what inspired you?  What opened your world?  What made you want to write and write and write?

Let me know.  And if it was “Cleopatra”, that’s fine too.

 (Have you downloaded my newest book, The Stand In? It’s on Kindle, Nook, and the iPad. Enjoy my five starred mystery for less than a latte and you’ll help support this indie-author so I can continue to inspire.) 

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12 Responses to “Inspiration–What inspired you to become a writer?”

  1. Sandra February 6, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Whew Brad, you opened quite a door. My thoughts went back to my sister reading me Black Beauty because I was too young to read, but understood the story fine. I think my writing ability (if I have it) comes from reading first and then like you film, scriptwriting has always knocked my socks off. I picture those folks writing the dialog for film and tv and just drool over their creative experience.

    I have never claimed to be a writer until recently, life seemed to “get in the way” but always had the knack for communicating and built a fine career around it. Facebook is currently my best vehicle and am loving the blog work I do. i surprise myself each time I post, how very much I have to say.

    Having said that, there are three fiction pieces and plenty of poems I’ve written that are waiting in the wings., I’m sure now that I’m at this stage in my life that to share come to pass.

    Thanks for the question, writers like gardeners love to talk about their craft!

    • Brad Geagley February 7, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      Keep going, keep going. The more you write, the better you get. Good luck!

  2. likeitiz February 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Hello, Brad. As usual, you got me thinking. First things first:

    About Madonna and Ms. Taylor and Cleopatra. I have to confess, the fascination over Liz and Dick and all that is lost on me. My parents thought they were icons and trailblazers. I guess they were a little too old by the time I was aware of the movies they made and how the public worshiped them. And then there’s Madonna, who was an icon of my youngest sister’s generation (she’s 10 years my junior!). I enjoyed her songs but I did not really think much of all the hype and fluff around her and her life. I took this all as marketing. I guess I’m an in-between of sorts. But to my daughter and her friends, Madonna is an icon nevertheless, in spite of the fact that she’s my age. They think she’s cool while at the same time, they think she eventually needs to move on. As for the Cleopatra act, I guess you could say, it may be a tribute or a parody of the classic film. Depends I guess on how you want to see it. In this new age of special effects, flashy lights, fast costume changes, etc., it’s a different form of entertainment that tickles the fancy of this generation. I don’t think either is bad. Just different.

    As for writing, I started the blog because I needed a creative outlet. Blogging is more transportable. It was either this or resurrecting my easel, paints, canvas and all. But unlike you, I cannot claim to be a writer. I just happen to write. Being a writer is more serious stuff!

    Yes, I do have your book in my list of items to read. I still have to finish the 8 books I downloaded though.

    • Brad Geagley February 7, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      You were too young for Liz and Dick; I was too old for Madonna. Here’s another rant – every one of these young stars seem so alike, skinny as sticks and all using the same stylist – and they’re all called some variation on Jennifer or Jason. I can’t tell them apart.

      Let me know when you’ve read my book – can’t wait to hear your reaction.

  3. Shannon Howell February 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    That was a fascinating read.

    I am totally different (of course, I’m also in my early 30’s). While I grew up in the age of MTV and the dawn of the internet, I have been largely oblivious to pop culture. I haven’t gotten TV since 2005 (although we have a set, a DVD player now, and now a Wii).

    I have always enjoyed a good story. I remember my mom reading adult fiction to me as a child. I also had a great teacher for 1st and 2nd grade – probably the only reason I tolerate poetry (there were some horrid teachers later).

    But why do I write? Characters. Some characters or even creatures grab my interest and stay with me. They merge together, morph, and change as I read new things, see new movies, and have new experiences. But they now need to get out of my head. Many are nearly done baking and need a nice home.

    An example – probably the best – is a creature that was inspired by the Quest For Glory computer game series. In the first installment (originally titled Hero’s Quest), there’s a creature you can fight in the woods called a cheetaur (I’m not sure of the spelling). It looks like a black panther head and body with a human torso in the middle. The hands have claws.

    In the next installment liontaurs (I’m not sure that’s the right name) are introduced. Same physical concept, but with lions. Instead of being beasts to fight, they are a developed people with a city, laws, social structure, etc.

    These two have been mixing in my head (along with traits from other places) to create a character – and from him a whole species – for the book I am working on. Now, let me say here that I’m not using either of these ideas straight out. They have inspired related ideas. Ideas that simply have to be put to paper because they won’t leave me alone unless I do.

    Otherwise, I write because (in case nobody’s noticed) I have quite a lot to say – and it’s a great mental and creative outlet.

    • Brad Geagley February 7, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      It seems strange to think that a video game inspires you to write. I was a game designer at the whole beginning of the industry, first at Mattel and then other places. They were so limiting that we didn’t even think in terms of characters. Oh, well – the times they are a changin’.

      Keep writing, no matter who or what inspires you. Take it and run with it.

      • Shannon Howell February 8, 2012 at 7:16 am #

        I agree that it’s strange.

        I wonder, if the format had been less limiting, perhaps the characters would have been more developed and I wouldn’t have had so much free reign to step in and create. My imagination probably wouldn’t have stepped in, or even blended the two ideas if they’d been fully developed.

        That said, the liontaurs were fairly well developed for being in a computer game (there was a government, laws, and some history presented in one game).

  4. Stephanie Raffelock February 7, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I started writing when I was a teenager. Putting words on paper brought a sense of relief to a spirit troubled by unquenchable longing and anxious anticipation that wove its way into poetry about unrequited love.

    Over the years I’ve kept volumes of spiral notebooks filled with musings and short stories. I took my first creative writing class at UCLA when I was in my early thirties. Later I completed the creative writing and poetics program at Naropa University.

    Writing is just part of my life now. It’s as necessary as caffeine in the morning. I started a blog for a lot of different reasons, but it became a place to practice and there was something fun about thinking that other people might be reading your stuff. Though I’ve had articles published over the years in those dinosaurs called newspapers and magazines, I’ve never written a book.

    Currently I teach an on-going creative writing class to incarcerated women. This calling and joy has allowed me to share my love for writing with a marginalized population and offer a way in which they might come to know themselves a little bit better and make some different choices in their future. Talk about some amazing stories!

    I like your blog and your good questions. Thank you.

  5. Brad Geagley February 7, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    I can tell you love words and their rhythms. Keep going, Stephanie!

  6. myliteraryleanings February 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    I have always loved stories and I have always been a reader ever since I can remember. But I believe it was my mother who first suggested that I should try writing. She thought I would be good at and always wishing she had been a writer, she continued to encourage me. Now she too has started writing again and is doing quite well. She also still encourages me. Maybe someday I’ll take her advice and acutally submit something.

    • Brad Geagley February 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      I think you SHOULD submit something. That’s the ultimate test, isn’t it? Good luck!

  7. catherinebowman March 20, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    What a fabulous question.

    I’ve been reading since almost before I could walk. I have two grandfathers who wrote books (one wrote short fictions for children, the other wrote about WWII). My mother is a prolific poetess with a few novels under her belt. The Love of words comes naturally.

    But writing wasn’t anything I cared about until my fifth grade teacher started trying to teach us creative writing. I started to catch on to the fact that I could put words together that made people react. Then she challenged us to write a full one page story (that’s a lot when you’re 11!) without using the word ‘and’. That’s still tied for first as my favourite assignment.

    The other first came after I discovered that writing sex (sappy, horrible, romantic drivel at the age of 15) made my boyfriend *cough* react well. I was in my Gr 12 Advanced English class and we were doing Macbeth. We’d finished the play and all the analysis but she had one final assignment for us: Write up a profile for the assigned character. It was to be 1500 words (something like that) and I was given Lady Macbeth.

    Honestly, the woman has three lines!

    I managed it. I am, to this day, not sure whether I got the A because the teacher thought I wrote well or if it’s because she thought the bullshit & double talk was well done. *laughs*

    Either way it inspired me to keep going. I wrote to see myself write. I wrote to make boyfriends *react*. I wrote because I wanted to get into the Penthouse short stories magazine. I wrote at some point because I suddenly discovered that I liked creating characters.

    My inspirations come from everywhere. The books I’m blogging about were inspired by the deaths of two very close friends. Other stories are from life in general, a line someone says or a commercial. I have a book my paternal grandfather started before he died that I will be finishing once I am done with the current series.

    I am flipping through your blog roll, reading the ones that catch my eye today. I will eventually read them all but I have a question for you: Are there any you are most proud of? Any that have the most meaning for you?

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