💌 Letter to Yourself
Exorcise Your Demons
Here’s what you get in every episode of Into the Storymaze: writing tips or a work-in-progress; something creative I’m digging; a highlight from my comics-writing credits; plus a quote that’s got me thinking — both about now and what’s next.
Two creative explorations this episode.
If you're the sort that gets fueled by coffee shop ambience, check out Coffeehouse— an original take on "newsletter" that eschews words (especially $5 ones like "eschew") to instead serve up 1 hour of coffee house sounds, from different java joints around the world.
If you're the sort that gets down on yourself before the start of a project, see if you can find something to counter that in this idea from Street Writers, the podcast me and pal Mark Bellusci produced for a coupla years.
Dan: I want you to pick up your pencil. I want you to write a letter to yourself. A letter to yourself about all the shit feelings you have about your work.
Mark: Your hand’s going to get cramped.
Dan: I need a box of crayons.
What are your fears, your anxieties? Everything that shakes you down, the things that talk you out of writing. Write it up. Don't mail it to yourself, but maybe put in a drawer and don't think about that. Don't go near it. Don't touch it. Maybe you do this at the beginning of an assignment or a new project that you're doing.
You're clearing out all the distress and everything, and you're leaving yourself clear to be the writer that you want to be and that you can be. Getting the stuff out of you, it's almost like you're expunging it.
Mark: So that's kind of cool. Let me see how I use that. Because filling those pages will not be a problem. That sounds like something you could do anytime. It sounds like since you're trying to write regularly, it could be something you use to inspire yourself to get through today's writing session.
Dan: I would think so. Cause you're always going to sit down. You're always going to kick yourself around a little bit or something's going to be in your way.
I think I'm going to try it for a very particular piece. A proposal I have to write for one of my own projects, and it's been in my way. There's no rational reason that's been hanging me up for as long as it has. I'm wondering if it's a good experiment to try for that and see how it plays out.
Mark: So it reminds me of a trick I do. It's kind of the simian way of getting to that. It's more mystic caveman. I remember starting many, many a project just cursing, writing every goddamn curse I know. And letting it go for a page and a half and every exciting combination of new curse phrases and other language curses I knew.
And I'd exhaust myself. Just to the point of, alright, how many more times am I going to write “Fuck.” At that point I go, “You might as well put something on paper.”
Know someone who’d enjoy time in the Storymaze? Ask them to join us…
Now playing on Amazon Prime, "Val" is a less a documentary and more a series of tone poems on the life and art and creative musings of actor Val Kilmer. If that name means something it's for his portrayals of icy machismo in Top Gun; loopy silliness in Top Secret!; complicated pubic persona in The Doors; rakish charisma in Willow; and screen stealing transformation as Doc Holiday in Tombstone. (Less interesting but high on the pop culture scale, Kilmer as “movie star” was also a body inside one of the increasingly stiff Batman costumes put up on screen at the end of the last century.)
While Kilmer’s professional gig was to appear on camera, he also spent much of his career grabbing his own footage — a personal Raiders of the Last Ark warehouse of boxes and cartons of various sized videotapes, as well as extensive 8mm footage from earnest, elaborate productions filmed by he and his brother Wesley when they were children. That collection enables the “behind the scenes” thread that loosely ties together this movie. But these selections are less about on-set confrontations (although there is a shouting match with the director during the making of the cursed Island of Dr. Moreau) or exposés of fellow actors (although there is a checked-out Marlon Brando swinging lazily in a hammock).
Instead, these raw whispers of “what was” support or challenge who Kilmer is now. Recovering from throat cancer, his once silky smooth voice is gone and it’s instead a shocking, raspy simulation of speech that tells parts of his story. The rest is narrated by Kilmer’s son, who brings to life his father’s words with a voice that echoes dad with eerie similarity. Kilmer holds no illusions as to his current incarnation: older, bloated, slower, a lesser star in the firmament, his opportunities far different than they once were. But I found the entire mix to be a captivating, intimate meditation on fame, creativity, commitment to character and craft, and the hard necessity of reinvention.
When Kilmer visits a film festival showing Tombstone as its centerpiece, he is championed by the audience. But when the lights go down and he steps away from the outdoor screen to wander the streets of a makeshift assembly of Old West buildings, he’s wrought with feelings of humiliation. Is selling his signature all he has left? That moment hit me particularly hard, as I’m in the process of reinventing my writing — and I just guested at my first comic book convention in 20 years.
As much as it was a thrill connecting with readers who were excited to see me (“You’re still alive!”) and expressed how much they enjoyed my work — there were moments I couldn’t escape a fiendish voice that kept trying to get its hooks in: a harsh, self-judging sense that this was long past yesterday’s definition of “prime time.” But I also joined hands with Kilmer as he pivoted to recognizing his current status in playing another role, a new performance that is worthwhile for his audience — and himself.
As much as I’ve shamelessly inserted myself in this story, in the end the film is not called “D.G.” — it’s called “Val”. Enjoy it for his arrogance, his sincerity, his high-minded philosophy of acting, his losses and loves and vulnerability. Ultimately you may discover what I didn’t expect in the least and came away appreciating most: its sense of grace.
I know I’m not the only one with something to say or share. Jump in…
The Shadows were a race of generally non-human humanoid beings, each cursed or blessed with some enhanced ability. In comic book parlance, their special talents might be called a super-power. They had existed alongside mankind throughout history, often the cause of our myths and legends. But due to their reduced numbers they had stayed on the down low…in the shadows.
Secret societies are a common device in fantastic fiction. In the case of the Shadows, maybe a little more fantastic thanks to their creation by legendary comics writer and editor Archie Goodwin. At the time, Archie was Editor in Chief of Marvel's Epic Comics, famous for its creator owned titles. The range was ambitious, odd, transcendent, eclectic — but so diverse it was hard to put a handle on the imprint. Archie had the idea to help anchor Epic with retailers and readers through a new comic book universe of heroes and villains: the Shadowline. He picked me and Margaret Clark to co-write the trio of flagship titles: Dr. Zero, St. George and Powerline.
To say we were shocked by the offer and opportunity is an understatement. We had a handful of single, standalone stories to our credit, and were just figuring out our dynamic and skill set as writing partners. Archie being Archie, he could have quite literally had just about anyone in comics eager to bring his characters to life. But maybe he liked he idea of keeping his creations close to home: at the time, both of us also worked for Archie, as editors in the Epic department.
Further keeping it "in the family" was the fact that Steve Buccellato was anointed to be editor of all three books. Steve was the shared assistant editor for Epic overall, making Margaret and me his bosses in all else. I didn't envy Steve then: the weird power dynamic was probably deserving of its own title! Now I just admire his ability to accomplish what he did. Like his writers, Steve was finding his way in the heat of a high profile launch that brought with it a fair bit of attention and scrutiny. Helping us get through all that, I think, was a sense of responsibility to do good by Archie's trust and creativity.
I'm pretty sure it was Steve's inspired idea to tie the separate Shadowline titles together by having the same artist do all 3 covers of each issue. The hope was readers drawn to one cover would key into the similar art of another; and retailers might be encouraged to group all three titles together as a triptych, boosting the interest in a buyer picking up all three. The visual potential of this editorial decision is represented in extraordinary style by the promotional poster above, featuring all three #1 covers as brought to life by Bill Sienkiewicz.
When the marketing department brought the mockup of the poster by our offices, I remember getting into a “war” of words with the ad guy over the headline. "If it is their world — present tense— why would they need it back? Shouldn't it be past tense? 'Our world was their world.' That would make more sense. Now they want it back to reclaim what they lost! Make it so." Sadly, my eminent language skills and logic were totally lost on the poster's writer: some dude named Fabian Nicieza. Wonder where he ended up?
The path I choose through the maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being — one of many ways — and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming. — Daniel Keyes
Thanks for taking a break from the dark web to check out this share-out of projects I’m working on, plus things that have me jazzed. I’m D.G. Chichester. If that looks pretentious, feel free to just call me “Dan”, and have a go at the last name as Chai (like the tea) Chester (like it looks).
I earned my word-cred writing comic book titles like Daredevil, Terror Inc., Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, along with all manner of digital widgets in the world wide web of advertising. I keep my storytelling cred by trying new things — this is one, with more on the way. I like weird tales, so if things here bend that way — now you know why!
Folks seem to like the comic book adventures I’ve written, so if you haven’t checked one out — please do. Many are now available in fab collected editions.
For the lonely moments between newsletters…
@dgchichester — 280 characters from the Twitterverse
@dgchichester — images via Instagramland