Bloggers Note: David Congalton, author, screenwriter, and radio talk show host, will be speaking on the topic of Chasing a Creative Dream at the November 14th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. The meeting will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Cost is $25 members and $30 for guests. Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm. Reservations required: Please RVSP to Robin firstname.lastname@example.org by November 11th.
- You wrote the screenplay for the feature film comedy Authors Anonymous. Sounds like it’s about writers. Can you share a few highlights?
You are correct! Authors Anonymous is about a dysfunctional critique group of unpublished writers who meet weekly to provide support and feedback on each other’s work. The stability of the group is threatened when one member (played by Kaley Cuoco of TV’s Big Bang Theory) scores an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in quick succession. The storyline was inspired by what happened to a friend of mine after she became a bestselling novelist. Authors Anonymous asks the question of how much success one writer is allowed to have and pulls the curtain back on that ugly notion of envy that all too many writers wrestle with. I ran a writers conference in Central California for twelve years, so believe me when I tell you that I know these characters, these emotions, all too well. Authors Anonymous is currently available on Netflix, Amazon, and other Video on Demand services if people want to check it out prior to my presentation.
- What is the best marketing tip you can provide to new writers.
The best marketing tip for any writer is the reminder that you have to learn to market yourself. Writing is only half the job, regardless of genre or ability. I have been a professional for-pay writer since 1989. Every single writing assignment, every job I’ve had for nearly 30 years, is a direct result of contacts I’ve made by networking. The newly-minted writer labors under the antiquated delusion that if he or she sells a novel, then the job is done. More and more, the writer is responsible for marketing. So mastering the craft is certainly important, but getting your name and face out there is equally important. Only 1 in 5000 scripts is currently produced in Hollywood. I beat the odds because I made a personal connection to people who could get my movie made. You have to sell yourself, promote yourself, and establish a deep network of professional contacts. You never know when one will open a door for you.
- What artists have most influenced your writing?
For nonfiction, I’ve always been drawn to the writing of Joan Didion, Bill Bryson, and the late film critic Roger Ebert. I am amazed by both what they write, and how quickly they produce. With fiction, I’m drawn to humor, so I tend to go with writers like Christopher Buckley, Christopher Moore, and the San Francisco beat poet Richard Brautigan, who taught me that there are no rules to writing. I’m also a huge fan of Dorothy Parker, whose creative mantra breathes within me: “Write five words, rewrite seven.” My interest is screenwriting, so let’s give a tip of the hat to those I particularly admire: Robert Towne, Alexander Payne, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Guest, and Nora Ephron.
- Describe your path to the big screen. What was it like on the set of Authors Anonymous?
How much time do you have? I could write a book on the experience, and perhaps I shall, but here’s the short story: I wrote the first draft of a script called Scribble in 2005. During the next eight years, the movie was scheduled for production twice, but fell out both times. We had four different directors and chased money around the world before finally going into production in 2012 as Authors Anonymous (don’t ask). The film was finally released in 2014, nine years later. Reread that number: nine years. In terms of being on the movie set, I tell people that “there is no greater feeling in the world than catching a dream.” Those three weeks in Los Angeles were the most satisfying of my professional career. I got to meet and work with actors I admired like Kaley Cuoco, Dennis Farina, and Jonathan Banks. I had the satisfaction of bating the odds and having a script produced. Most importantly, because I was on set and available, I was introduced to a visiting producer who inquired about other scripts I might have. I did. She read it. Bought an Option and we’re gearing up for Seven Sisters to go into production in the coming months.
- What was the biggest mistake you made as a writer?
I gave up too soon on my dream of being a screenwriter. I first started in 1987 and wrote about seven truly awful “spec” scripts, falling completely on my face and failing miserably. I stopped in 1993, convinced by repeated failure that this was not going to happen. Some writers are the hare, others are the tortoise. I wish I had stuck with screenwriting. Instead, I waited 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 years before being coaxed back into the water. You have to believe in yourself and keep plugging, keep writing, keep trying.
- Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?
Yes, but I also caution writers to maintain a healthy balance between social media and their own writing. Does the world really need yet another blog about writing? That two hours you spent commenting on other blogs might have been more wisely used editing your own material. I use Facebook and Twitter regularly, though I am still searching for the meaning of LinkedIn. I set up a simple (and free!) one page web site just so folks could have a basic idea of who I am, but I don’t see the need to spend thousands of dollars on a web site unless you’re on the national stage or you’re in search of speaking engagements. So, yes, develop social media savvy, but don’t let it distract from your main goal of writing.
- What makes the difference between success and failure?
I certainly don’t claim this to be original, but there are five main factors that determine the degree of success a writer will enjoy: (1) TALENT – How much raw talent does the beginning writer have? You can take classes, attend conferences, and study published authors to learn technique, but there has to be a degree of talent to begin with, something that can’t always be taught; (2) AMBITION – Why do you write? Do you dream of being on National Public Radio, or do you merely wish to write the family memoir? What is your professional goal? How high up that publishing ladder are you trying to reach? My elusive personal goal remains full-time writing, but I’m not quitting my day job yet; (3) DISCIPLINE – We all dream of creative success, but how many of us are willing to commit, to do the work? How many of us write every, single day? Is writing your passion, or just an interesting hobby? If you crave the national spotlight, buckle down, cut back on all your other obligations and focus on the work; (4) NETWORKING – This echoes my point from a previous question. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If an author writes a book, and nobody knows the author or the book, will it make a splash? No! Most writers tend to be shy, including me. Too bad. Get over it. Force yourself to go meet that agent, to introduce yourself to that teacher, to get your name and work out there, however you need to do it. Opportunity knocks once. Be ready; and (5) PLAIN DUMB LUCK – You can be talented, ambitious, disciplined, and well-known—and still not succeed. You may have the best novel ever written about vampires or the best Western screenplay in history, but nobody will bite because no one is interested in the genre. Sometimes success comes strictly from luck: Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story.
- Have any of your six dogs ever inspired your writing?
When I do my presentations, I like to remind writers that sometimes life gets in the way of writing, or life ends up changing what you write about. In December 1997, my wife Charlotte and I suffered a horrific house fire and the lost of our five beloved animals in San Luis Obispo. For roughly the next six years, I ended up putting all of my other writing on hold and I wrote specifically about animals. My first book, Three Cats, Two Dogs, One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss, was published by a small press up in Portland and went on to win a national award for writing. Then I wrote a second nonfiction book about animals and dozens of magazine articles. I had to deal with our loss. I had a new purpose to my writing. By around 2004, I pretty much had said everything I had to say and no longer wished to limit myself to just pet writing. That began the journey that eventually put me back on the path to Hollywood. So, yes, animals have clearly inspired my writing, so the reason why continues to haunt me.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about David Congalton. To learn more visit his website: davidcongalton.com.