Tag Archives: Storytelling

My First Wife

Facebook isn’t good for a whole lot, but one thing it’s great at? Alerting you to the fact that your junior high crush got hitched over the weekend. And no, I don’t mean that in the abstract. Amanda Corfman, she of the bewitching seventh grade smile and sexual precociousness, is a married woman now…

…or again, depending on how you look at it. Allow me to explain¹.

(Oh, and before I forget: Congratulations, Amanda!)

***

News of my imminent plunge into fatherhood came as quite a shock and had me second-guessing all I thought I knew about sex. Here I was on the precipice of pubescence about to become a dad, and yet I was at least another presidential term from separating myself once and for all from my virginity. What exactly had happened in that cave?yosemite-spider-caves

Squeezing through the jagged insides of the pitch-black Yosemite Spider Caves earlier that morning, I had accidentally touched Amanda Corfman’s arm. Along with a red face full of embarrassment, this mistake had also apparently made me a father. Well, at least according to Amanda. Only a few months removed from my first official course in sex education², I had to at least consider for a brief, terrifying second that she was telling the truth.

However, soon logic and the condemning words of Nick Moore stepped in.

“You can’t knock a girl up like that.”

Of course not, and deep down, I did know better. Sure, I’d never touched down on Planet Ecstasy, but god knows I’d collected enough data running test flight, solo missions to know that sex was supposed to feel a lot better.

Regardless, my mind was racing and my legs felt weak as the news sunk in, although I blame the latter on a strict diet of trail mix that had been imposed for the hike. I suddenly felt distant from my fellow Woodside Elementary 7th graders; once they caught wind of the news, I would be just another statistic.

As Amanda came up along side of me, I nearly had the first 13-year-old heart attack. Her stomach had swelled to more than three times its normal size. Luckily, it was at that moment that I spotted her backpack, worn backwards, peaking out from underneath her “GUESS?” sweatshirt.

“So, are you going to ask me?” she pleaded, her usual mind-bending smile creeping to the edges of her mouth.

“Huh?” I replied as eloquently as I could manage.

“You’re not going to leave me to raise this child on my own, are you?” she asked rather dramatically, which is to say about normal for a 13-year-old girl.

“Well…” I began, before she cut me off.

“Of course I’ll marry you, it’s the only thing to do,” she beamed.

And with that the charade was in full swing.

The wedding came swiftly just a few minutes later when our trail group stopped for a break a mile from the top of Nevada Falls. The ceremony was nothing if it wasn’t efficient, with Justin Brown serving as chaplain. He married us with the power vested in him by his status as a senior in high school and adult chaperone on the trip. I think I said, “I do” although it’s hard to say. Amanda, my blushing bride, controlled the proceedings from beginning to end.

This should have come as no surprise; Amanda Corfman had an uncanny ability to control me, and any other middle school boy with a pulse. I think most girls figure out at some point during the course of their life that if they play it right, they hold all the cards when it comes to their male counterparts. For most women, this epiphany occurs somewhere around college or the early real world years. Amanda Corfman, it seems, figured it out sometime between laying in her hospital incubator and her first word, which I can only assume was “Is that a roll of quarters in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Her grasp of the male psyche can perhaps best be explained through a life-altering exchange that had taken place just a few weeks before back at school. Sitting across from her on a wooden bench in the courtyard, she did a complete splits in mid-conversation. And as my jaw plummeted to the ground she offered with a look and smile that transcended suggestiveness, “You never know when that could come in handy.” In my own little 13-year-old world it was like living the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct. Part of me is still reeling to this day.basic-instinct-scene

Lyndsay Hayes Maloney was “born” late that afternoon as our trail group began its trek back towards the Village. She was named after Amanda’s oldest, and she told me secretly, favorite sister (with all apologies to Cate, the middle Corfman goddess). The middle name was a salute to the 3-year-old girl my mom nannied, who Amanda had taken a liking to during her many visits to school. Amanda had even gone to the trouble of naming Hayes an honorary 7th grader; needless to say, Hayes was beyond pleased.

The birth itself was decidedly less gory than the one I’d been unfortunate enough to witness in Sex Ed. It merely consisted of Amanda moving the backpack to the outside of her clothes. Our bouncing, bubbly³ baby girl weighed in at three pounds, six ounces and had two extra front pockets perfect for carrying pens and pencils.

Word of our nuptials spread quickly that night when we joined the rest of our class at the Village dining hall. A secretly jealous group of well-wishers approached me throughout the evening offering congratulations. I greeted each one with an embarrassed smile.

My wedding night proved rather disappointing, however, as Amanda spent the night flirting up a storm, bouncing between Jeff Millichap and John Foret—the two resident doctors of cool in the 7th grade. Each one had served as Amanda’s off-again, on-again, off-again boyfriend since I had known the trio. Jeff and John, of course, always remained good friends. It’s one of those love triangles that only works in middle school.

Later around a campfire, I learned that Todd Shields, my best friend, and Lilli Milton, the girl I’d spent the last two years holding an inescapable crush on, had just been married. It might have been the first “reactionary” marriage in history. But what is junior high really but one long tug of war for attention?

It was supposed to be the greatest night of my life. Here I was married to the prettiest and most sexually suggestive 7th grader on the planet and I had just become a father of my first make believe child since kindergarten. But from what little I could tell, all I’d really gotten out of it was a brush against Amanda’s arm (which I couldn’t even see) and a shotgun wedding that I’d been guilted into. It had become plainly obvious that the entire production that day was a ploy by Amanda to enjoy her two favorite activities: have people shower her with attention and make me squirm uncomfortably.

While Amanda was off gallivanting with John and Jeff, I was left lying in bed listening to Nick Moore get acquainted with his obnoxiously loud REM breathing pattern in a tented cabin that was rumored to be infested with every arachnid known to man.

As Nick let out another rumbling snore, I turned over in bed and placed a pillow over my head. And as I did, one last thought passed through my head before I passed out from exhaustion that can only come from hiking 15 miles in a stiff pair of new jeans. It lingered for quite a while.

I’d been hosed.yosemite-wedding

Amanda and I didn’t really talk much after the Yosemite trip and when we did Lyndsay Hayes was never mentioned; I guess my fifteen minutes were up. But when I was leafing through my seventh grade yearbook a few years later, after I’d moved away and on to high school, I found a note on the inside cover that she had written:

Mikey,

How is Lyndsay Hayes? I love you!

Your Favorite Person,
Amanda Corfman (I mean) Maloney

I don’t think I realized it at the time, but Amanda Corfman was that girl.

The girl that when you pick up a 7th grade class photo you can pick out right away. And it’s not just because of her smile, although it does seem to radiate, even sandwiched between an overweight science teacher and a garish olive knit sweater that Nick Kromat probably should have had the better fashion sense not to wear on Picture Day.

She stands out because she’s out of place. 44 faces and bodies, all made overwhelmingly awkward by the harsh effects of puberty. And there’s her, the only 13-year-old girl with any semblance of grace. The Audrey Hepburn of the junior high set. I’m always kind of baffled that her name and face have stuck so vividly in my head all these years until I run across that picture.

It was five years later when I saw her next. The Woodside Class of ’94 was holding an informal reunion and I think in a lot of ways she was the only reason I showed up.

She arrived fashionably late and didn’t stay very long. I don’t think we even acknowledged one another when we first made eye contact. These things sometimes happen when you run into your first ex-wife.

But after everyone had eaten and dispersed throughout Greg Fontana’s backyard, she found me sitting alone in a lawn chair and promptly sat right down in my lap. Five years earlier, as an awkward and squeamish 7th grader, I probably would have fled. But, of course, time has a way of making you more comfortable with yourself and even the Amanda Corfmans of the world.

We didn’t really look at each other, and only a few words were exchanged. We just sat there, staring off into the distance contemplating questions like, “How can five years pass so quickly?”

After a long silence, we looked at each other and smiled. I came this close to asking her about our pride and joy, but I thought better of it.

Today, Lyndsay Hayes Maloney probably sits half-buried in a closet or hidden in the depths of some dusty garage. Perhaps it’s too cruel a fate for the one true relic of my first marriage. Maybe.

But hey, it’s cheaper than day care.

-MPM

¹This piece was originally published in 2007 as part of Memoirs Ink’s annual writing competition (I placed second). It marked the first time I’d been paid for a piece of creative writing. So, you might say that Amanda Corfman was my first muse.
²Of the non-playground variety.
³Okay, maybe not bubbly.

Should I Keep Writing?

When I was six years old, I spent countless hours alone in my room playing this game I’d made up. I’d take one of those small plastic “bubbles” – the kind that held those cheap little treasures that you’d get for a quarter at the grocery store – and throw it onto my bed. A second later, I’d launch all of the stuffed animals from my sizable collection onto the bed after it. See, the “bubble” wasn’t a bubble; it was a football. And my many stuffed animals were football players involved in a free-for-all to recover the game-clinching fumble. (Obviously).

The moment the dogpile was complete, I’d slowly sift through the (adorable) wreckage and see which stuffed animal had prevailed at the bottom of the pile¹. That lucky “beast” would be hoisted into the air triumphantly, as I announced the results to the “crowd”. (Although, full disclosure: the fix was in. Kermit the Frog, a.k.a. my favorite stuffed animal, won at least 90% of the time due to his long green arms…and the fact that I always threw him on the bed first.)Kermit the Frog celebrates 50 years in show business

Now, obviously my childish antics were far from unusual. I mean, show me a little kid, and I’ll show you a tiny crazy person who talks to themselves non-stop and gets lost in their imagination. But the thing about me is, well…

…I never really grew out of that phase. It’s 30 years later, and while I no longer have a stuffed animal collection, I still spend an inordinate amount of time talking to myself², as I drift off into an imaginary world of my own creation. Sure, life (and responsibility) can get in the way sometimes, but chances are, if I’m driving, showering, lying awake in bed, or just staring off into the distance, my mind is somewhere else. It’s trying to envision a world that isn’t but could be. It’s trying to figure out how Kermit (or more likely, the current “hero du jour”) is going to emerge victorious this time. It’s trying to tell a story.

For the longest time, I saw this as a quirk — an amusing glitch in my programming. It’s only recently that I came to realize: it is the program. It’s hard-wired into the way my brain processes (and makes sense of) the world. As you might expect, this has had some rather far-reaching implications when it comes to my life…

…but the reason that it’s been coming up for me a lot lately is that it answers a nagging question:

Should I keep writing?

If you read last week’s post, you know that it hasn’t exactly been non-stop hookers and ice cream around here lately. In fact, it’s gotten pretty dark. Writing for an audience that hasn’t really materialized (yet) can do that to a person. You can start to feel like you’re tilting at windmills.tilting at windmills

So, you start to wonder… Am I wasting my time pursuing this? Am I delusional about how talented I am? Is anyone (outside of my family and friends) ever going to give a shit about what I write?

If you think about these questions long and hard enough, you can’t help but fantasize about a world where you don’t have to answer such difficult questions. A world where life is unburdened by ambition and expectation and hope. But that’s about the time that you have to face another question:

Well, if I didn’t write, what would I do instead?

And that’s where things get a little bit clearer. That’s when I remember Kermit the Frog and the pile of stuffed animals. Or writing and performing a “Wayne’s World” sketch at Lilli Milton’s 13th birthday party. Or spending all of my free time in college sitting on the floor of the bookstore reading interviews with great filmmakers. Or going five straight days without speaking to another human being, but never noticing because I was so engrossed in a rewrite of my script.

“Being” a writer? It isn’t something I do. It’s something I am. I mean, shit, an alligator can stand on its feet and ring your doorbell all day long; that doesn’t mean it’s gonna stop being an alligator.

The reality is I don’t get to know if I’ll ever be Kermit and emerge from the pile victorious. But I do know one thing. I can’t imagine a world where I ever stop playing.

-MPM

¹“Prevailed” is probably a pretty generous term to describe part of a stuffed animal touching a plastic bubble. But the stakes felt pretty high at the time.
²Although I have gotten just a LITTLE bit better about keeping that dialogue INSIDE my head.

It’s Always Darkest

I didn’t want to write this. And honestly, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t wanted to do much of anything.Depression_2014_Types_10-22-14_5PM-img_1280x720

The explanation for this malaise really depends on your point of view. A medical professional would probably diagnose me with a case of situational depression. A philosopher (and/or “The Prince of Denmark“) might suggest that I’m experiencing an existential crisis. But I’m a writer, so all I can think is, “we have now entered the ‘dark night of the soul’ portion of our story.”

Even if you’re not familiar with the terminology, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that 10-12 minutes near the end of the second act when everything – and I mean everything – goes to shit for the main character. Their significant other breaks up with them, they get fired from their job, their dog dies, their favorite sports team loses Game 7 of the NBA Finals¹, and their latest Facebook update gets zero fucking likes.

Hope is lost. Existence is questioned. And shit gets dark. Basically, it’s this song playing on a loop in your head all goddamn day²:

So, yeah, I’m having a tough time. And while my favorite team did choke away Game 7, and I have gone through a breakup recently, and I’m still not sure what will happen with my career, the thought I keep coming back to is this:

How can I be 36 years old and have so little to show for it?Dubs lose GAme 7

To be clear, by “show for it” I am not referring to material possessions like a house, or a sports car, or even a bank account with lots of zeroes in it. I’ve never really been motivated by those things³. I’m talking about the impact I’m making / have made on the world around me.

There’s a reason I became a writer. And it’s not because I was talented, or because someone in my family did it and I looked up to them, or because I wanted to trick people into thinking I was smart. I became a writer because I spent the vast majority of my childhood by myself, and I had a deep yearning to connect with other people. Writing was like a siren’s song: here was a way that I could connect with lots and lots of people simultaneously…

…and you might say: I’ve been crashing into the cliffs ever since in pursuit of that feeling. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like sometimes.

The summer before I started film school at USC, I took an old professor of mine (from my undergrad days at UCLA) to a baseball game. As we were walking back to the car, he told me the story of another former student of his who went to film school. “He spent his two years there, he wrote a bunch of scripts, and then nothing happened,” my old professor said. It was a cautionary tale. The not-so-subtle subtext was, “Just because you’re a good writer, and you’ve gained entry into the best film school in the country doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

Obviously, he was right. And I knew that, even then. But I don’t think you can set out to be successful in anything (be it the creative arts or business or anything else) without being a little delusional — without believing that, on some level, you just might be exceptional. And life, of course, has a way of leaving you just enough bread crumbs to keep you walking down such a path.

If I was some talentless hack, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now. Because I wouldn’t have gotten into USC in the first place. Or secured representation. Or sold a few projects. Or had a few others that came oh so close to becoming something that you actually saw on a movie or television screen.

But that old cliche about talent and hard work being the only two things that you need to succeed? It’s starting to feel like another siren’s song. A “promise” that’s lured me to where I find myself now, more than 10 years after I started this journey: dead in the water and lost at sea.doldrums

I’m standing on the deck of a ship, staring up at the sails, waiting for the wind to pick up. Because it doesn’t seem to matter how hard or how long I blow, my lungs just don’t seem capable of getting the damn thing to move on their own.

I’ve been here before, of course. Because our lives aren’t really a single narrative so much as they’re a series of stories told over time. There was that time in college, for instance, where in the span of 10 days, my girlfriend broke up with me, my car died (for good), and I got laid off from my (then) dream job of writing for FoxSports.com. Or that time I spontaneously broke down in tears at a stop light, because I was feeling so profoundly unfulfilled by my 9-to-5 job in marketing. Or that time after grad school ended, a different girlfriend and I broke up, and I spiraled into such a long and miserable depression that I ended up betting a thousand dollars on a football game just to feel something.

Having survived those experiences, I know (on an intellectual level, at least) that there is one cliche that can be believed: “this too shall pass.” But when you’re in the middle of it, when the night is its absolute fucking darkest, you can tell yourself that until your blue in the face, and it still won’t feel that way.

All nights end eventually; it’s true. But the sun doesn’t rise on command, you know?

-MPM

¹Too soon!
²Except you substitute in your name for Peter’s, because otherwise shit just gets confusing.
³Although I’d certainly enjoy having them.
Technically, I bet 500 on the game against the spread (which I lost) and 500 on the Patriots money line (which I won). So, all tolled, I probably lost about 250 bucks.

Storytelling 101: The Debrief

This, my friends, is a story without a whole lot of suspense, I’m afraid. Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy who discovered his passion for writing thanks to the encouragement of three high school mentors¹. And then, almost 20 years later (a.k.a. this past Thursday), said boy (now a man) walked back onto the campus of said high school and did his best to help 29 seventh and eighth graders discover if they might have a passion for it, too. A good time was had by all.a-good-time-was-had-by-all

So…yeah, the class went well. In fact, if first and second-hand reports are to be believed, the kids absolutely loved it². And me? Well, I had a blast. Which doesn’t make for much of a story, of course³. But there were a few fun anecdotes and details that I thought were worth sharing…

First Period

In the syllabus I’d laid out, I’d planned on having the kids introduce themselves by sharing their favorite movie (and then using those movie titles for a game). But instead, I decided to streamline things and have them introduce themselves by telling the class the story of their favorite movie — until someone could guess the title. This worked quite well, and it also let me learn a little bit about their collective taste.

Many favorites were not surprises (i.e. Finding Nemo, Shrek, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.) A few were, none more so than Madea’s Witness Protection. The funniest/saddest moment came when one girl prefaced her choice by saying it was “an old movie”, and then proceeded to describe the plot of 2001’s Ocean’s 11. Great taste, but damn did I feel old. Another girl’s “old movie” actually lived up to its billing: West Side Story.

I think the biggest surprise, however, was the movies they didn’t pick. Nary a one of them named a comic book movie (no Avengers, No X-Men, No Deadpools, No Dark Knights) or a Star Wars film. Who’d a thunk it?

Second Period

From there, we segued into the definition of a story. And to pound this point home, I showed them the epic opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The verdict: it may be 30+ years since that movie came out, but that shit still holds up. They were all captivated.

I doubled-down on the movie clips by showing them the opening sequence from Up (to illustrate the importance of making the audience care about your characters). Up, of course, they recognized before I even hit play on the clip, and it was met with a chorus of groans that would’ve made you think we were about to do geometry proofs.

“But this is like the saddest thing ever!” they said in almost collective unison. But, of course, that was the point. And they were every bit as responsive to the clip once I pressed play.

Third Period

Next up was the Vernon Hardapple game, where I gave each group (4-5 kids) a picture and asked them to tell me the story of what was going on in it. This was the picture:main.original.640x0c

What they didn’t know (at least up front), was that they all had the same picture. So, it was fun to see the many versions of the story that they came up with. In retrospect, having a photo with a gun involved painted them into a bit of an imaginative corner, and the result was some dark fucking stories. There was enough death, secret agenting, and tragedy to make for a pretty good art house spy film.

The hilarious part was that the only two groups who told a story with a happy/redemptive ending were made up of all girls. But I have to say that the redemptive turn at the end of their stories was far more compelling for at least this audience member.

Break

I spent the break doing what any good teacher would do: investigating their snack choices. For those scoring at home, there was a preponderance of “bars” and a bit of fresh fruit here or there. Two other important things I learned: they were (genuinely) having a great time, and the boy who smuggled an Area 69 joke into his improv story, and was decked out in all Warriors gear, did not want the team to sign Kevin Durant.

Fourth Period

In what was undoubtedly the most successful/fun game of the day, the kids really brought it during our modified version of The Tonight Show staple, “True Confessions.” My favorite “truth or lie” interrogation centered on an Alex P. Keaton look-a-like, who was wearing an argyle sweater (on a late June day no less), and told the story of meeting former President Jimmy Carter at a book signing (no shocker: the kid was telling the truth).maxresdefault

The game’s big winner was Nicole, however, who told the story of having her finger broken at a community pool, when someone dropped a large piece of concrete on it. 95% of the class thought she was telling the truth (myself included), but that little rascal: she was lying through her braces-laden teeth. I’ll tell you one thing right now: I wouldn’t want to be that girl’s parents over the next 5-6 years, because she’s going to get away with murder.

Fifth Period

Due to time constraints (and me having a decent feel of the room by that point), we ditched The Moth-esque storytelling exercise I’d had planned. Instead, we finished off the day with some “Build a Story” improv’ing. We started with longer intervals between storytellers, and then brought things to a crescendo by having them piece a story together one word at a time. I’d assumed that the one-word-at-a-time version would be more difficult, but it actually proved much easier for them, as the pressure of only having to come up with one word (rather than multiple sentences) was far more manageable.

Bottom line: they had fun and actually learned something. For me, it was a great opportunity to engage with the creative process in a new and collaborative way. And while I think I’d likely prefer (moving forward) to work with kids a little older, I’ll definitely be back next year to do it again…

…assuming they’ll have me, of course.

-MPM

¹Many thanks to the Murder’s Row that was/is Lippi, Navone, & Thompson.
²More than a few of these reports included the words, “favorite class of the whole program”.
³At least for the blog’s sake, a major crash and burn might have been fun.
Remember, we were in Marin County, CA – a.k.a. The Whitest Place on Earth.
Sorry, kiddo, it happened! And it’s fucking amazing!
Which was confirmed when I had them rattle off the key points I’d made throughout the morning.

Storytelling 101

In a few weeks, I’ll be leading a one day workshop filled with 30 middle-schoolers at my old high school¹. I’ve been given four hours to teach them something (hopefully) worth knowing about the only subject I’m even remotely qualified to speak intelligently about²: storytelling.How Storytelling affects the brain

Because I’ve spent the last decade-plus pursuing a career as a professional storyteller (as this blog can attest to), and I hold a masters degree in the subject from the best film school in the country, you’d think I should be able to come up with at least a few nuggets to share with them. But the task is harder than you’d think given that my audience is made up of kids who are incredibly bright³, but likely have little experience studying the subject matter (unless you count the snooze-fest that is a junior high English class). And let’s face it: 240 minutes isn’t a whole lot of time to delve into such rich and nuanced subject matter…or, more importantly, to convince a room full of pubescents that I know what the fuck I’m talking about.

Anyway, after some careful reflection (and intermittent panicking), I think I’ve settled on an approach that just might work. Broad enough to appeal to a group of varied personalities and interests, but hopefully specific enough to, you know, actually teach them something worthwhile. Here’s the blurb we sent them to set the stage:

“Life is made up of stories: everything from your favorite movie or book to the long, boring stories your parents tell at the dinner table. But what makes a good story? And how do you TELL a good story? We’ll figure it out by watching clips from great movies, playing improv games, and sharing our own stories. And don’t worry: it won’t be long or boring. Promise.”

As you can see, in an effort to get them on my side, I’ve relied on two battled-tested tactics:

1) Frame the whole thing as fun, rather than educational (by mentioning movies and games).

2) Make fun of their parents.

Ostensibly, it’s the teaching equivalent of doing crowd work as a stand-up comic. Sure, it may be a little hacky to talk about the shitty weather in [insert city with notoriously shitty weather here], but when you prove to people that you can speak their language, they’re a hell of a lot more likely to listen to what you have to say next.

Because I have such a limited amount of time, I figure it’s in my best interest to keep my message simple. And what could be simpler, really, than spending our time together trying to define what a (good) story entails?

Now, there’s a couple of different ways that you can go with this. One way, which we’ll call “The Overcompensating Grad Student”, is to wax philosophically about the intricacies of artistic expression. To talk about things like subtext and tone and point of view. To use phrases like “an exploration of the human spirit” and/or “trying to make sense out of a senseless world”. You know, kind of like this pony-tailed jackass:

But I don’t need Will Hunting to tell me not to do that. My lack of a pony-tail and regular ski trips as a child pretty much preclude me from taking that path. So, I’m left with the alternative: boiling things down to their essentials. To quote one of my favorite film school professors:

“In every great story, somebody wants something badly…but they’re having difficulty getting it.”

Reductive? Possibly. Irrefutable? Absolutely.

Go ahead, take a second to think about your favorite movie, book, play, puppet show, whatever. If we’re talking about a narrative, it always comes down to that same unassailable truth: somebody wants something badly…but they’re having difficulty getting it.

In the interest of supporting evidence, here is a one sentence breakdown of three randomly selected books and movies currently sitting on my shelf:

BOOKS

The Martian by Andy Weir
A U.S. astronaut fights to stay alive…after being stranded on Mars.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
A high school freshman refuses to participate in the school’s chocolate sale…despite escalating threats from the headmaster and the school’s secret society.

Paper Towns by John Green
A high school senior tries to piece together the cryptic clues left behind by his life-long crush in an effort to find her after she disappears.

MOVIES

Back to the Future
After traveling back in time to the year 1955 and interrupting history, a young man has to figure out a way to get his mom to fall for his sad-sack father before he gets erased from the space-time continuum.

* Rain Man
In order to get his rightful inheritance, a man has to get his estranged, autistic brother across the country by the end of the week.

* Ocean’s Eleven
A recently paroled thief recruits a crew to help him rob three Vegas casinos (while he tries to win back his ex-wife).

Clear want. Something(s) standing in the way.

And the same holds true of the stories we tell around dinner tables and on dates and around campfires. I mean, we all know a terrible story when we hear one. What do they tend to have in common?Campfire story

In order of likelihood:

1. The lack of a clear goal or objective (i.e. “Is there a fucking point to this story, or what?”)

2. A lack of sufficient detail (i.e. “I am not following this at all / Who the fuck is Julie?”)

3. A lack of organization (i.e. “I’d ask you to start over from the beginning, but I lost interest 20 minutes ago.”)

4. A lack of conflict (i.e. “That’s it? That’s the whole fucking story?”)

5. It’s about someone’s fantasy football team.

So, there you have it. A simple objective for my four hours of instruction: teach them what a (good) story entails, and (hopefully) save an entire generation from telling stories as boring as their parents.

And if I should fail? Well, at least it’ll make for a good story, right?

-MPM

¹As part of a summer program not-so-covertly designed to brainwash impressionable junior high achievers (and their parents) into thinking that paying $30K a year to attend said high school is the only logical choice if they want to secure a notable future.
²Unless you consider A Few Good Men minutiae to be a worthy topic of conversation. And if you do, can I interest you in a little something I like to call A Few Good Minutes?
³Basically they’re the best and brightest from the surrounding area’s parochial schools.
Also, let’s face it: most parents DO tell the worst stories!
Ah, the irony, of pursuing a career as a writer. You’re living this truth every fucking day.
What’ya want from me? I was reading a bunch of YA books as research for writing one of my own!
With your mouth (ideally) full of S’mores.