For our first posts, we’re supposed to introduce ourselves. So here goes nothing.
My name is Chad and I write stuff. As of this very moment in time, I have written one (produced) feature film and one (self-) published novel. That would qualify me as a writer, for sure, but, at my age, not an especially successful or prolific one. (Although, to be fair, I only decided to try writing novels last year.)
Do I wish I had more movies under my belt? I believe that I will, even if it takes a while longer. And I know there will be more novels coming, because that’s 100% up to me, not producers and executives and financiers.
So has everything gone the way I’ve wanted in my writing career? Not even close. So many rejections, disappointments. So much time wasted on my part, waiting for something to happen as opposed to making it happen, hoping my talent could take care of things while ignoring the hard work it really takes. A ton of close calls. Films that almost had the money, then didn’t. Pitch meetings at major cable networks that went well, but not well enough. A movie that went to several film festivals, but not the right film festivals to get any kind of traction.
I’ve beat my head against the wall. I’ve cried. I’ve distracted myself with things like video games and politics and alcohol. I’ve fallen into several all-encompassing, crippling depressions, each of which threatened to cost me everything.
I’ve also quit. Flat-out quit. “Fuck this. I’m done. Kaput. Blowing this popsicle stand. This is a fool’s errand and I am not a fool.”
And then I would get up the next morning and continue on my errand.
Like a fool.
Because I had to.
Third grade. (MUMBLE) years ago.
I missed a day of school. Sick. The first time I remember that happening. Don’t know what it was. Sore throat. 24 hour bug. Whatever. I missed a day of school.
I remember the odd feeling of coming back the next day and realizing the harsh truth that my teacher and classmates had had the nerve, the nerve, to go about the school day while I was gone. I know, right? They had gone to recess, done math problems, eaten sloppy joes, ALL WITHOUT ME!!!
Everyone has this feeling, right? This bizarre moment where you realize that life goes on without you? Just like before you were born. Just like after you die. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or how much money you make or how many children you sire, wars you wage, diseases you cure, or eternally beloved works of art you create, people will still play kickball when you’re gone.
Everyone, right? Or was this just an early warning sign of my adult onset egomania?
One thing that I should have been glad to miss while home sick was homework. But not that day. Because one of the assignments, I found out, was this:
Write a story about a monster coming to the classroom.
“But don’t worry about it, Chad,” my teacher, Mrs. Harrison, said. “It was just for fun. No one’s being graded on it. You can just sit and listen as I read all of the other kids’ stories.”
Mrs. Harrison then proceeded to read through my fellow students’ tales. I cannot testify as to the quality of their prose (although I’m sure it was lacking) because it was (MUMBLE) years ago, yes, but also because I wasn’t listening.
I was too busy furiously scribbling my own story, trying to get it done before the teacher finished reading the others.
Because I had to.
When Mrs. Harrison put down the last (I’m assuming) terrible attempt at fiction, I raised my hand, nearly pulling it out of the socket, two pieces of wide-ruled paper in my hand.
Instead of being angry at me for not listening to the other stories, she took mine and read it.
I won’t claim to recall the details of it. But I do know it involved some sort of bipedal beast that breathed fire and that he burned a hole in the ceiling of our classroom, through which fell the desk and body of the fifth grade teacher right above us, a woman who would, in two years, become my mortal enemy. That’s all I remember. Hole in ceiling. Teacher crashing down. I’m sure there was other stuff in there, too.
All I know is that it killed.
It got laughs. Genuine laughs. I had used names of other kids in the class. Killed my teacher, the teacher above, and the principal, I think, who came in to save us. It went over so well that my teacher had the fifth grade class above us, the one I had partially destroyed in my story, come down to our room so she could read the story to them.
And, that day, at an age far too young to decide on a career path, I did just that. I had never written for fun before but now I knew I would be doing it for the rest of my life.
Because I had to.
Throughout school, I kept writing. Proxy isn’t actually my first book. In elementary school, on another ‘writing for fun’ assignment, I got out my mom’s typewriter and wrote ten chapters (one page per chapter…barely), drew a cover (poorly), stapled it all together, and handed it to my teacher to read. It was about an alien invasion, I think.
But it is lost to the ages, like Sulla’s memoirs, Love’s Labour’s Won, Hemmingway’s suitcase, and Orson Welles’s cut of The Magnificent Ambersons.
I think it was called “Zap!”.
Through high school I wrote fantasy short stories, bad poetry (including a Gilgamesh by way of Poe epic), and even some Star Wars fan fiction before I knew there was such a thing as fan fiction. Some of that I still have and no one will ever read it.
In college I decided I wanted to write movies. So my attention shifted away from prose to screenwriting, although I did take some creative writing classes. But mostly I was trying to master (like anyone actually does that) the art of writing for the movies.
Then I moved to L.A.
I did all of this, never looking back, never getting a ‘fall-back’ degree, never considering failure to be an option, because, well…
Because I had to.
And why do I ‘have to’?
Because my mind is a chaotic slurry of words and ideas and philosophies and characters and voices and chemical imbalances and insecurities and useful knowledge and even more useless knowledge and writing is the only way to keep it at all under control. The only way to keep me sane. I can’t sleep at night if I don’t feel like I expelled enough words that day. The depressions I mentioned before? Guess what I wasn’t doing when those happened. Sometimes I’m not super-pleasant to be around when I’m writing, like most writers, but you should see me when I’m not. When I’m not writing I don’t feel whole and my brain, the loud, non-stop, schizophrenic motherfucker that he is, takes over. And that’s never pretty.
I write because I want to tell stories. To communicate with others. To say things. To make people laugh. To make them cry. And think. To reach for some sort of renown and success. To try to live forever.
Mostly, though, I have to write so that I can sleep at night.
So here I am, introducing myself to you on this new website, this new project I have embarked upon with some friends I have known for over 20 years, some of the only people who have read those high school stories that shall remain locked in the vault that is my hard drive. And every week I’ll be writing a blog post. Some will be short, some long. Some will be interesting, some maybe not so much. Some will be about writing. Some will be about sports, cinema, or television. I have many Hollywood stories, some of which I may share. I’ll be recommending double-bills of films that you may not have heard of, or at least have never seen the connection between. And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure.
I will not be writing about politics or religion. I may do that on my own blog, at some point, or on Twitter, but we’ve decided to avoid that here at Téssera. Which is a good call.
Next week I’ll talk about something, although I’m not sure what. Quite possibly an old man’s rant about the state of Hollywood. I’ll also hopefully be putting up some short stories, screenplays, and other goodies in the weeks and months and years to come.
My relationship with writing has evolved over the years. Vince Gilligan, genius creator of the dearly departed “Breaking Bad”, has often said, when asked if he enjoys writing, “No, but I enjoy having written.” I get that. I really do. Most of the time writing feels like work, because it is. But there are moments in it, when magic strikes, when you hit a zone and hours have passed and thousands of words have been belched out and you don’t even remember typing half of them, when it is still a lot of fun.
I still love it. I just love it in a different way these days. And I’m okay with that.
So in between raising my daughter, taking care of my dogs, maintaining my relationships with my friends and family, tearing my hair out over the Cincinnati Reds, trying to stay healthy, buying records, watching movies, reading history, and everything else that makes up my life, I will also be writing. Novels. Screenplays. Stories. Comics. Blog posts.
Writing. One way or another. For the rest of my life.
Well, you know.
Chad J. Shonk
PS – I’m also a stubborn, opinionated, and sometimes pretentious prick when it comes to film and writing and art in general. That will be apparent with next week’s blog post. I would apologize in advance, but I stand by every word, so… No apologies.