Clowns, Aimless Babble and Snot-Slinging Drunk by Mike McCrary

Mike McCrary
I’m quite pleased to welcome Mike McCrary back to the blog today. Mike is a screenwriter who has recently begun the foray into writing crime fiction, and his work has already appeared places like Out of the Gutter, The Big Adios, and Shotgun Honey. It’s been my pleasure to work with Mike on a couple of manuscripts, and while he’s waiting to hear back on one novel he has on submission, he’s decided to go ahead and turn his novella, Getting Ugly, loose into the wild.

Which is rather fitting, as Getting Ugly is a pretty wild ride. Mike would be the first to tell you there’s no über-complicated, Inceptionesque plot at work in Getting Ugly, just a lot of badass people going to work, all trying to get the man known as Big Ugly. Easier said than done, as you don’t get the moniker “Big Ugly” because you have a charming personality. So, give a read to Mike’s thoughts on that old chestnut of writing advice, write what you know, then consider if today might warrant a little Getting Ugly.

Mike McCraryClowns, Aimless Babble and Snot-Slinging Drunk

“Write what you know.”

I remember hearing this horrific advice years ago. If you were raised by wolves, kicked a smack habit at age seven, roamed the globe as a circus clown, then graduated Yale before serving as a SEAL, then yes, absolutely, write what you know. If you’re like a lot of us, raised in a lower to upper middle class home, stumbled through life before ending up in a shitty job?

Do. Not. Write. What. You. Know.

What you know is what everybody else knows, and it’s not interesting. Nothing personal, I’m in the same boat, but it’s true. Have you ever been trapped somewhere and some dude felt the need to babble aimlessly about his lawn? You smile and nod, maybe sprinkle around a few words like “Really?” or “I didn’t know that” while inside your skull you’re pleading for the end of all things. That guy? He’s telling the story of what he knows.

Now if you take what you know and you inject a healthy dose of interesting then maybe you’ve got something. Perhaps an unhealthy dose. Hell, drown that bullshit you know in some flat-out fucking fascinating sauce and stand back. Something cool will come out of it. Or it won’t, but I promise it’s a more interesting story than what it was.

It’s not to say that everybody doesn’t have some great stories from high school, their 20’s, their friends, family, that time they got snot-slinging drunk in Chicago, that time with that girl and that thing with that pissed off boyfriend and the half-nude chase that ensued down Las Vegas Blvd…you get it.

Take those stories, boil them down to the good parts and fill in the gaps with made up crap that will make them better, more fun, more meaningful, more interesting. We do it all the time. Have you ever told someone a story that didn’t happen exactly the way it really happened?

Be honest.

Did you really say that to that person that pissed you off, or are you reliving the moment the way you wish it happened? Well, writing lets you relive a lot of life the way you wish you could have. It allows you to create a world where the best and worst of you can live, breathe, multiply and come crashing down in a fireball on top of poor unsuspecting villagers’ heads.

When you write, you get asked a lot about where you get your ideas. Short answer is “I don’t know.” Most of the time it’s flashes of scenes I imagine while driving to the store to get toilet paper or (as cliché as it sounds) while in the shower or whatever. I view my creative process as collecting, mixing and hoping.

I collect all the things I’ve lived, seen and heard about. The stories from my life, the stories from friends and family, movies, books or bits of things from half of a magazine article I read in a waiting room or whatever I saw on the web yesterday. I take all those bits and pieces dump them in a blender, slop in a bucket of my own twisted pretzel brain and push the red button. Then I hope what comes out is worth someone’s time and hard earned dollars.

Getting Ugly by Mike McCraryI think a lot folk get paralyzed by the idea of writing something that’s not great or not perfect. I get it, I do, nobody wants to suck horribly. I also get (and know for a fact) that I will never pen the greatest novel or movie ever written. I just won’t, and I’ll let you off the hook…you probably won’t either. Not to say you shouldn’t try to do your best work, but don’t let the idea that you need to write the piss out of Hemingway be some kind of mental anchor.

Also keep in mind…its 2013, people.

Think of all the books, movies, TV shows, Internet shit and all the other stories that have been pushed out into society over the last 50 plus years. Coming up with something that isn’t a direct copy of any of that stuff is hard enough, but trying to write something that is better than all of that…good luck. Not to mention, if you asked 100 people what’s the best, you’ll probably get 108 different answers. So, please, take it easy on yourself and just try to write something that you don’t hate. Start there. If you don’t like what you’re writing, or at least find it interesting, then it’s over before it started.

I’ve never done 99.9% of what I’ve written about. If I did I’d be dead, in prison or locked up in an earth toned room drooling from the medication and the beatings. And if I only wrote about what I know you’d hang yourself before ever allowing your eyes to glance at something with Mike McCrary on the cover.

So I’ll make you a deal. I won’t write about sitting on a coach watching the fifth round of the NFL draft if you won’t write about what it was like when that VP from Regional Operations threw you under the bus and sent a disrespectful email that made you so mad that you typed a reply email in red font and explanation points but deleted it before you sent it because you’re better than that.

Deal?

Sweet.

Mike McCrary is a screenwriter and author. His short fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey and The Big Adios. Mike barely earned an Economics degree, somehow got an MBA, and has been a waiter, securities trader, dishwasher, investment manager, and an unpaid Hollywood intern. He’s quit corporate America, come back, been fired, been promoted, been fired, and currently writes stories about questionable people who make questionable decisions. He lives in Texas. His first novel, Getting Ugly, is out now. You can catch up with Mike on Twitter.
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6 Comments

  • Mike Monson

    March 27, 2013 - 12:15 pm

    I’ve never really understood what “write what you know” means in practical terms. However, there is a related piece of advice that really works for me which is something like: “write what fascinates you” or “write what you dream about.”
    And this makes sense to me.
    I am fascinated by criminals, by crime, by all the horrible things people do and say to each other, by betrayal and hypocrisy and lies. I’m fascinated by all the little underbellies of society that never get seen or talked about but are always there, just below the surface. I’m fascinated by sex and lust and perversion and all the silly things humans do to satisfy their various desires. I’m constantly fascinated by just thinking up whatever is the WORSE possible thing that can happen when a person has bad selfish intentions.
    I’m fascinated by the odd times when people really are good and do heroic things when it is least expected.
    Stuff like that.
    So that is what I write about.

    I read the wonderful Getting Ugly and I have a pretty good idea now of some of the things that fascinates Mr. McCrary.

    • Mike McCrary

      March 27, 2013 - 12:35 pm

      Well said Mr. Monson. Well said…

      • Mike Monson

        March 27, 2013 - 12:41 pm

        Don’t you think the person who writes those Harry Potter books was/is fascinated by magic and children and education of all that kind of stuff in the book? (I’ve never read them but I guess I have a general idea) and that has to be one of the main reasons the books work so well. She is excited by the subject matter and the resultant narrative drama from same.

        I think James Lee Burke is VERY interested in southern Louisiana culture (and west Texas and Montana too) and criminals and violence and wayward policemen and sociopaths and fear and Martin guitars and roots music and children and orphans and Jesus and faith and loss of faith and active drunks and recovering drunks, etc.

        • Mike McCrary

          March 27, 2013 - 1:23 pm

          I think so. It has to. Writing is to damn hard not to want to explore something. I think it’s what gets you to the finish line and keeps you wanting to go further. Like I said, if you don’t like what your writing or you’re at least interested in the subject or the characters…it’s all over. If you’re writing just because you think “Ahhhh this will sell” it’s going to show in the writing. Not to say the buying public shouldn’t come into consideration, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration.

          But what the hell do I know?

  • sabrina ogden

    March 27, 2013 - 11:32 am

    What a great guest post. I think people should just write what they want to write. Looking forward to reading GETTING UGLY.

    • Mike McCrary

      March 27, 2013 - 11:47 am

      Thanks so much Sabrina. Hope you dig it.

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