I’ve always thought the best plan for writing or making a film is to first decide where you’re trying to get to, then strike out for it in the most direct way. That’s the ticket to success. Of course, you need a hook to get people interested. A hook is kind of like an invitation…”Hey, want to come on a walk with me? I’m heading for John Carter of Mars and it’s going to be fun.” Don’t waste a lot of time on exposition and backstory (deciding what to bring and packing it nice and neat) but just get out there and see what happens along the way. It’s a beautiful morning and we’re together and what the heck!
(Careful readers may notice this is not actually the best plan for getting to your destination in the most direct way. Shouldn’t that pig have a GPS unit and compass and maybe a map?)
Truth is, I often don’t much care where we’re going. We’re just out for a walk. Maybe the beach. Maybe the top of the hill. Maybe John Carter of Mars. What I know about John Carter can fit into a thimble with plenty of room left over for extra trail mix in case we get hungry. I don’t see why that should detain us a minute. We’ll find out together as we go along, right? Unless we get sidetracked! (Put in scary music stab here)
So off we go. We’re having a good laugh about silly science fantasy figures of long ago when suddenly there’s a snake pit, and I fall into it!
“Help, Help! I fell in a snake pit! There’s squirmy things down here! I hate this! Yow! Get me out!” So then you have to run a find a ladder and get me out before I have a conniption fit.
Phew! That was close! Fortunately for me, they turned out to be garter snakes.
So we’re walking along again and I happen to mention the first time I ever heard of John Carter of Mars. I was about eleven years old and there was a new Dell comic book for sale at Wincott’s Fountain, the kids’ local hangout and supply center. Dell made the best comics so I bought it and it was this great story about a guy who gets teleported to…YOW! Suddenly we’re both not on Mars but on Balboa Street in 1953 San Francisco and here comes the ‘B’ line streetcar racketing and ricketing down the street outside Wincott’s Fountain and – hey, there’s my brother Gary getting off the streetcar in his blue Air Force uniform and he’s coming home on leave and – wow, he looks so cool, I want to be a soldier when I grow up and the air is as crisp and bright as it can only get at 45th and Balboa on a sunny afternoon in September when you’re a kid and I got a Rocky Road candy bar, chocolate with marshmellow and nuts inside its crinkly red metallic wrapper, and you got an Abba Zabba, dusty nougat with peanut butter inside in a wrapper that looks like a big yellowjacket and we’re going to go climb the ladder and sit on the platform of the big signboard in the vacant lot and eat candy and read comic books and talk about what happened on the Jackie Gleason Show last night and…you’re starting to think “Why did I ever go on a walk with this zany pig?”
Back on the path, we pass some interesting little trails going off into the brush. One says, “Edgar Rice Burroughs and Willa Cather – both nearly the same age. Both lived through the same times and both were passionate about writing – what would they have talked about?”
Then a little further here’s a path that leads to “Is it possible to write a serious modern novel, a work of literature, about a bold, brave hero who must save a beautiful maiden from a wicked villain?” That path looks pretty good. I bet there’s view out there. Then, even crazier, we both suddenly think “would it be possible for such a story to be lived out in reality in our time?”
When we finally get up to the hilltop, there’s that incredible view – our time, our century, our world, that little kid down in the village crying. And no matter how beautiful it is you keep hearing the sound of her crying. And it’s distracting so you start talkng about that. Why does that kid have to cry anyway? Isn’t there something we could do? What if she’s all alone and deserted and there’s tigers? Maybe we should go back down and see…”
And that’s the end of our walk because now we’re on the run. What if it’s too late? I hope not. Let’s go faster!