10 March 2020

Paperback Writer


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear,
And I need a job,
So I wanna be a paperback writer…
            — John Lennon / Paul McCartney


I always wanted to send a query to an editor and start it off with those words. Probably would have worked better a while back when more people would have recognized it than today. It still seems like a fun thing to do.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I am, however, writing about the Beatles.

Most people who know me for more than five minutes or more than just on the surface know how much I love the Beatles. I could run on and on here about just how much. But the main point is that, even though they’re music and I’m a writer, they had (have) a great influence on me.


The main thing they gave me (along with many other things) is a desire to be the best. I do play some music and if I had my druthers, if I could ever figure out what the hell a druther is, I would have wanted to be a rock star. Who wouldn’t? But as much of an ego as I might have—or had cause it’s shrinking all the time…—I knew I didn’t have the chops to make it in music. I had some fun. I played in some bands. See the home made, or should I say artisanal, card here from our first band. It might be artisanal, but I’m almost embarrassed to show it—very DIY. Anyway, I knew enough to know I couldn’t be a professional musician.


So I had to figure out something else to do with my life. Hmm? Astrophysicist. Architect. Archeologist. Anthropologist. Astronomer. Astrologer. You see whatever it was it had to start with an “A”.  Well, actually one of those might be something I considered. It might have had something to do with designing buildings. But I never really pursued it.

My parents, of course, always wanted me to have a “real job” and something to fall back on. But being the rebellious sort I went my own way. And that way took a left turn at Hollywood and Vine, especially since I was born the proverbial hop, skip and jump from there. So maybe it was fate that I wanted to try my hand at writing.

It wasn’t an easy row to hoe. And without going into specifics, it took lots of persistence, many rejections, some chutzpah (and if that isn’t a Hollywood word I don’t know what is). But eventually I carved a niche for myself doing rewriting. And the day I got into the (screen) Writers Guild was one of the best days of my life. However, my father never really understood what I did because I got no screen credit and without something tangible like that he didn’t quite get it.

From there I branched out to writing short stories and novels. And again started with many rejections and lots of persistence. Each rejection made me angry. After all, wasn’t I the greatest writer since Charles Dickens, or in our field, Hammett and Chandler? These people who kept rejecting me clearly had no taste. But after my little tantrums I would go back to the drawing board and either rework the rejected story or work on something new. I wanted them to be good. I wanted them to be good enough to sell.

And the Beatles, because I love them so much, and because they were so good and always pushing the envelope and trying new things, made me want to be better every time out…like them. I’m not putting myself in the same rarified air as them, just saying that they inspired me. Of course, they weren’t the only thing that lit the fire in the belly, but they were certainly part of it.

The time I made a producer cry after leaving him a treatment because it touched him so much was a highpoint for me—to get that kind of reaction meant I was doing something right.

There’s a bit in the movie As Good As It Gets, where Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt:

Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson): I've got a really great compliment for you, and it's true.

Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt): I'm so afraid you're about to say something awful.


Melvin: Don't be pessimistic, it's not your style. Okay. Here I go. Clearly a mistake.


(shifts in his seat uncomfortably)


Melvin: I've got this, what, ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills. Very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I'm using the word "hate" here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never... all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.

Carol: I don't quite get how that's a compliment for me.


Melvin: You make me want to be a better man.


(pause)

Carol: (stunned) That's maybe the best compliment of my life.

And just as she made the Nicholson character want to be a better man, the Beatles (and others) made/make me want to be a better writer. A better paperback writer.

I’m not saying I’m the greatest writer in the world, far from it. But listening to the Beatles, and reading great mystery and fiction writers made me strive to be the best that I could be. And when I’d get rejections I’d be upset, but it would also make me try harder with an “I’ll show you” attitude. I’m still not where I want to be, but I keep working on it. And what I am saying is shoot for the stars and maybe get the moon or even just a mountain top. Shoot for nothing and you get nothing. But while you’re shooting for the stars, hone your craft.


And I’m writing this not to talk about myself per se but to share my experiences for others who may be on the same path and might need a little encouragement. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

“There are all the essential elements for an engrossing read: good guys, bad guys, gangsters and crooked policemen, and through it all, an extremely well written sense of believable realism.”
            —Discovering Diamonds Reviews, Independent Reviews of the Best in Historical Fiction (https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/)



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

20 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

My career counselor had a short A-list of occupations as well. I'm certain she accidentally left the W off of 'whole'.

Creativity is in your blood, Paul, whether music, film, or the printed word.

Paul D. Marks said...

Well, believe me, Leigh, I wasn't very good at the music. But I did enjoy doing it. And I think I really just wanted an excuse to write about the Beatles ;-) .

As for your counselor, hmm...

O'Neil De Noux said...

Love the Beatles. I was a new teenager, thirteen years old, when "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was released and I was hooked. Other great bands followed but there was always The Beatles. I turned my kids into Beatles fans. I often listen to music when I write and go back to The Beatles again and again. Their creativity, the way they evolved, has always been inspiring.

Good post.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, O’Neil. Sounds like we have something common And like you say, there’s other great bands, but there’s always the Beatles. And glad to hear you made fans of your kids. I listen to the music a lot too, and am always amazed how creative they are and how they progressed over the years. As you also say, “inspiring.”

John Floyd said...

Great piece, Paul. Love the Beatles. I was about to email you and tell you about this, so I'll just do it here instead: watch the movie YESTERDAY. (Actually, watch it today, or tomorrow.) You'll love it!

Eve Fisher said...

Always loved the Beatles. "Blackbird" and "Dear Prudence" opened another world for me, in more ways than one. (BTW, I was a George fan.)
LOVE< LOVE< LOVE the quote from Conan O'Brien. You have to be willing to pay that price to move on.

rjpetyo said...

Great post. I'm a big Beatles fan also, though I never really thought about how they inspired my writing, but after reading your words, I can see it. Great artists of all kinds inspire others.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Yep, the Beatles are my era and I still love their music too. I also love your blog/essay. Keep on trucking!

Anonymous said...

Fun and I do love the Beatles. Jack Nicholson tho... If he said that compliment to his costar today, he'd get his face ripped off!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, John. Glad you enjoyed the piece and the Beatles, of course. I have seen Yesterday and enjoyed and who can imagine a world without the Beatles…

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks Eve. Yeah, I thought Conan O’Brien quote was great. We sort of forget the last part of what he said. And maybe some day you’ll us about how Blackbird and Dear Prudence opened other worlds for you. I’d love to hear about that.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Robert. I think you’re right, great artists of all kinds inspire others. And many people have inspired me, but there’s little I admire and love as much as the Beatles and know how much they’ve inspired me in so many ways.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. Glad you enjoyed it and some day we’ll have to chat up the Beatles.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Anonymous. One of the things I like about Nicholson’s performance in As Good As It Gets is how natural is it. He’s not doing a caricature of himself for a change. And that’s nice to see. Cause when he isn’t he’s terrific. As to your point, I can’t think of a better compliment to say to someone than that you’ve made me a better man or person. But you might be right about that ;-) .

William Burton McCormick said...

The Beatles are not only my favorite musical group, they are likely my favorite artists in any field. There are some other great ones, but not many who mean more to me than that. I knew you were a fan Paul, but it is very interesting to see how they've moved you to do it yourself in your own artistic endeavors.

On the lyrics to Paperback Writer maybe we should update them for the current generation as Blog Writer...Dear Sir or Madam, will you post my blog? Took me hours to write, it was quite a slog..."

On your SMFS post about this piece, you asked which other musical groups influenced our writing (or something like that). I'd say the Eagles' "Hotel California" as I was always amazed how creepily atmospheric that song was with just a few choice words. And Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and other story songs which paint pictures with minimal lyrics.

But you can't beat the Beatles. I felt I knew Eleanor Rigby somehow (or someone like her) just through a few verses.

Best, Bill

Kaye George said...

Yeah, the Beatles played music, but they were writers. They wrote the lyrics, and sang them so we can understand them. What I love about the Beatles is the apparently ease of their music and their lyrics, too. That isn't easy to achieve! I want that in my writing, too. You get very, very close Paul. A friend of mine who doesn't know you read a story of yours and asked me, "Who IS that? He sure can write!"

Paul D. Marks said...

Hey, Bill,

Thanks for your comment. And I would definitely have to agree with you that the Beatles are my favorite artists in any field. As you say, there are a lot of great ones. But none that resonate with me the way they do. You definitely do get to know Eleanor Rigby in just a few well-chosen words. And the tune is haunting, as well.

And love your updated lyrics to CyberBlog Writer!

I like the Eagles, too. And some of Lightfoot, though not as much. But I have a friend who is nuts about him, so I've definitely been exposed...which is better than being exposed to Corona Virus ;-) .

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Kaye. And I’m really pleased to hear what your friend said. I’m just not sure how exactly to respond. But it is definitely nice to hear. And thank you for your comment on that, too.

And the Beatles definitely had a way with both music and lyrics. Also their harmonies. Love those. I really just can’t get enough of them.

Lawrence Maddox said...

A cool read Paul! Unlike many of their peers, the Beatles seem to get better with age. How do we figure out the secret behind that? Anyway, rock on.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Larry. Some things, like good wine and the Beatles, do get better with age. How we can do that, if you can figure it out you'll be rich. But can you cut me in for 10%?