Frankie “The Gasket” Colletti

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Frankie “The Gasket” Colletti acquired his nickname by killing off hundreds of so-called “Rats” for the Gervasio crime family over the past thirty years. Sitting in the courtroom under the glaring lights the man didn’t move. Not even when his own lawyer smacked the podium next to him did he bat an eye. This guy was cold inside. Frigid. You could just tell. And his looks were deceiving. He resembled someone’s old, Italian grandfather. The kind that made marinara sauce from scratch and invited all his friends and family over for dinner. The kind that sat in rocking chairs and maybe enjoyed the occasional cigar. If you saw him on the street you wouldn’t think anything of him. You might even flip him the bird in traffic for driving too slow or cut in front of him at the grocery store. Then you might be found a day later with your throat cut and a receipt from Freddie’s Grocery tacked to your forehead, or a gear shift rammed down your throat.

He stared straight ahead as lawyers for both sides tossed evidence and insults at one another. Every once in awhile a small smile appeared on his lips. Usually it was during times when the prosecution showed gruesome images of the murders he had committed. And sometimes during witness testimony, his eyes glazed over as though he had left the courtroom mentally and returned to the scene of his bloody crimes.

And bloody they were.

Twelve men, all members of rival crime families, showed up butchered in twelve successive days. All were missing their eyeballs, tongues, and penises. According to the medical examiner, these body parts had been taken while their owners were still breathing. The tool used to remove these items was a rusty straight razor which now lie dormant in a small plastic baggie labeled “Evidence.”

A quick death would have shown too much mercy and Frankie “The Gasket” Colletti was not a merciful man. Only he knew the running total of how many men and women he had killed over the years…how many “leaks” he had stopped. Ending up in court was inevitable, but it had taken years to bring down the man in the dark suit at the front of the room. The man who oozed indifference as photo after photo of mutilated bodies clicked by on the screen at the front of the courtroom. The man who smirked a little when a victim’s family member cried out in court. The man who only glanced at the jury once, but had conveyed such a message as to insure a mistrial. This was a man whose sole purpose was to kill and he was more than confident he would be doing it again soon.

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Idea Generation

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Idea generation is an interesting topic. Obviously, different people get their ideas different ways. Personally, my ideas seem to come at me when I am in the process of doing something rather mundane, like driving or taking a shower. Unfortunately, neither of those occupations is conducive to writing down my ideas.

Years ago, because I found many of my ideas were springing forth on my drive to and from work, I purchased a small tape recorder to capture any inspired phrases or plot lines that zoomed into my head. This worked pretty well. I confess to a couple of impromptu renditions of old 80’s tunes working their way onto the tapes, but overall the device helped me during those times when ideas where popping up in the car. Most of these ideas came to me as a single sentence…almost like a log line for a story. I find that a single sentence can often lead to an entire story idea. Many a time, prior to using the recorder, I would drive eight or nine miles saying the same line over and over in my head until I got to where I could write it down without wrecking the car.

As far as where these ideas come from, it varies. Sometimes I will see something while I am driving that conjures up an idea. Often items that fall out of the backs of trucks will get my mind working or even a garbage bag left in the middle of the road. I wonder what is in the bag and then my mind will start on a story. Wondering about things will usually always lead me to some kind of story idea. Unfortunately, over the years, I have abandoned many of those ideas and left them unexplored.

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Cathartic Writing: Where to Turn for Advice on How to Turn Your Personal Demons into Story Gold

Writing comes from a very personal place and many writers agree that the process is an isolated one. Tapping into our own experiences when composing stories can, at times, take us to some pretty dark places. Cathartic writing is a way to unleash pent up emotions while at the same time creating potential ideas for characters and stories, but how much of ourselves should we put into our writing? Is creating a character much like ourselves a good idea when writing a novel, or does it just lead to awkwardness and self-aggrandizement? Can we remain objective and develop a plot successfully if we are personally connected to the events?

Personally, I think all writers should put a little of themselves into their stories. In fact, I’m not sure there is any way around having some of ourselves enter into our writing. Writers have often heard the old advice: “Write what you know.” Cathartic writing, such as journaling or blogging, can often lead to some great ideas, but sometimes those ideas can get lost in the shuffle. Maybe they don’t come across as well as we would like because we are too close to the subject matter to be truly objective. Can exorcising our personal demons morph into a great story, or will it just come off sounding like an overly-exposed therapy session? Who can we turn to for advice on this subject?

My answer: Stephen King. Stephen King is one of those writers who explores his dark side resulting in some fantastic storytelling. I highly recommend his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This book contains a lot of stories about his life and how those life experiences have shaped his writing. He is a man who successfully uses writing to overcome some of the personal demons with which he struggles. This book is a great guide for those writers considering using their cathartic writing to generate their own stories.

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Writers Write!

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

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The poem below is inspired by the day to day minutia experienced by writers that have every great intention of writing but things gets in the way. Fortunately, I was able to stop myself this week to get this poem finally out of my head. Let me know how you are moving along with your writing projects.

“Writer’s Write,” the book publisher said,
As she completed an inspiring address.
Living those two words in day to day chaos
Is not easy and often a mess.

Writers Write.
That means pen to paper, fingers to keys
So why is the story still in my head?
My thoughts run into roadblocks
Wrapped in fears I’d like to unwed.

Writers Write!
Giving myself a little credit
I have a full time job.
And two if parenting counts,
Picking up the pen to write after a full day’s work
Is more often than not a difficult thought.

Writers Write!
And wrestle too with so many things.
Should this character be this way or that?
Should the ending result in love or a spat?
And don’t start writing anything until all is exact.

Writers Write!
Move beyond the blocks.
Many we create on our own.
Imperfect characters do have merit.
Let go of your fears and move on.

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Armchair Editing: The Curse of the Amateur

There’s an old saying about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing and another one about ignorance being bliss.  In the case of storytelling that can lead to a weird limbo of discrimination and discernment.  As your own skill of the craft grows you undoubtedly find yourself appreciating good storytelling more and you’ll have a growing vocabulary to express that appreciation.  You’ll likely also have less and less patience for bad writing or, even worse, lazy writing.  These are probably good things.  The limbo part comes when something isn’t necessarily bad…it’s just not good.  Then your new skills and vocabulary may move you to pretentiously play editor-after-the-fact.  Of course just because your opinion is amateur doesn’t mean it’s invalid.  Opinions on, say…

Stephen King’s Cell was a great short story.  Or it would have been if it wasn’t a few hundred pages long.  It was a good story idea–every single cell phone sends a signal (which comes to be known as the Pulse) at the same time.  That signal turns people into murder machines.  Everybody loves a good technophobic horror story and this made for King’s entry in the Zombie genre (spoiler: they’re fast zombies).  The signal happens in the first few pages and the rest is our hero trying to make it home to Maine from Boston to see what’s become of his young son.  There are eventually explanations floated about what the Pulse really is and where it came from but they struck me as sort of weak.  Clay, the hero finds his son after some close calls and heroics.  The boy is infected but there’s a chance he can be ‘cured’ by reexposure to the now ‘mutated’ Pulse.  Again, not bad, but…unsatisfying.  

At novel length not enough of the causes of the apocolypse were developed (like in The Stand) and the fact that he was trying to get home to his son got a little lost in the adventures of humanity against phone-freak.  Alternatively the whole thing could have been trimmed radically to a shorter work.  Maybe not a true short story but perhaps novella length like The Mist.  It would have meant big cuts but the narrative would have been a lot tighter (‘tight’ will be a common word in your new writer’s vocabulary).

This will tend to be more noticeable in movies with their more rigid screenplay structure.  If a filmmaker is gonna go long on a first act he better be giving us something worth watching.  You will also find yourself less willing to cut a guy slack for leaving in scenes that don’t need to be there.  Boondock Saints was a new take on the vigilante story with engaging dialog, interesting characters, and a tight (there’s that tight again) narrative pace depsite the audience experiencing much of the movie after it’s happened (if you haven’t seen it just trust me, it’s a sort of flashback structure).  Of course with a first time filmmaker and limited distribution it took DVD to make it a hit and a cult film. 

Boondock Saints 2:  All Saint’s Day was…less successful.  I knew it wouldn’t have quite the same punch as the first one, you can’t write a cult classic on purpose after all; but in this one I never really bought the brothers’ motives.  It was supposed to be revenge/justice and clearing their names but after a few menacing glares their steely resolve gets lost in the comic stylings of the new Mexican Saint, Romeo.  It reappears jarringly when they threaten to give a wiseguy 9mm stigmata.  Then redisappears just as quickly.  Then their father, Il Duce shows up and has a showdown because the whole thing was really about him. 

If it sounds muddled, it was.  But even before the movie was over I knew it didn’t have to be muddled.  It just needed editing and some of that would have been the classic darling murders.  There’s a dream scene where Rocco (who died in the first movie) comes back and has a shot with the boys.  He says he was proud to stand with them and then they go on a long rant about what makes a man.  What men do and what they don’t do.  It moves over the whole city from high rise rooftop to artfully lit warehouse.  It doesn’t belong there and a good editor would have cut the scene right after they drink their whiskey.  Four minutes saved and much more dramatic punch. 

Oh, well.  It’s unavoidable so you might as well learn from it.  These points make for good discussions with other writer’s and ‘what if’ sessions.  How would you do it differently,  what would you keep, etc.  You might want to keep it between writer’s though.  Normal people will tend to think you’re a pretentious prick and may even resent you pointing out holes in stuff they used to enjoy.  They might even be right.    

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