Dear friends and family,
It’s the 25th! Here’s the next excerpt from upcoming Moojie Littleman Trilogy, Book 2: The Boy Who Killed Time. You will notice, the sections are not linked directly to each other, they are independent snippets that give the flavor of the book. They have not been professionally edited yet, so please forgive any typos. I look forward to hearing what you think!
In which is recounted Moojie’s disenchantment and
further indictments that drive the valiant wonder worker to undertake an impossible journey
Night was falling when Moojie and Abu rode through the gate of St. Isidore’s Fainting Goat Dairy, three miles inland in the Valley of Sorrows. They were greeted enthusiastically by Millie Mae, the dairy dog, and goats fainted to both sides, a sea of falling beards. There was an unfamiliar motorcar and a buggy parked in the yard. The cabin curtains were drawn. Despite his crisis of hunger, Abu raised a wary hand to signal for Moojie to wait while he scoped out the scene inside. He threw open the door, and took one sniff of the steamy air laden with fried onions, turkey fat, and wood smoke, and swooned.
Henry, Moojie’s bespectacled father, looked up from minding the turkey, and said, “You’re late!” His eyes, the size of robin’s eggs behind thick-lensed eyeglasses, were pink-ringed from lack of sleep, and dotted with untreated cataracts, which had precluded his mapping days. He refused to have medical treatment. He didn’t want anybody poking around his eyeballs. He rejected Moojie’s offers to heal him with inflexible determination, the reason for which he never explained. Five and a half years ago, Henry returned from his last disastrous expedition, which had been more of a diversion to avoid home life without his deceased wife, Kate, than it was a job. With a twinge of conscience, he had left Moojie with his grandfather and sailed to a remote island in the Lesser Antilles for Monk Magoon’s “import business.” At the time, he had no idea the doomed trip was meant to establish an outpost for smuggling heroin from South to North America in fruit juice cans. After weeks at sea, the ship, Sheherazade, was driven ashore in a hurricane and wrecked on the coast of Little Tobago, becoming a total loss. He, and the rest of the crew, survived by swimming ashore, only to be met by pirates. At gunpoint, they conscripted Henry to draft a letter to his bankroller to extract a ransom of thousands of Trinidadian dollars, which roughly equalled thirty-two hundred American dollars. Monk contacted an associate in Trinidad, who delivered the ransom, and Henry and the others were set adrift in a tiny fishing boat. With one oar, they were able to paddle to the main island of Tobago, where Henry enlisted to play piano on a steamship line in exchange for the fare back to America. He still owed Monk the ransom money, plus fifty-percent interest. By then, Henry’s heart had iced over concerning Moojie. After all, his adopted son had been one grand disappointment after another, and was the reason his beloved Kate ran into the path of a runaway horse carriage. Once Henry was back from the sea, he kept a low profile in San Miguel, living off piddling savings and barter, pacing his backyard in pajamas—until the pandemonium. Had it not been for Moojie, Henry, who had succumbed to a chronic state of melancholy, would have been dragged out to sea with the tidal wave following the 1906 earthquake.
“Sorry, Papa,” Moojie said, coming into the cabin behind Abu. “Say, did you see that poster in town?”
Auntie Tilda interrupted. She shoved Abu aside and presented her cheek to Moojie for a kiss. An assortment of guests emerged from candle-cast shadows to greet Moojie and refill their glasses with mulled wine. Among them, Duncan McTavish, a neighboring rancher and Scottish immigrant who had served as a Civil War field medic. He had the face of a pickled tomato, red and withered. Having noted Abu’s defensive stance, McTavish offered a mixed metaphor as a parody: “I am watching you like you are a hawk.” Red-haired Tilda laughed wickedly, taking pleasure in any opportunity to put the cheeky ranch hand in his place. Having outgrown the need to dress like an African matriarch—a progressive statement in favor of Negro freedom—she had given up the colorful bubu gowns of her earlier years in favor of woolen skirts. However, she still wore flamboyant scarves, designed and made to order after foreign flags.
“I’ve got an important announcement to make!” Henry chirped.
“Oh no,” said McTavish, Henry’s good friend. He lit a hand-rolled smoke and spit out a bit of tobacco.
“The Spirit will descend like a dove from heaven, and the multitudes will see the Chosen One of God!” Henry said, pointing the carving knife upward.
“Not yet, not yet!” McTavish said. “Let the boy settle in first.”
Monk Magoon and his driver, a giant called the Barber who looked like a dressed up ape, approached Henry. “This better be good. I want my money and I want it yesterday. I’ve got plans.” He had once been the charismatic leader of the Gang of Five, a high-rolling pimp, heroin dealer, and mercenary for the Tammany politicians. After serving a prison term for cutting out a rival’s tongue and sending it to his wife, he had set up his own wife and children in a little house in San Miguel de las Gaviotas, and bought the general store. Despite an air of sophistication, he preferred riding a bicycle, while his socialite wife, Lila, insisted on a driver and horseless carriage. “I’m gonna build a city that works,” Monk said, “like New York. I’m gonna be the next mayor and I’m gonna make San Miguel great. Casinos, show halls, hotels. It’ll be a watering hole for dignitaries. The people of San Miguel may be stupid, but they’re not fools.”
“Yea, all that,” the Barber said.
“Wait till you hear what I have planned,” Henry said. “I’ll have your money and sweeten the deal to boot.” To appease Monk, Henry had been shaving off the middling profits from Monday’s healing meetings to make payments to this dandy with criminal connections, who had bankrolled his mapping expedition. But Henry still owed two-thirds of the hefty sum that had inflated with fifty percent interest. It was only because Monk had taken a liking to Henry’s homing pigeons, that it hadn’t gotten ugly. One nice thing leading to another, St. Isidore’s—deeded by Pappy, Captain Sean Finnegan, to Moojie, and run by Henry and Tilda—was barely able to pay the bills, much less old debts.
Squirming with anticipation, Auntie Tilda gestured toward Ginny Magoon, across the room with her brother, Patrick, and mother, Lila. “Moojie, look who’s here!” Ginny, her parents, and the Barber were dressed to the nines in the latest fashions. They looked like an advertisement in Harpar’s Bazar magazine. “Go on, talk to her,” the Irish auntie chirped. A spinster, she often bewailed the tragedy of her dying a “petrified barnacle” without grandchildren. If only Moojie would marry and get on with sprouting a new family tree! “Your entire life, all you wanted was a family, and now that you can have your own, what do you want? To hold out for a Martian in outer space!” She leans closer. “Sometimes love is an apple. ’Tis too big to fit in your mouth all at once…you were a stubborn, undisciplined child. You never did what was expected of you. Marry Ginny, dear. ’Tis time to settle down with someone of the same species, for the love of St. Peter!”**
I’m going to share random excerpts from my next book on the 25th of each month. Please feel free to comment, I learn from you! Book 2 is a continuation of Moojie’s life, but I want it to stand alone, as well. Boy, am I having fun with this! The following section introduces eighteen year-old, able-bodied Moojie, and his sidekick Abu, ranch hand and former grocer with uncertain origins…
Continuing the trials and amusements of the valiant Moojie
Littleman, with dubious input from his loyal companion, Abu,
and other incidents worthy to be recorded by
the most able historian
The world has ended many times. Ask Moojie Littleman. Four years after the disaster of the century, he was riding his aging horse, Ulysses, over sand-covered ruins. It had occurred on the 18th day of April, one thousand, nine hundred and six years following the birth of Christ. He took into account Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the blood-splattered Mayan pyramids, and the fertile Cradle of Civilization—cultures wiped out, scrubbed, reduced to ash. Maybe he survived the pandemonium for a reason. He liked to think so. After all, he had the word of a priestess who left the Earth in a swirl of light the world had never seen.
Moojie was sick with dread over an object he had lost the day before. In the old days, such a coin wasn’t worth a red cent. Romans tossed them to beggars like breadcrumbs. But he valued it as much as his own life. He felt resentment, forced as he was to minister every Monday, rain or shine, happy or sad, sweet or sour. Marvel at his healing wonders and the demands of his practice. Ask him where it all got started, and he was known to show you this antediluvian medallion stamped with a ghostly male figure sporting a nimbus.
In the distance, motorcars and buggies shared the road, marking the divide between yesterday and tomorrow. Yesterday, San Miguel de las Gaviotas had been a beachfront fishing village of shacks built from shipwreck timbers that had washed to shore. An astronomical clock had towered over corrugated tins roofs and terracotta tiles, rippled and mottled as Stone Age artifacts. Tomorrow rang in the changing times: a town hall with a telephone, a bakery, Nickelodeon, and market, a general store specializing in livestock feed and fireworks, a cedar jailhouse with shingled rooftop. Clinging to superstition the way zealots cling to scripture, the villagers of San Miguel believed the 1906 pandemonium was the fiercest act of occult-retribution since the Indian Removal Act. They believed Native ghosts had wreaked havoc from Purgatory in an effort to even the score. Of the survivors—some say the greatest survivor of all time—Moojie Littleman never believed a word of it.
It was like any other day in November—wan and misty. In the winter, the sun never fully appeared, and the flat light made time stand still. Fog curled in on an easterly breeze, and the sun occluded San Miguel de las Gaviotas like a yellow cataract. Villagers were so isolated from the world that they got the latest news from newsreels at the Nickelodeon and old newspapers left on the train. And yet, every week modern life threatened to disrupt the troposphere of superstition. First it had been the horseless carriage, then the gyrocompass, then instant coffee. Never mind the scientific marvels, astronomical wonders, and wars of which the villagers never heard.
On this solemn winter’s day, Mrs. Latchkey, an aproned matron who possessed the long stringy limbs of an insect with a monumental thorax, was causing quite a stir outside her bakery. A crowd gathered as she tacked up a poster, and exclaimed, “He’s not a doctor, I assure you, not a priest. He’s a holy man!”
The tide was low. Four years prior, the pandemonium, which started as an earthquake and ended with a tidal wave, had devoured the former village. The residual rubble, beetle-bored timbers and a stairway leading nowhere, had the look of spit-out bones. Above the beach on a southern cliff stood the rustic chapel where Moojie had been abandoned as a baby. Sand, waves, the ghostly fog, and his horse’s plodding steps were all the company he could bear. Some wonderworker. He didn’t even know how to cure the ache in his own heart.
He pushed on, stubborn, hopeful, willing to do whatever it took.
Riding along the beach, he tied his shirt around his head like a sultan’s headscarf. His torso was sun-bronzed, his arms—the left, once intractable—well-hewn by ranch work. His abdomen was sunken, as if hungry with youth. He was listing to one side of the horse, eyes fixed on the ground. He simply had to find the medallion, his only link to Babylonia, the star child of his universe.
Moojie was a kind of cowboy-Romeo who contended with rivaling natures rather than feuding families. Human on one side, Light-Eater on the other, he was both mortal and immortal, a halfkin. It would seem to stem from the word half-breed, which meant offspring of parents of different racial origins. The similarity between halfkin and half-breed supposed that people could be identified accurately through racial lineage—identities, for all intents and purposes, that played an essential role in the sorting of land grants, scalps, and booty. However, the role of half-breed was more relative to the twentieth century because of the near extinction of racially mixed Natives who it meant to rub out. Halfkin, on the other hand, was a word unto itself, and must never be confused with the other. “It is yet to have its day in the English lexicon,” Abu had said. “Once the world accepts the actual phenomena, what better word to describe the offspring of two worlds, such as you?” Abandoned as a baby, the Light-Eater priestess named Ninti had traced Moojie’s lineage to a European father and Light-Eater mother who had died during his birth. As a child, he had been called many names: hostile, Claw Hand, pea-brain. His adoptive mother, Kate, may she rest in peace, had referred to him as diffabled. But once he mastered his healing power, he abandoned his taut legs and cramped arm the way a tree outgrows its bark—only one example of his staggering abilities. In the isolated hamlet of San Miguel de las Gaviotas, he was, quite honestly, something more than a healer, more of a wayshower, really, because his capabilities violated the laws of nature.
His dream that morning wasn’t just another carnival ride in his imagination, made surreal by its motion picture quality. It wasn’t just his mind. A cage held together by snakes. A bird with Babylonia’s face. A malevolent presence that sent her into a terror. It was a call for help! The thunder in his heart and the bird’s flapping wings had conspired to ring him up, like he was a radio or a telegraph receiver, all cable and wire.
That wintry day, the world appeared so monochromatic that nothing bore distinction. In order to focus he squinted his eyes.
Horse hooves came thundering up the beach behind him! An attacker raced past, ripping off his headscarf. “ATENCIÒN!!!” a male voice trumpeted. Moojie’s horse startled, nearly throwing him off.
The attacker whooshed past and vanished in the fog.
“Whoa boy! Whoa!” Moojie said, calming Ulysses.
The attacker circled back.
“You crazy toad!” Moojie said when he saw him.
They called him Abu. Like Zorro or Geronimo, he had only one name. Paunchy and stiff as a banker, his dirigible-shaped head and fig-colored lips gave him a certain charm.
“’Tis the job of your squire to keep you at the ready, is it not?” Abu said. He cut a theatrical shape in the landscape: knee-high boots, waisted vest, hat with feather, and leather gauntlets.
“You get paid for rakin’ poo, milkin’ goats, and mendin’ fences. No one said anything about playin’ Sancho Panza.”
“The heart of this unworthy slave pours out gratitude beyond measure. It is upon my honor that I would serve a wonderworker such as you, sahib.”
“You’ve been readin’ Don Quixote to Teresa, again.”
“Why, of course! For as long as I live, I will commit the knight-errant to memory, for you, sahib, are my Don. You cured me of a life-threatening condition!”
“It was a toothache,” Moojie said.
“I could have died! It was but one of your many wonders. I will never forget before…you know…when your legs were strapped in metal and leather, when you limped around on crutches. Then, that remarkable day…the day you walked alone for the first time, when you cured yourself of all cripplement…well, you might as well have walked on water!”
“It was a long time ago,” Moojie said, waving away flies.
“Anyhow, Teresa is my most rapt audience.”
“She’s a pigeon.”
Moojie continued searching the sand for the precious object. Abu shadowed him, looking left and right, as if he were the rearguard of a famous general. Ever since Moojie had healed him, Abu promised undying allegiance. He shaped this noble gratitude into Sancho Panza antics that drove Moojie nuts. Moojie had no desire to sit on a pedestal, but Abu had taken the matter to melodramatic extremes. He made it a habit to ambush Moojie for his own good, to keep him on his toes, so to speak, to keep him safe from the “dark and stupid world.” Until recently, Moojie would have been amused. Normally, he would turn his horse around and chase Abu like a bandit, and once he caught up he’d take him to the ground in a vice lock, raise a knightly hand, and paste him.
But times had changed.
“You’re losing your touch, Kemosabe,” Moojie had said the day before, after he won the horse race along the beach.
Subsequently, Abu rode up next to him. It galled him that he could never catch Moojie off guard. “You have the eyes of a wolf spider, sahib. All over your head,” he complained. “I am fierce. I am strong. I am deft as a wildcat. One day you will not be able to evade my pounce. One day my famed exploits will come to life, and some sage historian will recount my incomparable feats, and my face will be stamped on a coin. This I promise, oh sage enchanter!”
“No doubt,” Moojie said. He suspected Abu confused King Morpheus of Little Nemo in Slumberland comics with Don Quixote. All the same, Abu was a keeper of secrets. For one thing, Moojie had not been able to get out of this bookworm dressed like a shady cigar peddler the reason why he knew how to get to Uta, Babylonia’s homeworld.”***
Yippee! My screen adaptation of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman has gone out for review. I couldn’t believe my ears when, after two years of working on it, my producer, John Crye, finally said the words, “It’s ready!”
Film description of Halfkin: A physically-disabled orphan discovers he has miraculous abilities similar to the Light-Eaters, a primordial race that warns intolerant locals in early-1900s America of an upcoming natural disaster.
In order to make the 294-page story fit into less than 2 hours on screen, we had to cut a few characters and scenes. Pappy and Auntie Tilda are now the central the focus of Moojie’s domestic squabbles. Light-Eaters, Ninti, Babylonia, Sarru’kan, and others remain true to the novel. Dear Moojie is exactly the same character. Early on, he struggles with disabilities and unrecognized healing powers, while searching for a sense of belonging.
More news: Book 2 of The Moojie Littleman Trilogy is nearly done. The Boy Who Killed Time picks up four years later, when 18 year-old Moojie, now hailed in his hometown as a healer, escapes family and worshipful throngs to find the inter-dimensional realm where his true love awaits. What he finds when he gets there is completely unexpected.
I’ll keep you posted on any news!
✨ Congratulations, Jared Ryder, our winner! 💃🏿🕺🏿🌷📚👯♀️ Thanks to Maia of Silver Dagger Book Tours, 30 awesome bloggers, and 10,060 sign-ups, it was a fantastic giveaway! 💫
The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism Early 1900s, Western America. A lonely, disabled boy with a nasty temper and uncontrolled mystical powers, Moojie is taken by his father to his grandfather’s wilderness farm. There, Moojie meets an otherworldly clan of outcasts that he wants to join. Following a series of misadventures–magical and mystical–he is summoned by the call to a great destiny … if only he can survive one last terrifying trial. Having won a number of awards, Robin Gregory’s The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman is being lauded as a classic. A haunting, visionary tale spun in the magical realist tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the profoundly unique voice and heart-stirring narrative recall great works of fiction that explore the universal desire to belong.
ROBIN GREGORY is a devoted wife and mother, and student of mystical teachings. Born in Pensacola, Florida, she grew up in California, accompanied by seven siblings, and surrounded by horses, real cowboys, and the occasional rattlesnake. She has always been drawn to helping others, a trait that began, to her mother’s horror, with bringing home swallow chicks stricken from their nests. She has worked as a journalist, lay minister, and infant massage instructor for mothers and babies at risk. Her studies include Literature and Creative Writing at University of California, Santa Cruz and Stanford University’s Writer’s Workshop. She lives with her husband and son in a Carmel cottage old enough to make you sneeze. “The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” is her first published novel.
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My Date With Marc Chagall
by Robin Gregory
When I was a kid, I used to like to build forts and dress like Zorro. At a certain point, I had to ask myself if I could make a living doing this, and realized I couldn’t, so I decided to be an artist. I loved the Expressionists, especially Marc Chagall. In fact, I give him some credit for why I became a writer. First, I spent a few years studying art. Much later, when my husband and I visited France, I wanted to find Mr. Chagall. I had questions. I found his address in an international registry: La Colline, St. Paul-de-Vence. No numbers, no letters. It took a bit of snooping around, but we did find the beautiful, old estate high on a hill above a dirt road. There was a wrought-iron gate with the word La Colline forged in it. Not so hard to find. My gosh, I thought, he probably welcomes visitors! Here was the plan: we were going to leave a potted plant at the gate, along with an invitation to meet for coffee at our hotel. How could he resist, we came all the way from the US to meet him! Anyway, what harm in asking, right? When I got out of the car to deliver the plant, I leaned down and grabbed hold of the gate, which it turns out had just been freshly painted. I recoiled to look at my black hand, and set off an alarm across the valley. Then this herd of Doberman’s the size of small horses came bounding down the hill toward me bearing teeth. I dropped the stuff, raced back to the car, and we sped away like a couple of frito banditos. NOTE TO MYSELF: This is the kind of thing that happens, and the next thing you know, there’s a warrant out for your arrest, and you end up in some rat- infested island prison, and following a hair-raising escape, you launch an elaborate plot to extract a bitter revenge against your betrayers … or not. So here’s how Mr. Chagall helped me become a writer: I learned from this experience that it’s a lot more fun to tell a story than it ever was to paint. I spent a few years studying Literature and Creative Writing, and worked for a while as a journalist. Surprisingly, my first novel was about a girl who wanted to be an artist, but ended up a writer. Nowadays, when I’m not writing about boy-wonders and aliens and fainting goats, I look after my son, make maps with my husband, drink tea, and am thinking of transforming that first novel into a series of knock-knock jokes. Who knows what makes a good writer? You don’t have to make money at it, or get a film deal, or win awards, or even publish your work. You could just start by stalking famous painters.
The Year of the End and the Beginning—1892
He arrived on the heels of an earthquake. A minor hiccup as disasters go, the murmur rippling undersea, causing dories in the bay to bob and spider crabs to flood the beach like a ghostly pink tide. It was the sort of earthquake that hushes everything for an instant before nesting birds and sleeping butterflies burst out of trees. It makes your heart jump for joy because you realize the earth is flying through space at one thousand miles per hour and you have been spared the dreadful experience of the whole world falling apart and having to put it back together. It was the sort of earthquake that the nuns of San Miguel de las Gaviotas would call a mystical grumble. Really, there was nothing about it to suggest the terrible wonders looming on the horizon.
At a quarter past seven, the candelabras in the chapel stopped swaying. The nuns crossed themselves, went outside and found a wooden fishing bucket on the porch. Expecting the catch of the day, they were nothing short of horrified to see a baby boy bundled in fur and tucked inside it. He had bright black eyes, enormous ears, and his hair was the texture of caterpillar fuzz.
“He’s a Hostile, if I ever saw one,” said Mother Teagardin.
The word Moojie had been smudged across his forehead. And that was what they called him—a peculiar name for a peculiar boy, who wasn’t particularly welcome. Against her better judgment, Mother Teagardin, who always said the natives were ill- suited for local society, hadn’t the heart to surrender him to the local Bureau of Questionable Peoples. She appealed to the local families to adopt him. But the villagers were a superstitious lot. They believed the mysterious child to be, well, too mysterious.
It didn’t help that before he cut his first teeth, Moojie amused himself by magically snuffing out candles with the blink of an eye, and by sending objects into flight with the power of his mind. When he didn’t get his way, he caused the wind to rip off the nuns’ veils and flash their knickers. Like Odysseus, he was quick to act and slow to regret. Meanwhile, the sisters clicked their clickers, and swatted his bottom, and continued looking for a family for him.
Except for one early chapter of his childhood, Moojie was a virtuosic flop when it came to the only thing he cared about: finding and keeping a family.
This golden parenthesis began just before he was one year old, when Henry and Kate Littleman, a childless couple who had moved from the East Coast to San Miguel—along with hundreds of recent immigrants from Europe and the Far East, since America had opened her doors to the world—took him home to raise as their own. Mamma immediately left her post as a science and French teacher at the Charles Darwin Free School to look after him. Mornings, she tucked him into a knapsack suspended from a tripod, and went about her housekeeping. He grinned and giggled as she baked bread, smoked little cigars, knitted hats and booties, and arranged his wet flannel diapers on a drying rack near the fireplace. She wheeled him to the beach in a wicker pram, where they collected spider crabs and napped in the salty sand; she rocked him before a glowing wood stove; she bathed and coddled him. He watched Papa, a mapmaker, spin his curta and level his transit, slurp scalding tea, and leap out the door every morning in a pocketed vest. Sometimes, in the afternoon, Papa played piano for him or showed off his soccer moves in the backyard.
In those days, Moojie was a model child, the ambassador of lovability. He delighted at being the center of attention, always looking intently into people’s eyes, always smiling, as if he were in on some cosmic joke. In those days—before San Miguel de las Gaviotas had gone the way of Atlantis, that is to say, before it fell out of favor with the gods—Moojie was passed around at church like a peace pipe. Warmed by his charm, suspicious villagers now lined up after the service to take turns holding him. Once Mrs. Littleman contrived a plot to put the smiling Moojie into the arms of a miserable scrooge, and everyone sighed with awe as the long-suffering soul wept and sang praises to God in heaven.
“Have you noticed, my cupcake?” Mamma said to Papa as she pushed the pram home from church. “This is no ordinary child.”
“He’ll make a fine field hand, lovey,” Papa said.
At the time, San Miguel de las Gaviotas was a nick on the Pacific Coast of America, a clammy, cluttery mishmash of thatched rooftops, crumbling walls, and crooked towers surrounded by rugged mountains that rose out of fog like ancient pyramids. Moojie’s new home, Number 11 Wimbley Wood, a mildewy cottage with a drip line and assorted mushrooms growing in the basement, appealed to otherworldly visitors. Only Moojie could see the celestial bodies spinning and whirling all about him. And he sometimes heard voices beyond the range of normal hearing—gifts, of course, that he did not yet understand. In the witching hours, lights floated down through the ceiling over his crib. He giggled and tried to grasp them as they bobbed playfully into and out of his hands. Mamma came in and held him in the rocker, while moths and flower flies haunted the spirit lamp—like all that is born, seeking to return to light.
Having landed in the nucleus of love, charming, handsome Moojie surpassed his parents’ every expectation, blessing them with unmitigated joy.
But all of that was soon to change.***
I first met John Crye through a media company in Los Angeles. He has deep roots in theater and film, which covers experience as a writer, producer, actor, and director. For more than a decade, John was Creative Director of Newmarket Films, working in the development, acquisition, production, and distribution of such independent classics as Whale Rider, Memento, Donnie Darko, Monster, and The Prestige.
A founding member of the filmmaker’s collective, Fewdio, John produced The Nightmare House web series, and also wrote and directed several episodes. He helped launch Wrekin Hill Entertainment, with whom he acquired and released such films as Peter Weir’s The Way Back and Hesher, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Since 2011, John has been producing and directing under his own banner, SharpCrye. Chance, the latest project, is a Family Drama based on a true story, starring Matthew Modine. They are in post-production now and planning a film festival run. He is also publishing an online serialized Fantasy Adventure novel entitled, The Elect Stories. His new company, True Development, offers coaching and editing services to screenwriters.
Having worked with John on two projects, I know firsthand that he is multi-talented, possesses several lifetimes worth of knowledge and experience, and is a highly skilled mentor. I am thrilled that he agreed to do the following interview:
ROBIN: Would I be correct in saying that visionary films are taking center stage? I’m thinking of The Shape of Water, Black Panther, and Dunkirk specifically. In the broadest terms, they seem to share roots in mythology, and they explore social or personal evolution (devolution). Is there something more that you, as a filmmaker would say about this?
JOHN: I think that cinema progresses through cycles like everything else. I agree that we are seeing a spate of films right now that share a sensibility, a reaction to the “make or break” times we are living in. Many of us are feeling like we are living through times that will either be the end of society, perhaps of humanity, or a bold new beginning. Artists are feeling those same things and expressing them. I’m happy to see that so many of these reactions are hopeful.ROBIN: What does it mean to “develop” a film project? Film studios used to do this, right?
JOHN: Development is just the Hollywood term for the process that all writers engage in: nurturing a story idea, exploring its potentials, and then crafting the language that expresses the story best for the given format. The important difference is that development is always done with at least one source of feedback, whether an editor, producer or executive. As with most film industry conventions, development started in the studios, back in the days when an entire staff of screenwriters were kept under contract to meet the high production demand. By the heady days of the mid-1990’s, development had become a boondoggle, a vaguely defined line item where outrageous wastes of money could be hidden or excused away. Development’s value as a refining tool for the writer, and as protection for the producer, was diminished to the point that it has become little more than a trite curse: “development hell.”
ROBIN: You were with Newmarket Films when they acquired rights to Whale Rider (2003). For those who haven’t seen it, I wholeheartedly recommend it! It’s the story of a young girl whose destiny as a leader clashes with a Maori chief who holds that males only can ascend to chiefdom. What intrigued you about the story?
JOHN: I think almost everyone has experienced the pain of rejection or of being an outsider at some point in their lives. I have. If you haven’t felt it, perhaps you’ve feared it. The girl in the story, Pai, wants nothing more than the love of her grandfather, and the yearning that Keisha Castle-Hughes expresses in her performance is so palpable that I ached watching it. I do every time.
ROBIN: Apart from writing novels that distinguish themselves, how can authors best develop stories that adapt to film?
JOHN: Well, those may be two different animals entirely. Writing a distinguished novel is the finest goal a novelist can set for herself. Developing stories that adapt to film, on the other hand, requires stepping away from some of the elements and techniques that might otherwise make for a distinguishing novel. The stories that work best for developing into screenplays tend to follow those same rules that Aristotle set out in his Poetics, namely the unities of action, place and time. Intrinsic dramatic values like tension and suspension of disbelief are more effective in these confines. Cinematic stories tend to be plot-driven, as well, since the audience witnesses the characters actions without being privy to inner monologue. In other words, stories where one or a few characters take clear actions that affect a dramatic change within a limited time frame.
ROBIN: In your recent newsletter, you referred to yourself as a “personal trainer for writers.” Would you like to say more about that?
JOHN: Procrastination, negative self-talk, undisciplined work habits… these things destroy a writer’s productivity and, ultimately, their creativity. More than simply being an editor or story analyst, I act as a coach, helping the writer develop better habits and improve their skills.
ROBIN: Do you work with unpublished writers?
JOHN: I do! While many of my clients are professional screenwriters who need a coach to keep them hustling and on their game, I also work with new writers. My True Development service can function as a one-on-one screenwriting course. I walk the client through the process from concept to finished first draft using the same methods that I have honed over the past 23 years in independent film.ROBIN: Can you name a few deal breakers? Qualities in a story that will guarantee a quick “pass” on a producer’s part?
JOHN: That somewhat depends on the company or producer. For instance, most of the films that I acquired, developed or produced for Newmarket were passed on by other companies at some point. I was trying to think of a story element that would be a no-go across the board and I honestly can’t think of one. Successful films have been produced from the least likely stories. All I can say is take the time to research who you are submitting your work to and ensure that your material is a good fit for what they do. (And be honest with yourself about that.)
The collaborative nature of film is the double-edged sword that invigorates some and infuriates others. It is important to remember that the screenplay is not a finished work, it is a blueprint for a work to be created by a team of other artists. This is not to diminish the screenwriter’s value. No good thing can be constructed from a faulty plan and, indeed, the structural elegance and the power of the dialogue is often what we respond to as audience and those things are the purview of the screenwriter.
ROBIN: Say a producer, director, or studio shows interest in your adaptation. What happens next?
JOHN: Let the negotiations begin! Hopefully, they are coming to you or your reps with an offer.
ROBIN: What do screenwriters generally get paid?
JOHN: The WGA minimum for an original screenplay is (at the time of this interview) $71,236, or roughly 1.4% of the budget on a film of around $5M. Non-WGA writers get significantly less, and “star” writers negotiate for more.
ROBIN: Must writers have an agent or talent manager in order to sell a screenplay?
JOHN: No, though the writer will want someone skilled to handle negotiations on their behalf.
ROBIN: What do authors do if they want someone else to adapt their novel?
JOHN: The first step is to think very closely about what kind of movie you’d want your adapted novel to be, or at least to identify those kinds of movies you don’t want it to be. The second step is to discuss the story with a few screenwriters until you find one whose vision of the adaptation matches your own (which is why you need to do some envisioning of your own first.) Work closely with the screenwriter on a scene-by-scene treatment, so you can assure that you are on the same page before they go to draft. If you don’t know any screenwriters personally, try contacting the local film commission of your nearest large city. They should be able to provide some guidance, if not an actual list of writers in the area. You can also try the writing or film departments of a local college or university. Failing that, head to a Starbucks and look for someone working on a laptop with a Star Wars decal on it. (Kidding.) (Also, not really kidding.)
ROBIN: Can you recommend an app for screenwriting?
JOHN: I’m a big fan of Final Draft, which is industry standard. Movie Magic Screenwriter is also used a lot because it interfaces easily with budgeting software. You’ll want to work in a commonly used program so you can collaborate. Film, after all, is a collaborative artform.*
Contact John Crye:
Sometimes healing is like baseball.
The other day, I started feeling symptoms of a cold.
I prayed to the angels to heal me.
I prayed to Jesus to help me.
I prayed for the Great Spirit to protect me.
The symptoms got worse.
I thought my prayers weren’t being answered.
Put down your aloneness and ease into the conversation, says poet David Whyte.
I persisted in praying for help.
Soon, an idea came to me: Baseball.
When you step up to bat, your mind is fully focused on putting the ball where you want it. Now, focus your consciousness on what you want! Realize peace and health are already yours. The Spirit in the midst of you is infinite. What does that mean? There is nothing else. So-called physical symptoms don’t mean a thing unless you give them meaning. Spirit is infinite, and It is Love, therefore there are no good/evil germs, there is only the embodiment of Spirit. Sickness is a belief/effect of other powers, causes, conditions. Focus your vision! Heaven on Earth is right here, right now, dear heart. Let it flood the sphere of your experience.
I gave thanks and the symptoms soon abated.
This is how prayers are often answered. The angels, Jesus, and Spirit did not heal my body. They guided me to step up to the plate, to forget about my human self, and all that I’d been told about the body, germs, physical laws. To be fully focused on Spirit. That was the healing.
Thank you Online Book Club for hosting the Amazon Giveaway of
The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman!
November 4 – 11, 2018
G O O D L U C K!
…Magical realism has finally found a toehold in mainstream America. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a finger on the national pulse, it seems America is ready for stories that treat supernatural and mythic themes as a natural part of life.
I’ve been drawn to mysticism and spirituality most of my adult life. During this time, I’ve witnessed a number of healings (my own and others’)—from the common cold to terminal cancer—without the aid of medical science. So-called miracles have become a natural part of my life. As a writer, I am excited to build stories on this premise. With a little help from Charles Dickens, I follow a tradition of subverting expectations and use irony to call into question social and religious traditions. For example, in The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, I address Pappy’s bigotry in a historic (and personal) context while showing him also as protective of bi-racial, disabled, troublesome Moojie. On the other hand, Moojie, who is developmentally challenged, is often wiser than Pappy and the adults around him. Another example can be found in The Whale Rider. Paikea, the protagonist, is excluded from her grandfather’s search for the next tribal chief because she is a girl, but she is more capable than any of his male choices.
My greatest wish as a writer is to publish stories that show characters subverting human expectations by awakening to their divine nature. As some of you know, for the past year I’ve been working on the film adaptation of Moojie Littleman, Book 1. Adaptation and screenwriting are completely different from novel writing so there are a number of changes to the story, but the basic themes and premise remain true to the book. My mentor, John Crye—writer, actor, producer, editor, and former Creative Director of Newmarket Films (produced Whale Rider)—is as excited about magical realism as I am. While my screenplay is still in development, I credit John’s magnificent oversight for this pre-production review:
“The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” is an emotionally powerful and viscerally stunning fantasy with a fascinating and hard-hitting family drama not overshadowed by all the spectacle. We are, with Moojie, entering a strange new world here where the incredible seems possible. At the heart of the story is always his quest for belonging, a universal human drive that resonates even in such extraordinary circumstances. The Light-Eaters are intriguing and capable of holding our interest with both their capabilities and thematic nature. Nahzi is a particularly breathtaking and memorable element. They are inspirational as well, and we can see that it is Moojie’s time with them that helps him mature in the way that he does, whether it is taking responsibility for starting the trouble, or telling Babylonia he loves her with the stirring speech, “The day I met you, it was like I fell asleep and woke up in a better world.”—THE BLACK LIST, Hollywood (Aug/2018)
Europe, Australia, and South America have long-embraced magical realism in art, literature, and film. It is thrilling to see it finally recognized in America. Thanks to David Lynch’s legacy, and other commercially successful films, like Being John Malkovich, Donnie Darko, and Edward Scissorhands, the road has been paved for stories that normalize mythical, spiritual, and mystical experiences. If you are drawn to films like this, you’re going to love the Moojie film! Also, here are some magical realist films worth seeing: The Whale Rider, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amélie, Micmacs, The Delicatessen, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
So it’s onward and upward! Time to get back to work. I love hearing from you. Whether you are parenting or writing or being the CEO of a national corporation, I want to hear how you are following your dreams!