Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Author Irving H. Podolsky: Writing A Trilogy

I’ve always said one of the fun things about blogdom is getting to know new authors and discovering the fascinating books they have to share. Well, I recently had the pleasure of meeting a ‘new-to-me’ author in the form of Irving H. Podolsky.

Irving is a bit different as he resides in the mind of an intriguing writer and within that writer’s trilogy, IRV’S ODYSSEY. As the storyteller, Irving likes to share the adventure with the reader’s younger SELF, that which seeks fun, romance and a wild ride into the Unknown.

Irving joins us today and has graciously answered some Lost Coverquestions about his writing. But first, let me give you a brief synopsis of each book in IRV’S ODYSSEY:

Irving Podolsky is a nice Jewish boy looking for a nice Jewish girl and a job out of college which would, you know, make the world a better place. But when our hero’s food supply dwindles down to a slab of Velveeta and a jar of pickles, our lad takes his only job offer: directing porn movies. This leads to the night shift in a mental hospital, only to be replaced by the lowest rung in  food service, which drives Irv so bonkers his mind ejects out of his body to the Other Side. IRV’S ODYSSEY is a humorous quest for truth, love and meaning while lost in alternate life styles, a psychedelic drug culture and the free-love of the seventies. LOST IN A LOOKING GLASS starts the journey.

Book Two - TO THE LIGHT AND BEYOND Irv's still employed at the mental hospital, a place where all the people who don’t “fit in” get jobs behind locked doors. It’s a crazy circus and Irv’s life is far from settling down. A free-loading porn stud and con man moves into our lad’s apartment, and the jerk won’t leave! It gets worse. Irv discovers the place where humanity hides it’s most shameful secret. And it’s not in the Buckhead Steak ‘n Brew where Irv becomes a salad boy/dishwasher. And it’s not at the Cloisters Restaurant where Irv get pushed into bussing tables while tripping on acid. And it’s not in Europe where he meets three people who change his life in ways he only read about in Sci-Fi novels and mystical books. Actually that “shameful secret” is no secret at all, yet only Irv wants to know it. Will our friend ever find his way back to Normal? Not yet.

Book Three - SEEKING THE WAY HOME Food service and Irving Podolsky are NOT friends. Still, Irv rises to the level of waiter in the Fairmont Hotel. What about his film career, making the world a better place and finding a nice Jewish chick? Well, instead, Irv meets an exotic older girl from Germany. Could she be the one, Irv’s forever, but not-Jewish-at-all soul mate? Ben suggests she is. Ben is a drawling spirit voice channeled through a Puerto Rican pothead. And Ben knows all about Irv’s recent nocturnal fly-outs: those uncontrollable out-of-body trips that bring him to the Other Side where he encounters creepy crawlers in attack mode and goes back and forth in time and into his own future. These bizarre events are not dreams or fantasies. They are real. For as Irv finds out, magic and miracles do exist. And so does true love, if he can just convince his parents, it’s okay to marry a shiksa.

Now here’s Irving.

Mason - Have you always wanted to write or did something happen to put you on this path?

Irving - Actually, Mason, growing up, I wasn’t interested in writing at all but I always wanted to share feelings and go deep in that way. I know, sounds like sex. But really, it was about communicating IDEAS and I did that through my music and paintings. I was a fine arts major until I transferred to USC’s School of Cinema Arts.

Writing didn’t kick in until after I graduated film school. But I didn’t want to be an author. Like every USC graduate, (we all thought we were George Lucas II) I wanted to be a famous film director, and the fast track to fame was writing a script that caused a six-studio bidding war, and then get hired along with the words. That was pretty much the standard fantasy back then, and it still is, kept alive because it does happen once in a while.

Light CoverSo I started writing screenplays, which is really more an outline than a literary work. If you come up with concise but unusual description, snappy dialogue and a gripping structure, you just might have something Hollywood would buy. 

But scribing a hot page-turner script is harder to write than a novel. At least I think so. A script is bare bones action and words, told in three acts, in the third person, in present tense, in ninety to one hundred and twenty pages. So if you grab a Gate-Keeper’s attention and hold it with those kinds of restrictions, you’ve accomplished a big deal and a good shot at writing a riveting novel.

I’m a judge for the Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship screenwriting competition. By the time the scripts get to me they’ve already been screened and selected by professional story analysts. Still many of them just don’t hold interest, or they’re not believable. Great writing it hard! There were over 7,000 submissions this years and only five writers won endowments. And they we sooooo happy, those winners! Now they’re on their way in serious conversations with producers.

So that’s how I started out, writing screenplays over a period of twelve years. Finally one was optioned and packaged by William Morris and the Tribune Company production wing. Sissy Spacek had the lead, but it didn’t make it to production. This happens a lot. Still, I was so frustrated about it, coming so close after so long, I stopped writing altogether. 

But by that time I had a full Hollywood career going so it didn’t feel like that huge of a loss. (I just lied. I was crushed.)

Mason - Why write this book? What made this story so compelling to you that you had to tell it?

Irving - It didn’t start out as anything compelling. It was about trying one last time to get a script sold in Hollywood. So a few years ago, while under the shower (my think tank), I indeed started thinking. Maybe I’ve got one more in me…one last shot at writing the greatest movie ever made. Humm… But about what?

And a germ of an idea started to grow. (Did I say that? How cliché! Forget germ growing!)

Anyway, I revisited my early twenties past, remembering my very first jobs out of film school in 1970 and how I stumbled into directing pornographic movies. I was so naive. I had never even SEEN an adult flick before that. I started maturing super fast that first day I called, “Action.”

So the idea came to me - all those models who were performing in front of the camera, most were my age at the time. What happened to them? What are they doing now? Do they have children, grand children, a “normal” neighborhood life somewhere? Their then-and-now story would be fascinating. Consequently I tried tracking down all the people I knew back then in that bizarre upside-down world. I couldn’t find a single one. Some had already died. Some had changed their names. The rest simply disappeared into the fabric of our diverse society. 

That left me with only one person I knew who had been there, done that and had drastically changed. That person was me. But although I traveled a strange and awesome journey for five years before I met my wife, I didn’t want to write my memoir. I wanted to write a screenplay. The result? Irving Podolsky was born, a character and storyteller somewhat like me but not me, discovering things based on my life but not exactly my life. 

What started out as a sixty page treatment for one screenplay ended upSeeking Cover as a three novel series, IRV’S ODYSSEY. And the only reason that happened, is because when I passed around the initial treatment for feedback, I was told that it read like a book, and that it should be a book. So I kept writing, handing out section after section for more reviews. The responses were so encouraging, they motivated me to finish the trilogy.

And while doing that, I learned how to be a novelist.

Mason - If you had to write the story again, would you do anything differently this time?

Irving - Well, the books were rewritten, edited, and polished many times, so I already knew it was all working when published. But as I said, I learned to write on-the-job. I found my author’s voice and I also found Irving Podolsky’s voice, my reoccurring character for my blog. And that’s still evolving and getting more fluid. So if I revisited “IRV’S ODYSSEY” one more time, I’d drop half the commas!

Mason - What is the best advice you’ve received concerning writing?

Irving - Actually I never received any general advise, only specific editing suggestions. But I do remember a line from the movie, “A River Runs Through It.” 

The Brad Pitt character is a young man learning to be a novelist and he offers his dad his first draft for review. The criticism comes back in one sentence: “Too many words.”

So the young man revises and revises and each time he gets the same response, “Too many words.” 

Finally, at the end of the movie, the young man finally achieves his father’s approval, having whittled down his entire book to just the title and “The End.”

(Just kidding. Brad still had some words left.)

That advice imprinted. Since then I’ve done my best to convey ideas with as few words as possible. 

Writing fiction is not about impressing the world with intellectual turns-of-a-phrase. Writing a good yarn is making words disappear, leaving only clear information and feelings. I’ve learned if you’re drawing attention to technique as oppose to thoughts, you’ve distracted your reader. 

Same advice goes for typos, misspelling and bad grammar: All of that sloppy stuff nudges scanning eyes off the page. Once you’ve lost your reader’s trust, you’ve lost their interest too.

Mason - Okay, so are you still writing? Can we expect anything more from you?

Irving - Well, yes. There’s my weekly blog. But for novels, I won’t be writing anything in a popular genre. That might mean a harder sell.

I can’t tell you how many times I was told in pitch sessions, “What I want is a movie like (Blockbuster Title). But different. Not TOO different, but different enough.”

Many novels are written like that. YA and fantasy has flooded Amazon. And that’s fine but aiming for trends is not me. I can’t stop writing against convention. That’s just me. I’m always experimenting with ideas that challenge the mores and ethics of society. 

Who ARE we, really? That’s what I want to know, which means I write for myself first. That path has yet to let me down. Still, my next novel just might be a tad tricky to market. It’s a comedy about a transgender love affair.
Here’s the log line. (It just came to me.)

The spirit of a nice Jewish boy is imprisoned in a college girl’s body, and he falls in love with a middle-aged shiksha trapped in a Rabbi.

Now what genre would that be?

While you’re thinking, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to write something for your blog. You are truly a power-booster for independent writers!

Irving, thanks so much for visiting today and answering my questions. Thank you also for the kind words. Without wonderful writers like yourself and others, there would be nothing for us readers to enjoy.

For more on Irving and his writing, visit his blog at http://www.irvsodyssey.com/

Thanks so much for stopping by today. Have you ever written or contemplated writing a screenplay?


  1. Irving, thanks again for joining us today and answering my questions. Your trilogy has had an interesting path to publication. Wishing you much success.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Irving.

    Irving -- Thanks for sharing your journey. I always find it interesting when an author combines genres (self-discovery, sci-fi, etc) and it looks as though you've done just that kind of thing here. And it's even more interesting that you've done a planned trilogy. I wish you much success with it.

  3. Mason, thank you again for having me. And as I started to explain, had I known up front what kind of a project, and its size, I was about to undertake, I think I would have been intimidated!

  4. Margot,

    Thank you for you support and best wishes.

    I've never been one to follow trends. I let the story dictate where it wants to go, even if it crosses multiple genres and goes more pages than a standard novel for a debut author.

    From the get-go, the outline established six tiers of maturation with life decision points for my hero. Coming-of-age takes time, and it took three books for Irving to grow to manhood and find the answers to his questions.

    Hence, the birth of an unexpected trilogy came to be, with each book containing two resolutions which begin the next leg of Irv's journey.

    By the way, I know it's confusing. Irv is my pen name but also the fictitious hero of the saga. I painted myself into a corner with this concept. So Irv must live on in some shape or form.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.