Today, in the third instalment of Writers on Writing, I am very pleased to present to you, Kennedy Goodkey.
Kennedy is one of my oldest friends. By “oldest” I mean, “I’ve known him for a long time,” not “he’s really old.” We’re the same age. I don’t actually remember how we met, although Kennedy tells a very colourful (and made-up) version of how this happened. I suspect it was through our mutual theatre contacts.
After working together on various projects, and spending many weekends on the porch of a certain cabin on Mayne Island, Kennedy and Craig March asked me if I’d help them out with a little film they were writing and producing. I said yes, of course. And an adventure that was already three years old by the time I joined it, took another 7 to complete. That adventure was a feature film called The Beast of Bottomless Lake.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Kennedy Goodkey.
1. I am…. Kennedy Goodkey.
2. Author of…
Sigh… Not as simple a question as it appears. Mostly stage and screen, but I’ve done a lot of other scattered things from magazine articles to video games.
Though time will ultimately tell, I suspect I am currently a writer in transition, specifically to books.
I also do and have done a wide range of jobs supporting other writers – researching, transcribing, adapting, doctoring – ignominious gigs that fill the gaps between getting paid for my own projects… though some of the supporting jobs have been pretty cool. Along the way I’ve worked on a Stephen Leacock Medal winning novel by Mark Leiren-Young and researched footnotes for a memoir by one of the great cult novelists of our day, Allan Weisbecker.
Specific things I get to be proud of include: the stage adaptation of the cult novel (Weisbecker again) Cosmic Banditos; co-writing a comedy sketch that won the (only) “annual” National Sketch Writing Competition; I was the primary contributor of material to a comedy troupe that toured North America for six years, The Juanabees, which in the heyday of CodCo and Kids in the Hall was named as “the best comedy troupe in Canada without a TV show”; two produced feature films – one no one has ever heard of called Sons of Cohen, and the other not quite so anonymous – Beast of Bottomless Lake, which I co-wrote with the director, Craig March.
3. The first thing I ever wrote was…
Early in grade twelve I was struck by a whopper of an illness which was never pinned down. It was variously diagnosed as everything from run of the mill stress to mononucleosis to phlebitis. It never really behaved entirely like any of those or the other things they thought it might be. Fortunately it didn’t last long – a few weeks all told to run its course, but during the early portion of that time I was pretty delirious.
Deep in that fever I wrote a one act play titled Don’t Ask Me. I Just Live Here. I really have never had any memory of writing that first draft. I did do a number of rewrites when I was lucid, but the core of the play remained. My high school drama teacher encouraged me to submit it to the National Young Playwrights Search. Not only did I win, but the feedback was rather superlative – along the “we’ve never had a submission like this before” vein. Seeing the other winners it was clear that they pretty much lived in a world where every play they received was a shallow exploration of teenage angst, while I had written a pale shadow of an Edward Albee play. Hooray for fever dreams!
It also won some less prestigious awards – regional drama festival type stuff. All of that was kind of a two sided coin. It was empowering, but it also had been a bit too easy. It also put some uncomfortable expectations on me. For example, I arrived at theatre school the next year as “the guy who had written that play.” That pressure was largely responsible for me dropping out after my first year and not returning until the majority of people I started with had graduated.
4. I knew I wanted to be a writer when…
See above, really. That experience added to the list of possibilities for me in theatre. It was a major influence in shifting my focus from being a theatrical dabbler with an intention to study anthropology in University to pursuing the life of a theatre professional.
Australopithecus comes from Australia, right?
5. My first writing success was….
Now here I am stuck, because I write so many different things, and success in each came at different times in different ways. I guess this is “see above” again.
6. Who were your influences?
Tom Stoppard is probably the most brilliant dramatist ever to put pen to paper.
Yeah yeah, Shakespeare was great, but really he wrote about twelve great plays, a similar amount of interesting but middling fare, but then the rest…. Yeesh… at their best they have their moments. Even the great Shakespeare plays are fraught with a variety of issues that have to be contended with when you present them.
Stoppard is the whole package. His dialogue is sharp. His structure works on all scales, whether you look at it with a fine toothed comb or from ten thousand feet. His thematic allusions and metaphors are complex, deep and always spot on. And… he has accomplished more on the page with Shakespeare than Shakespeare did.
Aaron Sorkin is the best dialogue writer alive. Yeah, Newsroom is cloyingly sanctimonious (but otherwise, smart smart smart), and he has a surface deep approach to writing women that falls into more traps of painful archetypy (Shakespeare made up words, why can’t I?) than Wile E. Coyote in an Acme warehouse, but even at his worst his dialogue is the best that ever was. His West Wing seasons are a dialogue clinic in their own right. If ever there was a positive argument for a cocaine habit, that’s it. (Do not construe that as me actually advocating cocaine use.)
Tom Robbins was the first writer I ever really loved the craft of. His metaphors are mind blowing. But I can’t read him anymore. That affair was an artifact of an age. I don’t know who said it – I wish I did, and I paraphrase – “Tom Robbins’ books are like the older boyfriend you had in university, back then they seemed fascinating, worldly and deep, but now looking back, it actually is a bit creepy and gross.” In any case his early influence on me is undeniable. My first novel reads like a poor man’s Robbins – and thus remains in a drawer somewhere.
Recently I’ve also become quite fond of Peter Morgan’s writing. In his case though, it’s a bit inverted as I realized that some of our work shares common stylistic DNA. I recognized that post facto, so though notable, I don’t really think it qualifies as an influence.
It may also be illegal for a former sketch writer of my age to deny the influence of Monty Python, though I was never one of those annoying clods who quoted Python at every opportunity. .…I never wanted to do this in the first place. I wanted to be… a lumberjack!
7. Describe your writing process.
This is an important question – the most important one of the bunch in my mind – so I am going to spend some time and break it down a bit.
My process is pretty fluid – especially in the past few years. I did have habits, but the feasibility has bled out of them. Parenthood kind of threw my practices into a tumble. I’m still kind of figuring out how I work best as a writer and primary care giver. I suspect I’m not really going to figure it out until my daughter starts school. Then my schedule opens up significantly and becomes more writing friendly again.
My process used to be that I rarely worked on any personal project that I hadn’t thought of at least two years earlier. That accomplished two things: 1) The wait time culled the options. If I was still thinking about an idea after two years, then it was worth working on. 2) It also meant I had passively done a bunch of work on it subconsciously.
From there I would push whatever ideas were in my head forward in fits and starts, working on several projects at a time depending on what I was in the mood for when I sat down to work. Eventually I’d come to a breaking point on any given project – a point where it would just “take off” and I would stick to it to the exclusion of all else until the end of at least the draft in question, possibly until the end of the project.
None of that has really changed much.
I used to try to do some writing every day. Somedays that would quickly devolve into video game playing or TV watching. But when the time was right, I would disappear into a marathon session of twelve to seventy-two hours of focused creation. I couldn’t really predict when that would happen. It was understandably often an issue with girlfriends, but it was something that I couldn’t deny myself… at least not until a certain little girl came into my life.
Now, with my daughter, I have to work on what is ultimately a slower schedule.
It has always taken me at least forty-five minutes to get into the zone. That wasn’t such a terrible investment of time when any given one of them could blossom into a super-productive marathon. But I can’t get those long-duration creative periods anymore, so I end up investing a lot more time overall to getting in the zone relative to the fertile creative time. I also can’t really get into the zone at all until everyone else is in bed, so it is rare that I can get started on my forty-five minutes until after 9pm. The mere timing of that start time is something I have to contend with, as I used to find that 830 at night was my mean peak creative time – so that doesn’t really happen any more.
I have to be up with my kid by 8am (and sometimes 5am for other work), so starting after 9pm really doesn’t leave a lot of time. Fortunately I have never needed a lot of sleep, so working until 2am or 3am is not out of the question, but later than that is not fair to my daughter. Her Mom can tell if I’ve been productive based on when I get to bed. If I’m in bed at 1am, I’ve probably given up by midnight and ended up playing video games. If I come to bed at 3am… I’m probably not happy about the fact that I’m coming to bed, because I had really been in the zone.
Additionally we naturally want some quality time together, so we have an agreement that I work three nights a week on my stuff and the other four nights are for us.
Overall it is a very different schedule from what I developed over the first two decades of being a writer. It would be a lie to say that I think it is ideal, but I do think it is the best compromise I can imagine under our circumstances and after a few years of working this way I have kind of finessed it a bit. I am far better now at getting the most out of being in the zone for shorter periods than I was before – and when I get more time to write that will probably serve me well.
The other major change I’ve implemented to bring up my productivity is that I used to be quite successful as a discovery writer – simply writing linearly, occasionally with place holders to be developed later that indicate the primary action or dramatic purpose of a scene in place of a fully realized version. But that doesn’t work as well for me without the marathon stretches of creativity. So I’ve had to teach myself to (god forbid) become an outline writer, in order to make sure that I can maintain some momentum. The outline works well for me as a trail of crumbs that helps me come back to what I was doing previously with less build up to the point of being able to work. I know some writers just revise and add to their outlines until they transform into a fully-realized piece of work, but that just not my style. I guess I am now more of a hybrid between a discovery writer and an outliner.
Mostly I work at my desk in our main room. It would be nice to have a separate place in our apartment to work at, but the desktop computer is very multi-use for the whole family, so it needs to be available and we don’t really have another space in our apartment anyhow. When I lived alone, the situation was pretty similar physically so I lean on my habits from then – roaming about the living room and kitchen as I think, flopping on the couch to free-associate and so forth – and just let go of the reality that the space is not strictly my own.
On top of that I do work outside of the home some as well. I do have a laptop that makes a good workstation when I can plan for it, but I don’t like carrying it around for the spontaneous “just in case” moments. I have recently acquired a tablet that has almost entirely replaced the laptop. It isn’t ideal for writing on – there just isn’t the screen real-estate, and the touch screen keyboard is fractionally, but critically, less responsive than the hardware of the laptop or desktop. (And carrying around a blue-tooth keyboard in addition would kinda defeat the purpose.) However, it is small enough that I can usually find a place to carry it with me anywhere – it barely squeezes into most of my pockets. That has been revolutionary. I had previously done some limited spontaneous writing on my smart phone, but anyone who has tried that knows it is not a good solution unless there is really no other option – to such a degree that one tends to quit taking advantage of it. (As an aside, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has discovered this, but having a tablet has almost managed to relegate my smart phone to being just a phone.) In any case the tablet, while not perfect, has opened up writing in the environment for me again in ways I haven’t embraced since my sketch comedy days writing long hand on notepads in coffee shops. Although now I write in Community Centres while my kid is at ballet class or lost in her own imagination on the monkey bars.
8. What does success as a writer look like to you? Do you think you are successful?
This is a tough question. I think Maslow’s hierarchy comes into play here – you can always feel more successful than you are.
I have waxed and waned in my career. There have been times when I have fed myself as an artist (not strictly a writer – it is a toss up whether I have made more money as a writer or an actor), times I can’t believe I’ve been paid as well as I have, and times when I have had to take on other jobs in order to make rent. That has not been a linear progression. It has skipped all over the place. There have been times when I have been artistically vindicated (which hasn’t necessarily aligned with financial reward) and others where variously I’ve done work out of necessity that I haven’t been proud of, or conversely, work that I think is my best that I can’t get anyone to look twice at.
I’m actually in that latter state right now on two separate TV projects. One is the funniest thing I’ve ever written and almost every broadcaster or production company that has looked at it has come back with some variation of “this is great, but it’s just not us,” and the other is a drama that is unlike anything on TV and has single line pitch that a show runner I previously worked with thinks ought to do the trick, but again… no luck.
I have definitely been successful. I don’t currently feel very successful. I never do for long, it is practically a pathology, but it keeps me moving forward. I know I am doing good work and it’s just a matter of time before something catches hold somewhere. That is the way it has always been. For a little while at least I am okay with that – having had these years of relative doldrums has been well timed for me to be a very hands-on father, and that is getting close to be behind me no matter what happens professionally.
I guess what has always kept me going is that I have largely always had the freedom to write in order to please myself, and if anyone else is entertained by it too, then that is a fortunate bonus.
9. What does the future look like? What are you working on?
Like I indicated above, I usually have a bunch on the go. Apart from the two TV projects mentioned above that I would love to find new development avenues for, I have three screenplays on the go.
The piece that is dominating my time is the toughest thing I’ve ever written, and the research for it has actually adjusted my position a major geo-political issue. I find that to be pretty exciting and edifying in its’ own right. The screenplay has reached the “take off” point a few times already and that propelled me through several drafts. I have a feeling that just last night (as I write this) I hit the “take off” point again and this ought to be the last draft before I try to package it.
A very anarchic play I wrote several years ago just got pegged for production – it is a farce called Trousers Trousers Trousers that takes place in a bathroom with four doors each of which leads to a different interconnected point in time… and of course there are a lot of trousers involved. That is a year and a rewrite or two down the road.
The next project I’m most personally excited about is a book of short stories all about the behind scenes and public events surrounding the Galileo mission to Jupiter. It is technically fiction, but it is strongly rooted in fact.
I have one more book on the go, but this isn’t the best place to talk about it… the next question is.
10. Which famous writer would you like to write your biography?
I am in fact working on a book about one episode of my life. I’m writing a book about producing an independent film from the ground up. I am focusing mostly on the story of it, the emotional journey – not the how to, there are plenty of books on the market about that.
But as to what I expect is your intended question…
Considering what I said above this will seem unlikely, though I swear it’s not a specious answer – I would read Tom Robbins again if he wrote the book of my life.