Instead, my two guys loved theatre, dance, and, yep, the written word. Three weeks ago my youngest, Eric Czuleger, published his first novel. IMMORTAL L.A. is an urban fantasy blend of horror and science fiction but above all it's one of the most unique collections of love stories. I've always known he was a talented writer (he published his first play when he was 16 and is currently a semi-finalist for the prestigious O'Neill New Play Festival), but when he wrote his novel he was treading on my turf and I was ready.
The wisdom of a 29- year writing career was at his disposal. Sadly, or happily depending on how you look at the situation, he didn't need it.
IMMORTAL L.A.was perfect: unique in style, just enough twists to stand accepted genres on their head, hardly a comma out of place. That started me wondering. Did I succeed as a mentor simply because I stayed out of his way? I figured I 'd ask him.
Me: You didn't let me see your manuscript until it was finished. Do you and I have different interpretations of mentorship?
Eric: I think that you and I have different ways of working. You tend dump a bunch of sand on the beach and then carve the sandcastle out of it. I usually do my nit-picky work as I go. If I gave you my work before it was fleshed out it wouldn’t have made sense.
Me: Good point. I tend to give the lump of sand to my readers and there's only one who can ever figure out what I'm trying to say before I hit my stride. I did actually have some suggestions regarding L.A. Immortal's continuity and style. Was it hard to have that dialogue because I was your mom?
Eric: Not really, and I’m surprised by that answer, probably as much as you are. I think that admitting that you and I have insanely similar tastes but vastly different styles was harder to grasp.
I was editing the angel story one night. I didn’t want to work on the pages you had made notes on at home, so I went to the coffee shop. When I got down there I realized that I had forgotten the pages. I decided to just give it a good edit on my own and then see what your thoughts were when I got back to the pages. The edits were EXACTLY the same. Which was very weird but also very validating. Of course I don’t want you to be right all of the time, but good storytelling is good storytelling.
Me: I love that story. Perhaps we were channeling something because you were writing about fantastic things. Or, it could just be as simple as the fact that I was right. Do you think one mentor satisfy all of a new writer's needs?
Eric: You’re by far my most important mentor- but by no means my only one. Among other mentors I would list, John Patrick Shanley, Shakespeare, Raymond Carver, my buddy Dave, Jay Z, and anyone who has ever sat down with me to talk about telling stories, and which stories I should tell.
When I say that you’re my most important mentor, I mean that you taught me the only two things that really matter if you’re going to be a writer.
1. Love stories. Love making them up. Love living them. Love hearing them, seeing them, and telling them.
2. Sit down and write the whole thing out. Just do it. From beginning to end. Day in and day out. You can know every line of Shakespeare and compose the most masterfully phrased narrative passages, but if you don’t sit down day in and day out. If you don’t write the goddamn thing to the end, then it doesn’t exist, plain and simple. You work. You work every day. You work every night. You say that a book will be done and a couple of months later it is. It’s the simplest and hardest lesson for a writer to learn.
I was lucky to grow up hearing you typing.
Me: That is so nice. I would like to point out I did not edit the bad word out of this interview. I try to keep a light editing hand where you are concerned. What were the three experiences that shaped you as an author?
1. I wrote a poem once. I don’t know why but we were in the library. You read it and you cried. I couldn’t figure out why, but I know that putting words on a page was important and should be done with care.
2. Listening to punk rock and rap while studying Shakespeare. Realizing the way that you said things mattered just as much as what you were saying.
3. Self-producing an agit-prop (agitation\propaganda - who knew) theatre piece in college called Molotov Cocktail. (We didn’t tell you about this for the following reasons: We broke into a theatre space, we snuck people in, we did a show full of profanity and nudity, and half-baked-junior-in-college politics. It went off with out a hitch. People loved it. It could have been better. It taught me that if my opinions were going to be put onstage then I better be able to stand behind them 100%. That’s when I realized I didn’t need an adult telling me that it was okay to make work happen.
Me: I would have had a fit if I'd known what you were doing back then. Today, I think it's a bummer you didn't invite me. You have written a very edgy, genre-bending book but to me each story - even the fantasy history of Los Angeles - is a love story. Did you realize that's what you were writing?
Eric: You and I have talked about this a bit, the idea that you can’t really escape the stories that you find attractive. When I wrote the second story I realized that it was thematically the same as the first. I never set out to write a love story but I realize that is what I did. I wanted to write a story that I found fun swarming with vampires and angels and zombies and freemasons and everything in between. I also wanted to these characters to be at their most vulnerable.
We always put fantastic creatures on this bizarre pedestal. Vampires are always sexy, their hair is impeccable, and they can sword fight. That couldn’t be less interesting to me. I want to see a heartbroken overweight vampire who watches infomercials. I want to see what it’s like when an “immortal” loves something deeply and that is not reciprocated. I want to see what it’s like when a group of immortals loves a city that cant love them back.
Me: And I love you for wanting to put not just your talent but your heart and soul into what you write. I loved every word, every turn of phrase, the fantastic twists, and the fact that IMMORTAL L.A. is written so that I can read from beginning to end or pick and choose my stories.
I am proud to be your mentor (non-mentor). PS I don't remember the poem but it must have been something if it made me cry. I think I'm about ready to do it again.
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