ANTHONY VENUTOLO TELLS US ABOUT THE SURPRISING WRITING TECHNIQUES HE USED WHEN PUNCHING OUT FIGHT CARD: FRONT PAGE PALOOKA ...
When Paul Bishop approached me at what now seems like an eternity ago to write a Fight Card entry, I was instantly on board. Fight Card was everything I loved – vintage pulp tales of tough guys and their femme fatales that were hard-boiled and whiskey-soaked. Sign me up.
But then came the panic.
Panic why? Unlike my fellow Fight Card scribes, I wasn't a novelist. Those said, I was a lifelong journalist and editor by trade and have even dabbled in many other forms of creative writing on the side. Through the years, I've written a slew of spec scripts for movies and comic books, a proposal and bible for an animated TV show (which was pitched around) and more magazine and newspaper pieces than I care to remember.
But never a novel ...
Sure, I dabbled in short stories, gritty poetry and flash fiction on my blog Bukowski's Basement, which I know Paul had read. To me, writing the weekly flash fiction noir was easy. Doing that for 30,000 plus words seemed daunting.
What was even more petrifying was the prolific pace that other writers seemed to work. Guys like Bishop, Mel Odem, Eric Beetner, Terrence McCauley and Kevin Michaels all make it look so damned easy.
I needed my wheels to spin like a '49 Merc.
As far as my Fight Card entry as concerned, I knew one thing, for sure ... I didn't want my hero to be a boxer for the simple reason that the above men wrote their tales so very well. I knew I probably couldn't top them or tell a story that seemed fresh. As a result, I turned to what I knew – newspapers. For the greater part of a quarter of a century I've been working in a newsroom so there was oodles of material I could call upon. Newsrooms seemed like a natural setting for the 1954 time setting of Front Page Palooka. I wanted to draw upon that vibe for my novella. Back when I was hired (as a young cub in the '80s) men still smoked at their desks and, if they were lucky, had some Sneaky Pete when the sun went down.
I wanted to channel that nostalgia, so I decided to make my hero, Nick Moretti, a grizzled newspaperman. To me, Nick is the conglomeration of several pop culture characters. You might find some Marlowe, some Sonny Crockett, a pinch of Chilli Palmer, a dab of Hank Moody (kudos if you know who he is) and pretty much any Bogie character from 1949-56. That was Nick. He's sarcastic, has a quick wit, can hold his bourbon and get the girl. Oh, yeah, he can also knuckle up if he needed to.
I had my character. But I still needed a story. I took a breath and before I dove into the writing of Front Page Palooka, turned to the cloud to foster some creativity.
I created a Pinterest board to help me bask in the glory of Nick Moretti's world, circa 1954. Pinterest can be of tremendous use for a writer. If you can get beyond the endless photos of cupcakes and kittens, the photo-driven social network is chock full of images you can group onto specific pinboards, all tied to a theme. Talk about inspiration... Who needs index cards, when I could just call up my Meet Nick Moretti pinboard and get an instantaneous handle on the man? I pinned all sorts of photos – stuff Nick would wear, booze he would drink, bars he would frequent, actors who could play him and – most fun – and the endless chippees he'd date. It all started to come together.
To take it one step further, I also turned to Spotify and created a soundtrack of sorts for Front Page Palooka. What exactly is Spotify? It's a digital streaming service giving users access to millions of songs. It's free. It's legal. And it's allowed me to get that blasted iTunes out of my life. That said, music plays a big part in Palooka, so I wanted the playlist to feel as if a reader were listening to a juke at some dive bar in Nick's story.
The result? A tremendous and embeddable list of songs that could transport the listener into a bygone era – dance halls in Atlantic City, lavish Hollywood backlots, swanky Vegas casinos, scorched Mississippi plantations, and bourgeois New Orleans saloons. Again, a great way to foster inspiration.
I also wanted to soak up what came before in the hard-boiled and noir arena. I was pleasantly shocked to see a plethora of full-length films available on YouTube and Netflix.
Just a quick sampling of the flicks I was able to stream: Pickup on South Street, Call Northside 777, Sweet Smell of Success, Night and the City, Scandal Sheet, Sunset Blvd., The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Black Dahlia, Hollywoodland, Gilda, Tokyo Joe, Deadline USA, Panic in the Streets, House by the River, Woman in the Window, The Stranger, Witness to Murder, Hideout, The Naked City, Union Station, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Long Goodbye, My Gun is Quick, Kiss Me Deadly, Blonde Ice, While the City Sleeps, Borderline, Kiss of Death, The Prowler, The Night Editor, The Harder They Fall, The Big Caper, The Killing, The Asphalt Jungle, Double Indemnity, Kansas City Confidential, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Detour.
It was time to start writing.
Front Page Palooka (originally titled Union Of The Snakes) was written entirely in the cloud. Sure, a local copy was saved on my main laptop, but whenever I switched computers, it was waiting for me, no matter where I was. My primary service was Skydrive, with a backup on Google Drive and Dropbox. On days when I didn't feel like lugging out the laptop, the writing was done using the same services on my iPad and a great app called IA Writer.
So, there … That’s how a vintage novella set in 1954 was born and bred using cloud services circa 2013. There are so many tools available for writers today to gain inspiration while putting the words down one after another ...