As far back as I can remember, I’ve written and I’ve created stories. The stories were what would be expected from a child I suppose, knights and dragons and princesses…and usually I was the dragon or the princess.
But I couldn’t tell my family about that. They saw an average boy…who often cried. And as time passed, I was viewed as the Black Sheep of the family, the odd one, the weird one, the loser. My parents did a job on me, I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was raised in a very typical ultra-conservative family with a hint a religious zealotry on the part of my paternal grandmother who instead that being left handed was a curse from God, as if They don’t have anything better to occupy their time than cursing people for being lefties. We went to church only when she demanded, but the ultra-conservative home life remained. Gender stereotypes were enforced. Deviation was punished or ridiculed. Gender double standards existed. If I was late for curfew I got the belt while my sister got an extended curfew to give her more time to get home on time.
My father was an authoritarian who, as an attorney, enjoyed picking fights at the dinner table. Admittedly, getting my ass whipped in a debate whenever I disagreed with him (which was often) made me a better debater. I learned to anticipate most counter-arguments and learned to research and support my claims. My mother was the homemaker and worked part-time until we got old enough to be home alone. She also was a nasty drunk who created stories which were easily proven false, yet she still clung to the false narratives. My sister is not like either. She’s a spoiled brat. I’m not afraid to call her what she is.
All of these form the basis for the “villians” in my stories. Even when I was young, I’d create stories that included my every day demons–my grandmother, father, mother and sister. My father became the ogre, the troll under the bridge. Mother was the wicked hag, my sister often was represented by some oh-woe-is-me character, like a talking Weeping Willow. My grandmother…she was the ultimate villian, the one who judged everyone for their wrongdoings, who accused others of stealing when she had to proof, the one who forced people to do her bidding.
I kept a diary for a little while, but my mother was a snooper. As I grew I developed an infatuation with Prince and Ziggy Stardust. I felt connected to their androgyny. It was somehow familiar and comforting. And I realized how I felt about other boys and girls. I found no difference in my preferences. These feelings weren’t (and still aren’t) in line with the conservative view of people.
So I wrote about these feelings of difference, but at the time there were no words to fill in the blanks, but I wrote short stories, not very good ones though. I wrote about boys in dresses and with make-up on. I explored feminine undergarments too. I felt I should live my stories.
As a child, I couldn’t express myself openly. But now, as an adult, I write these feelings and lived experiences into my work. For example, my TV dramedy FALLING OUT mirrors my actual life, it’s semi-autobiographical and takes on gender and sexuality issues head-on while drawing viewers into the lives of a group of LGBTQ friends in New York City. My 30-minute comedy KUSHY’S draws upon my sexuality and my conservative upbringing,focusing on racist, sexism, and every other -ism there is.
While in grad school I was taught to write what you know. I’ve always done that and fictionalized it.
I think that’s what every writer does (or should do). Take the angst of childhood, of life, and create it. While most producers, managers, agents and directors might not understand the profound connection you have to the work–rarely do you get to explain why you wrote it, how it’s relevant to you, because it’s not about you, it’s about money and entertainment–creating characters based partially on your experiences. This will ensure you’re fully engaged in the show or movie or play.
In other words: Write what you know.