After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full-time writer and Podcaster. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca
After spending most of 2015 rewriting Whittier, it was time to turn my attention to writing BURST! For those of you that don’t know, Hollywood basically shuts down in November and doesn’t re-open until mid to late January. That being the case, there was no point in even bothering to worry about what could or couldn’t happen to Whittier. That was going to be 2016’s problem.
When I was a kid, I loved reading. Especially Stephen King. I was reading books like The Stand WAAAAAY before I should have; I think I read it in like 6th grade. I’m not sure where I picked up this factoid, but I found out that Stephen King had first gotten published when he was in high school. Clearly, I was behind and tried several times to sit down and write a “great novel.”
Unfortunately, it just never happened.
I didn’t have the discipline required to force myself to bang out 500 pages. No matter how hard I tried, I could never pull it off. The task was too daunting.
Many years later, I would find screenwriting and that was the perfect length for me. A script of 110 pages wasn’t too short and wasn’t too long. I found that, not only could I tell the stories in my head, but I could also actually FINISH them.
A bonus for any writer, as finishing is most of the battle.
Then what happened to Cheryl happened, and I was sitting next to her bedside in the ICU Googling just about everything I could, desperately looking for answers to questions that were beyond my control.
What’s a vasospasm?
What’s an angiogram?
Would she ever walk again?
Would she be able to talk?
Is she brain damaged now?
Was she gonna die?
One guy said after his stroke it took him six months to be able to walk again. Another woman said it took her a year. A third person said that her speech came back after a few days, another said that he was five years out and still had speech problems.
And the doctors? They weren’t any fucking help. If there response wasn’t “we don’t know,” it was some fortune cookie bullshit like “one day at a time.”
So there I sat, scrolling through website after website reading as much as I could. The one common denominator was that EVERYONE’S story varied. The doctors are very much right (don’t tell them I said that): They really don’t know. Brain injuries are a strange bedfellow and every brain works differently.
There are things wrong with Cheryl that completely boggles the minds of professional neurologists who have have 30+ years in the biz.
For example, Cheryl is deaf. Based on the location of her stroke, she SHOULDN’T be deaf.
That, in of itself, perplexes people but Cheryl wouldn’t be Cheryl if she didn’t add a twist of her own flavor in. You see, Cheryl is deaf, but she can read lips. A trick she learned when she was younger and thankfully hung on to post-brain popping.
Now, hearing is a lower brain function and something like reading lips is a higher brain function. So how the hell can she read lips, but can’t hear?!
The doctors don’t have a freakin’ clue.
The worst part? They don’t really seem to care. Their position is: “Hey! You can talk to her. It’s all good in the hood.”
Drives me crazy… anyway, rant tangent over… where were we?
The point is, someone should tell others about all of this shit. About what we went through with the doctors and the insurance companies and the nurses and other patients.
Instead of having information on several different websites, this shit needed to be in one centralized location. That way the next person who’s frantically Googling for answers in an ICU somewhere could just find everything in one place.
And… like the arrogant person that I am, I felt that the person to put all of that shit in one location was me.
I had made the decision to write a book pretty early on. Maybe around day 10, when Cheryl was in the middle of her coma. In fact, thanks to the beauty of the iPad, I had already jotted down a few stories but eventually walked away from it. It was TOO painful to try and write shit down while it was happening in front of me.
Especially given the fact that, as grim as this thought may be, I really didn’t know how the story was going to end.
Thankfully, if you’ve been reading my shit from the beginning, you know I have a pretty vivid memory, so there was never any worry that I would forget something. Plus, I had started taking pictures on day 2. At first the pictures of Cheryl all tubed up in the ICU were meant to act as warning signs.
If that bitch even THOUGHT about picking up a cigarette after she gets home, we’ll flash her the pictures of her in the ER and remind her she needed to take care of herself.
Once the book idea was set in my brain, the pictures became all about documenting EVERYTHING.
As I stated before, I have pictures and video of every big moment of her recovery. Pictures and video through the 127 days she spent in the hospital and pictures and video throughout the eight months on in home rehab she endured once she got OUT of the hospital.
After Whittier fell apart, I felt like I had enough distance from the hospital to finally sit down and write a book about what happened.
THE CONCEPT OF THE BURST!…
The concept was pretty simple. I would specifically focus solely on those first 127 days. Eventually, I would write a second book which would cover the eight months of rehab she went through, but it was important to get everything we went through in those 127 days because that was the most phone Googling I did.
I knew I would need to write an introduction explaining that I wasn’t a doctor, that brain injuries are wonky, and that, while the book covers a great deal, everyone’s mileage will vary and this book should act as a starting place to better inform you on your journey.
Another thing I would need would be a little backstory, explaining a little bit about Cheryl and the relationship we formed. Everyone’s got to have a reason to care about your main character, right? That’s 101 level crap.
So I had my intro and my first chapter, obviously second chapter would be about getting the phone call and rushing to the ER. From there, it would all be linear ending with Cheryl coming home.
I would also need to write an epilogue about where Cheryl was today because I knew I couldn’t end the book with “…and then she came home. The End.”
I could hear the screams from miles away as readers tossed my book across the room in anger.
Now that I had an outline in my head I had to deal with a bigger issue… how the hell do you write a book?!
WHAT TO WRITE IT IN…
Finny as it is, this is the thing I struggled with the most. I mean, coming from the land of screenplays you have dedicated programs like Fade In and *ahem* Final Draft that does all the shit for you.
But what about people who want to write books? What do they use?
I reached out to some friends who have written books and they all came back with the same answer, “write it in Microsoft Word.”
Well, as a professional writer, I can honestly say… with no shyness… that Microsoft Word can suck my balls and lick my ass at the same time. Which would be impossible since Microsoft Word has never been able to do two things at the same time, the right way.
There was Pages, Apple’s word processing program, which I liked and used to write chapters in the hospital, but I wasn’t a fan of having tons of documents all over the place.
I also knew from my past experience trying to write a book, that I wouldn’t be able to finish the book if I wrote it all in one long file. If I saw page count, I would freak and give up.
Nope, each chapter had to be written separately.
I also knew I needed something that worked off the cloud and had to be available on all platforms as I never knew when I was going to write so I had to be able to write on my iPhone, iPad and Mac Mini.
After a shitload of research, I finally settled on Ulysses. I would be able to create one umbrella file with as many sub-files (i.e. chapters) as I needed.
Now that I knew what I was going to use to write, I sat down and started creating files for the chapters/stories I wanted to tell. (See photo below).
Besides the intro and the backstory, I knew I’d have to tell the story of Cheryl’s coma. Then I’d have to tackle dealing with getting her insurance and then her walking for the first time. Plus that whole Friday that I angered the insurance company so much that they had a secret meeting about me.
Then there were other chapters I knew I wanted to write, chapters that would make life a little easier for those that were reading it. Stuff like “how hospitals works” or “how nurses are your friends” or “dealing with dipshit doctors.”
Then there was the other stuff you go through. The HOME stuff. The fact that you learn who your friends REALLY are and that you’re probably going to get into some fights with the people you need the most.
All of these things were just as important as Cheryl’s journey.
Remember, the goal here was to create a one-stop shopping extravaganza.
So I just created sub files with all of those chapter headings. Now that those were all figured out, it was time to put words to page.
ACTUAL WRITING (a.k.a. THE MATH)…
Through the years, between this column and “the other one,” I have learned one thing about myself: I can write 1,500 words like it was nothing.
(Fun Fact: We’re at 1,716 riiiiiight… NOW.)
1,500 words equals, roughly, 8 pages.
8 pages is an acceptable size for 1 chapter.
50 chapters equals 1 book.
It takes me roughly 45-60 minutes to bang out 1,500 words, even quicker if I don’t have to think about what I want to say, just say it.
Now, I know that I can write a column every week because that’s what I used to do before. So that means, I’d be able to write 1 column a day if I needed to.
So, hypothetically, all I would need to do is write for 45 minutes a day in order to have 1 chapter completed per day.
If I stuck to that, I’d have a book in 50 days.
Quicker if I knocked out 2 chapters a day which would, again hypothetically, take 1 1/2-2 hours out of my day.
Easy. Now I would just need to find the perfect spot.
THE PERFECT SPOT…
Happy hour at Taco Beach in downtown Long Beach. Free chips and salsa (the food) and cheap beer (the drink).
Special props to Ronnie, the bartender at Taco Beach, who not only kept me well lubricated, but would also give me extra salsa.
Fun Fact: I’m sitting in my seat at Taco Beach writing this column.
And so there I sat, not every day, but for most of December 2015. Everyday, I would park, order a Bud Lite, open up my iPad, take a look at the list of stories I wanted to tell and hope to bang out 1,500 words.
Which brings me to the other thing I’ve learned as a writer: I never JUST write 1,500 words. (1,972 NOW).
I always go over.
Same thing with screenwriting. If I shoot for 100 pages, I’ll always come in around 110.
Anyway, so there you have it. In the end, I ended up with a 500 page book. Although, to be fair, that includes the pictures. After some editing, I whittled it down to a little over 400 pages.
In the end though, that’s how I write a book in a month.
Once the book was written, I exported the chapters out of Ulysses into Pages and did some final formatting. I cleaned up the pages, added italics and bold where I needed, tried to figure out the best font size for the chapter headings and whether I wanted just chapter titles or if I wanted to include numbers too.
You know, serious matters at hand.
That took about a week. Once the book was finished to my liking, I shipped it off to Barny who knew a couple of agents that might help me out.
In March of 2016, I landed an agent. What I thought was going to be a great year, ended up being a miserable one. I mean, agents are supposed to make things easier, right?
But that’s a story for next time…
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