Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Exclusive Interview with Will Todd, Author of “The Telling of My Marching Band Story” (Warning: Be Prepared to Laugh!)

What is this book about?

Let’s start with the blurb: This is the (mostly) true story of one Freshman’s experience during “Hell Week” -- the time allotted to transform 250 summer-vacation bloated recruits into one of the best college marching bands in the country. It’s about Trying. It’s about Truth. It’s about the perfect length for a transcontinental flight.

Except, of course, it’s about more than that. You see, the title of the book isn’t simply “My Marching Band Story”; it’s “The Telling of My Marching Band Story,” which opens up a few more levels. For instance, while the story is told from a first person perspective (a decision arrived at via a stream-of-consciousness Prologue), the Narrator occasionally breaks the 4th wall and speaks directly to the reader, triggering momentary evaluations of the nature of memory, reality, and fiction.

Don’t worry. Not many sentences in the book are as long as that last one. Also, there’s still a hero, a villain, and plenty of chuckles along the way.

Just don’t be surprised if you’re sideswiped by a little introspection, too!

What’s different about this book?

Well, for one thing, the story is told with a minimum of embellishment or, as I like to put it, “I don’t spend paragraphs describing the drapes” (a fiction pet peeve of mine). You see, I was trained as a screenwriter, where the main axiom is, “If it doesn’t move the story forward, dump it.” This makes for a very efficient writing style.

And fast read.

In fact, “The Telling of My Marching Band Story” includes not only the book itself but, as a bonus, the screenplay adaptation of the book. Why? Because I thought there might be some readers interested in comparing the two formats, readers with a genuine interest in scriptwriting...

...i.e., anyone not actually affiliated with Hollywood!

When did you start writing?

Here’s the story I like to tell: I had just graduated college with two degrees in aerospace engineering. I went to work as a NASA liaison with a major aerospace firm in Southern California, with frequent trips to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to sit on consoles during missions. It was a dream job for a young man fresh out of school...

...and within two weeks of getting it, I was plotting a way to get out of it.


Well, here’s what happened: When you start a job at a big company, you often spend a few days just familiarizing yourself with your new surroundings, doing “busy work” (reading company specs, etc.). On one of these days, the other “new hires” were hanging out in my (shared) office, and one of those “Book of 1000 Questions”-type questions came up, namely:

“If you could pick any job you wanted -- do anything you wanted -- what would it be?”

I’ll always remember this for, to my great surprise, in a room full of recently graduated engineers, nobody -- not one -- said “engineering”:

- One guy said he would play the saxophone (tenor, BTW).

- One girl said she would literally like to be a clown (Ringling Brothers).

- And my personal favorite, a friend of mine said he wanted “to race boats” (he lived nowhere near the water!).

But the biggest revelation, of course, was my own answer.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but this impromptu conclave was one of the first times I ever really thought about “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” You see, the choice of engineering had been an easy one, almost an automatic one. I grew up in Michigan, far away from the entertainment business, and always did well academically, particularly in science. The University of Michigan was only an hour away, with one of the best engineering schools in the country, and their aerospace program -- I loved “Star Trek” -- would guarantee me a good-paying job right out of college.

So that’s what I did.

Even though, deep down, I loved the fiction of “Star Trek” more than the reality of the aerospace business.

But sitting in my new hire office that day, surrounded by other recent graduates opening up about their own dreams, I looked around and thought, “Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life? If I could become CEO of this company, is that what I want to work the next 40-50 years to achieve?”

And the answer -- much to my shock even though it could also be labeled “of course” -- was “No.”

So, really for the first time, I started thinking seriously about “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Thus, within 2 weeks of graduating college, moving to Los Angeles, and starting my “dream” job in the aerospace business, I began creating scripts after work, setting my sights on the entertainment biz and Hollywood.

Which is the long way of saying:

That’s when I started writing.

Have you written anything we might have heard of?

Okay, since that last story was a lengthy one, we’ll skip the tangled process of actually getting paid to write scripts and


Success. Preparation finally met Opportunity, and I experienced some Luck, including being involved with two projects you might have actually heard of, one in television, one in movies:

Television: I was a writer on “THE WONDER YEARS” for a couple of the early seasons. This time, it was, quite literally, the dream job for me. If anyone remembers, here are the two episodes I wrote (out of half a dozen or so) that are probably best known:

- “Coda”: Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage, our 13-year-old protagonist) takes piano lessons. Then quits piano lessons. And wonders, like so many of us looking back, what might have been...

- “Square Dance”: The annual torture of square dancing instruction in gym class is amplified for Kevin when he is partnered with the oddest girl in school, “the flagship for seventh-grade weirdness,” Margaret Farquhar. But appearances can be deceiving...

Movies: I wrote the original “TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES” (and its first sequel, which we’ll confine to the parentheses here). Actually, it was a rewrite. The producers came to me after failing to find a distributor to finance the film. The clock was ticking, and the movie was going to be shelved. I ended up writing a screenplay in exactly 10 days, for exactly as much money as they probably spent on bagels during production. Still, unlike any other picture in Hollywood history, there turned out to be actual “net profits.” Cowabunga!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?


Come on.

Seriously, no.

Come onnnnn...

Okay, but some of you are not going to like it.

I’m one of those guys who believes that the best way to learn how to write is to write.

- Not attend seminars.

- Not take endless notes from friends, colleagues, or mentors.

- Not do endless rewrites “polishing” the same work over and over and over and --

William Blake said: “Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.”

You’ve just gotta write. Remember that “CUT TO: Success” thing I did above? That was years of “just writing.”

You’ll be not-so-good at first, but you’ll get better.

And you’ll know when it’s good.

Do you have a website?

I do.


Made it myself. [See William Blake quote above!]

How can we order this book?


Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/78975

Or you can go to my website and link from there.

Any last words?

“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Wait a minute, those were the actor Edmund Kean’s last words!

Oh, you meant last words from me.


Okay, yeah, I’ve got one:


Read the book. You’ll get it.

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