The Story of The Stories: Writing The Dangerous Animals Club
I had a lot of time on my hands when I broke my neck. I couldn’t do much but sit in different rooms. If I sat outside I became a bird watcher. If I sat in front of the piano I became a struggling musician scaring the cat. If I sat in front of the computer I became – what? No idea.
Enter David Chen. By chance he asked me onto his film podcast, slashfilm.com for an interview. He seemed like a personable guy. He was a fan of the movie Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, the storytelling movie I made with Robert Brinkmann. David asked me if I wanted to continue telling stories in a different format. A podcast. Now I knew what I could become sitting at the computer.
David said I could swear. I could be outrageous. I could do anything I wanted. I figured the Internet had plenty of the first two and not nearly enough of the latter. I wrote a story that night. I was happy with it. Then I got another idea: What did I really want to do?
I was almost killed in Iceland on the son-of-a-bitch horse “Little Red.” In an instant I could never have seen my boys again. They would never know who I was. What if I wrote stories about my life – to introduce myself to my children. And tell the stories in a cycle. Stories that overlapped past, present, and future. Nothing sci-fi about it. It’s how we tell a story at a bar.
I began to see three arcs:
1. The beginnings of things.
2. What happens when things go wrong and you have to resort to Plan B.
3. And finally children – the biggest Plan B in anyone’s life. Even if you expect things to change you can never expect how much they will change.
The podcast began forming around these arcs.
Enter Ben Loehnen from Simon and Schuster. I made a book proposal. It got into the hands of several publishers. I had a feeling about Ben. He understood the stories from the git-go. He said that he wanted me to move away from movie-related stories and focus on the larger themed ideas of “The Alchemist” and “Conference Hour.” I began to put the book together from the stories that basically made up the first 25 podcasts of The Tobolowsky Files. The first cycle, the beginnings of things.
As I wrote and re-wrote, I wanted to preserve the ideas that people loved in the podcasts and add any new ideas I had to the stories. That process took almost a year. People who love the podcasts will love the book because they will have many stories they have loved in a readable form with some new material. Readers who know nothing about the podcast will be able to enjoy the stories for the first time.
I am very proud of this book. It always surprises me. Because of the way it moves back and forth through time, it never gives me a chance to settle, and a new part of a story, a new connection between past and present materializes. I end up seeing with clarity a part of my life I never understood before.
I believe that if I tell my story as honestly as possible, we can all relate to the broader truths of things I experienced. That was the theory. If it failed I hoped it would be funny enough to make up the difference.
With love to you, my listeners who have heartened and supported me in telling the stories, to David Chen – good friend and chief goader who kept driving me bigger venues, to Ben Loehnen, my editor, who worked with me to bring the best out in each story, to my agent Jud Laghi who pushed to get the book published, and primarily to my wife Ann – who dealt with me writing at all hours of the day and night for the better part of a year.
I offer this book to you with a lot of joy and a lot of love. We made it to the finish line kids!