Monday, April 15, 2013

No Alternative Blog Tour: Guest Post & Excerpt

NO ALTERNATIVE is a coming-of-age drama that drills a hole into the world of suburban American teenagers in the early 90's.

Thomas Harrison is determined to start his own alternative band, an obsession that blinds him to what's either the mental collapse, or the eruption of musical genius, of his little sister, Bridget. Bridget boldly rejects her brother's music, and the music of an entire generation of slackers, by taking on the persona of an X-rated gangsta' rapper named "Bri Da B."
NO ALTERNATIVE probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the "Sex, Drugs & Rock'n'Roll" ethos was amended to include "Suicide" in its phrase. 

About the Author

William Dickerson graduated from The College of The Holy Cross with a degree in English and received his Masters of Fine Arts in Directing from The American Film Institute. He is an award-winning writer/director whose work has been recognized by film festivals across the country. He recently published his first novel, “No Alternative,” and completed his debut feature film, DETOUR, which hits Theaters and Video On Demand (VOD) this year. He is currently finishing up his second feature, THE MIRROR.
He is hard at work on several new feature films and is writing another novel. In his spare time, he creates music for his band 9068dash39.
He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rachel, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Duet.


“No Alternative,” from Screenplay to Novel

The origin of “No Alternative,” as a piece of media, was a screenplay.

I reverse-engineered the script I had been working on for a number of years into a novel.  While the process was tedious and intimidating, it was also one of the most satisfying creative endeavors I have ever embarked upon.  I studied English as an undergrad, graduating with a BA from Holy Cross, and then went on to study screenwriting and directing at The American Film Institute.  I’ve probably written 25-30 scripts over the course of my career, but I had never written a novel.  Needless to say, there was a part of me – a big part of me – that felt it was a league I was simply unsuited to play in.  However, what it comes down to – what it always comes down to – is story.  If you think you have a good story to tell, a story that connects with people and stirs their emotions, the formalities of the “telling” part can be learnt, honed and practiced.  

“No Alternative” is a story that is a very personal one.  I drew on my past experience as a teenager growing up in the northeastern suburbs in the early 90’s to lay the foundation of the narrative.  Since I was comfortable with the screenplay format, naturally, I began developing the story within it.  Typically, a screenplay is limited to 90-120 pages, and if you’ve read one before, you may have noticed there’s a lot of white on the page.  An action paragraph should not technically exceed four lines, and anything resembling an excerpt from a book – an extended inner monologue, or a hint of an inner monologue at all – is a surefire way to get a movie executive to stop turning your pages and toss the script back onto his or her desk.  While the idea of “show don’t tell” is practiced in novel writing, it is of much more critical importance in screenwriting.  In the case of “No Alternative,” it turns out that I had a lot more to say, to show, and to tell.  I felt it starting to exceed the limitations of the screenplay form, which steered me toward the idea of committing the story and all its layers to the pages of a book.  

The “writing” part of writing for the screen is not the end in itself.  There is satisfaction in completing a screenplay; however, it’s only the first step in a long collaborative process of creation.  You must then film what is written, which requires casting actors, building sets, designing costumes, lighting the space, filming and recording sound.  That is what I refer to as the second revision of the script.  Then, you must edit the sound and images together; the entire feel of the film can be altered for better or worse in this stage.  The pacing, which is fine-tuned in this stage, is critical, particularly for conveying humor (comedy is all about timing) and maintaining suspense.  This is the third and final revision of the script.  The film then goes into post-production sound and color correction, where you polish whatever is left of your original idea.  

This process is exhilarating, as it utilizes many different facets of artistic skill, but it is not, and will never be, completely yours.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it is most certainly representative of the “evolution” of an idea, not necessarily representative of the original essence of that idea.  Writing a novel is the singular exploration of an idea by a singular hand.  For all intents and purposes, “No Alternative,” the novel, is as close to resembling the original idea I had for this story as it will ever possibly be, and that is enormously satisfying.


No Alternative, Excerpt 1


Suicide is a universally human phenomenon.  It’s what separates us from the animals, despite the fact that people shun it and cloak it in taboo.  Animals do not commit suicide, at least that’s the common wisdom.  It is this received wisdom that reveals something about our attitudes on the subject, as suicide is most always painted in the light of shame and pity, something we reserve for lesser beings than ourselves.  In actuality, suicide is a refined and selfless act, usually a result of many thoughtful hours, days, months, or years of meticulous and steadfast preparation.  Suicide is not thoughtless; it’s precisely the opposite.
In order to commit suicide, one must be aware of one’s life coming to an end – this awareness is wholly human, since animals are thought to be incapable of sharing this recognition.  But how can we really know this?  This is a purely clinical assumption.  There are occasions when dogs sink into depression, whether as a result of old age or from a reaction to emotional stimuli such as a master dying, and they willfully stop eating, eventually starving themselves to death.  Do they understand that if they do not eat, they will die?  Perhaps not in any literal sense, but it’s difficult to believe that such actions are taken without any awareness of the consequences.
Take as an example the story of one such case.  In Rome, Italy, the owner of a Spanish Cocker Spaniel passed away.  When paramedics removed his prone body from his house, the dog hurled itself from the third floor.  The pet lived, suffering a broken leg.  After being treated by the vet, its leg immobilized in a cast, it returned home in the custody of one of its owner’s distant relatives.  In spite of a profound difficulty moving, and the supervision of the relative, the dog broke free of its leash and again threw itself from the third floor of the house in which it was raised.  This time, it accomplished what was presumably its goal: it died.
Suicide is unbiased, non-partisan.  It transcends gender, perhaps even species.  In a biological sense, it’s pure.  At no other time in recent memory was suicide so prominent in the zeitgeist of Americana than in the early 1990’s.  The perceptive pop listener might argue that the 80’s foreshadowed such a day of reckoning.  In Billy Joel’s song, “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” history ended when the 80’s did, as if each day that passed after his song debuted was one match strike closer to oblivion.  Listeners were left longing for his song to stretch into the 90’s, if for no other reason than to reference Crystal Pepsi in his “Cola Wars.”
In a way, history did come to an end.  There was an overwhelming stench of death in the air, emanating from the rotten music that decadent decade dished out.  What was considered music in the 80’s was reduced to ashes in the wake of the conflagration of three unknown musicians from Seattle, Washington – actually, two were from a shithole logger town called Aberdeen, and their drummer, Dave, was from Olympia.  They declared war against the music industry, whether intentionally or not, and their declaration was a singular record album, Nevermind; an album on which there’s not a single fade-out.  Every song simply crashes to an abrupt and decisive end.  As the band’s front-man appropriately said in his suicide letter, it’s “better to burn out, than to fade away...  That line was taken from Neil Young, but what 15 year-old nose-picker plugging his ears with punk knew that at the time Cobain quoted him?
What Billy Joel couldn’t “take” anymore in his Billboard Top One Hundred tune was different from what teenagers at the time couldn’t take anymore.  To be quite frank, we couldn’t take anymore of his fucking song.  Or of Guns and Roses and their sweet children; or of Warrant and their baked goods; or of Def Leppard’s sugar, some of which Warrant must have borrowed to make their cherry pie.  The 90’s ushered in an independent, do-it-yourself, ethic; a way to proactively and publicly flush the 80’s down the toilet.  Some music critics have argued that this was simply a resurgence of the punk rock ideology that thrived in the late 70’s, and there’s some truth to that.  History is cyclical and not only was punk rock reinvented in the early 90’s, so, apparently, was the suicide cult – what Jim Jones did for the Peoples Temple, in which he and 914 of his followers died in a mass murder-suicide at Jonestown in 1978, the charismatic David Koresh did for the Branch Davidians, and their 55 dead adults and 21 dead children, in Waco, Texas, in 1993.  From Sid Vicious to Kurt Cobain, Jim Jones to David Koresh, artists and psychopaths alike were immersed in the cumulative whirlpools of thought, aggression, freshly clipped nerve-endings, disaffection, and the do-it-yourself zeitgeist of the moment.  
Absolutely nothing is more do-it-yourself than suicide.


Suicide is the thing; the goal; the beginning and the end; the next big thing; the be all, end all; the eye in the sky – it’s the Tylenol bottle with the 20 bonus pills, because swallowing an entire bottle of Tylenol can kill you.
Suicide is an option; it’s an alternative; it’s aqua seafoam shame; it’s dead of a shotgun blast to the head.
Suicide is the lyric of a song; packaged inside a gold record.
Spin the black circle.


If the lyric is death, then the song is life itself, trapping its lyrics within a recurring embrace of murder and conception, all controlled by your Aiwa Minisystem’s three-disc CD player, its repeat button the key to everlasting life.  Some traditionalists will prefer the analogy of a vinyl record, the black circle, a turntable needle skipping along its groove; however, to recent generations, the black circle is a relic, just another obstacle to sidestep in the attic when it comes time to store your sweaters.  To some boys and girls, the black circle is an object unknown.  If you can’t see your image reflected in it, it won’t play your music.  There’s something appropriate about that.  
There were still tape cassettes around in the 90’s, stacked up on shelves somewhere, neatly organized in shoeboxes, an arm’s length away for the convenient use of breaking up weed.  By this time, though, they were mostly used to record rock bands in garages on four-track machines or used to record mix-tapes to win the affections of girls – magnetic pleas for admittance into their unsullied jeans in the back of your Mom’s Ford Taurus.
If you were a teenager in the early 90’s, music as you knew it died on April 8th, 1994.  The day the music died and grunge was born, but only grunge as a catchphrase, as an advertising motif.  It was the beginning of a movement.  Back when MTV actually aired music videos, rather than the onslaught of reality television programming they broadcast now, and viewers made a point to sit at home in their beanbags and watch those videos, on this day, they stopped airing their music videos, however briefly, and their perpetually coiffed and stoic news anchor, Kurt Loder, commandeered the airwaves to impart a Special Report to a legion of slacker viewers:

The body of Nirvana leader, Kurt Cobain, was found in a house in Seattle Friday morning dead of an apparently self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.  Cobain’s body was discovered by an electrician carrying out repairs at the musician’s house.  Sources claim he had been missing for several days.  The singer, whose band achieved global fame with the release of its album, Nevermind, in 1991, recently survived a drug and alcohol-induced coma in Rome last month.  A statement from Nirvana’s management company said: ‘We are deeply saddened by the loss of such a talented artist, close friend, loving husband and father.’  Police found what is said to be a suicide note at the scene, but have not yet divulged its contents.


Spin the black circle.  

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