Corey Blake Q&A
I’ve developed a fascination with business novels — important organizational lessons taught through story. Thus, I was drawn to EDGE! A Leadership Story, co-authored by Corey Blake.
Bio: Corey’s writing and visionary work has been published in Writer Magazine, Script Magazine, and on StartUp Nation and has been featured on Fox News, NBC5, Sacramento and Co, Adelante (WGN Chicago), and in print such as Young Money, Hoy, La Raza, Hispanic Executive Quarterly, MovieMaker Magazine, Dance Magazine, and Hollywood Screenwriter Magazine. He is the co-author of EDGE! A Leadership Story (finalist, National Best Books 2008 Awards) with Bea Fields and Eva Silva Travers, From the Barrio to the Board Room with Robert Renteria, Excalibur Reclaims Her King with Angelica Harris and The Family Business with Dr. Kay Vogt. He is also Chairman of the Dream of Writers of the Round Table Inc.
Prior to writing, Corey worked in Hollywood as a commercial and voice-over actor starring in campaigns for McDonalds, Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Wrigley’s, Hasbro, Miller, Mitsubishi and the infamous Yard Fitness , where Corey plays basketball naked. Corey also appeared on shows such as “The Shield,” “Fastlane,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Joan of Arcadia,” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” before he produced The Boy Scout and directed and produced Gretchen Brettschneider Skirts Thirty and Unsuitable, all for Elevation 9000 Films.
An avid keynote speaker, Corey has appeared at the Society of Southwestern Authors 2008 Wrangling with Writing Conference, the 93rd Annual Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference, the Virginia Reading Association (with Angelica Harris), Screenwriting Expo 4 (LA Convention Center), Cinespace (Hollywood), Avalon (Hollywood), The Ivar (Hollywood — The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles), Spring into Romance Writing Festival (San Diego), and the Midwest Literary Festival (Chicago).
Corey is proudly married to Dr. Dawn Blake, a psychologist. They make their home in the suburbs of Chicago, and Corey travels frequently back to Los Angeles.
Q&A with Corey Blake:
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: I began and was trained as an actor first (BFA, Millikin University), so I have a strong appreciation for performance and the intimate experience that an audience has with a piece of art (i.e., book, play, movie). After acting professionally in Los Angeles — both on television and in commercials — I realized that while I loved my training in acting and was passionate about performing, I was not in love with the professional side of acting. I showed up on set, shook hands with the director, rehearsed, sat in my trailer for four hours, shot my scene, and then went home.
To be included more in the emotional process of creation, I knew that I needed to be part of the conception of a project, and for that I would have to start my own production company. With that intention, I brought eight other professional actors up to a cabin in Mammoth for a week-long retreat where we discussed story ideas, watched Syd Field’s “Story” DVD, and wrote together. From there we birthed half a dozen projects and a production company called Elevation 9000 Films. We raised financing for and shot a great little 35mm film called The Boy Scout, which I exec-produced. We toured the film around the globe, and I was then approached by Annie Oelschlager to produce and direct her musical comedy film Gretchen Brettschneider Skirts Thirty. That film was another hit.
To further my development process, I started the LA Film Lab with Jesse Biltz and David Charles Cohen (producer, Notorious B. I.G. Bigger than Life), which was a short-lived but successful development company and production class. We shot two more films, both of which I produced and one that I directed. Ultimately, at the end of what I call my PhD in filmmaking, I realized that while I had tremendous vision and creativity and could produce and direct well, what I lacked was great writing. That birthed my desire to learn to craft great stories.
I started helping other writers develop content both for screenplays and books and was then approached by Angelica Harris to assist her with her book Excalibur Reclaims Her King. Then I met with Robert Renteria in 2006, and we started crafting From the Barrio to the Board Room. Later that same year, Bea Fields found me, and we wrote EDGE! A Leadership Story together with Eva Silva Travers. My work as a writer/director of writing really snowballed from there, and I have since been hired to write or “direct” another dozen book projects. I LOVE the creative process. I love working closely with people who have a story to tell and need guidance both throughout the technical and spiritual aspects of putting a story down on paper.
Q: What people or entities have been most influential to you in your story work and why?
A: Barry Pearson’s work with me in his Shakespeare classes at Millikin meant the world to me. He used to make us parade on stage as we recited Shakespeare, moving in one direction until we hit a piece of punctuation and then we’d have to streamline on a different course. That exercise formed the basis of my understanding of the rhythm of words and has had a profound impact on my writing. My study with Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Liebe at Playhouse West was also inspiring. Chris had high standards that pushed me to my edge, and Jeff had a curiosity and playfulness that I adopted and still use to this day in my creative and business work. Ultimately, my clients are most influential to me. They walk away with a book, and I walk away feeling as though I have absorbed their wisdom. For story structure, I am a Syd Field fan. I love his simplicity. I’m a chameleon by nature, so I suppose that I have picked up thousands of useful tidbits from people who have no idea they have influenced me.
Q: How important is it to you and your work to function within the framework of a particular definition of “story?” (i.e., What is a story?)? What definition do you espouse?
A: I am a firm believer in two things: (1) the three-act structure and (2) characters drive stories. I follow the standard inciting incident, plot point one, mid-point, plot point two structure, but within that I have found tremendous freedom. I prepare extensive character bibles before writing any fiction (25-50 pages per main character), and I believe that all the work is done before the actual manuscript writing begins. If the homework is done well, the writing is pure joy. And I’ve experienced that enough to know that it works! In my early years as a writer, I also experienced what a lack of preparation causes; that pain inspired me to create my writing method!
Q: The culture is abuzz about Web 2.0 and social media. To what extent do you participate in social media (such as through LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Second Life, blogs, etc.)? To what extent and in what ways do you feel these venues are storytelling media?
A: I love this question. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Ping, YouTube, and about 15 other sites. My blog feeds into each of those profiles, so obviously I am a believer. Bea Fields is at the cutting edge of social networking, and I am privileged to watch what works and what doesn’t through her experimentation and insight. My marketing director is actually taking a 12-week course with Bea to increase her understanding in this area, which undoubtedly I will be fortunate to gain from!
That being said, your question is regarding the story that social media tells, and that is quite brilliant insight on your part. I was reflecting on this the other day while going through my Twitter account and looking at what people I follow were talking about. I started to sense that there was a story developing around each of them. Little pieces of insight about a person that build over time and create a story about who they are, what they believe in, what they are terrified of, and what they are chasing or running away from. In a sense, social media is the building of character bibles; little bits are revealed over time that eventually build a three-dimensional impression of someone. Facebook is the same. I especially love finding old friends from my youth and slowly morphing what I remember about them with these delicious morsels I learn about their new lives. A new story merges with the old. If anything, social networking has proven my theory that there are six billion people on the planet, and every single one of them has a story to tell!
Q: What future trends or directions do you foresee for story/storytelling/narrative?
A: With so much information accessible, I am a true believer that what has lasting impact is information delivered through some kind of story/performance. Otherwise, it is just content, and content without form is nothing more than information that goes in one ear and out the other. But form married with content is inspiring, and that inspiration is a springboard for learning, for remembering, for processing and ultimately for growth. I’m seeing more businesses turn to storytelling, and that tells me a ton about where we’re headed. Businesses often come to our company and show us the “information” they have been sharing with potential clients. We help them turn that into story that emotionally engages people and attracts new business. People nowadays want to be included in an experience. Good storytelling considers the audience as a player in the story. So while I believe that the publishing industry is falling apart, I also believe that storytelling itself is on the rise.
Q: Your company, Writers of the Round Table Inc., specializes in exceptionally written content. How does storytelling fit into that equation?
A: My belief is that exceptional content is a marriage of information and emotional engagement. Reading is an emotional experience; and if it isn’t, people will go off in search of writing that stirs something within them. That being said, we have a filmmaker’s approach to book writing (collaboration) and a storyteller’s approach to business writing. When I founded the company early in 2006, we started by fulfilling short-term writing assignments and built the business around them (Web copy, press releases, eBooks, articles, white papers). Clients continued to pour into the system, and some of them were looking to write books, so we naturally progressed into that area simultaneously. But everything we do is fueled by story. A business has a story it is trying to communicate. If a company or individual is saying the same thing over and over again, we get bored and tune out. But if someone reels us into a hero’s journey that we feel we are participating in, we not only root for them, we start to get on the train and become part of that success. Why? Because ultimately, our stories are all interconnected. But we need help to tell our stories in a way that engages one another. That’s why people come to us. They know they have the story, but they do not have the ability to string together the words that will evoke the proper emotion.
Q:With the success of Edge! A Leadership Story (named a finalist in The National “Best Books” 2008 Awards), do you foresee creating more narrative nonfiction/business novels? Do you have anything in the works?
A: I just finished Excalibur Reclaims Her King, a medieval fantasy, with Angelica Harris. I’m in love with this book! As far as narrative nonfiction, I just finished the book and the proposal for The Family Business with Dr. Kay Vogt and Jarret Rosenblatt. It is a non-fiction narrative look into the work Kay does with business families — like the ones we watch in the news but rarely get to see behind the curtain. Kay provides guidance to these people and assists them in navigating this incredible world where the family often takes a back seat to the business. It’s a world steeped in power, buckets of money, and quite a few unhappy people. Wonderful stuff for a manuscript that uses a real life narrative to get across some phenomenal new ways of looking at business and family dynamics. We’ll be shopping that this spring.
I’m also working on The Corporate Madonna with Heather Leah Smith and Eva Silva Travers. Heather is a director at Trinity Health, and she has a brilliant approach to business that combines the masculine and feminine in the workplace. Groundbreaking stuff, in my opinion. We use story throughout the book, though it is not a total narrative like EDGE! or The Family Business.
Other than that, we put out Duckey and the Ocean Protectors recently — a book for middle-schoolers about a band of adventurous sea creatures that save the planet, teaching about the oceans and the environment along the way.
I’m also in the middle of working with a man named Daniel Cardwell, who is probably the most intelligent man I have ever worked with, and I’m desperately trying to get my head around his life story. Dan is a dark-skinned German man, a product of WWII, with a German woman for a mother and a dark-skinned American soldier for a father. He grew up unwanted by Germany or the US, unwanted by whites or blacks. His life is a brilliant study of racism from the perspective of total outcast. The story spans nearly every continent as he traveled around the globe working to save African Americans with cancer by bringing radiation technology to underdeveloped nations. We’re not sure of a title for that one yet, but here’s his Web site.