Without giving away too much

I haven’t written on the craft of writing for awhile but yesterday morning as I watched CSB Today the cast of the cop drama, Blue Bloods were on which reminded me of the tried and true aspects of character development.

The show is going into it’s eighth season. When asked what kept it alive and fresh, all 3 guest stars, Tom Selleck, Bridget Moynahan, and Will Estes claimed it was the writing.

In Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck plays NYPD Commissioner Frank Reagan, a widower and patriarch of a law enforcement-steeped family. His character is macho, stubborn and lives by a double standard. With three grown children, he steps in to make sure his sons, a detective and a patrol cop never get any favoritism while he makes deals behind the scenes with his daughter, an Assistant D.A., ensuring he gets what he asks for. Although the show portrays family values of loyalty, mutual respect and they congregate weekly to have a family dinner together it’s main attraction is that it’s a character driven show. Characters are at the heart of the best stories. 

You need to establish your characters so that they are flawed and relatable, without giving away too much. Readers need to slowly discover what makes them tick. So whether it’s a television show or a novel, without good characters, readers won’t care about the fascinating world or the intricate plot a writer creates. Crafting a protagonist readers will love, or an antagonist that we love to hate, will keep readers glued and become characters that readers will want to hang out with, time after time.

Better than I Remembered

Today was a sunny day and most would call it beautiful but with cold and rain, life has fallen into a quiet pace.

I love waking up to the soft ambiance of rain outside my window. In the mornings I am reminded how in Europe I would count the bell tolls while the angular winter light raked across the crumpled bed covers.

I watch the trees, vines and the rosebushes rest…on my long walks, the vista dotted with chimney stacks dancing with smoke spreading a foreign scent, one that lingers while a dusty haze settles in at dusk, as a faint reminder of richer blue skies ahead.

As evening approaches the cry of parrots marks the end of day as they dance to their symphony in the sky.

The quiet of a gray sky seems to hum after years of a glaring sun that thrives on noise. With it comes a place where one can create and paint all the worlds I dream of.

The nights are illuminated by hearty home cooked meals.

All that comes with the season, is better than I remembered. I shall miss it when it’s over. For years I cursed the winter, I never knew it could actually be so warm.

A Muse or a Whim

For Christmas I received a little fictional bon bon for the discerning literary palate.  As  my friend pointed out, Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock is a trilogy of strange and delightful images, and a story-line with a mystery.

The entire set of books are inventive and imaginative and wonderful…especially for someone like me who lives to write letters.

It has beautiful, sometimes disturbing artwork that only adds to the postcard and letters that have been written between a couple.  I could spend hours just looking at the artwork, finding something new with each glance. It’s that wonderful.

Throughout the trilogy, there is the slightly guilty thrill of opening an envelope addressed to someone else and reading the letters.

Equal parts Romantic (in the Byron sense), Impressionist and Surrealist, Griffin and Sabine is a memorable experience. I read a book each day, while it rained and took my time savoring each book; wrapping myself up in this charming, intriguing, simple yet incredibly layered piece of art.

Its best feature is that it is a very non-traditional book. As an experiment in artificial “found” literature, the book follows the correspondence of two random people separated by miles and culture who are tied together by an inexplicable link. This book is a window into that connection and their discovery of one another.

Sabine has the gift of second -sight and begins to correspond with Griffin since she can psychically see his artwork. She too is an artist. Griffin feels threatened by her knowledge but eventually out of loneliness and her emotional support forms a friendship.  Despite his emotional wall, he falls in love first.  She reciprocates his feelings, and we sense they are soul-mates.

In the second volume it’s Sabine’s turn, like a treasure hunt, to find the answer to the ultimate question, or maybe to find the question of self. She travels to meet Griffin.  Scared that Sabine isn’t just a figment of his imagination, but a real person, Griffin flees.  Now their letters and cards are coming from all around the globe. Is it real? Is it love? Is someone else watching them?

The artistically beautiful poetic declarations of love are worth reading over and over again.  And every medium is used to its finest and fullest potential from collage, watercolor, print, to script.

A bit darker than the first in this trilogy. The second book ends with another bit of mystery.

In the final book, Griffin is back in England and Sabine returns home. It looks as though they are back to where they began, but they remain determined to meet one another.

And, we are introduced to a third character, who appears to have something to do with their inability to actually meet, but who he is and what his actual intentions are is  somewhat vague.

The writing this time around is a bit more grounded, perhaps because of the very real interference in the physical world. And Sabine’s’ psychic gift is waning. The consideration given to the correspondents’ strange connection is played down, with more emphasis given not only to the danger they’re suspecting in their world(s) but also to the physical longing they both now feel after missing each other in transit.

The art feels similarly placed on solid ground, particularly after the trans-global mysticism that seemed to have gotten in with Griffin’s travels last volume. We see less outright experimentation on both sides,and indeed one of the cards this time is simply a color negative of a previous one.

The series could have ended here, and indeed it appears we have seen the end of the extraordinary correspondence between Griffin and Sabine.  But the story’s not quite over.  And the ending leaves much to the reader’s imagination as to what happens to the pair.

I’d like to think that they formed a union in some far away land and continued to do their art, living happily ever after.

If you’ve read the books please feel free to comment.

If not, I encourage you to do so, and be stirred by lovely art, wonderful prose, romanticism and the feeling of eternal love.

It Don’t Come Easy

Laypeople often don’t understand the labor that goes into writing. As I’ve said before, writers are not born they are self-made. Today, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into what famous writers did for a living before they made their literary mark.

James Joyce sang and played piano while struggling to publish Dubliners. (It was rejected 22 times, and he sang a lot.)

Nabokov was an entomologist of under-appreciated greatness. He died in 1977, and his theory of butterfly evolution was proven to be true in early 2011 using DNA analysis.

J. D. Salinger was the entertainment director on a Swedish luxury liner.

Harlan Ellison claims that by the age of 18, he’d been a “tuna fisherman off the coast of Galveston, itinerant crop-picker in New Orleans, hired gun for a wealthy neurotic, nitroglycerine truck driver in North Carolina, short order cook, cab driver, lithographer, book salesman, floorwalker in a department store, and door-to-door brush salesman. It should be noted that he’s a guy who writes fiction for a living, too.

Raymond Carver worked with his father at a sawmill after graduating from High School. Later, he would work as a janitor, delivery man and again at the sawmill to support his family while building his career as a short-storyist.

Haruki Murakami worked in a record store during college. Just before graduation, he and his wife opened a coffeehouse and jazz bar in Tokyo called the Peter Cat.

Before writing 1984, George Orwell was an officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He shouldered the heavy burden of protecting the safety of some 200,000 people, and was noted for his sense of fairness.

Though one might expect the author of Moby-Dick to have some experience at sea, it’s interesting to note that Herman Melville was employed as a cabin boy on a cruise liner after his attempts to secure a job as a surveyor for the Erie Canal were thwarted. He made a single voyage from New York to Liverpool.

Kurt Vonnegut was the manager of a Saab dealership in West Barnstable, Massachusetts—one of the first Saab dealerships in the United States. He also worked in public relations for General Electric.

While everyone knows about Jack London’s experiences in the Klondike Gold Rush, a time that heavily influenced his writing, it’s not-so-common knowledge that as a very young man, Jack London worked at a cannery, then became an oyster pirate.

A strange job, perhaps, but working as a tour guide at a fish hatchery led John Steinbeck to his first wife, Carol Henning. Later, he would work long hours at a grueling warehouse job until his father began supplying him with writing materials and lodging to focus on his literary career.

It’s no surprise that Jack Kerouac worked some odd jobs. These include but are not limited to: gas station attendant, cotton picker, night guard railroad brakeman, dishwasher, construction worker, and a deckhand.

Harper Lee, author of one of the great American novels and winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, worked as a reservation clerk at Eastern Airlines when she received a note from friends: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” By the next year, she’d penned To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lucky Lady to have had a benefactor.

Lucky 11/7

Being visual, I often find an image that inspires a story. Sometimes it works the other way around. LaRocheGK

When I came across this I thought not only of the Princess of Monaco but of the Princess of Wands, part open and vulnerable but also stoking the flames of justice ready to defend herself.

When I use to give myself readings, I often pulled this card. It indicated I had broken through habitual limitations and restrictions, freeing my power to be used constructively.

More importantly, it reflects a spiritual breakthrough, which includes the courage to face your fears, and see them for what they truly are.

One strange fact about unacknowledged fears is that they take on the darkest, most horrifying shape with which your subconscious can imbue them.

Now back to a story. I would use this representation and form a character that is head-strong, faithful and make her as an enemy, dangerous.  I would also make her so immersed in life that she won’t waste time on negative pursuits. I’d also have her place morality and ethics high on her list of priorities.

What short story would you be inspired to write from this image? Please do share.

Explosion of Laughter

Back in 1907 French playwright Georges Feydeau https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Feydeau wrote a masterpiece in A Flea in her Ear. But like any quality production a century has not made it go stale. Primarily because the theme is so French and when you add humor to the mix you get inventiveness. Seeing the performance given to me as my birthday treat this past week-end, its’ comedy still erupts on stage. The new version set in Paris in the 1950’s by David Ives held at A Noise Within ushers in a re-evaluation of farce.

Where does one begin in praising Feydeau? Perhaps with the thrift and beauty of his plotting. The action is propelled by the wrongful belief of the wife of Monsieur Chandebise that he is having an affair. So she lays a trap by getting an old school friend to write a letter tempting Chandebise to a rendezvous at the Frisky Puss Hotel. The name alone tells you its’ an establishment with a dubious reputation. Unfortunately Chandebise shows it to the friend’s husband, a manic Spaniard who recognizes his wife’s writing. The Spaniard with his wild Latin temperament, wiry frame and cocky mannerisms was all too familiar and had me cackling and in tears.

From that simple device Feydeau contrives a riotous second act in which the couples, plus the Chandebise household, converge on the seedy hotel.

Feydeau’s masterstroke is to make the hotel’s drunken porter, Poche, a dead ringer for the respectable Chandebise. This not only provokes escalating misunderstandings but gives the lead actor a chance to play dual roles, one that was played with fast movements and hysteria. His Chandebise is a prim insurance broker whose very walk implies monumental self-importance. In contrast, his Poche is a grinning drunken buffoon who can’t believe his luck when total strangers suddenly kiss him.

There is a brilliant performance from Luis Fernandez Gil as the inflammatory, heel-clicking Spaniard, and a very good one from Rafael Goldstein as the nephew Camille, a lecherous young spark, who spends much of the evening looking for the silver roof to his cleft palate.

The result was a hearty funny evening of whirlwind insanity; and my new year wish is that we return to a genre that was once dubbed “the quintessence of theatre.”