About Me

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Viggo Mortensen, Writing, and The Road

I don't consciously model my fiction characters often after a real life actor, but I find we tend to "absorb" these people we see and admire in so large a life, and "make them our own." The character I've modeled after Viggo Mortensen is not him, and not any character he has ever played, not even Aragorn in the three Lord of the Rings movies, but in another sense, he is a part of the character I wrote about in my James Taylor post, a "wild" man redeemed by the sound of a young woman's voice. It is the actor's facial expressions and manner of speaking in certain key scenes that "resonate" with me as an author, for example, when Aragorn tells Eowyn he cannot be who she wants him to be. My favorite of the three Lord of the Rings movies is The Two Towers, in part, because of the relationship between Eowyn and Aragorn.

I did not see Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. I think I was afraid to see the level of violence described, after seeing him in A History of Violence, an excellent and disturbing movie. Both he and Maria Bello, as his wife, earned academy awards, though he was never nominated, and she did not win in her category. I am planning to see The Road, which is coming out today. I was not aware of the film until a week ago, so you see I am not a Viggo groupie, but when I saw an advertisement, I decided to seek out the movie trailer. The first trailer released is morbid. The second trailer gives the world portrayed some hope. The movie is based on the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Click on the arrow to view the trailer, or click on YouTube and watch in wide screen HD.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poem: Shark Valley

I’ve just read some pleasant poetry. It relaxes me and makes me smile. I’ve had a busy day today, driving many miles into an unfamiliar downtown and back home again, traversing six lane traffic in both directions for an all day library conference.

So, I left the land of concrete for a time, and read about frogs, protected fish, and egrets. It made me remember a poem I wrote, so I’m posting it here, but it has no happy ending, only an uneasy compromise between humankind and nature.

If you click on the image, you can read my poem about Shark Valley. It's a good one to read aloud.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Writing Inventory

A generous friend helped me with a reading, and some feedback on my short play. He talked about the play reflecting a region in folkways and mores. At first, I wasn’t certain what he meant, but my mind took over, as I was dreaming, and I woke up realizing I am influenced by my surroundings, the era I grew up in, and where I live now in the suburbs of a sprawling urban area. I’m also influenced by the impact of my childhood, both joys and trauma, everything I’ve ever done and known, and my current experiences as the mother of a teenage boy, and as a librarian.

I’ve written two short stories involving homeless men, one of them a newspaper vendor running away from his life as a journalist after the unexpected death of his fiancĂ©, and one of them an alcoholic artist who hangs out at a train station, separated from his wife and children, and longing for redemption. I knew I was directly influenced by seeing such men standing on street corners, or hanging out at the library where I work, and the downtown library where I used to work. We often dismiss such men as invaluable members of society, but what do we know about their backgrounds, and who they are?

My first short story, after ten plus years of writing novel length fiction (story starts, novels-in-progress), poured out of me, after a first line, surprising me completely, because I didn’t know I was going to write about teens working at the mall and Hot Topic, a teen/young adult clothing store, frequented by young punks and goths, and aging tattooed store clerks with red hair and face piercings. A teenage girl escapes assault, when a teen working as a custodian rescues her from a group of boys. A few days later she goes back to the mall to find him, recognizing her restless attraction.

My realistic short play, one story novella, and one novel-in-progress, all involve alternative rock musicians and the women they meet and turn to in a time of crisis. They are not the same characters, in the play, the story, or the novel, but, as I have admitted before, the male characters, who are not Billie Joe, were inspired by Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day.

It’s not so much that my son led me to Green Day’s music; it’s my husband and I who were led to Armstrong, first through the song and the album, American Idiot. We saw him perform live in 2005, and the attraction began, but it is Armstrong’s photograph on a Rolling Stone cover that made all the feelings coalesce, and I began to write the stories.

The novel began before the play. Part of the attraction in writing about the “Billie Joe” characters, is the exploration of the difference between the public and private persona. Who are these people we admire? Why do we demand so much of them? Do they realize how much they have helped us? Will they accept help from a stranger, when we know so much about them, at least what is printed in books and magazine articles, and from their music?

Another one of my stories involves a children’s librarian who is not me or any one person that I know. She is dying, with some hope of recovery, from cancer. She becomes mesmerized by a story time dad, because she is so lonely, and grieves for the loss of the children she may never bear. It’s a very short story, and I have some hope of its publication. It was rejected with a very kind note from Susan at Glimmer Train. I haven’t submitted it anywhere else recently, but I believe I’m working up the gumption to start submitting my work again.

The fantasy novels come from another place. I may enjoy writing them the most. I have come to believe the fact that well written fantasies embrace universal truths. It is in fantasy, that my deepest feelings can be expressed. It is all there, fears and attractions, independence, courage, sensuality, tragedy, and transcendence. It is the most difficult and complex fiction to write. There are no dragons in these stories, no elves. There are newly created magics, and intertwining relationships. And there is hope in the face of the impossible. I complicate the requirements with multiple points of view.

My substantially written novels-in-progress include two realistic, two historical, and two fantasy fictions. I have three more novels substantially started. All require completion and revision. I have numerous story or novel starts. Sporadically, I write poems. The demands of work, marriage and motherhood make it difficult for me to stay focused. I write in spurts, and by the time I write again, it’s often on a new project. The act of writing is cathartic, but I want my efforts to mean something, and be read. I’m not sure how to accomplish this. And I thank my friend for helping me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Morning Squirrels and Dorothea Brande: Becoming A Writer

7:12 am

I meant to go back to sleep, after getting my husband and son off to work and school; but I looked out my kitchen window, and just saw a squirrel with a nut running along the six foot tall wooden fence separating our house from the bad neighbor behind us (his fence). I wonder where the squirrel got what looks like a peanut; not a seed- who's feeding him?- though it may be a palm tree seed- can you eat them? I looked again, and he's perched on a fence post, holding the remains between his paws, and finishing eating it. He runs back in the direction he'd come, possibly for more. A whistling wind is blowing the oak leaves and palm fronds. It's been windy now for days, and they say it's not due to Hurricane Ida. It looks like it will be a blue sky day, with scattered clouds.

I've been reading Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (Tarcher/Putnam, 1981), a classic book on writing, first published in 1938, recommended to me a while back by Brigindo. There are chapters where I argue with Brande's tone, and her "you must do this" attitude, though, in general, she rails against such concepts (except when it involves her own ideas of what's what)- and I say this as if she's living, though she died in 1948. She recommends writing every morning, before you've read anything, listened to anything, and I suppose, done much of anything else, to see what pours out of you in your own voice, and using that as a starting point to evaluate not only how you write but who you are- or, you are not a writer! (You are a bad girl, and deserve many spankings.) Other than that, I'm finding her ideas about the link between the conscious and the unconscious, as you write, to be extremely useful, mostly because it solidifies my own thinking about the writing process, and her concepts about why it is important to write. Here's a choice quote, from her chapter, titled: The Source of Originality:

"It is well to understand as early as possible in one's writing life that there is just one contribution which every one of us can make: we can give into the common pool of experience some comprehension of the world as it looks to each of us. There is one sense in which everyone is unique. No one else was born of your parents, at just that time of just that country's history; no one underwent just your experiences, reached just your conclusions, or faces the world with the exact set of ideas that you must have. If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think of any given situation or character, if you can tell a story as it can appear only to you of all the people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work which is original." ~ Dorothea Brande

There are many other encouragements sprinkled throughout this book. Here are two more choice quotes from the same chapter, under the sub-heading, Honesty, the Source of Originality:

"If you can discover what you like, if you can discover what you truly believe about most of the major matters of life, you will be able to write a story which is honest and original and unique." ~ Dorothea Brande

"... We all continue to grow... In order to write at all we must write on the basis of our present beliefs. If you are unwilling to write from the honest, though perhaps far from final, point of view that represents your present state, you may come to your deathbed with your contribution to the world still unmade..." ~ Dorothea Brande

And this, under the sub-heading, Trust Yourself:

"... It is not the putting of your character in the central position of a drama which has never been dreamed of before that will make your story irresistible... How your hero meets his dilemma, what you think of the impasse-- those are the things which make your story truly your own; and it is your own individual character, unmistakably showing through your work, which will lead you to success or failure. I would almost be willing to go so far as to say that here is no situation which is trite in itself; there are only dull, unimaginative, or uncommunicative authors. No dilemma in which a man can find himself will leave his fellows unmoved if it can be fully presented." ~ Dorothea Brande

I'm adding Dorothea Brande's book to my bibliography of recommended books on writing fiction.

8:10 am

My phone alarm has just rung, and I scurry in my gown and robe across the house from the computer room to my bedroom to turn it off. I've accomplished a lot in this hour. Now it's time to add to that bibliography, work on a critique for a fellow writer, and perhaps, if I'm smart, take a walk. I'll put Dorothea Brande out of my mind, or she'll be telling me what to do, admonishing me to notice things and let them meld with my psyche.

Monday, November 2, 2009

James Taylor: Something in the Way She Moves

I've been driving this afternoon and this evening, listening to James Taylor. The two CD set is simply called James Taylor (Live), a performance from, unbelievably, 1993, though I think, maybe, we bought it later than that. Old favorites include Sweet Baby James, Millworker, Country Road, Fire and Rain, Walking Man, Riding on a Railroad, Something in the Way She Moves, Up on the Roof, Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, Carolina in My Mind, and You've Got a Friend. The titles alone evoke emotions in me, since I hear the melodies and hear James Taylor's voice, as I say them or read them. The songs are playing in my mind right now.

The first time I heard it, Something in the Way She Moves was new to me. I was riveted and delighted, and it became an instant favorite, because it is beautiful, and because it reminded me of a book I'd substantially written, yes, yet another novel-in-progress, (and this one does not involve Billie Joe in any way). There is a wild man, traumatized, and by choice and circumstance shunned and alone, and a young woman who brings him back to himself, first, through the sound of her voice. The story is set in the nebulous middle ages, a setting which would "firm up" in revision. She is in flight from an onerous situation, with a companion who is killed by an enemy. The "wild man" is charged to bring her back to her home, but she is the one who metaphorically rescues him. They grow to depend upon one another, and she becomes enamored.

Yes, it is partly a romance, but only in that, I realize, among other themes, my stories always involve connection and the redeeming power of relationships. But I don't write to theme, and I don't plan. I start with a first sentence and I see where it carries me. Sometimes it's a short story, and sometimes a novel. The story shapes itself. Poetry is a different mind set. It begins with introspection, and I sometimes succeed at defining my emotions with imagery, and when I don't, it's a melody of words. A few of these poems I've posted on my blog are exercise, like my attempt at a villanelle, or my random observations, but others are expressions of who I am.

When I drive in a car on a long trip alone, I sing with the singer of the songs. I can't sing with James Taylor! I don't know what it is. I sing with Billie Joe Armstrong. I sing with the lead singer for Three Days Grace, whatever his name is. I sing with The Beatles, or the Shins, or John Denver, or Bob Dylan, and even with John Ondrasik's Five for Fighting, who sings in a very high pitch. I can't sing with James, not very well. His voice is not high, but the key he sings in, requires me to sing in too high a register, except, when I am singing Fire and Rain, or You've Got a Friend (doing Carole King's higher pitched part, where it seems natural), or Something in the Way She Moves. That's okay. I'm good to listen, the guitar work alone, and the songs that are poetry.