Sneak Peek: A Department Party

As you probably know if you stop by regularly, I’m finishing up the sequel to the first book. Recently, I’ve plunged into re-reading, editing and altering bits here and there. At times it’s a nightmare; at others, fun.

The fun part includes re-reading stuff committed to “paper” a while ago and which hadn’t been read in some time. Seeing such, it’s even possible to laugh to yourself and perhaps think, “I like that.” I had one of those moments yesterday when I was re-reading this Long Island college party situation in the draft:

image

Writing “banter” among half a dozen or so people standing around is challenging. But it has to be done now and then. Realism demands it.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a professor doing math on a chalk board

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a professor doing math on a chalk board

And if you’ve been to university, you know something else too. It’s not just the students. Among faculty and staff too, higher education can be one big, uh, “flirt zone.”

Not that I’m basing that on any of my own experiences, of course! ;-)

Hope you’re having a good Friday, wherever you may be.

A Message To Our British Friends

When she became a U.S. citizen, I warned my wife that becoming an American is a lot like joining the mafia – anyone’s free to, but once you do, you don’t easily leave. On a nation-state level, we also established that fact pretty definitively between 1861-1865. So matters are now crystal clear for everyone concerned: Americans know where we stand.

Today, the world watches a Scottish independence referendum unfold. Which way should Scots vote? Here in the United Kingdom opinions have been everywhere, tempers have occasionally run high, and the BBC has interviewed everyone living in Scotland at least three times.

All of that is to be expected in a situation like this. Twenty-four hours from now, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom may be on the road to becoming very different places than they are this morning. Or maybe not. The polling places are now open, and the decision rests entirely with Scottish voters.

As an outsider I feel it would be improper for me to suggest what I consider the best outcome. It’s not my call. However, regardless of which way today’s vote goes, I would like to offer at least this bit of advice to all of our friends on this magnificent island of Great Britain, courtesy of the Bangles, 1986:

“When it’s over, when it’s done, let it go.” :-)

Was It My “Blog Mob?”

We had a laugh yesterday. You may recall Tuesday’s Purple Parrot post. About 8:45 AM UK time, I had posted about store-owning friends in Chipping Sodbury, near Bristol, who’ve said they will stock my novels.

In doing so, I had linked directly to their site. About 11:30, I got an email from the Mrs. half of the store-owning duo, pounding happily on her keyboard that she had been inundated with web site visitors. About a thousand of them, she wrote.

She wrote that on an entire normal day, they do far fewer than that. The only explanation, she asserted, was me. My post was the only thing that she could ascertain had been materially different yesterday morning.

But I was stunned and shocked too. I wrote back that I wished I could’ve taken credit for it, but I get nowhere near 1,000 visitors daily – and certainly NOT by 11:30 AM. I took a quick snapshot of my internet-sourced visitors from midnight to that time yesterday morning:

My internet visitor stats, Tuesday morning. Not exactly a mob scene. ;-)

My internet visitor stats, Tuesday morning. Not exactly a mob scene. ;-)

I usually finish the day at around 50-100 max. Looking at those, I told her no way that her sudden “cyber mob” could have come from me.

But I also know many of you follow here via the WordPress reader. (Thank you!) I know I also sometimes kid about WordPress’s reader, but I do like it – it makes following blogs easy. Still, there is no way all those visitors could have come to them via my reader followers either.

We finished off just scratching our heads. Who knows what happened? It’s the net. However, if you did visit Purple Parrot yesterday, uh, thanks! :-)

ICYMI: The Remarkable Interview

In case you missed it (ICYMI) over the weekend, I finally gave in. As you know, I’m an intensely private person who shuns any limelight. However, I finally consented to a revealing, personal and truly fascinating interview…. with myself.

 Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a stack of books, topped by pair of eyeglasses.


Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a stack of books, topped by pair of eyeglasses.

The interview is posted here in two parts – one and two. Here’s a small sample. When I asked myself why I wanted to write my first novel, I replied to myself thoughtfully….

I’d always wanted to write non-fiction. I’ve got bl-ody degrees coming out of my…. well, but who gives a damn about what I have to say about anything. Or you for that matter. Everyone’s got an opinion. Like should Scotland be independent? How the hell should I know?

Now, just to set your expectations, I never made myself cry. I held it together until the very end. Good grief, I’m not Oprah. ;-)

PART 1: “Saturday Interview: All About Vampires.”
PART 2: “Our Interview With A Legendary Author, Part II.”

The Sheer Terror

As we know, dreams make good fictional plot devices. However, our “real” ones are often stranger and funnier than anything we can concoct, of course. How bizarre our brains can be.

I woke up about 5 this morning all disturbed after a nightmare. Wide awake, I slipped downstairs. I poured a glass of milk and sat for a moment in the kitchen before going back to bed.

I’d thought I’d been quiet. But my getting up had disturbed my wife. As I returned, in the darkness she asked, “Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” I whispered. “Sorry. I had a nightmare, was all dry and just needed a quick drink.”

“About what?”

As I climbed back into bed, I admitted, “It seems ridiculous now, but it was frightening while I was dreaming it. It was about Kam.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath from my wife.

I continued, “No, no. It was weird. I haven’t dreamed of her since she died. We were in a restaurant together and no one would serve us.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a waitress with an empty tray.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a waitress with an empty tray.

My wife burst out laughing. Kam was an avid restaurant goer. Countless times we had all ventured to places she had chosen. She had excellent taste.

If my wife wasn’t completely wide awake before then, she was now. After regaining control of herself, she asked, “Was anyone else there with you two?”

“No. Just she and I.”

“Well, wherever she is,” she smiled, “she must be trying to tell you something.” :-)

Lower Manhattan Skyline, 1990s

I’ve always been fond of this photo I’d taken in 1991. Since September 11, 2001, it has come to mean even more to me. I used it eventually on the back cover of Passports:

Statue of Liberty and World Trade Center's Twin Towers, from the Liberty Island ferry. [Photo by me, 1991.]

Statue of Liberty and World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, from the Liberty Island ferry. [Photo by me, 1991.]

The passage of time is inevitable. My soon to be 20 year old English nephew said to me last year that to him the Twin Towers meant, basically, terrorism. He was so young in 2001 that he naturally doesn’t recall it really being anything else. But it merits also to be remembered in history for all that it was before that horrible morning.

“So what do you think of Obama’s Syria policy?”

The Scottish independence referendum to be held September 18 reminds us that even if we don’t care much about politics, it is difficult to avoid it. As a foreigner here in the U.K., I watch what is happening worried about friends about to fall out, yet unable to do anything about it. In the end, us outsiders can only hope the outcome – whichever it is – is the best one for everyone.

And nothing like when I get questions here in Europe such as, “So what do you think of Obama’s Syria policy?” “How come the U.S. doesn’t have a health service?” “Why do Americans love guns so much?”

Uh, do we have to go there? ;-)

We have all heard the cliché about never discussing politics (or religion) over the dinner table. Even among friends, we might not like what each other think if we dig too deeply, so perhaps it’s indeed best to say as little as possible to each other. I have friends and relatives who run the spectrum from extreme conservative to extreme socialist: I’ll definitely alienate somebody.

Free Stock Photo: Joe Biden and Barack Obama in Springfield, Illinois, right after Biden was formerly introduced by Obama as his running mate.

Free Stock Photo: Joe Biden and Barack Obama in Springfield, Illinois, right after Biden was formerly introduced by Obama as his running mate.

So I am firm believer that politics should not define us. What we believe politically is not all that we are as human beings. Well, it shouldn’t be anyway.

I try to slip that “life outlook” into my books. I enjoy writing characters who are “all over the lot” politically, for I feel that makes them that much more believable. They may voice views that are insightful, or inconsistent, or inaccurate, or even arguably wrong; but those are part of real life as well. Views shared may also occasionally surprise us – just as in real life:

“All this in the stores here [on Long Island] and no one asks why,” Lena observed, gesturing generally to the full racks and the shoppers around them taking the selection for granted. “Before Gorbachev, before the Party gave in, in Russia we had very little to buy like this. You could get only what the Party allowed you.”….

….Isabelle asked directly, “So you don’t think [communism] can be made to work?”

“No, I don’t,” Lena replied, absolutely sure of herself. “None of my grandparents left the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to. The Party feared letting them see the world. Every year the holiday was the Black Sea. I would kill myself. I will not live behind a communist wall. They can take their Marx and F-off.”

Then there are other perspectives:

“And we have to because of the Americans,” Béatrice declared. “They rule everything.” She pointed at James approaching and smiled disparagingly. “You! You vote for Reagan! He was evil!”

Isabelle teased her friend. “You say you don’t speak English well because you don’t like Americans? We know you do speak English very well!”

“Actually, I didn’t vote for Reagan,” James replied assertively as he sat down next to Isabelle. “But he wasn’t evil.”

Stéphane yelled from the kitchen, “Former darling, you promised no politics!” He rushed to the lounge with a wine glass. “Here, stop saving the world for tonight. Drink!”

Yes, alcohol may help lighten things – up to a point. ;-)

We may also find ourselves facing suddenly voiced opinions we had been unprepared for, leaving us scrambling for a polite response:

“It was a terrible shame,” Valérie replied. “The war came about because the Palestinians made so much trouble because of Israel.”

James disagreed cautiously. “I read the PLO ended up in Lebanon after it was kicked out of Jordan because it tried to overthrow King Hussein. It wasn’t Israel’s fault the PLO was so irresponsible.”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” she responded. “I’m not someone who demands ‘Death to Israel!’ Not at all. Just that there must be a solution to the Palestinians so we stop the killing.”

Others may then later have their own opinions…. about those previously voiced opinions, and perhaps share what they feel are ulterior motives:

“And Valérie! God, how she looked at you! And she will visit in New York soon. Glamorous!”

“Should I say she’s ugly?” he laughed again. “You’d know I was lying then!”

“Politics? Israel? Ha!” Isabelle threw up her arms. “She cares nothing! She loves shoes and handbags!”

And how often do we admit that we – as individuals of no particular standing – feel essentially powerless anyway:

….[Isabelle's father] smiled, wiping his brow. “The Legion was there. I hope President Clinton does not attack Iraq again.”

“I don’t know what he’ll do,” James shrugged. “When I’m next at the White House, I’ll ask him.”

Finally, there reaches a point where it’s time to give it a rest:

Isabelle reappeared at the edge of the patio. She called out to them, “Lunch soon! Enough talking!”

“Coming, little one!” her father shouted back.

“Always blah, blah, blah!” she tossed up her hands laughingly as she turned around to return inside.

Yes, lunch is often far better than talking politics. Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are reading this. Let’s try not to argue too much. :-)

Gentle Reminder: Making Stuff Up Is Called “Fiction”

BBC Magazine, September 5:

A point of view: When historical fiction is more truthful than historical fact

“More truthful” are the key words in that headline. An historian would argue that mixing fiction with history is precisely where a great danger lies. However, according to Lisa Jardine, a professor of Renaissance Studies (in the Humanities) at the University of London, and writing at the BBC web site, there is apparently little to worry about:

….For some time I have been researching the lives of a group of scientists who worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War Two. Although there are several impeccably researched non-fiction works on the subject and a number of biographies, none of these really conveyed to me the emotions and convictions that drove their work – I simply could not connect with the personal principles of the scientists who collaborated with such energy to produce the period’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

In my search for understanding the motivation of those who joined the race to produce the bomb whose use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki appalled the world, I eventually decided to turn from fact to fiction. If historians could not fill the gaps in the record that made the knowledge I was after so elusive, perhaps storytellers less shackled by documented evidence might do so….

….Sometimes it takes something other than perfect fidelity to sharpen our senses, to focus our attention sympathetically, in order to give us emotional access to the past. Silence comes between the historian and the truth he or she looks to the sources to reveal. Thank goodness for the creative imagination of fiction writers, who can reconnect us with the historical feelings, as well as the facts.

I am very uncomfortable with that “point of view.” Here’s why.

In the absence of their own words and thoughts, it is perfectly understandable some desire to invent words and thoughts in order to be better illuminate historical figures’ motivations. However, there is a line. Every writer must be cognizant of it.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of two medieval knights.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of two medieval knights.

If you have seen the John Adams miniseries, you heard dialogue coming from historical figures. As something of a Thomas Jefferson hobbyist, I discerned just about everything the Thomas Jefferson character said on screen was something Jefferson had written at some point in his life. It may have not been written in the exact context used in the series, but Jefferson pretty much said it at some time or another.

Relatedly, coincidentally you may know I just decided to entertain myself with a read of The Winds Of War. Writing about the run up to World War II, Herman Wouk did not use his historical fiction to try to get “inside the heads” of historical figures. Insofar as I can tell, he leaves the “thinking” to the fictional characters he had created and 100 percent controlled.

Both are by far the sounder approaches. For if there are no words, well, sorry, there are no words. To pretend we can “read minds” is a profound disservice to history. I wouldn’t want someone 70 years from now trying to read my mind. Would you?

Oh, yes, when you as an author are giving historical figures dialogue “to focus our attention sympathetically, in order to give us emotional access to the past,” you may know the line. But you’re playing with serious fire. Most readers and viewers probably will be unable to spot the difference between established fact and your storytelling that is, uh, “less shackled by documentary evidence.”

OLD CARY GRANT FINE

The Winds of War novel arrived on Sunday. More reading! Lots more!

The Winds of War,

“The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk. [My photograph.]

The first order went astray, so Amazon.co.uk dispatched another. The historical timeframe in which Winds is set got me thinking about how, pre-internet, pre-blogs, I’d have informed you I’d received the book at last. I might have sent you a telegram:

WINDS ARRIVED FIRST LOST WILL READ WOW VERY LONG MUST STOP

Telegrams were once probably the best means for non-telephonic near instant communications. They were common pre-war and during World War II. How quickly we forget.

And, if I recall correctly, they were used in Winds. You paid by word, so tried to keep messages concise. This below is a classic about how a telegram could be “misunderstood.” In 2013, the BBC told us:

A reporter wanting to know the age of actor Cary Grant sent: HOW OLD CARY GRANT.

The actor’s supposed response?

OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU.

Hilarious. A bit of a smile for a Monday. :-)

“Tough Without A Gun”

Having finished the sequel’s story, to clear my head for a few days before plunging into revision, corrections, etc., I’ve decided on some, uh, relaxing reading:

"Tough Without A Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart," by Stefan Kanfer. [My photograph.]

“Tough Without A Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart,” by Stefan Kanfer. [My photograph.]

That biography of Humphrey Bogart was a birthday present from my mother-in-law. She knows Bogart is my favo(u)rite actor. Technical assistance in making the purchase was provided by my wife: her mother barely knows what the internet is, much less how to use it. ;-)

About Bogart’s now by far best-known role, and his taking Hollywood by storm after over a decade of mostly second-rate (and often third-rate) parts, author Stefan Kanfer eloquently sums up on page 87:

….Rick Blaine was not just the fulcrum of a melodramatic movie. He was a symbol of the nation itself, at first wary and isolationist, then changing incrementally until he headed in the opposite direction. At the finale Rick Blaine had turned into a warrior. That was the way moviegoers, especially male moviegoers, saw themselves in 1943. That year they did the most unlikely, and unrepeatable thing in the history of American cinema. They made Casablanca a smash, which was not unexpected. But they also made the middle-aged, creased, scarred, lisping Humphrey Bogart into a superstar. No one expected that. Not even Humphrey Bogart. Especially not Humphrey Bogart.

From the profound to the decidedly less so. Here’s a distinctly lesser-known quote from Bogart himself, which appears on page 12. Years afterward, he recalled his own “lofty” eighteen year old’s motives for enlisting in the U.S. Navy in May 1918, during World War One:

The war was great stuff. Paris! French girls! Hot damn!

Hardly “Lafayette, we are here.” But that was how he saw the world in 1918. Clearly, by 1941, a more world-weary Bogart as Richard Blaine – having, as we know, previously fought in Spain and in Ethiopia for what had proven to be ultimately the losing sides (“and been well paid for it on both occasions,” as he also informed us) – was not nearly as easily wowed:

Yvonne: Where were you last night?
Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

Which is how we will always see him. He is Bogart on film, playing “Humphrey Bogart” in a variety of roles. It’s difficult for us to imagine the perpetually “middle-aged, creased, scarred, lisping” superstar ever having been eighteen and so immature.

Have a good Sunday. Kanfer’s book is excellent. So, today, for me, it’s back to more Bogart. :-)