“Yeh, but we don’t go to church much….”

I happened to notice recently that PBS America (meaning PBS’s UK channel) will begin showing The Roosevelts on October 19. My Mom back in Pennsylvania had told me the other day that, having seen it, she had been most impressed by Theodore. I told her that made sense: he lived life at triple the speed of the rest of us.

Because it rather reflects my personal outlook, for years I’ve liked this list by that first President Roosevelt:

In 1917, in an interview with Ladies Home Journal, President Roosevelt offered at least 10 reasons for going to church….

I won’t reproduce them: you can click *here* to read them. As we know, religion has *always* been a sensitive, and divisive, subject. We all have our own “personal journeys” of course.

Like many of you who were/ are Roman Catholic, growing up I had been escorted through all the “Catholic requirements.” But by my older teens and 20s, and, again, like many of you, I was definitely not a churchgoer. Frankly, I did not even really believe in any god.

However, as I moved into my 30s, I began to see the value in churchgoing much along the lines Theodore Roosevelt (he hated to be called “Teddy”) outlined. Do I believe in God now? Hmm. Let’s just say I don’t see a reason any longer to question others’ faith: my view is “faith” simply is.

The top of St. Peter's, The Vatican. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The top of St. Peter’s, The Vatican. [Photo by me, 2013.]

In fiction, faith is regularly portrayed as synonymous with an intolerant fanaticism. Yet what I encounter in various churches week in and week out are ordinary people full of life questions and doubts, and who enjoy gathering with their neighbors much as Roosevelt notes. That is worth attempting to portray accurately in fiction too.

So as I organized my tale, I decided I would include religion. But my characters would be similarly ordinary people with their own intensely personal, and varied, views. I would not attempt to ignore faith or pretend it is not there.

Here, during his first chat with Isabelle, James explains “what he is” after she casually inquires, “If you are Irish and Italian, you are Catholic, no?”:

“Yeh, but we don’t go to church much. I don’t think a lot about it. Busy with life I guess,” he sought to explain.

That was, essentially, also myself at his age. We may also find ourselves surprised by how people think of faith. When James explains his doubts, and meekly asks Isa about her own Catholicism, she replies:

“Do you think to be Catholic you have no doubt? A birth to a virgin? It is preposterous. …. You just have to have faith.”

Naturally not everyone “has faith.” In a previous post, we’ve already seen Uncle Bill tell Isabelle he considers himself a Unitarian. Separately, he also points out:

“You have faith. I admire that. I just can’t summon it up. Never could. Giuliana didn’t understand either.”

Indeed in the hope of better understanding someone, we may seek to “pry.” We might do so especially if what a person “believes” has not been overtly evident. For instance, James cagily asks Valérie if she’s a churchgoer like her friend, and she replies:

“Not regularly,” she admitted, sipping her drink. “My mother does go now and then. I think we did go more when we were little in Beirut. I remember church more in Beirut. Not as much in France. Not like Isabelle.”

And we also often encounter those who don’t want to be bothered with any of it:

“James, if you had answer wrong, you would not be here,” Béatrice stressed. “I don’t think [Isabelle] will marry a man who is not Catholic. Do not be offended, but I think it is all stupid and false. But that is me.”

How individuals approach religion is simply another aspect of their humanity. As in our own lives, it may be presented among character’ make-ups as complete individuals. It does not have to turn a book into a “religion debate.” It can just be part of “life.”

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are reading this. :-)

Sex, Violence And Obscenity

Early in the life of this blog, I posted on writing “love scenes.” More recently, I reflected on the struggle to avoid “the cringeworthy” while doing so. It’s not easy.

We’re also inconsistent. I find that wider issue perpetually intriguing. To broach it, in the sequel I inserted characters’ discussing it:

image

I’m not sharing here which characters are having that exchange. ;-) Regardless, I think we get it: violence in storytelling appears to be simply more acceptable than sex.

Free Stock Photo: Man in a suit with a small pistol.

Free Stock Photo: Man in a suit with a small pistol.

We also know that, disturbingly, violence can be perceived as sexy, and that sex can be portrayed violently. And they may even overlap. Those are other issues.

Then there’s obscenity. I’m not a big fan of it. I use it only sparingly.

To point that out is not because I’m making some big personal statement; it’s merely because I don’t like it, so I opt simply to have my characters not use it excessively. I “*”d out an obvious letter in that excerpt above because, while it may be in the conversation in the book, I don’t really want to put up stuff like that in the open on my site.

So we slaughter right and left, but labor at locating the appropriate boundaries for how to depict intercourse tastefully, and we need to be mindful of when to use nasty words. It requires no especial insight to assert we’re full of paradoxes.

I’m capable of being of about half a dozen minds on the same issue at the same time. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. We all also know we’ll probably never change.

Closing Another Book

If you have stopped by here throughout 2014 (Hello again!), you know it has been something of a difficult year for me. Now, I don’t claim I’m unique, of course. We all have personal challenges and troubles.

For me, 2014 will forever be the year of the death of one of my dearest friends, the near death of my father (and he is not out of the woods yet by any means), and being told the other day of the soon to be death of another friend.

And it’s not even stinkin’ October yet.

During all of that, I wrote a sequel to a novel I’d completed in 2013. In the new one, I’ve tried to pen (technically, I typed) 94,000 words that I again hope captures in entertaining fashion the ups and downs of a group of international friends and lovers. I hope it manages to convey both a youthful optimism as well as a need to never forget the fragility of what we think we so firmly possess in this life.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful sunset over a lake

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful sunset over a lake

Yesterday, having concluded re-reading it for “errors, dopiness, [and] continuity issues,” I sat back in the desk chair feeling mildly depressed. Again. Much like I recall having felt as I had completed the first book about the same time last year. (Long before there was this site.)

Is that how it will always feel in winding up a novel? There’s an interlude of satisfaction at having conquered a personal mountain. But there’s also almost a sense of loss too: that book is, shall we say, closed as well.

I had also run its 380 pages through the spell and grammar check. (My characters’ conversations are often so deliberately ungrammatical, it took ages.) Next I will read it “as a reader.” As I do that, I make further corrections. After that, I hope I can ship it ’round late next week or so to my faithful volunteer reader/ critics.

As I finished late yesterday, I also realized that in the background Sinatra’s version of Send In The Clowns happened to be coming out of my iPhone. I’ll just leave that where it is. I’m not going to even attempt to interpret the meaning of that coincidence.

When all is said and done, like the first novel this one will stand or fall on its own merits. I think it’s at least as good as the first, and maybe better. But who the heck knows really? Whatever I went through in composing it is meaningless to anyone who will read it. Still, I had quite a headache by the end of the day. I was exhausted.

I had a brandy last night. In the tale, some of the characters are partial to those. They are because I like that drink…. and they are my characters, gosh darn it! :-)

The first time I’d had one was in France a rather, uh, relatively long time ago. (Now, I’m getting depressed again.) I remember having had, umm, one too many. And so had a girlfriend. We were saved when her (sober, designated driver) friend “poured” us two into her tiny (French) car as we three left a party. I recall a lot of laughing among us being involved too.

Mind you, I’m far more mature, staid and intellectual nowadays. ;-)

Have a good Friday, wherever you are…

______

Oh, by the way, I’m up to 444 social media shares as of this posting. In 48 hours, shares of my posts out there have about tripled. I don’t know where that’s come from, but I hope it’s an omen of good things to come. :-)

“Something in the way she moves….”

Time for a little, uh, “Something” ;-) special mid-week:

“You know you are very European in your taste,” she stated as she inspected other tapes. “We will have to get you some French singers. Oh, wait, ‘Monsieur le Frank?’ Ha!” She crooned comically, “Do, duh, duh, duh, do….”

James chuckled. “You want to be a nightclub singer?”

“He’s so old!” she laughed loudly. “My father likes him!”

“Okay, okay,” James gave in, smiling, “you’ve made your point.”

Indeed. Everybody’s got an opinion!

Happy Wednesday, wherever you are reading this. :-)

De-stressing On A Sunday

Friday and yesterday, I made some last minute additions and changes, some of which I found pretty emotional. (I’ve been here before: thanks again for “listening.”) Also, I’m at almost 90,000 words. I need a short break.

Classic FM is playing in the background. I’ve decided I’ll take a day off. Just 24 hours. No net today either.

Obviously that means no witty Sunday post. Nothing novelistically-related will appear here either. Today is for my personal indulgence: it’s going to be a “me” day:

Free Stock Photo: A man and woman practicing yoga in a fitness center

Free Stock Photo: A man and woman practicing yoga in a fitness center

Uh, wait a second! Hold it! Arrgh!

I must indeed be worn down a bit and need to recharge. I’m getting punchy. I just posted…. that they’ll be no post today! ;-)

Have a good Sunday!

Under Surveillance

My wife pops by here on occasion. She says she likes to keep an eye on what I’m up to…. here on the internet potentially in the view of the entire world. My sublime, groundbreaking interview with myself last weekend attracted her especial attention:

“You’re losing it, man!”

At least she was laughing – albeit rather demonically – when she told me that. Yet that opinion actually was an excellent appraisal.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cartoon television screen

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cartoon television screen

After all, to try to “explain oneself” before our increasingly informationally borderless world, anyone can offer an “About” page. (Which I have.) In a sidebar we may also share a brief list of “important” posts. (Which I’ve also done.) But we uniquely perceptive, great novelists, should indeed offer more – given we inhabit a higher plane of reality compared to the rest of middling humanity.

Uh, see, see! I’m getting there! That above paragraph demonstrates it again! My efforts at mastering a haughty, know-it-all, novelistic pomposity and condescension I had been working on in that “interview” is paying off! ;-)

Have a good Saturday!

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.

High Street, Chipping Sodbury, England

Friends of ours have a shop outside of Bristol, in the market town of Chipping Sodbury. It’s in a part of England where towns have names like that…. and Old Sodbury, uh, Little Sodbury, and – yes, really – Pucklechurch, among others. A way to shorthand describe the area to outsiders is that it could serve as an excellent setting for an ITV murder drama.

Their shop has a variety of items related to dolls’ houses and other collectibles. Co-owner Stuart has recently authored quite a book too, and because they have sold several to people wandering in off the street, they are considering displaying some other carefully chosen titles by independent authors to see how they do. They have offered to sell my Passports, and are awaiting delivery of several copies.

I’m hono(u)red! I know Passports has been in some bookshops in the U.K., including one in Christchurch, after a former neighbo(u)r of ours there dropped in and asked for it. Bless her, the shop then ordered a couple! While it’s tough to keep track of that sort of thing, it feels extra-good whenever you learn your books are displayed in a shop.

So if you ever find yourself on the High Street in Chipping Sodbury, check out Purple Parrot:

Purple Parrot, Chipping Sodbury.

Purple Parrot, Chipping Sodbury.

There are reasons aplenty to stop in there and have a look and a buy besides, uh, my fantastic novel. ;-)

Have a good Tuesday, wherever in the world you are reading this. :-)

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.”

Our Interview With A Legendary Author, Part II

Questioner: Welcome back. We are here again with author R. J. Nello. The demand to hear more from him was underwhelming. Still, we figured, what the hell, we have space and time to kill, and it’s Sunday. Part I of the interview yesterday was running long. We thought we’d give you all a break before continuing….

R. J. Nello: Well, at least this title makes more sense than yesterday’s. I’m not a legend, though. I’m still alive. I do hope someday, though, my English niece and nephews will be able to say, “He was so insightful, even for an American.”

Q: We just thought a title more akin to that for a Gore Vidal interview would have been more appropriate.

Nello: Aren’t you a load of laughs. Oh, and thanks a lot for that non-cheerleader of a lousy intro.

Free Stock Photo: A stack of blank books isolated on a white background.

Free Stock Photo: A stack of blank books isolated on a white background.

Q: We’d like to use this continuation of your interview with yourself to talk about something other than your uncle, Gore Vidal, and French girls.

Nello: If so, do you think anyone will actually care?

Q: Now, to go on, Passports covers a melange of themes….

Nello: Melange? A what? Oh, wait, got it. It was your pronunciation. It’s mélange. You from Long Island or New York originally or something?

Q: Let me say, you’re getting better at being the haughty novelist.

Nello: And condescending. Don’t forget that. I’m improving on that too. You know, if this were truly a European interview, like France 24, I’d probably be offered a glass of wine. I’d settle for a Sauvignon blanc. But you’re some American who doesn’t do wine of course. Still, not even a light beer?

Q: Feeling an impulse yet to overturn the interview table?

Nello: I’ll save that for nearer the end.

Q: I’d still like to talk themes and subplots. Passports revolves around global living, diverse relationships, traveling and….

Nello: I know, I know, no machineguns. Or wizards. Or vampires. I’ll try to fit those in at some point down the road in a third volume.

Q: And it’s about late twenty-somethings….

Nello: And there’s sex too. Don’t want to forget the sex.

Q: And it’s about friends.

Nello: Uh, not the Friends as in the 1990s TV show….

Q: But, Mr. Nello, in one chapter you do allude to a program that sounds just like that one.

Nello: Because they were funny at times, weren’t they? My 16 year old English niece has all the DVDs. I never understood how Ross went with Rachel over Emily. He was a moron. But Emily dodged a real bullet there because he was such a lunkhead. I married my Emily and have never regretted it for a moment.

Q: Oh, that’s so sweet, my teeth are decaying. There’s also a brief chapter in Passports about an American student who, shall we say, “misbehaves” in Italy, to the disgust of her English roommate.

Nello: It was worth only a short chapter. We should acknowledge that type exists. But it isn’t really representative of most young Americans in Europe either, thank God.

Q: Is the fictional student inspired by a certain real woman study abroad student convicted of a murder in Italy?

Nello: Wow, no slipping anything by you.

Q: You can understand many Americans think the real one’s been railroaded.

Nello: That’s their right. But we Americans can be awkward: an American can’t be guilty. Really? Why? Because we’re a country where no one murders anyone for asinine reasons or in a fit of pique? The dead actually all commit suicide?

Q: So you don’t think she’s innocent?

Nello: I wasn’t there. And I wasn’t in the courtroom. My view is I can’t help but believe that if we reversed the nationalities of she and the murdered woman, with the exact same evidence, too many Americans now yelling she’s innocent would be screaming for the English woman to be renditioned to Texas and executed.

Q: Sounds pretty harsh.

Nello: Deep down, we know what we are. Think about it. And Ms. Study in Italy always has that perpetually dim expression, that look of, “What? I have to stay after class? But I’ve got a dentist appointment. I’ll get a note from my Mom.” And she was 20 years old. I dealt as a lecturer with American study abroad students in New York before they went over to Europe. More recently, here in London, I’ve seen them after they arrive. Most of them are exactly what we want the world to see. But there’s also a dopey minority we don’t like thinking about: some of our “young” are, unfortunately, immature dimwits.

Q: Whoa!

Nello: Sorry, that’s my Gore Vidal coming out again. I can do nasty and pompous really well now, can’t I? Regardless, can’t we all just settle on at least keeping her the hell off of Good Morning America for good?

Q: To another issue. I also notice there’s lots in your novel about “only children.” Or those with distant, or much older, siblings.

Nello: I think it’s an interesting family dynamic.

Q: Are you?

Nello: Am I what?

Q: An only child?

Nello: I have a sister who’s much younger than I am, so in some respects I could be an only child. She went to Yale for a time. She’s a helluva lot smarter than I am in some ways. She can correct a Frenchwoman’s French.

Q: James in Passports is an only child. Isabelle has only much older brothers. Virginie is an only child. The list goes on. And the cultural differences you weave into the tale….

Nello: You realize you just ventured onto the subject of French girls? I did lead you there with my last answer, though. But you didn’t stop me? Are you paying attention to your own interview boundaries? Anyway, do you have an actual question?

Q: No. Just pondering the profundity of it all.

Nello: Okay, I’ll give you a moment. Who you pondering? What’s her name?

Q: Actually, where I was headed is the issue of the French hating Americans and vice-versa. You tackle that.

Nello: The discourse is complex and multifaceted on that matter. Did that answer sound suitably literary theory-ish?

Q: So do you also perceive how the cross-cultural difference of some of the characters may be interpreted as being at odds with the notion of them as individuals possessing unique inner voices, yet faced with a commercial and capitalist construct that outwardly demands they adhere to certain mores that….

Nello: Yes.

Q: Uh, I’m not finished with the question yet.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful girl isolated on a white background.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful girl isolated on a white background.

Nello: Look, I’m the intellectual here. I know where you’re going. Get to the Valérie character already, will you….

Q: God, you are indeed brilliant! You knew exactly what I was going to ask before I asked it.

Nello: I was channeling Gore Vidal again. Careful. Although I’m smiling, I could turn nasty on a dime. Us novel-writing intellectuals don’t suffer fools gladly.

Q: So you’d never appear on, say, Good Morning America ever?

Nello: Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

Q: You champion social media, though. That’s full of lunatics.

Nello: At least they’re interesting and can be fun. You run into those who’ve figured out how Dick Cheney was standing on 5th Ave on September 11, 2001, dressed as Madonna, and used a pacemaker to implode 7 WTC. At one time, “independent thinkers” like that were unable to make their voices heard.

Q: So you see social media as a positive?

Nello: Absolutely. Every now and then someone appears and follows you who you never would have imagined would. It’s flattering. Even for us geniuses. You do get to interact with other brilliant people.

Q: What do you think would happen if, via social media, your uncle discovered your book(s)?

Nello: He’d probably sue me. And we’d end up on Good Morning America: “Novelist uncle sues novelist nephew.”

Q: Now, a few more words about the upcoming sequel.

Nello: Oh, well, fine, if you insist….

Q: You’ve written it’s somewhat darker than Passports.

Nello: Yes. It’s not Stephen King, for God’s sakes. It’s just a bit rougher and less optimistic maybe. The death of our very close girlfriend in February still hurts every day. I miss her terribly. That did actually impact my writing. I sat down some days hating life.

Q: For a moment, this actually has become a serious interview….

Nello: I know. We’d better stop it. Here, look, I’ve actually been reading The Winds of War. Could this book be any longer? And the Pug Henry character is really amazed by writers. He should be. We are amazing human beings. I’ve also discovered the Pug in the book looks nothing like Robert Mitchum. What a real downer to learn that!

Q: Not that book again? Feel free to quote Humphrey Bogart. But don’t mention Camus, because no one reading this gives a damn about him.

Nello: Here we go. Typical. Getting all tense at being unable to control the narrative all the time. Maybe I should cry? It could be just like on Good Morning America?

Q: I think we’re finished now. Thank you for your time. I am sorry to say this Mr. Nello, but you’re damn exhausting.

Nello: Are we done again already? But I haven’t had a chance to turn over the coffee table? And I can whine like Ross if you’d like to hear it? Awwwwwwh….

_____
Note: If you missed the gripping Part I of this interview, here it is. ;-)