English Town

A Sunday aside: Here’s “English Town” from “North,” by Matchbox Twenty:

We saw the group perform here in London, at Wembley Arena, in September, 2003. I remember the show was supposed to have taken place earlier in the year – back in late March. However, they canceled that performance at the last minute and rescheduled it due to the assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq having (we were told) made it seem inappropiate.

By September, as we know now, that conflict had by then begun to shift into another, much uglier phase. I still recall singer Rob Thomas opening the show telling the audience that we would all try to forget what was going on “outside” for a while. It was clear to everyone in the arena what he was talking about.

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Years pass. The leaders change, and the enemies change. And the wars change.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

A Huge International Cast

Saturday morning poignant film trivia:

From the Humphrey Bogart estate's official Twitter.

From the Humphrey Bogart Estate’s official Twitter.

If you visit regularly, you well-know I’m a huge Bogart fan. Films don’t really get better than that one. Not that I’m “biased” or anything, of course.

Also, I am greatly flattered that the Bogart Estate follows me – Me! – on Twitter. His son, Stephen Bogart, occasionally tweets there. Amazing, “social media” today, isn’t it? :-)

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:

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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. :-)

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.”

“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. :-)

Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

The “Fifty Shades” Universal Trailer

Get ready. Uh, brace yourself. Variety:

On Thursday morning, Universal Studios debuted its first trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the highly anticipated film based on the erotic novels by E.L. James.

The movie stars Jamie Dornan (who appears san [sic] shirt) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his inexperienced lover Anastasia Steele….

We don’t know yet if the film will be “decent.” (If that’s the right word?) But the quality of the book and its film adaptation are not really the concern here; those are for others to argue about. I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film.

I will say this, though. While you might dream a novel you write will one day find itself a film, if it were to do so that film’s actual quality is mostly out of your control. I suppose the bottom line is if you found yourself paid (especially if you were paid “big”) for film rights, I suspect as a writer you would be thrilled to take the money and run. ;-)

But, privately (between just us here…. and the internet), I’d hate to see my book(s) theatrically ruined.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

"I'm the money" - from Casino Royale, 2006.

A James Bond Moment

Sunday, after the World Cup final and the awarding of the trophy, my wife was channel surfing for something to watch next, and found a film on BBC America. (It’s one we have on DVD, so why bother with on TV, right? But don’t we often do that? Accidentally find something you like on TV and which you own already, and you end up watching it on TV anyway?)

I happened to be upstairs. So I was unable to see the television in the lounge. Hearing the movie’s distinctive score between scenes (but no dialogue), I still knew which one it was immediately and blurted out, “Casino Royale!”

She replied instantly, “I know you love this one!”

I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t care. I believe Casino is the “coolest” James Bond film since Sean Connery’s time. It’s my favorite.

From Chris Cornell’s crashing rock opening credits theme song, to the chase in Madagascar, to, uh, well, I don’t want to spoil anything if you’ve never seen it….

I will share this, though. The dining car scene between Bond and Vesper? That has to be one of the wittiest extended exchanges in any Bond film:

That post’s just a non-literary aside. I hate talking TOO MUCH about my writing on here. (Don’t we despise those who only yammer on about themselves?) We need a break sometimes – myself included!

Hope you have a good Tuesday. :-)