Never In A Million Years

Laura had been born in upstate New York. She died August 26, 2004 on Long Island – 11 years ago now. Only 52 at the time, she’d died in her sleep of a previously undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm.

For those of us who grew up fans, she was like a local gal who’d “made it.” I saw her perform live once, and won’t ever forget it:

A sneak peek into "Distances." Click to enlarge.
A sneak peek into “Distances.” Click to enlarge.

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For Instant Happy Woman?

While cat sitting for friends last month, I’d noticed this coaster on their dining room table. I photographed it because, being a man, I’m not entirely sure how to take this: image

And it made me chuckle. We saw them again last night; they have just moved house temporarily until they move permanently to Cambridge in August. So we got to see their “interim” place in Bath, and she had that coaster on their dining room table once more.

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Various Thoughts: 23 April 2015

UPDATE 2: 16:50 (4:50 pm) UK time: I see no one jumped at (or so far even reacted at all to) my Periscope idea. So I’ll presume the answer’s “No”? ;-)

As you can also see, given I’m writing this, there has been no ninja attack on my house today…. as of yet.

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UPDATE: Duvet finished. Now, to what I need to be doing. That’s called writing. ;-)

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1) Would any of you be interested in joining Periscope with me? You need to be on Twitter too. It’s Twitter’s live video setup.

Screenshot this morning of the Periscope app on my iPad.
Screenshot this morning of the Periscope app on my iPad.

I don’t know much about it, but I finally saw my first live one the other day: a photographer I follow on Twitter was walking around her neighborhood in lower Manhattan.

Turns out she’s really amusing. But she sounded like nothing I expected. Isn’t that always the way?

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Our Old School Chums

Today, this blog is in “Hala mania” hangover mode. If you missed the party, it was not something that happens here very often. Thanks to my interviewing Lebanese journalist Hala Feghaly on Monday, through yesterday I’d been inundated with new visitors, mostly from Lebanon.

Yes, yes, yes, I know they came by for her, so I presume most won’t be back longer-term. Although, you never know; one can but hope a few stick around. In any event, let’s return here today to what passes for “normal.”

Dawn breaking over our back garden in Wiltshire. [Photo by me, about 5:30 am this morning.]
Dawn breaking over our back garden in Wiltshire. [Photo by me, about 5:30 am this morning.]

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Sneak Peek: “A girl in the apartment”

A “sneak peek” into another chapter I finished drafting recently in Distances. James’s father, who runs the family’s Long Island construction company, has just come home from work. He found James’s mother, Joanne, sitting at the kitchen table.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a house.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a house.

Joanne had spoken to James in Paris hours before. She’d rung their son at about two o’clock in the morning New York time (Jim had been asleep and later went to work without knowing she’d had), catching James, she believed, with a female overnight guest at his apartment. It had been too early in the morning in Paris, Joanne is sure, for that to have been innocent:

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“And where are you from?”

On our way out of church this morning, the priest asked me, “And where are you from?”

He may merely have been asking where I was from in the U.K. It wasn’t our “regular” church. Nonetheless, I was startled.

I thought: Gee, do I look like I’m not from here? I’m sure, to some extent, I don’t.

As we shook hands, I replied, “I’m from New York originally.”

The look on his face indicated that answer was a surprise. I suppose he had indeed figured I was going to say Bristol or something.

But I often don’t know how to answer that question. I was born in New York City, and when asked where I’m from that’s my initial answer. I grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk County; but most Europeans haven’t a clue where Suffolk County is, and they usually associate “Long Island” either with the Hamptons or The Great Gatsby. And, here in England, there is a Suffolk county too – the “original” Suffolk, of course.

US Embassy London on Google. It's closed today, Sunday.
US Embassy London on Google. It’s closed today, Sunday.

I’ve also spent much more of my adult life outside of the U.S. than inside of it. But I always feel American, and like a New Yorker. And I even still feel like a Long Islander – even though I have for years had no ties to Long Island whatsoever.

I don’t think I’ll ever not feel that way. We can move wherever in the world, but is where we are born and reared imprinted on us for life? Seems so.

Just a little “quiet reflection.” Hope you’re having a good Sunday. :-)

On Location: Long Island And The Catskills

It’s finally back here in Britain. Last night, we watched the second episode of Revenge for 2014-2015. (We saw the opener last week.) I’ve written about that escapist show before, although not in this context.

The program does accurately reflect aspects of the incredible wealth (often “weekend wealth”) seen on Suffolk County’s “South Fork” – in east end towns such as Southampton and East Hampton. But when I write of “Long Island” in the novels, it’s about the “middle class” island. In one exchange in Passports between Uncle Bill and Joanne (James’s mother), I decided to slip in this reference to the dramatic difference in lifestyles:

As her brother gave her a long look, Joanne added caustically, “You know, we were always imagining Lake Ronkonkoma as the sublime setting.”

“Really? What? Not East Hampton?” he joked.

“Oh, yeh, us Brookhaven billionaires,” she smirked.

Brookhaven is a large town (that would probably be better described as a “township” – encompassing many hamlets and villages) in central Suffolk that runs the width of the island from north shore to south shore.

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My Day

Friday was a relatively ordinary day. I started early, at the PC after 6am re-reading Thursday’s writing output. I then had a read of what’s going on in the world, messed around on Twitter a bit, and put up a post here. Actually getting dressed and eating breakfast followed. I then tackled a few things around the house as well.

Around 9am, the new writing began. Here, I use a large-screen, desktop PC that sits on a glass-topped desk positioned on our loft office space. I have a comfortable office chair (which has wheels). If I sit back for a think, I can see Windham Mountain through a window.

The desk is large, and I’ve got reference materials scattered all over it and stuffed in hanging files sitting off to the side. For a background history refresher, on the desk right now is also a book I’m re-reading on the Algerian conflict (1954-1962). Reference material like that usually ends up supporting only a paragraph or two, or a few sentences in a conversation; but I firmly believe that, for this tale, reality has to support the fiction believably. (Think, in a similar sense, of the likes of, say, The Winds of War, but on a much more intimate scale…. and with no character becoming close to a U.S. president or a Soviet dictator.)

I had sat down with a detailed part of a chapter already firmly in mind. (I have the sequel outlined, but “the guts” are what need filling in.) I also had had a brainstorm about an unplanned, new chapter for the second half of the book, and which I felt I had to sketch out at least. I don’t really want to add to “part 2” just now; but when an idea hits, I have to write it down so I don’t forget it.

When I get going, I “zone out.” I put in earphones and play music (often older stuff from the 1990s as inspiration). My wife jokes that she knows not to talk to me when I’m writing. (“Your brain is elsewhere, thinking I don’t know what, about I don’t want to know who, and I can see that.”) As I tap, tap, tap, she leaves me alone, and goes off to do whatever she has to do.

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Hours disappear. If you want to see your life vanish, write a novel. Nine o’clock yesterday morning was suddenly 1pm. Four hours gone in a flash. After a bite to eat, and a quick shower, it was back to “the grind.” Four o’clock rolled around faster than I could yell “Patchogue!” – hint: that’s an obscure reference to the first book:

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

Uh, to be clear, I’m not asserting there that “Patchogue” is obscure. I don’t want to get into trouble! Rather I’m noting only that the reference to it in the book might be. ;-)

Aside from a sandwich and the shower, in all those hours I had barely gotten far from the desk. The result was worth it. I had pages and pages of (what seems decent) material.

At some point, I checked Twitter. I could see tweeting pals either exulting or bemoaning Spain’s being kicked all the way to Amsterdam in the World Cup. I was back in “the real world” again. :-)

Happy Saturday!

Foul Mouths

Do Americans use foul language more than other English-speaking nationalities? I’m merely asking. Someone, someplace must have done a study? (Somebody always does a study.)

I have found that while bad language – the “F” word especially – is heard in Britain of course, it does seem less common than in the U.S. However, “America” is probably too wide a description. My personal experience is, naturally, rooted in what I’ve heard where I was born and raised: downstate New Yorkers, including Long Islanders, and New Jerseyans, seem to have an infamous reputation – deserved or not – as “foul mouths.”

Perhaps that’s due to impressions conveyed through books, TV, and movies – especially those involving organized crime and cop stuff? Yet are they encouraging its use, or merely conveying it is routinely used? Which comes first?

Whatever the reasons, it is common to hear, for instance, the “F” word used not just as a swear word. It is also routinely dropped into ordinary conversation – as in, say, “That’s f-cking great!” Really? Uh, is it?

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Or maybe I’ve just become more aware of it? My (English) wife abhors bad language. As a result, I almost never use it. Indeed, if I do – even in momentary anger in a situation one might consider “justifies” it, such as a death – she pulls me up on it.

As a result, I suppose I’ve backed off from foul language in my writing too. It’s probably safer to err on the side of not using it. It likely offends some readers, while avoiding it seems unlikely to offend anyone.

Quick Take 8: (Our Leading Lady) “Isabelle”

While the story begins inside of James’s mind, without Isabelle there is no novel. On that September Thursday in 1994, she is the first character to speak. She breaks the ice….

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Walking into her University of Long Island (ULI) Western Civilization class for the first time, Isabelle scopes out the seating. On one side of the room, several American girls – who seem already to know each other – are spread out and talking. On the other side, she spots a good-looking, apparently slightly older guy, sitting quietly by himself.

He seems to be skimming a book. Isabelle sees him glance up at her, and she thinks he appears embarrassed for a second – almost as if he had hoped she had not seen him looking at her. Noticing the empty desk in front of him, she guesses he wouldn’t be unhappy if she sat there.

She smiles lightly as she heads toward that desk. After reaching it, sitting and organizing herself, she decides to spin around and have a chat with him. Irritated also that her roommate is proving not nearly as friendly as she had thought an American girl would be, Isabelle decides to open by unburdening herself. She sighs and grumbles:

“I am tired already. I don’t like my roommate. She is sooooo difficult.”

But his immediate reaction, while pleasant, is oddly restrained and not the outgoing one she had expected. Maybe he’s just shy? She introduces herself.

He’s James, he replies, and follows with a weak effort at humor about not being confused with a famous secret agent character. Names now exchanged, and she explaining also that she’s French, as they talk she feels he is slowly becoming more at ease. And that is what she wants.

She had been born and raised outside of Lorient, Brittany, not far from France’s Atlantic coast. All of her life the U.S. has been an overarching and powerful presence looming over the horizon figuratively as well as literally. Indeed American soldiers in their millions had of course also been in France fighting Hitler’s vicious soldiers fifty years before during World War Two, and her older relations – her grandmother especially – had shared with her tales about those Americans they had encountered.

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Culturally, the U.S. is impossible to ignore also. She had learned English in school not because they spoke English in England, but because they spoke it in the U.S. Its books, TV, films, and music were everywhere. In fact many of her favorite singers are Americans – even if she can sometimes still just barely understand what they are singing about.

Everyone she knows at home has opinions about the U.S. Some are positive ones, some negative…. and some extremely negative. Virtually no one is indifferent about it.

She had grown up hearing also about Americans being like adult children in not wanting to understand the world and in believing their country is always right. Yet she has known some Americans in Paris who were lightning quick to harshly criticize their U.S. to any French who would listen. They seemed also to admire and praise France almost too much. Often they appeared to like France more than she did!

Her only first-hand U.S. experience prior to landing at JFK a few days earlier had been when her parents had taken her to Florida for a vacation when she was sixteen. Now, at 24, she has a chance to learn about it entirely on her own. As they await the professor, she explains:

“I wanted to stay for a while and I thought I could be an au pair. But my father said, ‘Non!’” She mimicked his dismissive circular right hand wave.

James asks why he had felt that way?

“Ah, he did not want me watching the children of strangers,” she went on. “My father! So I asked my parents to study in New York for a year. That they thought was better.”

Although she had missed out on being an au pair, Isabelle was genuinely amused by what she had been told of Americans’ attitudes towards those young – usually European – women hired by affluent families to look after their children for a time. Her friend, Virginie, with whom she had concocted the au pair plan, had in the end flown to America on her own – and to work in, of all places, given her name, Virginia. Nearly a year later, Virginie returned to Lorient overflowing with stories (some good, some decidedly not) about her experiences in the U.S., including about her employers…. and their “snobbishness.” She tells James lightheartedly:

“They did not want just an au pair. Oh, no, Virginie thought it was very funny they wanted a French one! They wanted to be able to tell their friends, ‘Welllll, you knooow, we have a Freeeench oh peaaaiiiiiir,’” Isabelle observed in an extravagant, apparently southern, accent.

As class finishes, she hopes he wants to chat more. He does. While walking to the student center café together, and then while relaxing there over her coffee and his soft drink, she offers more about herself and her family. James also shares more about himself, bits about the immediate area where the university is located, and a few facts about Long Island also – such as the reason for the names of some of its towns and villages:

“My family’s from Queens. You probably never heard of East Setauket. That’s where I grew up, out on the island. Electrifying, isn’t it?”

“How do you say it again? You are right, I never heard of it until now,” she laughed.

“It’s the name of an Indian tribe that lived there. Long gone now,” he explained. “Well, it’s a corruption of it. Lots of places on the island are named after Indians. If you can’t say it, it’s probably Indian.”

Isabelle smiled. “My father has a map of America before the Europeans. It has all the Indian tribes on it. Where they lived.”

“He probably knows more about the Indians than I do,” James confessed. “But if his map has the Setalcotts, I’d be shocked.”

Overall Isabelle is impressed by him. Taller than average herself, she’s pleased James is rather taller than she is. And not only is he fairly handsome, but he has nothing to say about a wife, a girlfriend, or kids.

He has never been to Europe; but he also seems an American who neither hates France, nor one who adores it to the point of ridiculous. She suspects what he wants to ask her as well, but it takes him ages to get around to it. So when finally he suggests that perhaps they could spend Saturday in Manhattan with a couple of his friends, she jumps at the chance….

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See related:
Quick Take 7: “Maki”
Quick Take 6: “Mark”
Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)
Russians
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”