Bluntly Tweeting

Singer James Blunt has been in the “non-musical” news here in Britain in recent days. He got into a dust up with a Labour MP over that politician’s assertion that artists from elite educational backgrounds disproportionately dominate the U.K. entertainment scene. Many onlookers have sided with Blunt.

One of Blunt’s statements in his very public reply published in The Guardian:

….I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”….

The politician came back at him immediately and condescendingly….

Stop being so blooming precious….

Thus perhaps another difference been the U.S. and U.K. In America, I believe a politician would have instead at that point sought to “tone it down” and “make nice.” Advisors would have been nervously at him, warning, “Don’t alienate his fans! They’re potential voters!”

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“Ok, friends, so what are we going to do today?”

Ah, you came back. Thank you.

I apologize for having gone somewhat “professorial” yesterday after I’d stumbled over some in U.S. media’s indifference as to why most European countries have anti-hate speech laws in the first place. That tweet wasn’t the only example. Too many seem to expect everyone to understand us – our history, our heritage, what makes us tick – but appear utterly unable to make the modest effort to try to understand anyone else.

Anyway, after I got that out of my system, I forced myself to get down to more writing. I employed my tried and true method. “Ok, friends,” I looked at the screen and asked myself, “so what are we going to do today?”

I’m learning that no matter how much you write, it never gets easier. The creative process each day is much the same. And regardless of all you’d written before, you still feel only as good as your last paragraph.

The only consolation is after two novels with most of the same characters, by the start of the third one you know pretty well who they all are. You could practically have them write their own dialogue. And if you asked them about something currently happening in the real world, you suspect, uh, they’d have an opinion or two:

“What is this show?” she questioned, raising her eyebrows, incredulous.

James sat on the sofa next to her. She handed him the remote. “It looks like a repeat from a few years ago,” he said. “It’s on live late on, uh, Saturday nights.”

“I cannot believe this, the way they are making fun of Arabs,” she observed, appalled at what she was seeing.

James’s grandmother appeared. They wished her good morning as she took a seat.

Revisiting the television program, James continued. “Oh, they blast everything. Some of it is in bad taste for sure. A lot of it isn’t funny also.”

“You would not see that in France,” Isabelle noted seriously. “We must be careful. We have bombs in France for years. Now you here see the World Trade Center.”

By the end, I think I had some good bits fall onto the “page.” (Technically, into Word on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.) I’m still in the early, “skeleton” phase. With Frontiers, last year, I learned you should never, ever, consider “the long road” ahead.

However, I made a terrible mistake mentally in briefly doing precisely that. I’d sat back at one point and considered the finished books – which are sitting on my desk an arm’s reach away. For extra inspiration, I also have a group photo propped up of a bunch of us, and it includes our late friend Kam – in the last photo of her we took together.

The picture was suddenly the opposite of inspirational: it depressed me.

The books themselves were, in their ways, worse. Nearly 200,000 words and over 2 years work were staring back at me.

For a moment, I had a chill.

I put on my Sara Bareilles CD.

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See, I was telling the truth. I wasn’t kidding. I have that CD.

Briefly, I also really wanted to pour myself a drink – which I immediately discounted doing, while alone, before noon!

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A Sprite had to suffice.

I’d also considered taking a nap. (Obscure – or not so obscure, if you watch the program – Mad Men reference.)

I know I wrote something similar on here last year. Another volume to complete. Doing it AGAIN is a daunting task.

While you may have the book outlined, that’s far different than having the full tale completed. What gets you through is never imagining the “entire” project. Instead, it’s a series of tightly focused, small steps.

Slowly, a day at a time, that frightening void you had been staring at begins to fill itself up.

At least, early on, that’s what you must keep telling yourself.

Have a good Friday, wherever you are in world. :-)

For My Eyes Only – For Now

Yesterday, I was writing at one point while listening to the “Gladiator: More Music From The Motion Picture” CD I’d gotten for Christmas (along with, uh, Sara Bareilles – now, there’s a musical contrast):

Photograph of More Music cover. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Photograph of More Music cover. [Photo by me, 2015.]

At the outset “More Music’s” inner sleeve notes make clear that what’s heard on the CD are often “first drafts” of music from the film, or music that didn’t make it. So technically it isn’t from the released, final “Motion Picture.” (By the way, if you’ve never seen Gladiator, it is really something else. Superb.) Composer Hans Zimmer writes:

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Musicians can get away with that, whereas a novelist would probably look ridiculous doing something similar.

Every draft I do is dated that one day. The next day is another draft, dated that day, and so on. If I make a subsequent change, I can always go back to an older iteration and re-use something. I never “obliterate” an eclipsed version so it’s lost forever.

I’m continuing in that “approach” with the brand new, third volume’s (very early) manuscript. Doing it that way, I’ve kept hundreds of Word drafts from the two now finished novels. The completed books unsurprisingly often ended up rather different when compared to what was in early drafts.

One example: Names. In Passports, initially “James” and “Béatrice” were known by other names. “James’s” earlier name just didn’t click for me, nor fit within his family scheme I was developing. In fact I now recall “Béatrice” actually had two earlier names. I went for “Béatrice” in the end owing to it having been a common name given to many Frenchwomen born from the 1960s until the mid-1970s. Both new names, to me, worked better in the stories. Now, I can’t imagine them called anything else.

In Frontiers, “Rita” is first mentioned while James’s parents – Jim and Joanne – and grandmother are chatting about his upbringing (while he is safely well out of hearing a continent away):

“Hmm, not high school. They were in junior high. He was fourteen. Ninth grade,” Joanne corrected herself slightly.

“Rita was his first real girlfriend,” Jim turned to Lucy and recalled fondly. “In some class she passed him a note with her phone number. At first, he didn’t want his mother to know.”

“Hiding things from his mother began pretty young with him,” Joanne declared.

She had a different name too, which I changed only about a month before publication. Her previous name was, to me, just too similar to another character’s name. It was as simple as that: I didn’t want any reader confusion.

Understand, though, I won’t reveal here what their earlier names were because I don’t want anyone thinking about any of them, “Hey, Rob, I liked that other name better.” ;-)

Another example. I must have made at least two dozen major changes to the opening chapter of Frontiers. By that I don’t mean stuff here and there. I mean I shredded and re-shredded the entire thing – background, location, happenings, nearly all of it – repeatedly until I was satisfied with it.

I did that because several times after I’d re-read it, I still didn’t like it. “It doesn’t convey what I want,” my shoulders slumped again and again. “And it’s the first chapter!”

I can’t see myself as a writer ever releasing the whole “first draft” of a finished book to show readers “the process.” The “sneak peeks” I had shared into Frontiers over the year were just that – and largely finalized. The final version is THE STORY. Looking back on them now, the earlier drafts, frankly, often make me cringe.

Anne stepped up to him. “Oh, yes, of course.” She added, “You’re turning into a silly old Frenchman. Do me a favor, if you’re looking to make a fool of yourself with a girl fifty years younger than you, at least wait until after I’m dead.”

My books and “papers” will be left first to my wife. I suppose she’d leave them to my niece and nephews. Unless of course Oxford wants them. (Hey, my nephew goes there. ;-) )

What they do with them after I’m gone someday is entirely their call. In that, I suppose I see things a bit like Isabelle’s mother, ripping good-naturedly into Isabelle’s father in Frontiers. What happens after I’m dead, well, happens.

Have a good Tuesday. :-)

I Admit It: I Like Sara Bareilles

Yesterday, ending their nearly week-long, post-Christmas visit, we drove my in-laws home to Enfield. After depositing them, and a quick lunch, we returned to Wiltshire. It’s about a 2 hour, 15 min drive each way.

So Mrs. Nello drove to London and I drove back. During the day, she began to develop a bit of a cold. No surprise: her parents had them too. Half of England seems to have the sniffles at the moment. (I’m still okay, but fully expect now to get sick also within days.)

The weather had been great, but cold (by English standards) – clear and frosty:

Frosty Wiltshire farmland, not far from our house. Photographed earlier in the week. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Frosty Wiltshire farmland, not far from our house. Photographed earlier in the week. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Friday was warmer, sunny and pleasant; but that was apparently a blip. Wednesday into Thursday, frost gave way to the rain. It is rainy again this morning. (I can hear it hitting the house. It’s about 7 AM as I write this.) Everyone has been mostly inside, sharing germs.

At one point, I glanced over at Mrs. Nello as I drove; and I saw she was snoozing. Much of the M4 is long, straight and dull – especially in the dark of an early evening. Tired of the radio, I decided to play a Christmas gift CD.

That’s right: it was a Sara Bareilles CD.

And I like it. “The Blessed Unrest.” That one.

Eh, men reading this: don’t judge me. I like her music and her voice. I especially like “Brave”:

SaraBareillesBrave

In one of her other songs on that CD, she sings about Queens, New York too.

Okay, yeh, another song happens to be entitled “Little Black Dress.” Never mind that. I didn’t know that song existed until I got the CD.

Wait. Why am I justifying myself? I have nothing to be guilty about!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re smirking. But I can prove I’m a man. Here. Look. These are the books I received for Christmas. Here’s the list:

A Subaltern on the Somme.”
The Battle of Kursk.”
Wellington: The Iron Duke.”
War and Remembrance” (for after I finish “The Winds Of War”).
General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel.”
Trajan: Optimus Princeps.”

Does it get any more “guy” than the likes of those?

Hmm. Suddenly I also remember attending an Alison Moyet concert (longer ago than I now care to recall) with a girlfriend. At some point, it hit me that I was one of about the “50 guys” in the audience of a few thousand. Or so it seemed anyway.

[Shrug.] I suppose we never really change. As a teen, and in college, I always gravitated more toward “girl friends” than “guy friends.” I had guy pals, but I always preferred hanging out with women.

There were guys who made fun of that tendency. Somehow, you’re supposed to want to do lots of “guys only” stuff – with no women around.

I’ve never understood that. “Men’s only” clubs? Seriously? Why the hell would you – as a man – not want women around?

Probably to feel freer to lie about the women you don’t actually know, that’s why.

Eventually, those same “guys only” types also end up wondering how you know the cool girls you do.

It’s not rocket science. Younger men, take note. ;-)

Have a good – and healthy – Saturday, wherever in the world you are reading this. :-)

Obsessed By You

Yes, I wrote just the other day that I planned some time off. Well, I lasted two days. I have plunged now into fully outlining what had been the sketchy ideas I had had for the third novel.

Although they are naturally exasperating at times, I am missing my fictional “friends” from Passports and Frontiers. If you ever in real life feel a bit isolated and alone (even when surrounded by people who love you; I have had bouts of that for as long as I can remember), you discover pouring yourself into characters forces the mind elsewhere. You hope your efforts in the end grab readers and your characters and story take them away from some of their own worries and troubles – and perhaps even help them in some small ways too.

Beginning of the outline of the next volume.
Beginning of the outline of the next volume.

Once again, I’m aiming to finish in about 12 months. The new manuscript is still untitled (although I’ve got an idea for one that I suspect will be the title), but if you know the first two books this coming third will follow much the same form and style. Staring back at us from the pages will be most of the characters we’ve met before – eventually to take us roughly to three years from where the series started “in 1994.” There will also be several new ones, and introductions to some we’ve heard merely mentioned in the first two books.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a rock guitarist.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a rock guitarist.

Back on Christmas Day, with my 12 year old nephew and 17 year old niece, I was watching music videos of some of the “all time greatest Christmas songs.” Many were by artists who, now, in 2014, are long past retirement age. Yet many are still out there recording and performing live.

I could only smile at some of the clothes and haircuts of decades ago. Did we actually look like that? “Welcome to 1984,” I joked to my niece at one point.

If those singers are still at it today, it’s because they can’t stop. One supposes they like – and likely need – the money; but we all need money of course. What they also love is the audience, and bringing joy to the faces of their long-time fans.

I’m learning we as authors are not all that different. We may not sing for our supper, but writing for an appreciative readership is certainly much the same thing. I’m finding it is something of an addiction, and can even turn into an obsession. ;-)

Hope you’re having a good Sunday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Rule #1 For Any Author

I just discovered, by email notification, that a blogger I follow on WordPress has apparently read my first novel, Passports. The blogger evidently devoted a post to it. Understand that (as of this writing) I have no idea what that blogger thinks of the book because I have not read the post.

And I probably will not read it. Why not? When I saw the notification, I instantly thought of my uncle, who has told me he studiously avoids reading reviews of his novels.

It’s a quandary. Think about it. It’s inappropriate, and even tacky, for an author to bask in a positive review’s sunshine, and perhaps even to “like” it.

On the other hand, if a reviewer doesn’t like a book, well, what’s to do? Do a Chris De Burgh? Probably not.

Back in 2009, the Irish singer fired off a scathing retort to The Irish Times, berating a concert reviewer. In it, De Burgh launched some real zingers. He was furious at the reviewer’s negative take on a recent Dublin show:

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That strikes me as almost never the way to deal with even vicious criticism. Almost no one even days later would have really remembered that review, but they will long remember it courtesy of De Burgh’s angry response. One would’ve thought someone like De Burgh would’ve known that.

If someone directly approaches you (with an email, say), you are entitled to respond if you wish. That’s now a personal conversation: a correspondent is seeking you out, either positively or negatively. However, I feel the best way to react to public reviews is with silence, mixed with unseen appreciation people out there think enough of your books to buy them, read them, and discuss them.

First rule for every published author: Once your book is released, it ceases to be “yours.” It now belongs to each and every reader separately, and every one of them approaches your work from his/her own intensely personal perspective. In the end, as with music, how the book is interpreted is out of your control, and you won’t please everyone.

Have good day, wherever you are in the world. Me? Uh, time for more cold medication. Ugh. :-(

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UPDATE: For more on this issue, from (by pure coincidence) today as well:

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Enjoy!

Monday Musical Interlude

I haven’t posted this “live,” but scheduled it last night to appear this morning. My Dad’s heart procedure is set for 8 AM. (He is having a small device implanted that will help his heart squeeze better.) We had to get him to the hospital for 7 AM, which meant we left the house well-before that…. which meant I barely had time to roll out of bed, much less post.

I’d been thinking I wasn’t going to be able to stay here in the U.S. for the procedure after it had been postponed a week. But my wife insisted, saying my mother needed me. We pushed back my return ticket to Britain so I could be here for it.

My Dad should be fine. But we are all still – perhaps understandably – a bit apprehensive. So how about a couple of blog-appropriate, upbeat songs?

Barba Gwen31 is an “independent” singer. Several months ago, on SoundCloud, I stumbled on her version of The Box Tops’ 1967 smash, “The Letter.” She sings it with a decidedly French panache:

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Next, if you click on her photo below, it will take you over to her cover of “On Ira” …. but please, uh, do come back here eventually. ;-)

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Hopefully, I’ll be back on the web “live” in a few hours and check in here with good news. Fingers crossed all will be well. Until then, umm, bonne journée. :-)

Our Younger Days….

You slightly more mature, uh, younger people might remember this. I once saw him perform live. I still recall him leading Chicago ripping into the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” during the encore, and doing it possibly even better than Sir Paul.

Excuse me, with Frontiers now complete (and soon to be published), I’m just taking a moment:

“Whatever happened to our wild ways.
The hungry beat of our younger days.
We swore we’d never let them get away.
But so long to our wild ways.”

– Peter Cetera, 1992.

Happy Saturday. We’re flying to the U.S. for Thankgiving. My Dad’s (minor, hopefully) heart implant was yesterday pushed back from December 1 to the 8th. So I can’t be there. Oh, well. You never know with doctors and dates, of course, until they are actually in the operating room….

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an airline travel billboard.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an airline travel billboard.

In any event, see you from the other side. :-)

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UPDATE:

I just commented over at Damyanti’s “Daily (w)rite” blog:

Family happenings are, in their ways, history: social history. So it’s worth preserving. I think fiction is a superb way to do it – and even when what’s written doesn’t always show everything and everyone involved in the “best light.”….

Her post is entitled: “Do you Own Your Memories?” My answer, begun above with that paragraph, is a resounding “Yes!”

But if you have long read and followed me here, you – “God, she’s younger than my daughter!” – probably already guessed that. ;-)

The Soundtrack

Yesterday, while I was doing more unpacking (after that heavy post), I had my iPhone playing background music. Mostly, I was conscious of it only occasionally. In fact, at one point, I’m sure it must’ve repeated “No Reply” by the Beatles at least three times before I noticed.

I suppose I was just humming along. “Hmm reply! Hmm reply!” I usually write with music playing too – from classical to pop.

Some writers need SILENCE, but I don’t really require a library style hush. Mostly it has to be just consistent, reasonably volumed, sounds around me. Someone in an adjoining room with a TV blaring AND channel surfing totally wrecks my concentration. (And drives me nuts!)

In the novels I make veiled references to various 1980s and 1990s singers, but never mention any by name explicitly. Having thought about it this morning (Classic FM on, as I prepare to tackle some of the last post-move mess), I asked myself that if I wanted a “soundtrack” for the tale (in the same vein as the “Which actors?” for the film adaptation game), which songs would I think reasonably captured it? I created a quick iPad playlist of ten:

A playlist.
A playlist.

Some were hits, urr, way back when in ye olden days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Some were lesser known. There’s also a timeless one by Frank Sinatra, covering a Beatles song.

Those generally convey the spirit of the tale. They reflect tone pretty well too. It’s just interesting to think about that sort of thing. :-)

Have a good Thursday!

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….