Avoiding The Cringeworthy

Writing romance that fits properly into a tale? A relationship that comes across as genuine? One which doesn’t read as corny and silly, thus causing a reader to roll eyes? Especially where sex is involved?

Doing that is massively difficult.

Don’t believe me? Don’t you sit there guffawing. Try it. Go away and compose even a few paragraphs, come back to me and tell me you didn’t cringe in abject embarrassment at what you’d produced as a first sincere effort.

Given that reality, how in heaven’s name did someone else we’ve heard of ever seriously write, uh, uh…. Never mind. I digress. ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a red heart and I love you text.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a red heart and I love you text.

Yesterday I had one of those days. The literary agonizing (type, delete, think a bit, type feverishly again, alter, delete, type more, re-read, consider throwing the PC out the window, etc.) that stems from wanting to see two important characters have an intimate relationship? Yet in the gut also not really wanting to see that happen?

Okay, friends, what are we going to do today?” Yes, and what a headache I had by mid-afternoon from staring too long at the PC screen trying to figure that out. I needed Tylenol. I flicked through the pages and found myself thinking, “Not bad. It needs more tweaking. But, God, I just don’t know about this.”

Nothing like trying to seek to escape a novelistic corner into which you’ve willingly painted yourself. Welcome to the world of the writer. I must be nuts.

Then again, of course we all know romance is often a bit corny and silly in our real lives, isn’t it?

I’m back at it again. I posted this because I needed a break…. again. No sign of a headache again, though; but give it time. Today’s still young. :-)

If Only Liz Hadn’t Forgotten An Umbrella

We all know The Great Gatsby. And perhaps too well. Many a U.S. high school student would certainly agree.

It is rooted in a variety of its author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s experiences. Fitzgerald’s writing in general revolves mostly around the rich, decadence, and insanity. He had also lived for years in France, and had naturally once been an aspiring author.

“He wrote what he knew,” my wife noted as we discussed another Fitzgerald story and film. In Babylon Revisited we encounter essentially still more Fitzgerald autobiography wrapped up as fiction. After his death, it was adapted into the 1954 film, The Last Time I Saw Paris.

We happen to have bought “The Last Time” among others in a DVD old film series, but had never actually watched the movie. Last night, on impulse, my wife suggested with a grin, “We need to, in honour of my mum and aunt.” So, at long last, we did.

A personal observation on U.S. expat stories. I find solid non-American characters are vital when a tale is set outside of the U.S. Otherwise what is the point?

Again, though, we have to remember this is based on Fitzgerald’s life. I am not an authority on that. What we do see on screen is that this one is almost all Americans – except for brief appearances by Eva Gabor and Roger Moore (yes, really).

Although it’s Paris, the French seem mostly for background. They hardly register as actual people, doing little other than uttering a few French words and providing necessary “local color” to remind us it isn’t London, or…. Sacramento. Save for George Dolenz, who plays the thoughtful, French brother-in-law, and the bartender (it’s a Fitzgerald adaptation so there is drinking throughout) and some individuals doing their jobs (doctors, nurses), there don’t seem all that many French in Paris.

So this film didn’t have to be set in Paris really. It could’ve been most anywhere. That said, here’s the crux of the tale, including certain of my own, uh, personal “margin notes.” Who needs Wikipedia?

***** WARNING: SPOILERS *****

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Soooouper Geeeeenius

We’ve had three mice infestations during the last year. They love the inside of our boiler, which is down in our crawl space. Typical Catskills. Typically rural.

They slip inside it through the outside fresh air intake, which is about 12 inches off the ground and only a few inches above a naked pipe, from which we suspect they can easily reach up to get to the intake. After the first time, I put a window screen mesh over the intake; but they nibbled through that. After the second, I jammed steel mesh into the intake opening; and they wiggled around that.

After the third, the other day, the propane company technician who cleared them out suggested dryly, “Ya need a cat.”

The in-laws' cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The in-laws’ cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

Now there’s a high-tech solution for you. Except we can’t have a cat. We are in the U.K. a lot, and my mother detests cats and would never visit us.

“Maybe we should get a cat,” my wife joked.

The mice have done no major damage thus far, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. So I’ve finally had enough. No mice are going outsmart Wile E. Nello.

I’ve constructed a multilayer defensive system. Please don’t call it my personal Maginot Line. Just don’t:

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Its basis is two layers of 1/4 inch gap steel mesh tacked to the house around the entire intake/out vent. (The opening you see is the out vent; the fresh air intake opens on the reverse side.) I jammed layers of gorilla tape into all gaps (no matter how small) between the mesh and the house siding (which is not flat of course). A board below blocks a horizontal pipe that the critters may use as a “step up.” I even placed a blocking piece of metal next to another pipe, to the left, from which they might be able to jump across.

When my wife saw the finished product – which took me a couple of hours to construct – she declared, “You’re wasted writing books!”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied, “and at some point an anvil will probably come down on my head.” 😏

“You fascist!”

….No, no, no, the post title doesn’t mean I’m calling *you* (friendly reader/ visitor) a “fascist.” Please don’t misunderstand. I used it because that (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) accusation is hurled in Passports during a morning, uh, “friendly exchange of views,” between Isabelle and Uncle Bill at Bill’s Rhode Island coastal cottage:

Next Bill called to the dining room. “Isabelle, toast and eggs?” Unexpectedly, he expanded the menu choices. “Want anything else? If you were being polite last night, don’t be. This is a continental house. Feel free to smoke.”

Despite being unsure if she had again misunderstood Bill’s English, Isabelle nonetheless dived in.

“White coffee and toast please, Uncle Bill. That will be lovely. Thank you.” Both feet on the floor now, she crossed her legs and pushed aside hairs hanging down on her forehead. “And so you know,” she added, “I don’t smoke. You think all the French are the same? We all smoke?”

“Well, all the French I know seem to smoke like chimneys,” Bill maintained as he advanced to the table and chose the seat across from her. Next he changed conversational topic mid-paragraph as he often did. “So what about that Mitterrand? He’s done over there soon, isn’t he? Who’ll be the next president?”

James sat on a longer side of the slightly rectangular table, between them, as if positioned inadvertently to referee. Taking some toast, he joked, “Uncle, you been watching the news on public television again?”

Isabelle responded from across the table without hesitation, “Balladur or Chirac, of course.”

Pouring orange juice, Bill questioned, “Who?” He moved the toast plate closer to Isabelle. “Please, have some more. You know, I sensed it last night. You’re a Gaullist. You fascist! Gaullists hate Americans!”

“No, they don’t,” she answered softly. “They love France. It is the Socialists who hate Americans. Mitterrand has been a disaster for France.”

Bill smiled broadly and looked over at James sitting to the side. “Nephew, you sure can pick ’em.”

“Okay,” Isabelle began to question Bill mockingly, and a bit flirtatiously, “who should be President of France, as you sit here, great American writer, judging the world from, ooh, what little state is this again? Uh, Delaware? I forget.”

Bill lobbed a calculated grenade at Isabelle. “Whoever the Socialist is. We need socialism in the U.S.”

“Bah!” she dismissed that out of hand. “You have not lived under socialists. I know communists, yes, but I do not want them to rule France. You have been with Spanish writers and Cubans. They do hate America. I bet they are communists. We thanked God that Mitterrand had to spend so many years sharing power with Chirac.”

Ignoring her charges, Bill went another route. “God? I thought young Europeans today were a lot smarter than our Bible-thumping Americans?”

Isabelle was at a loss. “Aren’t you Catholic like James and your family?”

Taking a breath, he explained, “Right. You know, Isabelle, I think of myself as a Unitarian.” Seeing her appear to go blank at the word, Bill appended, “We believe in sort of everything.”

Isabelle was underwhelmed. She knew what a Unitarian was. “But do not Unitarians believe in God?” she grilled him pointedly while grasping her coffee mug. “And to say one believes in everything is to hold nothing sacred.”

Bill pronounced, “Nephew, she is definitely French!”

James complained, “Uncle, I didn’t think I was in this breakfast debate?”

Had enough? As James has? What? You mean that back and forth didn’t cause you as a conservative to turn socialist, or vice-versa?

I follow many of you who are also authors – or musicians, or actors, or you travel blog, or you’re interested in cultural issues, or you’re just sharing thoughts with us. It should go without saying I’m flattered if you follow me. In organizing my followings here deliberately along mostly “apolitical” lines, WordPress has become for me a welcome island of friendliness, learning and calm compared to much else out there in major media.

As we know, nothing exists in isolation. In recent days I’ve been surprised by several generally “non-political follows” who’ve suddenly taken to mounting Everest-height soapboxes. They’ve filled posts with barrages of heavy-handed political invective. (That’s being “charitable” in describing the content. I could use stronger language.)

If you wish to read diatribes from those who support your “worldview” (whatever it is), it is usually easy enough to find out there. Follow a few of the crazies on Twitter. Or just click over to commenter cesspools that are found on sites like CNN’s.

But if you don’t agree with the rantings (or perhaps even if you do to some degree), you may also feel you need a shower afterwards. In a friendly Twitter exchange I had had with a CNN.com producer about so many of the incredibly nasty online comments, he noted that he simply tells op-ed contributors not to read the comments below their pieces. Can you imagine? Yet it’s easy to understand why: the bigotry and viciousness some spew via keyboard is appalling – and, one has to believe, mostly also from those who would likely never be so rude to someone’s face.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

I know I have on occasion blogged here on somewhat contentious issues. Amanda Knox, Devyani Khobragade, and immigration, immediately come to mind. But when I do, I try to do so with moderation, within the framework of my own knowledge and experience, and while remembering my self-imposed guidelines for this blog. (See the top banner.)

Civility and respect: where have you gone? If you want to scribble vitriol online, of course you are free to do so; but I did not follow YOU to read that. I firmly believe that chest-thumping, name-calling, and jumping up and down usually wins no friends who don’t already agree with you, and rarely changes minds.

Thinking To Ourselves

I haven’t shared a “sneak peek” into the in-progress sequel in a while. So, I thought, why not? As with previous “peeks,” this one may make the final novel after a cleaning up.

[***** Warning: STOP here if you have not read Passports, think you might, and care about "spoilers." There is a pretty large "spoiler" below in the next paragraph, as well as several in the "sneak peek." *****]

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It’s Not A 40 Hour Week

The more book you write, the more you need to remember, and the more you have to keep together. Working through the first sequel, I’m juggling several families, as well as multiple locations in three countries: the U.S. and France again of course, and this time Britain too. Subplots blend together, or they may not. I have to keep personal histories straight. I need to keep the timeframe in mind.

Because I’m writing a “real world.” I suspect penning fantasy is easier in at least this respect: you may always make up something magical to move a story along. But, as I like to joke, I have no vampires, so the story must not only be compelling and break new ground, but it must fit into its historical locale (the mid-1990s) and ultimately read “believably.”

Gee, what could be easier? But before I wrote any of it, I had already outlined broadly what would happen all the way to the end. I had summarized for myself in a Word document where I wanted the story to go and how it would get there. It was not unlike a builder framing a house.

* * *

After that framing, I began constructing the interior – which is where I am now. I’ve got about 75,000 words. Some will definitely be changed, and some seem likely to stay as is; but I’m not nearly finished yet.

I regularly re-upload the manuscript-in-progress in .pdf to an “e-reader.” Last night, I had been re-reading a section I’d written, oh, at least two months ago. I realized I had actually forgotten lots of the story details in that part of the book.

Re-reading in a detached manner after an extended interval has its creative benefits. I found myself doing what I always do, thinking: “Oh, that’s good! I wrote that?” as well as, “Geez, that’s a bit amateurish. You aren’t 14 years old. That’s getting the chop!” I also had some pangs of concern: “Hmm, am I going overboard with that sex scene? Remember women friends will again be reading this!” ;-)

How my real life novelist uncle would laugh at me. In Passports, I’d slotted in a fictionalized tribute to him that stemmed from an actual conversation I once had:

“You should write something,” she prodded him. “Your uncle could help you.”

Distinctly uneasy with that recommendation, James discounted it. “What he writes isn’t what I like to read. I couldn’t write what he does. I remember my grandmother once telling him off about the sex. ‘Where did you learn stuff like that?’ she yelled.”

“Hmm, yes, I agree with her from what I have read,” Isabelle smirked. “I think your uncle has learned many things a mother would not want to believe her son knows. It does not matter how old he becomes!”

It is sneaky dropping bits like that in, I know. But, hey, Ernest Hemingway would! ;-)

* * *

So I smiled to myself when I noticed Author Alliance tossed this out the other day for the consideration of “Twitterdom”:

image

Seriously? I was struck immediately with that being – for me, anyhow – impossible to answer. It was – also for me, at any rate – borderline silly. I tweeted back, “How long is a piece of string?”

Writing is not just the mechanics of pre-organizing the book, and then the typing, and the occasional extra research, and the editing. For me, writing these novels is all-consuming. They occupy and fill my mind.

They have become LIFE – which they should be if they are to be “alive” for future readers. Even when I’m not physically sitting in a front of a PC writing, I may well be thinking about what I will be writing, could be writing, or will change. How do I possibly note all that on a timesheet? ;-)

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day!

After A Working Vacation

Noticing Mr. Scott off-duty reading what appears to Captain Kirk to be still more work-related materials, he smilingly confronts the Enterprise’s chief engineer:

Capt. Kirk: Another technical journal, Scotty?
Scott: Aye.
Capt. Kirk: Don’t you ever relax?
Scott: I am relaxing.

How many of us do that? I’m sure I’m not alone. What did I bring along as “light reading” for the beach and poolside while on vacation?:

Florida vacation “light reading.” [Photo by me, 2014.]

Hey, don’t laugh. You have your preferences too. And when she saw what went into the bag as we packed, my wife voiced surprise: “What? No Jefferson biography?”

Err, nope. Not this holiday anyway. Ah, but I knew there is always also what’s on the Kindle! ;-)

* * *

That said, I did not read or, naturally, write – other than a bit on Twitter and Facebook, a couple of emails and, of course, this blog – too much that wasn’t my manuscript. As a result, I made more manuscript progress than I had expected before we started the long trek down I-95 to the Florida Keys.

Yesterday, I assessed the full manuscript. I have enough of it now that I can pull up the in-progress sequel in .pdf and compare it to the final .pdf of Passports. Its internal format and layout will be the same as Passports. Given the books are a series, I want them to fit nicely side by side.

I even have cover photo ideas – both for front and back. I’m still unhappy with “stock model” photography I’ve seen (apologies to photographers; I do know you have to eat too), so the back cover may – may – include a photo of a “non-identifiable person” that I snapped a long time ago. I’m still wrestling with using it or not: it looks agonizingly good, though – thus my dilemma. (I could still be persuaded on “stock photos” if I saw any I really liked.)

Most importantly, it appears splitting the sequel into halves, as I had been thinking I might, won’t be necessary. I have plowed through so much since mid-June that if I can keep it up I may be able to get the whole “400 page” sequel published in one shot during the late autumn as I had hoped. Almost time again for the proofreaders….

* * *

You do learn lots, storyline, and storytelling-wise, one book to the next: what sorta works v. and what is a home run. I am immensely proud of Passports. But I promised Kam’s sister I would dedicate the second volume to Kam, so I’m determined (obsessed is probably a more accurate description) to make the second volume “better” than the first one.

Overall while the sequel is still far from finished, I’m happy about where I am now compared to where I was at this point in mid-2013 with the Passports manuscript…. long before this blog appeared in the endless internet universe and most of you knew I even existed. And, of course, before I knew most of you existed either! ;-)

What a world we live in now, isn’t it?

I hope you’re having a good weekend….

Hemingway Wasn’t Home

We stopped by Ernest Hemingway‘s yesterday. Uh, but he wasn’t in. However, here’s his front door and his study:

Ernest Hemingway's front door, Key West. [Photo by me, 2014}

Ernest Hemingway’s front door, Key West. [Photo by me, 2014}

Ernest Hemingway's study, Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Ernest Hemingway’s study, Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

And, wow, his swimming pool looked too inviting on a 90F+/30C+ degree day in Key West!:

Ernest Hemingway's massive swimming pool, Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Ernest Hemingway’s massive swimming pool, Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Although I suspected one snark it was more than likely to draw from the significant woman in my own life, the 30 minute guided house tour is well-worth it. Near the start of ours, the guide remarked that Hemingway’s novels were inspired by, and built upon, places he had lived, where he had traveled, and people he had known. With a mischievous wink, we were then told how “in the next room, are photos of some of the women in his life.”

As we were all escorted across the hall, my wife looked at me knowingly. I knew exactly what was coming. With a smile, mumbling over to me, she cracked, “Uh, huh. Yeh. And he’s not the only one….”

Yep, and there it is! Done. Good, we got that over with. ;-)

Oh, and you’re probably not surprised that my novelist uncle loved seeing – via Facebook – where we’d been.

Happy July!

“So, what was her name?”

Yesterday, before an iguana decided to make a late afternoon visit to the pool for a quick drink….

Iguana by the pool. Marathon, Florida. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Iguana by the pool. Marathon, Florida. [Photo by me, 2014.]

….I had had the iPad out poolside for several hours. Between dips I’d gotten down to more writing. I’m determined to use my time here productively. As I had told our friends’ 9 year old daughter (who keeps asking me questions; she seems very interested in what I am doing), “When you’re writing, you’re never on a holiday really. Because you never know when something comes to mind. You have to be ready for it.”

Sometime after, the iPad packed away, the two of us reclining in the shade (good grief, the sun here is hot!) on loungers and keeping an eye on the kids splashing around in the pool, my wife asked me, “Did you get a lot done today?”

Lowering a paperback I was reading, I replied, “I did. I woke up this morning thinking, ‘God, how could I have forgotten to include that!?’ I definitely wouldn’t have been happy if I didn’t.”

From behind her sunglasses, deadpan “Englishly” my [English] wife smiled and needled me, “Okay, so, what was her name?” ;-)

Happy Sunday, wherever you are!

Ok, I Know I Haven’t Been To Wizard School

Our Dublin friends, and their 2 kids, have settled in now at our shared vacation rental. They had been meandering around central Florida for the last week, hitting all of the big tourist attractions. Pretty much where you might expect. (“Rick” had to give in. There were no manuals available, so he rented an automatic. However, he said cruise control thoroughly impressed him: “I was fiddling with it. Ah, it was grand to have on 95. But then I had nothing to do with my right foot too.”)

Their 9 year old daughter is frighteningly precocious. Indeed, I’m surprised her photo is not next to the word in the dictionary. The child is jaw-droppingly articulate.

Last week, she had bought – actually Daddy had bought – a Professor Dumbledore magic wand. As she showed it to me at the kitchen table yesterday, she emphasized the wand is the “official” one. “It is the real wand,” she declared.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a wizard hat.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a wizard hat.

She handed me the wizardry device, and asked me to look at it closely. As I took it, I pointed it across the room at nothing in particular and cried out, “Islamorada!”

Islamorada is the town north of us here, in Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Wand in hand, that name had also struck me as sounding a bit like some spell used in that particular book and film series. Hence my Dumbledore impersonation.

She recognized the town, and my effort at magical humor went over well. Anytime you get a genuine laugh out of a 9 year old, I suppose you are probably doing okay. I gave her back the wand.

Seeing my iPad and its Bluetooth keyboard open on the table, she then inquired, “Rob, are you writing another book?”

Yes, I am,” I confirmed.

After a pause while she apparently gathered her thoughts, she continued, “Is it different from the other one? Or does it have the same people, like Harry Potter?”

“It has most of the same people, a lot like Harry Potter,” I replied. “But mostly adults. And without the wizards of course.”

Wand in hand, she smiled and walked off toward the sliding doors that open out to the pool. Another thought then crossed my mind: if I could eventually sell even one-half of one-half of one-half of one-half of one percent of what that book series sold, I’d be seriously pleased!

Hmm. I wonder if there’s a spell for that?

Uh, “Islamorada!” ;-)