Wheels Within Wheels

I was so pleased that Sandra Wheeler commented twice yesterday on my “What Women Like (To Read)” post. In it, I’d made reference to her online erotic novel. And, by the way, if you read any of it, be forewarned: it’s definitely for adults.

Amidst my first comment in reply, I noted this:

As with you, I don’t pretend [my writing is] “high art,” but “art” is in the opinion of the reader. I do know I put a huge amount of effort into creating a barrage of characters, happenings and relationships because I believe the real world functions like that – as a mess of people interacting unpredictably on a variety of levels. “Wheels within wheels,” so to speak. And maybe that’s “art?” In the end, that’s always for someone else to decide.

I realized after I’d clicked “post” that one of the efforts in the sequel I am most proud of is in this draft chapter (click for larger version):

image

It is an example of “inspiration” taking me in a story direction I had never anticipated. If you are a recent follower, you may not know that I decided in that chapter to fashion a bit of “immortality” for a dear friend of ours who died back on February 2. You may (or may not) have seen the sidebar link to a “memorial” post I wrote about her shortly after her death.

Free Stock Photo: A burning candle.

Free Stock Photo: A burning candle.

I placed that now late friend, Kam, in a scene in her native London with fictional James and Isabelle. I also orchestrated it to have Kam talking about two other real life people: myself and my real life wife, Helen. Call it my little effort at being a bit “Hitchcock” – and then some – in slipping us into my own otherwise fictional tale.

In addition, unbeknownst to Kam on that page, I had James and Isabelle agree how Kam reminds them of fictional Valérie.

A bit of “wheels within wheels” there which you, and only you, a reader of this blog, would know about. Why? Because I have also explained previously how, in Passports – which was written entirely while Kam was alive, and published two months before her death – I partly based Valérie on real life Kam.

The other day, Book Quotes shared this on Twitter:

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them” – John Green.

So painfully true. Kam is gone from our lives far too early and totally unexpectedly. In Valérie, she lives on for me somewhat “ghostlike” in these books – in small asides, in certain behaviors, in comments. But now, in having Kam walk on properly as herself, she will now make her presence felt forever as the lovely, real person she was – even if only briefly.

I think there’s probably at least a little bit of “art” in that. But when it comes to the living and “art,” we have to be careful. I commented separately to Sandra:

….I’ve noted on here that my uncle (my writing name is a pen name) is a HarperCollins police/crime author. He has been writing for over 30 years. He’s written for TV and film too. Growing up I couldn’t understand him very well – his world was not mine at all. Frankly, until I was in my early 20s, I thought he was “odd.” Now, a couple of decades on, I “get” him much better. But I always admired what he produced, even though it wasn’t what I really liked to read.

For years, we’ve been good friends. He told me recently that he believes I should have “a blog” and write about my experiences – traveling, living abroad, etc. When he wrote that (on Facebook) I had to control my laughter – especially because I fictionalize him in the books, and he has no idea my books exist.

This is my secret – known only to very trusted friends, and certain (all English, no American) family, and that’s fine for now. But when my uncle does discover it, I suspect he’ll laugh; yet I’m not entirely sure that will be the reaction and don’t want to cross that minefield until I have to. I am uber-cautious in that regard because we had an ugly family experience some years ago when he wrote a biographical piece for an anthology in which he discussed my grandfather using my grandpa’s real name. My mother went absolutely ballistic when she read how he had described their late father….

More “wheels within wheels.” Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Being a writer is, uh, indeed at times, “odd.” ;-)

What Women Like (To Read)

Over Sunday lunch with my parents, as we somehow ended up talking about the often vulgar way sex is portrayed on House of Cards (yes, really; and I have no idea how we got on that topic either), my mother declared nonchalantly:

Your father and I aren’t embarrassed to see sex on TV. We’ve had sex.

After we all stopped laughing at that inadvertent motherly masterpiece (my wife was reduced almost to tears), I found myself thinking again on the issue of sex and romance in novels. Which is no shock really. I think about aspects of my writing seemingly most of my waking hours.

Over the next couple of days, I considered the bigger picture. I also remembered a bit I’d written in Passports. I feel this is accidentally useful to illustrate this post:

Joanne realized someone was missing and asked Isabelle, “Where is my Foreign Service dreaming son anyway?”

“I think he is upstairs,” Isabelle replied.

“Oh, find something,” Joanne urged her husband as she walked around to the sofa to sit down next to him.

“I’m looking,” Jim replied. “Hey, what’s this?” He had stopped on a film channel.

“No idea,” Joanne answered. “What’s it called?”

The film was fading in.

“It’s French,” he observed. “Isabelle’s here tonight.”

Isabelle watched the screen with them, and what James’s father had chosen hit her as he began to read out the title. “Change it! Turn over the channel! Now!” she laughed.

Jim sat frozen momentarily. “What?”

James’s mother grasped quicker why Isabelle was demanding that. Joanne derided him. “You blind?”

At the sight of the increasingly explicit sex, [James's grandmother] Lucy roared, “Mamma mia! That’s French alright!”

Jim jumped stations and ended up landing on a home shopping channel for a safe haven.

“I did not mean to sound rude, Joanne,” Isabelle giggled as she explained her adamancy. “That is a film that is, uh, it is a very French film. I don’t know if that is for us tonight.”

“I swear Pilgrim State’s next,” Joanne assailed her husband. “What would her mother think? I’m going to have you committed!”

I had recently also posted on my struggling to not write “cringeworthy” sex scenes. That brought forth this comment from Sandra Wheeler, who’s authoring the online, erotic novel Falling In Cascades:

I love this post, and I feel your pain. I cringe at myself all the time, but one needs to make start. I also tend to overtweak, and that usually makes it worse ;)

A few weeks ago, I also discussed with a (male) friend, who is writing what I would rate as a seriousguy book,” that I have by now become comfortable with writing novels which may by default, yes, appeal more to women than to men. Yet I’ve not given up on constructing them to appeal to men too. It is just extremely difficult to hit both audiences.

Free Stock Photo: A long stem red rose on a white background.

Free Stock Photo: A long stem red rose on a white background.

I admit as man that writing for women characters is a challenge. But we men are not without romance in our souls too. That latter contention is, of course, an assertion my wife never fails to (smilingly) remind me of every chance she gets:

You seem to know quite a bit about what certain French girls think…. and I know why.

Uh, and moving swiftly along, I don’t consider my tale “romance.” It is as much about culture, travel, life abroad, diverse relationships and companionship. But it naturally does have substantial romance woven into that, so “what women like” in that regard is absolutely vital to me.

I get a mishmash of answers to this query from every woman I ask, so I figured I would toss this out there into the WordPress world and see if any of you care to share your literary opinion too? 1) Do women steer away from “romance” when they know it’s written by a man? 2) And if they don’t, would they nevertheless still see “romance” composed by a man differently than that authored by a woman? :-)

“How was your day, dear?” (I Wish I Could Tell You)

In an early post – when I had so few popping by, I suppose I was posting then mostly to myself ;-) – I had written that I did not really feel lonely or isolated while writing. In other jobs, I had long been used to working without close supervision. I had also often worked from home too, so the lack of an outside office and colleagues was not unusual for me.

What has become an issue in the last year is I’m realizing I spend a great deal of time alone in my head with my story in a way that no one – not even my wife – fully understands. I find that at the end of a day I can’t really offload about what I’ve done, or what’s proving a challenge. Others aren’t really all that interested (and that’s not unreasonable of them) in listening to me recount it.

Free Stock Photo: Red F1 help key on a keyboard.

Free Stock Photo: Red F1 help key on a keyboard.

Example: I spent much of yesterday working quietly at my desk. I was satisfied with what I had achieved by the time I’d called it quits. Yet sharing that in any depth was simply not possible.

“How was your day, dear?”

“Fine. I got lots done. I think I’ll pour myself a Vodka and Coke.”

[What I'd give to sit down with that drink for a while and really tell you. I'd explain I wrote more of that strange love scene that's been driving me bonkers. I also came up with what I believe is a telling (and in its way amusing) exchange at U.S. immigration, and then at baggage reclaim, at JFK. I'm thinking a Gulf princess could be involved too. Much tougher was I also got more written on characters' reactions to an illness, which I'd drawn from the true death of a relative, and which is also why I found myself fighting back real tears as I wrote.... and which is also why I seemed a bit grouchy when you'd asked me something totally unrelated to that which I was immersed in at that very instant. I'm sorry. And, God, there's always Kam. Straining to produce something worth unexpectedly dedicating to her memory is wearing me down emotionally. I get one shot at this. If I screw it up, I don't get another chance.]

If you write, you have your own personal burdens and perhaps similar feelings. So I’m finding this blog useful. After all, I just told you that…. which I’d told to no one I see in person.

A finished product may eventually impress readers, but it can be difficult to share the in-progress ups and downs that are inevitable in actually getting there. I believe I would’ve benefited from having a site like this during the writing of the first book in 2013. For this year, for its sequel, I know it’s an invaluable outlet on which I can blow off some “How was your day, dear?” steam: no matter what, I can at least tell you.

Thanks for following and reading. :-)

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. :-)

Among The Best 25¢ I’ve Ever Spent

Got a bit of a surprise on Monday in Key West. It wasn’t, as you know, at Hemingway’s house. I mean down at the docks behind Conch Seafood:

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

As I tweeted the other day, a manatee appeared seconds after we had fed the fish, resulting in a marine encounter the two kids – the 9 year old girl especially – loved, and which I later joked to my Irish friends was perhaps the best value for 25¢ I had ever gotten in my life. Yet the fish-feeding had proven itself to be an unexpected learning experience too. However, not in a way you might think.

It had all started when I had given our friends’ 11 year old son a quarter to slot into the dock edge (environmentally safe) fish food dispenser, which resembled an “old-fashioned” gum ball machine. Bear in mind he can no problem handle iPads and land 747s using Flight Simulator. Indeed, he is so sharp that early last year, after his mother, “Maureen,” had explained to us at their Dublin breakfast table how she was flying Emirates to Abu Dhabi on her way to India to join our now late friend Kam there, while munching his toast he flat-out contradicted her idea of her own travel itinerary:

Young son: “Mum, you aren’t on Emirates. You’re on Etihad. You’re going to Abu Dhabi.”

Maureen: “No, darlin’, I’m on Emirates.”

Young son: “You’re stopping in Abu Dhabi. You can’t be on Emirates. You would be going to Dubai.”

My wife grabbed her iPad and checked the web. Yep, sure enough he was the one who was right. “Good luck you didn’t turn up for an Emirates flight!” my wife laughed.

But that same lad in Key West the other day didn’t understand he needed first to slot the 25¢ coin into the machine and turn its handle until the coin was swallowed…. and that he needed next to position one cupped hand below the chute to catch the falling feed…. as that feed would be sliding out and down into that hand the second he raised the chute’s cover with his other hand.

Stumped by how to operate it, he hesitated. I bravely took charge of the archaic technology. Oh, and, by the way, it is “technology” that had once been commonplace in the Republic of Ireland too.

Good grief, young people these days. ;-)

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!” ;-)

Sharing Champagne

One of them has already arrived. My wife’s Irish long-time friend‘s mid-twenties niece took a coach to us from Orlando, via Miami. She got here to the Keys two days ago.

I knew her, although not very well. As we three have spent the last couple of days together, I’ve discovered she’s an absolute dry-witted riot: “I texted my friends back in Dublin, ‘Ah, sorry, I can’t go to see a film tonight. Oh, I’m busy by the poohol.'” (Note: You have to read that in an Irish accent.)

Next, having (we believe) just about worn out their two kids – a boy 11 and a girl 9 – for the last week at Disney, Universal, the Kennedy Space Center, and who knows where else (we’ve been receiving intermittent WhatsApp updates), our Irish friends’ contingent are due to descend upon us in full later today.

However, on a somber note, someone else won’t be here of course. And I’m now getting somewhat upset thinking about her while typing this short post.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

“We’ll have a glass for Kam,” my wife’s friend has already decreed.

I have to admit, it is going to be an exceedingly difficult moment for me when we open the Champagne on her behalf. We are determined to remember her with smiles – even if coupled with tears. I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Before the big group arrives this evening, I’m going to try to take the opportunity to get some more writing done. I awoke with some further revisions in mind. And I doubt I will have much time for tinkering, to say nothing of composing, for at least a few days after today.

_______

UPDATE: And the U.S. plays Germany at lunchtime today. Have to work around that too. Another distraction. ;-)

Presumably it won’t be on ABC. It’ll be Univision once more. We have to watch Spanish-language TV to see the U.S. national soccer team in World Cup action….

Strangers In A Yearbook

Putting up Facebook photos of our ongoing Florida holiday (my uncle demands to see them!), and noticing those who “like” and “comment” on them, abruptly has led me this afternoon to realize I have zero contact now with anyone non-family whom I knew pre-university.

Which led to this quick post. Much as I hate to admit this, yes, guys, I’m in my later forties. My friends today are all people I have met from about age 20 to the present.

Am I odd? I suppose the way I’ve lived has contributed. I left home and that was pretty much that. (I even left the country.) I’ve never been to a high school reunion, nor was I really even interested in attending one.

In our Facebook era, do they still even have high school reunions? I’m sure if I went to FB and had a nosy around, I’d find old school chums on there. But why bother? After all, no one has sought me out either.

Indeed, by now, if I engaged with any of them, those old schoolmates would feel mostly like strangers. How do you start that interaction anyway? “So, uh, hey, what you been up to for the last 30 years?”

image

Maybe they figured I “ran off”? If any have ever “stalked” my Facebook page, among my friends now they’d find not a single non-family friend any of them know. Anyone who might have done that has probably thought, “Who are these people?”

Naturally we fall away from many in life and make new relationships as we mature. There are those I once liked a lot – even since high school – who I’m pretty sure I’ll never see ever again. That’s no one’s fault. Life merely takes us all in different directions.

Then there’s the opposite bunch: relatives I can’t stand. You too may have to endure the same sorts of detestable people you are lectured you are supposed to like because they are termed (by those doing the lecturing) “family.” Sadly, to slightly rework the old saying, you can indeed choose your friends, but you could relocate to Antarctica and you still couldn’t get entirely the hell away from certain “relatives.” ;-)

Fame Or Fortune?

About five years ago, we had a laugh with my English niece (now 16) and nephews (now 19 and 12) about which would they prefer: fame or fortune? At the time they said they wanted “fame.” We told them you don’t want fame, because you might be famous and unable to put food on the table.

But as young kids not having to put food on the table for themselves, naturally they didn’t quite get what we had meant. Things have moved on. We asked the question again recently of the older two, and this time they were emphatic the other way: they wanted “fortune.” My niece, in particular, loves money in her pocket – as we discovered a year ago when she was visiting with us here in New York; she could have shopped until we dropped.

The default position seems to be everyone wants to be “famous.” The assumption narrowly in our context here is if you blog, or use social media, you are cravenly just seeking attention. However, I don’t buy that as applicable across the board.

Free Stock Photo: Miley Cyrus singing on stage.

Free Stock Photo: Miley Cyrus singing on stage.

Yes, out there are certainly the likes of my HarperCollins published uncle. He is a complete extrovert. He loves being on TV. He relishes being the center of attention in the room. Facebook is the worst invention imaginable for him: he can carry on to a couple of hundred “friends” about how he wishes he’d been in the Spanish Republican army in 1936 or something. (God, I hope he never sees my blog. Then again, he’d probably laugh, because he knows I’m right.)

Myself, I just want to write entertaining novels that stand on their own, which when a reader finishes she/he says, “I enjoyed that.” I seek to use this blog and Twitter to help spread the word and to be there for those curious about my books. However, I have no desire to be a “celebrity”…. as odd as that may sound in the novelist biz today. :-)

Do You Fancy Them Maybe A Little Bit?

Twitter wants to know why do you follow those you follow?:

Twitter knows whom you follow. But Twitter does not know why you follow them. So the company [is] doing something fairly straightforward—and, for a tech company with reams of data bout its users, unlikely: It’s asking. Politely.

The same question could be explored here on WordPress. So let’s.

For starters, I’d like to follow more than I do. But I don’t follow for following sake; I like to read what writers/bloggers actually write. So I have to control myself in following or I’d find myself overwhelmed with reading.

Generally, I follow those who strike me as interesting and honest and real. I usually read lots of a blog – including the “About Me” – before following. (Do you do the same?) There’s so much junk and spam out there, some judiciousness is required.

Overall, do you follow in hopes those you follow will follow you back? Or is it because you really like what he/she blogs and don’t care about a follow back? Or is it, uh…. because maybe you’ve developed, urr, an “online crush”?

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On that last one there, behave yourselves. No passing notes under the desks. Yeh, you know who you are. They’ll be detention… ;-)

Hope you’re having a good weekend. :-)