Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

It so happens I do enjoy long walks on the beach. Probably not with you, but then I don’t really know you, do I? You could be a perv, or a serial killer, or a Trump supporter. I’m sure you’re nice, but I just can’t take the chance. You could be…

Wait, where was I? Oh, right, I hadn’t actually started yet. Well, here’s the thing: this post is not about walks on the beach, long, short, or otherwise. It’s about interviews. Or, more to the point, an interview with me. The folks over at Serious Reading were kind enough to post the interview and if you click on my serious face below you can read it.

 

mott author

 

I considered doing an interview with Frivolous Reading, but that would require you to click on my silly face below. But don’t do it. Do NOT click on silly face. Ironically, I’m serious about this. Don’t click on it.

 

Mott silly

 

Told you.

Anyway, an interview is an interview is an interview, and the best part about this one is those Serious folks also posted a review of my novel A Fractured Conjuring, which you can read by clicking on the image of the book below. Go ahead, it’s safe.

 

A Fractured Conjuring - Concept 2 Variant - Large

 

That’s all I have for you at the moment.

Oh, and in case you got frivolously caught up in all the seriousness and forgot to click Serious Me, here’s another opportunity. Click away.

 

mott author

 

And if you are so inclined, you can find the rest of my books over at those madcap guys and gals called Amazon. Click on my logo below and check it out. Then you might want to go soak that clicking finger–it’s had a tough day.

 

Martin Logo

A few days ago, this happened: a rave review of my novel Relative Karma.

This is a big deal. To me. All reviews are important, and I greet each one–whether good or bad–with gratitude.

But this latest one knocked me back a step. Because the review was done by Anthony Servante. And if that wasn’t enough, my book was given to Servante by one of my literary heroes, Trent Zelazny.

And, though Relative Karma was published second, it is actually my first novel. A novel based loosely on real-world events. My world. A world I hope never to revisit. Somehow, inexplicably, this book continues to connect with readers. I don’t understand that, and I don’t have to. I just have to be grateful.

And I am. Because reviews like this make me keep going. It’s possible that someday I will be able to carve out a living doing what I love: writing books and stories. For now it is enough to know I am doing it, and doing it in a way that seems to be working.

Mr. Servante’s review is below. When you are done, read everything else he has done and be glad you made his cyber acquaintance.

And read Trent Zelazny‘s work. All of it.

Click on the picture to read the review:

 

Karma Cover Website New

 

 

And if you are interested in more from me, click on the image below.

 

Martin Logo

A Writer’s Review of: A Murder of Crows

a-murder-of-crows-movie-poster

Release Date: July 6, 1999

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Berenger, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Eric Stoltz

Written by: Rowdy Herrington

Directed by: Rowdy Herrington

Spoiler Level: Medium.

 

 

Greetings, hacks and scribblers! How’s every little thing? Have your April showers done their job and showered you with flowers? My clogged head and itchy eyes are testament to April’s handiwork. Stupid April.

 

funny-Spring-allergy-tree-nature-cartoon

 

What have I been up to, you ask? I spent the month of April spitting out haikus for the A to Z Challenge, wherein those stupid—errr, brave enough to take the challenge were charged with producing 26 posts during the month of April, one for every letter of the alphabet. If you find this of interest, hop over HERE and check it out.

 

I’ve also been writing—my latest book, Searching for Willoughby: Rosebud Hill, Volume 1, should be out somewhere near the end of May, early June. I expect you all to go out and buy it, and you may rest assured I will holler a bit more loudly when it hits the cyber stands.

 

Rosebud Kindle

 

Anyhoo, I’m back, and if this installment of SoC doesn’t prove my dedication to bringing you reviews of movies about writers, then I don’t what else does. This one was hard to watch once, and I watched it twice. My martyrdom is established.

 

martyr

 

 

So then, onto #7. I give you A Murder of Crows.

 

 

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

A disbarred lawyer takes credit for a late friend’s book, which becomes a smash hit, but the tables turn on him sooner than he suspected.

 

The Slightly More Informative Although Slightly Inaccurate and Laced with Spoilers Synopsis:

In this suspenseful drama, a disbarred lawyer forgoes the writing of his own book in favor of taking credit for that of a writer who is murdered shortly after giving the attorney his unpublished manuscript to read. A murder-mystery, the book becomes a best-seller and once again the former lawyer finds himself at the top—until the circumstances of the real writer’s death and a series of other deaths lead police to accuse him of being a serial killer.

 

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

I debated for weeks as to whether A Murder of Crows should make the cut. The film has some issues. Well, a lot of issues, in my opinion. But, cliché-filled or not, there’s something here.

 

Entertainment Quotient:

Rotten Tomatoes (with a whopping 5 reviews) rated this movie as Rotten, while IMDb shows an overall rating of 6.40 stars out of 10. I’d say RT is pretty dead on, and IMDb may be a bit too generous.

At the risk of ripping the film apart before getting to the reason were all here, allow me to share some thoughts. I’ll spend a bit more time on this section than usual because, quite honestly, I can’t think of much to offer for writers in the other sections.

We open with a nighttime prison yard scene. All that razor wire, blue-gray tones, pouring rain. The camera slow-pans all this as Steve Porcaro’s (of Toto fame) bluesy score lets us know we are in store for some late-80s noir.

 

 

It’s sort of reminiscent of Clapton’s score on Lethal Weapon 2…oh, wait. That was 1989. A Murder of Crows came out in 1999. Unless this is deliberately set in an earlier time, or offered as homage, we could be in trouble.

I have to believe the noir-esque feel is intentional. If not, it’s kind of silly. Well, this film is silly much of the time, but again that’s my opinion.

This is a flashback movie. The movie begins near the end, with Lawson Russell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) in prison, telling his story through voiceover. We are launched back to Mardi Gras where Lawson is lighting a cigarette while struggling with his conscience. The scene shifts between Lawson and a caped figure in a devil mask, making his stealthy way down narrow alleyways, picking the lock on a wrought iron gate, then into Lawson’s residence. He peers in from behind glass doors as Lawson picks up the phone. The devil has a gun and it is clear he means to use it. We see the other side of Lawson’s phone call where he attempts to remove himself from the case he’s about to try, defending a filthy-rich, Southern white-bread douchebag, Thurman Parker III, played to smarmy perfection by Eric Stoltz. When Lawson hangs up the phone, the devil-man is gone. “I didn’t know it at the time,” the voiceover informs us, “but that sudden act of conscience had saved my life.” Lawson Russell intentionally grenades his own case in front of the judge and jury; he is ultimately disbarred and so the plot is initiated.

Lawson tells a friend: “I’m gonna head down to Key West. Hell, I might even write a novel. I’m as smart as John Grisham.”

If only.

The overall tone (for me) would have been improved by eliminating the flashback element and simply telling the story from the opening scene in New Orleans. The continuous voiceover makes it seem like they are trying too hard to make it sound like a first-person detective novel.

The first scenes in Key West look to be 1970s stock footage. The colors are so muted it almost has the look of a well-filmed home movie. There’s no mention that I found indicating the story took place in the 70s or 80s, so I can only assume writer/director Rowdy Herrington wanted it to look dated. The 70s-sounding porn score doesn’t help. Interestingly, the dated, grainy look works well for the New Orleans scenes. It would’ve been nice to see some colorful contrast with the Key West scenes; as they stand, they actually make that beach haven look depressing.

While in Key West, Lawson takes up the role of small-boat fishing captain, where he meets Christopher Marlow, a character with one of the worst old-man makeup jobs I’ve ever seen. Turns out there is a reason for this, which I can’t divulge without spoiling a later development. Then again, that development isn’t all that much of a surprise. But that makeup was almost a deal-killer for me. At that point of the story, we’re supposed to believe that Marlow is what he claims to be, and we can only wonder why Lawson is not freaked out by the obvious fakery. Although he does say this through voiceover: “There was something very odd about Mr. Marlow. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I had no idea it was fate come calling.” I found myself wanting Lawson Russell to literally “put his finger on it” by reaching out and poking the rubbery old-man skin.

The two strike up an unlikely friendship, sharing drinks at the local bar. Lawson tells Marlow that he is working on a novel. And so the real story begins.

 

The Writerly Element:

If A Murder of Crows speaks to anything in the writer’s life, it is to greed. Or if not greed, then desire for recognition. We see it happen as Lawson sits staring at his computer (oh, the charm of that ancient Compaq), ubiquitous tumbler of whisky in his fist, struggling with writer’s block. Mr. Marlow shows up at Lawson’s door, and brings Lawson his own first novel. He tells Lawson that he (Marlow) is such a coward, he hasn’t told a soul he wrote it. He asks Lawson if he’ll give it a read. Then he leaves and the next day he’s dead, with no next of kin.

And of course the book, A Murder of Crows, is brilliant. We see Lawson back home at his computer. He types A Murder of Crows into a blank document, pauses with a nearly Snidely Whiplash twist of the lips, then types his own name in the byline.

Later (like in the next scene), Lawson Russell is in New York to meet the publisher where A Murder of Crows has been accepted for publication. And this is where all our writer wet dreams squirt onto the screen…so to speak.

We watch as Lawson shakes hands with the owner of the publishing company (yes, the owner, not some minimum-wage lackey) in the waiting room (she’s hot, of course); then she leads him through double doors where the entire editorial staff is waiting for him.

They are applauding.

There’s champagne, balloons, silver plates with yummy-looking food.

The entire room has been decorated for his book, with paper crows in trees, a wall-sized rendition of the book’s cover.

And everyone is happy and smiling.

Ya know something? I really don’t care how inaccurate this scene is. I don’t even care how bad this movie is. For those few seconds, all I wanted to do was be Lawson Russell, manuscript theft and all. Because that’s the dream, folks. Someone read our work and loved it. Loved it? Hell, they celebrated it. Bring on the dancing girls.

 

Why Bother:

You may not want to. I don’t think you’ll gain any real insight into the writing condition, but you may well enjoy the mystery. It’s a fairly interesting plot—if a bit convoluted—it just doesn’t come off well. Then again, it may work fine for you. Watch it for Mark Pellegrino’s performance as Professor Arthur Corvus, if for nothing else.

 

 

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Quills

 

 

Final Thoughts:

From Lawson Russell’s voiceover, just before Christopher Marlow shows up with the tempting morsel of his finished manuscript: “I’d been working on this book for over a year. Writing, my friends, is hard.”

I suppose that’s the resounding note for us hacks and scribblers. Writing is hard. Is it hard enough to steal another’s work? I hope it never becomes so. If it does—and you find yourself tempted to commit a little larceny—learn from Lawson Russell’s mistakes: check the purloined story’s facts and make darn sure it’s not written in blood.

 

If you’d like to catch up on earlier installments of Scribblers on Celluloid, click on the links below:

SoC: Introduction

SoC: The List

SoC #1

SoC #2

SoC #3

SoC #4

SoC #5

SoC #6

Oh, and go buy my books.

Keep up with what I’m doing here:

Website

Amazon

Goodreads

Facebook

A Writer’s Review of: Wonder Boys

 

wonder-boys poster

 

Release Date: February 25, 2000

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes

Written by: Screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by Michael Chabon

Directed by: Curtis Hanson

Spoiler Level: Low.

 

 

Greetings, hacks and scribblers! How’s every little thing? I trust the Universe continues to smile kindly on your every endeavor.

smiling universe

 

 

Today’s SoC entry is the eminently re-watchable film, Wonder Boys!

 

 

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

An English Professor tries to deal with his wife leaving him, the arrival of his editor who has been waiting for his book for seven years, and the various problems that his friends and associates involve him in.

 

The Slightly More Informative (and less boring) Synopsis:

Grady Tripp is a creative writing professor/writer living in Pittsburgh who is struggling with writer’s block. Whilst doing this, he also manages to get the chancellor pregnant. In the meantime, he and a college student, James Leer are trying to find a rare jacket once owned by Marilyn Monroe, and a college girl, Hannah Green boarding with Grady has a bit of a crush on him.

 

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Not too hard with this one. As far as movies about writers go, Wonder Boys is very much a round peg in a round hole. A once-popular writer struggling with his follow-up book, while poorly mentoring one of his students, a young, depressed writer who just might be brilliant.

 

Entertainment Quotient:

Rotten Tomatoes rated this film as Certified Fresh, with a positive score of 81%.

Wonder Boys is one of those few movies that stand up to repeated viewings; no matter how many times you see it, the bits and gimmicks work. The movie sparkles from the get-go, and what a wonderfully dull sparkle it is. Wonder Boys is reminiscent of the best gritty, unpredictable films like Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican. Anything can and does happen, and most of what happens is surprising, ironically because the events and foibles seem true—they aren’t predictable, but you find yourself saying (after recovering from a spit take), “Sure, that’s exactly what would have happened in that situation.” Hollywood likes to fabricate consequences, and more often than not we see it coming. Not so with Wonder Boys.

Outside any writerly element, what makes this movie near-perfect is its cast.

Michael Douglas plays Professor Grady Tripp, a perpetually unshaven, pot-smoking, soon-to-be-has-been writer, limping throughout the film in a tattered pink robe due to a dog bite he receives early on in the movie (and that dog bite scene is a “holy crap” moment if ever there was one). There’s something pleasantly bohemian about Grady’s huge, dark and rambling house. It’s not uncommon to encounter some hungover person stumbling into a tight hall from one of the house’s many rooms. This is a place where we’d feel comfortable crashing, nodding to the other bleary-eyed souls wandering the stairs.

Tobey Maguire plays one of Grady Tripp’s students, James Leer, a hollow-eyed, depressed, possibly genius boy writer. Maguire does a lot of things well, but I think he plays this kind of borderline-creepy role best—he’s so convincing as James Leer, you wonder if this might actually be what he is like in real life, although you hope not. In many ways, this character is what we mean when we label someone in fiction as an unreliable narrator. Because James cannot be trusted. He is writing every moment he is speaking. Like the best of writers, he’s a compulsive liar; everything out of his mouth is fabrication. Perfect, complete, total fabrication.

Katie Holmes as Hannah Green is as adorable as ever. Perfect crooked smile cuteness as she fawns over Professor Tripp’s work-in-progress, clearly infatuated with the man and his work.

Rip Torn as Quentin “Q” Morewood, a pompous literary icon (who somehow manages to still be affable), plays his role to perfection. “I am a writer,” he intones at the beginning of his WordFest speech, his voice resonating throughout the lecture hall. And that is all you need to know about him, and it is important, and we believe it is important.

The rest of the cast are equally well-played. Robert Downey Jr. is bang-on as Grady’s almost lecherous, but oh so likable gay editor, Terry Crabtree. Frances McDormand as Grady’s love interest, Chancellor Sara Gaskell; Richard Thomas as Gaskell’s husband, Walter Gaskell; and the weirdly engaging performance of Richard Knox as Vernon Hardapple. Not an off-note in the chorus.

Based on the novel by Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys is very much a novel on screen. As soon as I finish this post I am going to buy the book.

 

The Writerly Element:

Wonder Boys has roughly a gazillion quotable moments for the writer. I will try hard to spare you most of these, because context is everything and–as much as I’d like to–I absolutely refuse to copy and paste the entire script for you here.

But (ah yes, the famous Mott’s Ruminations ‘but’) …let’s start with Q’s speech at WordFest, immediately following his sonorous declaration that he is A Writer:

“What is the bridge from the water’s edge of inspiration to the far shores of accomplishment? Faith that your story is worth telling. Faith that you have the wherewithal to tell it. And faith that the carefully woven structure you created won’t collapse beneath you. And faith that when you get to the other side there will be someone waiting who gives a damn about the tale you have to tell.”

Whoa…am I right? I ran that back and watched it several times. He nailed it, I thought. That’s the truth of writing right there. But this line actually plays better on the page than on the screen. On the screen, there’s a bit of blow-hardness to the delivery. But man, that’s some sweet sentiment, ain’t it? I so wanted to get more of these nuggets, more meme-worthy chestnuts to chew on.

Alas, no. If you’re looking to be uplifted as a writer, this probably isn’t the movie for you.

So what exactly does Wonder Boys communicate to the writer? What fruit hangs on this particular tree that will nourish the budding (or fully bloomed) writer? How about this:

  1. Never, EVER, compare yourself to other writers.
  2. Don’t smoke pot while writing.
  3. Don’t take past success seriously or for granted.
  4. Be mindful of the blind dog in the hall.
  5. Always, always, always use a condom.

 

Q is that writer we all dream of being. From Grady Tripp’s voice-over narration when Q is first introduced:

He was rich and famous; he completed a novel every eighteen months. I hated him.

Grady is more like the rest of us. Whether we’ve had much success or not, we know what it looks and smells like, and we can’t help but harbor a little honest loathing for those writers who make it look easy.

In many ways, Wonder Boys is a cautionary tale warning us against the dangers of writing, the pitfalls of being too much of a writer too much of the time. It almost seems to be more about the psychoses of the writer, as opposed to the actual writing life itself. Depression, alcoholism, drug use, unprotected and ill-advised sex. Or, for those of the Hemingway/Fitzgerald/Thompson persuasion, perhaps those are some of writing’s perks.

Ah well.

But there’s plenty more here than Q’s almost painfully true speech; plenty to ponder, to argue, to ingest and digest and learn.

When past success only reminds you how currently unsuccessful you are:

Hannah Green (to Grady as they dance platonically at a dark bar): “I’ve been rereading The Arsonist’s Daughter. It’s so beautiful, Grady. So natural. It’s like all of your sentences always existed, just waiting up there in style heaven for you to fetch them down.”

How does a writer respond to something like that? Sure, it’s phrased nicely, and who wouldn’t want to hear that their prose has celestial origin? But here’s the thing, boys and girls: We know it’s not true. And while we might be proud of something we wrote (and more than a little chuffed that someone truly liked it), all it does is remind us how wooden our current work is; how flat and one-dimensional and wholly uninspired. It doesn’t matter that it’s also not necessarily true that our current work sucks, but it’s how we feel a lot of the time, and reminding us of our past successes is not always what we want to hear.

If we need proof beyond his shambling, grizzled, pot-smoking, pink-robed visage that Grady is spiraling downward, we only need laugh at the efforts on his new book. But it’s a painful laughter, because while the scene is funny it’s also tragic.

Grady’s voice-over: It started out as a small book. Probably 250 – 300 pages. It had gotten a little larger in scope and the ending kept getting further away. But the ending was there. I knew it. I could almost see it.

“A little larger,” he says. The voice-over leads into a shot of Grady rolling a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter. He types 261 at the top. There’s a brief pause and then he adds another 1 to the page number, making it 2,611.

It had gotten a little larger in scope…

2,611 single-spaced pages.

And we groan. Why do we groan?

  1. Because a manuscript that large is horrifying.
  2. Because a manuscript that long can’t possibly be good.
  3. Because we secretly wish we had the delicious gall to write something that huge.

 

Later, when James Leer sees the, uh, scope of Grady’s work-in-progress:

James (speaking of the other creative writing students): “Some of the kids thought you were blocked.”

Grady: “I don’t believe in writer’s block.”

James: “No kidding.”

The image of this 2,611 whopper of an unfinished book goes beyond funny to a marker of Grady’s borderline insanity, because the truth we see elsewhere in the film is that Grady has basically given up on writing, on being a writer and what it may or may not have meant to him at one time. We have this exchange, when James bemoans that all the kids in the creative writing class hate him:

Grady: “All the kids in the workshop hate you because right now you’re ten times the writer anyone of them will ever be.”

James: “My stuff stinks. You said so yourself last night to your friend Crabtree.”

Grady: “I didn’t mean it like that. And what does it matter what I think? I mean, what does it matter what anybody thinks? Most people don’t think, James. If they do, it’s not about writing. Books. They don’t mean anything. Not to anybody. Not anymore.”

This from the man who later has this to say after his 2,000-plus pages of manuscript go swirling out into the river:

Oola: “What was it about, your book? What was the story?”

Grady: “I don’t know.”

Crabtree: “What he means is, it’s difficult to distill the essence of a book sometimes, because it lives in the mind.”

Vernon: “But you gotta know what it was about, right? If you didn’t know what it was about, why were you writing it?”

Grady: “I couldn’t stop.”

Now we’ve crossed the border from the land of passion into the dark territory of addiction.

Books don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

Why are you writing?

Because I can’t stop.

Later, when rescuing James from his parents’ basement (yeah, there’s a story there), Grady and Crabtree stumble on a sheet of paper rolled into James’s typewriter, a piece he was working on when they came for him; a piece where he is clearly writing about his literary hero, Professor Grady Tripp:

It was then the boy understood that his hero’s true injuries lay in a darker place. His heart, once capable of inspiring others so completely, could no longer inspire so much as itself. It beat now only out of habit. It beat now only because it could.

(Why are you writing?)

(Because I can’t stop.)

Excuse me while I blot a bit of cold sweat off my forehead.

 

There’s much more to learn from Wonder Boys, but again, context is everything.

On the writer’s relationship with his or her editor: “I sweat blood for five years and he corrects my spelling.”

On James’s dark brilliance as a writer: “He respects us enough to forget us. And that takes courage.”

On the power of words to seduce: “She was a junkie for the printed word. Lucky for me, I manufactured her drug of choice.”

Watch the movie and see for yourself. Then watch it again. Then I dare you not to watch it one more time.

 

Why Bother:

There’s a dark side to writing; maybe we need to remember that. More importantly, maybe we need to allow that darkness to inform us now and then. I’m not suggesting we all don our pink robes, stop shaving, and roll a joint or two (although, to each his/her own).

Maybe I’m simply saying: keep writing. Let that manuscript bloat up to a thousand or so pages, maybe two thousand, then don’t be afraid to let it go the way of migrating geese. It might come back, in bits and pieces—hopefully just the good pieces—and maybe what you’re left with is nothing more than gratitude that you didn’t stop writing. Maybe, when all is said and done, that stack of pages is the only thing anchoring you to this planet. That, if nothing else, is reason enough.

Why do we write?

Because we can’t stop.

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills

 

Final Thoughts:

James: They treat me like a freak!

Grady: Well, you are a freak, James. All right? Welcome to the club.

 

 

A Writer’s Review of Iris

 

Iris Poster

 

Release Date: December 14, 2001

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville

Written by: Richard Eyre and Charles Wood, based on Elegy for Iris, and Iris: A Memoir, by John Bayley

Directed by: Richard Eyre

Spoiler Level: Low to High (fear not…read on).

 

Greeting, hacks and scribblers. It’s been nigh onto a year since my last entry in Scribblers on Celluloid. 2015 was a strange, hard, bastard of a year. I may well document the monumental changes that occurred, but that’s for later. For now, let us return to SoC with a film that positively wrecked me, personally, emotionally, intellectually.

 

I give you Iris

 

 

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The Slightly More Informative Synopsis:

Based on a pair of memoirs by her husband John Bayley, this biographical portrait of writer Iris Murdoch stars both Judi Dench and Kate Winslet as the philosophical author at different stages of her life. When the young Iris (Winslet) meets fellow student Bayley (Hugh Bonneville) at Oxford, he’s a naïve virgin easily flummoxed by her libertine spirit, arch personality, and obvious artistic talent. Decades later, little has changed as the couple (now played by Dench and Jim Broadbent) keeps house, with John doting on his more famous wife. When Iris begins experiencing forgetfulness and dementia, however, the ever-doltish but devoted John struggles with hopelessness and frustration to become her caretaker, as his wife’s mind deteriorates from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Iris opens with an underwater scene…Kate Winslet swimming nude. I knew then I was going to watch this movie all the way through, and the writerly element could go hang. A few minutes later we flash forward to Iris Murdoch as an old woman (played brilliantly by Dame Judi Dench) as she speaks to a group about the importance of education, thusly:

“Education doesn’t make you happy, nor does freedom. We don’t become happy just because we’re free, if we are, or because we’ve been educated, if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears…tells us where delights are lurking…convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever… that of the mind…and gives us the assurance, the confidence, to walk the path our mind—our educated mind—offers.”

I found myself leaning forward, eager to hear more of what Iris Murdoch had to say on matters of life and love and the power of the mind.

 

Entertainment Quotient:

Every instinct makes me simply want to tell you to go watch the movie. Right now. Nothing I can say will do it justice; no amount of rumination can give the barest hint of the film’s power. Watch it, absorb it, then wash the tears from your face and watch it again.

But, you’re all here, and it seems I have the floor. So then…

Rotten Tomatoes rated Iris as Certified Fresh, with a positive score of 79%. That’s a pretty good rating for RT, but I couldn’t help but wonder: what in Heaven’s name were the other 21% thinking? Did they catch that opening skinny dip sequence and think they were watching porn, only to have their hopes dashed by repeated insight into the human condition? I suspect those who rated the movie poorly are those not in touch (or afraid of) their feelings. Because make no mistake: Iris is one hell of a tear-jerker. See up above where I note the spoiler level as Low to High? It’s because I am going to tell you how it ends (High) but it’s no surprise to anyone (Low).

Iris dies, folks. But this is no more surprise than telling you that Titanic ends with a sinking ship. Both Titanic and Iris are based on true events (and both share Kate Winslet’s boobs with the world…but those, errr that, need not detain us).

Ahem. Iris Murdoch’s story is a matter of record. And we know in the first twenty minutes of the film that Alzheimer’s—the writer’s greatest fear—has found Iris. It’s important to know and accept this going in, because the power of the film is in its flashbacks and flash-forwards. We know what’s coming, the knowledge clogs our throats and hearts with its inevitability, so we treasure every leap back to the Iris that lived so fully in the moment.

This is a beautiful film in every respect; if there was an off note anywhere I missed it. Both Kate Winslet and Judi Dench are as pitch-perfect as everyone knows them to be. But Jim Broadbent’s performance as Iris’s husband, John Bayley, left me stunned. He won the Oscar for his performance, and to say it was well-deserved is an understatement. And the performance of Hugh Bonneville as the younger John Bayley was equally stand-out (I swear, I felt like they had actually somehow filmed Broadbent thirty years prior—he was that convincing).

Iris succeeds on every level I can think of. But for writers—for those of us who struggle on even our better days to put the words down in the best possible order—Iris is a horror story.

 

The Writerly Element:

Iris is based on John Bayley’s memoirs of his wife, famed Irish novelist and philosopher Dame Jean Iris Murdoch. The writerly element in the film is a given because we are treated to an inside peek (however brief) of this amazing writer’s mind.

A quote from Iris (the person not the film):

“Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.”

Dame Iris seemed to perpetually leak nuggets like this. There is a moment early on where a young Iris is having fun at John’s expense after he has choked on a sip of wine. Iris is making a point that we don’t have to try to swallow the right way, it just happens. But what she says is noteworthy for anyone attempting to put words to paper:

“The best thing to do is just hang on and trust the body.”

Later we see a clip of an interview from Iris’s younger years, in which she shares this glorious insight into the writing condition:

“Everybody has thoughts they want to conceal. People have obsessions and fears and passions, which they won’t admit to. I think any character is interesting and has extremes. It’s a novelist’s privilege to see how odd everyone is.”

Isn’t that gorgeous? The novelist’s privilege. Yes.

There is also much to be gleaned from close inspection of the relationship between John and Iris, especially in their younger years. Iris was wild and untamed, a perfect contrast to John’s bumbling nerdiness. But John was enamored with her brilliance, more than well aware of the power of her writer’s mind:

Young John: “Iris has got more than one world going on inside that head. A secret world. I’m the only friend that knows of her secret world. It’s like living in a fairy story. I’m the young man in love with a beautiful maiden who disappears into an unknown and mysterious world every now and again.”

Contrast that moment with a heart-wrenching scene when the elderly John is reading Pride and Prejudice to Iris as she sits in a fogged-out stupor. But then her eyes clear ever so slightly, her lips begin to move and she says: “I…wrote.” John brightens and says, “Yes, my darling, my clever cat, you wrote books!” And Iris stutters out, “Books…I…wrote.” John tells her she wrote novels, wonderful novels. Tears brimming in her eyes, Iris repeats, “I…wrote.” And John, with a pitiful hope that she might be rebounding, says, “Such things you wrote. Special things. Secret things. Do you know many secrets now, Iris?”

I could go on. The writerly element is everywhere in this film because it chronicles the life of a writer. You won’t have to look far, but I would suggest doing so anyway—because this movie is trying to tell us something, something big. For now, go with this bit of prophetic exchange between a young John and Iris:

John: “You love words, don’t you?”

Iris: “If one doesn’t have words, how does one think?”

 

Why Bother:

Because we need to face our fears. We all die. Somewhere at the end of this long and complex game—maybe from accident or sudden illness, maybe it’s simply our time—we will cash in our chips. We all know it’s coming.

But that’s not the fear, at least not for me. The real terror, the keep-me-awake-at-night, oozing-shambling-gibbering-horror-in-the-closet, is dementia. It terrifies me. I’ve written about crossing over that threshold into madness many times, before I even had conscious knowledge of my own personal fear of it.

For the writer—for the one who truly cares about the language and beauty and music of writing—is there a greater dread than losing our ability to think and remember and make connections? Imagine you are writing—a letter, a story, whatever—and then imagine the feeling of panic at being unable to remember the spelling of even the most common word. Your mind betrays you. We see this happen as Iris is writing in longhand, and she says, “We all worry about going mad, don’t we? How would we know…those of us who live in our minds, anyway? Other people will tell us. Would they, John?”

“How will we know…?” “Those of us who live in our minds…”

Would others see us slipping away? Would they tell us? Would we be able to process the knowledge?

How hard and fast would we write our stories if we knew that tomorrow we would be robbed of cognitive thought?

It sends a chill up the spine.

In the midst of Iris’s decline, she manages to finish her last novel. And she has this to say in a tragic moment of clarity:

“Just keep working, keep talking, keep the words coming. I shall come off like a deprived animal if I can’t write…be like a starved dog.”

Every writer knows this feeling all too well. Writing is hard; not writing is harder. To have the ability stripped away through a failure of our mind to cooperate…that is hell.

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills

 

Final Thoughts:

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what this movie is saying, or what it’s about, because it will likely hit everyone differently, scraping at old wounds we had almost forgotten. Since it is based on Bayley’s memoirs of his true love, it seems to be an effort to finally capture her. From their early days on into the latter years, John Bayley was always trying to catch Iris. Whether she was leading him a merry chase as they pedaled their bicycles down country roads, or disappearing into the unknown and unknowable landscape of dementia (Iris: “I feel as if I am sailing into darkness.”), she was always just beyond his grasp.

John: “Iris, w-wait for me!”

Iris: “Just keep tight hold of me, and it’ll be all right!”

John: “You won’t keep still!”

Iris: “I can’t keep still!”

John: “I can’t catch up with you!”

Or maybe it is simply a statement on the frailty and impermanence of life in contrast to Art itself. James the Apostle called human life nothing more than a vapor, a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Maybe, when all is said and done, we are only what we leave behind. Some spark ignites our creative selves into animation, we flare up into flame, some longer and brighter than others, then the flame sputters into nothing. Our lasting hope is that if we have burned bright—if we have set others ablaze with our words and craft—our Art will live on.

 

 

“As I hear the sweet lark sing in the clear air of the day,

Dear thoughts are in my mind, and my soul soars, enchanted,

As I hear the sweet lark sing in the clear air of the day,

For a tender beaming smile to my hope has been granted,

And tomorrow he shall hear all my fond heart can say…”

 

In many ways 2015 was one of the darkest years of my life; in many other ways it wasn’t. I suppose that’s what we call balance.

Toward the end of the year, as my personal life began to brighten, I repaid the Universe by seeing the publication of one of the darkest books I’ve ever written (or read). In December of 2015, Black Rose Writing published A Fractured Conjuring.

A Fractured Conjuring - Concept 2 Variant - Large

For reasons not entirely clear to me, it has been called a “brilliant, disturbing, and important work.” Well… “disturbing” I understand. This book has been disturbing me for years; disturbing my sleep, my peace of mind.

But how does a thing like this come to be?

I can’t help but wonder what people will think when they read the book, if they will think me depraved or simply mean-spirited. Some will ask questions as to why I thought it important to write such a thing.

And I will be at a loss for an answer. Because I truly don’t know.

I’ve maintained for years that this writing game is somewhat beyond my ken; an idea comes out of nowhere and then…grows. Characters supply their own dialogue; unforeseen people and events spring out of the ether and onto the page. When I explain this, the average person (the normal person who maybe does not lie awake listening to voices telling them there’s really no point in trying to sleep) looks at me askance, cocks an eyebrow, making it clear they don’t believe me. I can only shrug.

To the nightmare at hand; to A Fractured Conjuring. How did this particular nastiness happen?

A simple road sign:

Kimberlina Road

On a road trip to (of all places) Disneyland, my eyes spotted this sign. I’ve been on this trek countless times over the past twenty years, and have likely seen this sign on every one of those trips. But this time…that sweet name got stuck in my head and began to fester. I had no history with the name, no connection to my past, no sense at all why it grabbed hold. But I couldn’t shake it loose. I somehow knew this was going to be the name of a character in a book, and that this character would have important things to say, or maybe to teach me. I had zero sense of the story itself, only that it would be dark. And maybe big.

As the days and weeks passed I began to feel that the story could possibly span millennia, covering massive ground both temporally and geographically. I have no idea why I thought this—I didn’t have a story, only a feeling.

It’s hard to adequately describe what it’s like to have a story growing inside you, but somehow doing so outside your influence. It’s…well, disturbing.

More than a year went by before I set a single word to paper. I did so only then because I thought I might have an idea what the opening pages looked like. I got 6,000 or so words in before I stopped and laid it aside. I was scared. Not of what I was writing, but that I would mess it up. The feeling for this story had been infesting my brain for better than a year—how could I possibly do it justice? So I ran from it. I did other things. But Kimberlina stayed with me, a grimy child’s ghost fingers tugging at the hem of my shirt, telling me I had work to do, her story to tell. Didn’t matter that I didn’t know what that story was.

Eventually I got back to it. I barely remember my first efforts at conjuring this child, but I know that those early efforts never made it into the final book.

This is the part where I get around to telling you how the final book came to be, right?

Wrong. Because I still can’t tell you that. I still don’t know. When I wrote The End, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Is it really? The end of what? Where did it begin?”

One of the main characters in A Fractured Conjuring is writing a book she knows nothing about—not too hard to figure out how that came to be—and as I was proofing the final copy, I came across a line I hardly remembered writing:

Still, she couldn’t keep away from it, and she didn’t feel so much like she was writing the story as it was somehow writing her.

And this:

What Chloe knew for certain was that she couldn’t leave this new project alone. It unnerved her; it wouldn’t leave her alone.

And that’s as close as I can come to explaining how this particular book came to be.

Oh, and then this happened:

FC Best of 2015

A book one reviewer called an “important” book.

Another reader, so unnerved by the story that she read it multiple times in an effort to understand, wrote this in an afterword she penned for the book:

“Martin Reaves…had the temerity to tackle an ugly, horrible subject, and he treated it with kindness and cleanliness. Yes, cleanliness.”

The same reviewer who it called it an important work ended his review with this:

“If you have never felt like your soul has been taken away from you at some point in your life, I wouldn’t recommend reading it.”

How does one create something so volatile that it can be recommended, then un-recommended in the same review?

How does one write a story he has almost no memory of plotting and have it hit a target he didn’t even know was there?

I have no answers.

And Kimberlina has only begun to speak.

 

A Fractured Conjuring is available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A Writer’s Review of Twixt

twixt

Release Date: April 11, 2012 (Belgium)

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern, Ben Chaplin.
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Spoiler Level: Who Cares?

Greetings, hacks and scribblers, ya bunch of whacky folks. I’m back, once again endeavoring to find meaning in my dreary scribbler’s life through the medium of film. Well…I didn’t find it in this one.

It’s pure coincidence that the next movie up is a Francis Ford Coppola flick, and it is instructive to see how one person’s art can differ from one project to another.

For your consideration: Twixt!

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He’s unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Twixt very nearly didn’t make the cut. But heck, I burned up 88 minutes of my life watching the silly thing, y’all can darn well read my review.

Ahem.

Val Kilmer stars alongside Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning—what could be possibly go wrong? What indeed.

In truth, the synopsis is probably why this movie made the cut. I read the synopsis now and it almost makes me want to watch the movie again. Almost.

Entertainment Quotient:

Rotten Tomatoes rated this film as “Rotten”, with an average score of 29% positive. I’d say that’s pretty close to the mark.

May I tell you something right up front? We’re friends, yes? Okay, here it is: This is an awful movie. There, I feel better now.

Somehow, though, it’s the kind of awful that’s sort of fun to watch. Especially as a writer (more on that below). But be warned: there are tons of “wait…what?” moments in this movie.

Less than two minutes in I knew we were in trouble; the gravel-voiced narrator is taking us through the town and past the church, and I quote: “The most astonishing thing about the town was an old belfry that had a clock tower with seven faces. You could see the time from anywhere in the town of Swann Valley. But the faces persistently told different times. No question; something evil was abiding there.” At which point I wanted to shout: “Excuse me, I have a question!” Apparently clocks that tell different times are…evil? Ummm-kay.

And watch for the whiskey-of-many-colors. Is it pink, is it amber? And my favorite gaffe of all is the really oooold bag of take-out. It has to be old, because we are in what seems to be an east coast backwater town and a kid brings in a bag from the Western States’ favorite burger joint In-N-Out (you cannot find this chain any further east than Utah). Oops.

This is a clearly well-made, low-budget movie. Lots of cinematographic bells and whistles. But whereas Coppola worked his vision with a deft hand in Tetro (see SoC #3), it seems here like someone doing Coppola.

Twixt is one of those movies that has you wondering if you just aren’t getting what the director was trying to do. Maybe y’all are a lot smarter than I and will have a grand time with the thematic brilliance. Or, maybe you’ll take my advice and put your brain on the shelf for the duration. Probably enjoy it more that way.

One notable performance (far, far too short in my opinion) is by the slick motorcycle-maybe-vampire character Flamingo, played by Alden Ehrenreich who starred as Bobbie in Tetro. That kid’s got style.

And while we’re talking performances, if you are a child of the ‘70s, you will feel as though you are welcoming an old friend when Don Novello makes an appearance—his voice will catch your attention, you’ll think, “ Where do I know him from?” And then it will hit you. Yep, that right there is Father Guido Sarducci.

The Writerly Element:

A few elements of writerly note…I guess.

We have repeated dream sequences where our hero, Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), has enigmatic conversations with Edgar Allan Poe (played well be Ben Chaplin). That’s a win.

Early on you can feel Baltimore’s pain when he arrives in the Podunk town for his book signing and finds the town does not even have a bookstore—they have him set up in a hardware store (note to self: fire agent).

Later (and I won’t even try to tell you what’s happening because I couldn’t if I wanted to), Baltimore gets excited about this hot new IDEA and sets up his portable writing table, with laptop, beef jerky, spare pens, and the unlikely pink—no wait it’s amber—Irish whiskey. The pure precision with which he lays everything out on his writing table is such a perfect representation of the writer’s mind. Everything has to be just so to let the muse speak. The writer in us recognizes all this as a stalling technique—I have a great idea and I don’t dare write anything down for fear of screwing it up.

Later, his soon-to-be-fired agent (or maybe he’s an editor) tells Baltimore, “No fog on the lake!”, which is apparently Baltimore’s favorite cliché. Baltimore’s efforts at crafting an opening sentence without exactly referencing fog on the lake is reminiscent of Throw Momma from the Train (which, come to think of it, needs to be on my list). These efforts are borderline laugh out loud hilarious.

Why Bother:

Because of the occasional transcendent moment like this, during yet another nonsensical dream sequence. Edgar Allan Poe is leading Hall Baltimore along a “Dark and Scary” cliff (I really don’t know why). As they walked along the cliff edge and I was scratching my head wondering, WTF?, this bit of dialogue happened:

Poe: Do you dare go further?

Baltimore: What are you talking about? Tell me the ending.

Poe: If you don’t stop now, every word that flows from your pen will be your own tale. You. You are the ending you seek.

That’s good stuff right there.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Quills

Final Thoughts:

I…nope, I got nuthin.

countdown6

Part 6. It seems like only yesterday we were at Part 1.

Here’s a question: Anyone else bothered by the fact that we are counting up and not down? Interesting the things one notices long after the time such scrutiny would actually have been of value.

Anyhoo…

As our countdown begins to wind up (?!), I thought I’d drag Logan Cain in here for a little chit chat. You all know Logan, yes? Pastor of Midtown Community Church? No? Has no one read Relative Karma? How about Relative Sanity???

Geez, people. Just…geez.

So, I met with Pastor Logan at The Shanghai, a bar of local legend in Auburn, CA. Rumor is it’s haunted. Well, more than a rumor—I’ve been there into the wee hours, and if the air wasn’t congested with spirits then we were experiencing some kind of weird barometric phenomenon.

I knew Logan Cain from Relative Karma and had no trouble recognizing him when he walked through the door into the dimly-lit establishment. He was taller than I expected, with his silvery mane pulled into a long braid. He had on a Marilyn Manson t-shirt and his jeans were so shredded I had to look away—some things you just don’t need to see. He caught the bartender’s attention (who obviously recognized him, and looked oddly familiar to me) and held up two fingers, then pointed at me. He was at my table in two long strides and gripping my hand gently as he sat.

ME: You knew who I was?
LOGAN CAIN: That surprise you?
ME (shrugging): Yeah, I guess a little. Have we met?
LOGAN (cocking an eyebrow): I’ve spent plenty of time in that noggin of yours. You’re easy to spot.

I squirmed a little.

ME: Uhhh, yeah, I guess I get that. Anyway, thanks for meeting with me. You cool to answer a few questions?
LOGAN: Shoot.

A large pitcher of beer arrived with two mugs. I hadn’t planned on drinking, but if the man was buying…the waitress also looked familiar and I was starting to get a little head-swimmy with déjà vu.

ME: Is that Jewel?
LOGAN: Looks like her, doesn’t it?

He smiled…Cheshire Cat smiled…the room tilted and I continued.

ME: So, uhhh…we know how you met Jeff Vincent. I was wondering about your background. It’s pretty clear you give new meaning to the word unorthodox when it comes to what we expect of a pastor—
LOGAN (interrupting): Expectations are the bane of this sad world’s existence, son. Everyone is too busy trying to fit into someone else’s mold. What a fresh world it would be if we all approached life on our own terms, with our own open minds. Who cares what came before? Are you open-minded, son?

At that moment a blonde walked in that sucked all my breath away through my eyeballs. And, of course, I knew her.

ME: Uhhh…
LOGAN (snapping his fingers in front of my face): You in there, partner?
ME: I, um, yeah, I’m here.

I looked around, turning a three-sixty in my chair. I knew everyone here. And they were all watching me.

ME: What’s going on here?
LOGAN (leaning back, mimicking deep thought): Hmmm, “what’s going on?” the man asks.

Someone grabbed my chair from behind and tilted it sharply back. I turned and gasped. A big chunk of crumbling granite who could only be Karl Luber smiled down at me.

KARL: Congratulations, Reaves.
ME: …Errr…what the hell…?

The bartender waved. It was Detective Alex Tinkham from Relative Sanity. The stunning blonde was Shelley Vincent; Jeff Vincent was at the far corner smirking his butt off. Barista Benny was at the juke box next to Suzi and Wendy. Ramona was shooting pool with Nick Grimmer. And walking towards me…I began to hyperventilate.

LOGAN: Easy, son. Easy now.
ME: That’s Daniel. (He stopped before me, his goofy eye dancing). You are, aren’t you? You’re Daniel?
DANIEL (holding out his hand): H-h-happy h-handshake day, M-M-Mike!

I looked at Logan Cain, my mouth moving but nothing coming out.

ME: How is he here…he can’t be, he’s…
LOGAN Sure he is. Big deal. The Shanghai no longer exists either, so why swallow that camel and strain at Daniel?

The next few hours passed. I know they did, but I have no idea what transpired. Somewhere around midnight, Jeff Vincent stood on a table and clapped his hands.

JEFF: Everyone! Listen up. I appreciate all of you taking time to materialize here, but I didn’t bring you together just to party.

Jeff then went to the front door and whistled for someone. A minute later a nice-looking guy walked in looking a little uncomfortable.

JEFF: Everyone, this is Branden McKenzie.

There was a collective gasp within the room, loudest of all from me.

JEFF (pausing for effect): Ladies, gents, and sordid folks, the wait is over. Relative Karma is available NOW in audio!

There was a great deal of applause, and back-slapping, and drinks sloshing. I hugged Branden, who still looked like someone sleep-walking. I don’t blame him.

ME: Hold on! It’s only Part 6 of the countdown, errr…up. What do I do with the rest of the parts? And there’s supposed to be a quiz at the end!

Karl Luber grabbed me by the scruff of the neck (it did not feel good) and told me to hang the f-ing quiz (he didn’t say “f-ing”). I decided the quiz could go hang.

KARL: Listen, Reaves. Your people need to get clicking right now. HERE, HERE, or even HERE. Understand? You know what I’m capable of. If your people have been reading your books, they know too.

do it now

Which I guess brings us to the end of this weirdness. Ahead of schedule, and screaming to be heard, Relative Karma has gone audio. Download and listen. Report back to me. Go visit Branden McKenzie and tell him how awesome he is.
And thank you for joining me. I may still drag out a prize or two, but right now I need to put Jeff Vincent in a cab. He’s looking a little wobbly.

*     *     *

alrighty then

*     *     *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

countdown5

 

We’re at the halfway point. Huzzah!

huzzah
Because I’m tired (and because you have better things to do) I’ll keep this one short. Just a couple things to ponder…

#1: Fiction is all lies. Everything we write is lies, including this very sentence. You can’t trust anything a writer says in print. Case in point is the boiler plate nonsense you find in any book of fiction regarding persons living or dead. In Relative Karma it comes right under the title. Consider this rubbish:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Please. We all know it’s not true, right? Well, sure, the names are changed—I’m not a complete idiot. But, as noted in Part 1, this is all based on a slightly enhanced version of true events. What actually happens in the forward flow of the narrative is made up, but what happened to get the ball rolling is true. It happened. And two of the characters are based on real people. Three of the locations in the book are real, with only one undergoing a name change because my characters spend so much time there I didn’t want to anger anyone due to an unwitting misrepresentation.

Coincidence my ass.

#2: Remember early on in this countdown series when I started blathering on about prizes? Well, I wasn’t kidding. The first person to comment on this particular post (below, not on Facebook) will get a $10.00 Amazon gift card. One exception: It cannot be someone who’s already commented on any of the previous countdown blogs. If you are one of those few who have previously commented, go tell a friend to get over here and drop a comment. Maybe they’ll buy you something.

What’s that you say? The prizes were supposed to be part of a quiz at the end?

Just goes to show what I said in point #1. You can’t trust anything a writer says.

* * *
(Click on rock star me below. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

the krude

* * *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

countdown4

As we inch closer to the release of Relative Karma on audio, I want to talk about something that most non-writers don’t understand. Well, to be perfectly honest, most writers don’t understand it either, but it is something we come to trust, to believe will happen if we show up, put our ass in the chair, click our heels together three times…oh wait, that’s something else.

scarecrow

I’m talking about those mysterious moments during the writing of a project where things happen on which the writer did not plan. But it’s really bigger than that—every writer worth his or her salt follows the characters where they lead, listens when they speak, and writes it all down. Often times we are surprised by our characters’ bursts of dialogue. This is more or less the normal course of things for a writer, even when the story is outlined ahead of time. Unanticipated events occur and we smile, knowing the muse is singing and all is right with the world.

But what I really want to focus on is the pure, out-of-left-field happenstance that hugely affects a story and sends it off in an unforeseen direction.

In the case of Relative Karma, it was the loveable character Daniel. I don’t know where he came from, I honestly don’t. He literally showed up on the page (or on the street) as Jeff Vincent was walking from his apartment to Starbucks. Like so:

An hour and a half later I was walking south on Fifteenth toward K Street.The morning air had a snap to it and I noticed the homeless were beginning to sport their fall wardrobes; ragged scarves and soup-stained sweaters were all the rage this season. One poor bastard at the corner of Fifteenth and H was so shabby and filthy he looked more like a caricature of a bum than an actual homeless person. The dirt on his face looked applied; he was wearing honest-to-God fingerless mittens, and his “will work for food” sign—which carried a great deal of information regarding his plight—was so full of misspellings it had to be intentional. I stopped in front of him.

Boom. New character. And no garden-variety extra, either.

I had one job: get Jeff out of his apartment and a few blocks over to Starbucks to meet the femme fatale who may or may not be his undoing. And what does Jeff do during his walk? He starts looking around, sort of like any normal person would do, and he sees this homeless guy and…

And suddenly this homeless guy is telling Jeff his name. And (what’s going on here???) we start to like this guy. Jeff likes him, too, and offers to buy him a cup of coffee. The point to understand here is that I saw Daniel completely when he showed up on my screen. I heard him speak and fell in love with him. Instantly.

I suppose this kind of thing happens all the time with bit players and spear carriers. But it’s not quite as common with major characters. At least not with me.

How does this happen?

I can only go back to Stephen King’s theory of where stories come from, that they are found things (see On Writing). A story (I’m paraphrasing Mr. King) is something that exists somewhere in the ether as a complete entity. All we have to do as writers is find it (or it finds us) and write it down. King likens it to a fossil, mostly buried but with a tiny bit poking through the surface. We notice it—my, what an interesting little shard of rock that is—and begin our work, chiseling gently to uncover the whole. Sometimes we get a lot, sometime only a little. Our skill and a good deal of luck determine just how much we unearth.
I like this idea. It makes sense. And it helps explain the inexplicable.

It also makes one believe in serendipity, which of course is just another relative word for karma.

i see what you did

Go now, people, and find your serendipity. If nothing else, it’s a really fun word to say.

*     *     *

(click on groovy me below…the hair demands it)

3837_3666435750434_1728971716_n

*     *     *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL