Just a short chat, trying this thing out. Thoughts? Comments?
A scene: Setting Building (An exercise):
It was a hot Louisiana night fresh from the swamps, stagnant as a dead stream and as lively as a bed of ‘skeeters singling in on the trail of a blood feast. The two figures in their tiny boat sat as silent as the night would let them be, their eyes communicating all their fears back and forth like a saggy slow ping pong ball.
“Listen now,” the one man said to the other, “you hear that?”
Their ears seemed to wiggle as they both leaned over the edge of the boat and studied the cricket ridden breath of the night. There was life all around them, and yet there seemed to be absolutely nothing but competing shades of darkness and silence on all sides of them. Somewhere, through the thick heavy tones of the steamy night there was one thing, just one thing, it could have been caused by any number of things. One ugly loud commanding thing.
“Goddammit Joe, how’d he find us?” the other man said, his voice ribbetted high then low bobbing his Adams apple as he threatened the sturdiness of the boat.
“Don’t know it’s him,” the other said. His eyes bugged out in fright no matter his words.
Another stick broke.
“Just row Stevie, row!” Joe said, looking half ready to leap in the dark abysmal unknowns of the swamp and run for his life.
“I ain’t the kind of man you be bossing about now,” Stevie said, and yet he was readying the oars and paddling hard. Somewhere in the inky black depths of the night one lone hound warbled out its lonesome call, and the two men in the boat trudged down the waterway as fast and stealthily as they could summon.
Jake sat on the couch, listening to Annette finish with the other man upstairs. He looked at the tattered frayed arms of the couch, then he played with the off centered little button barely hanging on. That was him, wasn’t it, he thought, barely hanging on. The same hand that played with the button was the same hand that wore the ring, the promise, the lie.
Annette came to a finish and not long after Jake heard a door open upstairs. The quiet, satisfied footsteps of his wife came pattering on the creaking boards toward the steps. She stopped a while, and then continued. Soon he could see her figure descending the stairs. She looked at him, and though she looked amused, she never smiled. Her eyes were a wrestling match of beauty and contempt as they bore in on him.
“I’m gonna kill that sumbitch,” Jake said.
“You couldn’t kill a half dead cockroach Jake,” Annette said, walking toward him, “let alone a stone built outhouse like that man upstairs.”
Jake pulled the snub nose from his pocket and toyed with it. Annette looked at it, and again gave the half cocked amused look Jake had fallen for.
“I’m gonna kill him, and then,” he couldn’t bring himself to say it.
“And then?” Annette asked, sitting in the old warn out chair across from the couch. She lit a smoke and held it like someone of fashion and class. Jake thought she had neither.
“And then I’m gonna burn this no good shack down and we can get going with our lives.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said.
“What?” Jake asked. His jaw threatened to swing loose at its hinge, as a roaring nausea threatened to swell in his stomach.
“You couldn’t pull the trigger back there Jakey, what makes you think you could now?” she said, she took a long draw on her cigarette and then, “we might’ve been caught if it weren’t for Sam stepping in.”
“Sam,” Jake said, and then he grimaced, “What’s Sam ever really done for you? For us?”
“He got me off three times for starts,” Annette said. Jake’s eye twitched, she saw, and then she finally did grin. “The third one was weak, don’t feel so bad, but the first two were out of this world.”
“Is that all that counts? Him making you happy? We’re married for Christ’s sake!”
“We’re crooks Jakey, outlaws like Bonnie and fucking Clyde. We don’t play by rules anymore,” she said, finishing her smoke going for another.
“We were just bank robbers till Sam came into the picture,” Jake said, finally laying down the gun beside him. “We can still have a life.”
“WE don’t have anything Jake, you’re just a farmer’s son with an imagination,” she said, “but Sam is real. He’s got what it takes to give me what I need. You, you’re just the one I had to marry to get out of momma and daddy’s house. Don’t you get that?”
“I’m gonna kill that sumbitch,” Jake said, his eye twitching again.
So, you’re all signed up for JunoWrimo (or doing it on your own), itching to pants your way to writer fame and fortune, or maybe you’ve went a lil differently about it and charted out an outline. You know what you’re doing, you’re a writer dammit, and you will see this thing through! You’re all cozied in, drinks lined up, phone turned off, and you know just what you want to write. Hell, you blaze through the first fifteen days without a problem. You’re a regular Rocky Balboa of words. Day sixteen comes along and knocks your happy ass for a loop. What do you do? Where do you turn? You’ve never met a problem like this before, and never even imagined one of such horror even could exist!
Heather Sellers, Author of, Chapter after Chapter, suggests writers stop skimming a thousand books at a time to figure out how to write one, and instead choose six books (and no more) to bring along the journey of novel building. Just six books. Three books on craft, Three books of fiction similar to the one you’re trying to build. It sounds easy, right?
Try it for yourself and get back to me, ha!
Which book of the multitude that are out there are best to carry along on a 50,000 (or more) word journey of novelized glory? Which books are the most sound, the most inspiring, the most kick-your ass into writing mode are the absolute best to take with you? Any one you know, and know well:
“You are a book writer; not a book buyer. You are a book reader; not a book skimmer. To really know a book—how it’s built, its wisdom—is to read it several times. To go over and over certain passages.” Heather Sellers
Pick the books that have worked before, the ones with the most dog-eared pages, and most pop/whiskey stains, and smells vaguely of sweat and blood. Those books are stained with other things as well, namely the essence of your admiration, and the smear of your spirit upon their page. They are a fine offering to the muses and will help carry you through.
For practical purposes, what these books really offer you is a direct connection to age old experience that has been tested time and again. Need an answer? Turn to someone who has been there, who has done it, who has banged their head on the same wall and then figured it out. It works in life, it works in writing. Pick guides, good guides, and travel boldly!
My Challenge to you:
Make your list, start by picking twelve books and whittle it down to the six book goal. You have time still if you’re starting your novel in June for Junowrimo. If you’re writing on your own for another project, it’s always best to start early, give yourself time and figure these things out with truth and contemplation.
Use a place with a group of people to observe. Write a single scene inspired by this group. Bring them to life, and imagine out the details.
Old man at the Bar
He stood in the corner of the room, blanketed in equal measures of shadow and mystery. His ball cap hid an old fat pair of fluffy black headphones from easy view. In one hand he held a mug bigger than his knobbed and worn down hand looked able to hold. In his other hand he held a nearly empty pitcher of cheap yellow beer with all the foam threatening to dry up. He stood statue still, transfixed perhaps by all the youth that surrounded him.
The birthday girls and soon to be bride walked by him with a wrinkled nose. It wasn’t clear if they did this because of a smell they both detected coming off the man—he didn’t look very clean despite his perfectly ironed clothing, all bright and free from visible dirt or stain. They giggled to each other and darted furtive glances back at the odd man, saying all they needed about how highly they valued his worth as a person from their damning cold glances.
The man by the jukebox didn’t seem to mind. His eyes rolled about in a slow methodical way. Each young face fell under his ancient gaze at least once or twice as his hands went about the busy work of refilling his mug. The statue still persona of the old man broke up for a few good drinks of his warming beer. Beer fuzz stuck to his chin and upper lip before popping away, leaving only a thin line of drool behind as testament to their existence. His eyes remained ever watchful. The young people that surrounded him on all sides hummed with a bee like electricity, charged up and primed, and giving off a sneaky aura of threat as though they were always ready to sting and hurt.
Three rowdy looking young men came in the door of the bar, talking loudly about all the wonders of their young and ignorant lives. The odd man lowered his mug and let his eyes roll to them. He sized them up and in his fastest move yet, he looked away. His head followed his eyes and with more speed than one could guess the old man capable of pulling off, he walked with rat like worry and speed to the opposite side of the bar, far away from where he had been, and even farther from the door and the young men walking in.
He was just in time leaving too. The three young men who had came in didn’t bother with ordering their brew first—their smell and loud way of carrying themselves suggested they’d already had their share and more. The young men headed straight for the jukebox and fumbled with change along the way. The clang of coins on solid oak floorboards was barely detectable, but two eyes followed the glint of light each fat quarter and paper thin dime caught as they fell to the floor. Each coin reminded the old man of shooting stars, and wishes that had never bothered coming true.
Loud songs came out of the jukebox not long after the young men made their selections and headed to the long skinny bar. They walked up, tried to out order each other, as if the liquor they ordered gave proof to their being more manly than the other. Old eyes watched them from the corner, sizing them up, putting each careful tick of their drunken idiot movement away to some special part of a long and well worn memory.
The music became deafening, screaming out ugly anthems of new generations and the old man found his own headphones almost inadequate to compete with it. He twirled the dial on his old walkman and cranked good old Hank Williams as high as he could. The old man grinned a little possum grin as he found himself slipping away to a long ago youth he himself once had, and a girl with blue eyes and the prettiest blonde locks he’d ever seen. They’d danced often to this very tune, using the loneliness of the music as justification to cling tighter than ever to one another. But summers pass away, and golden locks turn gray, blue eyes dim to ugly ashen familiarity and they too soon vanish from the earth. The old man’s grin slipped off his face, giving birth instead to a slight tremor in one hand a big plop of tear down one cheek.
He made one fatal error. He closed his eyes and lowered his guard. Just one moment is all it took. But in life, chaos only requires a single unwatched moment to slip in and bring hell with it.
I recently went to see the new movie, The Raven. I went in with both curiosity and some resistance. Poe is one of my heroes and favorite authors and I was a little worried he wouldn’t be treated fairly as a character of fiction. There is always the idea that Hollywood will be, well, Hollywood, and make things up to suit their endgame. But not this time, not outlandishly so anyway. What I left the theater with was a sense of honest awe, and a shivering case of goosebumps. So, upfront, I easily and readily admit to loving this movie. Let’s go into why.
The story was one I could easily imagine Poe himself writing. It was, as the last line of the movie said, “A dream within a dream.” That powerful and potent theme was carefully woven throughout the whole tale, and tied a beautiful, howbeit gothic, knot at the end. The Raven was a masterfully told story, one part intrigue, one part mystery, and three parts absolute fun and entertainment. There were layers and themes carefully placed, and never forgotten, wonderful characterizations, a mystery to be solved, and a sense of passion driving the whole thing forward. I felt pulled into something larger than myself watching this, as though I were one of those fortunate people who so long ago first discovered the illicit writings of the dark master when the tales he told were young, fresh, potent, and full of new life.
Another great force to be reckoned with in the movie was John Cusack. At first I was hesitant to see him play Poe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of him, but I guess some part of me is protective of my Poe, and so, like a father guarding his baby girl, I wasn’t sure any actor would be good enough. I was very wrong, sorely so, and I openly and easily admit this now. Having seen the movie, I can’t think of anyone else to better portray the man than John Cusack. Some might say that Cusack didn’t play up the insanity of Poe nearly as much as they expected, but I wonder if that need for Poe to be a mad man isn’t more hype than reality. I wonder, if in fact as was portrayed in the movie, that the life and circumstances about the man weren’t some larger part in his own mental strain and taxation than was any other thing. Regardless, I enjoyed Cusack’s portrayal of Poe, and the way he fleshed him out, made him human, down to earth and approachable. I felt as if I had come to know the man I had admired for so long, in a new way entirely.
I’d recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of Poe, his works, the gothic genre, or who simply enjoys a good bit of play on history. It is entertaining whether you know much, or absolutely nothing of Edgar Allan Poe. This movie is easily a modern classic, and one of my new all-time favorites. Don’t go see it because others love it, but rather, go see it that you may love it yourself!