Writers Of The Lost Arc: Perpetrating Pesky Prequels

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I’ve been feeling a little bit guilty lately. Recently, I had a tiny bit of motivation to write from a friend of mine. It sometimes happens when I least expect it. This time it happened in the form of revisiting one of my two books I had written. When I least expect it, I get an idea for writing whether I like it or not. Why feel guilty though? Well, I’ve already written both stories to where I wanted them. Now, I’m sort of regurgitating a past nobody will ever know about for my characters or tiny snippets of chopped out “scenes.” I should stop  procrastinating and get to writing my third book. That one is taking me some time because I’m not fully enamored to the story yet. Maybe that’s why I keep coming up with these mindless, frivolous, meanderings of useless tripe. Um, sounds like the thought which goes into prequels. It’s truly insane and a self-serving purpose to stay in a comfort zone, or in the movie world, for monetary gain through oodles of merchandizing.

Maybe it’s just a time killer, but for me, it’s not so much about the narrative as it is a way for me to stay in shape. That’s why these are parts, not an entire back story. Sort of like when you need to sharpen a dull knife for that culinary delight. The mind works in a very similar way. It stays sharp and focused for that next proverbial culinary delight, in this case a new story. I personally love to write dialogue and sometimes awkward situations. I don’t like my characters to be in stagnant surroundings or atmosphere. Some folks like to write love scenes for the upteenth time. I can’t do that without a reason. I just don’t get off on it. I like the innocent, every day chatter, but mix it up with something on-topic for my characters to talk about. In my case and the two books I wrote, it’s got to be about music in one way or another. What shocks me in the end is no longer a mindless, frivolous, meandering of useless tripe, but a true blue, honest to goodness interesting bit of dialogue. One that shows characters in thought, expressing their inhibitions, giving insight to their fears, frustrations, letting go with humor, allowing themselves to bare all. When I get that close to my characters, it almost feels voyeuristic in a sense. I don’t “talk” with them, but I’m watching them do everything. It’s a strange feeling I get because it seems so normal. The dialogue doesn’t feel forced, neither do their reactions. It’s something effortless, perhaps due to the comfort of knowing who my characters are and I’m simply stretching their stories out into near fan-fiction territory. (That’s another whole subject in itself.)

I need to learn that there is nothing shameful about writing odd material which doesn’t fit anywhere and that nobody will ever read it. Here’s the way I see it, it’s kind of like standing naked in front of your mirror. Nobody knows you’re doing it (unless you document it). Others probably do it, and there’s nothing shameful about the human body. We all have one, everything from skin, bones, muscle, organs. Writing has it’s own body. There’s thought, paper, pencil/pen, (or computer and keys). It’s all a matter of what one thinks of it. To me, it’s all about process and the idea I have the ability to create something out of thin air. I can get self-conscious all I want about what I write, but not everybody can do it. That’s the part I haven’t yet been able to concede to.

 

Coincidence: The Collision of Direction

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I don’t know exactly how many people this has happened to, but for me it’s a strange phenomena that goes with writing sometimes. A curious part of being an author is going through a sort of Twilight Zone. I can hear Rod Serling giving some prophetic prose about how things are meant to happen. I had a chat with another writer, Jonnie. She told me, “There are no such thing as coincidences.” I wished I could have been a little more vocal about the subject, but I began to think, maybe she was right. Maybe it’s simply fate which leads to things that run parallel to our own thoughts. Then, it happened again only a week later. That old feeling of my thoughts getting tangled with the mysterious fate of having art imitate life. I write fiction, and I’m willing to resign myself to the idea that some things simply happen where I’ve touched on a part of my story that will run right into somebody’s real life experiences. I can understand it happening once. OK. Maybe twice, but to keep on happening? It kept and keeps (present tense) happening with my first novel Marlboro Blues. Maybe it’s a first book occurrence? A reminder from a higher power saying, “Yes. You ARE a writer! You will NOT be meant to forget it!” Sometimes though, it feels like a curse as opposed to a blessing.

Take for instance, when I was first writing this story. I was trying to figure out the name of my lead female character. I thought “Evelyn” was a really nice name. Then, I was reading about the inspiration of who I based her off of. I had no idea in reality it was her middle name! How did that happen? I could have had it way deep in my subconscious files from several years prior, underneath all those other ones. Stranger things have happened. I could live with the parallel though process. Oh, but wait. There was that search for who would be another lead character, a protagonist. I had a large bunch of magazines. I didn’t even read the articles on who I was going to base this guy off of. I knew exactly the personality I was looking for and his treatment of Evelyn. I thought he looked the part. When I finally decided to read an interview about him, I was in for the shock of my life. Not only did he look the part, he acted like it too! He had a nearly parallel neanderthal way of viewing women as my character. Whoa! What do I do with that twist of fate? That’s two things which happened. I would listen to the radio (preferably iTunes, because the artists I like, they don’t play on regular radio). Because many of my characters for this particular story were very much influenced by musicians, what do I hear on these odd stations? Yep. You guessed it. It happens to be that one musician I based a character off of. Oh great. With anguish, I stop writing and question, “Why me? Why do these things keep happening to me?” I mull it over in my mind. There is a slight possibility they’ll play something different on internet radio, but when does anybody ever play them? So, I’m left playing psychologist, picking apart why fate has been bestowed upon me and my little story. By the time I finished writing the story nine months later, I figured that was it. No more coincidences, twists of fate, parallel though, whatever you want to label it as.

Nine years later, I reread my story figuring I could make it better. This is after I had already released the first edition which I grew to despise. I began to feel something for the story again and thought, there was certainly a story in all of it underneath the fluffy writing I subjected myself to. Actually, a very good story. A little cleaning up and I could be happy with it finally. I had some inspiration from a few people and got the opinions of others who thought the story was good in the first place. I began reworking on things. Tossing out some, cringing at other written parts, fusing together new parts meticulously. All those things a writer goes through. What I didn’t know, dummy me was the curse would follow me still. I turned on iTunes. I’ll be damned. They were on. One of their songs. Here we go again! Checking out an interview with one of my muses/inspirations, I discovered that he was the only person who referred to something a very specific way. I had put the specified referral in my story, not knowing this. I simply thought it was interesting. A little back alley knowledge. A song I had referenced turned out to be one of my favorite inspirations. I thought, “Oh great. I’m going to be labeled as something after all this. Somebody’s going to recognize this, and I’ll be dead meat.” Further along in my rewrite I’d find more of the parallel though process in a sentence. A paragraph. An emotion. An action. All over again. This time though, I was going to jump through it, thumb my nose and dare any more twists of fate. Bring it on!

Fast-forward to a year later, I’m very happy with the revised second edition of Marlboro Blues. I can safely shut the door on this project and move on. Until…just yesterday. All of my pride and Twilight Zone vortex which I thought was closed off for good, decides to come back and bite me. Bite me hard. I’m reading on the internet about someone. Amusing picture that makes me smile. Then I look down at the caption. Right then, it’s “Holy sh**.” I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. It’s a nearly perfect parallel thought process collision of fact meets fiction. One of the inspiration for my characters had this actually happen to him. Although, he is not the recipient of the action, he’s in the scene. The fact hits me even harder. The caption reads 1975. The year I was born. At this point my jaw is on the last setting of its hinge, it can’t drop any further down. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m in shock and wonder how should I handle a cease and desist order which will surely come my way. How was I to know ten years after writing the first edition, that something like this would be revealed? I only thought of the part while I was cleaning the bathroom of an office. You know how your mind kind of wanders. You don’t have a piece of paper, but you think, “Hey, I’m gonna add that to my story. It adds humor, cuteness, an exploitation of awkwardness to one character while introducing another, and it makes sense!” I wasn’t thinking, “I wonder how close to reality I can truly get.”

Luckily, my second novel, The Freedom To Rock has slipped through the strange hands of fate or collision of parallel thought process. One thing is for certain, I’ve learned that perhaps Jonnie was right about there being no such thing as coincidences. Perhaps it’s more about direction than fate. These signs I’ve gone through. Maybe it’s like road signs when you think you’re lost. A way to say, you’re on the right path. Those collisions are actually crossroads, the four-way stop to go north, south, east, or west. Twists of fate that lead to the next intersection of uncertainty. I can pass by that lit up construction sign that gives directions. I’ll turn and look at it. What’s written on it says, “YOU’VE GOT IT NOW.”

 

I Idolize You: Musical Essence Of Building Characters

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This is a confession. When I like something, er, someone, I’ll take them. It’s my job as an author to have well rounded characters. It so happens that along with writing music fiction that a music idol, or two…or three…or eighteen will seep into a story I’ve written. I won’t say who exactly. That’s for me to write, and for you to find out. Such is the case in how I wrote Marlboro Blues. That was my first novel. Well, it’s about music and I needed music related characters. I did use some actors. (counts on fingers) Four of them to be exact. One totally made up character. The rest were all inspired by musicians.

Now why in pray tell would I use musicians as inspiration? Here it goes. Actors pretend to be somebody else, they immerse themselves in a world which is not their own. In creating a character from an actor, you have to go through every film (including the torturous turkey) just to get a smidgen of who they really are. Try and pinpoint the similarities they bring to each role. Sometimes their interviews are better, but I tend to find many of the actors dull. All of the attraction is in their acting or the character they play. Musicians on the other hand, don’t pretend. They usually write songs from the heart. There’s nothing to hide behind. They are fully exposed (so to speak) and share their music, their art, their words and most of all, feelings with the world. An interview with them can be incredibly revealing, so can the lyrics they write. They can try to lie about certain subjects, but the truth is in their albums. I find musicians to be extremely fascinating. Not in a stereotypical rock star quality, but in human value. It’s in their character of where they’ve been, the past they had, what they have seen, and the things they can tell. I set the story in ’87 because by then, many people had survived the turbulent ’60s and excessive ’70s. By the late ’80s, these people were veterans of life, somewhere in their 40s. By then, one would hope to gain a little more maturity. Plus, they aged like fine wine.

I wanted to write about a singer who had survived her tumultuous past. With that would have to be a cast of characters which takes us from London to New York. Like her, they too have grown a little bit. The sarcastic Scottish bartender. The willing friend who lends an ear and advice. The willing friend’s husband who is nobody’s fool. The talented although iron and brick guarded music producer. Another producer who is doubly talented in both music and amusement. A third producer who provides comfort. A producer’s wife who shares a past of regret and redemption. The engineer’s suspicious wife. A poet who exudes cool cruelty. A salesman/fan who accepts the singer for who she is and the music she made in the past. A younger singer who has a sugary sunny disposition. A bass player who doesn’t mince words. Factory workers who push their luck. Sound guys, record store operators, airport personnel, various other singers. All were inspired by musicians, and/or pertaining to music in one way or another. They fit. When I was writing the story, I felt like I was shopping for characters. “I’ll take this one. I’ll take that one. Oh, that one would fit perfectly.” I just liked all of these people for their looks, attitude, style, and outward honesty of who they are or were. God willing, if I were to get stuck with a character, I could easily punch in the name of their matching inspiration on YouTube and watch one of their interviews to see if I could get a better grasp on them. If there’s one thing I’m a total stickler in making a character of any kind is, can I see them saying that? I never want to make a character that’s so far out of bounds to who they are from. I’m a cheater. I need a blueprint sometimes. I admit it. For Marlboro Blues being my first ever novel, I needed all the help I could get, and I truly love writing. I’ve seen other people who have claimed to be inspired by somebody they idolized, but when reading their story, I just couldn’t see it. Knowing who they fashioned a character after, to me fell flat. There is no right or wrong way in how to develop a character. This is only me and how my mind works. Maybe I’m a little too much of a realist and I need an exact match. There are other times I’ve seen stories get judged on lack of character. I am determined to never get stuck in that rut. Perhaps that exactness helped me finish my story in about nine months!

Dick Clark had the immortal words of “Music is the soundtrack of our lives.”

Can’t we say, “Music can also be included in the stories we read?”

Act of paper dolls: Keeping It Real

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OK. So, I’ve got two books out.

“Ooh! With all these hot guys you’ve written about, you get to put yourself in these stories!”

NO.

People figure they know the writer has included themselves in a book. Some authors like to live out their fantasies through the stories they write. It happens quite often with that little genre of make-believe we call fan fiction. Only, that follows in the pattern of somebody else’s characters. When you come up with your own stories and characters, anything goes. This includes indulging in the act of pretending or role playing in the story, living the life of the character. Somebody once said they liked my first story, but my characters were too vivid. They informed me that some readers like to put themselves in the place of a main character. I said, “Oh, you mean like switching stuff on paper dolls?” Thus, I thought of it as the paper doll effect. I know it’s fiction I like to write, but I do like to keep it on a realistic level. Although, some people might say, “So what? It’s your story.” Yes. It is. I’m not a narcissist, I don’t need me in any of my stories. What you get are my beliefs interpreted through my characters, but not me or who I am or what I look like in them. Aren’t my words enough on paper?

I need to explain why it wouldn’t work for either of my stories. They are time specific, from the past. Marlboro Blues takes place in 1987. I was eleven for nearly seven months, and twelve the rest of the year. It wouldn’t make any sense to stick in a twelve year-old anywhere in the story. No way would it work as me being a main character. Can you say, jailbait? If that doesn’t work, then how about the next story? The Freedom To Rock. No. I wasn’t even born yet in 1966 (when the story first takes place.) “Aw, but you could be Tina! I can see you as her!” No. It wouldn’t work. I couldn’t see myself as her. I might share some of her same thoughts, but that can be said for any or all of my characters. I created them. I feel that’s enough.

Hey, but if the reader wants to kick out a character and pretend to be them, then be my guest. This is just for those who might say, “You lucky dog! You get to be (insert character) in the story!” Nope! Don’t want it. Don’t need it.