Showing posts with label Books Made Into Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books Made Into Movies. Show all posts

Monday, December 2, 2013

Novelists Are Spy Masters




Did you ever write the words, 'how true', in the margins of a great book? Have you picked up a novel in a used book shop and seen the words scratched in pencil from a previous reader? Did you mar A Tale of Two Cities in high school? I was subject to my sister's hand me down copies, so I was initiated into the 'how true' habit. Now I resort to a notebook and copy sentences that deserve this attention.

Ian McEwan is an English writer whom the San Francisco Chronicle, reviewing “Sweet Tooth,” describes as, “a thinking persons bestseller whose intelligent, tightly plotted novels, narrated in careful prose, address the pressing social and political issues of our days.”

 While visiting a charming and rustic cabin up in Bayview Idaho, a great friend whose intellect never ceases to astound me, pressed her copy of this work into my hand. As we had both read Atonement, and On Chesil Beach for the Best Food Ever Book Club, I could not wait to begin, Sweet Tooth.

A thinking person's bestseller is an apt description of Booker Prize winner, Ian McEwan's talent. Born in Aldershot England, on June 21 1948, he has enjoyed a very prolific career. He lived in Singapore and Lybia while his father, a sergeant major in the British army, worked on campaigns during the years of the Cold War. Ian McEwan's novel,  Amsterdam yielded a Booker Prize. His novel Atonement was shortlisted for the same award. The film of the same name, starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightly, was nominated for an Oscar. The story is a family saga set during before and during the days of World War II. It involves an innocent mistake with devastating consequences, and the need to 'atone' for both.

A great writer will craft sentences that are truly memorable. When lifted from their context, the sentence may stand alone,  live on, and be quoted frequently.

From Atonement:

“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”

A character in the novel describes why she writes:

“A story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page, she was able to send thoughts and feelings from her mind to her readers. It was a magical process, so commonplace that no one stopped to wonder at it"

On Chesil Beach was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2007. Being that it was one of our summer selections for the Best Food Ever Book Club, I had the rare thrill of reading it on vacation, on the lovely southern coast of England where the tale is set. I could open the hotel window and smell the sea breezes while devouring this depiction of a marriage going off the rails, right from the start.

McEwan writes: “You can spin stories out of the ways people understand and misunderstand each other.”

In Sweet Tooth, chapter three begins with these words:

“I didn't cancel my appointment with MI5.”

Set in 1972, during the Cold War, an attractive young woman, a bishop's daughter, is recruited and given an assignment to work for British intelligence, known as MI5. She is to meet with a writer she admires, inform him of a charitable foundation willing to support him on the basis of his talent and  promise. His early misgivings are instantly overcome with the promise of cash and sponsorship. Once he accepts, she is tasked with  holding his hand through to completion. Publication and an ensuing award banquet follow, feeding his belief in himself.  In reality, it is a clever ruse on the part of government forces wanting to steer the conversation to their desired political ends. The Cold War rages on, and certain powers that be fear communist rhetoric infecting the Kingdom. When will she be found out? When will his dream of success shatter into a million pieces? Would this not represent the worst nightmare for any writer, to be seduced into thinking your writing is good, when in truth you are being used as a pawn in a sham production?

McEwan states: “You could say that all novels are spy novels and all novelists are spy masters.”










Monday, October 21, 2013

Family Sagas and the Stuff of Legend

 Gone With the Wind,
 Tara
Margaret Mitchell,
1900-1949


Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Of all the countless words stemming from Tolstoy's prolific pen, this statement is one of his more famous and oft' quoted lines. 

When I think of this depiction of family life, my mind casts about. Did I come from a happy family? Am I creating a happy family? What constitutes an unhappy family?

When I read Tolstoy's statement the first time, I was still in high school. His words had the ring of truth. I knew some unhappy families, and the sad moniker was more evident in childhood. To this day, I can think of certain houses, walking in, catching my breath and feeling scared. Like a cloak protecting children, the fear was a filmy layer I sensed at once. When I think back to these unlucky homes, I recall the thick silence and an awareness of my beating heart. I felt pity for whomever it was who brought me into this house. There would be an air of tyranny. I would know of an issue too. We had somewhat of an understanding of every marriage in our old neighborhood. I do not know how. I recall that I listened to adult conversations by the hour; I found them fascinating. If I sat very still and remained quiet, I could hear more delicious details. When I heard the phrase, “little pitchers have big ears,” I would sit back on my heels, disappointed to know that I was about to be sent out of the room.

I became aware of family traits at an early age because we were always hearing about whom we took after. I knew the good and the bad from both sides of the family, and where those traits became evident. Life seemed to be a game of genetic ninepins. Good traits were pointed out, and failings all had something to do with ancestry. There was disagreement among the ranks. Nevertheless, with all of our faults combined, we were unabashedly happy. Imperfect, zany, optimistic, risk takers, competitive, generous and compulsive; we seemed to have a never-ending penchant for drama.

Writing a family saga involves events in the character's lives over time and generations. We get involved in political families, famous families, royal families, and powerful families, loving all that is familiar and unique. We root for them, get exasperated by them and generally want to see the family triumph over all adversity.  When setting out to write such a tale, a lofty ambition indeed, we must first decide if they are a patriarchal, or a matriarchal clan. Did they slip along the way, and climb back up again, or did they devolve into a great mess? Do hurts and stings have a lasting effect? Are they a family who can bounce back from adversity? Can they go from an unhappy family to a happy one? Is there an offshoot? Is there a villain, or a hero? Are they the stuff of legend? Will the third generation squander the efforts of the first? Will predators destroy them? There is no end to the possibilities of a great family saga. 
Pictured above is the desk where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind.

In no particular order, I have supplied a list of  family sagas I have read and loved:

Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott,

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell,


One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck,

House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende,

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo,

Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley,

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mossy Mantles and the Place Driven Story, Part Three










Place can be described and brought to life, brilliantly, in ways you might not readily imagine. Too much physical description can be as misplaced as too little.  If the depiction of the setting does not bring with it the culture and the spirit of the people, we will not know who the characters are. The history of the original inhabitants is crucial.

From The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton:

“The Beauforts house was one of the few in New York that possessed a ballroom (it antedated even Mrs Manson Mingotts and the Headly Chiverses); and at a time when it was beginning to be thought provincial to put a 'crash' over the dining room floor and move the furniture upstairs, the possession of a ballroom that was used for no other purpose and left for three hundred and sixty four days of the year to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a corner and is chandelier in a bag; this undoubled superiority was felt to compensate for whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.”

“New York has always been a commercial community and there are not more than three families in it who can claim and aristocratic origin in the real sense of the word...
The van der Luydens, direct descendants of the first Dutch Governor of Manhatten who stood above all of them had faded into a kind of super terrestrial twilight.. They divided their time between Trevenna their place in Maryland, and Sutercliff, the great estate on the Hudson which had been one of the colonial grands of the Dutch government of which Mr. Van der Luyden was still a patroon."

                                              ***************************

So what do these passages say about place? The topic is not, by any means, limited to the physical description. If a writer were to leave it at that and not describe the character's social standing, then we would not know who they are.

If you take a look at the south, you may think that the fertile soil and temperate climate would produce happy stories of people who are totally at ease. This is not always the case. Can anyone tell me why? The culture and the past are somewhat at odds with the lush setting; it is that contrast and the brutality of the change forced upon it which have yielded the greatest stories. The expression, 'may you always live in changing times,' has particular appeal to writers.

William Faulkner created the fictional Yokaipatawa county where:

“Life was created in the valleys. It blew up into the hills on the old terrors, the old lusts, the old despairs. That is why you must walk up the hills so you can ride down.”

In Absalom Absalom, Thomas Sutpen is a character who sought to wrest his mansion out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness. He was a man, Faulkner said who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him.

Some stories have shifts in the settings and the description of that shift, or explanation, can imbue great tension in the action. I have chosen a passage from Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo:

“Meanwhile through a gully between two walls of rock, following a path worn by a torrent, which, in all probability human foot had never before trod, Dantes approached the spot where he supposed the grottos much have existed. Keeping along the coast and examining the smallest object with rapt attention, he thought he could trace on certain rocks, marks made by the hand of man. Time, which encrusts all physical substances with its mossy mantle, as it invests all things moral with its mantle of forgetfullness, seemed to have respected these signs, traced with a certain regularity and probably with a design of leaving tracks. Occasionally these marks disappeared beneath clumps of myrtle which spread into large bushed laden with blossoms or beneath parasitical lichen. Edward had to move branches on one side or remove mosses in order to retrace the marks which were to be his guide in this labyrinth...”

“At last after fresh hesitation, Dantes entered the second grotto. The second grotto was lower and more gloomy than the first; the air that could only enter by the newly formed opening had that mephitic smell Dantes was surprised to find in the firs. He waited to allow the pure air to displace the foul atmosphere and entered.
The treasure, if existed was buried in this corner. The time had at length arrived; two feet of earth removed and Dantes fate would be decided. He advanced toward the angle and summoning all his resolution, attacked the ground with a pickaxe. At fifth or sixth blow the pickaxe struck against an iron substance. Never did funeral knell, never did alarm bell, produce a greater effect on the hearer. Had Dantes found nothing, he could not have become more ghastly pale. He again struck his pickaxe into the earth and again encountered the same resistance, but not the same sound.
'It is a casket of wood bound with iron,' thought he."

                                            *****************************

How many movies, comic books, and cartoons have recreated that scene? It has become a expected now, but that was the original.

The most profoundly beautiful description of a setting, would induce nothing but a big yawn if a desperate situation did not immediately follow. Alfred Hitchcock used to say, get your character's in a pickle so we can watch them work their way out. He was a great one for using a setting dramatic in and of itself to help this concept along.

Consider this example of the technique from another master, Charles Dickens. This is from Great Expectations:
 
“Ours was the marsh country down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. The first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time, I found that this bleak place, overgrown with nettles was the church yard; and that Philip Pirrup, late of this parish and Georgiana wife of the above, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard intersected with dykes and mound and gates with scattered cattle feeding on it was the marshes; and that low leaden line beyond was the river; and that distant savage lair form which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip.
'Hold your noise,' cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “ Keep still you little devil, or I'll cut your throat.”

                                 ******************************************

Descriptions of settings can indicate what kind of story you are about to read. The ability to weave that through the opening pages can be what distinguishes the classics and the prize winners.
Here at writingnorthidaho, we are always interested in what our readers like to know. Please drop us a line and let us know what you think.















































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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ice-Scabbed Cliffs and the Place Driven Story, Part Two






Places, just like people, have chief characteristics. Consider, if you will, the incredible power of the first impression.  If it is a desolate place, weather beaten and foreboding, the champion of this type of location, in my mind, would be Newfoundland. With its rocky shore, freezing cold climate and with the pounding it takes from Atlantic storms, it can be quite foreboding.  People settled there in order to fish the grand banks, but oh what a challenge the environment posed. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx  features this landscape prominently.

From The Shipping News:

“The aunt looked out, saw the blue land, her first sight of the island in almost fifty years. Could not help the tears.

'Comin 'ome, eh?' said the man in the watch cap. 'Yar, that's ow it takes you.'
This place, she thought, this rock, six thousand miles of coast blind-wrapped in fog. Sunkers under wrinkled water, boats threading tickles between ice-scabbed cliffs. Tundra and barrens, a land of stunted spruce men cut and drew away.

How many had come here, leaning on the rail as she leaned now. Staring at the rock in the sea. Vikings, the Basques, the French, English, Spanish, Portugese. Drawn by the cod, from the days when massed fish slowed ships on the drift for the passage to the Spice Isles, expecting cities of gold. The lookout dreamed of roasted auk, or sweet berries in cups of plaited grass, but saw crippling waves, lights flickering along ship rails. The only cities were of ice, bergs with cores of beryl, blue gems within white gems, that some said gave off an odor of almonds. She had caught the bitter scent as a child.

Shore parties returned to ship blood-crusted with insect bites. Wet, wet the interior of the island, they said, bog and marsh, rivers and chains of ponds alive with metal-throated birds. The ships scraped around on the points. And the lookout saw shapes of caribou folding into the fog.

Later, some knew it as a place that bred malefic spirits. Spring starvation showed skully heads, knobbed joints beneath the flesh. What desperate work to stay alive, to scrob and claw through hard times. The alchemist sea changed fisherman into wet bones, sent to boats to drift among the cod, cast them on the landwash. She remembered stories in old mouths; the father who shot his oldest children and himself that the rest might live on flour scrapings; sealers crouched on a floe awash from their weight until one leaped into the sea; storm journeys to fetch medicines- always the wrong thing and too late for the convulsing hangashore.

She had not been in these waters since she was a young girl, but it rushed back, the seas hypnotic boil, the smell of blood, weather and salt, fish heads, spruce smoke and reeking armpits, the rattle of wash-ball rocks in hissing wave, turrs, the crackery taste of brewis, the bedroom under the eaves."

                                                 ************************

What distinguishes this passage has much to do with the choice of words. Honestly, who can write like this? Annie Proulx, that's who.  Using regional terms whose meaning can be easily ascertained,  this writing has both a presence and a sense of  "malefic spirits."

I did not come from Newfoundland. Alas, I have never been there, but I have a desire to visit, based on the books I have read. Growing up as I did in staid, and staunch old Toronto, I have no such scrobbed, or knobbed memories. Mine are of hockey games and tea served with shortbread cookies. This week, as the world of stage and screen visit my former hometown for the Toronto International Film Festival, I am astounded at how much the place has changed. Mary Pickford was the only movie star I ever heard of going there and Ernest Hemingway thought of Toronto as purgatory. Toronto and Detroit could well be described in terms of  the tale of two cities.

 Working on a memoir, I dwell in another time, when Detroit rocked and my city was described as provincial and dull.  Some places change and others never do.  I am thrilled with the present, still slightly in love with the past, and like everyone else, am horrified with the current plight of  Motor City. Knowing some of her citizens, as well as I do, I am hoping the tide will turn. Place driven stories are full of history; there are sagas under the corner stones of the most venerable, old buildings.

Newfoundland though, is a story in and of itself.  As with my memories of Toronto, the place itself  inspires me.




Monday, September 9, 2013

Anne's Beauty Loving Eyes and The Place Driven Story- Part One




When curled up with a good book, do you remember being transported to the moors of northern England, to the red roads of Georgia, or to dear little Prince Edward Island? The importance of place in a novel, or story, can sometimes be tantamount to the telling of the tale. Take Scarlet out of the old south and what do you have? Take Heathcliff out of the moors and who is he?

A sense of place puts the reader in the story, puts the character up against something- whether it is a harsh environment they are grappling with, or a cultural imperative which leaves them feeling as though the deck is stacked against them. What are the underlying layers of the place your character's inhabit? What are the threats? Did the place start as a swamp, or a thriving port? Did they have to beat back the forest, or are the bushes full of snakes? Who came there first? Was it miners, or homesteaders? Who was indigenous? What was the climate?

Do you remember those green felt boards kindergarten teachers used to use as props? Remember how they would stick felt things on to the green board to teach us how to count ducks, or whatever. The setting of a novel is kind of like the green felt and the characters are then the ducks.
These are details that can make or break a story.
By taking a look at the great ones, we can gain many tips, as we set out to describe the places where our characters live and the role that place plays in the story.

It occurred to me that I actually love place driven stories. While a place can never be the whole story, it can be a huge part of shaping the action of a story. There is nothing that defines a writer more completely than the concept of really honing in on the character of his home town, or region, and then becoming synonymous with that place. Consider Margret Mitchell with Atlanta, James Joyce with Dublin, the Brontes with the moors and Pat Conroy with South Carolina and then my perennial and personal favorite and the best selling book of all time, L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island.

Other writers may not be from a region, but can go there and define it nevertheless. Take James Mitchner with Hawaii and the middle east, Leon Uris with Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Passage to India's, E. M Forester and then of course, Shakespeare himself. The place will shape the lives of the characters as they adapt to changes through time.

Here are some pages from the opening chapters of Anne of Green Gables:


“They had driven over the crest of a hill. Below them was a pond, looking almost like a river so long and winding was it. A bridge spanned it midway and from there to its lower end, were an amber hued belt of sand-hills shut it in from the dark blue gulf beyond, the water was a glory of many shifting hues- the most spiritual shadings of of crocus and rose and ethereal green, with other elusive tintings for which no name has ever been found. Above the bridge the pond ran up into fringing groves of fir and maple and lay all darkly translucent in their wavering shadows. Here and there a wild plum leaned out from the bank like a white-clad girl tip-toeing to her own reflection. From the marsh at the head of the pond came the clear, mournfully- sweet chorus of frogs. There was a little gray house peering around a white apple orchard on a slope beyond and, although it was not yet quite dark, a light was shining from one of its windows.
“That's Barry's pond, “ said Mathew.
“Oh, I don't like that name, either. I shall call it- let me see- the Lake of Shining Waters. Yes, that's the right name for it. I know because it gives me a thrill. Do things ever give you a thrill?"
When they had driven up the further hill and around a corner Mathew said, "We're pretty near home now. That's Green Gables over-”
“Oh don't tell me,” she interrupted breathlessly, catching at his partially raised arm and shutting her eyes that she might not see his gesture. “Let me guess. I'm sure I'll guess right.”
She opened her eyes and looked about her. They were on the crest of a hill. The sun has set some time since, the the landscape was still clear in the mellow after-light. To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gently-rising slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. From one to another the child's eyes darted, eager and wistful. At last they lingered on one away to the left, far back from the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it the stainless southwest sky, a great crystal white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.
“That's it, isn't it?” she said pointing.
 ****

It was broad daylight when Anne awoke and sat up in bed, staring confusedly at the window through which a flood of cheery sunshine was pouring and outside of which something white and feather waved across the glimpses of blue sky.
For a moment she could not remember where she was. First came a delightful thrill, as if something very pleasant: then a horrible remembrance. This was Green Gables and they didn't want her because she wasn't a boy!
But it was morning and, yest it was a cherry tree in full bloom outside of her window With a bound she was out of bed and across the floor. She pushed up the sash- it went up stiffly and creakily, as if it hadn't been opened for a long time, which was the case; and it stuck so tight that nothing was needed to hold it up.
Anne dropped on her knees and gazed out into the June morning her eyes glistening with delight. Oh, wasn't it beautiful? Wasn't it a lovely place? Suppose she wasn't really going to stay here! She would imagine she was. There was scope for the imagination here.
A huge cherry-tree grew outside, so close that its boughs tapped against the house, and it was so thick- set with blossoms that hardly a leaf was to be seen. On both sides of the house was a big orchard, one of apple-trees and one of cherry-trees, also showered with blossoms; and their grass was all sprinkled over with dandelions. In the garden below were lilac-trees purple with flowers, and their dizzily sweet fragrance drifted up to the window on the morning wind.
Below the garden a green field lush with clover sloped down to the hollow where the brook ran and were scores of white birches grew, springing airily out of and undergrowth suggestive of delightful possibilities in ferns and mosses and woodsy things generally. Beyond it was a a hill, green and feathery with spruce and fir; there was a gap in it where the gray gable end of the little house she had seen from the other side of the Lake of Shining Waters was visible.
Off to the left were the big barns and beyond them, away down, over the green, low sloping fields, was a sparkling blue glimpse of sea.
Anne's beauty -loving eyes lingered on it all, taking everything greedily in; she has looked on so many unlovely places in her life, poor child; but this was as lovely as anything she had ever dreamed.
She knelt there, lost to everything, but the loveliness around her, until she was startled by the hand on her shoulder. Marilla had come in unheard by the small dreamer.
"It's time you were dressed," she said curtly."

So the stage is set. We are caught up in the drama of Anne's situation, and we want her to be able to stay at Green Gables because we know how much she has fallen in love with the place. This rapture has drawn thousands upon thousands of tourists to Prince Edward Island ever since the book was published. The powerful description not only puts us in this place, but makes us want to go and see it for ourselves. I doubt there is a writer, living or deceased, who has ever captured the beauty of a place better than L.M. Montgomery.

Breaking news: We have just learned that Anne of Green Gables is slated for the silver screen.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Painting With Words Like Painting With Color

    This past March I decided to paint the interior rooms of my house.  My husband and I have lived in our home for eight years and I was tired of the same drab nondescript creamy white walls  greeting me in bedroom, kitchen and hallway, and longed for color.

    I spent hours looking through  House Beautiful , Cottage Style, and other decorating magazines for ideas,  and days going  back and forth from my home  to Lowe's to discuss color with the expert  Emily in the paint department. When I finally decided each room would be a different color, I had to laugh at myself , and was reminded of Myrna Loy's character in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House  painstakingly  telling the contractor  the precise shade of  color she wanted in each room. After all her thoughtful description,  the contractor turns  to the painter and says,  " You got that ?"

  " Huh-huh",  replies  the painter, " Red, green,yellow, blue and white".

    Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House , a  comic  novel delightfully  written by Eric Hodgins in 1946, the scene I refer to is wonderfully highlighted in this youtube video.

 

    Perhaps  I  wasn't quite as precise as Mrs. Blandings,  but  I did  carefully and clearly   state I  wanted  the kitchen and family room yellow. Not a bright  lemon yellow, but a soft buttery yellow.  And the master bedroom and study I wanted  green, not a hunter green or pea green, but a rich colonial green. And on it went with each  color in each  room. Thankfully, Emily  was very patient, and helpful in making sure the colors were to my liking - even if she had to remix two or three times.

   While going through the exercise of choosing color and painting rooms of my house , I  thought about a book I read last year titled Word Painting  A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. Just as I was trying to make the rooms of my home more descriptive, and interesting to visitors, so I strive to do with my writing - make the words more descriptive,  and interesting  to readers.  I must admit, painting seems the easier process with a  more consistent and better outcome; even so I write on!, and like paint that has to be mixed and remixed to find just the right shade and hue, so it is with the words we write,  they have to be written and rewritten before the completed story can be  finished.





   In her book, McClanahan tell  us The characters in our stories, songs, poems and essays embody our writing. They are our words made flesh. Sometimes they even speak for us, carrying much of the burden of plot, theme, mood, idea and emotion. But they do not exist until we describe them on the page. Until they are anchored  by our words, they drift,  bodiless and ethereal. They weigh nothing; they have no voice. Once we've written the first words our characters begin to take form. Soon they'll be more than mere names. They'll put on jeans or rubber hip boots, light thin cigarettes or thick cigars; they'll stutter or shout, buy a townhouse on the Upper East Side or a studio in the Village; they'll marry for life or survive a series of happy affairs; they'll beat their children  or embrace them. What they become is up to us. 

   Just as I thought about writing while painting the rooms of my home,  the next time I sit down to write memoir, short story, essay or poem, I'll think about the process of painting and contemplate  how similar  writing and painting are in  the  need to prepare and plot out your storyboard before starting,   paying attention  to detail and sometimes making a bold choice in choosing  character and description, adding color to the story.

*** NOTE:  Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House written by American author, Eric Hodgins originally appeared as a   short story in the April 1946 issue of Fortune magazine.  If you are lucky enough to find a copy of the book in your local library or used book store, I recommend you grab it. Reading Hodgins is 'word painting' at its best, like walking into a colorfully painted room that helps describe the character and style of  home .
                                                                    


   

    

Monday, April 29, 2013

LIfe of Pi -- a Good Movie , a Great book !

  Several weeks ago  friends, Patty and Phyllis  recommended I rent the DVD  movie Life of Pi, both said it was very good and  worth watching. Phyllis said she also read the award winning  book by Yann Martel  and liked it very much.  So, heeding their advice,  I rented Life of Pi .  My husband and I watched the movie last night, and like my friends,  thought it very good.


   Gary and I were immediately  carried along with the narrative of the story - a cargo ship sinking, a young boy who looses his family and is lost at sea with the likes of a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger ! Yikes ! It  seemed almost unbelievable, yet,  I believed this was as it happened - especially when Pi said something about 'Pi's Ark'.  I was totally captivated through it all - it never dawned on me that the author was presenting an allegory, in the Biblical sense. Not until the end of Pi's second account of  his story. It was only then I had my 'ah ha' moment. The animals weren't animals at all, but real life human beings that had to deal with their circumstance in life - challenging, and sorrowful  as it was.

   In 1974 I was travelling in Europe , and had been away from home for some time, I'd often get letters from Phyllis  telling me she thought I was probably spending too much time in churches, an not experiencing real life, and  encouraged me to get out and live, live, live !

    Sadly,  my maternal grandmother died two weeks after I arrived in London. To hear my mother telling me this horrific news over the transcontinental phone  was devastating, and needless to say put a damper on my trip. To know my mother's sorrow,  and not being there to give her comfort was heart wrenching.    I was in complete shock as grandma had not been ill, she was only 57 years old. Without luck I tried to get a flight home in time for Grandma's funeral.  Very kindly,  family and friends said Grandma wouldn't want me to come home, but  continue my stay in Europe as it was something I had dreamed of for so long. I was less certain, and just felt sad.

  When I finally wrote  Phyllis,   it was a make believe letter that had the sound of truth, so much so, that she called my mother telling her she was sure I was in some harm. I told  about  my harrowing experience of being  kidnapped by bandits from Albania , dumped into a large wicker basket and thrown into the back of a Citroen bus. I  wrote I was then driven many  miles,  making several turns - first a  left, then right, then left again. I could hear voices talking , but couldn't understand what they were saying as  their language was foreign to me.  My letter went on and on telling Phyl about two big black things standing by my side. When Phyllis read that line to my mother, mom knew then  all was okay, as it was a line I shamefully  clipped  from James Whitcomb Reilly's poem Little Orphant Annie.

  By no means am I attempting to  compare  or associate my letter   to Martel's wonderful , well written, well received  Life of Pi. Not in the slightest. Only  to make the point writers do take real life situation that are hurtful and sad, hard to understand or explain,  and create imagined characters and situations  to help them more easily share their anxiety, worries, fears  - as well as their faith and hope that all will be well.

  I wasn't really kidnapped , but for those few days after learning of my grandmother's death, and not being able to get home, it seemed I was kidnapped by distance and time, and so my story/letter developed the way it did. 

   Yesterday afternoon I stopped by the library and checked out Life of Pi.  I can see why more than seven million copies have been sold - Yann Martel knows how to write a story !

Friday, February 15, 2013

Historical Fiction, Timely Writ



Before writing a review of this book for Amazon.com, I asked myself this question: What should great historical fiction do? Given the fact that I am drawn to this challenge as a writer, the question is apt. It has always been my intention to bring back to life, an event, an era, and a moment in time. In order to accomplish this feat, I need to know and these aspects: the setting, the date, the place, the county, the town, the house, the kitchen and the back garden. Do the events of the past have any significance in the present? Was there a struggle? Did our heroine fight her way through it, delivering us to the comfortable time in which we now find ourselves? 

In The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier who many readers may know from Girl with a Pearl Earring, can take a bow as an author who can transport us all back to a particular time and place. She tells the the story of Honor Bright, a dignified Quaker woman who leaves England to accompany her sister to America. When yellow fever takes her sister's life, she is stranded, is alone and is traveling to a small community in Ohio. The first and most obvious question as to why she does not return home, has a simple explanation. Plagued with ghastly seasickness, she simply can not stomach the idea of another voyage. Marooned, her challenge is to find her place. As in all great stories involving a journey, memorable characters help her along the way. A milliner, a slave catcher and her sister's intended, are her first ports of call. However, the path is not smooth. Even though she is with fellow Quakers, she finds they are different. America, caught in the crossfire of the last days of slavery, is tense and guarded.  From the beginning, George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, set down the tenant that all people carry the same light of God within, and therefore, are not to be enslaved, owned, or sold. For Honor, this belief is a given, but in England they were not living with slaves in their midst. In Ohio, the recent passage of the Fugitive Slave Law means those who seek to aid escapees, face steep penalties.

As time goes on, Honor marries. Both her husband and his mother forbid Honor to use their farm as a link in the chain. She is in the grips of a moral dilemma. Her friendship with the milliner, means that she is caught up with the  underground railroad  from the moment she arrives in Ohio. Her beliefs and her conscience are tested. How far are we willing to go to right a wrong of which we are entirely certain? This is the central question.

Chevalier uses her considerable skill to put us in the time and place. England, she points out, is a land ordered by hedgerows, and settled for over one thousand years where houses built of stone sit on ample farms, giving it a delicious and pleasing air. In Ohio, Honor balks at the size and scope of the new territory; it looms large and terrifying in her mind. The diet she finds less varied, the eternal corn mush, tasteless, the climate, too cold and then too hot, the people more outspoken, and the needlework, less skilled. Yet she presses on with the inherent, gentle persistence that makes up her sensibility. Her new family are less than friendly and when she takes matters into her own hands, she is chastised. A baby is born, and in their frustration, they let her know that they will take the child from her and send her on her way. Conform, or be shunned and abandoned with no maternal rights; that is where she finds herself.

With the same skill that brought us right into a Vermeer, as in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier leads us to the harsh farms and small minded communities of nineteenth century America. A character who lives in our mind, one of  whom it can be said almost walks and breathes, is what makes Tracy Chevalier a remarkable author. Honor Bright is not a one dimensional heroine, just as the slave catcher Donovan is not an evil antagonist. Characters in this novel have painterly shades, as does the landscape and the culture. Certainly, the paradox of slavery and its long aftermath is a worthy subject for any American tale. In the capable hands of Tracy Chevalier, it is pieced together as remarkable quilt: rich, textured, varied, but composed of great design.

Of the millions enslaved in nineteenth century America, only thirty thousand escaped. One can only imagine that Lake Erie never looked more beautiful, as it loomed large before these brave souls, the watery passage from bondage to freedom

 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Les Miserables: Classic Literature to Movie Musical

    Several weeks ago, after I saw the musical, Les Miserables, I wrote  how much I enjoyed the movie on my  blog 2 lane highway  (http://2lanehighway.blogspot.com/2013/01/victor-hugo-musical-les-miserable.html ) . I liked everything about it -   the story, the casting, the  costumes, choreography,  and musical score.

     In fact, I liked the movie so much it prompted me to download  Les Miserables , the novel onto my iPad so I could read Victor Hugo's tale of Jean Valjean again, something I haven't done since I was a freshman in high school , many, many years  ago when it   was one of the books required of students to read in  English  class.

                                                               
    Prim and proper Dr. Juliet Szekler  looked like she had been teaching at Bell High School for a hundred years by the time I got there, and didn't put up with any nonsense from her students.  She was small, but mighty. To the day we graduated,  fellow classmate, Casey H. blamed me for his  getting a C in Freshman English. I sat in the desk  behind Casey that semester,  and according to him I was the one doing all the talking (probably true)  and secret note passing (yes! That, too) while he's the one who got the reprimand.   Hmm, but that's a story for a different time.  One other  thing I remember  about Dr. Szekler is how she  would take out a tissue from her handbag and wipe the handle before opening the door   so has not to touch the handle with her naked hand. Watching her do this,  many of us would look at each other and just roll our eyes, thinking it was the dumbest thing we ever saw.  Well, that was then. Wouldn't she be surprised to know I don't think  it so dumb  now,  as I do the same thing, trying to protect my aging  hands from germ laden  door handles!
 
     While her  lectures were dry,  Dr. Szekler  wanted students to leave her classroom with an expanded knowledge of  classic literature. I think some of us did.  We learned that Victor Hugo had a  strong literary personality and is associated with the Romantic Movement , perhaps more so than any other author of the 19th century, and not only was he a famed novelist (The Hunchback of Notre  Dame and Les Miserables), he   is also considered a great poet, especially in France.


     As with much of his writing, Hugo drew on his own life experience. According to biographers Hugo believed "Every man who writes , writes a book; this book is himself. Whether he knows it or not, whether he wishes it or not, it is true. From every body of work, whatever it may be, wretched or illustrious, there emerges a persona, that of the writer. It is his punishment, if he is petty; it is his reward, if he is great".  By all accounts Hugo was great. His stories tell the plight of the poor and downcast, contrasting evil over good,  always working for good to prevail, and social justice to win out.  Alphonse de Lamartine  (1790-1869) , French poet and historian says of Hugo, The public heard a soul without seeing it, and saw a man, instead of a book...He went straight to the heart; sighs were his echoes, tears were his applause." 

      But lets go  back to Les Miserables, the musical.  I can't help but wonder how Hugo might  feel  today about having his novel adapted to the stage, and movie theater  - to hear   lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, set to the  score  of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, wonderfully sung by Hugh Jackman, Ann Hathaway, and others. Not  only can  we  read  the story of Jean Valjean, Cossette and Javert, but  now we see them , and hear their voices as well.

      Would it seem his work was  co-opted , or would Hugo  view it has a collaboration between himself and other artists - the lyricist, composer, scriptwriter  that help keep  his writing alive and  introduce Jean Valjean in a new  way , to new generations of people ?

     There are other classic novels -   Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Lepoux), Man of La Mancha (Cervantes) Oliver (Charles Dickens) -  each have found success with  a larger audience when  adapted to the musical stage, giving fresh light to   stories already  immortalized, but also to   the people who wrote them.






 
** To read more about Victor Hugo visithttp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/274974/Victor-Hugo
   
*** Note: "Les Miserables" received nominations (Academy Awards 2013) for picture, actor (Hugh Jackman), supporting actress (Anne Hathaway), production design, costumes, makeup and hairstyling, original song and sound mixing. 
     

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Perfect Ending




You know it when you read one. Whether it be an essay, a short story, or a novel, if it sums up the entire work into one killer conclusion, the reader closes the book with a sense of satisfaction. A bad ending, or the wrong ending can ruin everything.

In my current work in progress, I am now at the end of the second draft. I spent the spring and summer to date reworking the final third of the book. The past three weeks have seen me re-write the final sentence several times a day. 

The quest for that last great sentence sent me on a search and  I came across this article from The Guardian. 


F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Perhaps the most frequently quoted final sentence. One of those endings that suggests the opposite of an ending: you may want to "move on", but you keep getting taken back to the story you thought you'd finished.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
This is the terrible one because, by the time you get to it, you realize how inevitable it is. Winston Smith's fate is not just to be defeated, but to have his will turned to submission. "He loved Big Brother."

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
"After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain." At the end of this novel of love and war, hope and desperation, all passion is spent. The narrator's lover has died in childbirth and the only possible conclusion is one of those perfect Hemingway sentences, expressively drained of expressiveness.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
"I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be." A more recent example of the ending where the weight is in what is not said. If you haven't read the novel, it is banal; if you have read the novel, you'll know how eloquently desolate this is.

Voltaire, Candide
We must wander into French for one of the most discussed final sayings in fiction. "'Cela est bien dit,' répondit Candide, 'mais il faut cultiver notre jardin'." After everything absurd and horrific that they have seen, after traveling the globe to witness the extremes of human folly and cruelty, Candide recommends a little horticulture. Endless ink has been spent explaining what Voltaire was "saying".

Franz Kafka, The Trial
The ultimate finality, the moment of the protagonist's death. As a knife twists in his heart, Josef K realizes that it is the victim who is ashamed, not the perpetrator. "'Like a dog!' he said, it was as if the shame of it must outlive him." In German, it is even more terrible.

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
More ending in death, but this time it sounds like a solace after life. "I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."


While this list covers many of my great favorites, I cast about for my own choice. What sprung immediately to mind comes from James Joyce. His memorable short story, "The Dead," carries my choice for the perfect ending. In this case, the whole paragraph must be included.

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen, and farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Because I cannot possibly add anything to that,  I will simply close by writing these words: The End.





















Monday, April 9, 2012

Hey Boo: Unforgettable Book, Unforgettable Author

One of my favorite books turned 52 this year, and the movie made from the book turned 50. Over those years, the compelling story of Atticus, Scout, Tom and Boo has made a deep impression on millions of Americans.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a novel set in a small Alabama town during racial segregation, was published by J. B. Lippencott & Co. in 1960. It is a story of a small-town lawyer defending an unjustly accused man, and the story of a young girl trying to make sense of the world around her.

As someone who also grew up in a small southern community where I was a child during the final years of segregation, I could identify with Scout. Like Scout, I was also somewhat of a tom-boy; had a soft-spoken, gentle father; and like my brothers, kept small, insignificant trinkets in a cigar box.

In 2010, a 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and a film titled Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird was released. PBS recently aired the film as part of their American Masters program.  As a writer, I was interested in learning more about Lee.

Born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, Nelle Harper Lee left Alabama for New York in 1950 after completing college. There she spent eight years supporting herself as an airline reservation agent. She became good friends with a couple who had read and loved some of Lee’s essays. One year, knowing Lee was working on a manuscript for a novel, the couple gave Lee a Christmas gift of money with a note that said Lee could take one year off from her work to write whatever she wants.

Lee took her friends up on their offer and completed her manuscript, then titled Atticus, and secured a literary agent who sent the manuscript to several publishers. All of the publishers rejected the work.

Eventually, an editor at J. B. Lipppincott & Co.—even though the editor felt the manuscript was mostly a series of short stories and needed a lot of work—recognized Lee’s talent and the potential of the story, and signed a contract with Lee.

Lee described what happened next as a long and hopeless period of writing the manuscript over and over again. The writer and editor reshaped and worked on the book for the next two years, until it eventually became what we know today as To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was an immediate success and awarded a Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards.

Lee was 34 when the book was published. She gave several interviews about the novel and the movie, and then stopped. She stepped back from the publicity and public life and hasn’t granted an interview in more than 40 years.

Amazingly, Lee grew up only a few doors away from author Truman Capote. They became childhood friends and remained friends for many years, advising each other on writing and publishing. Lee assisted Capote in his research for his book, In Cold Blood. Eventually they grew apart as Capote embraced fame and Lee avoided it.

Even though Harper Lee never wrote another book, Lee remains one of America’s favorite writers. And 50 years and nearly 50 million copies later, To To Kill a Mockingbird remains required reading in schools across America and continues to be enjoyed by both adolescents and adults.

If you would like to watch the documentary, Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, it can be viewed for free at the following PBS link:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/harper-lee-hey-boo/watch-the-full-documentary/2049/

You can also check your PBS schedule for future showings.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Food and Fiction





When faced with the enormous task of writing fiction, of describing an experience through the senses, food can be a terrific resource. The relationship between food and fiction has a rich and satisfying past.


Valentin Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871 and lived until November 18, 1922. Coming of age in the era of the Third Republic in France, he lived in southern Paris, in an age when the aristocracy was beginning its decline, in favor a rising middle class. While he had a prolific career, he was beset by grief following the death of his beloved mother. In Remembrance of Things Past, he described a momentous event involving a simple little delicacy. This is an excerpt from the famous passage:


The Cookie

“Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theater and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother seeing that I was cold offered me some tea, a thing which I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, I changed my mind. She sent me one of those squat, plump little cakes called 'petites madelines,' which though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised my lips to a spoonful of tea in which I had soaked a morsel of cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no sensation of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disastrous innocuous, its brevity illusory- this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had now ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could, not, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? How could I seize and apprehend it?”


Proust's thoughts on the experience continue on for another two pages. At the end, he speaks of the taste of a madeline dipped in tea, bringing him back in his mind's eye to the house in Combray, to the garden, to the village and to the county and with that memory, to the emotion of being exquisitely happy. The skill with which Proust describes that cookie has been talked and written about for almost one hundred years. It is unarguably the greatest passage about food in all of our vast library of literature.

Lest I give Proust all the credit I can name others whose talent lingered in my mind, and may have more than once sent me in the direction of the kitchen, or a restaurant with the hope of recreating the experience for myself. Ernest Hemingway used a very simple and direct method, in keeping with his personal style that would have me scurrying to recreate the same dish. In A Moveable Feast, he writes:

Wine is the most civilized thing in the world. In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”

As a young woman I craved the cakes and feasts of the Maritime Provinces described in turn of the century Canada, where as Lucy Maude Montgomery stated, “if you have not set your table with three kinds of cake, you have not done your family proud.”

When I wrote My American Eden, I took on the challenge of discovering what the diet consisted of in seventeenth century New England. I learned that the sky turned black with the plethora of ptarmigan overhead, that streams seamed to boil with the plenitude of fish, and that shooting game was as easy as walking out the door with musket in hand. Flour, on the other hand being scarce and precious, could not be spared for two pie crusts. Only the bottom of the plate would be lined, excepted in the finest houses, where the 'upper crust' found a home.

In my memoir in progress, now called Four Stanley Cups and a Funeral, I sometimes find my mouth watering describing the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding of my youth. If I recall picking apples from the trees in our orchard, I suddenly feel the brisk wind; I can bring to mind my jeans and cowboy boots, and I can hear the sound of the crisp bite into the first, newly ripe, Northern Spy, grown in the hardscrabble soil of Caledon, Ontario. From there, the smell of the barn comes squarely back to me, and I hear the steadying breaths of the horses lined up in their stalls, with inquisitive and friendly heads poking out the top.

Cultures are defined by their various dishes. You only need to let the reader know what your protagonist had for lunch and they will know something of who they are. How they start their day, what they have for breakfast and how they feel about it, will set the stage. Is the main dish fried, boiled, or grilled? Do they cherish fresh fish, or never eat it? Do they have Oysters for lunch on Boxing Day? Is there a large table set outside, or under an arbor, or do they eat in a dining room with starched and spotless linen. Who serves the food? Who prepares it? Do they eat in restaurants, and if so what kind?

More from Proust:

"Undoubtedly what it is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred up colors is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life."


Run, don't walk, to your nearest bakery. I should have included a word of warning at the beginning. Writing will make you very hungry, diets impossible, and cooking the ultimate distraction.

Links: http://www.amazon.com/Remembrance-Things-Past-Volumes-1-3/dp/0394712439/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333487019&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Moveable-Feast-The-Restored-Edition/dp/143918271X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333487110&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/My-American-Eden-Martyr-Freedom/dp/1572493488/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333487179&sr=1-1

Monday, February 20, 2012

Charles Dickens, Two Hundred Years On


2012 is the two hundred year mark since one of our most cherished writers was born. On February 7th, 1812, in Landport England, Charles Dickens arrived as the second child, and eldest son. While he lived, he enjoyed fame and fortune. As time marches on, we look back at his work with renewed reverence.

Growing up, we had a personal tradition of watching "A Christmas Carol," on December 24th as we wrapped presents. Like many viewers of this timeless classic, I felt grateful in the knowledge that conditions had vastly improved since the days of Dickens. Knowing that there are no workhouses, no child labor, no parents beside themselves with worry about being unable to get medical care for a sick child, I thought that as human beings, we had evolved to create more caring societies. The world depicted by Dickens, based on his terribly real experience of being sent to work in a factory while his father languished in debtor's prison, I believed had come and gone.

The Hindustan Times has this to say regarding the Dickens bicentenary: “Adam Pushkin, Head of Arts, British Council, India says, 'Dickens wrote about urban development, capitalism, corruption, private wealth, misery of the destitute and failings of the government. Now look around and what do you see? Celebrating him is not looking backwards but looking at the contemporary society through the world of Dickens.' ”

Two years ago we had a brief but lovely stay in the dear old city of Boston. In the Parker House hotel, we stepped into the bar for a nightcap after dinner. Long in the habit of reading any information found on menus, I was stunned to learn of the hotel's history. In the 1800's a group of writers met there every week one of whom was Charles Dickens. Unaware of his American experiences, I was surprised to learn that he kept company with the illustrious Transcendentalists.

In a search for the ladies room, I was directed to a staircase. As I climbed to the second floor, a powerful sense of heightened awareness caught hold of me and led me down a long hall. Doors holding plaques described different events in the hotel's history including naming the room where Dickens first read aloud from the freshly penned chapters of A Christmas Carol. I carried on down this passage as if floating, until I stopped in front of a large mirror.

The brass plate at the bottom held these words. “Mirror from the room of Charles Dickens.” I gazed at my reflection feeling as if I was not looking at myself so much as looking for the answer. I spoke out loud as I was alone in that vast corridor.

“Help me please,” I asked. “Help me as a writer, please Mr. Dickens.”

It did not take but a minute for a curious thought to literally pop into my mind. “Start the story where the story begins.”

I ran downstairs to the bar to tell my husband the good news.

In looking up facts about the life of Charles Dickens, I read that he stood in front of a mirror, spoke his character's dialogue out loud, found their quirks and odd habits, and indeed, discovered their very souls mirrored in his own reflection.

Here are the opening lines from "Great Expectations":

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name being Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing larger or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip and came to be called Pip."

As a creative writing major, I heard these words many times: “Put the reader in the story.” We have many masters and many works of genius who managed this skill brilliantly. Some stand above all others. Consider this, if you will, from the first page of "Great Expectations":

“Ours was the marsh country down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrup, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried, and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes and that low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair for which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip.”

One hundred years from now, at the three century mark, at the tricentennial, we will marvel once again, with awe and reverence, this vivid and masterful writing.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Library, Books & Movies





When I was a little girl a trip to the city library on Saturday afternoon was something I always looked forward to.   The hours passed quickly as I carefully pulled books  from the shelves ,  read their titles and  decided which ones to check out.  I liked taking  my choices to the librarian , showing her my library card ,  then  watching as she  stamped  the return date  on inside  page. 

 The library was orderly and quiet; There was a certain etiquette to be observed. No eating, or  loud talking.  When patrons did speak it was in hushed voices, like in church,   so not to disturb others that were reading, or studying  at the long rectangular table, perhaps doing research for a History or English assignment.

Visiting the library is something I’ve never outgrown, and still think of the library as someplace special.   A place of learning and information; a Community center. 

 According to Wikipedia libraries had often started with donation, an endowment or were bequeathed  to various parishes, churches, schools or towns.  Ben Franklin and friends  are generally considered the first to start a subscription library   in 1731,  allowing members to buy shares . Combined funds were used to buy more books—in return members could borrow books and use the library.   It was Andrew Carnegie, however who had the biggest influence  in financing libraries in the United States.  In the  years between 1900 to 1917, almost 1,700 libraries were constructed by Carnegie’s foundation, insisting that local communities first guarantee tax support of each library built.  In my opinion,   taxes well spent. 

 Most   city and county libraries have reading  programs for citizens of all ages . Coeur d Alene Library  is no exception , offering  Pre-school Story, Book Babies Lap,  Family reading, Lego Club,  a computer workshop and Pageturners  Book Club .

 I was at the library last week searching for  Barbara Belford’s   biography  Oscar Wilde, A Certain Genius,   and the novel the Irish poet and dramatist is  famously known for , The Picture of Dorian Gray.    With books in hand, I  was about  to exit through the center door when   I noticed a flyer posted on the bulletin board :  The Coeur d Alene Public Library Foundation presents Moving Books— The Written  Word Turned Into Film !   Movie’s are scheduled November 2011 thru May  2012.  Jane Eyre, Polar Express, Sophie’s Choice, All the King’s Men , The Lincoln Lawyer, Tangled and Charlie Wilson’s War.  

What a good idea.  Showcasing books turned into film.   I began thinking of other books  made into movies ; Ben Hur,  The Bishops Wife,  Breakfast at Tiffany’s , Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz; To Kill A Mockingbird, The Maltese Falcon, East of Eden.  It became a game with me as more and more books into movies came to mind: Little Women, Tom Sawyer, True Grit.  There are hundreds of them.    I then thought how interesting it would be  to  read the book prior to seeing the movie then compare the two by answering a  few  guideline questions;  How well did the movie adaptation follow the author’s story ? Or did the  movie script alter what the author wrote? How are they the same? How did they differ?
   
The Picture of Dorian Gray, the book I checked out at the library ?   I can't wait to finish reading it , then watch  the movie—  the written word turned into film !  

*** NOTE:  For more information about Moving Books at Coeur d Alene Library call 208 769 2380 or visit their website http://www.cdalibrary.org/

*** For a list of books made into movies  http://www.ocl.net/bookinfo/if/movies.shtml