18 December 2011

Hugo and Shakespeare


by Leigh Lundin

A series of crushing deadlines dogged me for several weeks, so serious research and writing pushed creative authoring into a tiny corner. It didn't help that the short story I've been working on has been a recalcitrant bear. Even its title proved elusive, another little hurdle in a difficult terrain.
Cosette
not quite this young

The tale grew out of a 'what-if' scenario in my head. At 2900 words, if it were a play, it would be two acts with three speaking rôles. One protagonist is a fair-minded cop who can't be bought, bribed, bent, or browbeaten. The 'criminal' is a sullen twenty-year-old homeless woman. It should be simple, right?

Les Misérables

If not a miserable experience, it's been a challenging and sometimes frustrating one. This is what I learned.

I wrote the first draft in third person. Third person didn't work. It lay flat and lifeless on the page without emotion. I struggled, but it proved stubborn.

I rewrote it in first person from the cop's standpoint. The connection with the characters grew, but it still wasn't right. Disbelief remained unsuspended.

I rewrote it in first person from the woman's view. Just before that moment where I might hate the story, it began to flesh out emotionally.

The story line is less Dickens and more Victor Hugo. Our 'criminal' is sort of an angry female Jean Valjean, sleeping in her SUV with iced-over windows. Our detective, though incorruptible, is more, say, Bishop Myriel than Inspector Javert.

Death Takes a Holiday

Fueled by outside deadlines and pressures from the real world, the story continued to prove difficult, resisting every sentence. What started before Halloween passed Thanksgiving and approached Christmas.

But wait… Christmas? What if I set the story during Christmas season? Acquaintances have sent numerous eMails insisting the White House and the ACLU are banning Christmas, but I'm pretty sure that's not true. We've got time for one more holiday story, don't we?

Only recently have I tackled holiday stories and in each case, the holiday (Halloween, Hanukkah, and Christmas) was integral to the story. I don't believe in welding a seasonal setting onto an ordinary yarn, but with this intransigent new story, a Christmas setting felt right. I'd already cast the weather as cold, bleak, and dreary with a hint of snow in the air. Why not let the season provide the texture of believability for the tale?

Thus it came to pass in the little town of Orlando, the December temperature dropped sufficiently to turn off the air conditioner, wear T-shirts and shorts, throw open the doors, and mow the lawn. And, imagine a story in a snowy, icy city nearer the Canadian border than this close to the tropics.


A Death in the Family
Shakespearean
photo credit: Christine Selleck
Shakespeare & Company is a bookstore (the second of two) in… wait for it… the heart of Paris. Ninety-eight year-old owner George Whitman, who lived above the bookshop, died last week. He let writers, both published and unpublished, bunk in the bookstore in exchange for a couple of hours work each day. Originally from New Jersey, Whitman once called the shop "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore."

I don't believe in socialist utopias, but I do believe in brilliant entrepreneurs who wink at the left and the right and lay down workable business models when other retailers collapse. Owning a bookstore is one of those dreams like owning a pub or restaurant– probably better dreamt than acted upon.

Both Shakespearean bookstores have their own important history. Watch this video about the store or read the fascinating history.

Next week, Louis Willis  will meet you here Christmas Day.

6 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Leigh, glad your story is working out. Have you considered a collection of short stories that begins with New Year's Day and goes through the calendar year with a mystery for each holiday? Could be a thought for the sleuthsayers anthology.

Leigh Lundin said...

I like that idea! Oddly enough, Fran, I have considered that. Now if I can market the idea…

Yoshinori Todo said...

Wish you all the best with your short story, Leigh! You mean Paris, France? Have you been there?

Leigh Lundin said...

Hi Yoshinori! Thanks for the good wishes.

Yes, Paris, France, and I've been there. The owner won a French award some years back.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

George Whitman's Shakespeare & Company, opened in 1951, was a hommage to the original Shakespeare & Company owned by Sylvia Beach, who published James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922, when publishers in the English-speaking countries wouldn't touch it. (He later dumped her for another publisher, the skunk, leaving her with the debts she'd incurred doing it.) The writers who hung out there included Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein.

Leigh Lundin said...

Absolutely correct, Elizabeth. George Whitman named his daughter after Sylvia Beach.