Showing posts with label friends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label friends. Show all posts

17 September 2016

Namedropping


by John M. Floyd

Something I've always enjoyed, when reading novels and short stories, is finding things in the story that are familiar to me. Things like street names, restaurants, movies, quotes from movies, quirks of regional dialect, etc. When authors insert those into stories, it seems that it can establish an instant connection between writer and reader.

Because of that, I suppose it shouldn't have been surprising to me to find, after I'd published a number of stories, that readers sometimes approached me (usually friends, and often jokingly) with the suggestion that I should someday use them in a story. Or at least use their names.

You know, that's not a bad idea …

My reaction to that was Why not? We writers dream up names all the time for our characters; it would be easy to stick a real name in, now and then. Especially if you know that those folks already like what you write and would enjoy seeing themselves as a part of it.

I don't do it all the time, of course--most of my character names continue to come from the same place my plots do: my overactive and usually scary imagination. But when the situation's right and it fits the character and I can remember to do it, I try to plug in a familiar name.

Examples:

- Teresa Garver, an old friend and avid Woman's World reader who lives in Georgia, made an appearance a couple years ago as a high-school English teacher in one of my WW mini-mysteries.

- Chuck Thomas, one of my customers during my IBM days (and one of the smartest programmers I've ever known) showed up as one of three schoolkids who captured a python that had escaped from the zoo in a story called "Not One Word." It first appeared in the now-defunct Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine in 2002 and has been reprinted several times since.

- Charlotte Hudson, a former student in my writing classes, has been featured in two of my Woman's World mysteries. In one of them, she and her real-life husband Bill were farmers who owned a pond where the main character liked to fish.

- Cheryl Grubbs, a dear friend from my high school days, will be the deputy of Sheriff Ray Douglas in a story called "Trail's End," coming up soon in AHMM. She's also on hand in the next installment of that series, which I sent to AH a few months ago. Whether they decide to buy it is (pun intended) another story …

- Charles Heisley, an old Air Force buddy who lives in Honolulu (I visited him there once, back when I was globetrotting with IBM), became a Louisiana state cop in my story "The Blue Delta," which is included in the Bouchercon 2016 anthology Blood on the Bayou. (Note to all readers: Invite me to Hawaii and you get featured in any story you want.)

Sometimes the mention of a name can be oblique, and subtle. In honor of my friend and fellow Mississippi writer Larry Chavis, my lead characters in a Strand Magazine story a few years ago were passengers on the Chavis Island Ferry--in fact the whole story took place on that boat. And a lady in one of my many stories for Futures was Janet Bailey, a combination of the names of two of my writer friends, Janet Brown and Carole Bailey. I have also often used the last names of friends in stories, when those names were interesting and/or unusual: Denbroeder, Prestridge, Cash, Bishop, Wingo, Higa, Liggett, Valkenberg, Pennebaker, Zeller, Bassett, McClellan, Fenwick, Boatner, Fountain, Parrott, Stovall, Stegall, Blackledge, LaPinto, Tullos, Crowson, Burnside, Moon, Speed, Fetterman, Lindamood, etc.

Other writers, other approaches

All this is, of course, nothing new. Fiction writers use real names for fictional characters a lot, and it might be worth noting that Nelson DeMille--one of my all-time favorite authors--has taken that practice a step farther. In the Acknowledgments section of most of his novels, DeMille mentions those people who have made generous contributions to charities in return for his using their names as characters in the book.

My favorite memory of this kind of thing is of something my SleuthSayers colleague Rob Lopresti once did in "Shanks Commences," a story which appeared in (and on the cover of) the May 2012 issue of AHMM. At the time that Rob created that story, he and I were among seven writers who did weekly columns for the Criminal Brief mystery blog, and he chose to put all of us into the story. I still remember how much fun it was to read it--and how pleased I was to find that I didn't turn out to be the murderer. Rob talks about that story here.

How about you?

The obvious question is, have any of you tried using real people's names in your stories or novels, either as themselves or as characters? I know some writers are afraid that might backfire, but I think the chances are slim. As with statements about real places or real companies or real products, you'll get into trouble only if you say bad things about them, and if the mentioned characters are friends of yours, they'll almost certainly be pleased. If they're not pleased--well, maybe that's a good way to find out who your friends really are.

According to one of my writing buddies, part of the fun of being a fiction writer is being able to look at someone and say, "Be nice to me. If you're not I'll put you in a story and kill you off."

Fair warning …

26 May 2016

A Question of Identity


by Eve Fisher

Amalfi Coast, © Wikimedia Commons
With any luck, by the time you read this, I'll be on vacation with my husband, taking a Mediterranean Cruise. I love cruises: I find it infinitely relaxing to unpack once, and then do pretty much whatever I want to do for the duration. I love the Mediterranean: the food, the scenery, the history, the artwork. I love vacations: it gives me time to think, the long-houred, idle thinking (sometimes drifting, sometimes racing) that I don't often have time for at home. This is the kind of thinking /dreaming / drifting that came with childhood and is one of the main reasons for nostalgia about childhood. Time. An idea. A thought. A question. And you're off…

And currently, I've been thinking about a lot of things: identity, mortality, friendship, relationships, because of the death of one of our very best friends, Frank Senger. He was only 61. A wonderfully talented actor, who appeared in (among other things) The Professional, Maximum Risk, a number of Law & Orders and Oz. He also wrote and performed poetry and performance art pieces. He was the best man at our wedding, 37 years ago, my husband's best friend, and my best improv partner ever.

Frank Senger
Frank Senger
Allan and I and Frank and his wife, Theresa (a wonderful visual artist), hung out well together: we talked constantly, vacationed, cooked and ate extremely well, hiked, laughed, watched movies and TV shows, went to art exhibits and performance pieces, and anything else that struck our fancy. Frank was a great friend, a great listener, a great person. His death was sudden, tragic, comic, and pure Frank: he was teaching an acting class, doing a death scene, in which he fell down... and did not get up... (A friend of mine heard that and said, "he'll haunt that theater forever - in a nice way", and she's probably right.) He suffered a massive coronary. We still can't believe that he's really gone.

Deaths are hard. Every time you lose someone important to you, you lose not only the person you were, but the person you were with that person. And the person they were with you... For example, whenever we all got together, sooner or later Frank and I would go into improv: Bad Kabuki Theater, Bad Greek Theater, Hillbilly Hamlet, and many, many others. I could be absolutely fearless with Frank, because no matter what I said, he'd catch it, play with it, tie a bow in it, and throw it back. I can't imagine anyone else triggering the Eve who did that fearless improv at PS1 in NYC. We'd gone to see an installation piece that was pure crap, so Frank and I started doing Bad Greek Theater, with Frank orating a mixture of artistic / political / social satire and gobbledegook while I was his Greek chorus, waving my arms while chanting, among other things: "Orestes! You've lost your testes!"

Allan... well, to Allan, Frank was his best friend and his brother. And Theresa... it's unimaginable what she's going through.

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis
C.S. Lewis
By Source, Fair use,
https://en.wikipedia.org/
w/index.php?curid=7049156
Friendship is a great mystery, and only deepens the great mystery of identity. None of us will ever be again who we were with Frank, because that special chemistry only existed when we were with him. Not only do we not live in a vacuum, but we (literally, in all conjugations) ARE not in a vacuum. Who we are is dependent, in large part, on who's around us, and changes accordingly. C. S. Lewis explained it on The Four Loves:

"Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then E loses not only A but "A's part in C," while C loses not only A but "A's part in B." In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald." (p. 96)

And less of myself as well, because I'm also not large enough to call MY whole person into activity. Contrary to egomania and other common disorders, I want and need other lights than my own to show all my facets as well. I believe that's part of the reason that people, as they grow older and their contemporaries die, retreat into memory. To recapture not only their friends and family, but themselves. Because half of what we talk about with family and friends is the past, the things we did together. We reiterate, play back the past over and over again to make sure that not only we remember, but the next generation learns it as well, so that they can remember, too.

That's why we have things like history, diaries, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and Icelandic Sagas. If you can't pass down the memories one way, pass them down another. Because when there's no one who remembers but you... well, that gets tough. And strange. I know. My parents have been dead for 16 years, my grandparents for over 30 years. I have no other living relatives. So I have no one to reminisce with about my childhood, not to mention the stories they told me about their lives, and other relatives' lives. Thank God for writing…

Back to friendship: Lewis also wrote, "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." (And God knows, as Emily St. John Mandel said in Station Eleven, "Survival is insufficient.") But I disagree with Lewis: Friendship IS necessary. It DOES have survival value. Art, philosophy, music, friends, lovers, family - everything that touches us, mentally / emotionally / spiritually, goes into making us who we are. To lose any of that is to lose a part of ourselves. To change ourselves. To gain any of it is to enhance ourselves.


“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.
John Donne is always right on the money.

R.I.P., Frank Senger, and all the people I have loved, now no longer.

Back in a week. Love to all.

02 February 2016

Some Friendships: A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep


by Paul D. Marks

There’s a saying about friends, “We have three types of friends in life: Friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.”

And as writers in the 21st century we’re supposed to work social media. And it is work, but it’s also fun. You meet people you never would have met otherwise. Sometimes you’ll even meet them in real life, at a conference or convention or even meet up just go out to lunch if you’re in the same town. On occasion it goes the other way, you meet someone in person and then friend them online. Some of these people turn into good friends.

And how does this relate to SleuthSayers? Because this is a crime and writers/writing blog and it deals with the writing side—an aspect of the social media side of being a writer.

Occasionally I notice that I’ve lost a friend or two on Facebook or Twitter. I guess that’s to be expected. People drop off for a variety of reasons. There are programs or apps that will allow you to see who’s dropped you. So far I haven’t installed any of them. Maybe I don’t want to know...

But something interesting happened to me recently. I lost a friend I thought I was pretty good friends with. I knew I lost her and I knew who it was. I also knew why. Here’s what happened:

Generally speaking, I post nothing overtly political or religious on FB. Remember what your mom said about not talking politics or religion in polite company. So I pretty much follow that dictum. I post a lot of articles and pix of La La Land (Los Angeles) and film noir and Raymond Chandler and his ilk. Some animal pix. Some are of my animals, some not. Some funny animal things and some serious ones about abused animals. But that’s about as political as I get, at least in my mind.

But a short time ago I posted a song/video that I thought was funny. It was a satirical song about the holidays and Christmas and such. And it offended someone greatly. She told me so and I apologized in public in a comment on the post. But I didn’t remove the video. We had a little back and forth in the comments and also in private e-mail and it was civil on both sides, though I believe she wanted me to remove the video which I wouldn’t do. Overall I apologized three times, but apparently it wasn’t enough. She defriended me and basically said “farewell” in a private e-mail.

She was upset not so much by the video per se, but that I’d posted it around the holidays. Any other time of year and she wouldn’t have been offended, she said. My whole reason for posting the video around the holidays was that it was a satirical view of the holidays that I thought was funny, related to and that I thought other people would too. And for the most part, it was about the secular/non-religious aspect of the holidays (obnoxious relatives, silly family traditions, etc.) although there may have been a very small reference to religion. To top things off, in a comment, someone else commented on the video and posted another video which was a little offensive by some standards and not something I would have posted and I think I also got blamed for that, which was beyond my control.

I try not to post things that I think will be offensive to others, but there is a point where you have to say enough—I have to be me. I can’t worry about everything I say or do offending someone or I would basically never post anything, including this blog which I’m sure will offend someone, somewhere, at some time. In fact if I was constantly worrying about offending someone I would probably not be a writer, because as writers we are always taking a chance that we will offend someone. In my noir-thriller White Heat, which deals with a lot of racial issues and uses some tough language, I worried about using the ‘N’ word. So much so that I put a disclaimer at the beginning of the book warning people to consider the harsh language in the context of the time and place where the novel takes place. So, I do try to consider people’s feelings and be respectful.

But I guess I committed an unforgiveable offense by posting the video and have now been banished from the island. But I find it rather ironic since this person has asked me on several occasions to write up bios, respond to questionnaires, and other things about myself so she could publish an article and/or interview about me. This has gone on for several years yet no article or interview ever appeared. Yet I spent a lot of time working on this stuff. I wasn’t thrilled that I had spent all this time for nothing but I never said a word. We were friends so I let it slide. But I committed the offensive act and that was the end of a friendship that I now realize was a mile wide but an inch deep.

It’s not the end of the world. And I know she was upset by the video. Personally I don’t see the
problem but I did apologize as I said. I often see things I don’t agree with, political or otherwise, from people I’m friends with but I let them slide. Agree to disagree. I don’t comment. I just move on. I asked her to do that with me, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t. But I guess it’s easy to be friends with someone you agree with 100% and more of a challenge to be friends with someone you don’t agree with on everything.  And as writers I think we need to challenge rather than agree on everything. I’ve been friends in the real world for 30 years, sometimes even longer, with people that I disagree vehemently with and they with me. But we agree to disagree and we’re still good friends. And that’s the way I like it.
5 Ways NOT to Handle a  Nasty Facebook Breakup. Click on link not photo to view video: https://www.facebook.com/YourTango/videos/10152523198102261/?pnref=story

***

I’m going to be interviewed by Pam Stack on Authors on the Air, Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm Pacific Time. Hope you’ll join us there: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheair/2016/02/04/paul-d-marks-talks-about-writing-and-more-on-authors-on-the-air-live




And I’m also guest blogging on author Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Fan Club page on Facebook this week if you want to stop by and check it out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sueannjaffarian/ 

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28 December 2014

“Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone”


Today our friend and colleague, Louis Willis, announces his retirement.

I first came across Louis in his own blog, where he critiqued black mystery authors and novels featuring black protagonists. He contributed articles to Criminal Brief and, as SleuthSayers was being formed, we invited him to become a permanent member. I often thought of Louis as ‘our academic’, because he studied literature more than most of us.

After his discharge from the Navy in 1958, Louis never lost his joy of learning and pursued higher education at Illinois Institute of Technology. Halfway through a degree in engineering, his love of literature induced him to change majors to English lit.

There he encountered… or more correctly didn’t encounter studies of black authors such as he’d appreciated in high school. When made aware of this shortcoming in their curriculum, IIT invited him to lecture about black authors in American lit.

Louis was familiar with Richard Wright and had begun reading James Baldwin. As he immersed myself in the research, he discovered Zora Neale Hurston (whose Florida home is minutes from mine), Ralph Ellison and many more.

Following formal retirement from the government decades later, he returned home to Knoxville from Richmond, California with his youngest daughter and her son to care for his mother who died a year later in 1997. With time on his hands, he returned to his love of learning and enrolled in a graduate degree program at the University of Tennessee and graduated in 2004 with a Masters in English.

Louis also has a son who attended Lemoyne Owen College in Memphas and had three sons himself, the youngest born a year ago on 31 December, nearly a New Year’s baby.

Louis’ favorite authors are Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Hemingway, Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Anton Chekhov, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jorge Luis Borges. Recently, he's studying Eudora Welty. In crime fiction, his favorites are Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Richard S. Prather, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dame Agatha Christie, and of course all SleuthSayers authors.


— Leigh Lundin

The Long Goodbye that Isn't
“Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone”

by Louis Willis

I usually limit myself in writing an article to no less than 300 and no more than 700 words. Because goodbyes should be short, this post is under 300 words.

The title of this post is in quotation marks because I took it from a forgotten novel, a poem, or a line in a blues song. It expresses how I feel in having to say goodbye to all my SleuthSayers friends. I won’t be posting any more articles but I won’t be gone either, for I shall continue to read and occasionally comment on your posts. I’ll also continue writing critical reviews of African American crime fiction novels on my blog, which you can access here.

During the past three years, I’ve learned how writers think in constructing their stories. As I read your post, I experienced the sweet misery you go through while constructing your stories. Your posts also confirmed something I’ve always thought: writers write because they cannot not write.

As I write this post, I’m glad you can’t see me because I’m getting all choked up. Saying goodbye to good friends is not easy.

Thank you Leigh for giving me the opportunity to write for an appreciative audience.

Thank all of you for being an appreciative and encouraging audience.

08 July 2014

Friends & Influences


by Stephen Ross

In the late summer of 1988, I spent a week living inside a novel. I was staying with a friend (Albert), who himself was staying with a friend (Victoria), at a dilapidated farmhouse on the edge of a town that didn't seem to have anyone in it or even a name. There was a school house, closed for the summer (or maybe forever), and a general store that had a CLOSED sign in its door (also probably forever). The town was about forty minutes out of Hamilton, in a direction I couldn't tell you.

A long dirt track led up to the farmhouse through fields of corn, and Victoria's landlord, the farmer of said corn, who I never saw, apparently had a limp and only ever came to collect the rent after dark. Apparently, he'd turn up, like a character out of Dickens, clutching a lantern, his raincoat damp with the rain, even if it hadn't rained all week.

I was starting a screenplay (at that time of my life, I had wanted to be a screenwriter). Albert was writing a new play (he was a reasonably successful playwright), and Victoria was learning lines for two different upcoming productions (she was an actress). Victoria and Albert are not their real names. There was also a cat at the farmhouse, whose name I don't remember at all, and for the purposes of this telling, I'll call William Makepeace Thackeray.

Victoria and Albert were both ten years older than me; and Victoria probably a further ten on top of that. If a movie could have been made of that week, I would have cast George Sanders as Albert, Ida Lupino as Victoria, and in the part of "me" that confused-looking bystander who is always the last one to get the point and run when the foot of Godzilla slams down.


A condition of my staying over, as a guest of a guest, was to paint the living room -- in any color I liked. The farmer had left behind some leftover buckets of paint: beige and yellow. I painted the living room in a curious shade of sunshine. The front hallway, by contrast, had been painted (by Albert, a month earlier) entirely in black (walls, ceiling, and floor) and he'd trimmed it with a band of silver foil. It looked like the inside of a packet of cigarettes.

The days of that week were largely made up of writing; rehearsing, in the case of Victoria; and additionally in my case, an hour or two of painting. The evenings were given over to discussion and alcohol. Albert and Victoria were professional drinkers. I was (and still am) a mere amateur at that game. The paint fumes kept us out of the living room, and our nights were confined to the kitchen.

The kitchen was the heart of the house: a bare wood floor, off-white paint peeling off the ceiling, and a blue brick fireplace, which had been bricked up a decade earlier on account of the aged chimney being a fire risk. Irony in blue. Commanding the center of the room stood the kitchen table: a wide, worn, bare wooden artifact that had probably been in the farmhouse since it had been built (circa. 1920). It was the type of table on which you just knew a dead body had been laid out, many farmers' stubby fists had been slammed in anger, and more than one couple had made love. The kitchen was also William Makepeace Thackeray's bedroom.

Dinners were conducted like Pinter plays: non sequitur remarks and sullen pauses. Lots. Of. Pauses. With only the sound in-between of crickets in the twilight through the open window.

By the end of the first bottle, the three of us had largely returned to humanity and the conversation unfailingly moved onto the theatre. Ponderables, such as: What if Hamlet had been a decisive alpha-male? What if Martha and George had actually been happily married and really did have a son? What if Godot had turned up? And of course, memories of productions past (such as the murder mystery where the door jammed at the beginning of act two and the cast had to enter the cozy drawing room in London by coming out of the fireplace). I had my own share of those stories, having worked on and off in amateur and semi-professional theatre since I had been a kid (it was how I had come to know V and A).

On the third drunken night at the kitchen table, we got into a long discussion on narrative, and by about 3 a.m., we had drained six bottles of red and had distilled the discussion down to this: What is the most important thing in a story? Any story -- be it a play, a book, or a movie?

Moments of poetry was Victoria's response (an actor's perspective). And she backed up her claim with empirical evidence. An hour's worth of it.  

Structure was my answer. A couple of years earlier, I had embarked on a very long learning curve of story structure (I'm probably still on it) and structure at that time was foremost in my mind.

Get the hell out of my room was William Makepeace Thackeray's answer.

At around 4 a.m., Albert, who had been hitherto staring drunkenly at the bricks of the fireplace, slammed his fist down on the table. Having gotten our attention, he lit a cigarette (he already had one smoldering in the ashtray). In addition to playwright, Albert was a theatre director and, drunk or not, he knew exactly how to direct his audience.

"Characters," he said. "That's what's it all about. The characters are the only thing the audience or the reader cares about. It's the only thing they're interested in or that matters to them. They might recognize the odd passing moment of poetry, they might be peripherally aware if a plot has a solid structure, but what will stay in their minds long after the curtain closes, the end credits roll, or the book is closed, are the characters."

William Makepeace Thackeray mounted the table, strolled its length with bored indifference, examined a leftover slice of bread, and then dismounted.

Albert continued: "A story is viewed through the filter of its characters; it is only through them an audience experiences that story. It is a vicarious interaction."

I'm paraphrasing him from memory, of course, but the sentiments have long remained in my memory, to be revisited and re-examined at odd intervals. And honestly, it took me 20 years to fully appreciate what he meant. Movie director Fran├žois Truffaut once said (again a paraphrase, because I don't remember exactly where I read it): What is behind the camera is not important; it's what is in front that is.

I lost contact with Albert and Victoria over the years. Albert was probably the closest I ever got to having a mentor. His knowledge slid off in chunks, and I followed him around for a while picking it up. Friends are curious things. Some stick around, some vanish. You can never tell. A great friend this year a year from now could be a distant memory. It's the friends that leave their mark, that induce changes to your sails and alter the course of your life that you never forget. Sadly, sometimes, they're not even aware they've done it.

Somebody asked Jean-Luc Godard why a character in one of his movies suddenly walks off and never makes a return appearance. He answered: Because life is like that.

Be seeing you!