Creating Character: Abstract to Concrete

A primary antagonist in Anori is a know-it-all biologist who looks down on our leading woman, Dee, and yet is obsessed with fucking her. He was named Wolfgang in an early draft (drawing from a deep-seeded Nazi-derived prejudice) and was skeletal in design. Dee despised him from the outset, as was supposed to the reader, but it didn’t work because he was obtuse and one-dimensional.

Dee’s anger with Wolfgang was repetitive; the scenes were flat and dull. This monster wasn’t believable enough for the reader to react to his stark end. I needed someone more insipidly heinous, someone who seemed harmless but was dark matter through and through, someone like Tony*. (*Not his real name. Real name rhymes with tennis and begins with a D.)

I worked with Tony some years ago. He seemed harmless at first, self-deprecating, almost funny with his faux English accent. He looked like Ichabod Crane – bony face, odd features, fleck gathered at the corners of his mouth; if you didn’t enjoy his company, you at least felt sorry for him.

The Ichabod Crane I knew did not let them get away.

It took time to realize that he was a predator, that he lured isolated girls with his sad pseudo-Mensa charm, and then fastened himself on and dragged them in. No joke, he was a pedophile, through and through, and belonged in jail. The thing was how he disguised it, convinced others of the impossibility of such a thing.

That’s what I needed in this antagonist. And so that is who he became…with a fate the reader had better find fitting.

Character Development: Keeping It Real

I blogged three days ago on the importance of a character being nebulous. I then watched Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Handheld screenshot from I’m Thinking of Ending Things

While I’m fan of Kaufman’s work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Anomalisa, et al) and admire a writer’s attempt to pry open the meaning of self, this film makes nebulous look adamantine. Characters swimming in vagaries of subconscious angst. All that. And…no.

A story can’t be all dreams and poetry and philosophy because there’s no place for the reader to hang their hat. Definable characters are needed. Without them, we’re nothing.

Pissed Off at Julie the Blogger

I watched Julie & Julia last night – the film portrayal of the sassy New York gal who blogs on cooking Julia’s Child’s recipes – which made me depressed and irritated.

The premise of the blog is trite and gimmicky, and became so monstrously successful that it attracted hundreds of thousands of followers (NYT included), led to a book deal and then a the film which grossed $140 million. And that does irritate the hell out of me.

Lemur eating at The Bronx Zoo

I’ve blogged for eight years now (1,390 posts to date) and have achieved neither traction (120 views per day) nor phone calls from any media outlet.

It is true that I can meander and have only recently found my Julia (the writing process), but I have always been true and raw and given everything I can think of, including first-person accounts of Hurricane Sandy, the Covid Pandemic and my sad lost childhood.

Steve and Gary drinking stubbies at Ahmic Lake

It’s not that I want attention (not like Amy Adams anyway), but more that I thought there would be something more at this point, something that might give all of these posts some meaning beyond filling the void.

Developing Character: Writing Process

Writing builds character. Or is it the other way around? The sad thing is that too many characters are caricatures that fulfil an odd addiction of an audience to do as predicted, to make everyone satisfied in knowing what is done next.

Author’s father burning brush on Ahmic Lake

The core of real character is outside the details and patterns we project. Characters are inconsistent. They must be. They must be what is not expected. (And then not.) That is how we behave, what we need to understand our traumatized self.

Author with construction hat and gas tank at Ahmic Lake

As predictable as we might think people are, we aren’t. And if we are, that is death. A character needs to be nebulous. It is in that that a story spirals light.

Looking Back: Time for Change

On this day of change, I look back to my post from four years back when things were desperate (more desperate than now, truth be told) and hope was distant. It was the day of the Women’s March, January 22, 2017. It was a great day.

Today is even better. Let’s see what’s next.

Writing Hideout: Writing as a Mask

I hide in my writing. It is clear in my¬†notes for The Young Chronicles series. I didn’t write about things that happened – seeing Beatlemania in Saskatoon, not even the guy who offered me a blow job – but instead about drivel that would embarrass¬†an illiterate.

Reading through my notes from my Canadian Hitchhiking trip in 1983 is squirm-worthy.

Much of my writing is like that – everything from my bullshit poetry to my first attempt at prose – a lowlight reel proving I should have stopped long, long ago.

A thankfully brief extract from a story I wrote in 1984, Ulvand’s World. Even the titles…God.

I went on to write about prostitutes, 9/11 and outer space, everything but me.

Detail of a cover design from a story written in 1994

So why blog about it now, you ask? I’m getting to that. (I hope.)

Pretend I’m a Writer: Writing Process

Martin Scorsese’s Pretend It’s a City features Fran Lebowitz declaiming on her writerly life, stating that no writer enjoys writing. Which makes me think that I am no writer because I do, enjoy writing that is. And then there is Raymond Carver, who exposed the secrets of his life with honesty and makes me realize that I’ve never come close to that.

Title page for second part of The Buzz Trilogy

My modus operandi has been the sensational subjects – prostitutes, 9/11 and outer space – which I’ve consumed through the media. I feel unglued and half done. I want to think again and write something that people will read and think, “What a guy!” Yes, I need to get a grip

Young Chronicles XVIII: Saskatoon to Whitehorse, Yukon

July 20, 1983 Mileage 365 miles

The Young Chronicles details my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the journey east and much of the journey west, I head north to the Yukon.

Ride One: Saskatoon to North Battleford. Souped-up racing car. Native guy who used to be a drug dealer. Offered to put me up in North Battleford. “Fucking this and fucking that.”

Ride Two: North Battleford to Peynton. Camper. Older native guy with weathered skin. Lived on a reserve. Very friendly. Two boys work in hospital.

Open road of Saskatchewan to Alberta

Ride Three: Peynton to Lloydsminster, Alberta. Air-conditioned Oldsmobile. Stuck -up singer with goatee. Prejudiced against Native Americans. Said that they put holes in the side of their houses so that the horses and cows could drink from bathtub. Jerk.

Ride Four: Lloydsminster to Vermillion. Blue Phoenix. Mild-mannered older guy. Worked at Lakeland College, only provincial college in Canada.

Ride Five: Vermillion to Edmonton. AMC Meteor station wagon. Sausage buyer. Had a water tower for sale. Son has pessimistic dreams of being stuck working at McDonald’s.

Stayed with Lori McClennan, a crush from the year before. We went to the Edmonton Fort with her younger brother. Nothing else happened.

Looking north on the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton

July 19-20 Mileage 1237

Greyhound Bus: $99 one way. I was scared of the immense wilderness, especially being left on the side of the road for hours and getting mauled by a bear. Laziness had a lot to do with it as well. The rain clouds have given out, letting loose a mild lightning storm in Grand Prairie.

Time flies when you’re lost in a sleepy darkness, so I smoke my way to sleep.

July 20-23 Whitehorse, Yukon. Stayed in hostel. Amazed by the late evening light, past 11pm. Forgotten old woman sleeping at railway station.

Hiked up Gray Mountain, scared again of the bears. Graffiti at top of the mountain dates bake to 1957. Moth at peak – why?

2020: Always Remember The Bad

2020 was a distinctly bad year and is burned into my memory. It wasn’t just the pandemic, although that sure had a motherfucking big role. Not will I soon forget the dark days of New York’s Covid Spring, the eerie silence punctuated by the banging of pots and pans at dusk.

Soldiers returning to Javits Center transformed to a medical center for Covid patients.

2020 was a lot of other bad things too.

I was attacked on a Zoom call in front of the entire faculty by an angry woman who claimed that I discriminated against black students. It didn’t matter that none of it was true nor that she knew none of the students nor even that many, including my black colleagues, called immediately afterwards to express their outrage. It was ugly and awful, and I had just been laid off. I was never given the chance to respond nor ever received an apology.

I received a call from my mother’s caretaker with the news of my mother’s death. It wasn’t sudden – it was more of a relief – but the image of the fire escape stairs and the multitude of drinks along with repeated viewing of the climax of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (my mother’s favorite opera) are indelible memories. As was the Zoom funeral that followed.

Ragnar Kjartansson’s Bliss played the climax of La Nozze Di Figaro on a loop for 12 straight hours.

I had both of my knees replaced and was stuck in a hospital room with no air conditioning, the bedsheet sticking to my back. They didn’t do anything about it until a day later when they noticed that my temperature was high, and I explained the connection.

Brooklyn Hospital Center halls

I lost ten pounds in eight days. Hospital food always lives down to its name. That would have been a good thing to remember except that I gained it all back and then some.