Friday, February 29, 2008

The Organic Source: A Story

The daughter thinks about art.

Memory 1: The mother worked in the garden. She hauled rock, mows the lawn, trims the tree, plants bushes. A well-dressed neighbor lady walked over to her. "I feel so lazy," she said to the mother. The mother shrugged. It's what she did. Perhaps it was less the ambition the neighbor lady perceived, as much as it was creating a living sculpture from plants, water, sun & shade.

How could the daughter not love gardening? Especially at the house in the country, where avocados grew next to orange trees, 8 vegetable beds grew with a wild profusion of green beans that were planted to form a teepee, heads of broccoli the size of a plate and an apple tree with a tree house.

Memory 2: The mother, who was well into her 50's, decided to take up the piano. Never mind that her daughters blasted through lessons for ten years. Forget that her youngest hated the lessons, only went because she was driven. The mother progressed from scales to chords and accomplished the playing of a song the youngest daughter can sing to this day, "Down in the valley, valley so low. Hang your head over, hear the wind blow...."

How could the daughter not love all sorts of music? Opera, jazz, big band, rock... you name it, she listened to it. Only stopping when the man she married laughed at it, proclaimed much of it intellectually inferior. Until one day, she pulled out all her albums and started playing them with impunity. From there, the rest got sorted out too.

Memory 3: The mother shaped lumps of clay into little people. She also made dishes, bowls, vases. They were funky little things, not elegant, but rustic and oftentimes rough. The little people characters amused only the mother and often the daughter would find them perched in pots outside, carefully arranged in two's or threes.

Much to the daughter's chagrin, she obtained her degree in fine arts. Her area of study --ceramics. However, at this point in time of her young life, the last thing she wanted to remember were the baby blue pudgy ball like characters living in her mother's pots back at home.

Memory 4: The mother dropped the daughter each week off at the library. A huge modern building filled with adventures beyond the farmlands bordering the town. The daughter would check out books --five or six at a time. She'd go home and lie under the dining room table to read.

The daughter became a reader.

Memory 5: The mother wrote letters.

The daughter had penpals at the age of 8. When she was 13, a pen pal's mother met her and said, "One day you'll be a writer." However, the daughter didn't know what it meant. She quickly forgot it.

Memory 6: The mother was a dressmaker. She taught her daughter to make her own clothes.

An imperfect seamstress, the daughter applied the lessons of construction, structure and form as she built her own life.

Memory 7. The mother dies.

The daughter becomes a writer. Many year later, someone asks, "When did you decide to be a writer?"
The daughter thinks back on her childhood. She realizes that her mother's creative projects were her way of reaffirming her own humanity. The daughter understands the importance of art, the relationship to all things --be it fashion, cooking, writing, gardening or raising one's children.
She offers this reply: "I never decided, it just seemed natural."
The daughter now has a daughter of her own. She looks at her and hopes that she does as good a job as her own mother did, bringing art into her life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Writer Impossible: Modulation and Tone

You, The Piano Man
For Glenn on his 120th Birthday

The flies of stress buzz around my head
as I cross out a transition in prose.
It should start on a low note,
trill higher, gain momentum,
and swoop to a singular, brilliant ping.

But alas, I am stuck --and I have flies.
You, the piano man have always had notes,
words, and music on the brain.
So I phone: 011 61 2 a line to Darlinghurst
where you live amid pianos, music and poetry.

You, the piano man, put down coil setters and gauges.
I only hear silence, and the
flies round my head are getting louder.
“Tempo change,” you finally say.
“That’s it?” I ask.

You, the piano man, catch my L.A. sigh.
A gasp that whisks across the ocean.
“Pace?” I ask.
“Mod-ul-ation,” you say. “Got it luv?”
“No sweat, pet. I've got it,” I say.

A key change --imagine biting a peach
and instead of it squirting, summer’s unleashed,
with John Phillip Sousa and gingham dresses.
Or a dog that plays a sad cello
'cause the cat's run off with the moon.

The flies of stress die away. I'm no longer stuck.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Writer Impossible: Dialogue

1. Johnson told her he was going to the store. He gathered his keys and turned to her as he pushed open the door.
"I'm going to the store," he said.
"Okay," she answered.
"I'll be right back."
"See you soon."

2. "The generator for the EV-365 is a double charged lithium hydrogexenator, that has duel focal points of charmeuse lasers that double as guiding beacons for the energy flow. This design is based on Sir John Litton's well known studies on outer space, and his hypothesis of the relationship between zero gravity and forward motion. Of course, his models failed, especially the ZWX-4, which lacked lithium hydrogexenators, because they just didn't have the technology back then. They also lacked charmeuse lasers," said James West, President of Production.
"So you're saying that it's the lithium hydrogexenator and the charmeuse lasers that are the key to success? What about his later models that worked without these things? The AWBB-48-00? Or the TRP-45-68759?"

We call the first treading water. That is, small exchanges where information that doesn't move the story forward but just fills space. The second is using dialogue as an SUV for information.

In both instances, the information may be imparted in a different way --compacted, parsed and exchanged for a stronger scene. Dialogue is difficult. First attempts will almost always be redundant. Often they will impart far more information than needed. And sometimes the reader is being told what he or she can already infer.

Dialogue in writing is much different that dialogue used in scripts. In movies, you can have exchanges like the one above because you have a supporting cast of environment, action, light, facial or body expression and even music. But in books, too many exchanges like this become nothing more than treading water or as in the latter, drowning the reader in too much information.

Dialogue must reveal character, use only the most essential words, convey emotion, provide information and move the story forward. It is the artful combination of the right words and phrases to create the illusion of talking.

In the book "What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers" by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, Kingsley Amis said this about dialogue:
"I always try over the phrases, fooling the reader into believing that this is how people actually talk. In fact, inevitably it's far more coherent than any actual talk ...but when in doubt I will repeat a phrase to myself seven or eight times, trying to put myself in the place of an actor speaking the part."