Monday, January 24, 2011

Baron Julian Fellowes? For shame, for shame!!

My dear Baron,

It is with the utmost dismay I write you this day. I was always amused by you -- after all, you have written exceedingly well when you've put your mind to it.
I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the rancor and jaundiced view of the relationships of your "upstairs downstairs" people in Gosford Park for Robert Altman.

Whereas Upstairs Downstairs for PBS wears a rosy glow and a rather benign face, your Gosford makes mincemeat of the former's staff and aristocracy. In your capable hands, the curtain of the genteel is stripped away to reveal tawdry behaviour below stairs and wicked fangs above stairs.

In truth, the reality of the Bellamys at Eaton Square flirts with a wonderful naïveté and tremendous heart even when it metes out harsh events and painful extremes. As such, it sits at the pinnacle of excellence for Masterpiece Theatre; its indelible characters, however altruistic at times, remain long after we've viewed Gosford Park, or The Young Victoria for that matter.

But, despite longevity problems, and apart from discussions of self-delusional egos, your work has always beckoned me with a sense of discovery. I do so like new takes on old ideas.

Tonight, however, I retract my high-minded view of your talent. Tonight, alas, you fell off that pedestal of writerly worthiness and had best consider a tour of your country estates and a quiet life of sheep herding and drinking port. For you are guilty, dear Baron, of literary theft and for this sin, there can be no forgiveness.

I have been following PBS' latest Masterpiece Classic, your creation, Downton Abbey. It's a respite to my day, a lovely touch of British soap, best taken with a sponge cake and plenty of treacle.
Granted it isn't stellar, but in the wasteland of television, it is, to be fair, a few grades above Hoarders, Jersey Shore and American Idol.

Unfortunately, tonight's episode dealt with Dowager Countess Violet Grantham's 'crise de coeur' when it was suggested to her that perhaps she ought to let a certain Mr. Molseley win top prize at the flower show for his beautiful roses. After all, dear do know that the judges are never impartial when it comes to awarding you that very same prize each and every season?

And so, in a lovely touch of plot padding, we, the audience, were treated to the softer side of the crusty old bag -- for, yes, in keeping with this week's theme -- change -- she finally did something brave and wonderful. She was handed the judge's decision on a piece of paper proclaiming her inevitable victory, whereupon she neatly ignored it and announced Mr. Moseley as the winner.

A big hooray from young viewers (whom I do not think watch PBS at all) and a royal raspberry from all of us who have not only seen Mrs. Miniver at least a dozen times, but well remember it.

In Mrs. Miniver, it is Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty) who is asked by Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) to set aside her selfish grasp on annual rose awards and let the best rose win -- that, being the beautiful hybrid, named after Mrs. Miniver, bred by one very humble stationmaster, Mr.Ballard -- with the same result. Crusty biddy shows softer side.

Baron Fellowes, I must send you a cleaning bill, for my Spode teacup and saucer fell to the Chinese rug and despite immediate ministrations, it remains stained. As does your good reputation.

I hate the presumption that I am brain dead. Did you honestly think you could get away with this?

I loathe the idea of plagiarism, and certainly what you did was as close to it as you'll ever get.

If it's come to the point when you are now casting about, despite any assistance from Shelagh Stephenson, for fresh ideas, you have only to call on me and I shall at least keep you on the straight and narrow.

Now do be a good chap and lose the haughty assumption that only a select few are as widely read, and widely in tune with retro cinema as you.
I say this because after much thought and head scratching, I cannot come up with any other reasonable explanation as to why you tried to get away with this.
Nor will I accept that you did so unaware, that you suffered brain fog, that the dog wrote it, or the cat.

In fact, the only thing I will accept is an apology.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

DRUG WITHDRAWAL -- When The Writing Stops

I've been away tending to sick eyes -- infections and cuts and all kinds of "gah!" conditions that forced me to wear a weak, old prescription pair of glasses.
Reading and writing scooted away -- indeed, light hitting my eyes was for a time, unbearable.

I am about to try my new contacts this weekend and see how it goes. In the meantime, I have been well aware of the sensation that leaves me drained, itchy, skittish, irritable and depressed -- writing withdrawal.

I have no idea how other people react to weeks without creating words, but I can tell you in my case, it's all tied to the condition of the psyche. For me, the three demons -- fear, dread, and anxiety --  find a good nesting place in the void, slowly and determinedly eating away at any resolve, direction, self-confidence I have. They bore holes into my creative thought processes.

Writing is a drug -- my drug of choice. And while writing may seem similar to bike riding, with the old adage about how you never really forget how to do it, I find it painful on the re-entry.

Things pop into my head like:

What was I thinking when I said I could write?
Will I ever find my way back to the land of Oz?
If I look at some of my manuscript lying fallow, will I read with horror and discover I never had any talent at all? 
I better not look at my work...

The more I think about these self-destructive thought processes, the worse it gets. I other writers feel this way? And, my hunch is yes...yes, they do.

The thing is this -- the entire act of writing is a very solitary affair involving a mind and a blank screen or sheet of paper. And the very act of putting words on that blank universe is a task undertaken by the writer willfully.
Now, what kind of crazy person would even put him or herself in such a position to begin with?

Well, that's just it -- you do have to be some kind of particularly crazy sort of person, if you want to write.
And, you have to understand at the get-go that other normals in the corporate, 9-5 world, may look squinty-eyed at you and pity you, and decide you are wholly delusional.

Writers really need to hang out in one way or another with other writers or artists because theirs is a world which lies at the polar opposite of the mainstream.

All art is based on acts of blind faith. And the funny thing is, without this kind of art invading the solidity of the workaday world, there would be nothing to entertain us, or stimulate us. There'd be no jokes, no drama, no splashes of colour and whimsy; certainly, there would be no fantasy worlds in which to escape. And no civilization has ever endured without all manner of flights of the fantastical -- be it architecture or the realms of the spiritual.

Knowing this, I, once again, wobbly as a a newborn, giddy as a schoolgirl with an age-old crush, take my seat in front of my personal dream spinner, hit my acceleration pedal and push off from the dingy curb.

When it comes to writing and to the sound of words, I am an addict and shall remain so to my last breath.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The New Year -- On a Note of Hope

Granted, the concept of a Waterford crystal ball dropping in Times Square is widely observed and thought to be the be-all and end-all to our state of mind, mood and year -- but, it's not everyone's cup of tea or even everyone's idea of  a new year.
For Jews, the year is 5771 and it was celebrated in September 2010; for the Chinese, this year is about the rabbit -- but not until February 3rd.

Now, the Year of the Rabbit sounds wonderful.

It's considered a lucky year -- rabbits are in favour of the arts and all things beautiful. They are non-confrontational, nest-building, endowed with quiet reassurance, calm and thoughtful nurturing. They are communicators, peaceable, teachers, negotiators. Rabbits like privacy. Rabbits take care of home and hearth, and care about women and children. Rabbits are, on the whole, approachable and friendly -- but, famously introverted.

(I'll bet you've already forgotten about Times Square and that ball.)

Regardless of how you woke up today, January 1, 2011, chances are the Gregorian calendar rules your technology, so in essence, we are all on a clean slate, a fresh abacus, a new page.

Happy New Year -- Now Go Be A Cwazy Wabbit!

  Carol's Annual Wisdom and Guidelines For Writers

1) You cannot keep saying you are a writer if you don't write.

2) Bad writing can improve. Good writing can get better. Best writing is a question of taste, but it will never sink to bad writing regardless of who passes judgment.

3) Successful writing doesn't always mean good writing.

4) Never write what you know. Always write what you need to know or want to know or suspect you know.

5) There are no tricky 'how-to' rules to writing. Not one. Except that you must hold an audience and write comprehensively.

6) Never confuse talking down to your readership (by spoon feeding them too much information) with assuming your readership knows the world you have created as intimately as you do. They don't. Let them in, little by little. Make 'em beg for more.

7) Read good writers. Avoid reading bad writers. Steal from good writers. Like, what? Like techniques, or structure, or their ability to paint in broad strokes with a wider vocabulary than you possess.
Absorb good writers' assuredness. They have every reason to write confidently because they write well. Make that your goal, too.

8) Obey the rules about crossing the street: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN.
Good writing comes from keen observers who question everything, wonder at what might have been or could be, and who pay strict attention to the tiniest details.
Then, they bring those details to their writing. 
Smells, tastes, sounds, colour.
 - Lazy writing equals blah: "He bought her flowers"
 - Lively writing equals interest: "He bought her purple wildflowers because she lived year round in jeans in the Village and he figured they'd look perfect on her windowsill."

9) Don't confuse inner editor with inner critic. The former is your best friend who helps you elevate first drafts to final drafts; the latter is your enemy. You must kill him or her.

10) BE FEARLESS. The "mouse that roared" is achieved because you take risks, you wade right in, you learn to ignore disapproving voices, you find strength in the impact of one well chosen word rather than five. You write from the heart not the head, and you write with honesty.

Happy New Year, yes. Happy Writing, even if it kills you, absolutely!