Saturday, February 25, 2012

Winter and The Oscars

Montreal has been lucky this winter - again. Very little snow, and very mild temperatures, relatively speaking. Wilderton Willie, who is the Canadian groundhog counterpart to the US' Punxsutawney Phil, said we'd all have an early spring. (Phil pooh-poohed the idea.) And, so, many Montrealers put their boots away, and began to dream about sipping Starbucks on a terrasse with plenty of UV protection.

Mother Nature had other ideas. As I write this, we are in the midst of a major snow storm, expecting well over a foot of the fluffy stuff and some gusty winds just to kick things up a notch. And when this little show of bravura is done, and we're still shovelling out, another storm looms on the Wednesday and Thursday horizon.

People, thus far, aren't complaining.

As for me, I turn into my mother at times like this. I go into bunker mode, lay in enough supplies for a nuclear winter, and plan to cozy up around the fireplace. You'd think I live in a remote part of town, but I'm downtown, steps away from whatever I need. Heh. What's bred in the bone, right?

So, this weekend is looking very good. Lots of warmth, plenty of good comfort food -- beef stew and dumplings, and, if my craving continues, a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies. All homemade, of course.

And what could be better than writing for a few hours in this quiet world? Nothing.

Except the Oscars on Sunday. 

I watched my very first Oscars the year Elizabeth Taylor won for Butterfield 8. Her tracheotomy scar was evident that night; she was breathless in her thank you, fragile looking, stunning, and still very much Mrs. Eddie Fisher, who escorted her to the stage. Shirley MacLaine, who lost, and who really should have won for her role as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment, went on to scoff decades later that she lost it to that damn tracheotomy. Which is probably true -- if you've ever seen Butterfield 8, you'd know that.
(See, Liz was very, very ill in London, with acute pneumonia, and doctors had to perform emergency surgery and cut into her windpipe to help her breathe. Liz was always battling one respiratory illness after another.)

I fell in love with the Oscars and never missed a show from that year on. Only once did I have to skip -- I was working the late shift at a television station in Toronto. It was a Monday night. The Oscars were always on Monday night, and in late March, early April. I can't tell you how upset missing the show made me feel. It was not right, not right at all.

Bob Hope was the emcee I grew up with, and then, Johnny Carson. In those days, when the studio system was still in place, stars really were stars with the kind of mystique they don't have today. One rarely saw them outside the movies; one had to buy movie magazines and read Hedda Hopper or Sheila Graham's newspaper columns, or Dorothy Kilgallen's.

I remember how serious they all were, way before streakers and hippies and politics invaded the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.

I remember how dashing Yul Brynner looked wearing tails. And, I remember an incident with Tony Curtis and his then-wife, Janet Leigh. She came out with an upswept hairdo that decided at the crucial moment it didn't want to behave. A few locks fell forward over her eyes, and her degree of mortification was matched only by the degree of perfection she thought she had to present in addition to saying, "And the winner is..."
Yes, at one time, before political correctness bit Oscar's backside, people said "and the winner is..." and now they have to say, and the "Oscar goes to..." or words to that effect. can win an Oscar, but no one can say you've won the Oscar while you're winning it. Jack Nicholson just might punch you out. If he isn't too high. Double heh.

This year, I am not particularly overwhelmed. I think The Artist is going to win for Best Picture. I still haven't seen it, but can't wait. It looks Oscar worthy.
So, I'll be enjoying the show if only to see Colin Firth again. And Billy Crystal.
I really hope Billy has a great time. 

It's glitz and glam night. It's all good.

A few years ago my niece went to the Oscars and then on to Spago's for the Governor's Ball hosted by Wolfgang Puck. By now, those edible, gold-dusted mini chocolate statuettes are world famous. Lovely niece that I have, she brought me back my very own. No, I didn't save it. I ate it.

End of story -- enjoy your Oscar weekend, rain, snow, sleet, hail, or sunny day!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing the Super Mario Way

Imagine a flat landscape of dull words -- words you wrote, words you hate, words that won't go away. You despise them. But, you need the message they convey so you don't delete them, you simply move on. Maybe the next batch will be better. You tell yourself you'll fix things... later, during edits....

I can't do that. 

I figure if I leave flat landscapes they'll eventually spread like dull beige paint covering the world, blotting it out, Sherwin-Williams style. I'll drown in dull. I'll panic at the sheer volume of flatness and stick a knitting needle through my eye. No, I can't leave 'em and move on.
Or, to quote Jack Nicholson, I'll despair: "what if this is as good as it gets?"
Forget one needle -- make it two, and I'll go whole hog right into an Oedipal bloodbath. People will find me and my gouged eyes on the floor, a perfect stand-in, or lie-in, for Suzanne Pleshette's pecked-to-death body draped on her front porch in the movie The Birds. What to do, what to do....

A couple of weeks ago, I tried something new and discovered the Super Mario method of writing. This method goes farther than simply toying with dull words and changing them. Or re-arranging them.
The Super Mario method requires quite a bit of strenuous exercise. The reward, however, could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection, fair writing and excellence. A better story arc, plot, characterization. Super Mario means if you throw caution to the wind, you'll discover gold coins. They're there, but you have to know how to find them, because they're hidden, just like in the old classic Nintendo game.

How to Play Super Mario Writing

1) First, you have to determine if your writing is actually flat and dull, or if it's just you having a bad hair day. You have to decide if the writing is bad, or if your inner critic is being overly harsh.

To determine this, you need to apply the Samuel Goldwyn principle. Goldwyn, one of Hollywood's most beloved moguls, is credited with saying (first) that he could judge a film's worth in the preview screening by the behaviour of his ass. If he never heard boo from his ass, if he sat mesmerized throughout the film, he knew, all taste aside, that he had a winner on his hands. But, if he found himself squirming in his seat, he knew at once that there was a problem with the film, and audiences wouldn't sit still -- literally --  for any of it, no matter the content's inherent worth.

So, read your work out loud. Read your work from the point of view of a total stranger, and see how squirmy, or bored you are. If you find yourself face down on your keyboard, you'll know the landscape is flat.

2) Now, push away all the work before and after this stretch of dull landscape so that all you see is white space on your screen and the errant writing.
Take each sentence, one by one and examine the creative spark in the verbs, the structure, the punctuation, the vocabulary. Now string the sentences back together and see how the meter is way off, or non-existent. Finally, ask yourself why you need these facts, this paragraph.
Now, ask yourself where the better stuff is hiding and start pounding -- seriously-- pounding on the words. Pound, pound, pound, pound!!!!!

As in:
Flounce, flounce, flounce...should it be bounce? Should it be trounce? Trounce is stupid. Should it be flirty, should it be dirty, should it be there at all? Why flounce, why is Molly wearing a flouncing skirt? Why is she wearing any skirt at all? Who made her decide to wear that skirt? Oh...she has a sister? Who knew? So, just who is this sister? Mabel? Well, hell's bells, Mabel is a person in this paragraph? Why Mabel? A sister named Mabel? How about a sister named Betty Grable? Hmm. Maybe, Mabel wishes she looked like Betty Grable, and so she keeps foisting flouncy skirts on Molly because Molly is really a whole lot more attractive than Mabel. Ahh...something new going on here. So, Molly is wearing a skirt with flounces because her sister Mabel, who's dead now (I can't actually use Mabel in my story...or should I...??) is still influencing her. Hmm, is this what I needed to know about why this landscape is so dull? Molly has to choose what to wear to an important cocktail party; it really matters. Now, instead of having her decide on the red dress with the flounces, I can enrich her actions, deepen her motivation and her characterization by way of mentioning Mabel.  Oh, the possibilities here are really endless, and interesting. Maybe I should play with this some more....

A new world opens up in the dull writing. Suddenly, it's raining gold coins. That's because you took the time and trouble to jump, jump, jump, up to the clouds above, and just like Mario, your head bumped a hidden spot and gold coins rained down, and heightened your accumulated points. Yay.

You may have stumbled on a new character, a new name, a novel way for your existing main character to think of herself -- endless nuggets, endless inspiration, and all because you didn't just punch up a passive construction to an active one, dust your mind off and congratulate yourself on the "quick fix," you literally pounded on the flat work and forced new realms to open up for you.

I have always enjoyed playing Super Mario. But never more than right now.
Give it a try.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Martyr

When you left, showers arrived in a hot mist
Which bound my grief in threads of silk.
The wind buffeted me, I was too dizzy to stand.
My cocoon, sticky and new, clung blindly to a branch
Until a harsher rain washed me clean away.

All that remains are my shoes running after you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Roach Art - Take Two

 I realized that after agonizing about my novel's roach art and how to present it properly, I never came back here to post the first draft result.

So, here it is. (And before I friend, Jack, sent me someone's blog or web page that contains a photo or two of beetle "art" -- someone in Europe, I think, attempted a small dress-up party for beetles. I liked the imaginative thinking; however, the end result, artistically speaking, was more "done on a whim" than the kind of polished art my fictional character, Graham, produces.)

Pebblestone's Dilemma
           Isobel smiled to herself, slipped into her office and shut the door. It was a large white square room with two windows facing an alley, jam-packed with open boxes on shelves and radiator covers containing items to be repaired, appraised or tagged. Rare costume jewelry with real coral and ivory mingled freely with estate pieces; a broken Pre-Columbian figure crouched on a tray, his arm in a Ziploc bag at his feet.
          Lydia thought the place resembled a black-market warehouse rife with serious loot, a World War II army PX loaded with Hershey bars and nylon stockings.
          Isobel saw it differently. It was a depot of dream remnants, romantic and sad;  a repository of fleeting time capsules, lost fortunes, or found treasures needing love and attention, like London’s Paddington Station, temporary home to a small brown bear from “darkest Peru,” who had a note pinned to the wooden toggle on his coat: ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’
          In short, Isobel, who spent hours reviewing her acquisitions, regarded this enclave as a museum quality lost-and-found department, and she believed, as her mother had, that objects, like people, needed homes, love, and an appreciation of their history. They represented the continuity of civilization, glorious or ignominious as the case might be.

          But this high-minded flight of fancy sailed right through the wrought-iron bars on the windows when the box of roach art caught her attention.
          Anxiety flickered. Just how well did she know Graham? What if this box was like the gory one in the movie Se7en? Or, what if it contained a thousand mammoth roaches, stinking to high heaven, broken and squashed from excessive banging by FedEx…? Oh, for Pete’s sake!
          She reached for an X-acto knife and neatly broke the seal. Her fingers scrabbled through Styrofoam peanuts and hit thick layers of bubble wrap protecting what looked like mahogany display cases which were about sixteen inches wide with brass-hinged glass tops. Odd, but there was one sealed bell jar, as well. She worried the cases might prove to be more valuable than their contents.
          Carefully, she removed them one by one and placed them on the floor. Then she sat down, braced herself,  and tore away the wrappings.
          “Good God!” was all she managed to get out before laughter erupted.
          Graham was brilliant.
          He had constructed dioramas to showcase his various scenes using the giant Australian burrowing roach – macropanesthia rhinoceros – as the torso for each of his well-known characters. The roaches stood three inches high, wingless, smoothly lacquered and striped thinly in gold so that they resembled tigers eye cabochons or humbug candies. Using an infinite variety of materials in tiny flecks and bits of string, paper, wool and other fabrics, he had painstakingly fashioned each mounted head and costume detail right down to the trademark red lacquered heels of the Christian Louboutin shoes on Bernadette Peters’ feet in a scene called “Roach Clips.”
          Peters was seated on a bench in Central Park alongside fight promoter Don King, Andy Warhol, singer Tiny Tim, and Donald Trump. A blue troll doll sat on a nearby path. Everyone’s hair streamed on an angle, caught in an imaginary wind.
          So much to absorb and admire, she took her time.

          Later, Lydia knocked. “Izz?”
          “Don’t bug me, I’m in roach heaven.”
          “Arr-arr-arr. I brought lunch. Sandwiches. May I come in?”
          “At your own risk.”
          “Well, what are you looking at?”
          “ Right now? ‘Hal Roach Presents Our Gang.’ ”
          “This I gotta see.”
          Lydia entered gingerly, stepped over the wrappings scattered willy-nilly, and came to squat next to a few of the cases. She was tall and skinny, and her legs folded like a grasshopper’s into sharp right angles. “Oh-my-god!” She chirped. “Sooo cute! Did you see Porky’s hat, and the striped sweater on – is it Farina?—Holy crap, the roaches are big. Ha! He really nailed Alfalfa – your friend is amazing…what’s in the bell jar?”
          “A three dimensional view of ‘The Roachy Stones.’ He also sent ‘The Bug Sleep’ with Buggy and Bugall, and ‘Dracula starring Bella Bugosi’ –I’m putting that one in the permanent exhibit. If these do well, there’s a lot more to order, and they’re originals which is really cool.”
          Lydia was studying the purple moirĂ© brushwork of the Dracula backdrop. “You know, this guy is one seriously weird, super-talented dude. Tell him I’m in love and want to have his zombie child.”
          “You tell him. Graham Gould – it’s in the Rolodex. Call him in a few hours and let him know everything arrived safe and sound. Tell him I’ll be in touch over the weekend.”

Copyright 2012 Carol Krenz All rights reserved