Saturday, December 4, 2010

Exotic Port Cities Rising from the Ashes-Buried Truths, St. Luke's, and a new dawn

I readily admit that I am an unabashed Beatles fan. As a wee child, I thought they were the hottest blokes to walk. As a New Orleans native, I also am a fan of exotic port cities that have lost their former glory and now exist in a surreal zone where a poignant history, gorgeous architecture, and proud culture intermingle. In recent years, my own life has followed this pattern of loss and renewal. In August, 2005, I was teaching in a school I loved surrounded by people I respected and who respected me. I was on a fast track to promotion when Katrina ended my complacent existence. My school was closed, and I found another teaching job that is less than fulfilling. Two years ago, I suffered another great loss when my mother died. I find solace in writing, but a part of me was still lost. My life was in flux, and in danger of losing myself, I decided to take a journey. Being a Beatles fan and a lover of port cities, I made my way to Liverpool.

I first made my way to Liverpool in December of 2009, but the journey was marred by terrible weather and a too-short visit. This year, I sojourned to Liverpool in November. The weather was beautiful and the people as friendly as I'd remembered. On my previous visit, I'd taken a cursory tour of all Beatles haunts and of the city itself. This time, I would explore the town more fully and find many similarities between my hometown and Liverpool.

The National Trust tour of John Lennon's home and Paul McCartney's home was like time traveling into a forgotten Britain and in many ways the America my parents remembered. My parents were like many of their British counterparts. They didn't come from wealthy families. Like Paul McCartney, they grew up with a coal fire in the grate. The rooms in Sir Paul's boyhood council house were small and sparse. My parents also grew up in Depression era New Orleans at a time when money was scarce and even basic goods were hard to find. Sir Paul still calls himself the "scruff from Speke." My dad was a scruff from Mid City in New Orleans, and while he may not have made it as big as Sir Paul, my dad rose from very humble roots to have a lot more than he once did. When Paul McCartney received his knighthood, he thanked the people of his native city for making him what he was. My parents also were products of a working class city that instilled them with values and work ethic. (Yes, I know that people think we all walk around with Mardi Gras cups filled with whiskey most days, but the working stiffs in this city go to a job every day and make precious little. Another thing we have in common with Liddypool). Streets comprised of cobbled stones reminded me of the French Quarter in all its history and decadence.

I think what most struck me about Liverpool is that it could resurrect itself from the ashes. As a port city, Liverpool suffered untold damage during WWII. German bombs devastated its port and dock. I was reminded of the war at every turn, and perhaps the most poignant reminder was St. Luke's Church. To most Liverpudlians, the building is simply called "the bombed out church." St Luke's was once a working parish before the war, but bombs took its roof. Now, the structure stands as a testament to what war can do to a city. From a distance, the church appears to be totally intact, but a look inside reveals that flora and fauna have overtaken the sanctuary. Though no longer a church, the building stands as a testament to nature's ability to resurrect what was dormant and defeated. A building once buried in rubble now symbolizes the resurrection and rebirth of nature's wildness.

In New Orleans, we, too, have memorials to Katrina and rebuilt homes. We will always remember those lost to us, but we also have risen from the devastation of disaster. Most people have rebuilt or elected to move on. Many were reborn and renewed in the wake of devastating loss. When I wrote Buried Truths, I wanted to show that people could rebuild their lives in the wake of personal loss. Heather and Wesley's journey to find themselves and each other began in their youth, but they suffer many setbacks and must make many detours before they really find the path to fulfillment. They lost each other as teenagers only to find each other as adults. They, like their city, rose from the ashes. I also think that I, like my city, am rising from the ashes.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My mother's last days

I was not used to my mother being sick.  No matter how old you are, your mother's the one in charge, the one who takes care of everything.  My mother lay in a damned  hospital bed looking small and helpless, relying on me--and I felt damned insignificant and incompetent.  My mother wasn't used to dependency, and I wasn't used to seeing her dependent.  

Truth is, I loved no one in the world like I did her.  It's a cliche to say your mother's your best friend, but mine really was.  Since my father died, it had just been Mama and I.  She always made me feel safe, even as an adult.  When my mother was ill, I had to be the strong one, and I felt woefully inadequate.  I've never inspired confidence like she did.  When she told me I could learn those lines for that damned kindergarten play, I did learn them--and knew every line in the whole production.  When school was lousy(which it often was), I'd sit on the sofa with Mama while she read to me.  Daddy would start the fireplace(yes, in southeast Louisiana), and sit near us in  huge easy chair.  Mama would hold me tight as she read  novel or a tale by the Brothers Grimm.  I'll always love Little Women because I can't even hear the title without thinking of her.  On rainy days, we played a game called "Steps."  The rules are only vague in my memory, but the game consisted of guessing the right letters and filling them in a puzzle.  The game always managed to cheer me up, and when I was a kid, I always needed cheering up.  

Mama always was there.  I couldn't have earned three degrees without her confidence in me.  She told me that the only person who lacked faith in me was myself.  Mama gave me faith and love.  She also willingly sacrificed for me.  She took a thankless job so that she could be home with Grandma and me at night.  She was wasted in that job, but she persevered--coming home bone tired and hurt.  She initially had to endure undue rudeness from her male co-workers.  Though they eventually came to respect her, these men actively made her life miserable during the first year of her time there.  My mother worked hard so that she wouldn't have to use the little money my father had left for my future.  

The woman who once looked out for my well-being lay helpless in a hospital bed.  With the help of physical therapists and nurses, I almost carried her to a bedside commode, but the heroic effort was too late.  Her backside was full of her own dirt, and sadly, she hadn't even felt the evacuation of her bowels.  My mother became the child.  I, her daughter, became the mother.  I wiped her rear and threw the soiled wipes into the trash.  I bathed her, gently passing a cloth under her breath and over her buttocks.  

Doctors made objective projections about her possible recovery, but their hearts didn't lurch for her as mine did.  The clinical observations did nothing to assuage the sickening fear I felt as she suffered  loss of dignity and purpose.  One night, she told me that she would rather die than live as she was.  She felt glued t her bed, a prisoner in her own body.  

Mama eventually lost her fight with old age and illness.  Hospice workers came to the house to help me and her sitters with her care.  Most days, she lay in a hospital bed that occupied half of the living room.  She slept for hours.  Only strong medicine controlled her pain.  She would call out for the Virgin Mary.  She cried for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to help her.  The Sunday before she died, Mama told me I had to let her go.  It was the anniversary of my father's death, and I couldn't say those words.  

During the coming work, my mother lived in a hazy, surreal world.  Drugs kept the pain at bay, and she still managed to smile at me.  She drank water and broth from a straw, and I didn't leave  her as she existed in that limbo.  Relatives visited, but no one really said  why they were there-- to say goodbye.  The sitters and the visitors joined me in the sad vigil.  I took care of my mother.  Everyone else tried to take care of me.  Barbara and Valerie, her wonderful sitters, brought me coffee and coaxed me to eat.  My fabulous relatives brought me food I barely ate and couldn't taste.  They were trying to take care of the living while waiting for a death.  

Mama died on Good Friday, 2008.  My aunt and my cousin Trudy were there.  I'll never forget her labored breathing.  Each breath sent a needle into my chest.  I stroked her hair and held her hand.  I whispered to her.  My cousin, a nurse, monitored her pulse.  Eventually, we could no longer hear her breathing.  A hospice nurse arrived, pronouncing her dead.  More relatives arrived.  Two people came from the morgue to take her away.  They gave me a rose.  I didn't see them take her body.  The nurse tactfully asked if I'd witness her dispose of my mother's meds.  I watched through tears as she flushed them down the john.  

I eulogized my mother at her funeral.  I followed my cousin Charlotte.  She was a hard act to follow. During the funeral, I was in a grief-induced fog, but I cried endlessly in the coming months.  Two years later, I sometimes still do.  Since I was twelve, I've only communicated with my father by putting a bouquet on his grave.  It was my way of saying I still thought of him and that I missed him.  Now, I visit the same grave and place bouquets in two vases.  I wish that I'd had them longer.  

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When the Words Stopped

When I think of men like Calvin Borel and Kent Desormeaux, I think of my father and all  those people who have found salvation, even redemption, through horse racing.  Training and guiding those magnificent beasts to the finish line is an exhilarating, totally absorbing experience.  Sam, my father, was a horse trainer.  . . .

When I was eight-years-years old, my father stopped speaking.  He had a heart attack and massive stroke while racing horses in Chicago.  When he returned home, his emaciated physique, confused stare, and inarticulate mutterings baffled and embarrassed me.  My father aged fifty years in a few short weeks.  I dreaded the ridiculing comments of the rich, snobby brats infesting the bowels of the suburban school I attended.  

My father, Sam, was undoubtedly more angry and humiliated than I, his only daughter, could ever have been.  Sam was a healthy man, and  no one expected the heart attack and stroke that felled him while he was racing horses in Chicago in 1971.  He returned to us a changed man.  He could no longer say my mother's name or mine.  He couldn't articulate even the simplest ideas, and the frustration level at home was high.  Once, consumed with anger, he bellowed, "I ca--an--'t say what I wa--nt to--"

Sam had been a man's man.  He'd done everything in his life and lived to tell about it.  When the Depression robbed people of their lives and homes, he sold liquor and kept his family alive during the lean years when no one had a dime.  His second son died in infancy.  His first wife succumbed to tuberculosis during those hungry years.  She died a painful, lingering death.  Sam and Emile, the man who would be his business partner for life, made the hooch and sold it.  Sam and Emile's teenaged sons helped pack the stuff.  

Leah, his mother, crossed herself and said, "Your father would roll over in his grave if he knew you were doing anything illegal."  

My father responded, "He'd roll over in his grave if he knew we were starving, too."  

Leah shook her head in horror but cooked the food the liquor bought without further comment.  Sam and Emile were sometimes arrested, but they never spent a night in jail.  Most of the New Orleans Police Department were customers.  

When Prohibition ended, Sam and Emile opened a bar on Canal and Broad.  They worked in it day and night, providing lunches for downtown businessmen during the day and drinks for many of the same men after work.  Politicians and cops frequented their establishment.  On the side, Sam and Emile trained and owned prize fighters.  Images of my father standing beside many of the Italian-American boxers grace the walls of the Italian-American Cultural Society.  One of their fighters went on to win the Feather Weight Champion of the World.  

Sam eventually developed a hobby of his own--horse racing, and a business that paid well for some time, booking. He was a natural at both.  Sam acquired three more wives after the death of his first wife.  My mother was his fourth wife.  At thirty-eight, she was one year younger than his surviving son.  My cousins remember my mother telling them, "Never answer the phone! Never!" When he became a father again at fifty-seven, Sam told my mother, "I'm shutting this operation down.  We have a little girl now.  I don't want her disgraced if the place is raided."  He sold his elaborate phone system and concentrated full-time on raising and racing thoroughbreds.  

The horses respected him and heeded his commands.  Other men willingly rode his horses and accepted his direction. In a time of rampant racism and discrimination, Sam didn't care if a jockey was black or white, country or city.  The animals that bucked, reared, and kicked others walked passively beside my father as he led them with the flimsiest of halters.   I walked by his side, feeding the horses carrots and sugar as he stroked their mane and brushed their coats.  My father lived for the sound of the starting gate opening and for the smell of fresh hay in a stable.  

When he first became ill, the doctors were uncertain if he would even be able to walk.  He did.  My father was the most stubborn man in the world.  Determined to race again, he reapplied for his trainer's license and passed muster.  His clients stayed with him.  Jockeys were still willing to ride his horses.  My father was not given to whining or quitting. 

Men like my father, Borel, and Desormeaux find beauty in horses and in racing.  The sport offers them the opportunity to greatness.  . .  .

On the morning he died, I saw the light shining in the bathroom. Sam, as usual, was awake at dawn so he could go to the track.   I was tired and turned over, shielding my eyes from the crack of light coming from the bathroom.  We were having our last cold spell in March, and the bed felt snug.  Only a few hours later, my half-brother pounded on the door, screaming that Sam was dead.  At the time, I only felt hollow.  I remember a fern blowing in the dying March wind.  I've hated fern to this day.  

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Lat night, I saw the movie THE RUNAWAYS and was brought back to the era of platform shoes, dial phones, and heavy metal rock.  My youth, in other words.  I sat around people my age an others who were young enough to be my kids.  We older folks were looking for a dose of nostalgia.  The younger people were drawn to the remarkable stage presence of Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.  

The movie left me speechless (well, at least contemplative) for a number of reasons.  I was definitely impressed by the acting chops displayed by the young leads.  I had never seen Kristen Stewart, but this young woman embodied what I remembered of Joan Jett.  She was tough yet vulnerable and never gave in.  I enjoyed her reaction to her instructor's proclamation that  "girls don't play electric guitars."  Joan plugs in anyway.  I was not a major fan of the Runaways' music, but I admired their panache and toughness.  Dakota Fanning, whose work I did know, has grown up.  She was Cherrie Currie, the Bardotesque child sex kitten caught in a web of fame she can't escape.  Fanning made me think of the youthful Drew Barrymore, and I've loved Drew ever since she and ET screamed in unison.  Drew, of course, is the descendent of a great acting family, but Ms. Fanning was impressive.  The supporting actors also are solid.  Riley Keogh, the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, was excellent as Cherrie's older sister.  The King lives on!

What also struck me is the way young people are manipulated by the entertainment industry, particularly young women.  The Kim Fowley character uses the girls to his advantage, manipulating them and then deserting them as his own needs dictate.  I was reminded of all those young people, male and female, who sign contracts and are metaphorically raped.  For example, two young men named Lennon and McCartney never owned the bulk of their own songs. In this movie, the young girls burned out because no one had their interests at heart.  Fowley was a Svengali and a Rasputin, using the girls to make himself a legend.  The young performers suffered.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Writing Blog

I am a writer.  At one time, those words would have died on my lips, but the publication of BURIED TRUTHS gave me hope that my hobby or avocation could one day become my vocation.  Currently, I am revising a mystery and writing a synopsis.  At least two new plot lines are pounding away in my head.  Not enough hours in the day exist for me to complete every project I hope to create.  

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a writer.  Writing has saved me in my darkest hour.  After my father's death, I wrote to escape those bleak days.  When my mother died only two years ago, the only thing that kept me alive was my writing.  I wrote a journal and tried not to wallow in my paralyzing grief.  Eventually, the journal became an avenue for my creativity.  I wrote my mother about my ideas. Those ideas developed into full-blown stories.  

Summer is coming, and I will have a respite from my day job.  I vow to create a schedule and to adhere to it.  I will finish the projects floating around inside my skull.  Poor John Keats died before he could write every poem in his head.  I swear that won't happen to me.  The goal is to work this summer.  Really work.  

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wanderlust and Liverpool

I didn't know how this blog post would evolve, but it's turning into a valentine for the city of Liverpool.  This Christmas, I traveled to England.  While there, I walked through the snow, danced at the Cavern, and journeyed between London and Liverpool by train.  Since my mother's death, I've felt sad at the holidays, and traveling during the holidays distracted me.  

I've always loved London, but I'd been there twice already.  Liverpool was wonderful, and I truly loved that old port city.  Amazingly gracious people.  As a Beatles fan, I reveled in total Beatles immersion, but I loved the whole atmosphere.  Even though the Christmas season was in full swing, residents were gracious when a lost tourist asked for directions.  The city is gritty, working class, and friendly.  I felt at home, reminded of New Orleans.  One gentleman even discussed American football, telling me he liked the Green Bay Packers.  I didn't know American sports had any following over there, but we talked at length about the Saints.  

Though smaller than London, Liverpool doesn't lack in history or culture.  The Walker Gallery offers an impressive display of art from the medieval era to the present, and the Tate Liverpool provides an amazing collection of modern art.  Merseyside Maritime offers a compelling history of the port, and the International Slave Museum stands as a testament to humanity's capacity for cruelty as well as its ability to triumph over adversity.  The Liverpool Playhouse, the Royal Court, and LIPA(to name a few) provide compelling entertainment.  

Of course, no one can travel to Liverpool without visiting the many places made famous by the Beatles and their music.  Various tours take you to the homes of the Beatles and the sites made famous through their music.  The Beatles Story Museum holds Beatle memorabilia and provides a wonderful perspective of the Fab Four's rise to fame.  Throughout this year, White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon, Julian Lennon's tribute to his father, offers a touching view on the life of the late John Lennon.  

I'd also love to see Italy, Germany, Scotland, and Wales.  I've seen Ireland(which is beautiful) and London.  Liverpool, however, had me enthralled.  One day, I'll go back.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teaching and storytelling

I am a teacher by day. I rise at the 'butt crack" of dawn, imbibe a decaffeinated beverage, and head to school.  Often, I've wondered if I made a difference in the lives of my students.  Thousands of students have crossed my path.  Many of them have maintained contact with me, but some have drifted away.  Sometimes, these former students and I run into each other at the many festivals we hold in Louisiana.  Several have visited me since I moved to another school.  Many always sought my advice on college essays.  When I tell them about my nascent writing career, they respond with enthusiasm; facebook and myspace have allowed me to reconnect with many of them.  They are some of my biggest fans, but I have often wondered what they thought of me as a teacher.  Recently, one of them sent me an invitation to join my own fan club--not as a fan of Viola Russell the writer but of me as the teacher.  They remember that I crawled on the floor as a recalcitrant camel when I taught T. S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi."  They remember that I burst into the room laughing hysterically when I emulated the witches in Macbeth. Maybe all teachers are inherent storytellers, and that is the key to my success.  In my heart, I now know I helped them, shaped them.  What I also now know is that they also have helped me become the writer I am.  In teaching all of them, particularly the kids in my now dead school, I have perfected my storytelling.  

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mardi Gras and Possibility

It is Mardi Gras in my hometown.  To those not from our community, Mardi Gras is nothing but women baring breasts, men getting drunk, and people of all inclinations pinching rounded asses.  Well, a fair amount of that definitely happens, but much more happens as well.  

Mardi Gras is a time for comradeship as well as revelry.  Yes, we go kind of wild, but we have lots of good fun, friendly competition as we dive for throws(at least, most of us), and fellowship with our neighbors.  Mardi Gras season is one of possibility and fantasy.  For one time of the year, people abandon their daily lives--lives often filled with boredom, frustration, and care  The time is one of possibility.  A quarterback can be a king of the grape.  Ordinary citizens can don masks and reign as monarchs.  Regular businessmen can toast the crowd and hurl what--on any other day--would be worthless trinkets at people.  Later those trinkets are often donated to charities for resale.  

Mardi Gras is a day of escape but also one of possibility.  We dare to dream and hope that our dreams will come true.  That point has been driven home this year in a poignant way.  Many of our Saints players and their coach will reign as monarchs or grand marshals of the parades.  These men elevated their team from the depths of obscurity to the pinnacle of success.  The Saints--once the laughingstocks of the NFL--are now NFL champs , and our whole region made the NFL back down when they tried to appropriate our local slang.  

Mardi Gras is a day of hope and of escape.  It even gives hope to a high school English teacher and fledgling author trying to perfect her current projects.  It gives her hope that dreams come true as she forms into words the new projects pounding through her brian.  

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Who, the WhoDat Nation, and The Saints

I know many people have wondered why people in New Orleans are so excited that the New Orleans Saints are going to the Super Bowl.  I wondered myself why even I-- a self-avowed sports geek--was almost giddy.  The reason is not one easily explained, and it is linked to Katrina and the devastation our region suffered.  Now, I know that the rest of the country is tired of the word K-A-T-R-I-N-A, and we wish the monster had never come our way, believe me.  This team, however, has done a great deal for our rebuilding and this community.  Individual members have given to charities and schools.  The Brees Foundation has given large amounts to charity.  Today, I am wearing a Saints "Finish Strong" T-shirt.  The proceeds will go to local charities.  Their players go to schools to push character to local students.  We've never been so proud of a team or the young people who compose it.  Their visionary coach has brought them a long way.  Coach Peyton has stressed the need for community involvement and of working as a team.  

Today, the legendary Who will rock the WhoDat Nation(that's those of us in NO) in Miami.  Like the Saints, the Who have come a long way.  They began as the unapologetic bad boys of rock 'n' roll, leaving a trail of broken instruments in their wake.  They chanted that their generation "{wouldn't} get fooled again" and that they "hoped {they} died before {they} got old."  Through the rebellious hype, they emerged as one of the most important rock bands of the era, creating rock operas like Tommy and Quadrophenia.  Sadly, two of their members did die before they were old.  John Entwistle's licks on bass and Keith Moon's powerful drumming will be sorely missed; however, their large shoes have been filled by some impressive talent.  Simon Townsend (Pete's younger brother), Pino Paladino, and Zak Starkey will round out the Who's numbers Sunday evening. (Zak's dad played with a band called the Beatles.)  

Like the Who, the Saints also have been through many changes.  They were once the team that had no respect in the NFL.  Even those of us in their hometown called them "The Aints"  and wore bags over their heads.  The team, however, evolved from a group of athletes who didn't work as a unified whole into a group of professionals that perform like a well-oiled machine.  Like a well-rehearsed band of professional musicians, this team anticipates each other's moves and works together to create a gorgeous, rocking opera.  

Tonight, win or lose, I'll toast the Saints with Coppola's Merlot. 
Long Live the Who!  Long Live the WhoDat Nation!  Long Live the Saints!  

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blogging and Writing

The film JULIA AND JULIE revolves around a young woman who vows to recreate every recipe in Julia Child's book within a year's time.  When she embarks on this endeavor, Julie Powell starts a blog detailing her adventures and misadventures in the kitchen.  The film then depicts the parallels struggles of the older Julia Child and the younger Julie Powell as they attempt to become skilled cooks.  

The movie kept me interested for several reasons.  Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are excellent actors, and the take on blogging was fascinating.  Through blogging, the modern Julie connects with others who share her interests and follow her adventures.  Julie's readers sometimes encourage her, chastise her, or act as voyeurs while she cooks.  Julie eventually develops relationships with her "followers" as she works her way through her idol's cookbook.  Her readers keep her focused when she is tempted to cheat on her stated goals or when she doubts her own prowess in the kitchen.  As I watched Julie pound away at her computer, I realized how modern technology, particularly cyberspace, keeps us connected in ways we never were before.  We "know" people who are states, even continents, away from us.  Through shared interests, these people, or followers, have become our friends.  Like Julie, I've "met" many people who have become friends and associates.  I've developed an interest in their lives and projects.  They have expressed interest in my life and in my writing.  I also think cyberspace is keeping us connected in other ways as well.  For example, e-books are keeping literacy alive for a new generation brought up on computers and video games.  These young people have no problem reading a book on-line.  E-books are also keeping books affordable for millions of people.  I, for instance, was very fortunate to have Sapphire Blue as my publisher.  E-books are an egalitarian alternative to the more expensive print books.  I am not trashing print books.  In fact, I think they are important to our society, but for many cash-strapped people, e-books offer a positive alternative. As the world becomes more connected by technology, e-books will find even a larger market.  

What also struck me was how cooking saved these women from boredom and mediocrity.  By cultivating a gift, Julia and Julie found themselves and inspired others.  Writing also has helped save and define me.  In my darkest hours, I have run for my pen or pounded on my keyboard.  When my mother died, writing saved me from debilitating grief.  Revising BURIED TRUTHS and focusing on other projects rescued me from utter despair.  I  only pray I have inspired others.  

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hot Young English Men and a Nostalgic Trip

During my recent visit to England, I traveled to Liverpool and then to London. The trip to Liverpool was highly nostalgic  because the music of the Beatles and the books I read were the only things that saved me from a miserable existence in school.  (John Lennon inspired me to read Lewis Carroll.)  I hated everything associated with school, but I digress.  

While in London, I had the opportunity to see the film NOWHERE BOY when it was released on Boxing Day.  I was curious about the film for several reasons.  The script is based on the memoir by Julia Baird, John Lennon's half-sister, and Mrs. Baird distanced herself from the project because she  disagreed with some of the director's artistic choices.  For example, the film hints at an Oedipal relationship between Lennon and his beautiful mother Julia.  I've read Baird's book, and she doesn't hint at any such relationship.  Paul McCartney also reportedly refused a personal invitation from the director to see the film.  I can understand why an author would have problems with such an interpretation of her family( or why a friend also would have such a problem), and indeed, the oedipal angle(though abandoned quickly) was not necessary to the themes of the film and of Mrs. Baird's memoir:  the strong ties that bind families and the need for familial love.  

What truly aroused my curiosity was knowing that the British director Ms. Sam Taylor Wood had formed a romantic attachment to the much younger man playing the adolescent John Lennon.  The couple now expect a child together.  Needless to say, I wanted to know what made this young man so special.  However, I don't think age matters in a relationship.  My father was seventeen  years older than my mother, and they were quite happy together. Let me also not write another word before stating that I found the late John Lennon stunning.  John's attractiveness couldn't be compared to Paul McCartney's wholesome and traditional good looks.  What Lennon radiated was blatant sexuality and animal magnetism.  His eyes seemed to undress all women.  Add to that a rapier wit and penetrating intellect and you have the ideal man.  Although he is handsome, Aaron Johnson doesn't look like John Lennon.  He does, however, radiate Lennon's sex appeal and charismatic personality.  His acting is also rock solid; he captures the insecurity of an adolescent coming to terms with sexual desire, with a longing for maternal love, and with his own burgeoning talent.  Johnson's portrayal of the young, vulnerable, sexy, and sharp-witted Lennon portend great things for this young actor's future.  If he is as smart as he is handsome, Johnson will be seen in many more films and plays.  Let's hope he hones his skill some more in good West End productions and indie films.  

The other standout is young Thomas Sangster, playing the adolescent Paul McCartney.  Who could forget his memorable performance as a young boy mourning his mother in LOVE, ACTUALLY?  The young kid's grown up.  He even learned to play bass left-handed for this role, and he gives a delightful edge to the young Paul.  Too many people have dismissed McCartney as the blandly conservative traditionalist to Lennon's daring innovator.  What many people forget is the way the two pushed and challenged each other.  Sangster plays McCartney as Lennon's equal-- a young man not afraid to stand up to his more aggressive friend.  Sangster deserves credit for taking on the role of a living legend.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Character Development

 I'm often asked what drives a story.  Is the narrative structure more important or is character development more important?  Both are important, and I love a good plot.  In fact, plot is very important in a mystery or thriller, but character is equally important.  As I edited my manuscript for Sapphire Blue, my characters took on lives of their own.  They developed and expanded in ways I hadn't expected.  As I immersed myself in their emotional development, I learned to love them in ways I hadn't when I wrote my first draft.  They became more real and spoke to me in ways I hadn't anticipated.  Their voices spoke to me as I wrote, and I became conscious of not betraying the unique voice of each one.  Heather and Wesley were both flawed in many ways, but I learned to accept those flaws but show what was admirable in them as well.  I think character is important in all genres.  In mysteries, the plot is important, but we also come to love the detective whose unique personality drives the plot and provides the texture of the story.  We love James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux.  He's more fascinating than the crooks he's trying to bust.  The eccentricities of detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot fascinate us as much as the tales they are solving.  Science fiction is also built on strong character.  We're as interested in the characters as we are in their out of space travels. Character drove my own BURIED TRUTHS as much as did the romantic elements.