Meet My Main Character Blog Tour

The Eye-Dancers blog will turn two years old later this summer (time does fly!), and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  And the number-one thing about blogging for me has, undoubtedly, been the many virtual friends I have made here in the WordPress Community.

One of those friends, Sherri Matthews, recently tagged me to take part in the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour.  Sherri, who is currently working on her memoir, is a wonderfully talented blogger and a great person.  For any of you who have not yet visited her blog, I strongly encourage you to do so.  I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I do, and will want to pull up a chair and stay for a while.

Thanks so much, Sherri, for including me in this tour!  Please check out the other writers she has tagged for the tour as well!

For this blog tour, we have to answer a series of questions about the main character in a work-in-progress.  My WIP is the sequel to The Eye-Dancers, and, just as in the first novel, the sequel (still without a title!) has four main characters–Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski.  Not to mention the “ghost girl,” who is back as well!  And, in fact, it is the “ghost girl” I will feature here.  She is a major force in The Eye-Dancers, and even more so in the sequel . . .

 

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

The “ghost girl,” so called by Mitchell and his friends in The Eye-Dancers, is actually a girl by the name of Monica Tisdale.  In The Eye-Dancers, she is seven years old.  But when the sequel takes place, five years have now passed; she is older, on the cusp of being a teenager, much more aware of her strange, dimension-busting abilities, and facing a problem of, literally, infinite implications.

infinity

Monica Tisdale is strictly a fictional character.

2. When and where is the story set?

Five years after The Eye-Dancers–in contemporary western New York State.  (At least that’s where the story starts.  But, just as in the first book, the boys are transported through the void again, into the “ghost girl’s” world.)

void

3. What should we know about him/her?

Monica Tisdale is a very unusual girl.  She is able to tap in to phenomena many people aren’t even aware of.  But now, at the onset of the sequel, she is perhaps a bit too eager to take her uncanny and ever-evolving abilities to the next level.  Bored with the everyday routines around her, the “ghost girl” gets herself caught up in an endlessly layered problem of her own making . . .

endlessproblem

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Well, as mentioned above, she kind of messes up her life.  Since the conclusion of The Eye-Dancers, she has honed her paranormal abilities, understands them better, and feels she is ready for something huge.

She is fascinated with the concept of parallel worlds–especially so, considering Mitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc, all from a different plane of reality, journeyed to her world in The Eye-Dancers.  Now she wonders.  How many Monica Tisdales are really out there, across all of the known (not to mention, unknown) universes?  Are there a million versions of her?  A billion?  An infinite number?

multipleworlds

She is determined to find out . . .

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Once she steps over the edge, once she swirls the mixture of cosmic stardust and does indeed tap in to worlds upon worlds, she realizes (too late) that it is all far too much for one person, one brain, to absorb.  She must somehow undo what she has set into motion.  But she can’t do it alone.  She needs help.

stardust

And that’s where Mitchell and his friends come in.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

At this point, there is no working title.  Hopefully one of the characters will provide one soon!

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Hmm.  I am shooting for sometime in 2015!  It’s still fairly early in the game, but that’s the (rather vague!) goal.

*********************

And now, it’s my pleasure to pass the baton on to four authors.  I am a big fan of each of these talented wordsmiths–gifted writers all.  If you haven’t yet visited their websites, now is the time!  They represent a true treasure trove of creativity, and I thank each of them for wanting to participate in the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour!

I will look forward to seeing your Main Character posts a week from today!

Melissa Hazelwood at Today, You Will Write

Teagan Geneviene at Teagan’s Books

Jennifer K. Marsh

Joanne Blakie at Writeaway

Thank you again to Melissa, Teagan, Jennifer, and Joanne for participating!  And thanks so much to everyone for reading.

–Mike

A Rear Window Point of View

Some stories grab you by the throat, plunge you in from the get-go, and never let up, sprinting frenetically to the finish line at a speed so blistering your head spins as you race along for the ride.  An old-school action movie, perhaps, or a thriller that scarcely pauses to catch its breath . . .

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich titled “It Had to Be Murder,” is definitely not such a story.

rearwindowpromo

 

From the opening sequence where we view, along with main character L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (played by James Stewart), the apartment complex across the street, the film is decidedly unrushed.

apartment

 

It takes its time, the plot unfolding slowly, allowing the viewer to ease into the story line and characters, the cinematic equivalent of a leisurely stroll along a country lane.  This is not to suggest that Rear Window is dull.  Far from it.  It is widely regarded as one of Hitchcock’s most accomplished movies, and has long been a personal favorite of mine.

The story centers around Jefferies, confined to a wheelchair, his left leg broken and in a cast, suffered while photographing an auto race accident.

wheelchair

 

He has been whiling away the time in his small New York City apartment, with little to do except spy on his neighbors across the way.  For a man of action like Jefferies, whose job routinely takes him to some of the world’s most remote and dangerous locales, the inactivity is like a slow, torturous death sentence.

We meet his neighbors, right along with him.  The entire film is shown from Jefferies’ perspective.  When we see his neighbors, we see only what he sees.  We are never actually in their apartments.  We, like Jefferies, are spying, voyeurs, peering in through back windows at the private rituals and arguments and parties of the Other.

spy

 

From this point of view, we meet a dancer whom Jefferies calls Miss Torso, who is continually prancing around her room in a bikini and other various states of undress.  She practices her dance steps in full view of Jefferies, who eagerly takes in the view.

misstorso

 

We meet a single woman Jefferies nicknames Miss Lonelyheart.  One evening we spy her entertaining an imaginary guest at her table, before breaking down in tears.  We, like Jefferies, question whether or not we should be witnessing such private acts.  But we do, and we are.

misslonelyhearts

 

And we also meet a bickering married couple, the Thorwalds.  The husband is a salesman, the wife is unwell, spending her days in bed.  Jefferies can’t help but notice their quarrels.  Their flat is just across from his.

murderwife

 

While me meet the neighbors, we also enter into Jefferies’ personal life.  He has problems of his own, apart from the broken leg.  His girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (played by Grace Kelly), a wealthy socialite, wants to get married.

stewartandkelly

 

Jefferies tells her it wouldn’t be a good idea.  He doesn’t want to settle into a comfortable city life taking photos at her fashion events.  And he doesn’t believe she is cut out to be the wife of a traveling photographer who spends much of his time in rustic, back-country places.  He tells her it’s not the life for her–neither of them would be happy in the other’s world.

One night, after an argument with Lisa about this very issue, Jefferies spies the Thorwalds in the apartment across the way having another of their fights.  Later, after midnight, there is a scream and a crash and a single cry of, “Don’t!” and then all is quiet.  Jefferies observes Thorwald leave the apartment three times during the night, each time carrying his salesman’s case.  Something seems amiss.  As the days pass, Jefferies, collecting various clues as he continues to keep an ever-present eye on Thorwald, believes that the salesman has murdered his wife.

murderer

 

But even here, the film takes its time.  We never leave Jefferies’ apartment.  We learn what he learns, at the same pace he does.   The movie continues to build in momentum, slowly, allowing us to taste every nuance, pause at every twist and turn of the plot.  Along the way, we further delve into the lives of Miss Torso and Miss Lonelyheart, along with other neighbors.  The time of year, midsummer, with an oppressive heat wave, only serves to emphasize the unhurried pace of the plot.  Everyone is hot, the air is thick with humidity, muggy like soup.  Nothing will be rushed.

There is a method to the madness, of course.  Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, is taking his viewers by the hand, and leading them, gently, softly, up a winding mountain back road.  We have to solve the mystery right along with the protagonist, and while we do, we get to know him, his personality, his insecurities, his faults, and his idiosyncracies, right along with those of his neighbors’.  It is a rich, layered story, strangely comfortable in spite of the potential horror taking place across the way.  It makes us want to settle in, stay for a while, and lose ourselves in its world.

spying

 

It also makes the ending, a confrontation between Thorwald and Jefferies, stand out in bold relief to the rest of the film.  Everything has been leading up to this–the crash of the cymbals after the slow, melodic dance.  The bold, brutal display of violence after two hours of merely hinting at it.  It is a climax earnestly won, an eruption of suspense perfectly timed.

ending

 

It is also a very good reminder.

Sometimes, when in the process of writing a novel, or even a shorter work, it is easy to fall into the finishing-too-quickly trap.  If you’re in chapter 21, and you have big plans for chapter 22, the natural temptation is to cut that last scene in chapter 21 just a little short, the eagerness, anticipation, and excitement over the big chapter to come simply too much to resist.  I know I fell into this mind-set at times during the writing of The Eye-Dancers.

While every chapter in a novel is important, there are, naturally, certain chapters that stand out as truly crucial, the linchpins upon which everything else rests.  When I was nearing a “linchpin” chapter, I often had to remind myself to slow down, and give the present chapter the attention it deserved.  If I rushed the current chapter, then the impact of the “big” chapter that followed would be minimized due to the faults and sloppiness of the chapter that preceded it.  In such moments, when the temptation to rush was at its strongest, I would think of old L.B. Jefferies in his wheelchair, watching, waiting, slow, slow . . . and I would take a deep breath, and carry on, careful not to race through.

takeyourtime

 

And while the major chapters, the big fight scenes, the incredible time warps all serve as the “wow”scenes in any story, it is the little chapters, the quiet sequences that often move us and help us to relate to the story and the characters who populate it.  A short conversation between friends.  An inside joke between a husband and wife.  A moment of introspection as your main character relaxes on the sofa, watching an old rerun and sipping tea.  Scenes like this add nuance, substance, and texture to the story.  They are the peeks behind the curtain, the herbs and spices that bring out the rich, hearty flavor beneath the surface.  They are the hidden gems at the bottom of the pile, the rare finds at the back of the store.

And they offer us, in their shy, softspoken manner, The Rear Window point of view.

pov

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

If You Write It, They Will Come

In the novel It, by Stephen King, there is a scene I have always enjoyed.

it

 

It’s actually a flashback sequence, where Ben Hanscombe, one of the “Losers Club,” volunteers to stay after school on a cold January day–the first day back to class after Christmas vacation.  He is helping his teacher, Mrs. Douglas, count the books that had been turned in just before the holiday.  The task takes quite a while, and after they put the books away in the storage room, Ben realizes that the school has all but emptied out, the only sounds the clanking of the radiators and the whoosh-whoosh of old Mr. Fazio the janitor’s broom as he sweeps up and down the corridors.

Mrs. Douglas apologizes, saying she’s kept Ben too late.  Dusk is descending, the last flickers of daylight bleeding away into the rapidly approaching winter evening.  She tells him that, if she drove, she’d give him a ride home, but she doesn’t.  Her husband will stop by a bit later to pick her up.  If Ben were willing to wait . . .

But he tells her not to worry.  It’s still light enough, and he’ll walk right home.  And yet . . . and yet–there is something about the day, the faint, cold lighting of a winter dusk in northern New England.  Ben feels alone, as if something is about to happen.  Something bad.  The scene creates a mood, preparing the reader for what follows.

But King is not finished setting the tone.  Before Ben leaves the building, the janitor passes by again, sweeping the floors, gathering dust with his broom.  “Be careful of de fros’bite, boy,” he says, and walks on, completing his rounds.  And for me, as a reader, that one line really resonates.  It is the exclamation point that puts the finishing touches on the scene.  As he walks home in the darkening twilight, just before he spots the monster Pennywise the Clown along the way, the janitor’s words echo in his ears. “Be careful of de fros’bite, boy . . .”

Would the scene have worked even without Mr. Fazio and his broom and his dust?  Of course.  The tone had been set, the mood established.  But the janitor, even with just a single line of dialogue, enhances what is already there.  He is one of those bit characters, so minor he shuffles off the page after a moment, an eye-blink, but whose presence, no matter how brief, adds something worthwhile to the story.

minorchars

The thing is, characters like this–little strands of string and twine that add nuance and texture to a scene–often are not thought of ahead of time.  In this case, especially knowing that Stephen King (as he shares in his memoir, On Writing) does not generally plot his novels in advance, I certainly picture old Mr. Fazio suddenly appearing, unplanned, unasked, out of the periphery of King’s imagination.  I could be wrong about that.  Maybe before he sat down to write this scene, King knew the janitor would be a part of it.  But I suspect this is not the case.  I would venture to guess that, as he wrote the scene, as it unfolded on the page, Mr. Fazio simply decided to appear, as if through a will, a desire, of his own.

creative1

 

I guess this in part because it has happened to me countless times during the creative process.  I begin writing a short story, or a chapter in a novel, and, before I know it, someone, well . . . just shows up.  When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, this happened several times, perhaps best illustrated in chapter 4.  In this chapter, the four main characters are sitting alongside The Erie Canal, talking about the threat of the “ghost girl” in their shared dreams and what to do about her.

eriecanalpath

 

Before I tackled this sequence, the only thing I had to go on was just that–that the boys would be sitting there, pedestrians and bicyclists constantly passing by on the canalside recreational path behind them.  What I did not envision was what occurred on the very first page of the chapter.

As they talk, a little boy in a farmhouse across the canal comes outside, in his backyard, smiles at them, and begins to toss a baseball to himself.  He offers very little to the story in any substantive way, but he does attract the boys’ attention, and serves as a sort of catalyst to the conversation they are having, and to the scene as a whole.  Would chapter 4 be shorter without the nameless boy’s presence?  Probably.  Would it be better?  I suppose that can be debated either way.  But once the first draft of The Eye-Dancers was finished, and I went to work on the rewrite, examining the flurries and inspirations of the initial draft with a more objective and critical editorial eye, I thought the farm boy added to the canal scene–and so he stayed.

beopen

 

After all, he was the one who announced himself upon the scene, not me.  I didn’t even know he existed until he showed up.  I had no concept of him, no idea he would barge onto the stage, as it were, like a bold, uninvited actor determined to win a role.   Maybe when things like that happen, they represent our subconscious telling us that something is needed to flesh out a scene, something we never would have thought of in advance.  Or maybe they come from our muse, gifting us with a discovery, a missing piece to the fabric of our story.  Maybe they’re just blind chance.  Whatever they are, these unforeseen character appearances strike me as very intuitive, and very organic within the creative process.  As such, we as writers, as creators, need to listen very carefully when they come calling.

So the next time someone like old Mr. Fazio crashes the party created by your imagination as you type feverishly at your keyboard, perhaps you can pause, take a moment to enjoy the mystery and wonder of the creative process.

creative2bulb

 

Where did that character come from?  They just . . . appeared, on their own.

Or, to paraphrase one of the most memorable lines in motion picture history . . .

“If you write it, they will come . . .”

fieldofdreams

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Character Interludes (Or, “Yo, Marie! We Need to Talk . . .”)

When most people think of Rocky Balboa, they think of larger-than-life boxing matches, grueling slugfests against the likes of Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang.  And with good reason.  Rocky, of course, is a fighter, and the movies are built around the pugilistic perils of his career.

rockycreed

 

The Rocky brand, too, has been somewhat tarnished over the years due to the excessive number of sequels.  The sequels have, for the most part, been Box Office gold, but at the same time, they have relegated Rocky to something of a caricature.  With each new installment, it seemed the level of predictability and corniness increased, and Rocky’s opponents became more and more imposing.  Boxers such as Clubber Lang in Rocky III and Ivan Drago in Rocky IV were nearly on par with comic book supervillains.

But go back, if you will, to the original.  When Rocky premiered in 1976, Sylvester Stallone was a no-name writer/actor who had to fight hard just to play the title character in his screenplay.  The film studio wanted Burt Reynolds or Robert Redford.  Stallone stubbornly demanded the role.  Obviously it was the right call.

When audiences were introduced to Rocky Balboa, they weren’t sure what to expect.  The Rocky formula didn’t exist yet.  Stallone had a blank slate with which to work.  He decided to devote much of the first half of the movie to Rocky’s life.  We see Balboa in a smoke-filled ring to start the film, a club fighter, short on skill, but with a fierce heart and a hard punch.  We see Rocky drifting aimlessly around the slums of Philadelphia, bouncing his ever-present rubber ball and wearing his black, finger-less gloves.  He works the docks as a loan shark.

rockyloanshark

 

He hangs out on street corners.  He likes a shy young woman who barely gives him the time of day.

adrienne

 

He’s friends with her older brother, cranky, temperamental bristly-edged Paulie.

paulie

 

As we watch the film unfold, we generally like Rocky.  He seems like a decent enough guy, down on his luck, just struggling to scrape by and earn a living.  But, this early on, we’re still not sure.  The movie is still young.  Maybe the guy will turn out to be a creep.

This is where a pivotal scene takes place. . . .

It’s night.  Rocky passes a street corner as a bunch of young men heckle him.  He ignores them, clearly used to this kind of thing, unfazed by it.  But amid the hecklers, there is a young girl named Marie, maybe twelve or thirteen years old.  She joins in, hurling curses at Rocky.

He instantly leads her away from the throng, and asks her if those “yo-yos” back at the corner taught her to swear like that.  “Don’t you never talk like that again,” he admonishes her.  They walk down the darkened city streets, toward Marie’s apartment.

rockyandmarie

 

Rocky tries to give her some advice.  He explains that if she continues to hang around with the wrong crowd and talk like a sewer, she’ll get a reputation.  And twenty years down the road, when people ask, “Hey, do you remember that girl Marie, they’ll say, ‘No, who was she?'”  But then they’ll bring up her bad reputation, and the people will remember.  “You see,” the Italian Stallion says. “They don’t remember you.  They remember the rep.”

When they arrive at the girl’s apartment, she seems to appreciate Rocky’s advice.  She acts like she gets it.  But then, when he’s about to turn and walk away, she says, “Hey, Rocky.  Screw you, creepo!”  And she gives him an obscene gesture before heading inside.

marieobscene

 

Rocky just stares after her, and then, to himself, he says, “Yeah.  Who are you, creepo?  Who are you to give advice to anyone?”  And he walks off, into the night.

Despite doing nothing to advance the plot, this is easily one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  The producers, however, wanted to delete the scene entirely, deeming it senseless.  Thankfully, their advice was not heeded.

With just this one short interlude, Stallone fully exposes Rocky to his audience.  The fact that this tough, street-hardened boxer would take the time to talk to a girl, try to steer her in the right direction, with no ulterior motive, permanently endears us to him.  If we wondered about Rocky before, we no longer do.  This is, unequivocally, a nice person, with a good heart.  This is a guy who cares.  This is a guy we can root for, and like, and that sentiment will carry the rest of the film.  And the fact that he then agrees with Marie–“Who am I to give advice?”–this, also, works in Rocky’s favor.  He comes across as vulnerable here.  Beneath the battle-scarred exterior is a compassionate man who is just as easily bruised as anyone else.

The scene, in short, is a slam dunk.  In two minutes, it displays a depth of character that some roles never project over an entire film.

And it shows the importance of  “character interludes”–short pieces of a story that shine a light on a character’s motives, insecurities, beliefs–anything that enables us to get better acquainted.

**********

In The Eye-Dancers, in chapter two, we meet Joe Marma.  Joe is brash, easy to anger, always ready to fight.  On the surface, we may discount him as a simple troublemaker.  But shortly after we meet him, we witness him talking to his older brother, Bob.  Bob, who is everything Joe wishes he could be–smart, desired by the girls, athletic, and, perhaps most important, tall.  Joe, the shortest kid in his class, has a gorilla-sized chip on his shoulder due to his stature.  The scene between Joe and his brother doesn’t really advance the story line.  But it does let us in, deeper, and we can begin to understand Joe a little bit more, and, hopefully, feel some compassion for him.

The text reads: 

“It wasn’t fair, and so often he felt a river of anger flowing just beneath the surface.  No matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, he always came in second place.  If he heard one more teacher say, ‘Joe Marma?  Bob Marma’s brother?’ on the first day of classes during roll call, he thought he’d tell that teacher to go stuff it where the sun didn’t shine.  It was hard at Christmas, too, and on Bob’s birthday.  What were you supposed to get the brother who had everything?”

***********

Character interludes, as with so much in writing, can be overutilized.  Most scenes in a story should be there to advance the plot, in some way.  If every other scene depicts your protagonists in small talk or shows them doing some trivial, if endearing and idiosyncratic task, the character interludes will kill the momentum of the plot.

On the other hand, if every scene were strictly utilitarian and meant only to push the action along, a story would lose some of its luster, and we wouldn’t get to know the characters as well as we need to.  Balance is the key.  I sometimes think of character interludes as the hot pepper sauce of the literary world.  Too much, and they choke the piece and cause your eyes to water.  But, in just the right amounts, they add flavor, zest, and nuance. adding to the overall reading experience.

pepper

 

Because, no matter if you’re writing about down-and-out boxers who just want one more chance at the big time . . .

rockydocker

 

. . . or a group of adolescents who journey across an endless blue void to a parallel universe . . .

parallel

 

. . . there is always a place, at some point in a story, for your characters to say, in effect:

“Yo, Marie!  We need to talk . . .”

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

To Like or Not to Like, That Is (Not) the Question . . .

Without a doubt, Paul Newman was a superstar, one of the great Hollywood actors.  His success dates back to the 1950s, starring in such films as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Long, Hot Summer.  But it was his performance playing pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson in the 1961 movie The Hustler that cemented his status as one of the all-time best.

hustlerdvd

 

The question immediately arises:  What is it about Fast Eddie Felson that gripped and moved audiences, that allowed Newman to catapult to the very top of his profession?  No question, Newman was a gifted actor, and a lesser talent may not have played the part so well.  Nevertheless, there is something memorable about Fast Eddie, the fictional character.  There is something about him that stuck with people, and wouldn’t let go.

Is Fast Eddie just so likeable?  Is that it?  Surely, he is charming.  With his boyish grin, good looks, and natural flair and charisma, Eddie Felson is easy to notice.

fasteddycocky

 

A great guy, right?  Not really.  All too often, he’s a boorish jerk who mistreats the people closest to him.

A small-time hustler, Eddie thinks of himself as the best pool player in the country, and he wants to prove it by squaring off against the legendary “Minnesota Fats.”  He gets the match, and, despite jumping ahead early, ultimately loses the contest–a grueling 36-hour pool marathon.  After losing to “Fats,” Eddie is down to his last $200.

He then runs out on his longtime friend and business partner, Charlie, scrapes just to get by, and meets Sarah, a troubled alcoholic who falls in love with him.  Throughout all this, we see Fast Eddie at his worst.  When Charlie finds him, and asks him to come back on tour with him, hustling pool on the road, Eddie dismisses him, calling him a “small-time Charlie.”  He wants a rematch with “Fats,” nothing less.  He wants to be the best.  He tells Charlie to “lay down and die by yourself.  Don’t take me with you.”

fasteddiesmoking

 

He is often insensitive to Sarah, treating her with very little respect, yet he maintains his cocky attitude.  Eddie Felson doesn’t walk.  He struts.  He doesn’t smile.  He smirks.  He’s a jerk.  And yet . . . there is something about him.  Something endearing, nuanced, vulnerable.

Beneath his bravado, Eddie is like a little boy desperately trying to prove himself.  He feels the need to be the best because, deep down, he doesn’t believe he is.  By movie’s end, he does get that rematch with Minnesota Fats, and he does in fact beat him.  At a terrible cost.  Sarah has taken her own life, largely as a result of Eddie’s choices and misplaced priorities.  Beating “Fats” is hollow.  The goal he had wanted all along means nothing.  Eddie finally understands this, too late.

You might think, as an audience, we would say, “He had it coming, he should be miserable,” and leave it at that.  After all, if he had chosen a different path earlier in the movie, the tragic outcome could have been avoided.  But then we pull back.  Don’t we all have a little Fast Eddie in us?  Don’t we all make mistakes?  Don’t we all, at times, overemphasize trivialities at the expense of life’s essentials?  Eddie Felson is not less of a character because of his flaws.  He is more of one.

felsonsymp

 

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I hoped to create characters with layers, depth, dimensions.  It would be easy to label Marc Kuslanski, for example, as the “science geek know-it-all,” and Joe Marma as the “tough kid with the big mouth.”  And it’s true.  Both boys fit those descriptions.  But, it is certainly my hope, that’s not where the descriptions end.

If Joe is rash, violent, angry, and has a chip on his shoulder, why is this so?  When we meet him, we see that he feels he needs to prove himself because he’s the shortest boy in his class.  We also discover that he has an older brother, Bob, who seemingly has it all–grades, girls, sports trophies.  “It wasn’t fair,” the text reads in chapter two.  “No matter what [Joe] did, no matter how hard he tried, he always came in second place. . . . It was hard on Christmas, too, and on Bob’s birthday.  What were you supposed to get the brother who had everything?”

Likewise with Marc, it’s easy to dismiss him as a creep.  Even Mitchell Brant, who becomes his friend later in the story, tells him at one point, “Your horse gets pretty high sometimes, you know that?”  But beneath the know-it-all exterior is a person who, even though he doesn’t like to admit it, hungers for a sibling (he is an only child), and a friend.  Early in the book, the narrative reads, “Sometimes, when [Marc] sat in his room, with only his science books and favorite Web pages for companions, he would feel a loneliness that threatened to reach down and crush him in its fist. . . .  He would see kids his own age playing ball, laughing hysterically, joking around, and it was hard not to wonder . . . if perhaps childhood had passed him by altogether—assuming it had ever visited him in the first place.”

I’m not sure if readers will like Joe Marma and Marc Kuslanski.  But I hope they’ll understand them, and look at them as flawed people with real feelings and real emotions.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.  Maybe that’s what characters need to do.  They feel.  They hurt.  They strive, and they fail.  They make progress, and lose ground.  They cry and scream and claw.  They are us.

They don’t need to be perfect.  They don’t need to have all the answers.  They don’t need to be an archetype or an ideal.  They don’t even need to be liked.

They just need to be human.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Cultivating a Left-Eye Point of View

Pause for a moment, and focus on an object–a telephone poll, a basketball hoop, a magnet on the refrigerator, the flickering flame of a candle.  It can be anything.  Look at it closely, line it up with your vision.  And point at it with your index finger.

telephone poll

 

candle

 

Now–close your left eye, while continuing to point at the object, looking at it only through your right eye.  If you are like approximately two-thirds of the population, your finger will still be pointed directly at the intended object.

Okay.  Let’s switch eyes.  Close your right eye, and open your left.  More than likely, your finger will now be pointing several inches to the right, no longer aimed at the object.  Nearly 70 percent of people are right-eye dominant–when viewing the world, their right eye is in the driver’s seat, directing the line of sight and what they focus on.  It is, in other words, a matter of perspective.

Perspective, sometimes, can become stodgy, routine, set in its ways.  Take Marc Kuslanski.  Of all the characters in The Eye-Dancers, he is the least willing to consider the universe in a new and different way.  For Marc, science and logic are the backbone of all progress, the methods for solving every problem, the vehicle by which we should view the world and consider its possibilities.  For a large portion of the novel, he is completely closed to any considerations of the supernatural, miracles, ghosts–anything that lies outside the purview of natural laws and science.  Any talk of a mysterious “ghost girl” he dismisses–he is the only one of the four main characters in the novel not to dream of her.  No matter how adamantly the others protest and claim the girl is real, Marc won’t hear of it.

His is a fixed, ironclad stance, one that he must somehow overcome before novel’s end.  Can he bend?  Can he open his mind, and look at the world through a different lens, from a different perspective?  His very survival will ultimately depend on it.

I find it’s much the same in writing–especially writing a long work such as a novel.  Before I begin, I have a direction in mind, a path I’d like to follow.  I don’t draft chapter-by-chapter outlines, but I have a fairly clear idea what I want to accomplish in a particular chapter before I sit down to write it.  At the same time, however, I always remind myself not to get too locked in, not to be so tunnel-visioned as to miss the hints and urgings of what the characters on the page are doing.

It is a remarkable and mysterious phenomenon the way characters–your own creations!–often talk to you, and tell you what to write.  In The Eye-Dancers, I never planned for Marc Kuslanski and Mitchell Brant to become friends.  When the book opens, they know each other as classmates, nothing more.  They share some of the same classes, pass each other in the halls–that’s the extent of their relationship.  Of course, I knew the events in the novel would force them to interact more.  They, along with Joe Marma and Ryan Swinton, are transported to the variant town of Colbyville and must find a way back home, after all.  They need to get past their differences and work together.  But I didn’t intend for Mitchell and Marc to have such a strong rapport.  The more they interacted, the more I realized–these two are becoming friends.  I had to listen to them.  I had to shift my perspective.  The characters demanded it.  If I had stuck rigidly to my initial plan–my right-eye-dominant point of view, if you will–a major development in The Eye-Dancers would have been lost.

It is the same with any creative endeavor.  We need to stay amenable to the unexpected, open to the accidental discovery.  Alexander Fleming did not clean up his workstation one day back in 1928.  When he later returned, he noticed that a fungus had grown on some of his cultures.  He also noticed that bacteria didn’t seem to thrive near these cultures.  From this mishap, penicillin was discovered.  But if Fleming had not been observant, if he’d been unwilling to take note of a vital clue provided in the aftermath of his own sloppiness, he may have missed the chance at medical history.

penicillin

 

Sometimes we need to actively choose to alter our perspective.  I experience this on a regular basis.  At the moment, in the uplands of central Vermont, where I live, the hills are still a patchwork of faded green and white.  The battered dirt roads are flanked on either side with mud-streaked March snow.

vtmud

And I find myself frustrated.  Will spring never arrive?  But then I pause, take a breath.  Of course it will.  In the meantime, there is still much beauty to be found in the bare simplicity of the landscape, the tang of the morning air, the song of a red-winged blackbird newly arrived from its winter migration.

vermontspring

 

redwing

 

Switching lenses, from my right eye to my left, I feel lucky to live in the Green Mountain State, even in March.  Looking at the hills and rolling meadows, the slumbering farm fields and the sap buckets hanging from bare maple trees, I wish I’d brought my camera along.

maple

 

Suddenly, as if by magic, it feels like I’ve stepped into a postcard.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Rose (or a Jack) by Any Other Name . . .

What makes a story great?  What makes a movie, or a novel, unforgettable?  Nonstop action?  A fantastic and imaginative plot?  A surprise, twist ending?  Romance?  Incredible special effects, or descriptions of those effects, if in book form?  Certainly these elements can lend themselves to a great story.  And–especially for a short story or a short television episode–sometimes a clever plot or a shock ending is enough.  A short work such as “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, for example, is memorable in large part because of its theme, its plot, and its impact as a story that tackles the issue of blind adherence to tradition, to doing things just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

But for a novel, an ongoing television series, or a movie–the one thing that is essential is character.  Without at least one highly developed character we can learn to love (or hate), any long story will fall a little flat.  It can still be entertaining, fun, a wonderful adventure.  But it won’t resonate the same way a story with effective characters will.  All the great films and novels have characters who reach us, touch us, and leave a lasting impression.

James Cameron understood this when he created Titanic.  Love it or hate it, Titanic was the highest grossing film of all-time before Avatar broke the record.  It won 11 Academy Awards.  Why?  What made it such a hit with audiences around the world?

titanicposter

 

Certainly the subject matter was a winner.  Who isn’t fascinated and moved by the tragedy of the Titanic?  The real-life tale seems almost too contrived to be true.  “The unsinkable” ship sinking on its maiden voyage?  In a purely fictional context, audiences might not buy such a far-fetched idea.  But the Titanic has mesmerized people for a hundred years.  How did it happen?  What went wrong?  Why did the captain not change course when he knew there were icebergs in the great ship’s path?  The questions abound, and historians have puzzled over them and tried to solve them for decades.

titanic

 

 

titanicsinking

 

titsink2

 

There have been many movies made on the RMS Titanic over the years.  With material like this, you can’t go wrong.  Right?  Not really.  While some of the films did fairly well–particularly the 1958 British adaptation, A Night to Remember (generally regarded by historians as the most accurate portrayal of the real-life disaster to date), based on the book of the same name by Walter Lord–none of them were major hits.   And some were forgettable from the moment they hit the screen.

A_Night_to_Remember_(film_poster)

 

So–what was missing?  Cameron decided, correctly as it turned out–character.  A film like A Night to Remember was gripping, accurate, well acted.  But it didn’t give the audience any individual passenger they could truly get to know and care about.  The star of the movie, in effect, was the ship itself.  Cameron turned that around and created fictional characters to go along with the real-life personalities who were also on his ship.

He centers the movie around Rose and Jack, two fictional characters whose love story and torrid romance take center stage.

rose

 

jack

 

Cameron realized that, as remarkable and captivating as the real story of the RMS Titanic is–a landmark film needs to bring things down to the level of an individual, or two individuals, who viewers can relate to, care about, root for, and invest in.  If we can see the grand disaster of the Titanic through these characters’ eyes, we can be transported more effectively onto the ship ourselves.  We can experience more profoundly what the passengers felt, their panic, their desperation, their all-too-frequent futile attempts to cling to life.  We can be, in essence, a virtual passenger in our own right.  By focusing so much on just two individuals, entering into their lives, their hopes, their fears and dreams, we are, ultimately if counter-intuitively, better able to see and feel the enormity of the disaster as a whole.

romancetit

 

It is my hope that The Eye-Dancers accomplishes something similar.  While the story is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure of parallel worlds and ghost girls and journeys through endless blue voids, it is, at its heart, also a story about four boys who must learn to confront and deal with their own insecurities and hang-ups while in the midst of extreme adversity.  And I hope readers will cheer them on, become frustrated with them at times, perhaps, but in the end care for them and root for them, and become more invested in the story and the fantasy because of them.

Call her Rose, or Sharon, or Rapunzel.  Call him Jack, or Steve, or Hezekiah.  The names don’t matter.

But the characters do.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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