The Persian Flaw

It’s happened to all of us . . . likely more than once.  You’ve finished a piece of writing.  It can be a novel, a poem, a short story, an essay, a blog post.  Anything.  The point is–you wrote it, and it’s done.

Or is it?

If you publish it, it’s already “out there,” of course.  You can’t “undo” the act of initial publication.  But you can delete a blog post, remove an indie book from Amazon, or, if you haven’t published the work in question, you can hold on to it and allow it to collect virtual dust hidden securely in your computer’s hard drive.  (Then again, if a publisher distributes your work, or a magazine prints it, you’re stuck.  It will remain in public view.)

 

But isn’t that the point?  What published author wants to retract their work?  After toiling so hard on your story, it would seem self-defeating to withhold it, or, once published, to remove it.  And yet, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?  We thought we were finished with the blasted thing, but now, upon rereading it, and re-rereading it, and re-re-rereading it, we discover mistakes we overlooked before, errors the size and scope of Everest we were blind to just days or weeks ago, whenever we declared the work “complete.”

 

“How can I have missed that?” we might say.  “I can’t believe I thought this was ready for prime time!  What was I thinking?”  The mistake in question may be a grammatical one; it may be a collection of typos.  Or, perhaps more serious, we might encounter issues with our characters or plot structure or overall wording and pace.  Whatever it is we find, and grimace about now, is something new, something we simply didn’t notice before.  Maybe a negative review caused us to look at the story in a new light.  Maybe the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of others have since looked at it since publication has made us hyper-vigilant in our post-publication literary detective work.  What are all those readers seeing?

 

And so we read it over again, and again, and again, hoping for perfection.  Hoping we find no blemish, no miscue, expecting every sentence to be Shakespearian, every plot twist Dickensian, every line of dialogue a melody from a literary symphony.

 

It grates us, therefore, when we encounter imperfection.  What’s that on page 98?  Why did I begin chapter 8 there?  I should’ve done it this way instead.  Why did I let that scene drag out so long?  And on and on it can go.

If we let it.

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Centuries ago, the Persians were renowned for their peerless craftsmanship when it came to making rugs.  Persian rugs would take years to complete, and the final product would tell an indelible tale.  Each rug was a work of art, one of a kind, perfect.  Well . . . not entirely.  The Persians had a practice whereby they would introduce a flaw into the rug.  It was subtle, and perhaps indecipherable to the untrained or the indifferent eye.  But it was there.

 

Why, though?  Why deliberately make a mistake, as it were, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential?  Isn’t it better to quest for the perfect rug, or the perfect work of art?

The Persians believed only the divine could attain perfection and that humans, no matter how valiantly we try or how stubbornly we toil, cannot achieve it.  By weaving a flaw into their rugs, they were visually and symbolically yielding to this truth.  To attempt to craft a “perfect” rug would be an act of arrogance and foolishness, destined to fail.

 

There are no perfect carpets.  There are no perfect novels.  There are no perfect people.

Everything, and everyone, comes with a Persian Flaw.

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One of the primary themes in both The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel is an acceptance of one’s idiosyncrasies and flaws.  Mitchell, Joe, Marc, and Ryan each have traits about themselves they dislike.  Even the “ghost girl,” Monica Tisdale, must face her shortcomings and learn to embrace herself for who she really is.

 

After all, what makes for a well-rounded and memorable literary character?  Is a great character perfect, always having the right answer, the best solution, the magic words for every situation that arises?  Perhaps, if you’re talking about Ward Cleaver or Cary Grant (and Grant was a “character” as much as any he played on-screen).  But “perfect” characters like this, while charming and enjoyable to watch when the mood strikes, come across as artificial, Hollywood constructs that represent ideals, not real life.

 

Why should our writing be different?  Why should we stress over stories already finished, already published?  Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Frank Herbert said, “There is no real ending.  It’s just the place where you stop the story.”  (I’m sure he could have said the same about the start, as well!)

None of this means we shouldn’t strive to produce our best work.  By all means, edit your story as long as it takes for you to say, “That’s it.  That’s all I can do.  It’s the best I have.”

And then, as much as possible, accept that final determination.  “It’s the best I have,” not, “It’s the best I have until I get a bad review,” or, “It’s the best I have until I read it again next month and discover that error on page 18.”  Because the fact is, if you go in and fix that error on page 18, a month after that you might find another error on page 27 or 88 or 222.  It can turn into an endless loop of reading and rereading and editing and re-editing.

 

The Persians understood this.  We writers understand this when we create our flawed and human characters.  We understand it when we read other people’s work.  We can appreciate their work for its artistic merit and technique, despite whatever “mistakes” may be present.  We can see the beauty in it.  The truth in it.

Now, if we can only learn to view our own work through that same lens.

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be great.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Value of a Dime

In both The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski can’t help but notice how inexpensive things are in the variant town of Colbyville.  In The Singularity Wheel, in fact, Ryan manages to secure a room in an inn for just $5 a night.  Prices like that make the boys think of period-piece movies, Beaver Cleaver, black-and-white still lifes from a bygone era, speckled with cobwebs.

 

Indeed, I once worked with a woman who, every year, upon receiving her annual “cost-of’-living” raise, would grouse, “Well, three percent of nothing is still nothing!”  Many of the other employees would nod their heads in agreement.  We all notice the increase in prices ($4.49 for that box of cereal?  $10 for a standard book of twenty stamps?) and are caught in the current of escalation as it continues along on its slow, steady, and inexorable march.

 

It has gotten to the point where there are plenty of people, reasonable people at that, who argue that coins should go the way of the dodo.  “Who needs ’em anymore?” a friend of mine said just the other day.  “All they do is clutter up my jacket pocket.”  And I had to admit, he had a point.  But I’m also glad we still have our coins, our one-cent, and five-cent pieces.

 

Our dimes.

In the economic milieu of the 21st century, a single dime cannot purchase much of anything.  But it wasn’t always that way.  Take comic books . . .

Nowadays, to buy a single issue, you need to plunk down $4.  But jump in an imaginary time machine, become ten years old again, and pretend it’s 1950.  At that time, a ten-year-old (let’s call him Kyle as a point of reference) might ask his dad for a dime, just one dime (“I’ll mow the lawn later, Dad, promise!”), and then head over to the corner store, where dozens of comics would be tantalizingly arrayed on a spinning rack.  He’d browse over the issues, the rack squeaking as he turned it, hunting for just the right one, and, maybe, just maybe, he’d pick out a gem like Strange Adventures number 2.

 

This particular issue hit the newsstands in the fall of 1950, and for just ten cents, Kyle was rewarded with a glorious, end-of-the-world-style cover, four feature stories, fifty-two action-packed pages, not to mention tempting advertisements, a short picture-less sci-fi tale, and various illustrated informational blurbs scattered about the issue, one of which was called “A World of Thinking Machines.”  This prescient piece laid out the groundwork for AI and advanced robots.  In fact, thinking machines were not just figments of imaginative sci-fi enthusiasts.  At the time of the issue’s publication, sixty-eight years ago, the article proclaimed the existence of a “metal monster with sinews of electrical wire that can solve the most intricate mathematical equation in minutes . . . [and which can] ‘think’ more perfectly than a dozen human mathematicians!”  The next step, according to the piece, “will be the robot–a tireless, mechanical servant that will perform man’s duties in factory or office or on farm with the utmost efficiency.  The metal workers will usher in the dawn of leisure”–which, the article concludes, will ultimately spread to the home itself, allowing for the “bliss of domestic luxury.”

 

That was a lot of material for a humble dime’s investment.  It brings to mind, in the cold, hard light of 2018, how far we have come, how much inflation has affected our world.  This isn’t a diatribe against inflation–I’m no economist.  Just a statement of fact.  It elicits a certain nostalgia.  I was born long after the phenomenon of ten-cent comic books.  But there is a part of me, perhaps a substantial part, that hungers for a simpler time, a simpler age, when coins were cause for a child’s excitement and enthusiasm.

 

What is the value of a dime today?  What does a single, solitary ten-cent piece, in and of itself, have to offer?  Anything except the ability to break change? In a purely practical, utilitarian sense, perhaps not.  But consider the dime from a different angle.  Look at it with a new perspective.

For starters, the physical characteristics.  I have before me a dime with the year 1993 imprinted on its copper and nickel surface.  The left-facing profile of FDR stares at something we cannot see, his stoic expression etched for the ages.  On the flip side, there is a lit torch flanked by an olive branch on one side and an oak branch on the other, symbolizing liberty, peace, and strength.  The dime in my possession still maintains some of its original luster, even twenty-five years on, though smudges also exist, the result of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fingerprints coming into contact with the surface–some rubbing, some squeezing, some flitting across it for the briefest of moments, but leaving their mark just the same.

 

And those prints, those hands that touched this lightweight alloy of metals, have a story to tell.  This dime could write a novel or a memoir if someone might just give voice to it.  Was it stashed at the back of a dresser drawer, out of sight, for months or years on end?  How many times did it get rolled and deposited into a bank?  How many cashiers handed it out when making change, and when they did, were they focused on this dime, the customer, the next person in line . . . or were their minds drifting, wondering what they might do when their shift ended, if Jeff or Suzie would agree to hang out later, what they would eat for supper, or where they’d go on their next day off?

 

Did the dime ever lie in the belly of a child’s piggy bank, the ten-cent portion of a financial dream?  Did someone perhaps drop it on a sidewalk or a parking lot unknowingly, or, if knowingly, without care?  And did someone else later pick it up, pocket it, and add it to their jar of coins under the kitchen sink?  How many cities has this dime journeyed through?  Has it been to the West Coast and back?  Was it in someone’s pocket as they toured Manhattan?  Has it tasted the sting of dust on a country road in late summer, the sun shining, hot, the hands that fiddled with it salty and moist with sweat?

 

It’s true.  A dime can no longer purchase fifty-two-page comic books that can mesmerize a child–or an adult–over the course of a lazy, leisurely afternoon.  But the other things it can do, the narratives it can weave, and the lessons it can teach if we’re willing to look and listen and wonder and imagine are worth far more than a mere ten cents.

 

And all this time later, I’d like to think that Kyle, our fictional friend from yesteryear and now on the doorstep of becoming an octogenarian, would see it that way, too.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

“The Singularity Wheel” Is Now Available as an E-book! (Or, “This Is Next Year!”)

When the 1955 baseball season opened, fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers wanted to believe–but couldn’t quite get there.  It’s not that the Dodgers weren’t talented.  Every year, they fielded a winning team, a championship-caliber team replete with All-Stars such as Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges.  The thing was, the Dodgers were the ultimate tease.  Since 1941, Brooklyn’s beloved baseball team had made the World Series five times, and each time they lost to the cross-town rival New York Yankees.

 

 

Heading in to 1955, nothing seemed to be different.  The Dodgers were still great, but so were the Yankees.  What was worse, the Dodgers were getting older.  The window was closing.  Players like Robinson and Campanella were on the back end of their careers.  They couldn’t last forever.  No doubt, the Flatbush Faithful must have questioned that spring if their Dodgers would ever win the Series and dethrone the Yankees.

 

Heartbreak was a by-product of rooting for the Dodgers.  At the end of every season, when their team came up just short, the fans would proclaim, “Wait till next year!”  It was a rallying cry that had endured for decades.  To be a Dodgers fan in the mid-twentieth century, you had to be patient, willing to stick with your team despite coming so close season after season.

 

And so even after the Dodgers powered their way to the National League pennant that summer of ’55, winning by a comfortable thirteen-and-a-half games, their fans remained skeptical.  Sure, they were going back to the World Series.  So what?  That was old news.  And so was their opponent–the Yankees.  Another Dodgers-Yankees Subway Series was in the offing.

 

The Series did not start well for Brooklyn.  They lost the first two games in Yankee Stadium.  “Here we go again,” the Dodger faithful must have thought.  “Wait till next year.”  But then a funny thing happened.  As the Series shifted to Ebbets Field, the Dodgers took all three home games, forcing the action back to Yankee Stadium.

 

The Yankees won Game 6, but in Game 7, the Dodgers shut out their arch-rivals, 2-0.  Finally–after decades of coming up short, the Brooklyn Dodgers had won the World Series.  This was, at along last, “next year.”

 

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And now, after four-plus years of writing, editing, and revising, The Singularity Wheel is available on Amazon.  By no means am I equating the sequel to The Eye-Dancers with the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers!  And four years is but a fraction of the decades-long dry spell the Dodgers experienced–but it is good, and rewarding–after so many delays along the way–to release the book.

 

The Singularity Wheel is currently available only as e-book.  You can find it here . . .

The paperback version will be released in February.

Honestly, it’s an odd feeling to be done with the book.  It’s been a part of me for so long.  For the past half-decade, not a day has gone by where I haven’t stressed over some character’s motivation or some sticking point in the plot.  But there is also relief, and a deep gratitude to all of you, who have encouraged me and supported me along the way.  I can’t thank you enough.  And I look forward to blogging with you throughout 2018 and beyond.

 

For right now, this is, indeed, “next year” for The Singularity Wheel.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

An Enduring World Series Blooper (Or, The Ability to Move On)

In October 1912, six months after the sinking of the RMS Titanic and two years before the start of the First World War, the Boston Red Sox and the old New York Giants squared off in what would prove to be an exciting, competitive, and nail-biting World Series.  The series would go to a deciding seventh game (technically, an eighth game, as a game earlier in the series had been called off on account of darkness) as the two best teams in baseball went toe-to-toe.

 

The deciding game took place on Wednesday, October 16, in Boston’s Fenway Park, which had just opened for business that spring.  Trees were starting to turn, the air had a tang to it, and, one way or another, the 1912 baseball season was about to reach its conclusion.

 

The Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide that hit the newsstands the following spring wrote of the 1912 Series: “No individual, whether player, manager, owner, critic, or spectator, who went through the world’s series of 1912 ever will forget it.  There never was another like it.  Years may elapse before there shall be a similar series.”

 

For one player, though, the memories of that deciding final game would be far from pleasant.

Fred Snodgrass was a 24-year-old center fielder for the Giants, just three days shy of his 25th birthday.  He was a solid player–not a superstar by any stretch, but a consistent, steady contributor.  He had played in 146 games that year, batted a respectable .269, and stole 43 bases.  “Snow,” as he was called, would have been as likely as anyone in the Giants lineup to play the hero.

 

He did just the opposite.

The big game went to extra innings, the tension swirling around Fenway Park, thick as sea fog.  And when the Giants plated the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning, to take a 2-1 lead, it appeared that they would break the Fenway faithfuls’ hearts.  But in the bottom of the 10th, the first batter up for the Red Sox lofted a lazy fly ball to center field.

 

Snodgrass camped under the ball, reached up with his mitt, and . . . dropped the ball.  The baserunner slid into second base, safe on the error.  Later, Snodgrass tried to explain what went wrong, how he could have muffed such an easy ball.

“I didn’t seem to be able to hold the ball,” he said, unable to offer an excuse.  “It just dropped out of the glove, and that was all there was to it.”

Snodgrass made a brilliant play on the next batter, robbing him of an extra-base hit.  But the damage had already been done.  Ultimately, the Red Sox scored two runs that inning, aided by “Snow’s” miscue, and won the game, 3-2, and the Series, four games to three.  Snodgrass’s error would become known as “the $30,000 muff,” alluding to the difference between the winning and losing shares for World Series participants that year.

 

Sadly, this was what many fans and sportswriters remembered from the 1912 Series–up until that time, perhaps the best and most compelling World Series ever played.  The matchup between the Red Sox and the Giants that year included four future Hall of Famers and was the first World Series to be decided in the final inning of the final game.

 

But for Fred Snodgrass, he would be reminded of his untimely error for the rest of his life.

“For over half a century I’ve had to live with the fact that I dropped a ball in a World Series,” Snodgrass recounted in Lawrence S. Ritter’s delightful The Glory of Their Times, decades after his 1912 error in the Fall Classic. “‘Oh yes, you’re the guy that dropped that fly ball, aren’t you?’–and for years and years, whenever I’d be introduced to somebody, they’d start to say something and then stop, you know, afraid of hurting my feelings.”

 

The question was–would Snodgrass be able to move on and live his life fully, or would he remain stuck reliving an unforgiving and an unchangeable past?

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In The Singularity Wheel, the sequel to The Eye-Dancers, set to be released in November, Mitchell Brant has a different, but at the same time, similar dilemma.  Five years have passed since the events in The Eye-Dancers, but Mitchell cannot seem to forget Heather, the girl he met in another world, as far away from our earth as can possibly be imagined.  As the years have gone by, Mitchell misses Heather more and more, holding imaginary conversations with her, saving the gold locket she had given him as a keepsake, wishing there was some way he might be reunited with her.  He’s dated other girls since, but no one can hold a candle to Heather.  Being with other girls only serves to remind him of what he’s lacking, the one person he longs to be with but can’t.

 

From chapter 1 of The Singularity Wheel:

“He knelt down in front of his dresser, opened the bottom drawer.  This was where he stored his most valuable comic books.  It was off-limits to everyone else, even Mom, and a perfect place to stash his secret.

“He pulled out stacks of Fantastic Fours, Spider-Mans, Avengers, and X-Men, and set them aside, revealing the necklace with the gold-shaped locket tucked back in the far corner of the drawer.  This was the gift Heather had given him.  Something to remember her by, she had said.  It was cumbersome having to perform this ritual every night.  There were a hundred other places he might store the locket.  But he wouldn’t risk it.  The locket was too precious, too sacred.  No one else could see it.

“He picked it up, sniffed it, wondering if some faint, long-ago fragrance from her might still linger there.  It didn’t.  He wrapped his fingers around it, tight, held it against his cheek.  It was silly, really, what she had said—as if he would ever need anything to help him remember her.  He just wished the way she had believed in him, had confidence in him, might be able to rub off on his own opinion of himself.  Maybe it would have been different if he’d been able to stay with her in Colbyville, be near her, every day.  As it was, it was hard, even impossible sometimes, for Mitchell Brant to believe in Mitchell Brant.”

Will Mitchell get the opportunity, against all odds, to span the void and see Heather again?  And if he does, how will their meeting go?  Will she still feel the same way he does, after all this time?  Or will she no longer care?

 

Moving on is hard to do.  Coming to terms with the regrets of our past, with things we cannot change, with hopes and dreams that may seem out of reach, is one of life’s great challenges.

 

But it’s not impossible.

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Fred Snodgrass was never allowed to forget the error he’d made on baseball’s grandest stage.  But he didn’t let it ruin his life, or eat him up.  Perhaps Mitchell can take solace from Snodgrass’s perspective.

Perhaps we all can.

“Well, life has been good to me since I left baseball,” Snodgrass said in The Glory of Their Times.  “My lovely wife, Josephine, and I have enjoyed success and things have gone well, very well, through these many years.  In contrast, my years in baseball had their ups and downs, their strife and their torment.  But the years I look back at most fondly, and those I’d like most to live over, are the years when I was playing center field for the New York Giants.”

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

When a Pee-Wee-Sized Idea Turns into a Bases-Clearing Home Run

It’s happened to me more times than I can remember.  An idea strikes, out of the blue, an inspiration from the creative ether, and I feel energized, inspired, eager to begin a new story.

boltfrombluebeginning

 

But then a funny thing happens.

I realize, sometimes after keying in the first few sentences, sometimes while thinking about the idea more fully, before having written a single word, that my construct, this gift from the muse, is in fact woefully underdeveloped.  Perhaps it represents a situation, a concept, a character’s epiphany, a new twist on an old theme–it is a good starting point for a story, but it is not, by itself and in itself, a story.  Not even close.  Once the white-hot glow of new creation cools to a steady simmer, once I step back and examine things with a cool and analytical eye, I realize I am nowhere close to beginning a story.  There is still much to flesh out.

simmering

 

This is precisely what happened with The Eye-Dancers.  One night, while still in high school, I had a vivid dream of a girl outside my bedroom window.  She was just a child, maybe seven years old, standing in the light of the street lamp, out in the middle of the road.  But she was no ordinary child–the light went right through her.  She was more ghost than girl, more apparition than flesh-and-blood human being.  She beckoned for me to come outside, and I remember, all these years later, how real it all seemed.  When I woke up moments later, the bedsheets were in a tangle at my feet, and my skin was wet with perspiration.  Immediately I jotted down the essentials of the dream, knowing, instinctively, that this was the germ of a story.  The girl from my dreams couldn’t be wasted, tossed into some discarded literary oblivion from which she might never be heard from again.  She needed to come alive, on the printed page, the centerpiece of a story I was sure I was meant to write.

ghostgirl

 

The thing is, it took twenty years for that story to materialize, two decades for the pieces to fit together into a coherent and structured whole.  Many times, I doubted if I would ever be able to work this “ghost girl” into a story, but finally, in a far-off and futuristic 21st century, Mitchell Brant and Joe Marma and Ryan Swinton and Marc Kuslanski emerged, one by one, against a backdrop of parallel worlds and nightmares come to life, and the “ghost girl” at last had a home.

nightmarescometolife

 

But that’s the way ideas often are.  Every now and then, when we’re lucky, they arrive fully evolved, fleshed out, ready to lead us where they will. Much more frequently, at least in my experience–they come in pieces, bit by bit, at their own pace, and in their own time.  They cannot be rushed, and they cannot be forced.

bitbybitcantberushedtortoise

 

They demand our patience.

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Harold “Pee Wee” Reese was so small as a child that he didn’t manage to get onto his high school baseball team until his senior year, and even then it was for only six games.  Nicknamed “Pee Wee” as a boy because of his mastery of playing marbles, Reese weighed all of 120 pounds as a high school senior.  Few talent scouts indeed would have predicted a future in baseball for the diminutive infielder.

peeweemarbles

 

But Reese continued to play the game he loved, and when his amateur church league team played their championship game on the minor league Louisville Colonels field, personnel for the minor league club were impressed by what they saw.  Maybe the small kid with the slick glove and quick feet had a future in the game, after all.

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Within two short years, Reese was playing shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the Major Leagues.  His big-league career got off to a rocky start, as he broke a bone in his heel during his rookie campaign of 1940, and then the following year, Reese led the Majors in errors.  But as time went on, it became clear that Pee Wee Reese was a keeper.  The Dodgers never traded him or released him; he would go on to play for the heroes of Flatbush for sixteen years.

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Never a great pure hitter, Reese still managed to get on base with regularity, drawing walks and using his savvy to set the table as the leadoff batter in the National League’s most feared lineup, featuring the power of Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, the skill of Junior Gilliam, and the all-around mastery of Jackie Robinson.  It was in regard to Robinson, in particular, where Reese made his most profound mark, helping his teammate along during Robinson’s trailblazing and tempestuous rookie year of 1947.  Reese, the team captain, played such a pivotal role that Robinson later wrote, “Pee Wee, whether you are willing to admit what your being a great guy meant (a great deal) to my career, I want you to know how much I feel it meant.  May I take this opportunity to say a great big thanks and I sincerely hope all things you want in life be yours.”

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Pee Wee Reese retired from baseball as a player in 1958, the year after the Dodgers moved to the West Coast.  (He lost three years of his career in the 1940s while serving in World War II.)  In 1984, deservedly, and long overdue, the Little Colonel, the captain of the Dodgers, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

reeseinthehall

 

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It’s easy to wish that all ideas, when they come, arrive fully formed and ready to go, complete with all major plot developments, character motivations, and even, perhaps, subthemes and story tangents.  And sometimes they do.  In particular, there have been times when an idea for a short story has hit me with such force, such actuality, I knew it was a winner, and all I had to do was sit down at my keyboard and let the tapestry of the idea unravel, word by word.  Ideas like this are the phenoms, the high school superstars who even the most nearsighted of scouts can discern have a bright and accomplished future.

superstarideasnearend

 

But you can’t count on them.  They are the Halley’s Comets of the literary world, only coming round once every blue moon, teasing us with a glimpse, a flourish, and then vanishing, like mist, once again into the farthest depths of the cosmos.

halleyscomet

 

No–most ideas take work, thought, honing, patience.  It’s often easy to become frustrated with such ideas, works-in-progress as they are.  But if we allow these soft-spoken and demure gems the time they need to grow and mature, we may just have a winner on our hands.

Sometimes, even a Pee Wee can make it all the way to the top.

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Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

(Not Quite) All Quiet on the Western Front . . .

As someone who has pursued his flights of fancy in written form since childhood, there are times when I’m asked why I write the things I do.  What motivates me to write a certain short story or a novel featuring four seventh-graders who cross through the void to a parallel world?  It’s a fair question, of course.  After all, what inspires any of us to do the things we do, to create the things we create?

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There are multiple answers, layered answers.  Interests, passions, points of view . . . each of us pursues those things that matter to us, those things we feel a need to share with others.

But there is also a simpler answer, something that delves deeper, moves beyond the subjects and themes, similes and metaphors.

deepspacesomethingmore

There is something more . . .

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Consider an event that took place one hundred years ago–on the battlefields of western Europe, enemy lines entrenched mere yards apart from each other, five months in to the “War That Would End All Wars.”

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Already the combatants were shell-shocked.  Each side had entered the fray believing one knockout blow, one decisive thrust, would assure a quick and easy victory.  The initial German push had caused great alarm in the Allied capitals, and, for a brief moment, Paris itself felt threatened.  But the offensive sputtered at the Marne before bogging down in the cold mud of Flanders.  By the time the 1914 holiday season rolled around, soldiers on both sides of the line had taken to earth, digging trenches and establishing firm boundaries that squared the forces directly across from one another.  It was beginning to be apparent that this would not be the short conflict both sides had hoped for.  Like a thick, toxic fog seeping in through unseen holes, a harsher reality was setting in.

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Thousands upon thousands of soldiers had already died in the fighting.  Ancient rivalries and hatreds burned deep.  Neither side considered defeat, thought about surrender.  These attitudes and beliefs, so firmly ingrained, make the events of December 1914 that much more remarkable.

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In the days leading up to Christmas, official requests for at least a temporary cease-fire had emerged from various factions, including a call from the pope himself that “the guns may fall silent.”  But leaders on all sides shrugged these pleas off.  This was war.  It was no time for cease-fires.

But some of the soldiers living and fighting in the trenches took matters in their own hands.  As the month of December pushed on, signs were evident that something different, something unusual, was in the air.

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Many soldiers would later write home about the events that followed.  One of the most well-known such letters was penned by British soldier Frederick W. Heath, a Private.  In his epistle, Heath writes of the “ghostly shadows that haunt the trenches,” the “grave-like rise of ground that marked the German trenches two hundred yards away.”  “The soldiers’ Christmas Eve had come at last,” he states, but “it was hardly the time or place to feel grateful for it.”

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Homesick, “with overcoat thick with wet mud, hands cracked and sore with the frost,” he writes: “Back somewhere in England, the fires were burning in cosy rooms; in fancy I heard laughter and the thousand melodies of reunion on Christmas Eve.”

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But then, in the middle of this reverie, Private Heath sees “a light in the enemy’s trenches”–something “so rare at this hour that I passed a message down the line.”  He “had hardly spoken when light after light sprang up along the German front.”

It is at this point where the young Private hears a voice rising from the German trenches.  “English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!”  The voice urged the British to rise out of their trenches and “come out here to us.”  Heath and his comrades feared a trap, and remained where they were, though a running conversation with the Germans ensued all through the night.

Finally, “came the dawn, pencilling the sky with grey and pink,” and the Germans were moving “recklessly about” on top of their trenches, “no seeking the security of the shelter but a brazen invitation to us to shoot and kill with deadly certainty.”  But they did not shoot.

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The German soldiers continued to ask them to rise from their trenches, to meet halfway, and began walking toward the British line.  Initially Heath and his comrades were cautious, staying where they were, but “not for long could such an appeal be resisted.”  They met the Germans in No-Man’s Land, between the trenches, and “out went the hands [which] tightened in the grip of friendship.  Christmas had made the bitterest foes friends.”

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“Here was no desire to kill,” Heath continues, “but just the wish of a few simple soldiers . . . that on Christmas Day, at any rate, the force of fire should cease.”  The men gave each other cigarettes and exchanged “all manner of things,” along with names and addresses on field service postcards.

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They “stayed together for a while and talked,” and after they had chatted, they “turned back to our respective trenches for breakfast.

“All through the day no shot was fired.”

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But then, after Christmas had come and gone, Private Heath writes, “As I finish this short and scrappy description of a strangely human event, we are pouring rapid fire into the German trenches, and they are returning the compliment just as fiercely.  Screeching through the air above us are the shattering shells of rival batteries of artillery.  So we are back once more to the ordeal of fire.”

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Undoubtedly, the Christmas Truce of 1914 has been mythologized and romanticized in the years since, especially this holiday season, which marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the event.  Tall tales, legends concocted from pure imagination, fictional narratives have thrived.  But something very real and very remarkable did occur a century ago on the mud- and frost-strewn battlefields of France and Belgium.  “It was absolutely astounding,” one British soldier wrote, “and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!”

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And why not?  In the midst of a terrible war that would drag on for four interminable years, across the still, cold lines, the silence was broken by the sounds of soldiers singing the Christmas carols of their youth, the songs they missed and loved and remembered.

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And perhaps this, more than anything, is what lies behind the need we feel to write, to share, to create.  We are all human, in our frailty, our faults, our conflicts, but also in our love, our joy, and our triumphs.  The duality of life never ceases to amaze.  From the Christmas Truce of 1914 to the horrors of Verdun, the Somme, and Ypres a mere two years later, the highs and lows of the human condition mystify and astound.

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Maybe, when it’s all said and done, we write because we have no other choice; we need an outlet, a way of communicating ourselves to the world and the world to ourselves.

Have a wonderful holiday, full of the spirit of the season, and thanks so much for reading!

merrychristmas

–Mike

Author Interview with Luciana Cavallaro

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to be interviewed by Luciana Cavallaro on her great website, Eternal Atlantis.  And now, as I write this in my little corner of Vermont, as the summer season shows its first, subtle hints of ripening into a New England autumn, it is my pleasure to return the favor.

I have been a fan of Luciana’s website for quite some time, and really enjoy her work.  I’m sure you will, too.  She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions recently . . .

1. On your fantastic website, you mention that you love both Greece and Italy.  What is it, specifically, that you enjoy so much about these two countries and cultures?

As a teenager I was drawn to Greece, the history and the magnificent historical sites.  There’s a mystical quality to the country which fascinated me and still does.  I’ve been to Greece twice and each time was a memorable trip.  Being of Italian origin, Italy was always on the cards to visit but my appreciation of the country really hit home when my sister and I went there on a Contiki tour.  I must admit it was an odd feeling, as if I was going home.  Both of us felt it the maternal pull, even though we were born in Australia.  The history of Italy and what the Romans achieved, the good and the bad, is still remarkable.

2.  Who are some of your favorite authors?  Were there any authors who inspired you when you were growing up and/or who were driving forces in your development as a writer?

I have many favourite authors across a variety of genres, though stand outs would be David Gemmell, who sadly passed away, Michael Connelly, Massimo Valerio Manfredi, Robert Harris, and PD Martin.  I was in awe of authors who created amazing stories and could take you on a journey where for a while you are immersed in the plight or danger of the character.  Writing stories was something I didn’t consider especially growing up.  English was not my strongest subject at school but I loved to read.  It wasn’t until I read Herodotus’s The Histories while studying at university and then Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey that I was inspired to write.

3. Many of your stories center around ancient history and myth.  Do you have a particular favorite Greek God and/or Goddess?

Not really,  I find them all equally mesmerising.  Each has flaws as well as positive traits which is a great way to explain the nature of human behaviour.

4. When you write about famous characters, such as Helen of Troy, you are of course somewhat restricted by historical and literary precedent.  There is an established story in place for such a character.  How do you therefore walk the line of staying true to the classical literature and yet, simultaneously, inject a fresh, new, and perhaps unexpected or even controversial point of view?

Reading various sources and watching documentaries helped create a profile of Helen and of the other characters in the short stories series.  I wanted to tell their version of events but still keep some of the characteristics of their personalities as well as keeping true to the myth or story.  The most challenging aspect about the stories I have written is how well known they are and how readers will react to my translation of them.  I do hope I have, to use your words, “injected a fresh” perspective of mythology with my stories.

5. The stories you write clearly entail a lot of research and study into the subject matter.  Do you enjoy that part of the process?  Or is it something you like to get done and out of the way?

I love the research and learning new intriguing information, it is what drives me to write the stories.  I read Euripides’ play on Phaedra and followed it up with research.  There is not a lot of information about her but there is plenty on her father King Minos, her sister Ariadne, Theseus, and of course the Minotaur.  She was a little-known character amidst these huge players and yet she had a story to tell.  Most of the nonfiction books I read tend to generate ideas for me and then I go and explore.

6. Do you have any new works in progress that you can tell us about?

I am currently reworking my epic novel, The Legacy, a huge task as I am deconstructing each chapter.  Had hopes of getting it published early next year but may take longer, depends on how much I can get done between now and the end of the year.  I am also working on a print version of the short stories titled Accursed Women, and aiming to have it out late this year.

7. Where can readers discover more about you and your work?

People can visit my blog Eternal Atlantis: http://luccav.com/

Come say hello on my Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/YSfKap

Follow me on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/ClucianaLuciana

I have a Google+ page, too, and if you really want to keep up to date with the latest news on book releases, launches, competitions,  I have an e-Bulletin: http://eepurl.com/upMxL. I am on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/Zc48zg, and have a Smashwords page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Moirai, Amazon Author page: http://bit.ly/V9ATb1, and am on Kobo: http://bit.ly/16l3OiC.

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Luciana Cavallaro grew up in a small country town in Western Australia and moved to Perth to study teaching at university.  After some years teaching teenagers, she decided it was time take some of her own advice and follow her dream.

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Luciana has travelled extensively and since her first trip to Europe revisited her favourite destinations — Greece and Italy — the inspiration for her stories.  “Mythology and Ancient History has always been my passion and I want to share these wonderful legends.”

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Thanks so much to Luciana for doing this interview, and thank you to everyone for reading!

–Mike

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