Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie Trailers As Literature: American Hustle

I admire those who can put creative power into small spaces. I enjoy the great lyricist who can entice you with a few verses. I also enjoy the work of those who put together movie trailers. Granted, few movie trailers are great, but some rise above the crowd.

Take, for example, the official trailer for American Hustle.  It starts out with Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper looking at a Rembrandt that Bale says is a forgery. He asks the central question: Who is the real artist here, the painter or the forger? Then the trailer hooks me with the next phase: Led Zeppelin hammering out Good Times, Bad Times as clips from the movie are reeled out in rapid-fire fashion. As soon as that song hit, I knew I had to see the movie.

Why was that trailer successful? Two little things: It leads with a philosophical question that ties into the Abscam investigation that is at the center of the movie, and then it adds a song that says this is going to be a snappy experience for the movie fan. Simple, concise, edgy. (Just a warning: Good Times, Bad Times isn't in the movie, which was a minor letdown.)

The lesson here for writers is to achieve the same thing in each chapter, or in each section of a chapter. Each little section can be its own little movie trailer. Hook together enough of those "trailers" and you have a pretty darned good novel. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Am Writing New Material In My Second Novel!!!

I woke up in the middle of the night and had one thought banging against my brain. It was relentless, and I knew it was the right thought to have. It said this: "It's time to write new parts of a novel." So, I got up, pulled out my flash drive with the second Daniel Pace novel on it, and I started to work.

Writing new material didn't happen. (OK, my above title is a lie. So, sue me.) I needed to reacquaint myself with the parts of the novel I already started. I got fairly deep into this second creation, but I put it aside for more than six months. That was because my first novel in the series needed to be revised. Those revisions took three forms: revisions I know I had to make; a learning experience at Don Maass' week-long writing workshop in Virginia Beach, Va.; and more revisions on what I learned from Don and his team. Those revisions mean going over and over material with which I am intimately familiar. It's vital, but it isn't the most fulfilling work.

Diving into the second novel again has a certain cleansing quality. There is nothing more I enjoy in the literary process than creating new situations and putting my main characters through a little bit of personal hell. Revisions are simply sprucing up old friends. Creating new material is liberating all those thoughts I suppressed. My brain says this: Run free, my darlings! Cause chaos! Find love!

I also enjoy the new novel because it takes a different slant than the first one. Yes, Pace faces peril. Every thriller writer needs to put his main character through that, but the type of peril he faces is a world away from that in the first novel. It has a delicious element to it. I also know what the third novel in the series will be about, but I will need to explore various areas of science to be prepared for actual writing. I will promise this: It will be a harrowing experience. Poor Daniel. I do miss up his life terribly.

I am sure I will have another middle-of-the-night epiphany, and I will walk downstairs, fire up the computer, and drag Danny through more misery. I couldn't be happier to do it.

Ain't the writer's life fun?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Death of the Oxford Comma? Of Course

I read with glee (in some cases) and angst (in others) as the world of teachers, writers and common people weighed in on the apparent loss of the Oxford comma. The death of the comma turned out to be in error; it was just the Oxford public relations department that was dropping the comma, not the university as a whole. The fire storm that started because of the rumored demise amused me. When I first saw the news, I had only one thought.

What took Oxford so long?

I am a man raised in journalism. Journalists rely on Associated Press style, which regards the Oxford comma as an unnecessary intruder. It should be written like this, "The American flag is red, white and blue," and not this, "The American flag is red, white, and blue." The Oxford comma died a quiet death in my world during my middle years in college. I first displayed this lack of respect for the Oxford dictates while writing a short piece of fiction for an upper-level English class. The instructor noted my "error," and I countered by saying that there was no such error because I was being trained as a journalist, and newspaper folks didn't think much of the Oxford comma. He said he would take my journalism training into account, but he added (quite gently) that the comma has a justifiable purpose even if the AP doesn't agree.

My biggest laugh in this debate came a couple of years ago when I was reading the blog of a young literary agent in New York City. She defended the Oxford comma with the passion with which a mother would defend one of her children. It must be retained for the love of the language, she wrote. She was adamant about that. What caused me to laugh was that she felt it necessary to drop an f-bomb into her writing. I had to wonder, what hurts the English language more, the absence of a comma or the younger generation's overuse of the f-word as noun, verb, adjective and adverb? I argue that the f-bomb is more abusive, unless, of course, you are in the throes of passion and find it convenient to utter the word into your partner's ear, or creating a particular character who injects that term into everyday usage (which I do in my novels).

Now, I try to ignore the AP influences in my manuscripts and insert the Oxford comma. I am sure I am probably 50/50 in using "proper English." Those journalist's ways are so entrenched that they go on auto pilot. I am not a lazy editor. I believe spelling, grammar and syntax are vital and must be defended. I am just not going feel as if I have committed a faux pas if I omit an Oxford comma here or there. So there. Deal with it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My first cinema crush: Julie Christie

I was young, caught up in the swirl of emotions that go with entering adolescence. I loved going to the movies, and Doctor Zhivago was the movie of the year. I wanted to be swept away by the sprawling story of Russia in the period of revolution. I ended up being swept away by more than that.

I fell in love with Julie Christie, in only a cinematic sense, of course.

I was enamored. Her beauty was overwhelming. Her skin was flawless. Her hair was spun gold. And there were those eyes. Director David Lean knew the power of those eyes, and he had several shots where Lara (Christie's character) was seen in partial shadow, with those eyes highlighted. Ah, what beautiful moments.

What young man wouldn't fall for a woman as beautiful as that? The first crush is always memorable. But what is more remarkable is that I found a love from a beautiful woman that is far beyond anything to be gleaned from the screen. Julie Christie might have been a dream woman, but she was only a dream. I found something far better, and far more long-lasting.

And isn't that the most beautiful thing of all.