Today’s Gatsby: Getting Wise to his Story

JayGatsby1[1]In every retelling or its variations, Gatsby must die.  He represents the adolescence of an emerging adult, some say a nation, who must meet his death to be reborn through a witness, I say a writer, to the real, if not better, World.  And there are two sides to this persistent death.  One is the faith that audiences will continue to buy it — the fiction, if not the dream.  The other is that, despite it all, some writers still believe in that kind of hero myth.  We keep the faith that Gatsby’s death is gonna lead us somewhere good.  And writers only needs a grain of it to keep us offing poor heroes, like Gatsby, over and over so the narrator/writer can reflect and mourn on innocence lost and from it, gloriously raise perseverance and the determination to make the sacrifice of others ‘count’.

Why do we continue to repeat classics that may no longer apply to who we are now?  What would a modern-day Gatsby do with himself in today’s culture?  On who or what would he foolishly gamble away all his passion?  They simply don’t manufacture Dreams like they use to.  He would never buy one today — not enough of one, anyway, to carry him to his purposeful end.  And I’d argue that neither is there enough motivation for any modern leading lady to convincingly play the ‘supportive’ role long enough to inspire him the rest of the way.  I would personally love to see a Gatsby who takes a different stand.  

Faith in heroes has changed a lot in the last 90 years. Heroes should probably stop letting themselves be solely the invention of writers.  Especially if we keep telling the same stories!  Just different cast and costume.  The heroes out there need to help us out a little.  And what about our audiences?  What role do they play in keeping our modern-day heroes alive?

What about that state where all songs and stories were new and a new frontier was always in our horizon?  Just as it was in Gatsby’s time. Ah, I think, maybe there lies the beginning of the problem.  Maybe the stories that we keep repeating, we do so because these stories are just the beginning of a much larger story that was never fully realized.  We can’t get past what we haven’t finished yet.

© lyw 

fiction to fill an empty house

 

A long time ago, I penned a peculiar short fiction about a house with a human personality who reacts to a stranger entering uninvited.  She – the house is female – is empty only for the fact that a human does not own her.

Now Freudians might scoff that the writer clearly let slip some hidden meanings that are not so well-hidden, however – let me finish the story of the story before judgement:

The story begins with the house noticing a stranger across the street from her.  Her initial response is to be afraid yet this man is no threat to her.  He doesn’t break or break into anything.  He is only a visitor who enters her house much like a beautiful song can enter the ears without need for an invitation or introduction.  He, this song, settles by her fireside and takes a moment to rest his weary soul there.

And there it is!  This story is about how a particular song had graced my ears once.  That’s it.  That’s all.  I swear.  I wanted to use fiction as a unique way to describe how we can feel so familiar with an artist, even though we have never met, simply by experiencing that person’s artwork.

Since I chose fiction as my medium, I didn’t want to take a direct approach.  Go figure.  I decided to build a metaphor around this experience.

The development of the fear in this story began when I separated the house’s character from myself and the idea.  This is a creative writing method I often use to let my character be her own character and thus give the story a chance to grow in unanticipated ways.  Boy, did it ever.  Being a house, I instinctively made her more domesticated and thus more suspicious of strangers unlike lovers of art who are a little more free-wheeling with the unknown.

I realize my biggest mistake with this story.  Without knowing immediately that the main character is the house, the tone of the story can be very creepy instead of very curious.  This was the opinion of a friend who I had critique the piece.  At the time, I brushed him off as closed-minded.  Now I realize that he must have thought the main character was a human woman being stalked and invaded by a maniac and then becoming complacent about it.  Totally not what I meant.

If I were to fix the story now it would be a whole new fiction influenced by the person I am today.  And I still love the original intent and moment of this story so I will leave it in the past but with the added disclaimer: the main character is the house!  And it’s a metaphor for crying out loud!

I heartily invite you to take a moment to enjoy the song, if not the story.  The song was Anthony Hamilton’s Do you Feel Me?  A very pretty, quiet and soulful tune.  He (as in the song — not the artist!) still sleeps peacefully in a special place in my heart.

Fiction is dangerous!  But let it.  Let it make this writer be more careful and more precise. Let me be misunderstood about something that is meaningful to me so that I can get to a better meaning with another human being.  This is a practice worth carrying over to things other than fiction-writing.

Another interesting note: the confusion related to this short also illustrates the stark difference in the way art and real life deals with strangers and strange ideas.  When we experience a stranger through their artwork we are more open to letting them in; when we experience a stranger on our doorstep, we are less inclined.  Reality makes this difference so sadly wise.

© lyw 

Link to song:

Side note on the The Treachery of Images by René Magritte https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images

Photo of House by Cindy Tang on Unsplash

digging up old ideas

Recently, on the way to my day job, I remembered a film script idea that I had about 10 years ago.  I went digging for that old idea in my files and couldn’t find it.  I am sure I left it in the past for a reason and shouldn’t be too concerned by the loss.  Good or bad, though, I would still like to see it again.

It’s funny how a creative idea that was never realized always feels precious like a rough gem.  It could have been the worst idea in the world but as a fledgling bad idea it always has the potential to be magnificent.  Funny, still, how I feel more attached towards ideas from my past than people from my past.  Perhaps this is because people are not within my control, whereas an idea is — or should be – can be?  If nothing comes of my idea, I am the only one to blame.  I am that idea’s only hope.  Nobody would have that idea quite like me.  Certainly, nobody would love my idea quite like me.

Funny on funny.  Because, again, if I had developed those ideas into the ugly monstrosities that usually occur when I develop script or novel ideas then that preciousness would be lost.

I did a major purge of creative files a few years ago mainly because I was advised that it was a very healthy thing to do for writers.  This purge promised to help me to:

  1. Let go of the past that is keeping me from experiencing the present or having any mind for the future.
  2. If I have been dogging on a story for years and not getting anywhere, remember that I am mortal; my time here is finite.
  3. Realize that an idea that is 10 years old or older probably has little relevance to me now or would need to be turned into a new idea to suit who I am as a writer.
  4. Consider that since I probably have at least a few creative ideas a year — if all of my undeveloped ideas continued to follow after me, year after year, like tin cans attached to my waist with strings – I’d make such a royal din everywhere I went.
  5. Accept that some ideas are just bad and deserve to be put to rest.  I don’t know if I can ever believe this statement.  After all, aren’t I the bad one if I can’t make something out of one of my brilliant ideas?

**Important Note: I’m only talking about literary ideas.  An idea such as doing your own amateur household electrical or medical surgery.  No.  Don’t do it.

I think the lesson learned is that if I should have a good literary idea then I should develop it immediately.  Embrace the sucking, as They say, and just do it — so it doesn’t follow after me for years and I don’t suffer the regret of needing to purge them. I bet some sort of angel or spirit weeps every time an idea dies before it’s even given a chance.

Ultimately, there is wisdom to this funny business.  Whenever I have tried to develop a creative concept into a novel or script it has grown into a hairy kind of Frankenstein with lots of heads, arms and legs and eventually feels beyond my control to develop any further.

I do believe, though have not yet proven, that I must persevere long enough to see the beauty in the ugly reality of my idea.  That’s life, isn’t it?  An idea is an ideal.  The ideal is perfection.  Longer creative pieces will never turn out the way I had it in mind.  The writer and the story develop together and the reality will always come out differently.  The reality is where I will learn and test the truth about me, my story and my perspective on this life.  Time is a factor as well.  The act of stretching out an idea through linear time, page after page, scene after scene — it does stuff to an idea.  It applies maddening and rigid logic to the abstract.

Obviously, if my storytelling craft adhered to a popular formula or template the work and product would be different.  Ideas, I imagine, would have a clearer and smaller path to follow to completion.  Kudos to writers who can successfully write longer creative pieces within a template.  My monsters have always managed to escape such prisons.

And those are the few times when I have actually been very proud of my monstrosities.

© lyw 

Photography credits:

Dave Michuda

Nirzar Pangarkar

The Ghost who Haunted Subtly

Tom Gauld

© Tom Gauld c/o:  www.tomgauld.com

Until a few days ago, I did not know that literary fiction was popularly known as boring fiction; challenging, yes; questionable, often; but, not boring.

I was actually preparing a short blog series to celebrate literary fiction when coincidentally during my research I was trying to finish a debut novel of a now, award-winning, literary writer.

Marcel is an eloquent and charming short novel, leaning heavily on the passive side.  The back of the book said the main character is haunted by the mystery of a family member’s life and death.  But there is no haunting.  The boy is not haunted.  More like mildly curious, in a very mute way.  I wasn’t expecting a horror novel but, at least, a character more on edge.

The back of the book also promised me a dramatic discovery of the dead man’s letters yet I was halfway through the novel and no letters.  Novels are not scripts, so it’s okay that this writer did not prescribe to needing the main action to start any time soon.  It’s good to have variety in our media art.  Like having Tolkien’s Ents in our midst.  Instead of letters, I was steeped in poignant and poetic descriptive writing, heavy like the air on a hot summer evening.  This had been enough to get me to buy the book but the lack of motivation could not get me to finish it.  Life is too short.

Subtle is another word used on the back of this book cover.  Yes, I got the subtle.  Subtle and passive.  A challenging combination for any writer to maintain for even half of this short novel especially for my generational sickness of a short attention span.

I said in my last blog that I feel like I meet writers in their fiction and that this is one of the most interesting ways of meeting another person.  How interesting a story is depends on how skilled the writer is and how much a writer is willing to give of him or herself.  I can’t believe that some writers just aren’t interesting.  If I’m not interested in a book either it’s not my type, or more likely, it’s because the writer is holding back or some thing is holding the writer back.

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Book Cover image c/o: http://www.goodreads.com/

Marcel is the first novel of a writer who was probably fresh out of school.  While reading it, I felt like I was meeting a writer who didn’t know how to present himself and so instead, presented what he learned in school over a footprint of human history.  At least, I think so.  I never finished the book. The writing is very safe and proper.

I do think this literary novel is boring but it’s still better than anything I could have conceived.  If I had written a novel fresh out of school, I would have come out with some weird, violent metaphor for my soul that would have frightened the daylights out of anybody.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to go all the way to a full manuscript.  This writer did, and went on to continue to evolve his craft.

Who said all literary fiction had to be good anyway?  Just like, who said all literary writers write on a higher plateau?

Nevertheless, literary fiction is still the art of creative writing in one of its higher forms; when writers reach for this, we are bound to get the crazy bad with the crazy good.   It is still the genre that makes genres and our known archetypes and plot scenarios.

Literary fiction can suck.  However, I believe it is only boring when writers let themselves be held back or discouraged.  Who was that first person to coin the phrase, ‘Embrace the sucking’? Though its origins may be military, I think brave artists take the phrase to a whole new level.

© lyw