The Creation of Character
I love reading Ernest Gaines. In my mind he is probably the greatest crafter of character in modern literature. I remember once I read an interview with him, in which he said that he wrote the stories he did because the ghosts of his ancestors, the people he knew as a child and those that came before him, told their stories through him. He always writes in the first person, almost like a medium channeling a spirit. I remember when I read it I was floored, because it instantly reminded me of Elie Wiesel, another favorite writer of mine, who said he first felt compelled to write Night because the ghosts of his family spoke to him, entreating him not to let their tale die with them. "Remember...tell our stories." I love the thought of that.

I am thinking about inspiration tonight. The LOML asks me sometimes, "Where do the ideas come from? How do you decide who gets to live and who gets to die?" I give him the same answer you'll read in any interview with any writer, successful or not - I just get them. The characters kind of take over the story, and off they go. Only they know who lives and who dies till the end. Sometimes I feel possessed, and I am so far into the moment that I lose track of time and all concrete sense of what it is that I'm doing.

It is a kind of barter, I suppose. They get immortality. We get the (hopefully) material compensation that comes from the craft the trade.

The characters, whether real or imagined, determine the course. We only tell their stories.

26 March 2007

Louisiana Love Affair
I know this place is a mess. I've grown up here. There's nothing, really, that anyone can tell me about my home state that would come as a surprise at this point. I've lived in just about every corner - from Natchitoches to Slidell, between Lake Charles and Alexandria, and now currently in Lafayette. I've been to a thousand tiny towns in between. I've walked the French Quarter in the wee hours, watched the Christmas Festival lights, fed alligators and danced the zydeco. I've seen the Courir and caught beads at Endymion. Not much you can tell me about the history, or the people, or the politics.

I know about the racism, the poverty, the anguish of the poor who spend their whole lives watching what seems to be a truer life pass them by. I know about the politicians who seem to think it is a competition sport to rob and rape as much of this beautiful land and its people as possible in the shortest period of time. I know about the lack of education and health care that keeps us at the bottom of every good ranking, and at the top of every bad one. I am a veteran of tiny schools with no funding, welfare lines and the Katrina disaster. And yet. And yet.

There is magic in this place. There are spirits in the air all around us - of the dead, and sometimes the living, who call in the wind, help us to remember, and give a crackle to the atmosphere at dusk. There is something, something, that draws people here from every nation on the globe - not just as individuals, mind you, but entire communities. You can feel it in your heart when you breathe the air, or watch the sunset, or listen to the buzz of the crickets in the evening. It is magic from another time, magic that the modern world has forgotten, magic that hangs over this land like a mist. It gives us strength, and power, and a will to continue. It gives us art overflowing like a bounty, painting and literature and music and food. It gives us our character, and our lifeblood.

Maybe it is the fact that even in our poverty and problems, we always find a way to be happy, to celebrate and to live life with every ounce of energy we have. Maybe it is the fact that this place has a history bathed in equal parts blood and joy. Maybe it is the Mississippi River, or the hurricanes, or the mysteries of the swamps. Whatever its origins, our magic is as real as a heartbeat. It's why people love to travel here from everywhere to see and hear and taste for themselves.

Why am I writing this out of the blue? Today I was driving along, moving from the city out into the surrounding countryside, and like a soft blanket it enveloped me and held me in its embrace. I looked around, even from the confines of my car, with my cellphone buzzing and the ipod blasting, and that magic penetrated my body straight through to my heart. Even though I have lived here my entire life, even though there is surely nothing new under the sun for me in the state of Louisiana, there, like a cool wave, it was. And so I came home, and wrote a love song.

20 March 2007

Warming Up
Happy these days as Spring has managed to, well, spring around here. Lots of people in south Louisiana are happy for winter, as it affords us our only chance at cool, mosquito-free weather for the year but I simply can't stand it. Every year I trudge through January and February, wondering if I'll make it until the color green finds its way back into the world. Nothing cheers my soul like seeing those first buds breaking out on tree branches everywhere. I can't even imagine how people in the northern climes manage it. At any rate, the cold in my bones is finally receding, and I can get on with things.

Sent off the manuscript of "Requiem for a Werewolf" yesterday to a magazine. Time to stop thinking about it for a bit, and perhaps work on another story. Maybe back to the novel for a few days. Had an idea the other day for a more conventional piece with the LOML as main character. My first love will always be the mildly fantastical, though, so I can imagine it will turn into something along those lines.

16 March 2007

Critical of the Critic
Last week I read the review of 300 by Dana Stevens in Slate Magazine online and then on Saturday I saw the movie for myself. Can I just say what the hell? Perhaps in some situations it helps to have a piece of art reviewed by someone who has no previous knowledge of the form. I can understand the concept of a fresh pair of eyes. Unfortunately, however, I don't think that was the case here. It was pretty clear to me that Ms. Stevens doesn't know or care to know anything about the art form this film was taken from.

Her main beef with 300 seems to be that it isn't a vehicle for promoting some sort of message against our current war situation in the Middle East. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not a supporter of said situation. I am a card-carrying, dyed-in-the wool Liberal, and not afraid to admit it (even though I live in Louisiana and it's practically a hanging offense here). It irritates me, however, that she takes this movie to task for not being a socially-conscious enough war film. At one point she bemoans the fact that it "doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment." Her attitude is dripping with undisguised contempt when she reveals that director Zack Snyder created the film for (Shock!!) entertainment value.

Now I'm fairly sure here that Dana Stevens has no idea who Frank Miller is. I can understand that she doesn't have much interest in graphic novels or comics. But I think anyone who does can agree that to truly appreciate this film you should know something about its origins. This film was, from a comic fan's perspective, beautiful. The filmmakers captured the feel of the graphic novel perfectly, from the gorgeous colorization down to the detail of the 2-D blood. It felt like a comic, because that's what it was - a comic come alive. It was a love story dedicated to what this art form has done since its conception, provide a stylized, compact, artistic rendering of a story.

And while I'm at it, I'm sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, but this story is in fact based on an actual event, in which a very small contingent of soldiers fought to the death even though they were vastly outnumbered. They were Spartans, professional soldiers who were trained to follow their king no matter what the cost. If you went to see a movie with the tagline, "Spartans, tonight we dine in Hell!" with the notion that you'd see peace accords and a solution to eternal conflict in the Middle East, well, as the LOML says to me frequently, I don't know what to tell you.

Sorry, Dana. I loved it.

13 March 2007

Milestones & Stepping Stones
Finished the first draft of the current story. It now has a name (drum roll), "Requiem for a Werewolf". The goal this week is to get it revised and perhaps sent off to a magazine. Also did some reading - I finished Stephen King's On Writing a couple of nights ago. Very good, actually. In general, I find his writing to be somewhat pedestrian (with the exception of The Stand and the first Gunslinger book), but this was very well written, with some excellent practical advice for new writers. What I came away with was a sense that he truly loves what he does. Perhaps that is just a screen, but it seemed genuine to me.

05 March 2007

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