Ghost Squad Books Sunday, Jul 15 2012 

I had 2-3 books in my probably later elementary school, maybe up to junior high school (?) years, that I loved so very much. They were part of the Ghost Squad series. I have been meaning off and on to Google them for a while now. I really liked the books but especially loved the one where they went on the Concorde. It fascinated me so much! Really spurred my imagination. It was on my to-do-once-in-life list, really. I was very very sad when the Concordes quit flying because it meant that dream was gone. And I was happy to at least get the chance to look at one at the new Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum in the DC area, closest I’ll ever come to being able to fly in one I guess. I remember how the ghost characters like phased out partially or something when they were on it, going supersonic, like they had lines in them or something. The memories are vague but I read tons of books and these stand out in my memory above most others.

I still have at least two of the three, I saw them not long ago. And the coolest thing ever, actually I knew there was a “book 1” — an “origins story” I know to call it now — but I didn’t have it, and in those days there was no internet so if the local bookstore didn’t have you were out of luck. So I wrote to the publisher! An actual letter (that’s what we had then, you know!). The address was there in the book. And I told them how much I liked the two books I had and could they please tell me how to buy the one I didn’t have. And they sent it to me for free! That was so awesome, I still remember how excited it was and how I knew how nice of them it was, I hadn’t expected that.

So, finally, I looked them up. On Amazon you can find a few of them sold as collectors items. And it looks like a couple of remake books have been written. I read the description of another one of the books and it referred to a “Malev” which meant a malevolent ghost. And suddenly I remembered, this is where I learned the word “malevolent.” I’m a language geek so occasionally I do have memories like that, of exactly when I learned a word. And that gave me even more warm fuzzies. I enjoyed these books, they stoked my imagination, and I learned from them — it doesn’t get better than that in kids’ books!

So I looked up the author, E.W. Hildick, on Wikipedia. And felt kind of kicked in the gut to see he had died in 2001. I never knew anything about him, didn’t remember his name. But I was genuinely saddened to learn he’s no longer with us. According to the Wikipedia article among his other careers he was a secondary school teacher.

If anyone should come across this post who read his books and may have some memories to share, I’d love to hear about it!

Current Entertainment Friday, Jan 22 2010 

Currently reading: Yikes, nothing at the moment. I guess I should fix that. Most recently read the absolute worst popular fiction book I’ve ever read. (Not my usual reading fare, but it’s good airplane and travel reading.) There didn’t seem to be any plot development at all until the last couple of chapters. The characters did out-of-the-blue unmotivated things. The guys got together and hung out and talked about their feelings for the girls (what guys really talk about at diners, or what girls like to think they talk about at diners, hm?). Huge cast of characters drawn over from a previous book; more time was spent going over the plot from the first book than having a plot in THIS book. Took place in a small town…small enough that anything anyone did outside of their house was seen by at least one — usually more — other main character; I’m from a small town and it ain’t quite like that. Reading this book was kind of like work, but once you start you feel obligated to finish. I find it remarkable that anyone published this book.

Currently watching on TV: Chuck, loved-loved-loved the episode I just watched online, “Operation Awesome.” This is good fun stuff that leaves you with that “feel-good” thing. The Closer remains at the top of my list, though it isn’t currently showing. Can I marry Fritz? 24 has just started, so far so good. Could be interesting. Gosh, did you see what Renee did to get the security bracelet off that guy’s wrist?! Woah, was that unexpected! (Oh, yeah, “that makes her craaaazy.”) Yeah…I turned away from that one, as one sometimes has to do on 24. I just watched the first episode of Human TargetMostly because of the lead actor, who I like and have vaguely followed over the years. It’ll probably be like for most things these days though, if I’m home and happen to want to watch something on TV, I’d watch it. I still like the Law and Orders, but don’t catch them often. Have gotten into Criminal Minds recently after being turned off earlier by some uber-violent sicko stuff in some episodes, but again I don’t catch it often. I think that’s about it! I can always dig people house-shopping on HGTV.

Most recently watched movie: Airplane! Oh yeah, baby. “And that’s when I developed my drinking problem.” “And don’t call me Shirley.” “–A hospital? What is it? –It’s a big building with sick people in it, but that’s not important right now.” “And they’re perfect for keeping hot dog buns fresh.” “Would you like that smoking or non?” “Jim never has two cups of coffee at home.” “El noa you smoko.” “Everything is perfectly fine. And, by the way, does anyone know how to fly an airplane?”

Most recently watched movie in the theater: Uhhhh…the latest Harry Potter movie, months ago!

Currently listening to: The Moody Blues and New Order, both hits albums. The Moody Blues are mostly a band from before my time, though I loved “Your Wildest Dreams” in the 80’s. It’s so weird that I’ve come to love them so much. I love the harmony, the richness and energy of the music with all the different instruments, oh, the flute in “Nights in White Satin”! I could listen to that CD over and over and over again…and have! I got New Order just recently, man is that a fun album. New wave I’d call them, not sure exactly what it is, synth pop or something. Somehow I never heard of them in the 80’s, though I vaguely knew 3 songs. “Blue Monday” is the best, and the long version of it on Disc 1 is awesome. It was a good buy, I like the songs I didn’t know before too. Good fun stuff, good to clean your house to and dance around a bit.

I Love Chuck!!! (spoilers) Thursday, Jan 21 2010 

If you have not seen Episode #4, the Operation Awesome episode, of the third season of Chuck, DO NOT READ FURTHER.

Wow, wow, wow. I had so much fun watching this episode it prompted me to write something here after almost a year!

I have actually missed every single episode of Chuck this year so far, and have watched them online, turning the volume off during those annoying repetitive commercials. I was shocked — SHOCKED — to see Episode 3 (the Angel de la Muerte) episode, in which it looked like Awesome had been killed. (Usually you kind of hear about these things in advance, online or in previews or something.)

I love the Awesome character. I am super-impressed with the writers’/actor’s ability to create a character that is so darn perfect and “awesome” in every way…and you actually don’t hate him! In fact, he seems like a genuinely nice guy, somebody you’d like to hang out with as a friend, or to be your older brother.  You’d enjoy hanging out with him even though he’s smarter than you, better-looking than you, more charming than you, more athletic than you, etc. etc. etc.  This ain’t easy to pull off, folks!

So I was both shocked and very much saddened. I wondered why they did it, and figured, I guess shows do what they have to do, you know, and killing off Awesome brings some “reality” to what is an absurdly unreal show (I hated it in the first episode and didn’t watch again until I think the second season…when I “got it” — oh, it’s comedy!), and it opens up dating storyline possibilities for Ellie. Then I also thought, well, it’s kind of refreshing how they did it, no violent struggle or anything, just a quick look at a guy’s face and his needle, Awesome’s awesome bedside manner, cut. Cue largely wordless scene of Chuck reacting to the news about Awesome, and watching Ellie, anticipating her reaction. Interesting storytelling, I thought, maybe we won’t see the scene you “have to” see, of the closest person getting the bad news.

I don’t watch much TV these days. So I didn’t see the promos that some people on the official Chuck message boards referred to that clued them in to what would happen in Operation Awesome. Right before I watched the episode (the episode where I expected to see them dealing with Awesome’s death, and, based on the title, going after the guy who killed him), I saw a Season 3 cast photo, which Awesome was in, and I thought…maybe, just maybe…he’s not dead? Oh, I have to watch right now!

Opening scene — Awesome’s very much alive! OK, yeah, I said it out loud — “He’s alive!” And I was absurdly happy. (“Absurdly” b/c we are talking about a TV show here…I had a frustrating day at work, maybe that contributed!)

Oh. My. Gosh. This is a classic Chuck episode. All the things I like about Chuck. Laughter, family/friend/loved one feel-good stuff, ridiculous juxtapositions of all types.

Favorite lines/moments:

Big Mike: “Usually mornings are Big Mike Time. Time for reflection and pastry.

Awesome and the cat…no, wait, the bear…no, wait…the headless bear…oh, my gosh, I loved Awesome more with every word. Oh, and LOL again, Ellie’s little reactions to Casey after Chuck’s version of the evening.

Casey: “Something else you should know about me. I love guns.” (after several couple of characters have told us how much they hate guns)

Morgan…quite unexpectedly!…takes control of the rebelling employees. What a nice bit of character development!

I think it’s still a question whether the show can continue to be the feel-good fun that is with Chuck and Morgan “growing up.” I hope it succeeds, because it’s pretty rare for a show to actually develop its characters rather than leaving them static…really rare in comedy! One odd moment in this episode, I thought, was when Angie Harmon’s Sydney looked at Chuck and just based on looking at him was like, “You can’t be the spy.” Well, in Seasons 1-2, OK, I can go with that. They had Chuck looking pretty nerdy/goofy/geeky, whatever you prefer. But this Season? His hair is very different, and I don’t think he has that nerdy/goofy/geeky look anymore, I don’t know if it’s just the hair, or they’re costuming him differently, or what, even makeup could make a difference, but I just didn’t see anything in his physical look that would make a character with a stereotypical view in mind say that about him — he looks like a very good-looking guy now (not just a “good-looking guy once you get past they nerdy/goofy/geeky factor,” which of course he always was). Maybe she thinks only guys with blond hair are spies, so Chuck is clearly not a spy?

Anyway, this was a rip-roaring good fun episode. I can’t believe I actually believed he was dead! I didn’t doubt it for a second, not until moments before watching this episode. I mean, really, I grew up with soap operas — no one’s ever dead, not even if you saw them die right in front of your eyes. I remember reading about one soap where a character was decapitated…and still came back later. But I never questioned this. I don’t know if it was tiredness on my part, or just a really Awesome job by writers/directors/actors/and all.

In retrospect, of course, the brief “informing Chuck” doesn’t make much sense now — was it Sarah that told him? “It’s Devon.” Then hugs. Yeah, that’s not how it would have played in Chuck-land had Awesome been kidnapped. It was a cheat. But…I forgive them. The surprise in the next episode was…Awesome!

This season’s episodes can be seen online on NBC’s website.

Favorite Childhood Books Friday, Jan 30 2009 

I have again been hit with a period of extreme interest in writing, so I thought it might be a good time to post something else about writing…at least indirectly so.

Below are my favorite children’s books, having in mind around up to 6th grade — or, probably actually younger (not my genre, BTW). I may be forgetting some — I read voraciously as a kid. A couple of these are kind of obscure, so I’d love to hear from anyone else who grew up reading and loving them.

1. The Ghost of Windy Hill, by Clyde Robert Bulla (1968)– my all-time favorite no questions asked, I must have read this book 5 or more times over the childhood years. It is kind of a suspenseful mystery, yet nothing violent or inappropriate. I also was stunned to look it up the other day and find out it takes place in 1851! I think as a kid I really had no grasp of what living in a different time meant. Reading that made me realize why some parts of the book seemed so strange, like something involving a stream and something involving something that seemed like a greenhouse but wasn’t exactly (sorry, it’s been a couple decades, I don’t remember it clearly). They were probably getting their drinking or washing water or something from the stream…which didn’t make a lick of sense to me at age 8 or whatever. But I think that vague sense of strangeness was actually part of what drew me into the novel.

Check it out on Amazon and Wikipedia.

2. Betsy-Tacy-Tib, as I thought of it, more properly known as the Betsy-Tacy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940’s) — wow, I loved these books. Interestingly, they also take place in the past, late 1800’s to early 1900’s, in Minnesota (to a Florida girl Minnesota may as well have been China). Again, this explains why some things seemed so strange to me about the book, the calling cards, things like that. The stories basically follow the (mundane but thoroughly engrossing!) adventures of two friends, beginning at age 5, then the new friend Tib that moves to their street, up through (at least) Betsy’s wedding. My memories are so vague on the stories, but I do remember some strange intriguing thing about them visiting these people (they seemed like foreigners of something to me, it was all very strange!) no one else knows and getting their signatures for some kind of petition (this is where I learned about petitions), but then people not believing the signatures were real because they didn’t know the names. But as I’ve read little bits online, I remember them dressing as beggars, leaving calling cards, Tib being from Milwaukee (the first time I heard of Milwaukee, and where I learned about the German cultural aspects of Milwaukee). Apparently there is a small legion of fans of this series out there. I found these books in my church library as a kid — what a joy to see that other people out there loved them too!

To read the opening lines (and find other information), click here.

Check it out on Amazon, Wikipedia (where you can learn that the series was “written at progressively more difficult reading levels as the characters age” — how clever! — I don’t recall noticing that as a child), and the Betsy-Tacy Society.

3.  Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder — I’m not even going to bother with links. Is there anyone unfamiliar with this series? If you grew up in the 80’s you’ve at least seen the TV show. The show was pretty different in a lot of ways; it had to be because of the constraints of the genre. I loved both. Again, I have weird little unconnected memories from the books, the family living in a not-a-real-house thing with dirt and grass on top, maple syrup (we ain’t got trees where you can get stuff out of the trunk in Florida — weird!), Nellie and her pale skin looking down on Laura for her tanned skin (huh!), Laura passing some test at age 15 (!!!!!) to become a teacher, Laura refusing to say she will “obey” Almanzo (Manly!) in their wedding vows, and the last book in the series so clearly written in a different style, so sad with the death of their baby, actually it kind of made marriage look depressing (shortly after reading that one I learned that its stark differences were due to lack of editorial involvement — and the Wikipedia article linked to above says the material is of a much more mature nature). Anyway, good, good stuff, and if you have somehow never read them, you need to remedy that!

4. The Narnia series, by CS Lewis (1940’s-1950’s) — magical, incredible books. Like most people, probably, I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first, and loved it, but was always disappointed aftwerward that the kids were not the focus (or not even in) the subsequent books. I have again only vague memories — I do recall being traumatized when, as it seemed to me at least, two characters were about to go sail in some boat right over the edge of the earth — and they are confounded by many viewings of the 1979 TV movie (first made-for-TV movie, who knew?), plus a coule of viewings of the recent film, and the more recent Prince Caspian film (am I too old to be saying that that Prince Caspian was darn cute?). But these are exciting, engaging, enchanting books, with Christian themes incorporated (though not in a way to put off non-Christians). The Wikipedia article is interesting, but includes the requisite (for Wikipedia) criticisms, like how some people find the books racist (for making fun of some made-up country called Calormene or something) and sexist  (for disparagingly noting that Susan is now only interested in lipstick and nylons — hence proving that Lewis disdained women’s sexuality). Puh-lease. These are the type of people who could look at the dishes in my cabinet and find something racist and sexist about them. As for Susan’s obsession with her lipstick…does that symbolize sexual maturity (womanhood) or frivolousness (misplaced priorities, perhaps vanity)? Hmmmmm….seems obvious to me it’s the latter…unless you’re just looking for any excuse to impugne Lewis. Whatever. These are incredible adventure stories — if you haven’t read them, you really must! Read them for the adventure and the magical delight of the children and the joy of Narnia…not for some psychoanalysis of Lewis (!).

As I reflect on these books, one thing I note that they all have in common is a certain fantasitic quality, some kind of other-worldiness. Quite literally with Narnia, but with the others more of a removal from time and geography. In a sense they were just as different as Narnia from rural Florida, for a girl who knew nothing more than Florida and our northern neighbors GA and AL. Of course, later there were family vacations around the country, and much later, even world travel. But as a child I traveled through time and space (and wardrobes!) quite regularly through the books above and many, many others. I suspect that I owe a great deal of who I am today to that childhood literary travel. And I am grateful that while I might have begged for toys and such as a child that I didn’t get (and didn’t need), I never had to beg for books. My elementary school teacher mother bought any book I wanted, and my church library (unfortunately no longer in existence — the library, not the church!) was available to me twice a week.

Least favorite childhood book? Black Beauty. I must have started that book three or four times but always found myself completely bored and unable to continue. How much can I read about a dumb horse, anyway? (Maybe if I’d grown up with horses I’d have enjoyed it…?) Actually, I think the same is true of Little Women — I just couldn’t get into it. And the title annoyed me I seem to recall.

What were your favorite childhood books? What drew you into them? Any least favorite ones come to mind?

Rereading Old Writings Wednesday, Jul 30 2008 

I am in the process of going back and reading an incomplete novel I started back in 9th grade. It’s about a family of six kids (I’ve written lots of fiction and never once about a small family, which, if you know me, ahem, I’m kind of breaking the “write what you know” dictum) who grew up in an abusive home. It had a nice structure — and I never pay attention to structure when I write, I’m not that kind of writer, generally. It had a prologue, with the kids mostly still at home, though two run away during the prologue (well, one elopes and a younger one runs away). Flash forward 10 years and we’re in the body of the story, the first six chapters of which focus solely on one of the six kids and where they’re at today, before everyone finds each other again in chapter seven (directly or indirectly through an ad the oldest sibling’s ex-husband puts in the paper [gimme a break, it was like 1989, yes, people still put ads in the paper] because she’s dying of cirrhosis of the liver due to years of excessive drinking).

One thing you’ll note about my writing style, I never met a parenthetical I didn’t like. There is grammatical recursion and then there’s parenthetical recursion. If you’re a linguist you’ll get that.

But I digress. (That’s another hallmark of my writing [and talking] style.) And yes, I did that on purpose.

So, body-body-body, two siblings are dead and the rest have worked out their problems and go on to live happy and fulfilling lives. We know that because flash forward another 10 years (the body would cover maybe about six months) and we have an epilogue.

Beautiful. Elegant. Symmetrical. I love symmetry.

And over the years I kept writing in this story, sometimes a lot, sometimes not for years at a time. But before long it became clear that I strongly favored one character over all the rest. I “felt her pain” more clearly, I related to her even though she’s nothing like me, and as I delved more and more into her “backstory” — meaning I wrote it, thinking it was just for kicks, exploring the character so I could write for her better and better capture the complexity of her life and her relationships — (dashes are nice, too) I eventually, not more than a year or so ago, had to admit to myself that I really wanted to write from this character’s perspective. There was no way I could write so “completely,” if that makes sense, for any of the other characters, unless perhaps I wrote some kind of multi-volume thing, or a weird kind of concurrent series followed by a massive tome where everyone is thrown together. Even if I did that I would still have the problem of not knowing the other characters so fully as I do the one — they would be much more difficult to write for, from their perspective. Hah, that is after all why I killed off one of the siblings. She was too hard to write for.

The joys of authorhood.

(Remember, I was in high school.)

So here I am, all this time later, and this story is still with me. I realized I had to start it from scratch, and was really thrown when it meant having to completely jettison my nice, neat, symmetrical structure. It was like banging my head against a wall to come up with a new beginning, and on top of that, I had come to the conclusion that it might be worth pursuing getting this novel published, so I had to come up with a way to not only write it with pretty words but in such a way that a reader is (hopefully) intrigued and wants to keep reading. And then one day at work I was in a meeting that had nothing to do with anything (I’m sure such things only happen in my office), so I started thinking about my story, and WHAM it kind of just came to me, and I started jotting down ideas (I’m sure it looked like I was studiously taking notes). Then when I got home I sat down at the computer and started writing and I wrote until like midnight or one or something, and didn’t know how to end the shortish chapter, but darn if I wasn’t fairly pleased with what I wrote. A bit intriguing (hopefully!), a dash of subtle symbolism, establishment of all the siblings but primarily from Kari’s perspective (essentially — after years of writing something in the first person I am, weirdly enough, still struggling at times with third person), a bit of foreshadowing of what happens to these people. It still has a prologue (gone is the 10-year things though, this one starts a bit earlier), but the prologue doesn’t end with the eloping and the running away. That’s in chapter 1 now, and it’s not an elopement anymore, though the character is still moving out to move in with her boyfriend whom she’s going to marry soon. There’s actually still a “structure” — there has to be because so much time is covered. I’m kind of thinking about it the way Russian novels used to be published — part 1, part 2, etc.  So part 1 covers the main character running away, seeking freedom only to find it’s all an illusion as she winds up on the streets, part 2 has her life getting straightened out and meeting the man she’ll eventually marry, and part 3 has was initially the body, the reunion with her family, including her sister with cirrhosis (which isn’t necessarily as terminal as I thought it was when I was 14…maybe she won’t die after all, but I still think it’s a better story that way).

It’s really, really weird rereading what I wrote in high school. Scary that I’m ever happy with something I’ve wrote because, oh my, I think I was pretty happy with what I wrote then, too! And there is not much to be happy about. Gosh, it’s painful to read at times. Embarrassing. Some relationships are complex, but they’re complex in fairly predictable ways, and a lot of the characters have little depth. But on the other hand, just as I roll my eyes at something and think, “Well, that’s got to go!” I’ll often think, “Well, hold on…if I tweak that, that’s actually a good plot or character moment.”

When I wrote back then, there was no internet. So I just made stuff up and glossed over facts. The only real research I did was getting some medical books from a good friend’s mother, who was a nurse, and asking her some questions about cirrhosis. I can remember even then wishing so badly I could go to a hospital and sit down and talk with a doctor who specialized in such illnesses.

And then they (and by “they” I of course mean Al Gore) invented the internet. So now, the things I glossed over before I can agonize over details of. How exactly does a runaway go about finding a place to live in DC? (Oh, yes, instead of all made-up towns, I’ve transplanted the action to the NoVA area — I finally live in a place that works as a setting for a novel that’s not about the place, if you understand.) What kind of services would a homeless shelter offer her? What kind of job offerings would she find online that she could apply for even without a high school diploma? How many buses would it take for her to get from Point A to Point B? Oh yes, all this and more is available at your fingertips. But then I wind up spending so much time on things that are so irrelevant…well, not entirely so, as every detail you add further contributes to making your character real, with a real life’s history and experiences. But still it’s frustrating.

Well, I’m rambling — I’m soooo tired. But I will read another of the old chapters tonight anyway.

And I think I will post in the future on writing in the third person and online researching for fiction writing.

All this because I was too tired to watch the commentary to my latest Netflix film, The Namesake. I am simply incapable of going to bed early. Even when I’m exhausted.

They’re Alive! Tuesday, Jun 17 2008 

Uh, yeah, that was a nod to Frankenstein, but it doesn’t work so well without the appropriate audio.

I just came across a writer’s blog, where she describes how her characters are alive and almost act of their own volition, how they can surprise you how they react in a given scene once you start writing it. Captures precisely how I feel about my characters.

From the very start the characters were alive and “real” to me – I had created them so well in my head that it was easy to imagine what they would do in any set of circumstances I placed them in. So all I had to do was set the scene and then watch and listen to how they reacted – then write it down. I’ve always had a vivid imagination.

I have the idea for the particular scene in my head and I allow the characters to unfold and react to the situation I place them in. They dance with the page and the page dances with them. If you are familiar with the word duende you will know what I mean when I say: you cannot separate the characters from the author. I watch and then write it down. Some writers have every single action planned out in advance – I would find that too rigid, too limiting. Sometimes characters surprise me and react in a way I hadn’t expected them to when I outlined the scene in my head. I always give them free reign!

It’s terrible when you know you have to “get” a scene to a certain place, and the characters don’t cooperate. You try to force it and it just reads horribly. Something has to change. Writing is fun!

Here’s another one:

It’s a lot of fun writing. I find myself thinking about it in the middle of the night (”Wouldn’t it be cool if…”) …sometimes to my annoyance.

One of the most fun thing about writing, as least as far as the way I do it, is the characters. When I create a character, the basic information is in place… but as I write about them, I learn more about them, as though they’re people that I’ve met and are getting familiar with. It feels like their personality traits are discovered, not created. Granted, these characters are pulp characters; they’re 2 dimensional rather than fully fleshed out, but they become “real” to me as I write them.

Oh, all the time I’ve spent lying awake at night picturing scenes play out in my head!

Can you tell I’m on a bit of a writing high at the moment? =)

Fiction Writing (Anna Devane Pt. 2) Tuesday, Jun 17 2008 

So rather than make that previous post a whole book in and of itself, I’ll start a new post.

I have started taking my writing more seriously lately. I’ve met a couple of people now who are published authors, and there’s a bookstore locally that hosts a monthly meeting for local writers. I really want to go but the timing has never worked out — I’m either out of town or have guests or have another commitment. Someday.

I started writing something back when I was in 9th grade (I wrote my first complete original story in the 6th grade — it was dumb but whaddya want, I was in the 6th grade). I won’t go into detail because that starts to cross the line into personal stuff I won’t put on the internet. But it centers on a family of six adult siblings, and as I wrote and explored different angles on it over the years, I found that I loved one character more than any other. Way more than the others, and easier to write for too, because I “knew” her so well by that point. I’m also really handicapped from writing many many chapters of another novel in 1st person — I’ve actually lost the ability to write in the 3rd person, or so it feels. So writing “equally” for six characters became really difficult to the point of impossible, and I think it was while talking about it on the phone with my friend Amy, kind of out of the blue really, I really realized that I had to change the focus of the novel to this one character, and include parts of her life before being reunited with her siblings. Again, without going into detail, this completely destroyed the structure of the novel, which was nice and parallel. The only time I ever bothered with “structure of a novel” and I go and ruin it. I thought off and on about how I could rework it, actually coming up with some of it in that conversation with Amy, but couldn’t come up with how to start it. Originally there was a one-chapter prologue, then jump 10 years to the body, then jump 10 years to a one-chapter epilogue (see, nice and parallel). This was untenable with the new focus.

And then, while in a meeting at work, I tuned out (I’ve come up with lots of great fiction ideas during meetings at work, hah, hopefully no higher-ups at work will ever see this!) and focused on the beginning. And it came to me. And I went home that day and wrote it, wrote it until about 2 or 3 in the morning when I finally finished. And I was happy with it. Not ecstatic with it, but happy with it. (I think perhaps I am like other writers when I say that I often love what I write and hate it all at the same time.) It had a bit of foreshadowing, a bit of light symbolism (mostly in terms of what I’d now call blocking, after watching lots of DVD commentaries — I often picture a scene being played out as if on screen), an opening that is hopefully intriguing enough to catch a reader’s interest and keep him/her turning at least a couple of pages to see what’s going on, and it sets a mood and a feel for core relationships without hitting you over the head with it. Darn, I sound like I’m quite impressed with myself. Well, not really. I wasn’t pleased with how I ended it (I stink at endings — watch the commentary for Bend it Like Beckham, at the end. I totally get it.) for one thing. I was just surprised at how fairly easily and quickly it came out of me and onto the page. And it really made me think, hey, maybe I can really turn this into a novel that could actually be sold. I hadn’t thought seriously about that at all — not since high school anyway — until talking with a published author.

You see, mostly I write for fun. I want character and drama and emotion and dynamicity. I can create a million characters, a million worlds, a million stories. It’s FUN! And I would never want to sacrifice that for commercialization. It’s not like I’m thinking I could make a living off it or something. Apparently it’s next-to-impossible to get fiction published. So why think of publishing at all? A roller-coaster is fun by yourself. But it’s tons more fun with other screaming people along for the ride! I would love to share it and think others are hopefully having fun too. At the same time, when I’m writing for fun, for my fun, and expressing things that come out of me and things that in some ways (though probably not obvious ways even if you know me, unless I’ve already told you) are intensely personal, the thought of someone rejecting or criticizing it (in some ways — I think there are many types of helpful criticism I would actually not mind at all, and some I would be grateful for) is pretty terrible. In a way, if you reject something I have written, characters and events that have come out of me, you have rejected me. I imagine all writers feel that way.

I’m looking forward to being able to talk more with writers. I’m hoping one of them will give me ideas on how to relearn writing in the 3rd person. How in the world do you write from multiple points of view? How do you get into characters’ heads without doing this? It sounds so simple — and I used to have no problem with it — but try writing 40+ chapters of first person over a span of more than a decade and then writing for multiple characters in 3rd person. Argh. Actually of course there are many more things I can learn from talking with other writers, but this one is really bugging me and has been for probably at least a couple of years, believe it or not.

Anna Devane Delirium Tuesday, Jun 17 2008 

I write fiction. I loved General Hospital in the 80’s — I only started watching around the late 80’s maybe, but read about it (and every other soap — ok, I was and still am a bit of an obsessive freak sometimes) regularly in Soap Opera Digest. (Yeah, I had a subscription — it was kind of like a serialized novel where your imagination got to fill in the details.) I love strong-though-sometimes-vulnerable characters, male and female, who’ve done something pretty horrible in their past and seeking redemption while continuing to live with the consequences of their actions — some examples would be Xena (Lucy Lawless) from Xena: Warrior Princess and Angel (David Boreanaz) from Buffy. There are others, but those are the first that come to mind.

I say all this to set the stage, because for the past three days (Saturday to Monday) I have been absolutely consumed with another such character — Anna Devane (Finola Hughes) from General Hospital. If you don’t write, I’m not sure I could explain this to you. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any mini-character/writing obsession quite this strongly. It’s like electricity wanting desperately to escape from your body (and preferably into a keyboard). It’s insatiable obsession that makes you unable to go to bed (I was up all night Saturday and until after 4 Sunday, catching some late morning/early afternoon zz’s Sunday) or stop to eat or basically do anything but immerse yourself in the character, the storyline, the missing pieces, the analytical process of examining exactly what it is about the character that appeals to you so much — the aspects of the character & types of events that drew out or formed those aspects, not really the literal things that “happened” to that specific character. And then come the alternate versions you could write, and the parallel situations, and the transformation of one set of events into a different set that produce basically the same effect, the ways you would want to adapt your story to tell it the way you’d want to, and so forth.

You really can’t take too seriously the actual events going on in these stories, at least not in the examples I gave above. Xena lived in ancient Greece (ancient to be defined in verrrrry loose terms as the writers pretty much ignored distinctions in pulling things from a few thousand years of history) and was some kind of sword-fighting warrior who just might be half-god (Ares was possibly her father). Angel was from like 18th century Ireland or something, got turned into a vampire, then had a curse put on him after killing a young Gypsy girl that restored his soul so they he had a conscience again and felt the guilt of all the happy-go-lucky torture and killing he’d done for a hundred years or so [darn, quite a weight to carry around with you!]. And Anna was a “super-spy” for the WSB (World Security Bureau I think…) agency who fell in love with and quickly married her new partner Robert, also with the WSB and full of honor and integrity, and just a few weeks later when they’re on a mission Robert discovers she’s actually a double agent for the DVX (I don’t think they ever spelled that one out, it just sounds like “devious,” you know, the bad guys — besides, for Pete’s sake, what could “X” stand for — x-ray?). It was to be her last mission because Robert had changed her — she’d sought action, adventure, the thrill of danger, but she wanted to leave the DVX. Robert was disgusted, disappointed, etc., but didn’t turn her in, and she was devastated. (You can watch most of that scene here, originally created as a flashback on GH.)

Anna arrived in Port Charles in 1985. I wonder what the writers originally had in mind, because she initially came off a bit malevolent. Robert was married to Holly, and Anna insinuated herself in their lives, looking kind of like the typical soap fly-in-the-ointment bad girl for the otherwise happy lead couple. But Finola Hughes is (in my opinion) a phenomenal actress, and I wonder if that’s what changed the writer’s minds, because before long she is portrayed in a much more sympathetic light, and I think it’s perhaps 1986 when we find out she was pregnant when she and Robert divorced, and they have a daughter aged about 7 that Robert doesn’t know about. Anna’s love for her daughter was fierce, and it’s definitely one of the things that softened her character. Additionally, not far into her time in Port Charles, we see vulnerability in her despite her bravado and projection of total confidence, we see the guilt and shame she still feels over her past as a traitor to her country (errr, what country would that be? looking back, seems this was never explained — there are references to Canada and the US, and Anna’s a Brit and Robert’s an Aussie…so who knows, point is she was playing ball with the bad guys and at least one person lost his life because of it). Some of her shame is expressed by a fake scar she wears on her face where she was injured in an explosion on her last mission — initially this is written as more of a ploy to make some kind of point (garner sympathy, remind others of her suffering, who knows), but seems like it quite quickly changed to be written as a genuine expression of remorse, her self-imposed “scarlet letter” as she refers to it. (You can see the scar for the first time here — she wore her hair covering that half of her face [why wear a fake scar that no one can actually see…?], and then Holly’s discovery that it’s fake here. You can read the scene where she confesses it’s fake to Robert here.)

I have to say a word on Finola Hughes’s acting style, which stood out to me even in the early 90’s when I wasn’t paying much attention to such things (not that I pay that much attention now). Finola makes her characters feel real. She does things in scene I’ve never noticed other actors do. She licks her lips, scratches her nose, rubs her cheek, makes faces — not over-the-top stuff, but the normal stuff we all do that, ahem, doesn’t normally look so pretty on camera. She does it anyway, and I think it’s great. You don’t see too much of that here in the very early Anna days — though in one of the scenes above watch for her sticking her tongue waaaay out to touch her upper lip, and later pulling at her lip.

She makes Anna real despite a lot of ridiculously improbable typical soap storyline stuff. In ’85 Anna is a jewelry fence (and former double agent/traitor to her country). I think it’s in ’86 she become Port Charles police chief. Say whaaaaaaat? Yes, well, soap characters have to stay interesting, so there are no school teachers or gardeners or mailmen or office supply workers — there are nurses and brain surgeons and night club owners and mobsters and detectives. So, Anna the traitorous jewelry fence becomes police chief, hey, why not? The spy stuff and the later WSB/DVX etc. stories are pretty unrealistic of course, but darn were they fun! GH in the 80’s was nothing if not fun. (These days it should be called General Mob Wars or something, it’s apparently all about the mob and the mobsters are the good guys while the police are the stick-in-the-mud bad guys. Don’t get me started.) In the 80’s the good guys were the cops and good-guy spies, the bad guys were big-time crooks and bad-guy spies trying to do things like freeze the entire planet, and there were explosions and shoot-outs and location shots and fights on cable cars and bombs on trains — excitement, romance, and rip-roaring good fun.

It was so interesting to watch the really early Anna stuff (’85), or really any early stuff of characters/actors who stick around for a long time. You can tell they don’t know the character like they do later (either the actor or the writers — geez louise, check out the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, or of Star Trek: The Next Generation, two long-running shows), and watching these with Anna I feel pretty confident saying that if Finola and the writers could go back and redo these scenes, they’d be done a bit different. The scene with Holly about the scar especially, that just doesn’t seem like Anna to me.

And, despite the occasional “romantic tension” between Robert and Anna (recall that they didn’t divorce over “regular” betrayal, not a betrayal of her wedding vows, but of his trust in who she was and who she served), I really liked the fact that they didn’t actually get together again until the early 90’s, when they began to see each other in a new light, and eventually re-married. And it really wasn’t played as though they would be getting together. Robert still loved Holly (she was presumed dead or something, you know, the actress wanted to leave), and I guess was later involved with some other women, and Anna met Duke (who was dead — or so Anna thought, yes, it’s a soap) by the time I started watching, but she really loved him and I don’t think really loved anyone else until she and Robert finally reunited. They were true friends, with some incredibly well-played comedic banter (some interviews I read said that the set in those days was “famous” for its improvisation with scripts) — see an excellent example here (the guy Anna’s daydreaming about and who’s on the phone later is Duke — I think they were separated at the time or something. Their fights were spectacular fun to watch, too, because they both had so much dirt to pull up on each other (hard to beat dragging the ol’ “yeah well you were a traitor” accusation) — see a particularly harsh example here, shortly before they got back together.

So, anyway, I discovered that a lot of these old clips were on YouTube, what a discovery! I watched hours and hours of YouTube clips. I found a site with fan fiction, including one particularly good, well-developed story that kept me up all night Saturday. I found a site I linked to above with transcripts of some of Anna’s earliest scenes, which was great because not all of those were available on YouTube. How I long for the day — which I’m sure will come — when I can purchase all that early stuff.

What will I do with all this? Well, I’m thinking I’d like to start with some fan fiction, just to explore the character, the voice. But fan fiction (my own and other people’s, with the exception of the one noted above) just make me giggle because it seems kind of silly. It can be confining, too. Fan fiction that changes “facts” about a character’s life, motivations, etc. is pointless, in my opinion. I think it will be a fun exercise though, and will help me really pin down those things about the character that so draw me to her. And then — and I’ve already been mentally meandering down this path — I will spend some time exploring how I can import those essential traits, the “spirit” of the character and the essence of the events that shaped her, into a completely different story (without explosions and double agents and WSBs and DVXs). Fun times!