Back to the Basics of Creative Writing

The girl sat down next to her elder in the old wicker rocking chair; wood of old mahogany, smooth to the touch and whose gentle sound mirrored a slight creaking of the floor for which it stood. ”I’m going to tell you a story and in this story I’m going to teach you something: I’m going to teach you about strength and rising above grim odds to be best you can be,” she said to her granddaughter.

”In Greek mythology, characters are often tested to see who they really are; heroes exceed the limits of average men who then become gods, lovers are often tested of their devotion and loyalty for one another in an eternal bond, and faith makes us all believe in a constant, despite the turbulent times we may live in. There are symbols too that teach us something about ourselves:

A phoenix is a magical bird who is able to transcend above all ruins. It truly is a unique creature; said to rise above the flames of a fire to its rebirth. The bird actually lays down to rest — to die above the very bed it built and sacrifices itself anew. It’s a prescious reminder that we can start over again from despair and tragedy.   

So when the new-born Phoenix first is seen

         Her feathered subjects all adore their queen,

         And while she makes her progress through the East,

         From every grove her numerous train ‘s increased;

         Each poet of the air her glory sings,

         And round him the pleased audience clap their wings.

When I first went to work for the family, before they moved into the ‘ole 1600 Penn address, I had this sort of ambivalence towards the couple who hired me. I of course looked after other children before, but never those bearing a prominent name. Granted: I was nervous.”

The old woman glanced around the room, staring at the photographs lining the mantle and down at the chest beside her. The vessel overflowed with letters printed on fainted paper, all addressed to ‘Ms. Maud Shaw.’ Their return addresses, however, beautifully transcribed and postmarked from exotic locations along the Greek Isles and the Upper East Side. She continued…

”The Mrs. treated me like any other member of the extended family — because God knows — she had a lot of brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, and nephews to keep track of. I was not the nanny of the two children, but the adopted live-in grandmother. Mrs. Kennedy showed me adoration, as I did her.

We spent quite a few afternoons sharing stories in the grand room while the boy laid asleep and the girl at piano lessons. Mrs. Kennedy told me of her travels to India, memories of the camel adventures and market shopping with Lee, and the many times she hoped to bring the children along with her to distant lands. When she left the house with young John and Caroline and into her Fifth Avenue apartment, we still kept touch. I agreed to extend my contract for two more years at her service in January ’64. But after it ended, I went back home to your mother and uncle, and husband to start my own family. I continued to receive letters from her; Christmas cards, wedding invitations, postcards from abroad and sometimes envelopes of the children’s noted classroom achievements.

I sincerely admired her. She did not become a grieving queen when the weight of the world and the death of her husband tested her true strength as a woman and as a mother. Jacqueline Kennedy rose to become a phoenix for her two children and a nation struck by the loss of their 35th president.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing” inspired this week’s post.


Creating an architecturally sound text with a literary-themed structure

Professor Matteo Pericoli encourages his creative writing and architecture students at Columbia School of Arts to create a visual representation of a story. A literary, not literal model of a building with the foundation as characters, walls as plots, floors as themes and plumbing as interweaving parallelism.

When I read the NY Times article, ‘Writers as Architects‘ I started to think what book I would model my own structure after. Lorraine Hansberry’s story of the Youngers in A Raisin In the Sun was the first idea that popped in my head.

This is a story about aspirations and wanting a better life for yourself. Every character from Walter and Mama to Beneatha and Willy are dreaming of something more; their life’s struggles defined by these unfulfilled hopes.

I would like to build a free flowing structure, with its height giving you the illusion that it is always reaching upwards towards the sky. Think Gothic architecture with less clean lines. Its walls are nonlinear and its foundation impermeable.

Something like this:


BTW, this could be a great STEAM project!

José Saramago’s visceral storytelling

Blindness tells the story of nature vs nurture when an epidemic hits a small town. Colorful characters become blind with a ‘white evil.’  They lose sight of who they really are in an environment that is crashing down around them.

Jose Saramago’s words escape from the page, into a maze of twists and turns, and the road less traveled. Yet I feel connected. I pause — and put down the book with a new perspective.

The doctor’s wife, whose eyes have borne all the burden of witnessing what the others in their sightlessness were spared, offers us a kind of answer:

‘Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.’

People who see, but don’t see… This story is about introspection; a progression of thought and that moment when you reached a revelation. And finally you have an answer.

NY Times writer, Andrew Miller wrote this of the novelist; a true, lasting thought.

‘There is no cynicism and there are no conclusions, just a clear-eyed and compassionate acknowledgment of things as they are, a quality that can only honestly be termed wisdom. We should be grateful when it is handed to us in such generous measures.’

O’Reilly Killing Kennedy’s name

Anybody can write a book. But only Bill O’Reilly can sell five million copies of a subject that has been written dozens (understatement) of times before. Killing Kennedy is a creative nonfiction piece about the assassination of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy.

This continues O’Reilly’s presidential assassination-themed books, discussing conspiracy theories of Lincoln and JFK. I missed McKinley; I guess he wasn’t as interesting. Regardless, what makes Bill O’Reilly, Fox host, qualified to write a historical drama?

Stay tuned for another adorable actor, Rob Lowe to play Kennedy when National Geographic makes a TV movie of the same name.

Norman Mailer: Joyce contemporary or Gonzo Journalist?

I recently watched the documentary New York in the Fifties where I was reintroduced to writers of the day. Mailer was only one highlighted author; and others like Joan Didion, Kerouac, and Baldwin graced their wits of the subculture in the Village that led to the hippy movement we most characterize for starting in San Fran years later. I admire those who try and break our ideas of the norm. I see this commonality in abstract expressionists like Pollock and Rothko or beatniks like Ginsburg and Burroughs. All counteract the repressed feelings that were pushed upon them from the generation before.

So I googled Norman Mailer, frankly to see if he was less misogynistic than he was portrayed to be in the film. I found an article he wrote in 1960 for Esquire magazine covering the Presidential convention.

Superman Comes to the Supermarket:

Wikipedia says Mailer is “an innovator of creative nonfiction”. I continued to read as this particular rant sparked my interest for two reasons; obviously the subject matter is appealing as anything to do with JFK is and the style of writing and tone is comical. His choice of words are perfect for each sentence.

I enjoy reading creative nonfiction accounts of history. But it was Mailer’s style that kept me going. It wasn’t dry, his writing was alive with character and equal cynicism. It was a surprising read. Norman Mailer, I’ll read your Executioner’s Song next…

April 2013

blog. A place to express your thoughts without being judged. A way to be honest and converse freely. A place to share like interests and opinions. This is my way to explore writing in a new way & to tell the world who I am with this digital diatribe.

I started this blog to practice what I’m good at: writing. I articulate words on paper. I am a wordsmith who precisely chooses the perfect word. I aspire to be great; my writing that is.

I like style. Its what makes a good book (and of course plot). My favorite style is stream of consciousness. Sure Joyce is the King of this fluidity of thoughts, but I got to give it to Hunter S. Thompson. For a portrayal of such gritty, soul-sucking literature, you must give him a try.

I can learn from Thompson’s writing as I do from Krakauer and Fitzgerald. His descriptions are like visualizations. He tests one of the true fundamentals of good writing: Show, don’t tell. I sit down on my couch to read Fear and Loathing and am instantly transcended into a world of crazy dillusions and eerily truthful characters. His voice garners my respect as a writer.

So I leave you with this excerpt from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Maybe you can learn something too…

                 “1) Never trust a cop in a raincoat.
                  2) Beware of enthusiasm and of love, both are temporary    and quick to sway.
                  3) If asked if you care about the world’s problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks, he will never ask you again.
                  4) Never give your real name.
                  5) If ever asked to look at yourself, don’t look.
                  6) Never do anything the person standing in front of you can’t understand.
                  7) Never create anything, it will be misinterpreted, it will chain you and follow you for the rest of your life.”

[Be forewarned, some future posts might read as irrational rants, all depending on one’s mood.]