Monday, August 31, 2015

A Character Who Didn’t Make the Cut

Eva Moorman

There are a lot of words and a lot of scenes in Eli’s Heart, but not everything I wrote made it into the book. A writer’s conference I attended a couple of years ago left me with this gem: sometimes you need to write it, but the reader doesn’t need to read it. In other words, sometimes writing enriches your understanding of a character yet isn’t necessary to move the story forward.

My sense is that the better you know your characters, the more they will come to life for your reader. Writing about Krissy Porter’s years on the Conservatory campus were a journey back to the past for me; and many of the faculty members I had been fortunate enough to study with are uncannily similar to the faculty members who made such an impression on Krissy.

One faculty member, though, who didn’t make the cut was Krissy’s drama teacher, Eva Moorman. While she was a great character, she was minor in Krissy’s universe as a music major. But I liked her so much I kept her in my “drafts” folder. There are vestiges of this scene in Chapter Three, but here’s more.


(Krissy) was studying lines from a script, the scene from Peter Pan where Peter and Wendy meet for the first time. She and her friend Marilyn had persuaded their drama teacher, Eva Moorman, to let them prepare the scene for class. Krissy and Marilyn were both voice majors, but had jumped at the opportunity to take Acting 101 with Eva.

Eva was a disciple of Constantin Stanislavsky. Krissy had never heard the name until she met Eva. One of the first acting exercises Eva gave her Acting 101 students was to wash their hands and consider all the elements involved, so that they could stand in front of the class and wash their hands without soap or water, but the class would see the soap and water because the actor was so believable, it would seem to be there.

When she demonstrated this, it was amazing. Eva really seemed to be using an invisible bar of soap. Krissy was convinced she could see the suds dripping off Eva’s hands. She could almost feel the water, because Eva was so obviously feeling it. Krissy washed her hands over and over, and tried hard to feel the soap and water without actually using them.

She failed miserably, thereby living up to Eva’s expectations.

The scene from Peter Pan was one that Krissy and Marilyn hoped would be included in a public performance of scenes by acting students. They agreed it would probably be a cold day in hell before Eva would let them perform it in front of an audience, but they both loved the play and enjoyed working on it, regardless.

On this particularly beautiful October day, Krissy was practicing the scene by herself, making a great effort to not sound too much like a hick playing David Barrie’s Wendy. Eva had said to Krissy and Marilyn. “Whatever you do, do not attempt an English accent.” She weighted every word when she said it, as if she were speaking in italics with a period between each word. Of course, Krissy immediately decided she’d have to try it, but certainly not anywhere in earshot of Eva.

Krissy stretched, closed her script, and stood to walk to West Hall for her drama class. Leaves crunched under her feet as she walked, and she smiled at the sound as she looked up at the clear blue sky overhead. She was eighteen years old, and could not imagine how her life could be better.


Eli's Heart is available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle.

Campus of the Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Right Bad Guy

Living in My Head

     Over the past few days I have been attempting to develop a character who would provide me with the complication in another character’s life I was looking for. That probably makes little to no sense, so I’ll simplify it and say I’m trying to write a bad guy. Not a criminal type bad guy, or a sleazy type bad guy. A man who seems to be poised and charming, and musically talented. But there’s another side to this person who was eluding me; he’s narcissistic. That’s his badness.
     I’d been trying to envision a pianist or a conductor for my female character to become entangled with, but nothing I thought about really seemed to work for what I wanted to have happen to her. She’s a gifted violinist, a prodigy, actually. Her talent was recognized when she was four years old.
    Musical genius can be a two-edged sword. I’ve been re-reading a book about musical prodigies and revisiting some of the difficulties they can undergo as a result of their genius. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals, for example, suffered from severe nerves before every concert he ever played, right up until the last one, so he probably dealt with that for seventy years. He also suffered terrible emotional turmoil when he went through puberty and for some time afterwards, and often had thoughts of suicide during that period.
     Laura, my violinist, doesn’t endure anything that dramatic, but she has set herself apart from her peers and has few friends, and hasn’t had a romantic encounter. Okay, she hasn’t had sex yet, and she’s twenty-three. She picks the wrong man to have a romance with. But I couldn’t come up with the right guy. Well, the right wrong guy.
     This morning at 2 a.m. I awoke with the thought: why not make him a tenor? Her father is a famous tenor, so she has warm feelings about singers, and tenors in particular. And she’s still young enough, and inexperienced enough because of her isolation, to not be as discerning as she should be. My quest this morning – okay, in the middle of the night ─ was to find recordings of violinists and tenors performing together. Oh, I do so love YouTube. I was amazed at all the music I found! So poor Laura, she’s going to become enamored of a charmer with a glorious voice who is a real heel.
     The musical quest was a result of a thought as to how she meets this tenor who does her wrong. It would make sense that they perform together, and sparks fly, at least for her. Is there such music for them to perform? YouTube confirmed that there definitely is. Where does this happen?
     A great place might be the Aspen Music Festival, where they are both engaged for the entire eight week season to teach and perform. So thanks, Google Earth, for the tour of Aspen. I’ve been to Colorado but not specifically to Aspen. Well, now I’ve made a couple of virtual trips to Aspen and will undoubtedly make more over the next months. Modern technology, a great aide to the author.
     I’m sure sometimes my friends and family are concerned when I am sitting in a gathering with a blank look on my face, or if I walk right past someone I know on the street without even seeing them. Or call somebody by the wrong name. Yes, I’m getting up there in years. But at this point, what that indicates is that my head is in my next novel. I’m meeting my characters and learning who they are, and finding out what their journey is going to be, and marking time until I can get back to the computer and start writing all this stuff down.
     What a great way to spend my golden years.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Charles Dickens, Meet the 21st Century

Letter from the Editor
To: Charles Dickens, Esq.

Dear Chuck,

I got the first two chapters of your new book, and you have a lot of work to do.

First of all, the name is a real downer. “Bleak House”? Sounds like the most dismal funeral home imaginable. What kind of word is that, anyway – bleak. You need something that grabs the reader, something sexy or catchy. See if you can’t come up with a better title. Do you really have to use the word “house”? Could be it “castle” or “palace” instead? “House” is so bland. Or how about “Something Abbey”?

You simply have to stop stringing so many descriptions together in one interminable sentence and get to the point more quickly! And break those paragraphs … you can’t expect to hold a reader’s attention past the first page if it’s just one paragraph and all you’re doing is describing fog! I know you know lots of words, Chuck, but you don’t have to use every single one of them on the first page of the book.

You don’t have even one line of dialogue for page after page, and you need to get the reader involved with your characters right off the bat. The reader is going to be asleep by the time the first character talks. Oh, yeah … about that. Is the Lord High Chancellor one of the main characters? It doesn’t seem like it. You need to introduce at least one of the main characters right at the beginning of the chapter so the reader knows who this book is about. Especially since you’ve named the book “Bleak House.” What does that have to do with fog and the Lord High Chancellor?

I skimmed through the second chapter and see there’s a “Lady Dedlock” (after an overabundance of description about the weather and some talk of her house … is this “Bleak House”? Never mind, we’ll get to that later). Is Lady Dedlock a main character? Maybe you should just cut the first chapter and shorten the beginning of the second and introduce the Lady Dedlock, but she needs to talk right away. And she needs to say something pithy. You know what I mean. Something that makes the reader sit up and take notice. You have to hook them on the first page of the book, Chuck. I’ve told you that before.

Why don’t you start over and try writing it in the first person? It helps the reader get into the characters’ heads. You’ve got to forget the omniscient narrator. There are other ways to write, Chuck. We’ll put this one on hold until you give us something better.

P.S. Have you figured out what genre this book is? You know that’s important. Check the lists on Amazon. And watch your word count. Try to contain yourself and keep it under 100,000 words. 80,000 would be better.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Girl Who Won ELI’S HEART

Eli’s Krissy

     It sometimes concerns me that people might look at the blurb for Eli’s Heart and see it’s about a classical pianist with a bad heart, and think it’s not something they’d enjoy reading. It is all the above, but it’s also about a young man who wants what most young men want, a happy and fulfilling life, which includes being with the person he loves.
     There is a lot of music in the book, to be sure, and quite a bit about Eli’s heart condition, Tetralogy of Fallot. There has to be, because it’s a constant part of his life and later his and Krissy’s life together. But Eli’s heart condition doesn’t define him. And as young newlyweds he and Krissy are learning a lot about each other. The book begins in the nineteen fifties, a period when people tended to marry young if they wanted to be together – and Krissy and Eli definitely want to be together.      
     The first year of their marriage has highs and lows, and they wanted me to share all of that with the people who read their story. Here’s an excerpt.

     A week later Krissy decided to try her hand at lasagna. She shopped for the ingredients a day ahead, following Kim’s instructions carefully. When she got home the next day to start cooking, she placed her portable record player on the dinette table and put La Traviata on the turntable.
     First the meat sauce; as Kim had instructed, she browned the beef and drained it through a colander, then added the tomato sauce and seasoning to taste. Kim’s recipe called for a third of a cup of red wine. Krissy had a bottle of Chianti that had been a wedding gift. She thought, if wine is good in the sauce, how about a little in the cook? She poured some Chianti in a small juice glass, stirred the sauce and tasted it, and took another sip of her wine. She had lots of time; Eli had a rehearsal for the trio and wouldn’t be home until six, so she planned to put the lasagna in the oven by five-thirty.
     While the noodles were cooking, she tasted the sauce again and poured herself a little more Chianti. She started the opera over and started singing with Violetta when she got to “Sempre libera.” Krissy started to feel creative, and decided another half glass of wine in the cook might be a great idea.
     Putting the layers together was kind of like making a piece of art. She was liberal with the parsley; Krissy liked parsley. She finished the dish by topping it with Parmesan cheese and put her lasagna in the oven, pouring a little more wine in her glass so she could toast the cook. She had a loaf of French bread she sliced, and added butter and a very light sprinkle of garlic powder. She put the record player away but continued to sing as she set the table, switching to “Torna a Surriento.”
      Eli walked in as she was taking the dish out of the oven. He couldn’t believe it was his apartment; a delicious aroma hit him as he came through the door. Krissy met him with a passionate kiss, flushed with Italian opera, Italian cooking, and Chianti. She took off his coat and ushered him to the table and served his food, pouring a glass of wine for him and another half glass for herself.
     When he took his first bite, she loved seeing his eyes get very big. “Kristina ... this is delicious!” He took another bite.  “Maybe even better than Kim’s.” He took another bite, and said very little through the rest of the meal. He was too busy eating. Krissy had to agree with him, she had made good lasagna. “How did you do this, wife? I mean, I know you’ve been learning to cook, but this is ...”
     Krissy laughed, “Eli, I’ve been an awful cook. You’ve been so sweet to put up with all my experiments in the kitchen. Kim was a big help; she wrote out her recipe and told me not to be afraid to add stuff. She says that’s what Italian cooking is all about. I’m happy this turned out so well. Maybe I should stick with Italian.” She took another sip of wine. “You know what ... maybe I was Italian in another life.” They both laughed.
     Eli finished his second generous helping of lasagna and Krissy wrapped up the casserole dish and put it in the refrigerator for dinner the next day. One really nice thing about lasagna was that there was enough left for another meal. Her first leftovers. They scraped their plates and washed and dried the dishes.
     “Maybe I won’t have to add ‘good cook’ to my list of Things That Aren’t Going to Happen,” Krissy told him. “Oh, I never told you about that list, did I? Ballerina, opera star, famous actress ... that’s the list so far. All my limited talents.”
     Eli put his arms around her. “There’s one talent you have that’s definitely not limited, my love,” he said. “Fortunately for me, it’s something you do for an audience of one.”
     “Well, it’s a big help that the audience is interactive,” she said as he led her into the bedroom.