Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Paris, c'est un village...even more so this week

A gas explosion in a boulangerie in central Paris last week took many lives. And the lives of two pompiers/firemen responding to the call to control the fire and help inhabitants out of the block of buildings it took.
It was reported 'At 8.37am the fire brigade was called to 6 Rue Trévise to investigate a gas leak. While they were there a dramatic explosion occurred,” a spokesman said. He praised the courage of the firefighters who risked their lives to save people. He said one firefighter had remained under the rubble for two and a half hours before being rescued by colleagues.


Fires in Paris - a densely populated place - demand immediate response. The fire station is smack dab near the explosion. In the center of the quartier's life; by a school, shops. There was a moving tribute to these two firefighters as the funeral march passed with their hearses along the street and a hundreds of fireman from all over Paris lined it and saluted. In silence. My friend saw so many fireman in the Metro she wondered where they were going.


The next day people in the quartier took their children to the station offering condolences to the fireman who had lost their colleagues, their friends. The video showed them thanking the pompiers for their service and giving applause for those people they'd saved in the fire. A mother was interviewed, very moved, and said the pompiers are part of our life here; they visit my children's school, during safety week they bring the school children to the station and let them spray the hoses and get on the truck, and on July 14th Bastille Day they throw the best fireman's ball in all of Paris. Not to mention they hawk their hunk calendar for charity!
They're part of our community, the mother said. That struck me. There's so much ugly news, so much about the unrest in France, the violent aspects of some of the gilet jaunes- the yellow vests who have been demonstrating every Saturday, that I wanted to show, yes, terrible things but that people band together to get through it. People who appreciate goodness and selfless service. Every day.
Their community is a village. The village they identify with. Paris originally came from a collection of small villages. And they're still there - as Parisians say 'Paris, c'est un village.'
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, January 21, 2019

Dinner with an Artist: Elsa Bagarolo

Annamaria on Monday




This past Saturday, I had the privilege of an invitation to dinner at the home of Elsa Bagarolo.  Elsa has been a friend for decades.  She knew me before the novelist in me came out.  I knew her before she found the consummate expression of her artistic soul, which had always been obvious in the way she looked at and arranged her world.  I have her permission to bring you inside her home.

The place itself is a work of her art.  Everywhere one looks there are beautiful and interesting things. 


At the entrance of the apartment

In the powder room

The floor

The ceiling
*(Please keep in mind that No-photographer-I took these photos with my phone, in the evening, with available light.  In no way do they do justice to the what I saw.)

Elsa found a "siamese twin" oyster shell on the beach
near her place in Sardinia.  I might have noticed it if I saw
it.  She took it home and did this with it!.  


The dinner table was also a work of art.





Detail of the dinner table: with Elsa's delightful flowers
made of tiny beads.


And then there was the dinner.  It began with fresh pasta alla cinghiale--wild boar.  I am afraid  that I cannot show you a picture of it.  As I served some into my pasta bowl, the delicious aroma overwhelmed me.  The next thing I knew I was reaching for my phone to take a picture of an empty plate.

The salad though was almost too pretty to eat.


One cranks this gizmo, drawing the knife blade over the
soft, delicious cheese.  It produces blossoms to be served
over the lettuce, dressed with wonderful olive oil and honey.





The dessert was an Italian version of bread pudding.  Elsa had taken a photo of it baking in the oven and was surprised to see the ghost of a cat in the image!




All of this with conversation about art, while surrounded by Elsa's...well tapestries is the best word I can come up with.  Elsa's artwork is entirely sui generis: a way of making beautiful images that she herself invented.

She almost always bases her art on the works of other artists, many of them famous images, which she reproduces and enhances.  She works with a needle and thread.

The backs of the images are near perfect mirrors of the fronts.




Here are the ones I photographed that evening. Some of them are as much as four feet on a side.  Others as little as ten inches on a side:


After Klimt: and about the same size as his painting



Detail of the above to show you the stitches.



Details of the Sistine Chapel and of a Chagall,
just hanging out together on shelves!




This large work is based on Bernini's Saint Theresa in Ecstasy

Detail of the above: an expression of ecstasy captured
with a needle and thread!  My response:
"E' una meraviglia!"

A smaller work, after Van Gogh.  Experts verify the authenticity of
Vincent's work by his brushwork.  Elsa invented a tapestry stitch
that captures the energy of a Van Gogh original.

A shelf in a hallway displays some of her international trophies in recognition of her genius.  Here are just two of many:






Along the way, I saw this image of Elsa as a young woman.



Self-portrait


I can imagine a woman who looked like the young Elsa might think gorgeous was all she needed to be.  But she was and she is much more than glamour puss. She was possessed of an artist's soul.

She remains beautiful.  And goes on creating more beauty.

What a privilege to have such a friend!





Saturday, January 19, 2019

To Write or Not to Write, That is the Quest


Jeff—Saturday

There is so much earthshaking news coming at us every day in so many ways from so many places, that it might just be simpler to list the venues around the globe not rattling our already jaded sensibilities with new fresh hells. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m numbed by it all. So much so, that I can’t bring myself to pick and choose among the multitude of potential topics that I might have a go at today.

Instead, I thought I’d step back and muse about what I think keeps we writers coming back to the blank page, hammering away at creating what we hope others will read…and even appreciate.

But rather than simply rambling on with my musings, I thought it might be more interesting to borrow from the iconic template of literature’s best-known muser (is that a word, Zoë?). So, with apologizes to the Bard, here goes:


JEFFREY: To write, or not to write--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
In despair at writing’s outrageous fortune
Or to take pens against our shared troubles
And by exposing end them. To fly, to leap--
To soar—or do we creep away to end
The headache, and the thousand natural blocks
That publish is heir to. 'Tis a consternation
Devoutly to be wished on others.  Weep--
Perchance even scream: But at the very nub
Of a possible death to the dream of some
Is why we suffer at this mortal toil.
Let us pause. There's the respect
That is the balm to a long writing life.
For who would bear the ups and downs of time,
Th' reviewer's wrong and downright contumely,
The pangs of edited work, the pub delay,
The insolence of the press, and its spurns
Showing patient merit worthy of a saint,
When he or she might quiet exit take
To make a living?  Who would deadlines bear,
To grunt and sweat a solitary life,
But that the dread of giving no more breadth
To all those undiscovered thoughts that churn
Our traveling minds, and puzzle our will,
Would make us far more ill by half
Than denying readers what they know not of?
Dedication makes writers of us all,
And a simpler life of remuneration
Is sacrificed to one of words and thought.
Any enterprise giving pitch and moment
To our words, even if currently awry,
We can’t lose in the name of no action.  
So now fair Colleagues, aim for horizons,
With work to be remembered.

—Jeff

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Pitch Document


Here is a blog, interspersed with some photos of the Ben on the dog walk this morning.   I only had my basic lens with me so the pics aren’t very good. Neither is the blog. But think yourself lucky that I’m not blogging about the vote on Wednesday night. Or the one onTuesday night. As one famous MP said as he got in the lift afterwards ‘You’ve got to laugh.’

                                         

When I do my talks about novel writing, and plotting in particular, I use a template that I stole, with his permission, from the rather lovely screenplay writer Adrian Meade.   He devised it from various sources ( what ‘s that saying? Steal from one source is plagiarism, steal from many it’s research!) and he recommends that a young screenplay writer hones this document, keeps it in his/her head in case he/she gets stuck in a lift with Mr Spielberg.

I use it to clarify the thoughts of young or inexperienced writers and ask them to stick it somewhere within their vision when they are writing. Just to keep them on track and stop them falling foul of that nasty little devil, the wandering storyline minstrel.

Have I ever used it myself? No. But after my enthusiastic talk about it on Tuesday night, I so impressed myself that I will use it from now on.

But for a bit of fun, here’s a version with the first two categories empty.  You can guess the film? (It was a book, I’m waiting for the bloody musical though)
 

PITCH DOCUMENT

The log line; I’m not saying because if I told you, you know the film straight away

Title; Ditto ( no Jeff, the film wasn’t called Ditto…..)

Genre; thriller

Protagonist; An Ex NYPD police person

Goal; At the start- a nice slide into a peaceful, beachside retirement, on an island
          At the end- staying alive

Obstacles; he’s an outsider, he’s scared of water, he can’t swim, the council who want to protect the income from the holiday makers, his wife who fancies the other bloke, nobody listens to him…. And maybe, the big beastie under the waves,…..oh and he NEEDS A BIGGER BOAT and he doesn’t have one!

Theme…. Do dooo, do dooo, do do do do (yes you are humming it now,) well that is the theme tune, the novel itself is a quest novel.

Setting; Amity Island

In the end; He has redemption in the eyes of the community. He is alive. The big beastie is shark meat, but he is mourned. There is a sense they should have just closed the beach and killed the mayor instead.

Anyway, I guess you got what the film was.

                                  



Here’s the lecture as I witter it….

                                           

PITCH DOCUMENT

The log line         The natty little phrase you spout in the lift when you meet Spielberg.
Have it on the tip of your tongue so you don’t start ‘well It’s about a bloke who does this then that then something else and zzzzzzz

Title                      And put the letters W/T after it, to show it’s not a deal breaker.

Genre                   What shelf does it go on in the book shop?  And write that. A hard boiled Glasgow murder where the murderer escapes by running down a dark alley and climbing  on a turquoise glittery unicorn that then leaps over the moon and deposits him in a space ship crewed by Raquel Welch clones, might struggle on this one. (Those of you who have taken a writers group will know what I mean
)
Protagonist         the main bloke/blokess. If they aren’t mentioned for a few chapters, and another character is butting in, maybe you have the wrong protagonist. I’ve noticed a few newbie writers think they are writing about who the book is about rather than who is running around doing the action and moving the plot forward.

Goal                      What the main character wants to achieve.
                              What he needs to achieve is sometimes a more interesting story.
 
Obstacles            What is getting in his way, personally and professionally, and the Bruce Robinson thing of stick the hero up the tree and don’t let him come down. Every time he gets close to the ground send a Rottweiler after him…. Or a hippo in Stan’s case.

Theme                  There are only seven themes out there. There is nothing new. The writer has to give that theme a new life and a new meaning.

Setting                  Good if  we are in need of an unreliable mobile phone signal, some extreme weather, heat/ cold/ rain/. And where is a human more lonely? At the top of the Ben looking down at the loch, or in a bedsit in any inner city?

In the end…         and what did happen in the end… it might not be the right thing but it has to be the satisfactory thing. And in crime fiction, the baddie can get away but he’s not going to gain what he set out to gain…. Like the Italian Job.

                                   
I did get a laugh in the lecture when I was talking about pantsers and I showed a picture of Brexit. ‘This is what happens when you decide on an idea with no concept of what might be involved.’



 Caro Ramsay  18 01 2019




Thursday, January 17, 2019

Stream of subconsciousness

Michael - Thursday

I've wondered for many years just how creativity is generated. I imagined that experts know a lot about this topic and others connected with the purpose and MO of the subconscious, but it's not really the case. There is a lot of speculation and many experiments, but I don't think many experts would claim to understand what is really going on.

When - in another life - I did research in mathematics, I had several occasions when I woke in the morning with a new approach that I hadn't considered before. It would make a good story to say that these were always successful. They were not. But they were always new and reasonable. Sometimes they did work and sometimes they could be worked into something else that worked. On the other hand, sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night with a solution to a problem. I would hastily write it down before I went back to sleep, scared that in the morning it would be gone and my breakthrough would be lost forever. In the morning I would check the details and always find an error or a missing and unfillable gap. I believe these analyses were left overs of the thought processes from my conscious mind that had been reincarnated as dream-mathematics.

On the other hand, I once woke with the kernel of a short story in my head. It was definitely a dream and one that I remembered very vividly. During the next couple of days, I wrote the story the way my conscious mind structured it, Stan gave input, and it was eventually published in Crimespree magazine as Parlour Game. It's the only story that we've written that was not set in Africa.

Stan and I both believe in brainstorming and that, I guess, is one way one tries to get the conscious mind to be creative. Last week Stan wrote about our dilemma with Facets of Death. If a criminal is careful, savvy, and works through other people, then he's very difficult for the police to catch. (Most criminals are none of these three.) The police need to play more or less by the rules; the criminals do not. We attacked the problem two ways. We would "sleep on it", leaving our subconscious minds free to do whatever it is that they do. Then we would "brainstorm" it, throwing out ideas no matter how way out and seeing where they went. This seems to be rather like trying to make two conscious minds behave like one subconscious one.

In the case of our problem, the discussion on Saturday night went something like this:

'What about the...'
'Hmm. Interesting...'
'But he's dead!'
'But does the bad guy know that?'
'Maybe not. The police don't even know who the dead man is, do they?'
'Maybe he could pretend to have the diamonds. Could he persuade the bad guy to...'
'Remember your character? Kubu's friend?'
'Yes! He could do it! That would be good. He seemed important when we wrote him but then he didn't go anywhere...'

Stan woke on Sunday morning with a plan for how this idea could be implemented, and I wrote it. By Sunday night the book was finished. We'd tried lots of other ideas before that one, and while they might have worked, they lacked plausibility or coherence with the story up to that point. They weren't satisfying.

The question I'm puzzling about now, is that character - Kubu's acquaintance - who seemed important but didn't really go anywhere. Was he just a lucky coincidence? Was he really supposed to be part of another story? Or was Michael Stanley's "subconscious" already somehow thinking ahead?

I'd be really interested to hear of other writers experiences. Do they brainstorm by themselves? Do plotters resolve it all in a linear sequential away? Or is it all a mixture - a sort of alphabet soup of ideas that somehow crystallise into a good story?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Digital White-Out


Sujata Massey


When the snow fell last weekend, I welcomed it, not just for its beauty, but the way it stops time.

I grew up in Minnesota, where children are hardwired to appreciate the beauty of snow and also to expect it as a normal rhythm of the winter, rather than a natural disaster. As an adult I am able to admit that snow is not just fun and games. I can't decide what is more treacherous; the flat packed snow that forms a shiny, slick surface; the thick ice lurking under snow; or the thick salt crystals scattered over the sidewalks that sting my dogs’ paws.

Even though snow trips me up, I still love it.

Snow only falls a few times each winter in Maryland—but often it’s a storm, rather than a casual sprinkling. Supposedly it's because of the freezing air coming down from Antarctic meeting up with the warmer Atlantic. And when we have snowstorms in Baltimore, we never have  enough plows. In bad winters, the whole Eastern Seaboard runs out of salt and sand. In my city, the protocol is to concentrate on freeways and major roads while the storm is ongoing, and to address the rest of the city later. Or not. 

Last Sunday, when Baltimore was snowed in, a tremendous quiet descended over my world. I bundled up and went for a walk around nine in the morning with my husband. The streets and lanes had only a few car tracks. On my way back, I slipped on one of the slick snow patches on an unplowed street, but no lasting harm was done.

Unspoiled snow gives the feeling of open time. It is the opposite of an ordinary day dominated by rapid-fire texts and emails demanding answers. The snow seems to wipe all of that out.

This weekend’s snow came just before I started reading a book called Deep Work written by Georgetown professor Cal Newport. Dr. Newport examines what a lot of us already know: that toggling between different kinds of intellectual activities leads to a poorer quality of life and produced work. Using studies and examples of scientists, psychologists, tycoons--as well as his own hard-fought academic writing accomplishments--he talks about the need to limit shallow work that distracts from the deep snowbank of joyful, rewarding work.

I've become very interested and inspired by this theory of deep work, though I cannot of course end my daily life as a person raising children and dogs, helping with my husband's business, and keeping in touch with readers. But I know that I do many more distracting activities now than twenty years ago, when I was starting my fiction career. Now I understand why focusing was easier.

One of Dr. Newport's suggestions for managing smaller job-related responsibilities  is to address them in batches rather than every day. For instance, I could write a couple of Murder is Everywhere posts over one day or two days and then I'd be ready for the month. In that same week of managing small writing assignments, I could write my monthly author newsletter and cue up some Instagram posts. And in the other weeks of the month--at least three!--I could immerse myself in 1921 Bombay, the very un-snowy setting of my current novel. 

So I've got an idea. Regardless of what the weather predictions are, a metaphoric storm is headed to my house tomorrow morning.

It will be a white-out from the digital world. I aim to concentrate on my neglected next novel, which means I can answer email just thrice daily. And podcasts, radio and TV will have to wait two weeks as well. My mind doesn't need any more jumbling.

I intend to listen hard enough in the silence that I can hear snowflakes fall.



One of the last emails Sujata read before starting the Digital White-Out carried the good news she's been nominated for a Lefty award for Best Historical Mystery of 2018. The awards will be voted on at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Vancouver this March.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ile Saint-Louis


Walking along the streets, along the banks of Île Saint-Louis, you will probably find one of the world’s highest concentration of commemorative plaques. Almost all the buildings are from the middle of the 17th century, most of them with the brothers Louis and François Le Vau as architects.

You'll find most of the names referred to on the plaques on Wikipedia (I “stole” only the portraits), but not quite all. There are names like Camille Claudel, Honoré Daumier, George Pompidou, Georges Moustaki, Saint Vincent de Paul (but he’s only there because of “Les filles de la Charité” – The Daughters of Charity)  … and there is one building with three Nobel Prizes – two by Marie Curie and one by René Cassin… and … even forgetting about the plaques (I may have missed one or two), it’s just a nice walk!

Home to the best ice cream in the world IMHO at Bertillon
Not forgetting the café's
And that apartment right there, in a 17th century hôtel particulier where Baudelaire had a hashish den is where I'd like to live. Right now my fictional detective does.




Cara - Tuesday








Monday, January 14, 2019

Florence Dawn to Dusk and by Night

Annamaria on Monday

Here are some sights I've seen over the past week, which began with the celebration, last Sunday with the Feast of the Epiphany, which in Florence is called La Befana, after the Italian equivalent of Santa Claus.  This gift-giver is a woman and comes on the day commemorating those legendary gift-givers, the Magi.

La Befana in a chocolate shop

Over the past few years, it has become my tradition to invite the family that so generously includes me in their Christmas celebration to enjoy a special lunch with me on La Befana.  This year, we gathered to taste the delights of Chef Eduardo Tilli at his Agriturismo Podere Belvedere near Pontassieve in the Tuscan countryside.



Tilli is a kitchen magician.  I don't want to risk pins of envy being stuck in dolls meant to resemble me, so I won't describe all the six courses.  I offer only one example: my dessert.  It was described as orange cheese cake - a totally inadequate moniker for this:


It looked like a fresh orange balanced on some chocolate bits.

Inside, it was ambrosia!  Sweet creamy cheese filling between
two layers of the subtlest bright orange sugar glaze,
with an intensely-orange filling.  The chocolate bits only
added to the fun!  I wanted another one, IMMEDIATELY!
I want another one RIGHT NOW!
Our fast-developing chef Lorenzo Brandini with Chef Tilli


That evening, we took one last look at the view from Chef Tilli's front door and drove back to Florence for one last look at the holiday projections.








I spent the intervening week enjoying the gorgeous atmosphere of my home away from home.

Dawn






Dusk

Dome of the historic synagog.


Dome of the duomo



Nightime






"Speranza" means hope.  May hope light up our lives!

In the intervening hours between dawn and dusk, I have been hard at my work in progress.  Writing a book is an act of hope.  I hope that one day, I will have a lot more to say about the story that is forming in my imagination now.