A Writer’s Review of Iris

 

Iris Poster

 

Release Date: December 14, 2001

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville

Written by: Richard Eyre and Charles Wood, based on Elegy for Iris, and Iris: A Memoir, by John Bayley

Directed by: Richard Eyre

Spoiler Level: Low to High (fear not…read on).

 

Greeting, hacks and scribblers. It’s been nigh onto a year since my last entry in Scribblers on Celluloid. 2015 was a strange, hard, bastard of a year. I may well document the monumental changes that occurred, but that’s for later. For now, let us return to SoC with a film that positively wrecked me, personally, emotionally, intellectually.

 

I give you Iris

 

 

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The Slightly More Informative Synopsis:

Based on a pair of memoirs by her husband John Bayley, this biographical portrait of writer Iris Murdoch stars both Judi Dench and Kate Winslet as the philosophical author at different stages of her life. When the young Iris (Winslet) meets fellow student Bayley (Hugh Bonneville) at Oxford, he’s a naïve virgin easily flummoxed by her libertine spirit, arch personality, and obvious artistic talent. Decades later, little has changed as the couple (now played by Dench and Jim Broadbent) keeps house, with John doting on his more famous wife. When Iris begins experiencing forgetfulness and dementia, however, the ever-doltish but devoted John struggles with hopelessness and frustration to become her caretaker, as his wife’s mind deteriorates from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Iris opens with an underwater scene…Kate Winslet swimming nude. I knew then I was going to watch this movie all the way through, and the writerly element could go hang. A few minutes later we flash forward to Iris Murdoch as an old woman (played brilliantly by Dame Judi Dench) as she speaks to a group about the importance of education, thusly:

“Education doesn’t make you happy, nor does freedom. We don’t become happy just because we’re free, if we are, or because we’ve been educated, if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears…tells us where delights are lurking…convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever… that of the mind…and gives us the assurance, the confidence, to walk the path our mind—our educated mind—offers.”

I found myself leaning forward, eager to hear more of what Iris Murdoch had to say on matters of life and love and the power of the mind.

 

Entertainment Quotient:

Every instinct makes me simply want to tell you to go watch the movie. Right now. Nothing I can say will do it justice; no amount of rumination can give the barest hint of the film’s power. Watch it, absorb it, then wash the tears from your face and watch it again.

But, you’re all here, and it seems I have the floor. So then…

Rotten Tomatoes rated Iris as Certified Fresh, with a positive score of 79%. That’s a pretty good rating for RT, but I couldn’t help but wonder: what in Heaven’s name were the other 21% thinking? Did they catch that opening skinny dip sequence and think they were watching porn, only to have their hopes dashed by repeated insight into the human condition? I suspect those who rated the movie poorly are those not in touch (or afraid of) their feelings. Because make no mistake: Iris is one hell of a tear-jerker. See up above where I note the spoiler level as Low to High? It’s because I am going to tell you how it ends (High) but it’s no surprise to anyone (Low).

Iris dies, folks. But this is no more surprise than telling you that Titanic ends with a sinking ship. Both Titanic and Iris are based on true events (and both share Kate Winslet’s boobs with the world…but those, errr that, need not detain us).

Ahem. Iris Murdoch’s story is a matter of record. And we know in the first twenty minutes of the film that Alzheimer’s—the writer’s greatest fear—has found Iris. It’s important to know and accept this going in, because the power of the film is in its flashbacks and flash-forwards. We know what’s coming, the knowledge clogs our throats and hearts with its inevitability, so we treasure every leap back to the Iris that lived so fully in the moment.

This is a beautiful film in every respect; if there was an off note anywhere I missed it. Both Kate Winslet and Judi Dench are as pitch-perfect as everyone knows them to be. But Jim Broadbent’s performance as Iris’s husband, John Bayley, left me stunned. He won the Oscar for his performance, and to say it was well-deserved is an understatement. And the performance of Hugh Bonneville as the younger John Bayley was equally stand-out (I swear, I felt like they had actually somehow filmed Broadbent thirty years prior—he was that convincing).

Iris succeeds on every level I can think of. But for writers—for those of us who struggle on even our better days to put the words down in the best possible order—Iris is a horror story.

 

The Writerly Element:

Iris is based on John Bayley’s memoirs of his wife, famed Irish novelist and philosopher Dame Jean Iris Murdoch. The writerly element in the film is a given because we are treated to an inside peek (however brief) of this amazing writer’s mind.

A quote from Iris (the person not the film):

“Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.”

Dame Iris seemed to perpetually leak nuggets like this. There is a moment early on where a young Iris is having fun at John’s expense after he has choked on a sip of wine. Iris is making a point that we don’t have to try to swallow the right way, it just happens. But what she says is noteworthy for anyone attempting to put words to paper:

“The best thing to do is just hang on and trust the body.”

Later we see a clip of an interview from Iris’s younger years, in which she shares this glorious insight into the writing condition:

“Everybody has thoughts they want to conceal. People have obsessions and fears and passions, which they won’t admit to. I think any character is interesting and has extremes. It’s a novelist’s privilege to see how odd everyone is.”

Isn’t that gorgeous? The novelist’s privilege. Yes.

There is also much to be gleaned from close inspection of the relationship between John and Iris, especially in their younger years. Iris was wild and untamed, a perfect contrast to John’s bumbling nerdiness. But John was enamored with her brilliance, more than well aware of the power of her writer’s mind:

Young John: “Iris has got more than one world going on inside that head. A secret world. I’m the only friend that knows of her secret world. It’s like living in a fairy story. I’m the young man in love with a beautiful maiden who disappears into an unknown and mysterious world every now and again.”

Contrast that moment with a heart-wrenching scene when the elderly John is reading Pride and Prejudice to Iris as she sits in a fogged-out stupor. But then her eyes clear ever so slightly, her lips begin to move and she says: “I…wrote.” John brightens and says, “Yes, my darling, my clever cat, you wrote books!” And Iris stutters out, “Books…I…wrote.” John tells her she wrote novels, wonderful novels. Tears brimming in her eyes, Iris repeats, “I…wrote.” And John, with a pitiful hope that she might be rebounding, says, “Such things you wrote. Special things. Secret things. Do you know many secrets now, Iris?”

I could go on. The writerly element is everywhere in this film because it chronicles the life of a writer. You won’t have to look far, but I would suggest doing so anyway—because this movie is trying to tell us something, something big. For now, go with this bit of prophetic exchange between a young John and Iris:

John: “You love words, don’t you?”

Iris: “If one doesn’t have words, how does one think?”

 

Why Bother:

Because we need to face our fears. We all die. Somewhere at the end of this long and complex game—maybe from accident or sudden illness, maybe it’s simply our time—we will cash in our chips. We all know it’s coming.

But that’s not the fear, at least not for me. The real terror, the keep-me-awake-at-night, oozing-shambling-gibbering-horror-in-the-closet, is dementia. It terrifies me. I’ve written about crossing over that threshold into madness many times, before I even had conscious knowledge of my own personal fear of it.

For the writer—for the one who truly cares about the language and beauty and music of writing—is there a greater dread than losing our ability to think and remember and make connections? Imagine you are writing—a letter, a story, whatever—and then imagine the feeling of panic at being unable to remember the spelling of even the most common word. Your mind betrays you. We see this happen as Iris is writing in longhand, and she says, “We all worry about going mad, don’t we? How would we know…those of us who live in our minds, anyway? Other people will tell us. Would they, John?”

“How will we know…?” “Those of us who live in our minds…”

Would others see us slipping away? Would they tell us? Would we be able to process the knowledge?

How hard and fast would we write our stories if we knew that tomorrow we would be robbed of cognitive thought?

It sends a chill up the spine.

In the midst of Iris’s decline, she manages to finish her last novel. And she has this to say in a tragic moment of clarity:

“Just keep working, keep talking, keep the words coming. I shall come off like a deprived animal if I can’t write…be like a starved dog.”

Every writer knows this feeling all too well. Writing is hard; not writing is harder. To have the ability stripped away through a failure of our mind to cooperate…that is hell.

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills

 

Final Thoughts:

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what this movie is saying, or what it’s about, because it will likely hit everyone differently, scraping at old wounds we had almost forgotten. Since it is based on Bayley’s memoirs of his true love, it seems to be an effort to finally capture her. From their early days on into the latter years, John Bayley was always trying to catch Iris. Whether she was leading him a merry chase as they pedaled their bicycles down country roads, or disappearing into the unknown and unknowable landscape of dementia (Iris: “I feel as if I am sailing into darkness.”), she was always just beyond his grasp.

John: “Iris, w-wait for me!”

Iris: “Just keep tight hold of me, and it’ll be all right!”

John: “You won’t keep still!”

Iris: “I can’t keep still!”

John: “I can’t catch up with you!”

Or maybe it is simply a statement on the frailty and impermanence of life in contrast to Art itself. James the Apostle called human life nothing more than a vapor, a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Maybe, when all is said and done, we are only what we leave behind. Some spark ignites our creative selves into animation, we flare up into flame, some longer and brighter than others, then the flame sputters into nothing. Our lasting hope is that if we have burned bright—if we have set others ablaze with our words and craft—our Art will live on.

 

 

“As I hear the sweet lark sing in the clear air of the day,

Dear thoughts are in my mind, and my soul soars, enchanted,

As I hear the sweet lark sing in the clear air of the day,

For a tender beaming smile to my hope has been granted,

And tomorrow he shall hear all my fond heart can say…”

 

In many ways 2015 was one of the darkest years of my life; in many other ways it wasn’t. I suppose that’s what we call balance.

Toward the end of the year, as my personal life began to brighten, I repaid the Universe by seeing the publication of one of the darkest books I’ve ever written (or read). In December of 2015, Black Rose Writing published A Fractured Conjuring.

A Fractured Conjuring - Concept 2 Variant - Large

For reasons not entirely clear to me, it has been called a “brilliant, disturbing, and important work.” Well… “disturbing” I understand. This book has been disturbing me for years; disturbing my sleep, my peace of mind.

But how does a thing like this come to be?

I can’t help but wonder what people will think when they read the book, if they will think me depraved or simply mean-spirited. Some will ask questions as to why I thought it important to write such a thing.

And I will be at a loss for an answer. Because I truly don’t know.

I’ve maintained for years that this writing game is somewhat beyond my ken; an idea comes out of nowhere and then…grows. Characters supply their own dialogue; unforeseen people and events spring out of the ether and onto the page. When I explain this, the average person (the normal person who maybe does not lie awake listening to voices telling them there’s really no point in trying to sleep) looks at me askance, cocks an eyebrow, making it clear they don’t believe me. I can only shrug.

To the nightmare at hand; to A Fractured Conjuring. How did this particular nastiness happen?

A simple road sign:

Kimberlina Road

On a road trip to (of all places) Disneyland, my eyes spotted this sign. I’ve been on this trek countless times over the past twenty years, and have likely seen this sign on every one of those trips. But this time…that sweet name got stuck in my head and began to fester. I had no history with the name, no connection to my past, no sense at all why it grabbed hold. But I couldn’t shake it loose. I somehow knew this was going to be the name of a character in a book, and that this character would have important things to say, or maybe to teach me. I had zero sense of the story itself, only that it would be dark. And maybe big.

As the days and weeks passed I began to feel that the story could possibly span millennia, covering massive ground both temporally and geographically. I have no idea why I thought this—I didn’t have a story, only a feeling.

It’s hard to adequately describe what it’s like to have a story growing inside you, but somehow doing so outside your influence. It’s…well, disturbing.

More than a year went by before I set a single word to paper. I did so only then because I thought I might have an idea what the opening pages looked like. I got 6,000 or so words in before I stopped and laid it aside. I was scared. Not of what I was writing, but that I would mess it up. The feeling for this story had been infesting my brain for better than a year—how could I possibly do it justice? So I ran from it. I did other things. But Kimberlina stayed with me, a grimy child’s ghost fingers tugging at the hem of my shirt, telling me I had work to do, her story to tell. Didn’t matter that I didn’t know what that story was.

Eventually I got back to it. I barely remember my first efforts at conjuring this child, but I know that those early efforts never made it into the final book.

This is the part where I get around to telling you how the final book came to be, right?

Wrong. Because I still can’t tell you that. I still don’t know. When I wrote The End, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Is it really? The end of what? Where did it begin?”

One of the main characters in A Fractured Conjuring is writing a book she knows nothing about—not too hard to figure out how that came to be—and as I was proofing the final copy, I came across a line I hardly remembered writing:

Still, she couldn’t keep away from it, and she didn’t feel so much like she was writing the story as it was somehow writing her.

And this:

What Chloe knew for certain was that she couldn’t leave this new project alone. It unnerved her; it wouldn’t leave her alone.

And that’s as close as I can come to explaining how this particular book came to be.

Oh, and then this happened:

FC Best of 2015

A book one reviewer called an “important” book.

Another reader, so unnerved by the story that she read it multiple times in an effort to understand, wrote this in an afterword she penned for the book:

“Martin Reaves…had the temerity to tackle an ugly, horrible subject, and he treated it with kindness and cleanliness. Yes, cleanliness.”

The same reviewer who it called it an important work ended his review with this:

“If you have never felt like your soul has been taken away from you at some point in your life, I wouldn’t recommend reading it.”

How does one create something so volatile that it can be recommended, then un-recommended in the same review?

How does one write a story he has almost no memory of plotting and have it hit a target he didn’t even know was there?

I have no answers.

And Kimberlina has only begun to speak.

 

A Fractured Conjuring is available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A Writer’s Review of Twixt

twixt

Release Date: April 11, 2012 (Belgium)

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern, Ben Chaplin.
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Spoiler Level: Who Cares?

Greetings, hacks and scribblers, ya bunch of whacky folks. I’m back, once again endeavoring to find meaning in my dreary scribbler’s life through the medium of film. Well…I didn’t find it in this one.

It’s pure coincidence that the next movie up is a Francis Ford Coppola flick, and it is instructive to see how one person’s art can differ from one project to another.

For your consideration: Twixt!

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He’s unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Twixt very nearly didn’t make the cut. But heck, I burned up 88 minutes of my life watching the silly thing, y’all can darn well read my review.

Ahem.

Val Kilmer stars alongside Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning—what could be possibly go wrong? What indeed.

In truth, the synopsis is probably why this movie made the cut. I read the synopsis now and it almost makes me want to watch the movie again. Almost.

Entertainment Quotient:

Rotten Tomatoes rated this film as “Rotten”, with an average score of 29% positive. I’d say that’s pretty close to the mark.

May I tell you something right up front? We’re friends, yes? Okay, here it is: This is an awful movie. There, I feel better now.

Somehow, though, it’s the kind of awful that’s sort of fun to watch. Especially as a writer (more on that below). But be warned: there are tons of “wait…what?” moments in this movie.

Less than two minutes in I knew we were in trouble; the gravel-voiced narrator is taking us through the town and past the church, and I quote: “The most astonishing thing about the town was an old belfry that had a clock tower with seven faces. You could see the time from anywhere in the town of Swann Valley. But the faces persistently told different times. No question; something evil was abiding there.” At which point I wanted to shout: “Excuse me, I have a question!” Apparently clocks that tell different times are…evil? Ummm-kay.

And watch for the whiskey-of-many-colors. Is it pink, is it amber? And my favorite gaffe of all is the really oooold bag of take-out. It has to be old, because we are in what seems to be an east coast backwater town and a kid brings in a bag from the Western States’ favorite burger joint In-N-Out (you cannot find this chain any further east than Utah). Oops.

This is a clearly well-made, low-budget movie. Lots of cinematographic bells and whistles. But whereas Coppola worked his vision with a deft hand in Tetro (see SoC #3), it seems here like someone doing Coppola.

Twixt is one of those movies that has you wondering if you just aren’t getting what the director was trying to do. Maybe y’all are a lot smarter than I and will have a grand time with the thematic brilliance. Or, maybe you’ll take my advice and put your brain on the shelf for the duration. Probably enjoy it more that way.

One notable performance (far, far too short in my opinion) is by the slick motorcycle-maybe-vampire character Flamingo, played by Alden Ehrenreich who starred as Bobbie in Tetro. That kid’s got style.

And while we’re talking performances, if you are a child of the ‘70s, you will feel as though you are welcoming an old friend when Don Novello makes an appearance—his voice will catch your attention, you’ll think, “ Where do I know him from?” And then it will hit you. Yep, that right there is Father Guido Sarducci.

The Writerly Element:

A few elements of writerly note…I guess.

We have repeated dream sequences where our hero, Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), has enigmatic conversations with Edgar Allan Poe (played well be Ben Chaplin). That’s a win.

Early on you can feel Baltimore’s pain when he arrives in the Podunk town for his book signing and finds the town does not even have a bookstore—they have him set up in a hardware store (note to self: fire agent).

Later (and I won’t even try to tell you what’s happening because I couldn’t if I wanted to), Baltimore gets excited about this hot new IDEA and sets up his portable writing table, with laptop, beef jerky, spare pens, and the unlikely pink—no wait it’s amber—Irish whiskey. The pure precision with which he lays everything out on his writing table is such a perfect representation of the writer’s mind. Everything has to be just so to let the muse speak. The writer in us recognizes all this as a stalling technique—I have a great idea and I don’t dare write anything down for fear of screwing it up.

Later, his soon-to-be-fired agent (or maybe he’s an editor) tells Baltimore, “No fog on the lake!”, which is apparently Baltimore’s favorite cliché. Baltimore’s efforts at crafting an opening sentence without exactly referencing fog on the lake is reminiscent of Throw Momma from the Train (which, come to think of it, needs to be on my list). These efforts are borderline laugh out loud hilarious.

Why Bother:

Because of the occasional transcendent moment like this, during yet another nonsensical dream sequence. Edgar Allan Poe is leading Hall Baltimore along a “Dark and Scary” cliff (I really don’t know why). As they walked along the cliff edge and I was scratching my head wondering, WTF?, this bit of dialogue happened:

Poe: Do you dare go further?

Baltimore: What are you talking about? Tell me the ending.

Poe: If you don’t stop now, every word that flows from your pen will be your own tale. You. You are the ending you seek.

That’s good stuff right there.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Quills

Final Thoughts:

I…nope, I got nuthin.

I hope you will indulge me while I engage in a bit of harmless narcissism.

It recently came to my attention that I used to sing for folks. Like on stage and everything.

As a lark, I posted a very poor quality video of me singing a Guns-n-Roses tune and received some very nice words. You will likely not be surprised to hear that this pleased me.

What did surprise me was that these kind folks did not seem to know that I actually do this (or used to) semi-professionally. I began to wonder how many others of you out there are similarly out of the know.

So then. Here are a few moments from the recent past you might find fun. Or you may find them annoying, in which case you are invited to keep your big yap shut, um-kay?

I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with Foxtrot Mary, and the Fabulous Dana Moret of Mr. December. Good times indeed. All these fine folks are still out there, gettin’ funky and making the world a better place through music. Click their highlighted names and find them wherever they are playing next.

From large venues to tiny rooms with nothing but crickets to hear us, these were moments I will never forget. Enjoy.

countdown6

Part 6. It seems like only yesterday we were at Part 1.

Here’s a question: Anyone else bothered by the fact that we are counting up and not down? Interesting the things one notices long after the time such scrutiny would actually have been of value.

Anyhoo…

As our countdown begins to wind up (?!), I thought I’d drag Logan Cain in here for a little chit chat. You all know Logan, yes? Pastor of Midtown Community Church? No? Has no one read Relative Karma? How about Relative Sanity???

Geez, people. Just…geez.

So, I met with Pastor Logan at The Shanghai, a bar of local legend in Auburn, CA. Rumor is it’s haunted. Well, more than a rumor—I’ve been there into the wee hours, and if the air wasn’t congested with spirits then we were experiencing some kind of weird barometric phenomenon.

I knew Logan Cain from Relative Karma and had no trouble recognizing him when he walked through the door into the dimly-lit establishment. He was taller than I expected, with his silvery mane pulled into a long braid. He had on a Marilyn Manson t-shirt and his jeans were so shredded I had to look away—some things you just don’t need to see. He caught the bartender’s attention (who obviously recognized him, and looked oddly familiar to me) and held up two fingers, then pointed at me. He was at my table in two long strides and gripping my hand gently as he sat.

ME: You knew who I was?
LOGAN CAIN: That surprise you?
ME (shrugging): Yeah, I guess a little. Have we met?
LOGAN (cocking an eyebrow): I’ve spent plenty of time in that noggin of yours. You’re easy to spot.

I squirmed a little.

ME: Uhhh, yeah, I guess I get that. Anyway, thanks for meeting with me. You cool to answer a few questions?
LOGAN: Shoot.

A large pitcher of beer arrived with two mugs. I hadn’t planned on drinking, but if the man was buying…the waitress also looked familiar and I was starting to get a little head-swimmy with déjà vu.

ME: Is that Jewel?
LOGAN: Looks like her, doesn’t it?

He smiled…Cheshire Cat smiled…the room tilted and I continued.

ME: So, uhhh…we know how you met Jeff Vincent. I was wondering about your background. It’s pretty clear you give new meaning to the word unorthodox when it comes to what we expect of a pastor—
LOGAN (interrupting): Expectations are the bane of this sad world’s existence, son. Everyone is too busy trying to fit into someone else’s mold. What a fresh world it would be if we all approached life on our own terms, with our own open minds. Who cares what came before? Are you open-minded, son?

At that moment a blonde walked in that sucked all my breath away through my eyeballs. And, of course, I knew her.

ME: Uhhh…
LOGAN (snapping his fingers in front of my face): You in there, partner?
ME: I, um, yeah, I’m here.

I looked around, turning a three-sixty in my chair. I knew everyone here. And they were all watching me.

ME: What’s going on here?
LOGAN (leaning back, mimicking deep thought): Hmmm, “what’s going on?” the man asks.

Someone grabbed my chair from behind and tilted it sharply back. I turned and gasped. A big chunk of crumbling granite who could only be Karl Luber smiled down at me.

KARL: Congratulations, Reaves.
ME: …Errr…what the hell…?

The bartender waved. It was Detective Alex Tinkham from Relative Sanity. The stunning blonde was Shelley Vincent; Jeff Vincent was at the far corner smirking his butt off. Barista Benny was at the juke box next to Suzi and Wendy. Ramona was shooting pool with Nick Grimmer. And walking towards me…I began to hyperventilate.

LOGAN: Easy, son. Easy now.
ME: That’s Daniel. (He stopped before me, his goofy eye dancing). You are, aren’t you? You’re Daniel?
DANIEL (holding out his hand): H-h-happy h-handshake day, M-M-Mike!

I looked at Logan Cain, my mouth moving but nothing coming out.

ME: How is he here…he can’t be, he’s…
LOGAN Sure he is. Big deal. The Shanghai no longer exists either, so why swallow that camel and strain at Daniel?

The next few hours passed. I know they did, but I have no idea what transpired. Somewhere around midnight, Jeff Vincent stood on a table and clapped his hands.

JEFF: Everyone! Listen up. I appreciate all of you taking time to materialize here, but I didn’t bring you together just to party.

Jeff then went to the front door and whistled for someone. A minute later a nice-looking guy walked in looking a little uncomfortable.

JEFF: Everyone, this is Branden McKenzie.

There was a collective gasp within the room, loudest of all from me.

JEFF (pausing for effect): Ladies, gents, and sordid folks, the wait is over. Relative Karma is available NOW in audio!

There was a great deal of applause, and back-slapping, and drinks sloshing. I hugged Branden, who still looked like someone sleep-walking. I don’t blame him.

ME: Hold on! It’s only Part 6 of the countdown, errr…up. What do I do with the rest of the parts? And there’s supposed to be a quiz at the end!

Karl Luber grabbed me by the scruff of the neck (it did not feel good) and told me to hang the f-ing quiz (he didn’t say “f-ing”). I decided the quiz could go hang.

KARL: Listen, Reaves. Your people need to get clicking right now. HERE, HERE, or even HERE. Understand? You know what I’m capable of. If your people have been reading your books, they know too.

do it now

Which I guess brings us to the end of this weirdness. Ahead of schedule, and screaming to be heard, Relative Karma has gone audio. Download and listen. Report back to me. Go visit Branden McKenzie and tell him how awesome he is.
And thank you for joining me. I may still drag out a prize or two, but right now I need to put Jeff Vincent in a cab. He’s looking a little wobbly.

*     *     *

alrighty then

*     *     *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

countdown5

 

We’re at the halfway point. Huzzah!

huzzah
Because I’m tired (and because you have better things to do) I’ll keep this one short. Just a couple things to ponder…

#1: Fiction is all lies. Everything we write is lies, including this very sentence. You can’t trust anything a writer says in print. Case in point is the boiler plate nonsense you find in any book of fiction regarding persons living or dead. In Relative Karma it comes right under the title. Consider this rubbish:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Please. We all know it’s not true, right? Well, sure, the names are changed—I’m not a complete idiot. But, as noted in Part 1, this is all based on a slightly enhanced version of true events. What actually happens in the forward flow of the narrative is made up, but what happened to get the ball rolling is true. It happened. And two of the characters are based on real people. Three of the locations in the book are real, with only one undergoing a name change because my characters spend so much time there I didn’t want to anger anyone due to an unwitting misrepresentation.

Coincidence my ass.

#2: Remember early on in this countdown series when I started blathering on about prizes? Well, I wasn’t kidding. The first person to comment on this particular post (below, not on Facebook) will get a $10.00 Amazon gift card. One exception: It cannot be someone who’s already commented on any of the previous countdown blogs. If you are one of those few who have previously commented, go tell a friend to get over here and drop a comment. Maybe they’ll buy you something.

What’s that you say? The prizes were supposed to be part of a quiz at the end?

Just goes to show what I said in point #1. You can’t trust anything a writer says.

* * *
(Click on rock star me below. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

the krude

* * *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

countdown4

As we inch closer to the release of Relative Karma on audio, I want to talk about something that most non-writers don’t understand. Well, to be perfectly honest, most writers don’t understand it either, but it is something we come to trust, to believe will happen if we show up, put our ass in the chair, click our heels together three times…oh wait, that’s something else.

scarecrow

I’m talking about those mysterious moments during the writing of a project where things happen on which the writer did not plan. But it’s really bigger than that—every writer worth his or her salt follows the characters where they lead, listens when they speak, and writes it all down. Often times we are surprised by our characters’ bursts of dialogue. This is more or less the normal course of things for a writer, even when the story is outlined ahead of time. Unanticipated events occur and we smile, knowing the muse is singing and all is right with the world.

But what I really want to focus on is the pure, out-of-left-field happenstance that hugely affects a story and sends it off in an unforeseen direction.

In the case of Relative Karma, it was the loveable character Daniel. I don’t know where he came from, I honestly don’t. He literally showed up on the page (or on the street) as Jeff Vincent was walking from his apartment to Starbucks. Like so:

An hour and a half later I was walking south on Fifteenth toward K Street.The morning air had a snap to it and I noticed the homeless were beginning to sport their fall wardrobes; ragged scarves and soup-stained sweaters were all the rage this season. One poor bastard at the corner of Fifteenth and H was so shabby and filthy he looked more like a caricature of a bum than an actual homeless person. The dirt on his face looked applied; he was wearing honest-to-God fingerless mittens, and his “will work for food” sign—which carried a great deal of information regarding his plight—was so full of misspellings it had to be intentional. I stopped in front of him.

Boom. New character. And no garden-variety extra, either.

I had one job: get Jeff out of his apartment and a few blocks over to Starbucks to meet the femme fatale who may or may not be his undoing. And what does Jeff do during his walk? He starts looking around, sort of like any normal person would do, and he sees this homeless guy and…

And suddenly this homeless guy is telling Jeff his name. And (what’s going on here???) we start to like this guy. Jeff likes him, too, and offers to buy him a cup of coffee. The point to understand here is that I saw Daniel completely when he showed up on my screen. I heard him speak and fell in love with him. Instantly.

I suppose this kind of thing happens all the time with bit players and spear carriers. But it’s not quite as common with major characters. At least not with me.

How does this happen?

I can only go back to Stephen King’s theory of where stories come from, that they are found things (see On Writing). A story (I’m paraphrasing Mr. King) is something that exists somewhere in the ether as a complete entity. All we have to do as writers is find it (or it finds us) and write it down. King likens it to a fossil, mostly buried but with a tiny bit poking through the surface. We notice it—my, what an interesting little shard of rock that is—and begin our work, chiseling gently to uncover the whole. Sometimes we get a lot, sometime only a little. Our skill and a good deal of luck determine just how much we unearth.
I like this idea. It makes sense. And it helps explain the inexplicable.

It also makes one believe in serendipity, which of course is just another relative word for karma.

i see what you did

Go now, people, and find your serendipity. If nothing else, it’s a really fun word to say.

*     *     *

(click on groovy me below…the hair demands it)

3837_3666435750434_1728971716_n

*     *     *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

A Writer’s Review of Tetro

tetro_movie-poster-02

Release Date: June 26, 2009

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú

Written by: Mauricio Kartun (verse “Fausta”), Francis Ford Coppola

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Spoiler Level: Low.

Greetings, hacks and scribblers. I bet you thought you’d never hear from me again, now did you? As they say (or, as Robert Burns actually did say):

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,

Loosely translated: Shit happens. In this case, lots of schemes are ganging aft agley all over the place. Several writing projects, including the blog countdown to the release of Relative Karma on audio. I plan to revisit my commitment to this particular series of writerly movies later, and will likely amend the list of movies somewhat. For now, I am quite happy with the increased activity in my writing world. All good things!

all good things

So, on to the movie at hand. I give you: Tetro!

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

Bennie travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-missing older brother, a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. Bennie’s discovery of his brother’s near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their shared past and renewing their bond.

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Two minutes into Tetro I knew I wanted this movie to make the cut. Ten minutes in and all doubts were gone. We have a tortured writer in Buenos Aries battling his inner demons. And it’s presented in gritty, black-and-white video. Yep, you bet it made the cut.

Entertainment Quotient:

Rotten Tomatoes averaged Tetro at 71% positive, labeling the movie as “Fresh.” On the whole, I’d say that’s a little lean.

Tetro is one of those films for which they like to use the term Work of Art. In this case I think they’re right. Coppola knows what he’s doing, and what he’s doing in this film is showing us why we all know his name…in a good way.

Beautifully filmed in black-and-white, which makes the Buenos Aires locale that much more real, you believe within minutes that you are there, climbing the soiled steps with young Bennie to Angelo Tetrocini’s apartment.

The video quality is noir-esque from the get-go, and lends a surreal vibe to the film as a whole. (There’s a bit of nudity here, as well, and just why is it that black-and-white nudity is so much sexier than color?).

Speaking of color, there are a good deal of flashbacks in the film and they are all rendered in color, with the aspect ratio shrinking to a slightly smaller inset screen, almost like watching a movie within a movie, which somehow serves to make the flashbacks less “real” than the current-day black-and-white.

It is artsy, yes, but effectively so. With the exception of the method of filming, there are few bells or whistles here—this is slow, measured story-telling. This film is, at times, very nearly reminiscent of Greek tragedy. In flashback we see the tortured (and torturous) relationship between Tetro and his father. We begin to sniff out the ugly plot twist in the film. We get uncomfortable until the story sweeps us away again. Then we find ourselves at the end and we remember the twist…we were right and we were wrong.

Beautifully handled story-telling.

The Writerly Element:

There is so much here to offer, from virtually every corner of the writing life. In no particular order, here are a few things to watch for…

During a performance of “Fausta,” (a delightfully weird retelling of Faust from a female perspective), a sun-glassed, fur-wearing critic walks in and sends the small crowd into an awed hush—the critic’s name is Alone (make of that what you will).

Another scene I watched several times because of the painful resonance was this slice of Ouch between Bennie and Tetro.

Bennie: “Will you get back to your writing?”

Tetro: “I walked away from that.”

Bennie: “How do you walk away from your work? Doesn’t it follow you?”

It does, brothers and sisters. If you are a writer—if it’s what you are wired to do—forget trying to get away. It will follow you.

Later, in another poignant moment, Tetro says: “Am I not okay the way I am? Not famous enough?” Ouch again.

As younger brother Bennie continues to be rejected by Tetro, he begins piecing together and transcribing Tetro’s abandoned writings. We see these as ragged pen-and-ink scribblings, written in code, written backwards.

Bennie: “They’re great stories, they just don’t have an ending.”

Tetro: “They don’t need an ending. You know why? Because my stories will never be published.”

In a scene that could easily stand for Tetro’s entire motivation throughout the movie, we see Tetro’s famous composer father in a flashback, speaking to his son just before Tetro leaves to go on a writing sabbatical:

“To make a living as a writer…you’d have to be a genius. And we already have a genius in the family.”

Why Bother:

There are maybe a hundred reasons why I think Tetro is an important movie for writers. The section above barely scratches the surface. In the end, though, I was left thinking not just about writers, but the poor souls damned to spend their lives at our sides.

Tetro touches deeply on the Crazy in writers, and paints a vivid picture of the people who live with them; how hard it must be to put up with a bipolar personality who fears his own words, and the interior horror that inspired them.

With all our latent (and not so latent) insanity…these saints love us anyway.

Living with a writer, and all that entails, can be something of a punchline, but there’s a point to be made. Writers (and artists in general) do seem to run a greater risk of drug and alcohol dependence, not to mention courting madness on one level or another. Depression is common. Suicide often beckons as a final way to still the voices.

Speaking personally, I am grateful with everything I have for my partner—she understands my giddy highs and festering lows. She stands by me, props me up. She is, simply and always, there.

Maribel Verdú does a wonderful job of portraying Tetro’s partner, Miranda, who originally met Tetro during his self-committed stay at the local looney bin. At one point, when Tetro is spiraling out of control, she says:

“I’ll be at the other insane asylum. I need a break to clear my head.”

And later, in a moment of such authenticity I found it hard to breathe:

“I’m the only one who’s always in your corner, always supporting you, the only person in this fucking life who loves you.”

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills.

Final Thoughts:

There is one moment in this film I hope I never forget, and I’ll leave you with this: Toward the end of the film, when the skeletons had been dragged screaming from their closets and into the limelight, the critic (Alone) finally takes notice. Tetro looks at her and says:

“Your opinion doesn’t matter to me anymore.”

*     *     *

*     *     *

*     *     *

(Going forward, I will likely detour liberally from the original list. There are far too many movies, and far too little time to view them all and present them here. I will continue in the original order, but will skip over movies that I feel aren’t spot-on to the discussion at hand. I beg your forgiveness.)

*     *     *

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what say you click on the image below and head over to the countdown? There be prizes, Precious, aye, prizes there be indeed.

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

countdown3

 

Aaaaand…we’re back.

were-back-baby

Back from where? A brief disruption. A disruption from what? Why, Part 1 & Part 2, of course.

Onward!

I am delighted to announce that the final audio proof has been approved!

i approve

Audible tells me the audio version of Relative Karma should be available for purchase within 2 – 3 weeks. Happy dance!

So, what is Relative Karma all about? As noted in Part 1, this is a “what-if” story. What if the true events that inspired the story had turned out differently? My imagination had an idea what that would look like and supplied a grimy landscape of depression and aimlessness, with our hero spending his days pawing through yard sale boxes and thrift store detritus in a search for castoff relics. We don’t actually see him do any of this, but it’s what my mind knew he had been up to in the year since he left Shelley. I don’t remember consciously deciding that Jeff Vincent’s search service would act as metaphor for something deeper, but that seems to be what happened. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, in which Jeff has staked out a table at The Yuba where he goes often to drink his runaway memories into submission:

Jewel seems to understand my obsession with finding things for other people when it clearly doesn’t pay to do so, which is saying something because I never quite understood it myself beyond the simple desire to stay distracted. She once said it’s like I was searching for something I’d lost, or maybe just hadn’t found yet.

Of course he lost—or threw away—Shelley, the one person in this great big world he truly loved. And he hated himself for it. And so, day in and day out, he went in search of lost things; missing things; or (to fine-tune the metaphor a bit) things people wanted and felt they couldn’t live without.

As I listened through the audio version recently I was struck by how much metaphor there is throughout the story.

A burning bed for our unfaithful protagonist? Yes, we have one. Trite? Maybe. Poignant? You bet.

And there’s more, a lot more, but I don’t want to give you everything here.

Maybe Relative Karma is not unique. Maybe every fictional story—be it roman à clef or not—is a symbol or metaphor for something. It almost has to be, doesn’t it? At the very least we are dealing with analogy. Every story is a writer’s attempt to show or understand an old thing in a new way, first to ourselves, then to our readers.

Read the book and see what you think. When the audio version comes out, give it a listen. And please share your thoughts. I’m truly interested.

And remember to share this blog with your friends and cohorts. Get them to follow along. There will be prizes at the end. Oh yes there will.

omgitspins

*     *     *

“Awesome story with great characters and perfect flow. Martin Reaves writes with passion. You can feel it in every word, every sentence. He takes words and puts them together so successfully, it keeps you wanting more and more. He writes clean. He writes clear. And he writes with a purpose. Read this book, then read everything else by him.You will not be disappointed.” ~ Malina Roos ~

*     *     *

(click on my scowling face–I promise I won’t bite!)

mott2

*     *     *

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

This is not Part 3 of our 10-Part Countdown. It should be, but it isn’t.

interruption

 

I began working on Part 3 and it occurred to me that my time could be better spent Writing (yes, capital W).

“But this is a promotion of a new (sort of) release,” my inner taskmaster said. “It’s important to your burgeoning career.”

I ignored my inner voice’s loose usage of the word “career” and wondered if the sentiment were true.

Is it important? It could be, of course it could. Get the word out. Make a splash. Create some excitement. Get people reading about the new…ahhh, and there’s the rub.

As I typed “Part 3” I couldn’t help but be distracted by the hollow echo of the keys. Clickety-clack (clack) ((clack)) (((clack)))…

Why the echo? Or, perhaps more accurately, why the feeling that my words are echoing in an empty cavern?

Because my own quacking voice is all I hear.

In Parts 1 & 2 of this countdown I opened the floor for comments and questions.

<crickets>

In Part 1 I admitted to something very personal that nearly destroyed my wife and I some fifteen years ago.

<crickets>

In both preceding parts (and this is maybe most disturbing of all) I made mention of prizes. Prizes, not incidentally, that would have been purchased out of my pocket.

Cue crickets.

I don’t have a promotional team. I have only me. My day job sucks very nearly every last bit of energy I have—what I do, I do long after or before normal working hours. We all do this, of course we do. I’m no different in this regard, but it’s a point worth making. Time is limited and it could (and should) be better spent turning out new work.

I think my limited funds will stay in my pocket.

And my limited time will be spent rolling the bones and exorcising demons. Which is to say: Writing.

I’m not so whiny as to say no one cares, but I am realistic enough to see what appears to be truth: No one is reading these words.

I don’t begrudge anyone their choice to offer their attention elsewhere—we all have too much to read and do as it is. I am happy to add to the load if anyone is paying attention, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

To clarify: I will keep Writing fiction, and even blogging when I have something to get off my chest, or something that just plain amuses me enough to set down in type. But blogging and Writing are not the same thing. Writing demands I do it. Blogging is about as productive to my Writing as watching television, although a good deal less entertaining.

That’s all for now.