Sunday, March 3, 2019

WHAT IT IS, week ending 3.2.2019

Week four of recommitting to this weekly check-in on what I've been reading, what I've been watching, what I've been writing, and how it all interweaves into a seamless whole of creativity and inspiration.  (see, when you're the one in charge of the writing, you can make anything sound good, even if the truth is a bit more . . . messy).  That's enough for a preamble, let get to it:


Columbo: Murder by the Book --
I introduced my 11-year-old son to Columbo this past week, and it was glorious.  (possibly more glorious for me than for him).  This is the classic episode directed by Stephen Spielberg and written by Steven Bochco.  Ken Franklin (played by Jack Cassidy, who starred in several Columbo episodes) is one-half of a writing team, famous for the series of mysteries starring Mrs. Melville.  His partner, Jim Ferris, has decided to end their partnership.  So, Franklin kills him, while carefully laying the groundwork for it to look like a mob hit.  It's an intricate plan involving luring his soon to be former partner away from the office, to come to his cabin a couple hours south, while convincing Ferris to call and tell his wife that he's working late, without letting on he's with Franklin.  It's a masterful plan.
But Columbo knows, right from the jump, that Franklin is the one who did it, and tiny inconsistencies pop up as he hangs around and drops in, uninvited, on Franklin, using his aloof manner to play the part of a doofus, while putting together the puzzle laid out for him.  In the end, Columbo enlists Ferris's wife, imploring her to talk extemporaneously about her husband's writing and his partnership with Franklin, hoping that some minor detail will clue him in to how he can catch the killer.
And it works, because it always does, because he's Columbo.
This is a different Columbo, though, not quite the character he became, that we know and love so much.  Falk is still shifting from the initial pilot's characterization, which had him berating and admonishing the murderer.  It's closer to the unassuming, quiet detective he becomes, but there's still a bit of assertiveness and forthrightness, particularly in the scene with Ferris's widow, toward the end, that feels like a bit of a hangover from those first, slightly faulty steps.  It's not a bad thing, and not even anything that would be unwelcome in the character; it's just a characteristic to which fans of Columbo might be unaccustomed.
I love this series, and this episode, in particular, is certainly a high point for the series.  The smartness of the plot, the timing from Columbo -- with his "gotchas" after setting up the murderer to incriminate himself by answering a previous, seemingly innocuous, question -- is priceless.  There's a ton I can take away from this episode and this show, to improve my writing.
Oh, and though I'm certain my son would tell you, now, that watching this episode was "boring," he was totally into every turn of the screw, while we watched.  So, there's that, too.

Babylon 5: Chrysalis (season 1, episode 22) --
I finished up season one of Babylon 5.  It, too, was great.  I'd forgotten about the subplot around Garibaldi being shot while pursuing a tip that someone was out to kill the Earth Alliance President, which leads to the successful assassination of President Santiago.
This episode is where everything changes.  Delenn performs a ritual that puts her into a chrysalis and will change her physical appearance, going forward, which will come with a renewed outlook on her race's role in the universe and how they relate to humans, specifically, and other races, in general.  Garibaldi is shot by one of his own, which will make him even more paranoid.  Londo unwittingly enlists the Shadows to destroy a Narn military base in a disputed area between the Narns and Centauri.  G'Kar will leave the station to look into this.  And with the Earth Alliance President dead, his VP, Morgan Clark, steps in and immediately announces a retrenchment and refocus on Earth and its priorities (not unlike the current U.S. regime under Trump, as well as other right-wing, nationalist political figures ascending across the globe).  As Kosh states, toward the end of the episode, "And so it begins."  Indeed it does.
One thing I've always kept at the back of my mind, in reference to this episode and to my own writing, is a statement from the commentary track by J. Michael Straczynski.  The bits surrounding Commander Sinclair in this episode are, for the most part, quiet, at least in the opening half of the show.  He and his on-again, off-again lover, Catherine Sakai, are getting a chance to spend time together, and Sinclair decides to pop the question.  She says yes.  This is followed by a nice dinner (for a quick moment, anyway) with Ivanova and Garibaldi, announcing their plans and asking these two to be their Maid of Honor and Best Man, respectively. 
As JMS points out, this was intentional.  The best way, he said, to lay the foundation for a big shake-up, as happens in the latter half of this episode, is to start with some quiet moments, to allow for a stark contrast between the quiet and the loud, allowing the impact of the dramatic events to be heightened by this contrast.  It's something I try to have in my "bag of tricks," but after watching this episode again, I realize it's something I need to be more aware of, when I'm writing dramatic scenes like this.


Anna Akhmatova: My Half Century --My reading of Anna Akhmatova's prose continues.  I've moved into a section where she writes about Pushkin, for which she became quite well known.  It has me intrigued to read his work now.
Akhmatova's prose continues to be engaging, whether writing matter-of-factly or poetically, and her incisive intellect is very appealing.  I have shared a few more quotes from my reading, on the site.  Links below:

Quotes part Two

Quotes part Three

I was particularly taken with the second link above, where Akhmatova talks of the village where she spent some of her early life, Slepnyovo.  She likened it to an arch in architecture, where it seems small at first, but it gets bigger and bigger until you find complete freedom, once you walk through.  It's a wonderful metaphor for life, living in a small village or a small town, as I did, but it also works with the mechanics of the words:  arch being the first, smaller section of architecture, a much larger word and idea.


Moebius, always inspirational.


Went back to a musician Warren Ellis introduced me to, through one of his e-newsletters, Kemper Norton.  Part ambient, part electronica, the music can be soothing one second and then become completely overwhelming, with harmonies vying for dominance and failing, while the collective pieces merge into a whole that is almost otherworldly.  His work is wholly distinct and great for writing.  Here's a sample:


I've mentioned before that I track my writing.  Used to be, I logged the number of words written per day, shooting for 1000 words a day.  Now, I log whether I have written or not, and right now I'm in the middle of what I am certain is my second longest streak of unbroken days of writing - 28.  Not bad.  6 more and I match my personal best of 34. 

This week I completed final revisions on a short story "Tommy & Marc," which acts as a prelude to the novel I need to do a heavy rewrite on, which is next in the queue.  The short story was a way for me to get a better feel for the main characters of my novel.  At the time, I'd already written up roughly 25,000 words of background material on them, as well as the setting and plot and such, but I still didn't really know how they might talk or act -- specifically, I needed to better understand what made the two of them different, and writing a story set during their first year of high school seemed a good way to do that. 

It was something I'd not done before, but which I had read about, from other writers, as a good way to delve into characters before embarking on a longer story with them.  It helped.  Though, obviously, writing 4000 words didn't give me a full picture of these characters, but it did help get things started and propelled me into the novel, which, at its first draft length, runs to about 120,000 words, and that experience, in turn, hopefully helped inform the rewrites for this story. 

I know these short stories aren't always written, by others, with the idea of publication in mind.  They're more an exercise, something to fill out the backstory while remaining in the crevices between paragraphs.  But I like what I wrote, and it stands well on its own.  So, now, I need to start looking for places where it might be a good fit.  But not until I fix the ending, which I realized, after getting it written, didn't work.  Or, didn't work as well as I would have liked.  I tried to be overly flowery and profound, when I all I need to be is direct with the writing, especially since I already know exactly how the story ends up.  This is something I struggle with -- though I find myself better able to recognize it, now -- attempting to overreach with my prose when all that's needed is a blunt directness.  So, I'll polish that up, start looking for journals to submit it to, and begin the task of whittling down 120,000 words to around 90K.  Oh, and I need to rework my query letter again for the first novel. 
That seems like enough to get me through another week of writing, without a break.  If so, I'll be back here next week, touting my new personal best streak of consecutive days of writing. 


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