Writing Historical Fiction, Part Two

Or: It was the Pomp That Killed Off the Western

Another varmint

Before I return to the actual topic of this two-part post, let me say that as sad as it was to hear the lack of Authentic Frontier Gibberish in the westerns of the fifties and sixties it was the pomp hairdo that foreshadowed the death of the genre. Now as anachronistic as was Elvis Presley’s pomp in the seldom mentioned Love Me Tender (a western taking place just after the civil war), there is another actor whose pomp was taller and even more greased (they didn’t have gel in those days) and that was Dale Robertson in a less than a B movie called, Sitting Bull. It’s kind of a toss-up because while Dale had the taller pomp, Elvis had fenders. Continue reading

A Very Large Telescope, Verily Said

The frequent usage of the adjective “very” is something some English teachers abhor, even going so far as to state that the very user might as well substitute the word damn. We disagree. There is a large cutting-edge telescope somewhere atop a south American mountain and it’s called a VLT. One guess allowed as to what the V stands for. Now, does that very abhorring English teacher want the telescope renamed the DLT?

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Writing Historical Novels Part One

Writing Dialogue for American Historical Novels.

Cassandra once told me that I wrote dialogue well. At the time, content to hear praise, I didn’t bother to ask myself if what she was saying translated into: Your fictional dialogue is a notch above average and your prose isn’t.

My wife was a highly educated teacher of English and an accomplished linguist, and she loved me. So, I’m going to judge these two prime factors influencing her judgement as counter-balancing and declare myself as a mostly good writer of dialogue. Anyway, for me, prose, purple or plain, is just a means to an end. I view it mostly as the stuff that screenplay writers use to set the scene and maybe give stage directions to the actors’ movements.

A posit: Two examples of successful recreations of western American dialogue: True Grit by Charles Portis; and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. A second posit; The most anachronistic dialogue for the genre is heard in the television series, Deadwood. Continue reading

3 Paths With Vaguely Related Thoughts

JM is lending this painting to Ed’s memorial art exhibition. It’s a landscape which he bought a few years back, shortly after reconnecting to Ed and their friend Wali. JM thinks he bought the painting because it reminded him of a photo of his wife, Cassandra, on a path curving to the right and disappearing. She is walking on the path and looking back to smile at the camera and maybe the cameraman.

One of Vincent van Gogh’s last paintings – maybe his very last – entitled, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), depicts a path disappearing into a field of wheat and then a flock of crows rising from the field. On first glance the painting appears simple enough with its elements countable on one hand: wheat field, sky, path, ascending crows. However, Van Gogh attempted to kill himself in a wheat field shortly after creating the painting, so there have been many words written on the painting’s symbolism. For a good article on various interpretations of perceived symbolism, read this: Vincent van Gogh, Wheat field with Crows. Continue reading

Working with an Illustrator, Ed Roxburgh

Tonton Jim is not sure when or how the idea popped into his mind for what was to become the Hound’s Glenn series. He’d mentioned the concept to Ed, his longtime friend, who liked it well enough to enlist the help of a professional editor, Linnea Dayton. She, as good fortune would have it, was about to start a print-on-demand publishing business.

So, Tonton began to write the first book and Ed began thinking about doing the illustrations. As soon as Tonton completed the first draft, Linnea would work with Ed on how many water-colors to do. Because it was to be a chapter book, there had to be a set amount of full page illustrations and so many partial page illustrations. Ed and Linnea both being experienced in the publishing business, the completion of the book, Max and the Low-rider Car, occurred smoothly.

Now, Tonton can’t recall exactly how much effort went into the composition of the text. But whimsical storytelling seems to just bubble out of the non-entity, so we suspect that regardless of how many hours it took, no sweat ever beaded his forehead. Besides, with a professional editor guiding him, re-writing parts of the text must’ve been a breeze.

It was in the creation of the first book Tonton learned that in many respects the illustrator has the more daunting task. Evidently, this is news to the many writers who think all that needs to be done is to hatch a great idea for a children’s chapter book, write the simple and usually short story, and have an artist friend do a few dozen oils, water-colors, or what-have-you. To begin with, publishing houses don’t want writers to submit a work with illustrations, unless your name is Maurice Sendak. They prefer to hire their own illustrators.

Secondly, and most importantly, illustrating a chapter book is a lot of work for the artist. Ed never complained to Tonton about the work, but the writer did witness first hand the amount of labor that went into bringing to life the characters and the situations of the text. And he very much appreciated it. It is an almost magical experience to see one’s characters visually displayed. It’s like sharing a vision. Thank you, Ed.

Pay Attention! will be your desperate cry

“Through the eyes of a child God sees us as we really are.” Tonton Jim said this in a moment of longing to be deeply wise. I referred him to a previous article on pithy sayings, but did pause to consider what he’d said. I also suggested that TJ leave out the adverb ‘really’ which only betrays  his desperate longing to sound really, really profundo. But TJ is right: a child’s vision can be brutally sharp.

I did have an occasion to be seen through the eyes of a child when I was a fourth-grade teacher. In an Open Court reading anthology, there was a free verse poem enjoyable enough in its original form. With some of its nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs removed it served as a fill-in-the-blanks poem which the students could use to create their own poems about whatever subject interested them. One bright and bold girl (a favorite student) choose to write about her teacher, me. Continue reading

Mary Tomita and Her Son Toyoji

Available at Amazon. Click on the book’s title at the end of the post.

When I first met Toyoji he was known by his first name, Peter (his brother’s name was Paul). We were friends from the sixth grade until the summer of ’68 when I moved from Oakland to San Diego. But by then, his commitment to music had begun to take up much of his time (his talent had been noticed and he played in what I think was called the San Francisco Bay Area Youth Orchestra).

In junior high we went to the same parties and in ninth grade we joined the Sea Scouts. It was great. Along with learning all the nautical type stuff and playing with heavy machinery, Continue reading

The Storybook Story, the whole story

Merry Christmas, if you click on this page you will find Book 4 of my intended novel. It’s a fairy tale, and I have no idea if children will like it, but hopefully, grownups might find it fun enough. If a grownup should read it aloud to a child I’d be very interested in learning the child’s reaction.

In other news, I’m almost finished with Book 3 of the novel. It’s set in Tomorrowland and is a love story, of sorts. I’ve written about eight tenth’s of the story in sequence and then I wrote the ending. Getting from the last part of the eight tenths to the ending is stumping me. But once I become unstumped not only will I have finished my novel, but I will have also written something easily made into a play – most of Book 3 is dialogue.

Gadzookery 4 – Tonton Jim Was Wrong about Bully

Mark Twain is to be exonerated. He is not guilty of an anachronism as charged and convicted in Gadzookery Two. In TAoTS he probably did use the word bully in his first draft. But after inking the very last word he handed off his handwritten book to his wife for a reading and she substituted gay for bully (though she missed a few). This scenario is suggested by the Gadzookery Three post. Case solved, I say.

Murder becomes slang.

Let us consider the case of the commonly used legal term ‘murder’ mutating into slang. As far as I know, its first slang usage came about in describing the homerun hitters of the New York Yankees of the twenties and the thirties, “Murder’s Row”, none of whom were ever convicted of an unlawful killing. And then, also in the thirties, newspapers breathlessly described the activities of “Murder Incorporated”. I’m going to ignore this usage because the employees of Murder Inc. were murderers and for my purposes, only a distraction. Continue reading

Update to the “About This Website” Page

Dancing on top of the world while the less fortunate do the heavy lifting.

A little while back I changed the header image from the WordPress stock image of an uphill street and a streetcar to the present one. I’d picked the stock photo of a street in Lisbon because of my lack of a photo of the uphill Bush Street in San Francisco. The present header image depicts a Mycenaean vessel head on to a Minoan vessel and is apropos to my Little Gods, Small as Cherubs series.

This post’s first photo is apropos of nothing I’m writing about. I’ve come to Continue reading