I am at my best …

Song for this post. Dan Fogelberg: Bones in the Sky.

When things get really bad, I go to the writing place. Neil Gaiman.

when I sit in a chair and face a blank canvas and make up words on that blank slate before me. I am at my best when I rewrite those words and create a better draft than the one before. I am at my best when I add and subtract words from that scribbling I recently put on the page. I am at my best when I squeeze everything I can out of those words and get juice. Writing, I love every part of it.

The beach appears empty. It is high tide and the waves rush toward the shore. The sun is about to set. A fiery orange colors the sky the way Van Gogh must have colored his canvas. With strokes of genius. Suddenly a head bobs up from the water, then two arms reach toward the white sand that is the beach.

Questions arise in my mind. Who is this person and why alone in the water? Why is the beach empty of people? This is where the questions start begging me for a narrative to answer them. Story is born.

Could it be that the one I see is an alien criminal, escaped from some distant waterworld of a prison and the galactic cops are trailing her? There I can almost see one of the police behind her. No, that’s a mermaid, or maybe a merman. I am relieved but, at this distance, I can’t really tell who it is behind her.

Could be that man in the water some five minutes ago dove for pearls. The water grabbed him up and tossed him miles toward this African beach. Soon the night overcomes the world with its darkness and the surfer drags himself up onto the shore. He lays naked on the warm sand, his swimming trunks pulled off him by the tide going back out to sea.

There are dozens, hundreds of possibilities. These are only two. Maybe I can combine them and see what story appears on the horizon. But looking out onto that man on the beach, I know his name is Charley and he fell off a cruise ship. Knowing this, I now know what he wants, what he desires more than anything in the world. To get back to his wife and home. So what is stopping him? Nothing but the jungle and the ocean. And maybe Tarzan of the Apes who doesn’t like other human beings treading into his territory. You see, Tarzan is a very territorial guy and this part of the jungle is off limits for everybody except Jane, Boy, Cheetah, and himself. Seems like Tarzan may very well be my antagonist.

Now where do I go from here? Not sure. It’s going to take some brooding and figuring out the kind of guy this Charlie fellow is. As I study old Charlie and write several scenes, each taking him in a new direction, I realize that Charlie doesn’t really want to get back to his wife and civilization. You see, I start getting some back story. Charlie and wife Allie were having a fight on the cruise ship. “I want a divorce,” he screamed at her. “The hell you do,” she screams back at him. She hits him. She hits him hard across the face. He falls backward and over the side of the cruise ship, the Norwegian Viking. The last words she hears from him as he hits the water is, “Oh, shit.”

Now I can hear it. Uncle Bardie, where’s the planning in that? What structure do you have? None at this point. But this is my first draft and a very rough one at that. In my second one, there will be decisions to be made. Do I begin on the beach or on the cruise ship will have to be answered.

Next comes the digging. I don’t know what this Charlie really wants. I make a list of important events in his past. I pick one that I think is the most important, I count to ten and start writing. I am writing for insight not to include the scene in the story. If I don’t know this stuff about my character, my reader won’t know it. In this and other scenes I write I am coming to know my character well enough to tell his story, He is like a stranger I just met. By the time the story ends I will know him better than my closest friend or partner. Once I know him well, I know what he wants and I can then tell whether he will turn left or right on that beach or go straight into the jungle. I know whether he has the resources to survive the jungle. I have some clue at what resolution the story will have. That resolution may change along the way and probably will, but at least I have a direction. And I can see the first turning point in my plot. It is a goal to head for.

One of six. These key scenes include: plot point one that turns the plot on its head and twists it in a new direction, a midpoint where the story changes again and sends the character flat on his ass, a second plot point that throws my story into a completely new direction, a catharsis where Charlie has a knock-down-drag-out with Tarzan. I find out that Charlie beats the crap out of the Ape Man himself and ends up in a tree house with Jane, Cheetah, and the Boy. Course I always knew Tarzan was an extraterrestrial cop. I just didn’t have proof. That’s my first draft.

Didn’t know I would end up in a tree house at the beginning but so it goes. Now comes the elbow grease and the spick and span. It’s time to do the polishing, get out the structure chart and make sure all the holes are filled in. Begin to discover which scenes need more work, which scenes need cutting, which scenes need creating.

In my process, I haven’t completely abandoned structure at the beginning. But I leave a lot of room open for discovery. As I work through the second and third drafts, I know where I should be in the story. But, for me, it’s like knowing that I am in Chicago on my way to Seattle. I just need to decide how long I will be in Chi-town and what sights I will see there. As I visit those places, I get a sense of whether I am headed in the right direction to get to the sight I want to see. In each scene, I decide what the characters want in that scene, what is opposing them and whether they will get it. If they do, it becomes a “yes” but. if not, it is a “no however”.

Soon I am into my fourth draft and I am polishing up all those verbs, kicking the adverbs out on their asses and deciding if that noun needs a buddy adjective. When it is all nice and neat in its Sunday best, out it goes into the world. Hopefully some publisher will like. But …

And now it is on to my next tale. For I am at my best when I sit my butt down in the chair and face the blank sheet and put words on paper.

When are you at your best?

Friday’s Creator Corner: Phillippe Petit, The Man on the Wire

Each Friday I feature a Creative Artist on Friday’s Creator Corner. Creativity is the art of making something out of nothing. I leave the post up for a week, then replace it with another post. After taking it down, I link it to Friday’s Creator Corner Artists page.

Today’s Creator’s Corner artist is Phillipe Petit.

Young Fortinbras

Inspiration. Lyle Lovett: Church

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Thus much the business is: we have here writ
To Norway, uncle of young Fortinbras—
Who, impotent and bedrid, scarcely hears
Of this his nephew’s purpose—to suppress
His further gait herein, in that the levies,
The lists, and full proportions are all made
Out of his subject; and we here dispatch
You, good Cornelius, and you, Voltemand.
Hamlet Act 1. Scene2.

Act 1. Scene 2 (Continued). Claudius is not happy. I know he was happy a Wednesday ago. Guess a king has the right to change his mind. He is king, and that is one of the kingly prerogatives.

Young Fortinbras, nephew to the king of Norway and son of the former king, is on the warpath. He’s got an itch. He’s got it bad. Besides, he has something to prove. To show he can kick some butt. That is one way for Forte to prove he would make a terrific king.

This is the Middle Ages. Everybody is Middle Age crazy in those days. Warrior kings are considered saints. Don’t think so. Just look at St. Charlemagne, St. Louis (not the town but the king), St. Edward the Confessor and St. Alfred the Great. I can hear Tony the Tiger saying, “Heeez GRRREEET.”

Anyway, Claudius calls in his Ambassadors to Norway, Cornelius and Voltimand. No, that is not He-who-must-not-be named. The two bow and kowtow before His Magnanimousness.

Claudius sings a pickin’ and grinnin’ song:
Oh, Cornelius. Oh, Voltemand,
To Norway We’re sendin’ you.
Tell that king and tell him well
He’ll be in a lot of screw-you
If he don’t tell Young Fortinbras
Not to get his panties in a wad.
He’s a huffin’ and a puffin’
Like he’s some young almighty god.

There’s a new sheriff in town.
We’re the Baddest Wolf around.
If he don’t let things be
We will blow his house down.

Think our brother was really bad?.
We’re three times worse than he was.
Wherever We ride, the snow melts.
When We decide to show our claws
Goliath would run away scared.
You Philistines ain’t got a chance
We’ll melt Norway and take her down
And make you Norwegians dance

Well, Judgment day is a-comin’
Our wrath like a volcano blow
Our patience is a runnin’ out
Soon We’ll be sending Norway low
But We are a generous man
Fortinbras can stretch his muscles
On the Germans and the Cassocks
And make the Poles his vassals

Voltemand and Cornelius say a quick, “Yes, Your Magnanimousness.”

Claudius responds, “And don’t you forget it.”

I was reading some poetry yesterday

Song for this post. Quoting Napoleon: The Belle of Amherst.

and these words came to me:
The poets say it best.
In these troubled times
They say it better
Than all the rest.

So I lift my glass and quote these words:

The hand that signed the paper
by Dylan Thomas

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose’s quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.

Mesopotamia 1917
by Rudyard Kipling
They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

They shall not return to us; the strong men coldly slain
In sight of help denied from day to day:
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
Are they too strong and wise to put away?

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide–
Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends,
To conform and re-establish each career?

Their lives cannot repay us–their death could not undo–
The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
Shell we leave it unabated in its place?

Then I read this by e e cummings and I laughed.

in Just

In Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and
the

goat-footed

baloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

And then there was this one:

Politics by William Butler Yeats

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

And finally

There is another sky by Emily Dickinson

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields –
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!”

Things felt so much better.

Is there a poem that inspires you?

Fun With Claudius and Gertrude

Song for this post. Fairport Convention: The Summer Before the War.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey, nonny nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no mo
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leavy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey, nonny nonny.
Much Ado About Nothing Act 2. Scene 3.

Oops. That’s the wrong play. This is a much darker play than that. It’s a “Hamlet”.

Act 1. Scene 2. Claudius and Gertrude, their Royalnesses, descended the Staircase of the Stars. To the spectators below, they seemed to be floating. They weren’t. They were wearing the latest in shoewear, camouflage slippers, designed by Dr. John Dee himself. They were all the rage among the royals of Europe. They didn’t come cheap but they were well worth it. They made a Royal royal and a King kingly.

As the two progress their way down the Staircase, they pass Gallery of the Danes, portraits on the wall of past kings, all ancestors of Claudius. Beginning at the top, Hamlet- the Really-Old, the founder of the Hamlet royal lineage. You know, the word “lineage” is akin to “laundry”? Dirty laundry in the case of royalty, of course. ‘Cause some of the Royals on the Wall were real doozies. Their reps had to be washed and dried a number of times by the royal spin doctors. But no matter how clean their reps became, there were old timers who never forgot.

For instance, Hamlet the Really-Old became known as the king who lived to be as old as Methuselah. Actually he was very old when he came to the throne. Mostly his subjects called him Hamlet the Pincher. He liked to pinch his subjects bottoms.

Next was Hamlet the Not-so-old. He was only six months old when he inherited the throne. But he didn’t live to be six months and a day. Some say it was poison. Some say the plague. All anyone knows for sure was that it was not the colic.

Then came the Mutt and Jeffs of the family. Hamlet the Tall and Hamlet the Short. Bet you can’t guess which was Mutt and which was Jeff. After their long reigns, there was Hamlet the Medium-sized. He was a roly poly sort of fellow who had so many wives he beat Henry VIII on two fronts, weight and wives. As soon as he married a maiden, he misplaced her. Three hundred years later, the Royal Guards are still looking for lost wives. Henry could take party lessons from Hamlet the Medium-sized as well.

Hamlet the Lecher was no better. No virgin in the kingdom was safe. A new position was created by the town councils throughout the land. The Devirginizer. Bet you can guess what the guy did. Unfortunately, that left the farmer’s daughters unsafe.

Down the line came Hamlet’s daddy’s daddy, Old Smutmouth I. The name says it all. Finally there was Daddy Hamlet, the recent king and brother to the current king. Nary a Claudius in the bunch. The now-king would be Claudius I.

Actually Claudius’ name did not start out as Claudius. Shakespeare gave the new king a new name. One that fit his dignity. After all, Claudius was a Roman patrician name. One thing was for sure. Feng, the name Claudius’ father had given him, would never ever do.

With a name like Feng, Claudius had an absolutely horrible childhood. “Here, Feng. Here, boy,” all the other kids shouted at him. They treated him like a dog. Dog biscuits and bones kept showing up in his school locker.

On top of that, there were the Feng Shui jokes. At fifteen, Claudius took off for parts unknown. During that time, he took the advice, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do.” So he did. Like a good Roman, he changed his name.

That was all in the past. On this day of his royal ascendage, he descended the stairs with Queen Gertrude at his side. Claudius was happy. The eyes of his dead ancestors followed him from their portraits. Look at him. A king’s crown was the best revenge.

Gertrude was happy too. Phew. A close one. She ended up queen when she could have ended up queen mother. She knew a thing or two about statecraft. Besides she knew where all the bodies were buried.

Gertrude had not loved Daddy Hamlet when she married him. She was fourteen, and like Juliet, she loved another. But she didn’t have the courage to run away from home and wed her Romeo. Daddy Hamlet was fifteen years her elder. At twenty-nine, he had already killed off two wives. Both of them had died in childbirth.

He needed an heir, and he needed one badly. There was no way that he was about to let his younger brother, Feng, take the throne. With a name like Feng, nobody would respect him.

Gertrude seemed like an excellent choice. She was young and had a lot of childbearing years ahead of her. Besides, she was sexier than all get out. So a deal was made with her father, Michael of the Rus. When she arrived at court, Daddy Hamlet got down to business. After several tries, wallah. A son. No matter that Gertrude wanted to name the boy, Michael. He was dubbed Hamlet.

Unfortunately, her childbearing was over. Hamlet had been a difficult birth and the barbers said no more babies. “The barbers?” you ask. In those days, doctors didn’t know much. They were in the dark ages when it came to medicine. So they weren’t consulted that often. On the side, they had a barber business. It worked out real well. They would give a haircut and a pill all at the same time. Two for the price of one, so to speak.

After that, Daddy Hamlet was off fighting the Cossacks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and anybody else he could think of. While he was away, Gertrude had to wear that damned chastity belt. She might not get a chance to pee, except for once in a blue moon when he was home. On top of that, she only got a chance to make whoopee once a year. She was a woman with needs. And Big Daddy wasn’t supplying them. When they did make whoopee, he was a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of guy. She didn’t call him Brutus for no good reason either.

One Sunday afternoon Claudius showed up at court. She took one look at him and suddenly they were like Lancelot and Guinevere. Though she was under lock and key, they figured out a way to get down. The pièce de résistance was when Claudius sneaked the key from around Big Daddy’s neck. Thank God, the king was a sound sleeper.

It was her lucky day when Big Daddy finally died from snake bite. Okay, there weren’t snakes on Elsinore Island. Maybe he brought one back from his distant wars. And it was late October and chilly when the snake bit him in the garden. Not good weather for snakes. Still, could happen.

When Claudius proposed, it was the happiest day of her life. She immediately, and with that sigh of relief people are always referring to, said yes. After all, he could have gone with a lot younger woman. Like Alice of Stuttgart or Denise the Greek or Lucretia Borgia. The sluts. At least, Claudius knew where Gertrude had been. Her reading “The Princess” by Machiavelli had paid off well. No other woman’s child would inherit the throne. It would be her son. All in all, things had worked out very well.

The feet of Claudius and Gertrude touched down on the Throne Room floor.

“Your Majesty,” his subjects praised Claudius.

“Your Magnanimousness, please,” the king corrected them.

Yes, Your Magnanimousness.”

Gertrude gritted her teeth and thought, “Oh, here we go again.”