A Swashbuckling Fool

Once upon a time, there was a book and a movie and then another movie and even another movie called The Three Musketeers. Why such popularity? They were superheroes seventeenth century style.

“If you are going to swash your buckle, why not swash it for the Musketeers,” D’Artagnan advised his son. That is exactly what D’Artagnan Junior did. It was his heart’s desire to go off and become the latest in a long line of swashbuckling D’Artagnans to swash their buckles for the Musketeers.

On his way to becoming a full-fledged swashbuckling master of the Musketeer kind, he fought beaucoup number of fights, lost his virginity and had three or four duels. With Musketeers, of course. Only a Musketeer could duel a duel. Otherwise it was not much of a duel. It was a rout. No one else in all of France had enough umph to duel. Only a Musketeer had the duelling umph. ‘Cause that was what Musketeers had for breakfast. Umph with milk and a large mug of black coffee.

Since Musketeers hung their hats in Paris, it was off to Paree for our young D’Artagnan. In case your French ain’t so good, D’Artagnan means “From Artagnan”. In other words, he was from Gascony in Southern France down around Spain. It was a nice enough place to grow up. But if you wanted to be a Musketeer swashbuckler, Paree was the place to be.

That in itself is enough to get an ambitious young fellow into trouble. After all, he was a country bumpkin who dressed country-bumpkinish and rode a country-bumpkinish horse. Even if he did not look the part, he sure sounded like a hick. He would have benefitted from Madame Suzette’s Speak-Like-A-Parisian. And she, being partial to young swashbucklers, would have taught him the latest dance craze, the minuet.

But no, our young friend was of the impatient breed. Like the old saying goes, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.” D’Artagnan just had to go. To Paree, that is. So he was off to the Emerald City. Only they did not call it the Emerald City. It was The City of Lights. That’s ’cause it was well-lit four seasons a year just like Camelot by command of the king.

In case you have a hankering for some swashbuckling your own self, remember to take some advice from a very wise man. “Use the Force, Luke, use the Force.” Or is that the Farce? I never can remember.

What swashbuckler do you think lives up to the name “swashbuckler”?

Famous Literary Products

There is some concern that Americans just don’t read enough. As a way to encourage reading, major companies are coming out with a line of products, featuring literary characters and other literary vehicles. Here is some of the upcoming products:
1. Jeeves-and-Wooster Stiff Upper Lip Gloss.
2. Jabberwocky Translators: We translate your gobblelygook into their gobblelygook.
3. Mary Poppins’ Silverware: To make the medicine go down.
4. Macbeth’s Kilts: (With and without) to bring out the ambition in your man.
5. Hercule Pierogies: You haven’t tasted a pierogi until you’ve tasted Hercule’s.
6. Achilles’ Heels: Socks that won’t separate during laundry. So no use to wonder what happened to that lost sock.
7. Dorian Gray Mirrors: Now forever isn’t just a word.
8. Daisy Buchanan Diapers: Once your child starts using these, their poop won’t smell.
9. Dark and Stormy Bras: The pushup bra that keeps on pushing when all other bras give out.
10. Holden Caulfield Skateboards: We show you what a smartass you can be, riding our boards.
11. Frank ‘N’ Steiners (Odor Eaters): Your stink don’t have to be monstrous.
12. Captain Ahab-o-mobile: Lets you own the road.
13. Ebenezer Scrooge Investments: We squeeze every dollar we can out of your investments.
14. Dracula Dental Repair: Get your bite back.
15. Oliver Twisteds; The pretzel that will leave you begging for more.
16. Charlie Brown Noses: We train the professionals.
17. Sherlock Homes: You won’t need a Doctor Watson for your retirement here.
18. Hannibal Lector’s: The finest liver products anywhere.
19. Gatzby Underpants: Guys, you will be the cat’s pajamas in the bedroom.
20. Madame Bovary Scotch: The drink that will bring out the adulteress in you.
21. Rhett Butlers: The best erectile dysfunction treatment on the market.
22. Portnoy’s Non-Complaints: The condoms that never fail.

The National Holiday We Ignore

September 17th is one of the national holidays we choose to ignore. It’s Constitution Day. It’s the day Congress has set aside to honor the United States Constitution and commemorate its signing on September 17, 1787 by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention.

We all know about the Declaration of Independence when our founding fathers proclaimed that we had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We all know about Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, reminding Americans that we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The United States Constitution is the document that guarantees our rights and answers the question: What kind of government is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people? The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land.

And despite everything we might think, it’s pretty easy reading. It’s only 7591 words long which means it can be read in an  hour.

Just to get you started, here’s the Preamble:

 

And though we haven’t always lived up to those words as a country, they still inspire us to be better.

I have learned two things about the Constitution. As we have added Amendments to those original words, we have asked the Constitution to do two things:
1.Limit the power of Government, and
2.Expand the Rights of Americans.

When we lose sight of those two things, we have go astray. Consider the 18th Amendment. It was the Prohibition Amendment that banned the sale of alcohol. in 1933, we had to admit “Ooops, We made a boo-boo” and ratified the 21st Amendment which meant the 18th Amendment was no longer law.

Today is the 234th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution. Maybe as a birthday present to the Constitution, we might read it. I know I will.

And if you’re looking for some helpful reading on the Constitution, here’s three excellent books:

The U.S. Constitution and Other Important American Documents (No Fear) by SparkNotes (A modern reading of the Constitution)
The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk
The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide by Linda R. Monk

A Book for Writers

CaptureOnly occasionally do I post a piece on writing. And writers. When I do, it is something I feel can be useful to my fellow writers. I try to avoid repeating insights you can find on other blogs. With this in mind, today I’d like to recommend What We See When We Read by Peter Mdndelsund, art director and book designer at Alfred A. Knopf.

It answers so many questions I have had about description over the years. What to leave out and what to put in. Insights into how a writer should describe a character. How much of that description a reader will remember.

He interviewed readers of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, asking them to describe Anna. You will find the responses very interesting. Throughout the book, he refers to a number of great writers besides Tolstoy and how they have used description. Writers such as Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Kafka, Herman Melville and Gustave Flaubert.

Here are some of the writerly insights I found in the book:

1.Build the opening sentence solely from verbs. Make the verbs matter in the opening paragraph.

2.Focus on what the character does and how they do it, not how they look.

3.Different actors can inhibit a role in a play. and we accept those performances as true to the role. See how many actors have performed Hamlet. That’s because Shakespeare didn’t spend a lot of time describing Hamlet.

4.We hear more than we see when we are reading. So use appropriate sounding words to create a rhythm to a paragraph.

5.If the reader has to keep going back and re-reading a section because they are confused, the writer has lost the reader.

6.Describe a character or setting the way a character experiences them through their senses.

7.Show the world through the character’s eyes, not through the author’s.

8.When using a detail to describe a setting or a character, make it memorable and important. Then repeat it. Tolstoy mentions Anna Karenina’s “slender hands.” We remember Cyrano as big nosed. “Which aspect of a character is chosen to represent the character is crucial.” (p.394)

9.Don’t tell the reader everything. Give the reader a chance to use their imagination.

10.When using detailed description, make sure this matters. Such as showing what’s in a character’s closet or in their refrigeration. This probably isn’t needed unless the writer wants to reveal the character’s obsession with clothes or food. For instance, a writer might want to describe a character’s bathtub because the character obsesses over cleanliness.

11.When the writer creates a character, they are creating a world.

Note: I am in no way associated with this writer or his publisher. I have not received a book to review.

Read a Good Story Lately?

I am a sucker for short stories. Short stories by such amazing writers as Anton Chekhov, Ray Bradbury, Alice Munro, Kurt Vonnegut, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Lorrie Moore, Tim O’Brien and Kevin Brockmeier often blow me away. For my money though, the Irish writer William Trevor is one of the best, a real master of the craft. If you love short stories the way I do, you’ll enjoy his Selected Stories.

There’s nothing like a good start to a story. Here’s the opening sentence from Trevor’s “The Piano Tuner’s Wives”: Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man, Belle married him when he was old. When a story gets off to a good start like that, I know I am in for a treat.

The story, “A Friendship”, opens with a practical joke two brothers play on their father. But soon the tale turns into the story of a slowly dissipating marriage. As is true for many of Trevor’s stories, it doesn’t take you where you thought you were going. When I finished the story, I could see the influence Trevor may have had on another writer, Alice Munro, and her “Runaway”. In his “Child’s Play”, there is the story of two children. They use their imagination to create dramas to help them overcome the pain of separation from their divorced parents.

If you think Trevor only creates tragic stories, think again. For instance, there’s “A Bit of Business”. Two thieves see an ideal opportunity for burglary on the day the Pope visits Dublin. They’ve done their business for the day. It’s been a successful business. Then, on a whim, they decide to do one more house. One more house. That will always get you into trouble.

Trevor’s endings can be just as stunning as his beginnings. Such is the masterpiece of a story called “After Rain”. A woman entering her thirties finds herself ditched by her boyfriend. She returns to the Italian hotel where her parents took her when she was a girl.

It concludes with this: She sees again the brown-and-green striped tie of the old man who talked about being on your own, and the freckles that are blotches on the forehead. She sees herself walking in the morning heat past the graveyard and the rusted petrol pumps. She sees herself seeking the shade of the chestnut trees in the park, and crossing the piazza to the trattoria when the first raindrops fell. She hears the swish of the cleaner’s mop in the church of Santa Fabiola, she hears the tourists’ whisper. The fingers of the praying woman flutter on her beads, the candles flare. The story of Santa Fabiola is lost in the shadows that were once the people of her life, the family tomb reeks odourlessly of death. Rain has sweetened the breathless air, the angel comes mysteriously also. These closing lines remind me of another Irish master of the short story, James Joyce, and the end of his most famous story, “The Dead”.

Trevor’s stories often have echoes of other great predecessors of the short story, most of all Anton Chekhov. Trevor does for Ireland what Chekhov did for Russia. He explores the landscape of a country and its people, giving each character her dignity. With a rich, lush language, he is as likely to offer the life of a woman as he is a man, of a Catholic or a Protestant, and to burrow in deep to find out what that character carries in his or her heart.

In his stories, there are priests, wives, businessmen, tramps, blind piano tuners, farmers, children, burglars, auto mechanics and dressmakers, people from many of the nooks and crannies of Irish society. And there is love, or the desire for love no matter the consequences. Trevor shows us that it’s the little things, the quiet moments that matter in a life, and that a life can mean so much.

His particular way of saying things often makes me stop in awe and question how I might write like that. Lines that soar. Lines that are more than lines. There never is fairness when vengeance is evoked or Their own way of life was so much debris all around them or This no-man’s land was where Gerard and Rebecca played their game of marriage and divorce or All the love there had been, all the love there still was–love that might have nourished Ellie’s child, that might have warmed her–was the deprivation the child suffered or gratitude was always expressed around this table. It’s a great writer working his magic and I am never disappointed with that magic. He always leaves me wanting more.