Friday, October 26, 2012

Will you give me your story?

In your life is a story I don't yet know.

I'm older now; I've heard my own story often enough.

So, I sit open to what's new. I watch a barista's nod to a customer, the customer's indecision and distractions, and the gentle tone of waiting. I listen to the rat-a-tat laugh of another, the humor tossed and received. I hear a customer say, This is why I come. The door pushes open: a man in the rush of business, a woman treating her kids.

Everyone has a story, but the revelation comes in increments. The longer I watch, the more is revealed. Curiosity builds on hints and withholding.

In your life is the story I'm writing. Patience in its slow building, discovery as, within the potential of others, I see myself newly drawn.

Tell me your story, if you trust this storyteller, if you don't  mind your life melded with what the scribe needed to hear.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An unusual vampire novel

Five-star review for my vampire novel Beside the Darker Shore is up at the GLBT Bookshelf:


"I liked the characters. While there are villains in Beside the Darker Shore, they are not the stereotypical villains of vampire novels. There was no right or wrong. There is an air of “what is best for me” for each character....For the pain each of these men brings to the other, it is hard to dislike any of them. Each is fighting for what he believes."

"I enjoyed the world building done in Beside the Darker Shore. Ms. Esposito creates a world that is believable. It could be a place where you want to live even if the neighbors are vampires. It is a utopia but problems occur and fear can turn normally accepting people into a vengeful mob. I want to learn more about this world and if it can survive Arturo and Stephen."

"Beside the Darker Shore is a fine read. I hope Ms. Esposito is planning a sequel or prequel. There are many unanswered questions and these are characters that have not left my mind since I finished the book."

Friday, October 12, 2012

The layers of creation

Talking to a musician recently, I was able to hear about the creative process of songwriting, making me wonder how the process compares to story writing. This songwriter defined himself as a lyricist rather than a poet and explained the difference. The band creates the music first, and his lyrics are a response to it. While he might have ideas he jots down now and then, most often, the lyrics form as they're playing and he's feeling the pulse, the moods, the journey of the music.

Sometimes the lyrics are quite spontaneous, reminding me of what Jack White once said about writing "Ball and Biscuit," playing in a studio and asking what kind of microphone it was they were using. It was called a ball and biscuit and, to him, it must have rang with a sound or sense he felt fit the music. Spontaneous connections. Subconscious reactions.

When I write I like to lose myself, my awareness of writing, and get into a state where I'm reacting to the events unfolding as a character in that moment, exactly. I was originally likening that to the lyricist reacting to the music. But really, first creation for these musicians was instrumental; somehow they were collectively drawing on verbally unexpressed emotions and experiences playing out on each instrument, meeting and understanding each other, going another step, creating "plot," movement, mood, and theme.

Is this more like a writer's first development of a setting with a character, meeting another character, reacting and taking another step? The various personalities forming in our minds might be the meeting of these musicians, feeling, learning, growing off each other.

So, then what is the stage when the lyrics come forward? Is this more like a writer's next draft? When we go back and read what we didn't even know we were writing? And we begin to place meaning on it? Fix setting, rearrange plot, adjust dialogue to convey the mood? Like the lyricist putting some of the instrumental themes into words?

Hmmm, I'm not sure. I wonder if the lyricist finds himself once again in first creation stage, subconscious reactions to the music being played. But then ... even in revision I find I can get lost again, be sucked in again and lose myself, as if the subconscious revises on the next layer of creation. A developmental process, each time perhaps more refined or defined, an added cymbal brush, a piano key tapped, a vocal note extended; a setting drawn out, an image sharpened, a tightened exchange of dialogue. Each time still finding spontaneity, surprise, waiting for the layer that says it's finished.

At least temporarily, until it sucks us in again, and the mind recalls an image, a feeling, a sound that can bring to life the next layer, the future that lives in what we already know but need to say, sing, play.

My thought then: maybe revision isn't as calculated as I often think, if we're not conforming what we wrote to a marketable formula, but instead, trying to intuit and create it to the next layer of understanding.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The power of image

Imagine Gandalf a minute. What do you see?

The first image that pops in my mind is the pointed gray hat. Not any gray wizard’s hat, but a softened hat, slightly bent, worn at the edges, a sense of not only history in him but comfort, no need for embellishments or flash. A true hat, a used hat, a fitting hat.

For each character, there is probably some defining image. My mind flashes with Aragorn’s boots, worn too, mud-stained, a foot traveler, a strong and steady stride.

And what about images that represent not a character alone but an entire story or a theme? Why does the hollowed hiding place in the tree linger with so many of us after seeing To Kill a Mockingbird? On a broader scale, what do the wide expanses of frozen white make us feel in Fargo, and do they come to represent the movie as a whole?

In storytelling, whether in novels or short stories or movies, images can convey as much as dialogue or action. The image doesn’t have to be specifically symbolic, as in a one-to-one relationship like the “A” in The Scarlet Letter, or how a key might come to represent unlocking a secret. Sometimes an image carries with it universal associations that we can’t define: water, doors, open skies, passageways, lone trees, shadows, a sun rise.

A movie or a book can be subconsciously more powerful if the writer or filmmaker incorporates resonant imagery, letting the setting convey ongoing themes or character transitions, letting a single image speak rather than the characters themselves.

Imagine a scene in which two characters stand face to face: one is shouting about an important missed phone call, while the other is unable to speak. The argument has nothing to do with what’s really happening between them, which is a betrayal and a broken promise. As they argue, the silent character’s focus is on a china teacup, narrowing in on the crack running between flowers, a crack that appears larger and larger as the argument goes nowhere.

If later in the book or movie, a teacup is once again seen, in a different house, perhaps an older woman holding a fine cup, never broken, we might not consciously ask, what does this mean, what shift is happening here? But somewhere in our subconscious the new image recalls the old; somewhere inside, something stirs and we sit up, become more engaged with the story, without knowing why.

There’s magic in the subtle play of images. Sometimes you might see a movie or read a book that brings to mind a color. I’ve heard people say, “That movie was so blue,” or “That book felt orange.” Obviously, the writer or filmmaker associated a color with the mood of the story or with the characters’ emotions. Often it’s not a conscious choice, but something that happens in the writing stage, which is taken up unconsciously by the reader or viewer.

But when revising any story, the writer should look at the potential of an image, at what the character might not say, at the action that might not happen, but that the image might show. And trust that the reader, the audience, shares a similar consciousness, and will intuitively know.

Often it’s the subtle image working at the deeper level that stays with the audience, that creates a reaction that feels a bit like a mystery, a stirring inside that lingers after the story is finished.

Patricia is author of the vampire novel Beside the Darker Shore. 
Five-Star Review of Beside the Darker Shore 
Five-Star Review of Beside the Darker Shore 

Characterization and the carnivalesque

In the screenplay book I'm reading, Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay by Andrew Horton, the author uses the term "carnivalesque" when explaining how to develop real and memorable characters. Character is never complete, set, finished, but always glimpsed in motion from a certain perspective, he says, and quotes Seymour Chatman, "The horizon of personality always recedes before us."

In a carnival, people are thrown into a place of the unknown, where anything can happen. Carnival is the time when no rules hold, when one can become whatever he or she wishes. And even if the writer knows a character's core personality and uses this "core" knowledge to drive the plot of a story, there should remain a mystery, "a realm of the unresolved," something neither the writer or reader can fully know or understand.

"The beauty of life is in its uncertainty," the poet Yoshida Kenko says. And in a good book or film, sometimes we understand something without being able to explain it; we feel it and don't know why. When I read these ideas, I thought of one scene in Little Miss Sunshine. The teenage boy who had all his hopes set on being a pilot finds out he's color blind, runs off from the family, screaming out his rage and frustration, and he won't return to the family van. The sister eventually comes down the hill where he sits and squats beside him. Nothing is said, nothing explained, but we understand without explanation why he returns to the van.

We all know those moments from books and movies. Creating them? I think to do so, we have to let our story have a life of its own, guided but not quite pinned down. There's magic in that and I think the audience feels it.

Patricia is author of the vampire novel Beside the Darker Shore. 
Five-Star Review of Beside the Darker Shore 
Five-Star Review of Beside the Darker Shore 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A most unusual and original vampire novel

A wonderful five-star review of Beside the Darker Shore is up at the GLBT Bookshelf site, in which the reviewer says,

"Here is the most unusual and original vampire novel I’ve ever read – I know of nothing else like it, and I’ve read numerous novels in this genre...The story is so complex, you’ll have to roll with it and take up the details by osmosis...The writing style is also unorthodox, with a narrative so rich in detail, words often seem to dance off the page. When it works, it’s deeply evocative – I’m reminded of Poppy Z. Brite on steroids! Occasionally, the unorthodox nature of this 'freeform' narrative can be a mite hard to follow –but overall, the novel’s voice is so fresh, I was beguiled to the end."
 Beside the Darker Shore is available in paperback or ebook.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Talking to the picture screen

Sunny Saturday, my friend and I arrived at the theater a little too early and decided to sit on the parking lot curb and soak up that too-early-summer sun.

A bright red car pulled in the space where we sat, handicap-labeled, and an old woman got out of the passenger side and smiled. My girlfriend explained that we were just sitting there waiting for the show, and the woman was pleased to be sharing the same adventure. "I'm going to the show too."

Her caretaker quickly rounded the car to steer her away, but my friend asked what the woman was seeing. She didn't know, so we offered that we were seeing The Artist.

The caretaker was giving us sympathetic looks, trying to guide the woman away as she talked more and more. Then my friend said, "Maybe you'd like The Artist," and the caretaker smiled and laughed, nudging the woman on, glancing back at us to say, "Ohhh, she talks the whole way through."

In the dark, the movie started. A sparse audience, maybe fifteen people. And there, that voice. "Oh, look, isn't that cute!" and "Oh he won't want to do that" and "Now she's going to ..."

Behind us, some audience members began hissing "shhhh, shhh, shhhh." They were angry at the intrusion on the film and their absorption. I understood.

But ... we'd met the woman. She was real. This was her adventure. Each time she talked, I had to laugh, look at my friend and smile.

There's always a story behind people and their situations. It helps to discover it.