#ToniMorrison Will Always Be #AllTheThings

And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing. – Toni Morrison

I was the only (dumb) white guy in the class. Maye the only wannabe writer, too. 1999. African American Literature at Elon College. I thought I was cool being the minority. We had to read Jazz by Toni Morrison. From the very first line…Sth, I know that woman…I was transported, and changed. It was, and still is, to this day, unlike any other novel I have ever experienced. It was wholly unique, a novel written like music…a looping chorus of tortured souls, a deepdown, spooky jazz song about people and places I had never thought about before…voices I had never heard and feelings I would never forget.

It was also composed in a way that broke every rule of writing. Jazz is the reason all of my novels have roving, shifting, intertwined POV’s.

Morrison shunned the idea of writing something universal…but in her specificity and focus on the African-American reality, she tapped into the timelessness of the human experience. The human frailty and strength she evoked is universal.

Margalit Fox of The New York Time’s wrote: “Ms. Morrison animated that reality in a style resembling that of no other writer in English. Her prose, often luminous and incantatory, rings with the cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act.”

As I grew older, and I sampled more and more of Morrison’s playlist, I grew to love her even more. I was in awe of her ability to plumb the depths of place and time channeling the hopes and fears of all of the marginalized. Her A Mercy haunted me like the transcribed dream of every sad soul dragged kicking and screaming to the New World.

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I loved to hear her talk, her voice like a cool babbling brook gossiping about the world it snaked through, and read her thoughts on the craft. I basked in her wisdom.

If you don’t see the book you want to read out there, go write it. Damn it.

I loved her thoughts on freedom.

Once you’re free, you gotta free somebody else…otherwise what’s the point?

Her thoughts on leadership were no different…set the bar high, and when you get some real power, use it to empower others.

I was lucky enough to see her speak and meet her in person at the Free Library of Philadelphia with my wife in 2015. She was everything I knew she always was.

Toni Morrison is, and always will be, all the things I have ever loved.

She is the Greatest American Novelist, and she has left behind a legacy of words and wisdom we are hardly worthy of. She is the best of us. She is all of us.

I’d like to imagine that a thousand years from now when all musical recordings are lost, the internet is unplugged, and the only clouds are those in the sky…someone might wonder, what was jazz?

The only answer will be her book, whose opening paragraph was sung like this…

Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, “I love you.”

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Written by D. H. Schleicher, inspired by the life of Toni Morrison

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Before the Darkness: Thoughts on Earlier Writing

Don’t ever let them tell you life is short, Ty. Life is long and people do lots of things. Some of them good. Some of them bad. And sometimes these things catch up to people. And sometimes that takes a long time.  – Evelyn Kydd, from Then Came Darkness

The arc of a writer’s life is long, too. You have to write a lot of bad stuff (and read a lot of good stuff) before you learn how to write well.

I’ve been writing since I was seven years-old (my first story was a melodrama about a jewel heist) and I’ve shoveled my fair share of crap, including countless twisted tales during middle and high school, and three highly questionable and amateur novels I rushed to market during the infancy of the self-publishing craze right after college before I finally wrote some good stuff, The Thief Maker. I’d like to think my latest, Then Came Darkness, is good stuff, too. It laid dormant for a number of years as my favorite unpublished work, and then on a delirious whim fueled by exhaustion and inspiration while on parental leave last year, I thought to myself, “What the heck, let’s dust this off and publish this thing!” It was equal parts a lark, and a test of the new waters.

A lot has changed in the twelve years since I self-published my first bit of good stuff, The Thief Maker. In the years between that and Then Came Darkness I’ve been busy with blogging and short stories (some which have been published), and big life stuff like advancing in my corporate career, multiple trips to Europe, getting married, buying a house, and having a baby. It’s easier now than ever before to self-publish thanks in large part to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, but it’s probably ten times as hard to find an audience as it was twelve years ago (not that I was very successful then either, though the small audience I did find for The Thief Maker seemed to like it).

I was honestly lost this time around until I found the #WritingCommunity on Twitter and started making use of my neighborhood Little Free Libraries, which I have tirelessly stocked with autographed copies. The one at the end of my street has been re-stocked at least five times…so thanks, neighbors, or whoever you are out there reading Then Came Darkness!

The early reviews from fellow indie authors, book bloggers, and readers have been slow to come, but mostly positive. People seem to love the characters (which brings up a feeling of pride second only to having my actual child praised by strangers), and my favorite blurb thus far has come from C. D. Tavenor, who stated “the rising conflict and relationships between characters reminded me of one of the classics I read in high school, but this time, I was reading it for pleasure!” He also loved the cover designed by my wife (thanks, hun!)

All of this made me want to take a little trip up to my attic full of boxes which store much of my earlier writing, which as terrible as most of it is, was fun as hell as to write at the time. I fondly remember the days of middle school friends fighting over who got a character named after them, and furious scribblings in notebooks during torturously boring high school classes that got passed around like gossip. Many of the techniques used, character types birthed, and themes explored later were present there from the start: fractured non-linear timelines, unreliable narrators, feisty women, tortured men, and resourceful orphans all trying to survive personal tragedies amidst larger chaotic (often apocalyptic) events.

So here, for fun, are some delicious tidbits from all that crap I had to write then to get to where I am now. Continue reading

Random Places I Have Been in 2017

Well, I guess we were just in a New York State of Mind in 2017.

Trips to the Empire State included:

  • An extended “writer’s  retreat” weekend in Cooperstown in April.  It was my wife’s first time in one of my favorite places on earth.  It was also our first time doing Air B&B.  Despite coming home with a nail in my tire…it was a truly relaxing, lovely trip (and, yes, we both got some much-needed writing done).
  • A weekend getaway to NYC in June to hit up some old haunts (with a jaunt out to Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Museum).
  • A family vacation in August renting a house on Lake Seneca (first time in the Finger Lakes region) from which we watched the solar eclipse. The vacation also included day-tripping to Watkins Glen and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (a long overdue first time there!)  The Niagara experience inspired a short-story I’m currently polishing up.

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The Specter of Past Relationships in Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-animals

*SPOILER ALERT – READ WITH CAUTION*

(Read With Caution could’ve been an alternate title to the film, by the way…)

Fashion designer turned director Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals has been ridiculously advertised as a schizophrenic film within a film that anyone watching any of the tonally different trailers would be hard pressed to tell you what the devil the thing is about. But one almost wonders if the strange advertising is all part of the Ford game? Look at Jake Gyllenhaal’s tipsy smirk plastered across your IMDB homepage…oh…and look…he’s taking a blue-eyed gander at the even bluer-eyed Amy Adams, all red tresses and smiles…America’s sweethearts. It’s all so fake. And all so wrong. Like much of the film. But also so symbolic. And borderline brilliant when it’s not absurd.

Ford’s opening credits of obese women doing some post-modern Burlesque (ah, what an art show!) will put some off with its Lynchian inspired weirdness (and there’s more sick touches interspersed throughout the film)…but it serves a purpose if you wisely invest in the film until the very end. It’s just one of many tricks the director pulls off here…like inserting a go-for-broke performance from…you guessed it…the ubiquitous – and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times –  always amazing, Michael Shannon, into the film within the film on what seems like a total lark.

Nocturnal Animals is really much more straightforward than any encapsulated description of its plot would lead you to believe. Or is it? Simply put, it’s a psychological thriller about reading. In a grander sense, it’s about how the viewer (or reader) brings their own emotional baggage to viewing art. In a bizarrely humanist bent, it’s also an infinitely sad testament to the spectre past relationships and traumatic break-ups cast upon one’s ensuing life.

In the film (based on a novel by Austin Wright), a teetering-on-depression art gallerista named Susan (Adams, so delightfully complex and subverting all her norms in what is her second great performance this year after Arrival) receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal, who somehow both under-acts and overacts, Edward’s tottering emotions always subject to Susan’s sometimes melodramatic interpretations of his writing) that he has mysteriously dedicated to her. Continue reading

I’m So Glad I Live in a World where there are Octobers

“Let’s get married here,” she said.

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“Here?” he said.

“Yes, right here!” she said.

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“Okay!” he said.

*** Actual dialogue and “how this all went down” dramatized here for effect.

*** Bonus Points if you correctly guess the source of the literary quote used for the title of this post!  (Wedding Guests are Disqualified)

This October, I…we… got hitched…right there in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Park amidst the autumnal splendor.  The weather, the company, the location, the colors…it couldn’t have gone better.

Knowing the fleeting nature of fall’s fickle resplendence, we returned to the scene of the crime the following week (on the last day of October) to enjoy the natural beauty sans the marital hubbub before all the leaves fell and winter set in (alas we live not in a world of Game of Thrones where winter’s coming takes…forever).

For those faithful readers who have keenly noted/questioned the decrease in frequency of film reviews in 2015 (note: I’ve been going to the movies just about the same amount as other years, it’s just too many of the films have failed to inspire me to write…I mean, The Martian? What a snore…next!) or have wondered when the next short story might be coming down the pike (who knows?)…I sincerely thank you…and now you know I’ve been busy writing another kind of story with a co-author, one of the best kind of stories – a living story that has evolved into a novel, that will now be serialized and open-ended.  Through these pictures I hope you enjoy the magnificence of Wissahickon Park as much as we have over the past year and a half and hope to continue to do so until we are old and gray.  Until I see you again, dear readers…at the movies. Continue reading

The Stone Digital Literary Magazine Wants to Read Your Best Travel Stories

Well, they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night.  Now, they blew up his house, too.  Down on the boardwalk they're getting for a fight, gonna see what them racket boys can do.

Well, they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night. Now, they blew up his house, too. Down on the boardwalk they’re getting for a fight, gonna see what them racket boys can do.

For the Issue #4 of The Stone Digital Literary Magazine, we’re asking writers to submit their best short fiction where travel is prominently featured in the story.  Maybe you’ve written a tale inspired by a poignant homecoming or a vacation from hell.  Or maybe you’ve written a story about traveling to the stars.  We invite writers to let their imaginations run wild on this one – in other words, we’re open to sci-fi for the first time ever.  The only stipulation is, as always, no children’s stories or erotica.  We want strong character-driven stories where a place or a destination can also be thought of as a character – vivid, unforgettable stuff.

Are you up to the challenge?  Then what in blue blazes are you waiting for?  Follow the below guidelines and submit your travel-centric story to The Stone today! Continue reading

The Spin Bids a Fond Farewell to 2012 and Tells 2013 to Hurry Up Already!

I got a lot of writing done in 2012, often making me feel like a kid again.  (For the purpose of this post, my KidSelf has been recast in Hollywood fashion)

I got a lot of writing done in 2012, often making me feel like a kid again. (For the purpose of this post, my KidSelf has been recast in Hollywood fashion)

Well, we did it. We survived the Mayan Apocalypse only to rush to the Fiscal Cliff. But hey, 2012 is now officially over…so say hello to 2013! Looking back, despite tumultuous world events, it was a great year at The Spin

On Notes Personal:

  • An unexpected death in the family in November spurred me to take stock of some things. This lead to tripping the light fantastic in the grand ballroom of nostalgia which lead to a re-watching of a childhood favorite, The Lady in White…which lead to one of my favorite posts from the year…which lead to a comment on said post from the actual director of the film! This nostalgia tinged final act to the year also sent me on a mission to uncover that lost box of books I wrote from the ages of 10-15. Just in the nick of time I unearthed the box. Reading briefly through some of the stories, I couldn’t help but think that if I were to write taglines for the outlandish and melodramatic plots (more on that below…with actual excerpts!) they would end up sounding like long-lost fake-films from Seinfeld…a topic that earlier in 2012 spurred another favorite post of mine.
  • On the travel front I visited two great cities I had never been to before: New Orleans (for pleasure) and Montreal (for business) both of which I would return to in a heartbeat. This year the horizon broadens even more with a business trip to St. Maarten…and hopefully (if everything falls into place) that long-delayed trip to Europe (for pleasure…to Amsterdam and Bruges specifically) though that might have to wait until 2014.
  • And most importantly, after three long distraction-filled, detour-heavy years…I finally finished the first draft of the new novel – a Depression Era thriller set in Upstate New York. I was working under a self-inflicted deadline of finishing before 2012 finished me, and I’m proud to say I got it done at the last possible minute with a final spurt of inspiration on December 31st. Now, the big question, what the hell am I going to do with it? I’ll be sure to let it sit for a while and breath before editing begins.
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The Stone Digital Literary Magazine Wants to Read Your Best Mystery Stories

Help THE STONE uncover some great mysteries.

For the 3rd issue of The Stone Digital Literary Magazine, we wanted to try something new and think outside of the box.

For this special issue, we are asking for your best mystery stories.  We are defining mystery just as editor Otto Penzler has done for the Best American Mystery Stories anthologies.  A mystery story shall be “any short work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or plot.”  This broad definition gives writers a wide berth in which to navigate their imaginations.  Many genres could cross over from literary fiction (our normal staple) to crime thrillers to whodunits to ghost stories.  What we hope for is to uncover stories with a strong psychological bent.  Characters and their psychological dimensions should remain paramount to plot and atmosphere.

Are you up to the challenge?  Then what the heck are you waiting for?  Follow the below guidelines and submit your mystery story to The Stone today! Continue reading

Gimme Some of that Olde Tyme Storytelling

Remi would like to type you a story...

A few Saturdays ago, a venture out to Chadds Ford, PA resulted in an impromptu visit to the Chadds Ford Antique Mall (inconveniently…I mean, conveniently located right next to the Chadds Ford Winery) where I happened upon the treasure above – an antique Remington typewriter, conspicuously priced at a “gotta have it” 35 smackers.

Now nestled at home in my study, Remi is begging for my imagination to run wild.  How many previous owners were there?  What has been typed on this machine…how many stories…love letters…ledgers…diaries…secrets???

I invite you to let your imaginations run wild, too, and tell me what Remi has seen…what Remi has composed…perhaps Remi is even haunted.  But by what?  By whom?  Leave your “Remi Story” suggestions in the comments field…and see what might become…

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The Hook Brings Them Back

The calm between the storms: And just where do they plan on fitting another foot of snow?

They sure do like to rush the sequels these days.  Just barely 72 hours after Snowmageddon dumped 20 inches or more over most of the Mid Atlantic, the sequel was rushed into production and now we have Snowmageddon 2:  The Sleetpocalypse, arriving mid-week no less and snowing-in the same area (and then some) once again.   As Dickens would say…it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

But it seemed the perfect cabin-fever brew to stir up some inspired work on that novel…you know…the one I’ve been babbling about since — For the Love of Pete — April of 2008!  Though I have much of the outlining and research completed and even drafted a very rough first chapter, one thing I have been wrestling with is crafting that perfect, killer opening line.  They say you have to grab a reader’s attention instantly, and if you don’t hook them with the opening, then they are less likely to come back.   I decided to test that theory and thought what better way to procrastinate than to hit my bookshelves and crack open some of my favorite novels and current reads to see how the masters of their craft hooked readers with that opening line.  

I invite my readers and fellow bloggers to do the same and leave some of you favorite (or worst) opening lines to novels (or screenplays) in the comment form! 

Here are some of my findings: Continue reading