Friday, November 30, 2007

The Road Goes Forever On and On

When a sixteen year old goes off on his first road trip with another sixteen year old (even when chaperoned by the minister and his wife), there's bound to be new impetus, especially if the friend is cute. Into my quiet world of opera libretti and delivering perscriptions for the local phrmacy came this trip—to Atlanta, GA, with a wide looping return through Cincinnatti, OH. It was an adventure obstensibly to meet Martin Luther King at Ebenezzar Baptist Church, but there was scant religion about the trip - as far as us teens were concerned. There was a little tipple on the highway, a midnight hitchhike to a porn show. (Porn? Ha! Well, the porn of 1963 at least). It was also when I was first willing to face my own sexuality, but that's a different journal entry altogether.

It should come as no surprise that this trip broke the libretto pattern. No more unproduced operas. The world was a real place and it intruded. Suddenly I wanted to document every inch of travel—every town, street, population stat and Civil War battlefield, of which I saw too many. The people I met, became characters—from my traveling companions to Reverand Abernathy (Reverand King, alas was in Los Angeles quelling riots). But when I touched pen to paper, I probably should have use Charmin. Nothing worked. Crisis. Disillusion. I couldn't capture it all, so I captured nothing. I needed those lunetic birds and their silly quartets. I became more a reader than a writer—Dickens with a capital D. Melville with a capital M for Moby. The dark writers, Hardy, Conrad and Dostoevsky. The father of the modern Novel, Jane Austen. And then the magical books—Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In fact, 1963 was the first of forty or more reads of The Lord of the Rings. I must say, I have never stopped reading it. The Road Goes Forever On.

Dickens lit my writing fire. He showed me how characters could pop up like asparagus and be recycled like mulch. His stories were compelling, towering over me like Marley's ghost. I jotted notes for a Dickensian style Road Trip Novel, something involving a trip to the Southern US and 'cross country (go figure), but set in 19th Century America. A competition, perhaps, but with an orphan—definitely an orphan (Please sir, I want some more). Soon there was a character, Denny Danville. (There was this cute guy in Home Room named Denny). Denny was the long lost son of some Rockefeller look-alike, but doesn't know it, needs cash to marry sweet Mary Wimper, daughter of a Hearstian newspaper mogul, so he joins the flocks of the challenged in a cross country bicycle race. He falls on hard times (and his ass). He meets a group of Twainian rogues, who force him to rob a bank. He races over the Rockies barefooted on a bike of dubious authenticity and, of course, wins the race, the hand of Ms. Wimper and, because an old Indian woman recognizes a silver broach that she gave a wealthy debutante she once nursed back to health, Denny Danville becomes Denny Bartholemew, son of banker Rance Bartholemew of the Brooklyn Bartholomews.I drafted, outlined and even systematized Denny Danville for a good part of a year. It was a bumpy year for my old upright typewriter. The more I stretched the plot, the less the story held. I had a great opening, a sympethetic central scene and here and there an ending, but (no surprise) Denny Danville never materialized except in bits and chapters and outlines. I even considered updating the tale to the 20th Century and give Denny some civil rights work. Unfortunately, I am a creature of the 19th Century and have never felt at home in the 20th. I'm doing better in the 21st, but my next turn of creativity brought me out of all centuries.

Next up, I meet Voltaire and his incredibly optomistic creation, Candide.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gentlemen of Japan

What does Rachely of Babylon, The Death of a Redstart and The Pirates of Galicia all have in common? Anybody . . . Anybody? Well, these are three of perhaps twenty-five unproduced Ed Patterson operas written between 1959 and 1961. They were unproduced because I never wrote the music, except in my head and when I sang them aloud in my bedroom. I even mentally composed Overtures, Ballets and here and there an Intermezzo. The sign of a crazy boy, eh? Well, I had a neighbor across the street who saw my vision and she tried to marry Rachely of Babylon to Brahms' Symphony No. 1. I was a budding Opera queen. I was taken totally by the Opera The Mikado. It was the beginning of a full life devoted to the world of Gilbert & Sullivan, and beyond. Sullivan was the attraction, but soon W.S. Gilbert was my first mentor, leading me to a world of words that swarmed from the hive and over my mind and hands and typewriter.

Rachely was a forceful drama about a fictional Queen of Babylon, who lost her throne and love (and her virginity) over a libretto that chortled in broken cuneiform and a ridiculous rewrite of history. I barely knew where Babylon was, except for the Hanging Gardens and all them fig trees. Still, there was a Chorus of Bablyonian courtiers that would have felt at home in my High School music class. Better than drama, was tragedy—The Death of a Redstart, which engaged a troop of birds, all types, but particularly a Redstart named Petitius. Why a Redstart would have a Latin name is less curious than why a Redstart would be a tenor in an all bird Opera. Well, if it was good enough for Aristophanes, why not me. (BTW, I saw The Birds last year and it wasn't good enough for the old Greek). To this day, I can sing portions of the Love Duet: "Petitius, I lo-o-ove you." The tune has haunted me for my entire life. As for The Pirates of Galicia, which I thought was somewhere in Spain (probably landlocked; but if it was good enough for Shakespeare . . . ), it reflected my exposure to The Pirates of Penzance. The rousing chorus "Men of the Sea, De-de-de-dee, De-de-de-dee!" was sure to bring the opening night audience to its feet (or the men in white coats to my seat).

This array of libretti sailed from fingers and mind for three years, unabated. At first blush, you might be blushing, but even this excursion contributed to the creative forces that would shape my future writing. As bad as the poetry was, it was rhythmic enough to jolt me into the repetitive sonorities that naturally flow now from my pen. "I got rhythm! I got music!" It was during this time I developed this important facet. I also worshipped (and still do) at W. S. Gilbert's sarcastic throne. It will come as no surprise that even in my novel The Jade Owl, I have one character (a bureaucratic type) say: "Due economy must be observed," a direct quote from Pooh-bah in The Mikado. I also merit Gilbert with my interest in things Oriental. When I first came to study East Asian History and Culture, years later, I came through Japan instead of China, where I earned my meat and potatoes. So, Gilbert and Opera (I started attending The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music about this time with the aim - my parent's aim too - to become the next Jussi Bjoerling) gave my typewriter a new and inventive twist. I created worlds that didn't exist and became emotionally charged with characters that should have remained dead, both my own and others. Dickens crept into my reading. Shakespeare trickled. Disney tickled (Old Yeller). So, "if you want to know who we are, we are Gentlemen of Japan." The only regret I have is that I lost the folder with all my wonderful libretti in them. I would love to sing them again in the quiet hours between revising the mega-tomes I craft today.Next up—Road Trip! Until then, I'm on a frozen pond whistling "Petitus I lo-o-ove you. Wu wu wu Wu wu wu wu-wu."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Falling Off a Cliff

So, I had a typewriter, and I had fingers, so therefore I was a writer . . . a twelve year old writer. My imagination went wild, straight off a cliff in fact. I sat in front of the infamous white page and told my first story. It was a tale about a Boy Scout camping trip filled with campfires and ghost stories and a friend, who when scared from his tent during a prank, ran in the wrong direction—right off a cliff. Of course, he's stranded on a convenient ledge until my father was able to lower himself down to save him. Thrills. Chills.

The major problem with this story, which I termed my first novel, was it wasn't fiction. It actually happened. I didn't even bother to change the names of the characters. The only thing I continually changed was the title. Prank. and Campfire Dares. When I think back, it was dreadful. I even managed to use a curse word—not the fabled F word, but the S word (and with boyish glee). I often think about that first work. Falling Downward. (How many ways can one do it?). Boy Scout Daze. (Gimme a break). It had some elements that I maintained for years . . . bad spelling, awful grammar and a penchant for contrivance. Still, a book about young men in the wild did strike a good first note. I've written reams about young men in various states of wild since. What lingered was the three staples binding the proscribed novel into something tangible; something wrought from nothing. That has always stayed with me. And, afterall, isn't that the first lesson we learn when we create, that we create. Prior to the thought, there were no words, no tale, not even the typewriter, which my sainted grandmother saddled me with all those years ago, like a commission from one generation to another. What was I to do? I did what any twelve year old nancy boy with a typewriter could do. I declared my novel a resounding success and aimed my typewriter at creating librettos for imaginary operas. I dug in and built a new Babylon, rewrote history in my mind and animated a kingdom of birds (that twittered duets and trios even). Fuck football! (with boyish glee).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Opening the Fray

One must start somewhere, I guess in the Journal keeping world. I am a Blogger and have blogged for years at, but on the whole, blogging is like farting. We do it sneaky and deadly or loud and brash. In the end, we need to excuse ourselves and wave our hands about our noses. But keeping a journal . . . now there's a little invective for an author to ponder. I'm not one for keeping a journal. As I scrawl and craft my novel creations, I live within the moment (a moment derived by four pounds of thinking, and seven shades of revision). Some writers spawn active journals that enliven their characters with much elan and useless detail, which might become subtext, but rarely comes to nothing more than overwriting. So, as I blather here . . . I think I'll start this journal as a retrospective on my craft and how I've reached the brink, with a big ass novel (2 actually, pardon the adverb) and professional literary representation. Now all I need is a BIG advance and J.K. Rowling's cloak and I'm set for life. It began when my grandmother gave me an old upright typewriter for my birthday, many years ago . . . a half century at least . . . and thereby hangs the next journal entry.