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Travel and Dine on The Orient Express With Alison Alexandra

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A few days ago, Alison Alexandra unceremoniously ended my chapter. I had planned another week of work to arrive at the ending. She did away with my ending, put in her own, and ignored the intricate back story I had planned.

So, I sat myself down and wondered what would happen in its place. It turns out Alison Alexandra wants to take a vacation, and the one place where she might just get away from herself (as she seems to desire) is the . She previously had a few pages (literally writing-years ago) on the train.

Sounded good enough for me.

A half hour later, the Face Book page for the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express popped up in my feed.

Full steam ahead, think I.

The following is a portion of Alison Alexandra’s previous trip on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the reflection in the glass of her for-the-time-being-stateroom window, Alison Alexandra notices the glances from people on the platform watching her peering, and she doesn’t want to give them any ideas of turning into spies themselves so she stops and turns from the train and continues to walk its length to the engine. Of course, she is looking for spies herself, as befits the aura of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. Spies and temptresses and writers and countesses and moustached gentlemen of natty appearance with zee little grey cells working overtime. And criminals and murderers and explorers and adventurers and (no doubt) adulterers and placid businessmen with fettered imaginations and the old wealth and the nouveau rich and folk on the run from the past and folk hoping to run to the past and not once in her complete walk to the engine did she once stop for all those posing to take a Selfie with the Orient Express in the background because – really – if you can’t remember it with your own memory then what’s the point?

She looks up at the engine and realizes that it has never belched billowing smoke and that it never will and she has been prepared for this disappointment – but still. It is a pleasant fantasy as is the whole trip as is the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express itself since the *real* train stopped years ago and even then there had been so many variations with so many destinations that someone could have taken several “Orient Express” trips and travelled on several different routes. In fact, two of the most famous books set on the Orient Express”, Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express and Greene’s Stamboul Train, are set on two different trains, neither of them the “Orient Express”. So Alison Alexandra is not really miffed there is no smoke-belching engine with escaping steam. She can make her own fantasy as others have done before her.

She returns along the platform, rubbing her fingers across the side of the blue-and-gold Waggons-Lits Sleeping Cars. She has kept out of the way of the ceremonial line-ups of the train staff greeting passengers. Enough attention has been paid. She again peers into her compartment window of the S-Series sleeper – slightly smaller and slightly less ornate – more suitable for a sole traveller who plans no assignations. The train is five minutes away from leaving. Alison Alexandra will indeed change for her evening meal. Not all her interests in the fashion of her youth have dissipated. And- after all –she is on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. She is not present only for the transportation.

Alison Alexandra wants to blend in and not be either a fashion statement nor a fashion disaster. Black is always the new black, so she enters her Waggon-Lit, enters her compartment, opens a travel case much older than she, and slips into spiffy clothing and accessories that would have allowed her to slip into any of the fantasies of the fantastic Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express with nary a comment of discord but with a nod of appreciation.

In the Etoile du Nord dining car, she has the desire to sit with three other people instead of one. She has made her request known, and will be hailed by a seated trio. She hopes for the best but her anticipation is tinged with a trace of concern. She does not want to be bored, nor does she want to spend the meal warding off unwanted attention. She felt it futile to make such stipulations up front. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

“Hello.” A face turns up to her. “Are you Missy Alison?”

“Alison Alexandra.”

“I told you so.” Another head turns in her direction. “Your black attire will slide right well into a trio of  three widows.”

“Now, Blanche.” The third voice speaks without raising her head. “We’re sisters first, and widows second.”

“Which one of our husbands would have gone on this trip?”

“True.”

“So that’s why we’re here.”

“Is that why you’re here, Alison Alexandra?” The sister who has yet to look at her now does. “Death allowing you to escape into life?”

“No widow me.” Alison Alexandra looks at each face in turn. “Nor wife neither.”

“Do you still want to sit?”

“Oh, yes.” Alison Alexandra pulls out the final chair. “And as I am the only one in black, might I suppose your widowhoods are not recent.”

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Turning A Novel Into Film – Characters And Actors On The Loose

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When adapting a novel manuscript to a film script, I realize it will take a whole host of other people to tell me how successful I might be. I’ve done this twice before, and realize that I must not only ignore my usual method of writing, but often go exactly against it.

I attempted to “learn” how to write for film. I read many instruction books, attended classes and workshops, and had meetings with people. I read many film scripts, which did help me accept the (to my eye) arcane format. But the one thing that actually turned me visual, was the comment of a writer/editor friend who said, after reading my attempt, “I can’t see it.”

That is, it did not cause visual action in her mind.

And I understood.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is to accept that a movie is not a book, and that changes, additions and omissions will be necessary. As with a play, there is a finite time limit, that generally clocks in under two hours. The threads and plot points of a movie are different. And the characters (I swear) feel this freedom, and choose to accentuate other aspects of themselves than revealed in a novel.

The very fact their paragraphs of dialogue are best reduced to two or three lines makes them uppity. And because they can, in mere seconds, be in diverse locations, performing radically different actions, they become exact without apology. They don’t have to fill in the spaces.

The writer has to fill in the spaces however, and do so with visual stimulation. The transitions have to be swift and their descriptions exact. The road is always the fast lane and the characters kick the tires with gusto.

When Jesus Walked The Roads At Easter

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Unicorns are mentioned eight times in the Holy Bible. So – there they were. The list is below.

Therefore, when I have Druids, and their affiliated unicorns,  go to Jerusalem in my novel A Lost Gospel, to make sure Jesus gets crucified, I feel I was on solid ground. And when one of my druids, Ogma,  has the following experience, I believe it possesses a symmetry of Biblical proportions.

Unicorns are mentioned in the following places of The Bible:

Numbers 23:22

God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Numbers 24:8

Deuteronomy 33:17

Job 39:9-12

Psalm 22:21

Psalm 29:6

Psalm 92:10

Isaiah 34:7

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From A Lost Gospel

“Are you lost?”

“No.”

Ogma was taken by surprise, but he did not turn toward the speaker. He had no desire to start a conversation, he just wanted to be left to himself.

“Yet you are a traveller to these parts.”

“Yes.”

Ogma knew only too well the interest local people had for strangers in their midst. It was an interest which could easily turn into suspicion. He was alone, and he did not want to have trouble in this unknown land.

“I had business in Jerusalem.” Ogma shrugged. “The desire came upon me to feel earth under my feet, not paving stones.”

“And you find yourself here.”

“I turned from the main road at a whim.”

“What did you in Jerusalem?”

“I do not intrude thus in your life.”  Ogma kept a steady gaze across the field, though he could not keep irritation from his voice.

“Yet you do intrude – for here you are.”

“If I’m on your land, I apologise. I thought it was a common road. There is no barrier in place to warn me otherwise.”

Ogma wondered if it was time to leave the way he had come, or to stay and talk. Despite the words spoken, the other man’s voice displayed no anger, or annoyance.

“Do you find no peace in Jerusalem?”

“I’ve had a troubled time in your grand city.”

Ogma suddenly realised he had things he wanted to say, which he could not discuss with the other druids. He finally turned to the man, wondering if he should explain further.

“By the gods of death!” Ogma stood back in fear. “This is not possible.”

“There are no boundaries to what is possible.”

“I saw them hang you up.”

“You saw flesh. And blood.”

“Then what do I see now?”

“More than a man of sorrows.”

“Glarus was right.” Ogma began to move further away, but stopped himself. “I’m not to fear you, or the change you bring.”

“Truth deserves acceptance, not fear.”

“Do you know of my burden?”

The other man raised his arm and pointed. Ogma turned to follow the outstretched hand. He saw the two unicorns standing close together among the trees.

“Have they brought me here?”

“They have led you to a place you sought yourself.”

“You know of Glarus.” Ogma stopped abruptly, and his voice lowered. “The gods I understand believe in trade. Take me instead of her.”

“You care so much?”

“I know the worth of things.” Ogma stared directly at the other man. “It is better to have her alive than me.”

“No man knows his own worth.” Yeshua touched the small man, then held him close. “My father’s love does not barter.” He released Ogma with a smile. “Return to Jerusalem. You travel with companions.”

“The beasts accompany me?”

“Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”

(image)Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters – New York, New York https://assets.atlasobscura.com/media/W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzL2VmYjZmYmVkZjk1MzNhMDgyZV9GOTNBMjc5My5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJ0aHVtYiIsIngzOTA-Il0sWyJwIiwiY29udmVydCIsIi1xdWFsaXR5IDgxIC1hdXRvLW9yaWVudCJdXQ/F93A2793.jpg

April Fool’s Joke (Except It’s True)

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I glean through many sources (some of them disparate) after information of which agents and which editors have purchased recent books that are similar to one of my manuscripts.
When I find someone I think will be compatible to some of my work, I research them. Then, if I think they would have a reasonable interest in my manuscript (and there can be a variety of reasons) I’ll send a query letter.
I prefer to go through this process of finding names a number of times in a row, instead of finding a compatible person, then immediately sending a query. So, when I find a person I plan to contact, I send this information to myself in an email. It can be weeks before I actually send a query to an agent or editor, and then it can be two or more months before I hear a reply.
Last week I came across the information that John le Carré has a new book coming out the end of this year. I adore John le Carré. This announcement unusually named both his agent and editor. I sent both to myself, and I imagine I would get to them in the next two or three weeks.
This morning, April 1st, I had notification of a rejection by an agent for my NATO Thriller. It was a refusal sent through the portal of the agency (which happens more and more). Since it was not an actual response by the agent, I had to go to my Sent file to see who I had sent the query to.
Uh-huh – it was the same agent as John le Carré. So, I actually got rejected before I sent the query.
Well – anyway – that’s how writers think.
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“The Alexandra” Arrives In Port On Sea And On Page

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I am four hundred pages into my new novel, There was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When the Stones Were Not So Smooth. In the current chapter I am writing, my main character, Alison Alexandra, is getting a tour on the bridge of The Alexandra.
This is a real ship, and  I have researched the ship over the course of a week. Alison Alexandra wanted to go aboard solely because of its name. However, her expectations of the visit are disappointing, in part to find that real life can not necessarily equal the fantasy about it.

 

I have just seen, in my daily News of the Port, that The Alexandra is arriving in Halifax this afternoon at 15:00. I will be down on the harbour with my binoculars to see her arrive. However, I could actually stay home and see the ship, as it passes through The Narrows at the bottom of my street, on its way to the Fairview Container Terminal.
Perhaps that is what I will do tomorrow, with a coffee in hand, and watch The Alexandra depart.

Kafka In His Writer’s Burrow For World Book Day

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A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious.

However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of that time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers.

In it, a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

Something Kafka himself attempted to do.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/87/34/8a/87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf.jpg

Kafka Wants To Light A Fire – Well … Not Really

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Much is made – again and again – about Kafka’s famous request to his friend, Max Brod, that all his manuscripts be burned unread. That included all his fiction, all his letters, and all his diaries.  Consigned to the flames and removed from the earth.

Had this been done, most of the work for which Kafka is famous would never be known, for little was published during his life. His skewed yet realistic outlook on life, now famously known as Kafkaesque, would not be classed in every dictionary. A touchstone, known the world over, would have been lost. Kafka might, at best, been remembered as the man who wrote about the bug.

Brod gets a bum rap about defying Kafka’s direction to burn all his manuscripts. Yes, Kafka did indeed make this request of Brod. He apparently made it a few times, both verbally and in writing.  Each time, Bord told him outright he would not follow Kafka’s request. “It ain’t” – if I might slip into a vernacular the erudite Brod would ever use – “going to be me, chum.”

Another prominent time  Kafka refused to do something that he could have easily done himself, concerned his famous Letter To His Father. Instead of handing (or sending) the letter  to his father, he gave it to his mother to pass on, knowing full well his mother would not be part of causing such discord. And – in fact – his father never read the letter.

If Kafka really wanted all his manuscripts burned, he could have just as easily (indeed – more easily) done it himself. He certainly did burn much of what he wrote. Brod once found him doing it. It is estimated he burned 70-80% of his own work.

Kafka might have renewed his written request near the end of his life, but he made it to the one man whom he knew would not do it.

That was Kafka

Alison Alexandra Rubs Shoulders With The Golden Globes

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I have had a fascination with the musical instrument, the Theremin, for decades. A Theremin (named after its inventor) is an electronic musical instrument, invented in the 1920s-1930s, that is played not by touch, but by the movement of hands next to metal rods. It produces eerie sounds, something like a soprano at the top of her pitch.

For Christmas, someone I know got a Theremin as a present.  As sometimes happens in my current manuscript about Alison Alexandra, an event in my real life (regardless of how distantly related) will creep into Alison Alexandra’s life. She’s a gal open to many suggestions.

Now, had the present been a guitar or a clarinet, they would have held no interest for me. Although fine instruments both, they would have held no interest for Alison Alexandra, either. They are not exactly common, but neither are they exciting enough. Alison Alexandra has a bit of an edge to her.

But, because I already have some history with Theremins, and Alison Alexandra was embarking on a new chapter, it seemed to be a happy and musical experience.

So, I have done a more-than-usual research blitz on the instrument. Learning things I did not know. Listening to the surprising number of excerpts on the internet. But, as is often the case, also finding a number of contemporary references.

The Theremin was an instrument that fascinated a deceased author colleague of mine.

The son of a friend has actually made a Theremin.

The Theremin is used in the soundtrack of the British Television Mystery Series, Midsomer Murders.

And, most recently, a Theremin is used in the soundtrack of the movie The First Man. This movie has just won the Golden Globe for best Original Score.

Now, I’m not sure if Alison Alexandra is actually going to attempt to play the instrument,  but it certainly is going to hit some high notes in her life.

[Where to learn lots about the Theremin] https://www.carolinaeyck.com/theremin/

In The New Year, Kafka Ponders His Teen-age Lover

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[Kafka’s teen-age lover, Gerti Wasner – The Swiss Girl]

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

03 January 1917

I still have fantasies about the Swiss girl – although not the type one might suppose.

(My father says I already have too many fantasies, and that I deal with them “too long, and too often” – he is certainly right.)

I make a mixture of what I shared with the Swiss girl, and what I imagine we would be like today.

This is certainly more fantasy than not, for what would being together have done to us?

Done to her?

But in this tiny house – could she not join me? Be here by the window, as I write this?

She was so young, and such a girl.

But I fear that I was never such a boy.

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