Open Wounds


R is for Rhea

Rhea is the mother of the Olympian Gods (7 including Zeus) and wife of her own brother, Chronos. I mean, how many titans could there have been to choose from? Chronos eats all his kids but Rhea feeds him a stone (large one) swaddled in blankets instead of her last son, Zeus. Zeus escapes and as we all know from the Percy Jackson Tales (at least that’s been my refresher course) he rescues his siblings and puts the titans in their place. Saved by mom and a big swaddled stone.

Its made me think of mothers and their place in the books I’ve read recently. I just finished Michael Grants Gone – a wonderfully creepy story about kid survival practically without the presence of any mothers (or fathers) at all – even though one mother’s actions are key to the plot and kids act as “mothers” of different types. Mr. Grant can spin a tale and take it down some dark paths. But his tale represents the absent mother motif.

The present and struggling mother comes from A.S.King’s Everybody Sees the Ants – in which the mother swims to cope. She is not the protagonist but the story could not be told without her struggling presence. I love this book.

There’s also the mother with the heart of gold, the evil mother, the step-mother (good, bad or indifferent), the replacement mother, the oh my God what a mother (okay I just made that up), the mother who dies in the first scene or before (thank you Disney – that’s their speciality). How many others can you think of?

How do you write these characters as authentic human beings? Read King’s book to see. The mother is called the squid but she is not defined by her squidiness. As with any character in a book, so too in real life.

O is for Odysseus

O Brother, Where Art Thou? PosterUlysses PosterOdysseus for me is the quintessential hero. And as a writer for me, every hero’s journey in some way mirrors his.

Odysseus is blackmailed into fighting in the Trojan war and the siege of Troy. If he doesn’t go his son will be killed. He even faked madness to try to get out of it. He’s not interested in war, has a lovely wife, and idyllic home. He just wants to be left alone. On top of which an oracle tells him if he goes he’ll be gone a long long long time. So to save his son he goes. And the Gods are not happy after they sack Troy so they are all punished, Odysseus especially. He’ll travel for 10 years, lose all his crew, face Sirens, Cyclops, Calypso, Phoenicians (those perilous Phoenicians!), storms from Poseidon and he returns home to have to kill off all the suitors for his wife Penelope – who stayed true to him even though the full court press was on for her hand in marriage.

Odysseus is the man. If you’ve never seen Kirk Douglas play him in Ulysses you haven’t lived. Or if you haven’t seen Oh Brother Where Art Thou from the Cohen Brothers – a 1920’s version that sings (sometimes literally) – you need to rent it right now. And then there’s James Joyce’s’ Ulysses which takes the hero’s journey to its most mundane – what most call a literary masterpiece about a day in the life of two men in Dublin in 1904.

The protagonist in the book I’m working on now defeats a bully by blinding him with mud and gets the nickname, Nobody – mirroring the deeds of Odysseus in defeating the cyclops Polyphemus.

The Odyssey has been an inspiration for my writing since I saw Kirk Douglas play the hero when I was a kid. What hero’s journey inspired you?

By the way, Ulysses is the name in Greek and Odysseus is the name in Latin.

N is for Narcissus

Narcissus (Greek: Νάρκισσος) in Greek mythology was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis saw this and attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection in the waters and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus died. The Greeks don’t pull any punches. No happy endings here.

I had no idea the words Nemesis and Narcissus were linked. Nemesis is one of the Greed Goddesses of revenge but specifically for those who showed arrogance before the gods (in this case hubris – another great word). Narcissistic means vanity, conceit, egoism, selfishness, but it can also mean healthy self-love – though probably not in terms of masturbation. Come on. Did that not come into your head when you read that? No? then it’s just me. Back to this concept of narcissus and narcissism. Do you think writers are, by nature narcissistic? I wonder about this. We spend a lot of time by ourselves, wrapped up in our own worlds, thinking about our own words, blocking much of the external world out for as long as we can, or dare (diapers have to be changed, kids picked up from school, lovers loved, day jobs shown up to). I have on more than one occasion been accused by my wife of having an affair with my computer.

I prefer to think of this as an act of balance, spending time with myself and my work, which if it is to be done, must be done alone (I can’t socialize and write at the same time, can you?). Back to the balance. Healthy self-love is a bit new age-ish but it works for me. And good old Narcissus, stuck by his pool, is a good warning. One foot in both worlds and balanced between.

M is for Molṑn labé! (Come take them!)

Still of Gerard Butler and Vincent Regan in 300Molṑn labé!

“Come take [them]!”

King Leonidas of Sparta says this in response to King Xerxes of Persia’s demand that the Greek army lay down their arms before the Battle of Thermopylae. Tens of thousands against 300 and they say, “Come take them!” What were they, out of their minds?

The movie 300 (see it if you haven’t because it’s awesome) is one of the most chest-thumping, testosterone filled films I’ve seen in the last year. Maybe I don’t see many chest-thumpers or maybe it is just that visually stunning (it is). Or maybe it’s the classic story that grabs me in which 300 come-back-victorious-or-on-your-shield Spartans hold off a swarm of Persians at the small pass of Thermopylae so that their armies back home can organize. They buy time now for victory later. And… spoiler here … they all die in the process. It’s brutal. But the dialog is just amazingly chest-thumping. There’s so much testosterone in this film it is overflowing.

What’s fascinating to me is how caught up I was in the characters, the father and son, the two friends who are like brothers (they are all like brothers), the king who willingly sacrifices himself and his warriors for the greater good of his country, and the cripple who wants so bad to be a soldier and betrays them all.

The reviews were mediocre of this film when it came out so I did not see it until recently. Everyone said it was visually spectacular but that the story was weak. I didn’t see that at all. I saw tremendous violence surrounding characters, hard as nails, that I cared for. That’s what story is all about. Characters you care about placed in danger in some way that they have to somehow get out of or through or around – even if they do not survive. Extreme, yes, in this case, but also, compelling.

K is for Knossos

Knossos is a city veiled in myth, mystery and archeological digs. It symbolizes the capital of Crete from long ago and is the site of King Minos’ realm(Mr. Goldfinger himself), and the infamous Labyrinth – designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus (father to Icarus)  – and the Minotaur that prowled its corridors – eventually slain by the Athenian hero Theseus. The site of the dig is called Heraklion – which sounds bone-cracking to me – and sits at a port city on the north coast of Crete.

Everywhere you look in ancient Greece you have the hero’s journey repeated again and again and each story seems more colorful than the last. But for Knossos it’s all about the place.

Island, palace, throne room, Labyrinth of stone walls, the smell of decaying flesh pushed away by a breeze from the nearby Mediterranean Sea. The sun hot, making you sweat, the dust thick in the mid-day, the smell of your perspiration a cloak you can not get rid of so you get used to it.

Sights, smells, sounds, textures. They all come together to make place an element in a story. In my novel Open Wounds, some reviewers have said that New York City of the 1930’s and 1940’s is a character in the book, just as alive and breathing as the protagonist, Cid Wymann. One breathes life into the other.

How important is place in your writing?

Do writer’s perspire in your electronic dreams?