Inspiration a la Late Night Conversations

People ask me a lot where I get my characters from and if they can be in one of my novels. Yes, I suppose that the best authors are those who are the best observers, and that most novels carry twinges of the real. Not to condescend, but the saying goes that the best lies are based on the truth and what else is a novel but a big lie written down?

Truth is, the strongest characters I’ve written aren’t necessarily based on any one person, or even a conglomeration of my father with a bit of ex-boyfriend #6, but rather are juxtapositions of the many, many people I’ve encountered. Or, even other fictional characters. I’ll take bits and pieces of those around me and run with it. Byron is a mix of The Joker from The Dark Knight, the actual Lord Byron, ex-boyfriend #3, Lermontov’s Pechorin (from the magnificent A Hero of Our Time), and even a bit of Harry Potter.

Sidetrack paragraph: There’s an excellent article linking Quentin Tarantino ‘s films to Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin that conveys this sentiment exactly. And Bakhtin is a favorite of mine, so there ya go. The article is more about the Tarantino-verse rather than a sprawling pop culture extravaganza that is my mind, but basic principles apply.

However, some real life things are too good to pass up. Like, an eleven o’clock conversation betwixt Adam and me:

M: Pluto is my ruling planet.

A: How so?

M: I’m a Scorpio, that’s how that works.

A: Ah, yes. Astrology. The thing that makes people believe in stupid things so they can blame their stupid behavior on something else.

M: I don’t think Pluto will take kindly to that. He’s already had his planetary status taken away. You know, those scientists are going to rue the day they made that decision.

A: Why’s that?

M: What’s Pluto the god of?

A: Death?

M: And when those meanie scientists die, who do you think is going to show mercy on them?

A: Not Pluto? And believing in the punishment of a death deity isn’t superstitious and stupid?

M: It’s sort of like Pascal’s Dilemma. Better to believe in the death gods than not at all.

A: Do you know who my ruling planet is?

M: Nope. Who?

A: Zapados.

M:…the Pokemon?

GOLD. Dialog for my next quirky sitcom. DONE.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian* Flynn is one of the New York Times Bestsellers that I sometimes read in order to connect with the average reader to see what the hullabaloo is all about. I’ve done this with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and even that Dan Brown monstrosity The Da Vinci Code and rarely am I left impressed.

This time was no exception either.

TL;DR version: interesting writing style and formatting that is squandered by unsympathetic characters and a drawn-out plot.

Story is simple: guy (Nick) meets girl (Amy). They get married. On their fifth wedding anniversary Amy goes missing and there’s talk about murder. Nick is the suspect because, duh, he’s the husband and the story unravels, revealing both Nick’s and Amy’s sides of the story chapter by chapter until the truth sets no one free.

I will say I was impressed by the format of the story — Nick’s events traveled further past the days Amy is “gone” and Amy’s are moving closer to her disappearance until they meet at the end of part one — because it allows for your sympathies as a reader to shift from one to the other as more and more information is revealed. First you side with Amy as she relates how her and Nick fell in love so many years ago. Then, to Nick as Amy’s strange and obsessive behavior is slowly revealed. Then again, back to Amy as more information about just what Nick has been up to stomps around the stage.

It’s not really a mystery, but there is some suspense around whodunit and if there even really was a crime. But that suspense slowly peters out and there isn’t much tension left behind after the big reveal, which is about two-thirds the way through the novel. After that, it’s just a boring third act that has to tie everything together before a flat ending.

I also found it difficult to connect to either Nick or Amy. Both are incredibly well fleshed out and Flynn has the amazing ability to write multiple points of view. Nick’s voice is drastically different from Amy, who has several voices of her own, so that I didn’t even need to see a title telling me who was narrating, the voices were so strong. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re both despicable in their own ways and have little to no redeeming qualities.

Everyone loves a good villain. No one loves whinny, weak, and self-pitying fools who both get what they deserve in the end, which is neither satisfying nor cohesive. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after finishing this novel — which took me six months because I kept reading other things at the same time.

Three stars out of five. The writing style is brilliant and refreshing; Flynn’s observations through the characters of Nick and Amy are amazing (ha!), but the plot and the ending were too flat and bogged everything down.

*My fiance and his twin think it’s hilarious that Mulder and Scully’s names can be reversed so they’re Sculder and Mully. Now I’m left not being able to remember which ones are the right ones.

Round Two. *Ding Ding*

I finished reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco the other day, and as usual, what I read affects what I write. There was once where I stayed up the entire night to finish The Road by Cormac McCarthy, only to be unable to sleep before my shift at the coffee shop and writing a rather visceral scene in which our heroine, Gwennie, beats up some rival vampires, eats a young French aristocrat and then goes into a stupor from her poisoned blood. Another time I read a novelization of the second Care Bears movie and proceeded to write a scene in which our one-legged hero, Doc, goes to summer camp and finds out that there’s an evil camp counsellor possessing kids, or something. I might have blocked out the ending to that movie from my childhood because it was rather traumatizing, though I was totally cool with seeing Se7en when I was eleven. Except I can’t eat SpaghettiOs anymore.

Achnyway, Mr. Eco sort of has the same problem I do. And I quote: “The dialogue created another problem for me. In other words, as I was writing the book, I realized that it was taking on an opera-buffa structure, with long recitatives and elaborate arias….but the dialogue? At a certain point I feared it would sound like Agatha Christie, while the arias were Suger or Saint Bernard” (Eco 517). Well, strip me naked, send me to the past and call me Kyle Reese! I have the same problem as a respected Professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. (Just call me Professor MK Sauer. I teach Vampire Literature at the University of Blogna.) I don’t even know what semiotics is, but that’s unimportant. What’s important is that a dude who wrote an entire book about monks murdering monks, who then goes on to say that if you read his book solely because you want to read about monks murdering monks then you’re stupid, had the same problem as me. Wait a tic…I think that kid might be the Avatar.

What problem is this, you ask, because you’re astute, not unlike Brother William of Baskerville, the Holmesian hero of our holy, yet hugely highbrow history? We both like fedoras. No, I mean, really like fedoras.

That fedora really IS ruggedly handsome!

Well, where doesn't it hurt? HERE!

Think of Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom when he almost loses an arm trying to get his fedora. Almost there. Now replace Ilsa from the Last Crusade with that same fedora, and then you catch my drift.* No, I jest. At least about Mr. Eco, as I’m sure any relationship he has with that really good lookin’ hat is purely Platonic.

No, the problem we both have is that our dialogue and our narration have seemingly two different voices! My blog post about polyphony covered that and I just wanted to let you know that this is a legitimate concern for writers and that the first step to overcoming voices in your head trying to fight for the narration wheel is to admit you have a problem. Hi, my name is MK Sauer — (Hi, MK) — and I’m constantly trying to reconcile two completely different moods for my novel.

(Hey, wasn’t there an episode for Forever Knight where Nick the Vampire was trying to treat his blood-drinking like an addiction and he went to an AA-type of meeting and met Ms. Trinity-before-she-was-Trinity-and-all-impaled-and-junk and she was a sex addict? Is that a stretch? Well, I guess vampires are the recurring theme, so we’re clear. )

*I can only say a German accent when saying, “This is how we kiss in Austria.” Unfortunately, I have to play out the whole scene and continue macking on air and then say, “And this is how we kiss in Germany,” and the smack the air, and then become rugged and handsome and tired and say, “I liked the Austrian way better,” and then do my best Sean Connery accent and say, “So did I.” Usually by the time I’m done, if there are witnesses who don’t know me, I’ve accumulated a few stares and/or phone calls for help.

On a somewhat related note, Brother William is played by Sean Connery in the 1986 movie version of The Name of the Rose with a very, very young and very naked Christian Slater, who was in Interview with the Vampire. So that just goes to show that everything in my blog is connected. EVERYTHING. Which is why I have a game called Six Degrees of Count Dracula. Now all we need is Kevin Bacon to play Dracula.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Harcourt, Inc, 1984.

God, I’ve been out of school for two years now and I still have to quote properly. What’s next? Taking notes on a Dostoevsky novel when I don’t have to? Wait, I’ve already done that. What’s next, next? Reading up on my 17th century New England history by watching The Libertine? God, that movie’s only good if you want to see someone die of syphilis.