Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Validated by Spencer Tracy

It’s been four months since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The USS Hornet sails from Alameda, CA toward Japan on a secret mission. The navy carrier has a special unit on board—Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle accompanied by his men and their planes. Their mission: bomb Tokyo in the first retaliation for what the Japanese did to America. 

When the Hornet came within 700 miles of Japan, Col. Doolittle and his raiders climbed into their planes and roared off the flight deck toward Tokyo. The carrier that aided the successful mission was kept secret for a year, known only as Shangri-La.

So why am I dredging up history? Because to me, it’s not history. It’s what I’m absorbed in every day as I write my latest novel, Saving Lou. I’ve done a lot of research to make my book as historically accurate as possible. Over the weekend, I watched a 1944 movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, with Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, and Robert Mitchum. Spencer Tracy played the part of Col. Doolittle. As I watched the movie, entranced, I could see my book come alive on the screen. Like seeing your baby for the first time, after feeling it for nine months.

My main character Lou Dyson joins the Navy in January ’42 and, after boot camp, is assigned as an aviation mechanic on the Hornet. In April, Col. Doolittle comes aboard to prepare for his mission. I mention this in my book and take a bit of poetic license by having a brief encounter between Lou and Doolittle. I write about getting lost in the huge ship and voila, the movie shows three of the army airmen getting lost in the bowels of the ship. Watching the movie, I could almost see Lou on the deck of the Hornet mingling with the airmen. This movie, made while the war still raged on, validated my writing and my research, and that’s a mighty good feeling.

My book isn’t finished yet, it’ll be awhile before it is, but for now, Lou and I spend time together every day. I help him come to grips with the internal conflict he’s carried within him all his life and he helps me see World War II up close and personal. I hear the bombs burst and see the skies fill with smoke. I look into the fearful eyes of the young kamikaze pilot as his plane swoops toward Lou's carrier and then I feel the heat from the explosion.

Just as Willard Manor, Leaving Mark and Finding Gary, have a connection, Saving Lou carries on that connection. I’m having a good time populating the city of New Haven, CT with my characters. I’ll let you know when the book is published.

Quote of the Day: What air is to the body, to feel understood is to the heart. Stephen Covey

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Master's Touch

I like to watch Bob Ross on PBS television. As a disclaimer, Bob Ross has since passed away and the shows are reruns of his old shows. If you haven’t seen him, he paints beautiful pictures using a two-inch brush, a palette knife and a couple of other brushes.

I paint along with him, in my mind, as I watch the full painting come into focus.

So why am I talking about painting on a writing blog? Because it occurred to me that the way he paints is similar to the way we write.

He starts with a blank canvas. Isn’t that how writers start? With a blank screen in front of them?

Ross mixes a blue color to fill in the sky and a lake or stream, so his entire canvas is mostly blue. That’s his background for starting the painting. Our background comes together when we decide if we’re going to write fiction or non-fiction, what the genre will be, and if it will be a book, short story, article, or memoir. Then Ross adds clouds and a little pink to enhance his sky. We writers, by now, have settled on the form and style of our book so we can continue in earnest.

Then Ross puts a black color on the palette knife and slashes a jagged line across the blue sky to represent the beginnings of a mountain. Our black slash will be the conflict our protagonist encounters and must overcome. As Ross adds strokes to the mountain, the ridges and plateaus come into sharp focus. Likewise, our conflict will soon reveal its many dark areas, twists and turns.

Then he adds tall pine trees on each side of the lake. These trees, along with a waterfall down near the front, are his secondary characters. They’re included to add interest and warmth to the painting.

Then he fine tunes the picture by adding highlights to the trees, adding a grassy meadow and colorful shrubs, and putting a few rocks in the water. What was once a blank white canvas, is now a colorful, beautiful picture with depth, and dark and light areas--a scene you want to step into. How does this translate to a book? Once you have a skeleton of an idea and have inserted a conflict, protagonist, and secondary characters, you go back and fine tune the story by adding scenes and all the little nuances and dialogue that bring the story to life.

I can hear you asking, “But who is the protagonist in a painting?” It’s you, my friend, the one who looks at the picture and wants to be in the scene.

So whether you’re painting a picture, writing a book, or building a house, you start with an idea. Then you add all those little touches that make your work unique, something that someone will want to own in order to look at, read, or live in.

Go ahead. Let your creative self shine!

Quote of the Day: You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. Les Brown