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Flash Fiction: ‘Mmm…thought so.’

16 Jul

“Is he here? Is he seeing all of this?” Andre asks, referring to Voi’s clairvoyant handler as he knowingly runs a hand past her stockings, pausing on the garter straps.

She murmurs incoherent noises into his ear, struggling to make sense of words. Chamber music echoes off the walls—waltzes or trots or tangos. She forgets which.

“Mmm…thought so,” Andre says anyway. He stares into Voi’s unfocused eyes, flipping a clip undone with his thumb. Her pupils enlarge suddenly just as a gale bursts through the window.

Andre curses, flinching away.

Obliviously drinking in the fumes of ambrosia with another drag on her cigarette, Voi soon tosses her head back with a manic laugh as she allows herself to slip further from reality, no longer resisting Andre’s attempts to “parley.” All the while, the crowd continues dancing under the spell of the domesticated ball downstairs…

Voi gasps, then breathes.  The wind starts to die down some, and so does her laughter.  She begins humming.

“You’ve been a naughty girl, Voi…” Andre carefully takes the contraband drug from her fingertips now and stares at it.  “Where did you manage to get this from anyway?”

Voi pulls her head upright, peering at him with dark eyes. They no longer seem unfocused.  Instead, she says in a low voice, “Is that really what you came here for, Andre?”

Sometimes, I come across art or music that gives me a very specific idea for a scene in a new novel or, perhaps, one I’m already working on. This painting, “Night Geometry” by Jack Vettriano, is one such piece of art. Actually, a lot of Vettriano’s work has been inspiring scenes for my fantasy series over the past few years. It’s sultry and moody and full of tension, sometimes with noir-ish undertones, and that appeals to me. (Not your typical fantasy stuff, eh?)

Anyway, I had this particular scene in mind for a story that I won’t get to for another three novels from now—The Elementalist: Grand Masquerade, in fact—but hey, gotta catch that inspiration when it strikes, right? Also, my series has been in third-person limited, past tense so far, and sometimes it’s subjective because the narrator will add a bit of whimsical dramatic irony here or there, so I don’t know why I’ve changed forms here in this snippet.  Not even sure what perspective this is in or if it’s consistent! Kinda feels omniscient, in a way—which would be fun to play around with later, given that Voi is apparently playing with drugs at this point in the series…

I guess that’s what happens when you try and wing things.

In other news, I’m about 70% done with my edits on Book I. Kind of a nice feeling, considering. 🙂 Planning on being done by the end of August, at the latest. If I keep making steady progress, I should be able to hit that goal.

Would be nice!

…And here’s a little (not-so) random music to go along with the snippet, just because.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/0fw2O8ZuCHgFt6CVvDZZds

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The Adventures of Philip Marlowe!

4 Aug

Since Anthony asked about this earlier, I figured I’d just make a quick post about it!  (Easier to find on the site than a comment on a post, heh.)

You may have heard of writer Raymond Chandler’s famous character before, Philip Marlowe–a hardboiled, wisecracking private eye.  Several movies have been made featuring this character, including The Big Sleep (1946) with Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe and a later adaptation The Long Goodbye (1973) featuring Elliott Gould, as well as some TV and radio adaptations.

Lots of radio adaptations.

I’ve only seen a couple of the movies like The Long Goodbye and listened to a handful of the radio episodes, particularly the ones voiced by Gerald Mohr.  (I admit, I have a weakness for his voice! lol)  Though, they were very entertaining and I’ve very much derived inspiration from them.

Anyway, if you’re into film noir and detective pulp adventures, then you should definitely check out some of the radio episodes from The Adventures of Philip Marlowe on the Internet Archive.  They’ve got a pretty big collection there and you can listen to them and even download some onto your MP3 player!

Great for a listen while you’re stuck commuting in traffic. 😉

Now, how about a movie trailer?

Chiaroscuro: What Edward Hopper, Film Noir & Interwar American Literature Have in Common

5 May

Nighthawks.  Edward Hopper, 1942.

Gee, I’m just on an art kick this week!  (Sorry, no post yesterday.  Busy day.)

I’ve been looking at some more art and remembered an American artist I learned about in school a few years ago: Edward Hopper.  And then a million thoughts started floating around in my head, which happens a lot when I’m browsing the internet.  Though, a couple of words and phrases kept popping up: black and white, stark, depression, momentary blindness, and chiaroscuro.

In order for me to make sense of the word soups my brain sometimes generates I either have to (a) talk myself through it, or (b) write myself through it.

Today, I feel like I’ve got to write my way through it.  Let’s see if I can’t make sense of this.

First, let’s define a term that may or may not be widely understood.

Chiaroscuro

Etymology: From Italian, from chiaro (clear, light) + oscuro (obscure, dark).  From Answers.com.

Chiaroscuro is an artistic technique in which the artist uses a stark contrast of bright lighting effects in combination with areas of deep shades.  It makes for an interestingly bold effect and lends itself well to both photography and cinematography (B&W especially) and other mediums, to be sure.  Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange is famous for her “stark” photographs (though not necessarily chiaroscuro):

 Here’s a famous example of chiaroscuro in a B&W film:

I think Edward Hopper used it fairly often in his work, as well–like in Nighthawks above.  Here are some other examples:

 Okay, now on to why I’m writing about any of this. Stark Opposition: Understanding the World through a “Black & White Lens”…So to Speak The world is clearly not black and white, but I find it difficult to understand without at first filtering it through this approach.  I think of the story of Adam and Eve and have wondered what it might have been like to never known sin, or that which was not deemed “good.” Complete innocence and ignorance.  (In their case, ignorance was bliss…until they sought out knowledge, right?) To understand the value and meaning of good, you must first be exposed to that which is not, and I don’t think Adam or Eve understood this so clearly as the moment they ate from the Tree. It moments like this that are so stark in the human experience, so clear in one’s memory, that they forever define the way a person looks at the world. You are almost blinded by the contrast between what you once knew and what you know now.  They are particularly powerful experiences. In a flash of a bright light you are momentarily blinded; it is impossible to perceive shades of grey during that time. I think this is what chiaroscuro is all about: capturing moments of stark (first) impressions–truths in their most naked forms.  Only, as a viewer, when you experience it in a painting as opposed to real-time media you actually get a still snapshot of the moment and therefore have ample time to really process it and consider any “grey” aspects in the artwork, as with Hopper’s Nighthawks (why does it seem so empty there?)–though, you do still experience that “momentary blindness” at first sight because you can’t take everything in all at once (and this is true with any complex, multi-layered piece). I happened to write most of these thoughts up to this point in a moment of “stark impressions,” but as it settles in (and as I edit this) I find I want to explore those shades of grey as it pertains to fiction. Can Chiaroscuro Be Achieved in Literature? I think so. The Great Depression (or even just depressing themes) made an excellent backdrop for the practice of chiaroscuro in literature, thematically especially.  Two novels that inevitably come to mind, here, are The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath.  At one moment in The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway was looking forward to life in the big city; look how that turned out.  (Edit: I should acknowledge that this book wasn’t set during the Great Depression, but you still got this feeling of something rotten and corrupt happening in the city, a feeling of ruin and grit with references to ash, etc.  It was depressing, in a way.)  Similarly, in The Grapes of Wrath it started out as, “We’re going to California–yahoo!”  Though, that excitement soon dissipated once they arrived and took in the reality of the “opportunities” out west. Blind, or perhaps just innocent, optimism (chiaro), met with stark reality (oscuro)…followed by disillusionment (grey–or grigio, as it is in Italian, according to Wiktionary, haha). I think another way to apply “chiaroscuro” in literature is using foils.  What better way to show the difference between good and evil than to have characters which personify both in complementary ways?  You can also have a chiaroscuro of setting versus context, where the setting reflects an opposite atmosphere or mood to what is actually happening in the story (a happy couple out on the town, having a pleasant stroll when two violent thugs come out of nowhere–an experience they’ll always remember afterwards); or a chiaroscuro of character (an ongoing internal struggle between two desires met with a moment in which the character is forced out of their “grey” understanding and expected to take a decisive stand). Of course, it could be executed literally, narrating how certain objects or persons are in shade and how others are illuminated in bright or harsh light.  (A nefarious interrogation room, anyone?)  It could also be accomplished with the clashing of themes: life versus death, hope versus despair, sanity versus insanity, truth versus lies… In the end, it’s about dichotomies: exploring the relationship between opposites and their effects on everything they touch.  It’s just one way to look at conflicts in stories. In any case, I do think chiaroscuro works best when darker, more serious themes are being used, but it doesn’t necessarily have to end on a negative note.  You could have a story that focuses mostly on despair and ends on an up-note, for example.  Switch things around. Why I’m Drawn to These Things As I mentioned, sometimes I have trouble understanding certain things unless I can compare them to their exact opposites.  “This is a boy; this is a girl.” Ah…” Not that I’ve ever had trouble understanding the difference there, though if I were, say, a sexless alien I might have trouble grasping this simple concept until I saw it with my own eyes. I think as children we learn a lot this way.  “This is good; this is bad.”  Only difference is now that I’m older I don’t always say “okay” but sometimes, “Why?” *sighs* Yeah.  Life was much simpler as a kid.  There wasn’t a whole lot of room for greys.  Though, I’m pretty sure life would be boring if it were all black and white. So anyways… No writing prompt.  Not sure what I’d ask, to be honest.  Comments are still welcome, though, if you have any.

Artwork by Jack Vettriano

2 May

Hey, turns out I’m getting a lot more done for school than I expected to!

Caught myself tonight revisiting an artist I discovered a while back.  I love the retro, sultry imagery he conveys in his paintings.  Some of these have inspired certain scenes in my novel–and lots of future ones to come.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite pieces from the artist:

After Midnight (Study). Jack Vettriano.

 Someone doesn’t want to go home tonight…
Woman: (coyly) “Say, I’ve never tried a cigarette before.  Is it safe?”
Man: “Well, it’s not like they bite, doll.  So go on…be the judge.”

Altar Of Memory. Jack Vettriano.

 Yeah, I totally based a character on that man–a not-quite-mad scientist who is madly in love.  (Will he ever cross the line?)  He even wears expensive suits and slicks his hair back.  Because that’s how he rolls: deep in dough.

The Drifter. Jack Vettriano.

Another image I’ve kept in mind while writing about another one of my characters (minus the cigarette); he’s a loner.  Kind of reminds me a little of “The Wanderer,” like a more modern version:

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. Caspar David Friedrich.

And one last one from Vettriano: 

Angel. Jack Vettriano.

And now I can happily drift off into sleepy land…

*     *     *

Do you have any examples of artwork that inspire you?

Dieselpunk!

20 Apr

There were a few comments on Saturday’s post that mentioned steampunk in relation to the use of leather–which actually triggered some other thoughts that I feel I should cover today.

Though I’m not currently writing a steampunk novel, that style is something that very much appeals to me.  For a while I was on a Cherie Priest run, reading anything and everything that she wrote (and waiting eagerly for the next).  I must say I’m a big fan of her Clockwork Century series (first three in that link); it’s a whole lot of fun and features something that greatly interests me: airships!

Typically, though, steampunk is going to be set in Victorian England or some other place around that era.  I admire Priest in that she brought her steampunk story to America, making for a refreshing change of scenery.  Though, when it came to deciding what route I wanted to take for my first novel, I wanted a setting that was further along, historically, than steampunk but yet not so advance as to be modern-day–somewhere between the 1920s and the 1930s.

I knew what kinds of things I was inspired by in this era, though I had no idea, until the past year or so, that there was even a subgenre which lined up with what I was looking for.  Turned out it’s called dieselpunk.  And even though I know about it now, it’s been difficult for me to identify with and emulate it because there’s so little dieselpunk out there in the literary world!

I’m hoping that will change–and soon. (I know I’m working on doing my part!)

What is Dieselpunk?

Dieselpunk isn’t something I hear a lot about, to be honest, when it comes to popular media.  I guess that’s why I’m drawn to it because I love seeking out the unique, unconventional things in life.  (What is everyone else doing?  I tend to want to do the exact opposite.) 

Logically, one would assume that it simply combines the “punk” element of steampunk with the supplanted “diesel” instead of “steam”–and I suppose that’s pretty much what it does.  However, the entire aesthetic of dieselpunk is completely different from that of steampunk.  (If the two were metals and I had to compare them, I’d say copper and brass are to steampunk as steel and chrome are to dieselpunk.)

Dieselpunk covers a good span of time, so think back first to what you learned about the world’s state during the 1920s and 30s.  What kind of stuff was happening back then?

Well, in America you had swing and jazz music, Prohibition as a major issue, skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building popping up, those fabulous flappers and swanky sheiks all about, the rise of noir films (which actually came later, though I mention it because it’s an influence of dieselpunk), and the publishing and rapid consumption of pulp magazines.  Literary classics such as The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath were written during this time, as well.  Also, Zeppelins were roaming the skies for a while and there were archaeological discoveries such as King Tut’s tomb, followed closely by the phenomenon of Art Deco…oh, and don’t forget the Great Depression.  Then later WWII came, and finally the advent of the mid-century modern era.

Initially, it was the best of times, followed by the worst of times–from glitz and glam to shacks and shambles (or Hoovervilles) for many.  Thankfully, however, it didn’t stay that way!

Of course, any time you try to summarize an era you run into generalizations and clichés, but this is basically the essence from whence dieselpunk was derived.  (There also seems to be a more bizarre, esoteric side to dieselpunk, as well–if not in the form of weird technology then the unearthing of unusual artifacts with divine, magical or supernatural powers.  Think of all the superstition that has been associated with grave robbing the mummies!)

Some Key Elements: Change, Progress & Technology

One of the things that sticks out the most to me when it comes to dieselpunk is that between those years considered canon (1920-1945, according to Wikipedia, and up until the 50s, according to TV Tropes and this site) there were periods of both great celebration and great suffering.  As such, dieselpunk works can reflect heavily on either one of these things, or both.  Overall, it can be optimistic and forward-looking like in the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, or it can be fairly grim (or noir) like in the video game BioShock.  Strangely enough, though, dieselpunk mostly seems to have happily dismissed the Great Depression altogether and looks to other events for its grimness–like WWII, for example, or the abuse of some advanced, unusual form of technology or an artifact.

Speaking of technology, new or experimental technology is typically going to be a key element in dieselpunk stories.  You’ll see a lot of streamlined vehicles of transportation and even weaponry–vehicles which run off, you guessed it, diesel fuel.  Whether the technology is ultimately used for good or evil, though, is up to the storyteller.

Examples of Dieselpunk Works

This would best be done in a list.  I’ll keep mine brief:

Fiction

Movies & TV Shows

  • Batman (you can’t say Gotham City wasn’t Art Deco-inspired)
  • Hellboy (movies and comics)
  • Indiana Jones (though the last one may be classified as Atompunk)
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • The Mummy series
  • The Rocketeer (lots of fun!)
  • Captain America (2011)

Video Games

  • Bioshock
  • Crimson Skies
  • LA Noire (maybe; it’s kinda pulp-ish)

Further Readings

If you weren’t familiar with dieselpunk and all that it entails or have become further interested in it after reading my take on the matter (yay!), then you might be interested in browsing some of the links below.  I think they are some of the best dieselpunk sites available on the web.  I will also put them under my “Links” page for future reference. 🙂

  • The Gatehouse takes a pretty detailed look into the subgenre of dieselpunk; very interesting.
  • TV Tropes makes a run through dieselpunk, listing all sorts of works which fall into this category and even breaking them down into sub-categories.
  • io9 has an article originally from dieselpunks.org (the hub for all things dieselpunk, as I see it) that details what is entitled “the tenets of dieselpunk culture” (though, funnily enough, the photo they use is totally steampunk, not diesel, imo).

Final Thoughts

All I can say is that though dieselpunk may exist (marginally, it seems), it isn’t really getting noticed.

I don’t know about you people, but I’ve been craving more and more movies, games, TV shows, and novels which take us back in time–not so far as to be ancient or obsolete but far enough that a modern sensibility may be brought to it to reflect on the possibility of the future as we don’tknow it.  A tasteful intertwining of the past and the future.  Like in Sky Captain, where there is a focus on “the world of tomorrow”.  I think that is, essentially, the heart of the dieselpunk aesthetic.

I think it’s certainly an area which speculative fiction might potentially thrive in, if only some were willing to go there.

Have you ever heard of dieselpunk before?  Is it something that interests you?  Also, do you think it has a future in the literary world, or is it obscure for a reason?

And if you know of other works that might qualify as dieselpunk, feel free to share!