Tag Archives: shakespeare

Shakespeare & The Ultralights: Lessons in Fiction

He called it Europa State University.

Café Europa on South Pennsylvania St. in Denver was our meeting place.

We’d spend hours talking books and stories and writing. It’s a cliché to say you love words. Yes, my pal and mentor Gary Reilly loved words. Mostly he liked words all strung together so they’d create a story.  The story held the power, not the building blocks. He liked the experience of being transported to another place, another time.

Who doesn’t?

He suggested the title for my first mystery, Antler Dust. He read drafts of all my projects, offered invaluable feedback. He suggested a key idea for Buried by the Roan (a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards). He gave me the central idea for the third in the series, due out in 2013.

I’d boil his writing lessons down to three:

1. Think through every word. Really think it through. Study the word, be with the word, contemplate each and every one. But don’t let word issues bog down the storytelling. The story matters most.

2.  Become obsessed with fiction. Obsession can be a good thing. Obsession can be healthy. Embrace your obsession. Bear down.

3.  Consider all possibilities in your plot. Go to extremes just to see how it sounds or feels and then dial it back to your taste. You don’t have to tell all the wild stories that occur in the dream-it-up process, but you might find something you like.

In some ways, Gary’s lesson were a paradox. Focus really, really hard but stay loose and relaxed with your imagination.

And make sure you always laugh. I can see his dry, wry  smile when he intones Shakespeare in suggesting how I fully exploit the introduction of an ultralight in one of my plots (see his emails to me below).

Gary passed away in March, 2011. Our last meeting was several months earlier. In one email he foreshadowed his passing, making a funny reference to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.  He used his own death as a punchline.

The last books he read were David Copperfield and Swann’s Way.  I hope Dickens and Proust served him well at the end. I have a hunch it was a tough transition.  Months went by between our last contact and his passing.

So Gary isn’t around to laugh at the spectacle, but The Asphalt Warrior, one of 20 fine novels he left behind, has made its way to daylight. The Asphalt Warrior, in fact, is the first of 11 comic novels about a Denver taxi driver named “Murph.”

I could never get him to follow my suggestions, of course. My suggestions had to do with promoting his work–networking, emailing, getting out there.

It wasn’t a fair trade. I got the better end of the deal. By light years.

Class in session at Europa State University.

There’s really no way to capture those sessions at Europa State University.

But Gary’s emails to me over the years capture some of the flavor.

Note the care he put into reading and editing and polishing.

And note the lively imagination.

There’s no replacing that.

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Sept. 15, 2009

Mark,

I look forward to going over the manuscript with you and discussing revisions. Maybe we can plan a two-hour workshop at Europa some afternoon so we can really examine the book carefully. I have a funny story to tell you about a woman who showed up after you left Europa last week. She sat down at my table and I told her about your manuscript, which I was reading. But I will save the details for later. I realized that I ought to carry a copy of Antler Dust with me when I go out, as well as writer-related business cards if you have any that I can hand out to any other strange women who sit down at my future tables.

Gary

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January 30, 2010

Mark,

I’ve been going over the manuscript, and thanks to Jane’s* suggestions I have gotten a very good handle on a detailed revision. I estimate that it will take me a week to ten days to complete my reading and deliver a clean manuscript to you. I am trying to mark it up as I did for your previous manuscripts. There will be a lot of minor changes, with a few scenes that we should discuss since I feel they need a little more elaboration. We can talk about these scenes over lunch after I have completed my notes. I just want you to know that most of the changes are stylistic, and it’s all coming along very nicely.

Gary

*Literary agent Jane Chelius

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February 12, 2010

Mark,

I want to talk to you further about changing the ending. I think it should be more cinematic, and it occurred to me that the buffalo ought to come into play—i.e., how would Clint Eastwood and Sandra Bullock use a herd of buffalo to enhance the violence of a wild ending? Just as you used elk hides in Antler Dust I think you should incorporate the buffalo in some way. They are large, spooky animals. Perhaps a stampede, or a scene where Allison has to run into the herd to hide from the villains. Related to this, I was wondering if you would consider coming up with a title like Buffalo Coffin or something along that line to match the weird title of Antler Dust. Weird titles could be one of your trademarks. I do favor Buried by the Roan over anything else so far. The word “burial” gives it that ominous touch, but it might be worth it to think about working the word “Buffalo” into the title. Coffin, casket, cemetery, plastic, tombstone, things related to the grave. I will play around with words and see what I come up with.

Gary

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February 19, 2010

Mark,

If you feel that revising the relationship between Allison and Colin would make the story more intriguing then I think you should do it. It’s interesting that you brought it up because it did occur to me that Allison might be gun-shy about a new relationship after her experience with Slater, but I suppose I simply assumed enough time had gone by that she was ready again. You do a good job of showing how gun-shy Trudy is about getting back into the game after her miserable marriage with Grumley. I think your idea to revise is good and your reasoning is valid. This won’t effect my revisions, and I will be happy to look at the new material. I’m on page 70 out of 114 and still shooting for 10 pages a day, so it will be at least 5 days before I have a clean copy to send to you. I checked my journal and saw that I began this revision on January 28. So far I’m satisfied with the way it’s going and I look forward to discussing the manuscript with you.

Gary

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February 25, 2010

Mark,

I have to start a new regimen of chemo Monday so I would like to cancel our tentative Saturday meeting. This will give me time to go over the manuscript one more time before I send you the final Microsoft copy. It sounds like you may be fairly busy this weekend anyway….Let me know if the cancellation works, or whether there was anything specific you wanted to discuss at Europa State University.

Gary

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March 6, 2010

Mark,
As you probably know by now I get insane ideas at all hours of the day and night, many of them having to do with writing, and it occurred to me this morning that it would be interesting if you could somehow incorporate the ultralight airplane into the end of Buried by the Roan. I think it was Shakespeare who said “If an ultralight appears in Act 1 of a play, it has to stampede the buffalo in Act 3.”

I actually have no specific scene in mind, but the plane is such a great element that I think it would be worthwhile to come up with a way for Devo’s supplier to play some role in the climax of the book. I think it would give the story a nice rounded-out feeling. I will leave it at that for now. Feel free to phone any time you want to discuss writing. If I’m around I will pick up, land line or cell.

Gary

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March 12, 2010

Mark,

I had an idea about the buffalo stampede that I want to pass along. What if Rayburn is trampled by the buffalo, ends up in the river, and Allison has to dive in to save him from drowning. This would make a nice ironic connection with her LaGuardia incident, and could bring a form of closure to her post-traumatic stress because she saves a victim who is floating helpless in the water, just as she had been a helpless victim.

Gary

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March 15, 2010

Mark,

I started to reread Buried by the Roan and I kept finding obscure gremlins in the prose, often the repetition of certain words, so I’m going to give it another polish while you work on the stampede section. It feels close but I’m still not quite satisfied.

Gary

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March 16, 2010

Mark,

You make a good point. I will hold off re-reading your manuscript until you can send me your new revision. I don’t want to turn this into a bag of snakes where corrections overlap and get confusing. When you are satisfied with your revision, send me a copy.

I’ve begun writing Murph #11, as well as jotting down notes for another Highsmith*, my new lower-case euphemism for a suspense novel.

Gary

*Suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith

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April 4, 2010

Mark,

It’s 1:30 Sunday afternoon and I just read the Allison material you sent me. I enjoyed the orchestrated buffalo attack, and I want to send you a revised copy of the section later on in the week. I tried to call you awhile ago but got the answering machine. I just wanted to tell you in person how well the scene works, and to talk about a few additions and changes in the rest of the material.

Gary

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April 20, 2010

Mark,

I’ve been giving Buried by the Roan a careful read, and I am at about page 80 out of 140. It might take another week to finish it because I am going at it slowly, sentence by sentence. I’m finding odd little typos here and there, and marking suggestions in red. I’ve never had any problem with the Trudy scenes, they all seem to work for me, but if you feel they should be tightened then you should do it. I will let you know about the Rayburn scenes at the end after I’ve read that part. I’m open to meeting for coffee between now and next Sunday. I start another chemo session on Monday, the 26th.

I came up with an idea about Good Cop/Bad Cop that I want to pass along. I was thinking about the Ripley books of Highsmith and how they revolve around the art world, and an idea that I came up with which differs quite a bit from your original story is that the wounded cop sets himself up in some way as an art critic and trashes the convict’s painting career. This so infuriates the convict that he tries to take revenge which either gets him killed or sent back to prison. It has the potential for the kind of dark humor that Highsmith taps into for the Ripley books, so I wanted to suggest it. We can talk further about it over coffee. Let me know if you have any free time.

Gary

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April 29, 2010

Mark,

I’m doing well although this last round of chemo hit me a bit harder than the others. But I am still going to finish your book plus the new material, it will just take a little longer than I expected. No word from the Goodman agency. Murph is sinking deeper into a quagmire. I’ll be in touch when I have news to pass along

Gary

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June 16, 2010

Mark,

Next week will be good. This is pump week for me. I do have an appointment on Monday, so any day from Tuesday on will work.

Plenty to talk about. I think the breaking stick moment can work, as long as you keep that lyrical paragraph up front where it is. The combination of the lyric and the stick will show agents that you can handle both style and action effectively.

I haven’t heard anything on “Century*” so as I said they probably aren’t interested. I am thinking about sending the stolen car book to an agent who will allow the first ten pages in the body of the email. Let me know if you know of any such agents besides Irene Goodman. I’m reading the new biography of Raymond Carver. A depressing book.

Any time, any day next week at Europa.

Gary

*One of Gary’s novels, Movie of the Century

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Nov. 14, 2010

Mark,

I’m hanging in there. Hanging and writing. Thanks for sending me the URL. Every time I wanted to look at something at the People’s Press I could not find the URL or remember the name, and it began to get unnerving. Rod Serling stuff.

One of the things that I wanted to discuss with you at our cancelled workshop was the idea you had a couple years ago about putting the Murph’s on a website and sending codes to agents and so forth. I told you I wanted to think about it first, but now that I have cancer I do not know how long I will be around, and the fact I have wanted to put Book #1 on the net, I wanted to ask you what the logistics of that whole idea consisted of. I was leafing through my 10 Murph’s over the weekend and thinking that these books are worth getting out to the public in some manner, even if it means forgetting traditional publishing and experimenting with internet publishing, that vast and unexplored area. Obviously a lot to talk about, but I would like you to again tell me what it was you had in mind since I do not remember the details. I think it’s realistic to say that traditional publishing is out as far as my body of work is concerned, but I would like readers to have the opportunity to enjoy Murph. I think it’s time to get a serious dialogue going on this, and I would appreciate your input.

I’m currently reading David Copperfield. I just finished all of Proust. I’m trying to get as many of “the big books” read before I dive into The Big Sleep.

Keep writing.
Gary