It's Write for Me
THE MOZART EFFECT

     Many of us know that our mothers went to art museums, listened to classical music and, read books specifically to influence us when we were still in the womb. Most continued during our childhood and we can recall and treasure our bedtime stories. Do you think this influenced you as a writer?

     WQXR, the publicly funded and much loved classical music station in New York, has celebrated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the entire month of November. Last weekend they talked about the Mozart effect.

     The terminology originally came from a study performed in 1991 with 36 young adult students who listened to ten minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. The students tackled a group of mental tasks before and after listening to Mozart. One was ten minutes of absolute quiet, the second ten minutes of directions on how to relax and the third was the sonata. The students who listen to Mozart did better when they were presented with a sequence of cerebral tests to finish—but the effect lasted approximately fifteen minutes.

     Scientists were intrigued and agreed that listening to music could have a short term effect but listening to Schubert or reading a book by Stephen King would bring about the same result if you took pleasure in the composer or author. In 2006, a study was conducted in England with eight thousand children who listened to either Mozart, a discussion about the experiment or three popular songs. The children who listened to the pop songs did better than the children who listened to Mozart.

     Books have been written, CDs made for children, and Governor Zell Miller requested $105,000 to provide a classical music CD to every child born in the state of Georgia. Music does lift the spirits, lower blood pressure and the playing of instruments—free musical instruments and training are often given to children in school—has promoted their social and cognitive skills.

Bests,

Elise

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PAST AND PRESENT, AUTHORS, SOCIAL NETWORKING AND REALITY SHOWS

 

     We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and a host of other social networking sites. We blog, make videos, have launch parties, attend conferences, offer free gifts and excerpts from our writings. Hope for decent reviews and awards, and speak about our books wherever and whenever we can.

     Last Thursday, the New York Times ran an article about “Masterpiece,” a new reality show in Italy where writers compete. Contestants submit an unpublished novel—approximately 5,000 writers’ entries were received and read. Some writers were then screen tested. Four authors were chosen for each of six shows. Each member in a group of four plays a part in a happening then is given a project with a time limit of a half-hour.

     The judges consider the script and then reject two of the contestants. The two contestants who have survived the first round pitch—have just under a minute to pitch their baby to well known icons who have succeeded as authors and may revise their manuscripts. One will live to tell his or her tale in the finale. After many more trials, the victorious author will see his book debuted by a primary publisher. If the program succeeds, it will soon be seen in other nations around the world.

     According to the article, book promotion goes back many centuries. Herodotus—the Greek historian—paid for his book tour. Maupassant hired a hot air balloon—its mission to float over Paris adorned with the title of one of his short stories. Not a bad idea—perhaps we could drop bookmarks or slips of paper leading to our blogs.

PALERMO’S PUPPET THEATRE

    While touring Sicily, we went to see a puppet show Palermo’s Opera dei Pupi—actually a marionette show—a traditional form that developed in Sicily at the beginning of the 15th century. I expected to see something similar to Pinocchio; instead I learned that the stories told are primarily about medieval adventures such as Charlemagne and his knights, the Norman knights of King Roger of Sicily and the Saracens. There are about three hundred tales included in this element of Sicilian folk culture.

    

     On the day we visited, Charlemagne sent Ruggiero to Rome—as he travels he meets and kills a dragon. Ruggiero then rescues the lovely Aladina, a lady held captive by a giant, who intends to sell her as a slave. The giant is quickly dispatched by Ruggerio and his soul is claimed by the devil. Ruggerio and Aladina make their way to Pinamonte Castle where Pinamonte—a pagan nobleman—poisons our hero and then stabs him to death. God and the angels appear and receive Ruggiero’s soul. Aladina informs Charlemagne who sends Orlando and Rinaldo to avenge Reggiero. A battle is fought with the pagan army—when the bloody conflict ends—Orland and Rinaldo are the victors and Pinamonte meets his well deserved end.

     Made of wood and cloth with metal trappings, they are made by families who specialize in making and presenting marionettes in their theatres and require highly developed skills learned over years of hard and dedicated work. One of Palermo’s best pupi creators are the Cuticchios—the family has been prominent as both puppeteers and      craftsmen generation after generation.  The marionettes are carved, painted and decorated and controlled by strings. They work against a backdrop of canvas painted in long-established Sicilian colors. After the show, the audience is invited to learn about the armored and helmeted marionettes. The show was recognized as a Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO.

CRIME PAYS

 

 

 

 

     Crime writers who bring flamboyant characters and complex stories to life often find their stories born again in another medium. Agatha Christie who published her first novel in 1920 became one of the most famed authors in history with billions of copies of her work sold to avid readers. Christie was also a playwright and romance writer. Her play, The Mousetrap, is the world’s longest running play—opening on April 12, 1958—having its Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and is still on the boards today. She also penned the plays The Hollow, and Verdict plus Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile—both adapted into films. Writing over 70 detective novels earned her the title “Queen of Mystery.” Included in her repertoire were short fiction, and romantic narratives. Christie was made a dame in 1971 and we all know, “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”

     Among the first mystery novels is Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White published in 1859 and appearing in serial form in Charles Dickens “All Year Round Magazine” and in the United States in “Harper’s Weekly”. It was staged as a melodrama in 1975 and titled Egad, The Woman in White, became a stage play in 2005 and a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Zippel in 2004. Silent films of Wilkie’s play were made in America in 1912 and 1917 and in Great Britain in 1929 and in America in 1940, and 1948 and Russia in 1982. Two TV Miniseries produced by the BBC and one in Germany and a computer game created in 2010 titled Victorian Mysteries: Woman in White.

     A British Horror film titled The Woman in Black was adapted from a novel by Susan Hill in 1983 and became a play in 1987. I remember seeing the play on a visit to London, clutching my husband and screaming. A first for me—fortunately I wasn’t the only one in the audience who had the shudders.

       Attracted to ghost stories, Henry James wrote the The Turn of the Screw. Published in 1898 the story has had multiple interpretations—made into an opera, television play, motion picture, and radio and theatre productions.

     William Gillette, the actor, playwright and inventor began a correspondence with Arthur Conan Doyle in 1898. At their first meeting he arrived at Doyle’s home wearing a long, gray cape and wearing a deerstalker cap. Sherlock Holmes incarnate—he appeared to have stepped out of the pages of Doyle’s book. He gave the breath of life to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes extensively rewriting a five-act play that Doyle had written, then cabled Doyle asking to “Marry Holmes.”  Sir Arthur replied that he could marry Holmes or murder him or do anything he liked with him.” Gillette wrote two plays—“Sherlock Holmes,” and “The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes,” and earned over three million dollars, a hefty amount in those days, with his portrayal of the great detective. Doyle said he was “charmed both with the play, the acting and the pecuniary result.”

     W. Somerset Maugham wrote a short story, in 1926, that was included in his collection titled The Casuarina Tree. Based on a true story about a murder that occurred in 1911 when the wife of a headmaster was tried and convicted of murder after shooting a male friend. Maugham turned his story into a play that ran in London, toured the provinces and opened on Broadway with Katherine Cornell. The play has been revived, and made into films in America, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy and three television anthologies, a made for television movie, a musical titled The Bloomers and an opera produced by The Santa Fe Opera.

     In 1984, William March wrote a novel titled The Bad Seed adapted for the stage by Maxwell Anderson. The play opened on Broadway less than a year after its publication. The book was the last of March’s published works because of his untimely death. Both a critical and commercial success, the book was nominated for the 1955 National book Award for Fiction. The premise of the book and the play—which starred Nancy Kelly who won the Tony Award for her performance—was “nature vs. nurture” in explaining deviant behavior. Patty McCormack, the child actress played Rhoda—The Bad Seed. A film was made in 1956 and a television movie in 1985.

     Bram Stoker worked at the Lyceum Theatre—headed by the actor-manager Henry Irving—between 1878 and 1898. His novel Dracula bore many other titles until shortly before publication including The Dead Un-Dead and was not commercially successful at first despite the praise of critics. Stoker modeled Dracula on Sir Henry’s dramatic characteristics and gentlemanly comportment and hoped he would play Dracula in the stage version. Sir Henry never played the part but in 1928 the part was played by Bela Lugosi. It was adapted for the stage by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston in 1977 with the charming and sexy count played by Frank Langella and again made an appearance in 2004 as a musical. 

     Chicago is based on a play by a reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins who covered the 1924 trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gartner for the Chicago Tribune. In the twenties, there were many homicides which involved women killing their husbands or lovers.Annan became the starting point for Roxie Hartand Velma Kelly is basis for Gaertner.Watkins pieces were extremely successful with the Tribune’s readers and became the heart of her play. The play appeared on Broadway in 1926 and a silent film version was produced by Cecil b. DeMille in 1927 and remade as Roxie Hart in 1942 starring Ginger Rogers but Ginger was accused of murder but never convicted. Gwen Verdon read the play in the 1960s and asked her husband Bob Fosse about adapting it as a musical. Fosse tried to buy the rights but Watkins had become a born-again Christian and believed her work glorified decadence and rejected his offer. After her death in 1969, her estate sold the rights to the producer Richard Fryer, Fosse and Verdon. The musical opened in 1975 and played 926-performances. Opened on the West End in 1979 and ran for 600 performances then was revived on Broadway in 1996 and is still playing today. Revived on the West End—it is the longest running American musical in history. The musical has played all over the world and won numerous prizes including the Tony. It also became a film starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones and won the Academy Award for that year.

     Do you have a crime novel that you think could live another life as a play, a musical, a television show or a motion picture?


AMALFI

 

     Had a dream last night about a trip we took to Amalfi and the tales we were told. Once upon a time Hercules, the celebrated son of Zeus fell in love—or was it lust—with a captivating sprite named Amalfi. When she died, the despairing Hercules buried her on one of the most pleasing coasts on earth and named it after his dearest love. The Amalfi Coast has and does enthrall artists, writers, composers, crowned heads, buccaneers, mercenaries, farmers, movie stars, and travelers who drive along the Strada Statale 163.

     The Strada Statale known as the Nastro Azzurro—Blue Ribbon—road, is named for the milky color of its limestone and built with reverence for the natural turns of the Latteri Mountains. Built, between the 1840s and 1850s, it is a 41-mile awe-inspiring, spine-tingling adventure along Amalfi’s sensuous coastline between Sorrento and Salerno, Italy.

     Our bus winds and spirals along the narrow road—presenting imposing vistas on all sides. Far above, chestnut, pine and walnut forests use the mountains as a setting for their verdant foliage. Accessible by steep ladder like steps, houses outfitted in the colors of sherbet—strawberry, vanilla, and lemon—hug the craggy rock formations that plunge to the Bays of Naples and Sorrento

     Imagination roams free on Amalfi—we hear about Grecian Sirens—bird women who lived on the islets of Sirenuse and beguiled sailors with their sweet song. The sailors wrecked their ships on rocks as they sought to reach the sirens. Ulysses had himself tied to the ship’s mast while his crew placed beeswax in their ears to avoid the temptations that would smash their vessel and take their lives. Thwarted, the sirens tried to leap on board the ship, plummeted into the sea and drowned. History converted the Greek myth to Italian, the sirens became mermaids then changed into three rocks but their promise of pleasure continues—the islets were bought first by the Russian dancer Leonide Massine and then by his balletic heir, Rudolph Nureyev.

     Wherever there is a tight space between the Moorish style houses that clasp the face of the rock, steps climb to another level in Positano—founded by Poseidon, the God of the Sea. A retreat for writers and artists—John Steinbeck lived here in 1953. The foundation of the town’s affluence have fish from the sea and water for making bread and—before  the industrial revolution—water for wool, iron and pasta mills.

     Part of Amalfi’s Maritime Republic in the 10th century, Positano’s ships carried spices, silks and wood to the east by the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, Positano, the first town to import bikinis is known for its fashion, Moda Positano. A dance festival, dedicated to Leonide Massine, is presented in summer and, in winter; the town’s traditional Prespio—a creche with a nativity scene—is much admired. The Prespio with stable, houses, shops and worshippers are all modeled on the town. The pebbled beach, Spaggia Grande, close to many fine restaurants, may be reached by a walkway from Piazza Flavio Gioia.  

     We stop at a roadside stand near Praiano, a fishing village that offers lemons, hot peppers, walnuts and figs reputed to be the finest on the coast. The town, colonized in the 6th century A.D., became a refuge for people seeking protection against the barbarians after the fall of the Roman Empire. From the town, cameras try to photograph the breathtaking seascape of blues and greens that change color in harmony with the water’s mood. Praiano is 2,000 steps above a small marina and steps are everywhere leading to bathing platforms by the sea. 

     Towers built from the 13th to 15th century and used for defense against the enemy fleets of Il Saracen—Muslim pirates—and Turkish invaders rise everywhere along the coast. One tower built at the beginning of the 19th century— was built in fear of the English. Sophia Loren’s villa is pointed out, off-white in color with terraces and a 500-year old tower.  Perhaps Sophia’s tower protects against the paparazzi.

     Of major importance is the Port of Amalfi, during the middle ages the principal town of the Ancient Maritime Republic—the other three towns were Pisa, Genoa and Venice. A commercial town, overlooking the Bay of Salerno, Amalfi, known for its shipbuilding, bustled with activity—spices, perfumes, silks and carpets. Amalfi ‘s Tabula Amalphitana—Maritime Laws—was believed to be the most accredited code of all maritime nations and may be viewed in the Civic Museum.

     Around the square are old dockyards, while overhead are winding alleys that lead to the main square, dominated by the Duomo, the Cattedrale di Sant’ Andrea. The height and sweep of the Cathedral’s magnificent stairs, its Moorish features, black and white facade and Byzantine mosaic work, bronze doors made in Constantinople in the 10th century and its representations of the 12 apostles are both magnificent and imposing. The church is said to have the bones of St. Andrea—Amalfi’s protector of seamen—and the Saint is honored with a feast on June 27 celebrating the defeat of Barbarossa, known as Redbeard, the Admiral of the Turkish fleet, in 1544. Men clothed in white carry a silver-gilt statue of the Saint to the water and fishermen convey the statue back up the 62 steps to the cathedral. The Saint is thanked by the fishermen who decorate the statue’s left wrist with wooden and gilt amulets. Amalfi also has welcomed composers and authors; the Luna Hotel, in the past a convent, welcomed both Wagner and Ibsen who, in the 18th century, wrote “A Doll’s House,” during his stay.

     Scala is a town said to have been founded by survivors of a shipwreck. As we drive, chestnut trees impress with a rich display of black nuts—Scala holds a Festival of the Chestnuts every year and is known as the Town of the Churches, with one hundred serving the devout. 

     From Scala, we look across a deep, narrow valley called the Valley of the Dragon, and see our next stop—the town of Ravello. Known for its textile industry in the 13th century, Ravello is recognized as both The City of Musicmusic is heard in Ravello throughout the year—and The Town of the Villas –one belonged to Gore Vidal.  Two of the villas are world famous, the Villa Cimbrone, a Gothic castle where Greta Garbo once tarried and the Villa Rufalo which hosted D.H. Lawrence, Wagner, Grieg and Adrian IV, the first English Pope. The Villa Rufalo is mentioned in Giovanni  Boccaccio’s Decameron.  The Cimbrone is surrounded by rose gardens that lead to a stone parapet known as The Terrace of Infinity that overlooks the Bay of Salerno where the sapphire sky often melts into the ultramarine of the sea. The Villa Rufalo is a combination of Moorish and Mediterranean architecture with two towers, a Gothic arch that dates back to the 12th century, a cloister within and a garden where lavender grows and chamber music is played. The gardens inspired the magic garden in Wagner’s Parsifal.  Below Rufalo is the village of Minora where a Roman Villa was built one century before Christ’s birth.

     The Amalfi Coast with its legends, history, and promise of pleasure is as enchanting to mortals as the nymph Hercules loved and the tantalizing sirens sailors died for. A place where romantics, teller of tales and those dreaming of adventure continue a love affair with one of Italy’s most romantic treasures.

 

That Ah Hah Moment

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

     You’ve finished several drafts, gone back to the beginning, determined whether the plot makes sense, learned about your characters backgrounds and kept them near you throughout the day, checked the time line, sentence structure and spelling, and yes—it all makes sense. But…something is off, you know you’ve missed a vital element somewhere in your story—what do you do now?

     Think about the new narrative before you go to sleep? I’ve woken up and there it is—everything falls into place. Decide to cook something you’ve never cooked before? Sure. Why not? It can take your mind off your trouble for awhile and then you can begin again. If the answer comes when you’re cooking and you forget to put in several ingredients, you can always call for a pizza. Exercise? Ride a bike, touch your toes, take a hike, or run around the block? You trip on an uneven bit of pavement and the answer to the problem with your story pops into your mind as you lay sprawled on the sidewalk—who cares about the few scrapes and bruises? Band-Aids and antiseptic and you’re back to the computer. The dog wants to walk—a perfect time to think. While he takes the time to “smell the roses,” you realize the answer is obvious. “Sorry, pup, we’re going home, I’ll make it up to you later.”

     Have you found solutions to a writing dilemma in an unlikely setting?

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

     September 11, 2001 is seared into our memories, our hearts and our souls—the horrendous sight of two jet airliners hijacked and flown by terrorists into The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. A third jet striking the Pentagon inArlington,Virginia, a fourth—the cockpit taken over by terrorists who turned the plane southeast toward our nation’s Capital. Before it could hit its destination—forty passengers and crew members devised a plan to fight back and began a disruption. The plane plunged—at 563-miles per hour—into a field nearSomerset County,Pennsylvania. Seven thousand gallons of fuel exploded—the conflagration soared killing everyone on board.

     Vivid pictures of that day return when we remember where we were and what we were doing when we learned about that fatal attack. My husband and I had begun breakfast, turned on NYC’s classical music station and heard that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. At first, we thought it an accident much like the one that had happened at theEmpireStateBuilding many years before—then a frantic call came from a friend telling us to turn on the television. We watched as fellow workers held hands and jumped from the top floors—I later learned that one was a cousin—newly married—who had just begun working for the firm who occupied one of the peak offices.

     Since 2001, many of our best writers have explored that day. Think of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and 102 Minutes by Kevin Flynn and Jim Dyer. Portraits of Grief written by reporters for The New York Times was miniature 200-words pieces that showed an aspect of each lost individual’s life. Some family members thought more traditional obituaries should have been written but most felt it helped in the healing process.

     Three thousand people lost their lives during and after that suicide mission. Families and friends and responders made bereft with the loss of those they loved and cherished. Ideals were shaken but those who believe in a better world will continue to believe in democracy and a better way of life.

     At the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia no guided tours are offered. Every   visitor is free to wander the grounds, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day to personally meditate and reflect on a day that will never be forgotten.

     The Flight 93 National Memorial now includes a learning center and a wall of remembrance.

“Timeless in simplicity and beauty, like its landscape both solemn and uplifting, the Memorial should be quiet in reverence, yet powerful in form, a place both solemn and uplifting.” Paul Murdoch, Architect

       Next spring the National September 11 Memorial and Museum will be open in New York and include two 80’steel columns that will act as markers to a staircase that lead to the mezzanine where visitors will see the undersides of the memorial pool which indicates the site of the twin towers. The lives of people lost on September 11 will be highlighted in the memorial area. In years to come when no one is left who bore witness to that day—descendents, fellow citizens, travelers, historians and writers will visit the museum and see, hear and continue telling the story.  

CURIOSITY

 We’ve all heard about the curious cat and noticed one of our own investigating something only she can see—all she needs is a deerstalker cap perched on her head to be a feline version of Sherlock Holmes. And what about our loyal companion—the dog? His nose examines every scent—no clue or tasty morsel escapes him. When on a tour of Kangaroo Island in Australia, a charming resident let me pat his sandy head while he checked my pockets for an interesting bit of chocolate. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, on a visit to the zoo, I engaged in a conversation—pantomime, of course, with an ape. A docent told me the ape loved to see the contents of a purse. I held up my cosmetics, a notepad, a pen—all the things that multiply in our bags and we both became thoroughly absorbed until we finally noticed a crowd had gathered and were observing the two of us.
        We begin in childhood when everything we see, hear, touch. smell and taste is an endless source of fascination. As we age, most people lose a good portion of their curiosity. I believe that writers keep their ability to relate to the world—the who, what, where, when and why of life and bring that to the page.

Bests,

Elise

HEROES, VILLAINS AND VICTIMS

     Why do some professions lend themselves fictional heroes? Others are thought to harbor villains. Several give us an easy or sympathetic victim. Royalty is chock full of victims and villains—Shakespeare’s live on. Politicians? Many more villains than heroes. Perhaps we’d better stay away from politicians unless we intend writing a detective novel that features George Washington. Most of John Gresham’s lawyers are role models. Professors can be exciting—think of Harrison Ford chasing after The Holy Grail. But stay away from Colin Dexter’sOxford and a few of the professors that teach there. Those intellectuals keep Inspectors Morse and Lewis busy solving their crimes. There is the crusading newspaper reporter—our hero and the gossip columnist—who wrecks havoc with lives and careers. Then we have doctors—in real life and most television shows we are filled with admiration and would usually follow everything prescribed but in fiction? A doctor sometimes falls off the pedestal he or she is placed on. And victims—Susan Isaacs in her book Compromising Positions used Dr. Fleckstine, a dentist as a victim. Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell—a dentist, Nazi and former SS officer made a splendid villain. I’m sure movie patrons lived with hours of pain pain before keeping their dental appointments. I’ve never read about a fictional dentist as hero—fellow writers the character is all ours.

 Bests,

Elise