There Are No Roads That Do Not Bend

There Are No Roads That Do Not Bend

As I watch the leaves fall to the ground, I am reminded of my first years in Vermont back in the seventies. Coming from New York City it was a magical transition. From concrete and brick to buds and bulbs. I had actually never seen a tree bud into leaf when I was a kid in Brooklyn. Until Vermont. I swore I’d never go back to a big city again. But, life has a way of changing our plans. I wound up in San Diego, yes a big city, for many years. Now that I’m back in Vermont, I again glory in the beauty of nature and wildlife. This time, I’m sure I won’t leave.

I wanted to share a song that seems fitting to the environment . . . and the times we’re living in. The singer-songwriter is long gone and unfortunately I only became familiar with her recently. I hope you enjoy. Stay safe and well!

The Times We’re Living In by Kate Wolf

Down by the river the water’s runnin’ low
As I wander underneath the trees
In the park outside of town
The leaves turned brown and yellow now
Are falling on the ground

Remembering the way you felt
Beside me here when love was new
That feeling’s just grown stronger
Since I fell in love with you

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

Winter wood piled on the porch
Walnuts scattered on the ground
And wood smoke risin’ to the sky
An old man comes home from work
And he hugs his wife in a sweat-stained shirt
Walks through that door to
Where it’s warm inside

And I’m walking as the wind
Rustles in the fallen leaves
My footsteps picking out a tune
My heart sings silently

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

See the roses dried and faded
The tall trees carved and painted
With long forgotten lovers’ names
Old cars standing empty
And dogs barking at me
As I walk through the quiet streets the same

If I could I’d tell you now
There are no roads that do not bend
And the days like flowers bloom and fade
And they do not come again

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

A Tragedy Revisited

A Tragedy Revisited

March 25th, 2016, will commemorate the 106th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  The 1911 fire was the deadliest workplace disaster in NYC before 9-11.  It was significant not because 146 workers died, but because it instigated significant reform. At the time workplace safety was barely regulated and rarely thought about . . . except, perhaps, by the workers themselves. Other workplace disasters had occurred in the past and would again in the future.  You may remember a similar fire at a factory in Bangladesh last year.

When I decided to write a mystery against the backdrop of the Triangle, I had no idea what I was in for.  Research took me in several directions: the forensics of fire, the consequences of “defenestration,” that is, vertical falls from high places, the difficulty in identifying bodies falling from such heights, the safety hazards for garment workers, women’s rights, workers’ rights, changes in the American workplace.

But I also researched the time and place of the disaster.  1911, Greenwich Village, New York City.  A time when Ellis Island kept its arms open to immigrants from many countries — immigrants who came for a better life, but often wound up in sweatshops, or worse.  A time of Tammany Hall and corruption.  A time of women’s suppression.  But also a time of new beginnings, hope, and freedom in a new land.

I am a native New Yorker and was amazed at the fantastic bits of information I dug up.  I learned, for instance, that Washington Square Park is built on what was once a potter’s field, where 100,000 people were buried for a century and a half.  I walked the streets of Greenwich Village, saw the buildings my characters would have seen, drank in bars they patronized, and gazed up at the ninth story of the Asch Building (now part of NYU)  to visualize the flames bursting through the windows and the workers leaping to their deaths.

The cover of my book is a photo I took of the building in 2010, with smoke and color added for dramatic effect.  For those of you who write about history, or simply enjoy reading it, I know you’ll agree that real-life events in the past make a grand backdrop for a fictional story.

Murder, in particular.

The Fine Art of Writing

After visiting an art museum recently, I began to wonder about the similarities between art and writing.  Fine art, as in a painting, can be considered subjective in terms of good vs. bad.  What’s pleasing for one individual is not necessarily for another.  You might adore Renoir, I might love Kandinsky.  Artists and art critics, however, do have their own standards about good art.  These revolve around color, texture, line, impasto and chiaroscuro (shadows and light) among other qualities.  But in general, most people would agree that art is subjective.  (I might fail to see how a large canvas simply painted red is art, but if you like it, well . . .)

Fine ArtHistory proves this subjectivity.  In the 1930s and 40s, the Nazis not only murdered people, they exterminated art, artifacts, and literature.  Hitler and his comrades (Goebbels, in particular) decided which pieces of art were good and which were bad. To them, the old masters, artists that portrayed life as it really was, like Rembrandt, were worthy.  The modernists, impressionists and post-impressionists were entartete kunst – degenerate and despicable, destined for flames.  (It is worth noting that in 1937, an exhibition titled Entartete Kunst opened in Munich. The exhibition was designed to ridicule creative works by such artists as Picasso, because it insulted German womanhood.   Ironically, it turned out to be one of the most popular museum exhibitions ever displayed, with queues out the door from opening to closing, every day. )

Beyond art, the Nazis attacked literature.  Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser, considered socialists and “corrupting foreign influences,” were among the authors whose books were burned.  In the eyes of Hitler, it was the social impacts of the writing that condemned them to the fire.

So, what about prose?  Is it subjective like art?  Are there standards for quality writing?  What are those standards, then, and who determines them?  Is it merely the telling of a good story in a compelling manner?  What about proper grammar and spelling?  Sentence structure?  Dialogue, description, character development?  Is it a function of the time period in which they are written?  How does Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” hold up to Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire” today?  Is one objectively “better” than the other?  What about classics like “Ulysses” by James Joyce where grammar, sentence structure, et al, are lost in a stream of consciousness?

Fine art 2Bottom line: Is writing simply subjective?  Can books, like art, be judged good or bad . . . based on the eye of the beholder?

What do you think?

The Forensics of Fire

An article in the New York Times about seven children killed in a fire in Brooklyn last March  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/nyregion/funerals-for-7-victims-of-brooklyn-fire.html)  reminded me of the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory 105 years ago.  The Triangle fire lasted only half an hour, from the initial spark to final burning embers but in the end, 146 perished.

Near closing time on Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire erupted on the eighth floor in a bin of scrap materials and fabrics. A steady flow of wind rushed through the elevator shafts from the street and fed the flames. Smoke began its way upward to the ninth floor. Garment workers, seamstresses, mostly women and young girls, raced to the exit door on Washington Place. It was locked. Later, some claimed the doors were kept locked so the girls didn’t steal the fabrics.  Within minutes the eighth and ninth floors were raging infernos.

Forensic science, often called forensics, is the application of science to the legal system.  This may be in relation to a crime or a civil action.  The word itself is derived from the Latin for?nsis, meaning “of or before the forum.”  In Roman times, criminals would present their case before a group of individuals in the Forum.

Today, with the preponderance of CSI programs and movies, forensics is a household word.  Law enforcement and crime-lab teams, however, view these programs as a hindrance since it colors the public’s (and the jury’s) view of the real work involved.

In 1911, fire forensics (in fact, all forensics) was in its infancy.  In my book, The Triangle Murders, Cormac Mead searched the two destroyed floors at the Triangle factory for evidence that would prove his wife was murdered. If he suspected arson, what would he have been looking for?  Probably things similar to what fire investigators look for today when investigating fires: evidence of accelerants, igniters, pieces of a bomb and explosive residues (if an explosion is suspected), point of origin, and point of entry and exit of the arsonist (if arson is suspected.) Interestingly, unlike crime suspects who are innocent until proven guilty, fires are considered suspicious until proven otherwise.

aftermath of firePhoto: An officer stands at the Asch Building’s 9th floor window after the Triangle fire. Sewing machines, drive shafts, and other wreckage of the Triangle factory fire are piled in the center of the blaze-scoured room. (Photographer: Brown Brothers, 1911, Copyright: Kheel Center, Cornell University, http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/.)

 

The Triangle Factory Fire –105 Years Later

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAfighting fire

March 25th, 2016, will commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  The 1911 fire was the deadliest workplace disaster in NYC before 9-11.  It was significant not because 146 workers died, but because it instigated significant reform. At the time workplace safety was barely regulated and rarely thought about . . . except, perhaps, by the workers themselves. Other workplace disasters had occurred in the past and would again in the future.  You may remember a similar fire at a factory in Bangladesh last year.

When I decided to write a mystery against the backdrop of the Triangle, I had no idea what I was in for.  Research took me in several directions: the forensics of fire, the consequences of “defenestration,” that is, vertical falls from high places, the difficulty in identifying bodies falling from such heights, the safety hazards for garment workers, women’s rights, workers’ rights, changes in the American workplace.

But I also researched the time and place of the disaster.  1911, Greenwich Village, New York City.  A time when Ellis Island kept its arms open to immigrants from many countries — immigrants who came for a better life, but often wound up in sweatshops, or worse.  A time of Tammany Hall and corruption.  A time of women’s suppression.  But also a time of new beginnings, hope, and freedom in a new land.

I am a native New Yorker and was amazed at the fantastic bits of information I dug up.  I learned, for instance, that Washington Square Park is built on what was once a potter’s field, where 100,000 people were buried for a century and a half.  I walked the streets of Greenwich Village, saw the buildings my characters would have seen, drank in bars they patronized, and gazed up at the ninth story of the Asch Building (now part of NYU)  to visualize the flames bursting through the windows and the workers leaping to their deaths.

The cover of my book is a photo I took of the building in 2010, with smoke and color added for dramatic effect.  For those of you who write about history, or simply enjoy reading it, I know you’ll agree that real-life events in the past make a grand backdrop for a fictional story.

Murder, in particular.

 

Details, Details

It’s not easy keeping track of details in a novel that goes back and forth in time.  Or any book of fiction, for that matter.  What do I mean by details?

Details relative to the characters could mean simple and obvious characteristics such as eye and hair color, height, weight and age, gender, dress style, likes and dislikes, personality quirks, language and speech mannerisms.  Believe it or not, it’s not always easy to remember all of these unless your characters re-appear in several books.  I keep a list of all these traits for each of my characters.  In fact, for each book that my main characters appear, I re-visit the list to make sure I’ve aged them appropriately.  Even a year off will throw your readers into a tizzy.

geneology chartMore important, when dealing with generations of families, or when you go back in history to another time period, chart your way through the years, decades, or centuries involved.  Ancestry maps can be helpful.

My current work in progress goes back to World War II with the “grandparents.”  In modern time, the “parents” and “grandchildren” are featured.  It’s vital to have all those years mapped out.  How old were the grandparents in the 1940s?  How old are the parents now?  The grandchildren?  When did they marry?  Who did they marry?  Trust me, it’s confusing if you just wing it.  Your reader will definitely notice that the parents could not possibly have been born if the grandparents were already dead.

Another detail to be meticulous about and I must say I have been remiss in an early book, is language and speech.  If a character is from Boston, don’t give him a Brooklyn accent or use an expression that is idiomatic to the wrong region.  Same goes for dialect, and, by the way, don’t use too much of it.  It’s distracting.

If you use foreign language phrases, please, please, make them correct.  A Google translation will give you the basic words, but is the phrasing correct?  Do the French, Germans, Slavs, Poles, speak like that?  Make it authentic.  Ask someone who speaks the language.

It takes time to get the details correct, but in the end, your work will be far more authentic.  And your reader will thank you for it.

Ideas welcome.