Yes, I am going to write The Great American Hobo Novel

I have finally decided I am going to do this for my next big project.

I have been interested in this idea for some time. A bit tongue in cheek, but I have called this idea The Great American Hobo Novel for some time. Mostly as a place holder name. I feel there’s a lot of potential here in this subject that hasn’t been mined. Yes, there have been other novels and films about this subject. I think I have found a way to approach it from a different direction and perspective. I have a plot in mind that may be workable.

That’s the problem. I have a plot. I don’t have a story. Not yet.

Writers will recognize this Catch 22 right away. Usually, we come up with the story first and the plot unfolds from there. This time, I came up with the plot first. But a plot is not a story. It’s a framework of a house. The story is the roof that makes the house.

This can be analogized by a simple plot: A boy finds a dog. He comes to love it. The dog saves his life.. Later, the dog catches rabies and the boy has to shoot the dog.

That’s a plot. Admittedly a recognizable one, but it serves our purpose of illustration. That’s a plot.  It’s  not a story.

So where’s the story in our example? Here: A boy grows up to be a man. That’s the story. The plot can be any framework that reveals the elements of that story. Maybe it wasn’t a dog. Maybe it was a hamster. See? Plots are not stories, and stories are not plots.

Thus, my dilemma.

I have the plot. I don’t have the story. Therefore, these are uncharted waters for me. I believe the story will reveal itself over time as I dig deeper and do more research. But I want to make sure I have it within my grasp before I get too involved with this project.

Meanwhile, it’s not like I’m lying fallow. I am getting prepared to attend several SF/F conventions this year, write more short stories, schedule readings at local libraries, and get more stuff out with Argo Navis Publishing.

A full plate by any standard. But times have changed and writing isn’t only writing anymore. Today writers have to be editors, publishers, marketers…God help us. I don’t like it, but I can’t pretend it’s unnecessary.

All the same I am getting excited about this project. I have been thinking about it for over a year and the idea has held up under scrutiny. That’s not always the case, either. Sometimes I will have an idea and after I study it a while I determine it’ s not worth the attention. I’m very picky and choosy about what I do and do not write nowadays. A lot of that comes with experience, a lot of it is having the belief in yourself to make the right judgments.

Because of the time frame you might expect there to be flappers, a particular subject I am interested in and have blogged about before. I don’t think so for this novel, however. It isn’t coming together in my mind to be that kind of novel. Not yet at any rate.

But it’s early days yet. There is a lot of history and culture which I need to start digging into.

Which is why I need to get started now. 🙂

Island of Lost Souls (1933) – Censored Horror with Sex and Atmospheric Bestiality

The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of my favorite novels by H.G. Wells. Published in 1896 it has deep philosophical elements whichThe garish movie poster for Island of Lost Souls Wells faces head on. It is arguably one of his least known, but best written, scientific romances.

In 1933 the novel was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures. It starred Charles Laughton as Moreau and he brings that character alive in a creepy and memorable way with his soft spoken voice and oily manner. Bela Lugosi has a small but pivotal role as one of the Beastmen called The Sayer of the Law:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

The film has many layers to it. It’s not a simple and straightforward story. Moreau sets himself up as God. He claims he knows what it feels like to be God. There are implied Gnostic principles at work here as well because Moreau dresses in white but he has the countenance of the Devil. I don’t know if that’s intentional, but I suspect it was. It’s too obvious to have been a mistake.

Laughton is unforgettable as the evil Dr. MoreauThe Sayer of the Law stands for man caught between Heaven and Hell. Purgatory if you will. The House of Pain, where Moreau engages in his horrific experiments to transform beasts into men using plastic surgery, ray baths, and blood transfusions, is an obvious stand-in for Hell.

The stage is set. Enter a shipwrecked man, Edward Parker, played by Richard Arlen. Moreau, in the role of God, has not only made men from beasts, he has made a woman from a panther by the name of Lota. Kathleen Burke plays Lota and she does a phenomenal job. Moreau throws Parker and Lota together because he wants to know if she is a real woman or not. As Moreau explains, Lota is too afraid of him to accurately judge her sexuality so Parker is perfect in this role. He can awaken Lota’s sexuality if it exists. (Parker has a girlfriend back on the mainland who later comes looking for him.)

But you get the main  idea. Moreau is God. He has made a woman for an unblemished “Adam” who accidentally stumbled into his horrific Garden of Eden.

He wants them to mate. Be fruitful and multiply.

There are many unsettling undercurrents to this film which got it banned three times in Great Britain and has made it one of the best pre-code films that exist today. There is obvious bestiality (the romance between Lota and Parker) and cruel vivisection and lots of irreverent talk how God must stand aside (or be shoved aside) for the coming dominance of Man. Throw in some steamy pre-code half-dressed jungle sexuality and innuendo, along with intense torture and mindless brutality — and this film becomes more powerful today than when it was released.

I love pre-code films for exactly this reason. They were willing to take dangerous subjects and leave no stone unturned. But Another iconic image from the film in which we see the juxtaposition between Man and Beast. Is Man at his basic level only a beast? That's what Wells argues. for all this it is Lota, the Panther Woman, that make this film endure today. She is the  character all the other players revolve around. The look she brings to the screen is iconic and there are subtle touches of the Flapper about her as created by Coco Chanel: she is thin and boyish, her breasts are bound tightly to her body, yet her sexuality is raw and powerful and she wants to experiment and flout the rigid laws which restrain her. That’s straight out of Flapper philosophy, btw.

Wells did not like this film. He felt it glossed over the philosophies he talked about in the book. I don’t disagree. But when I watch this film I watch it as a film. When I read the novel I read it as a novel. They are apples and oranges. That’s not to say films made from novels don’t get it wrong. They often do. But in this case the film pays homage to the philosophies Wells put forth while challenging basic human sexuality which Wells did not.

I guess what I’m saying is in this case, both book and movie complement each other. That doesn’t always happen, but in this case it does.

The final five minutes of this film are unforgettable. It is very, very intense. You cannot look away. Especially during the demise of Moreau when the Men he has created decide Hey, let’s do it, let’s murder God.

I am not going to spoil it for you more than that. You will have to watch it for yourself if you think you can stand it.

If you like atmospheric horror with underpinnings of raw sexuality then you are going to like Island of Lost Souls a lot. The use of light and shadow is wonderful in this movie. The makeup is as good as anything you see today. These don’t look like people in cheap masks. They look like real Beastmen. The sets are lush and gorgeous and reek with dripping evil. It’s a great horror film and a superb example why pre-code films are so powerful even today. Give it a peek. You should watch this film if you like horror and science fiction.

Kathleen Burke plays Lota the Panther Woman who experiments with her new sexuality.

Pandora’s Box (1922): Iconic Flapper Louise Brooks as Man-Eating Vamp

I wanted to like this film. And there is a lot to like about it. It is directed by G.W. Pabst, a German director, and it stars American actress Louise Brooks.Louise Brooks was always an iconic flapper

You may not know who Louise Brooks is, but if you see her picture you will be immediately familiar with her startling for its day but now iconic flapper look. Like I said, there is a lot to like about the film, including the participants, the direction (which is amazing) and the incredible use of light and shadow and dramatic imagery. But the film falls apart on the story. It’s pretty maudlin and unbelievable, even for Hollywood, even for the silent film era — and those are its good points.

This is a famous silent film and deservedly so. I can see why. The direction and images, again, are second to none. But the story of a woman who uses her sexuality to get what she wants, and then meets a Jack the Ripper kind of killer in London later on, pales. It could have been a much better story, I think, but whoever wrote it just phoned in the dramatic elements and left everything else to chance.  Pabst, being something of a genius, did the best he could with such third-rate material.

Anyway, that’s how it seemed to me. Sorry, but even though this is a very famous silent film, and Louise Brooks is exceptional, and the direction of Pabst is first-rate, I can’t recommend it at all. Oh, for the record, the music soundtrack blows chunks, too. It often doesn’t match what’s happening on screen. Too bad.

I really wanted to like this one.

The Gibson Girl vs. The Flapper

The Gibson GirCamille Clifford, the iconic Gibson Girll, popularized through drawings by Charles Dane Gibson, was the first national standard of American feminine beauty.

Never before had a fashion taken the entire nation by storm. Before the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, standards of beauty were localized and fragmented. The Gibson Girl changed all that, particularly with the spread of media which plastered her face (and her iconic hourglass shape) across the American consciousness.

The Gibson Girl appeared in photographs and advertisements all over the nation. Her heavily accented S-shape, hair piled upon her head with a waterfall of curls around the neck and ears, and thin neck were fashioned to give her an air of ephemeral beauty.

Then something happened. And that something was WWI. As young men went off to die in muddy fields, women were left behind to enter the work force. They worked in factories and businesses and gained monetary wealth and independence. When the war ended there were no more men to take up those  jobs again. There were few men left, period. France,Germany, and England had been bled white. So women, who had found an independence both in the work force and socially during the war, were not forced by returning men to give up their jobs or their new found security. In fact, they pushed the boundaries. They became more outspoken and openly challenged religious and social mores. They drank and smoked in public, listened to jazz, and they were much more open and frank about their sexuality and their overt disdain for authority. They were independent and strong-willed. They really did change the fabric of the nation almost overnight.

During this time Coco Chanel popularized the image known as garconne, the feminine French phrase for “boy.”  It was an instant success, partly, I think, because it challenged so many ideals at once.Coco Chanel popularized the "garconne" look

The garconne image consisted of short hair, flat chest, short skirts, straight waists, bared limbs, all combined to give the impression of a woman who was independent and, quite frankly, everything opposite of what the Gibson Girl portrayed. Even the way she acted, moved, behaved in public, and the slang she adopted was carefully carved to present an image that challenged authority.

Enter: the flapper.

Now what amazes me most about all this as a writer is not how fashion trends swept the nation. What with the advent of movies, advertisements on a national scale, and radio, it is not surprising certain trends took the nation by storm. What I find interesting iIconic Flapper, disdain for authority and a love of independence was her foundation.s how the flappers grabbed a fashion that did so many things at once. It not only emulated the men who had died in the war, it told everyone that here was a woman who herself was independent, just like men were. No longer did the Gibson Girl and her carefully sculpted and crafted statuesque figure dominate. The flapper was not caged and sculpted. The flapper was free and independent and outspoken. She was everything the Gibson Girl was not.

I wonder if there has been some psychological study as to a correlation between the garconne look and the fact women suddenly found themselves in a world where most of the men had been ground into non-existence under the remorseless wheels of war. I don’t think it was a conscious decision on their part to adopt the garconne look. Then again, maybe it was considering it came right out of the genius of Coco Chanel. I suppose like most things in life there is more than one reason behind the entire movement. Simple explanations are fine for fiction, perhaps, but they don’t hold up in the light of historical verification and reality.

Movements in culture and social ideas fascinate me as a writer. By examining in detail a certain aspect of history I think we can often better understand events that happened in the past, and prepare ourselves or work toward, more liberal interpretations of ourselves and our place in a society for the future.  That is, for a future which includes everyone and is not exclusive, but inclusive.

The flappers started that long struggle way back in the 1920s. It continues today.

Flapper Talk and the Reflection of Language on Human Culture

As a writer I am fascinated by processes which shape and form human thoughts and ideas in a social context. This interests me because as a writer I feel it is my duty to present human beings in their full and unadulterated light. Therefore, as we study different cultures and ideas, we see patterns and similarities. I believe this can only benefit a writer in the long term.

The more we learn about a point in time of human history, the better we can extrapolate how people thought and acted in other historical frames. I fully believe this and have always used this philosophy in writing fiction. (It particularly helps when writing science fiction, which at its core is a genre of ideas and extrapolation.)

As to fundamental changes in social process, it can take shape in disparate historical moments which come together and  form a new dynamic which ushers in sweeping cultural changes, even right down to the very language itself. Being a writer this is where my main focus lies: in language.

Case in point: Flappers from the 1920s.

As a social phenomena viewed through the lens of an amateur student of history,  this period interests me on many levels, including but not restricted to: rebellion against social mores, questioning of authority, religion, government, and ultimately, questioning oneself.

The language of flappers encapsulates what I am trying to get at here. The mode of language (which itself mirrors the faster pace and rhythmic values of the Jazz music it was patterned after) is itself removed from the surface meaning it carries. What I mean by this is, a flapper can say one thing by stringing along what appear to be separate and meaningless phrases, yet from its entirety present whole new concepts which have nothing to do with the individual phrases. Sometimes, the separate meaning even distances itself from what one might consider to be the meaning of the gestalt phrase.

It’s really quite incredible. That’s not just language. That’s creativity on a word level. I’m a professional writer. I find that absolutely  fascinating.

To be sure, some of this was pure dodge by the flapper. She could converse about things hitherto considered taboo by an older generation or religious figures who tried to control her life. They heard her speak and it either sounded like gibberish (which it never was, it was carefully crafted) or the meaning they heard was not the meaning the flapper meant. They heard something innocuous, but the flapper was actually describing an event she wanted to remain hidden. So the flapper could speak and move about in a society she was rebelling against, talking openly about the things she wanted to talk about. Only others who were clued in to the patterns and rhythms of speech could decode her true message, and relate on the philosophical plane the flapper was accessing.

This activity was not exclusive to flappers. The Valley Girl slang from the 1980s is another, albeit more recent, example. There are myriad examples throughout human history and they are not exclusively female oriented. I’m choosing the flapper craze because I find the total rebellion which came in concert with the attitude of the flapper as an event I can understand, and sympathize with.

I have always maintained a healthy society is one which questions authority in all things. There is also a personal aspect to my interest in flappers from reading something at a very early age which engaged both my humor and my interest, but that is an essay for another day, perhaps.

The vocabulary of the flapper (and her male companion who picked up on the language and used it) is beyond the scope of this essay. But I would be remiss if I didn’t give one example. I provide it here:

“Check the darb flatwheeler in the red dog kennels. He dropped the pilot on his blue serge, and now he’s manacled to a biscuit.”

Thus the translation:

“Look at that wonderful young man in those red shoes who is accompanying that young girl. He divorced his old wife, but now he’s married to a very pretty girl who likes to pet (engages in sexual contact but no intercourse) with other men.”

As you can see, the flapper was able to talk about things considered taboo in the society she was actively engaged in liberating herself from. And she did not only use language, the flapper style and look and behavior combined a total package of liberation and iron-willed rebellion against authority.

That rebellion and the shape (literally) it took, will be the topic of a future essay on flappers, and their impact on sexual, religious, and political history.

The language of the flapper was itself an expression of liberation from authority and sexual constraint.

Talk Like a Flapper Day

Attaboy, Jakes and Janes! Hope you went bearcat goofy over Talk Like a Flapper Day with the rest of the fluky debs and kippy sheiks.

You’ll never trip for biscuits if you powder with me. I’ve got an Abe’s Cabe. You bring a clam. Debs, bring your munitions and flour. Slats, bring your kale and gaspers. We won’t have’ta ankle.  We’ll glap my dapper’s breezer and buy java and sinkers. Then we’ll slide into a lemon squeezer and cash. Don’t bring your alarm clock!

See you next October 1, hiphounds, as we bid 23-skidoo on this darb 2011 Flapper Day! Ab-so-tute-ly!

Get hot, whangdoodle! Get hot!

"Drop the pilot on that appleknocker and I'll be your blue serge! Bring a jorum of skee and we'll floorflush!"

%d bloggers like this: