Is The Great Gatsby the Quinessential “Great American Novel?

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The “Great American Novel”
Many writers have toyed with the idea of writing a great American novel.  Perhaps after a lifetime of  hard work, some bestselling writers may produce one work, which is the epidemy of what they trying to say during their lifetime of literary endeavors. For example, William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest and Anne Rice’s Interviews With A Vampire may be very popular works of fiction, but in all likelihood, these works are generally not classified as A Great American Novel.  Usually, The Great American Novel is a laudable phrase applied to a piece of literature that presents the most accurate and representative portrait of American life during a specific period of time. Many contemporary literary critics look at Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and see in this very short novel, a marvelous recreation of life during the “Roaring Twenties.
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The Great Gatsby
During his literary career, F. Scott Fitzgerald authored five novels, ten short story collections and also coined the term, “The Jazz Age”. Undoubtedly his most highly-regarded novel today is The Great Gatsby. This melancholy story from the “Roaring Twenties” was first published in 1925 to moderate commercial success and mediocre literary acclaim. Set in 1922 within the fictional Long Island town of West Egg, this story revolves around a young self-made millionaire, named Jay Gatsby. Next to Gatsby’s sprawling estate, lives the narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick works in nearby New York City selling stocks and bonds, but often attends Gatsby’s lavish alcohol-laden parties, which are the hit of the town during that peculiar period of American history known as “Prohibition”.
But unfortunately, Jay Gatsby’s new found wealth does not bring him happiness. Not surprisingly, Gatsby’s unhappiness derives from a young woman, who he once romanced at the beginning of WWI. Her name is Daisy and at the time Gatsby was madly in love with her and vica versa. But the war is over and Daisy is married to another man. She is also related to the narrator.
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On Screen
All total The Great Gatsby has the makings of a great “Roaring Twenties” story. The book has fast women, faster cars, bathtub gin, nouveau riche, lavish parties, flappers and a love triangle. All told, this classic story has been made into film five times with a sixth production scheduled for release in early May (2013). However, before you rush out to see the 120 million dollar movie that stars Leornordo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, you you might want to read this classic American tale. It’s very short (less than 200 pages) and features the use of long, beautifully-crafted, lyrical sentences that still succeed to entertain and amaze the reader. Perhaps it can be said, that Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is the last example of the flowery, descriptive writing that was so prevalent before Hemingway forever changed the playing field with his skilled use of dynamic dialogue and terse prose.

Good Old Fashioned Storyteller

Save the Cat

Blake Snyder uses this provocative image on the cover of his book on screenwriting, called Save the Cat

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Blake Snyder is a successful screenwriter, who has written a book, called Save the Cat. The cover has an eye-catching image of a cat hanging off the end of the rope. No doubt that the image is provocative, but can the words inside the book live up to the picture on the outside. Even though the manuscript takes a back-to-basics attitude, the information inside should help anyone involved with the strange and bizarre art of screenwriting, improve their craft.

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The Horsehead Nebula in Infrared from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STSci/AURA)

Basic Premise

Since its publication in 2005, Save the Cat, is still considered to be a contemporary treatise on screenwriting. Interesting enough, the title comes from the  scenario, where the hero of a movie does something nice……. like save a cat. According to Blake Snyder, the author, every movie should have a “save the cat” moment, though nowadays, most movies fail to employ such a scene.

Glowing Eye Nebula

NGC 6751: The Glowing Eye Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing – Donald Waid

Narrow Structure

Save the Cat presents a lot of good ideas like studying genre, reading screenplays and writing a good logline before you begin constructing your script. However the part that impressed me the most, was an explanation how a 120 page feature film script can be broken into three basic acts, just as outlined by Aristotle way back when. In Save the Cat, Snyder strongly suggest that you give extra weight to the second act, thus creating Act I (25 pages), Act II (60 pages) and Act III (25 pages). In turn, this will create a 110 page feature film, which according to the author is an ideal length for a screenplay. Most important are three points of interest, which Snyder has conveniently named the catalyst, the midpoint and the synthesis….and these should respectively at page 12, page 55 and page 85. And this folks….is your formula for writing a screenplay.

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Ludovisi Collection from the National museum of Rome

Coping With Reality

Screenplays really are strictly structured items though length can vary (slightly) and of course content is very important also. So how does one right a marketable script. That’s still a mystery to me, but Save the Cat does provide a fun read, if nothing more. Also it can make you the hit of a Hollywood party in case you find yourself in that location.

The Passing of Roger Ebert

Unraveling NGC 3169

Unraveling NGC 3169
Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, University of Arizona

Tribute

Roger Ebert, the noted Chicago film critic, passed away last week on April 4, 2013 after a long battle with cancer of the  thyroid and salivary glands. This struggle with the all-too-common disease dated all the way back to 2002. Since his 2006 surgery, Roger had been unable to speak or eat. Rest in peace …… Roger Ebert, who was 70 years old at the time of his passing.

Life As A Film Critic

Roger Ebert began his movie criticism in 1967 by writing reviews for the Chicago Sun Times. He continued writing for the SunTimes right up until his recent death. In 1975, the same year he won a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, Roger Ebert began co-hosting a local movie review program, called Sneak Previews.  Mr. Ebert’s big break came when he teamed up with the nationally-known film critic Gene Siskel and introduced Sneak Previews to a national audience. This partnership continued until Gene Siskel passed away in 1999. Since Siskel’s passing Roger Ebert continued with his televised movie reviews until cancer curtailed his activities.

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In 1970 worked with Russ Meyer as a screenwriter in putting together several movies, including Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

A Strange Corraboration

In 1970 Roger Ebert branched out from film criticism into screenwriting. This unusual venture not only included work on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Beneath the Valley of the Vixens, Up! and an unproduced screenplay starring the Sex Pistols, called Who Killed Bambi. Even though Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is now regarded as a cult classic, his screenwriting activities have never received anywhere near the attention that his film criticism did.

Popular Films That Roger Ebert Didn’t Like

Now that Roger Ebert’s writing career is one for the history books, all kinds of lists are popping up about the Illinois native’s likes and dislikes. The following is a list of popular films that Roger Ebert did not like. They include Clockwork Orange, Donnie Darko, Dead Poets Society, Fight Club, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Reservoir Dogs, Full Metal Jacket, Straw Dogs, Blue Velvet, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Harold and Maude, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Leon: The Professional. I’m sure there are many more, but maybe this short selection will shine a light on some of Mr. Ebert’s likes and dislikes.

Eberts #1 Films For the 21st Century

On a positive note here are Ebert’s #1s going back to 2000. Argo (2012), A Separation (2011), The Social Network (2010), The Hurt Locker (2009), Synecdoche, New York (2008), Juno (2007), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Crash (2005), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Monster (2003), Minority Report (2002), Monster (2001) and Almost Famous (2000).

Surreal Ending

And to accent the passing of a well-noted American literary figure, today’s news stories (April 8, 2013) include a mention that the infamous Westboro Baptist Church will stage a protest at the Chicago funeral of Mr. Ebert. The reason……not too long ago in March…. roger Ebert wrote; “Just another day at Westboro Baptist”, in reference to a gay man who went undercover and wrote about the notorious religious institution. Maybe Mr. Ebert will get the last laugh – after all.

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Roger Ebert after surgery

The Tree Book Ain’t Dead Yet

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Redwood trees in fog, Redwood NP, from Wikipedia, photo by Michael Schweppe

Is This A Golden Age For Writers?

Just recently, Stephen Marche, in his Thousand Words About Our Culture column for Esquire, raised this exact question. To back up his assertion, he put forth numerous graphs and figures, showing that adult readership and book sales are up. Some of the facts are quite convincing; such as increase in both hardcover and ebook sales. For the first half of 2012, adult hardcover sales rose over 8 %, while ebook sales jumped by a whopping 34 %. Also on the increase are the percentage of adult Americans who read literature and the average number of books (of any kind) that are read by individual readers. This is definitely encouraging news.

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Barrack Obama portrait in front of the Capitol building, from Wikipedia, photo source U.S. Senate

A Writer In the White House

Now serving in his second term as U.S. President is Barrack Obama from Illinois, a successful politician, who helped further his political career by writing two widely read books, Dreams From My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006). Though most presidents, now publish after they leave office, it is less common to find presidents that used the written word to enhance their political career. John Kennedy and Richard Nixon are two past presidents, who have made it to the White House aided by a successful book publication.

A Good Time To Be A Successful Writer?

Maybe what Stephen Marche should have said is that it is a great time to be a successful writer. Breaking in is still difficult, and perhaps complicated by the huge number of competing writers, all trying for a slice of that same pie that is not nearly big enough to accommodate all those who wish to enjoy some of the sweet rewards.

A Silver Lining For Marginal Writers

One positive development for the struggling  writer is the ebook market, which seems to lend itself admirably to the unknown wordsmith. The ebook does not guarantee success for the upcoming writer, it just levels the playing field a little bit. It still takes a lot of skill and perseverance and perhaps a little luck to breakthrough.

The Virtual Reality of Rick’s Cafe

Rick's Cafe in Casablanca, Morocco

Today Rick’s Cafe is an upscale restaurant in the Ancienne Medina of Casablanca, Morocco, photo from Wikipedia

Everybody Comes To Rick’s

The storyline for the 1942 movie, Casablanca, began as an unpublished play, entitled, Everybody Comes To Rick’s. The play was written by Murray Burnet and Joan Alison in the summer of 194o, but after failing to find a Broadway producer, the playwrights sold the rights to Hollywood for $20,000. The play was based on real life travels that Murray Burnet made with his wife, Frances,  to Vienna, Austria during Nazi occupation in 1938 and also to the south of France at the same time. Neither of the two authors ever visited Morocco. Instead, the plot revolved around a bar in France that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. The popular drinking establishment was frequented by a strange mixture of French citizens, Nazis and war refugees. Entertainment was provided by a black jazz pianist.

Title frame to the movie Casablanca

Title frame to the movie Casablanca

Casablanca, The Movie

After extensive rewriting and revision by a team of screenwriters, Casablanca became a movie that was released to a wartime audience in 1942 by Warner Brothers. Although not the most popular WWII film release, Casablanca did go on to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Since WWII, Casablanca has become a classic and is often rated as one of the best motion pictures ever made in the United States.

Rick's Cafe in Casablanca

A still shot of Rick’s Cafe in the movie, Casablanca

Rick’s Cafe Opens In Casablanca, Morocco

It was not until the 21st century that there was ever a restaurant or bar in Casablanca called Rick’s Cafe. Those memorable shots of the popular club seen in the film were created on the backlots of Hollywood during the war, which might explain why such an intriguing set was created. The scenes of the crowds at the bar and the music of Sam at the piano have stayed in film lovers’ minds ever since the cinematic masterpiece was first released.

A Book Called Rick’s Cafe

Actually the full title of the book  reads as Rick’s Cafe: Bringing the Film Legend To Life In Casablanca. The author is a petite woman, originally from Portland, Oregon who pulled the whole enterprise off and now that Rick’s Cafe has become a must-see for those touring the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, the manuscript only gives added insight into the amazing task of making the recreation of this nightclub-restaurant – a reality. Overall, it is amazing story of getting a business started in an Islamic nation, where the King and the royal family still have a lot of clout. Fortunately for the author and story, Moroccan royalty have proved to be a moderate oasis in a region of the world that can be quite irrational and dangerous at times.

About the Author

In the opening years of the 21st century, Kathy Kriger was a U.S. citizen employed by the U.S. Foreign Service in Casablanca, who decided to open a restaurant. Now that the restaurant has been going on for several years and making a profit, Ms. Kriger has decided to put her story down in words, accompanied by a few pictures. Released just this month (November 2012) the book tells a story of how one individual conceived of the idea, raised the money, found a place and then made the interior space conform to the images seen in the movie. It is a heart-lifting story well worth the time spent reading………and perhaps a visit if you are ever in the neighborhood of the ancienne Medina of Casablanca.

Casablanca Today

A 21st century view of Casblanca, Morocco; from Wikipedia

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World’s Richest Writers

Spiral Galaxy NGC 4038 in Collision

Spiral Galaxy NGC 4038 in Collision
Image Credit: Data Collection: Hubble Legacy Archive; Processing: Danny Lee Russell

Just Released

Forbes just released its list of the world’s richest writers. Not included on the top ten are JK Rowling, George RR Martin, Stephenie Meyer, Ken Follett and Rick Riordan. But they did make the top 15 and even Rick Riordan, who is at the bottom of the list brought home a meager 13 million. And guess who’s at the top of the list. James Patterson followed by Stephen King. Last year Patterson grossed 94 mill, while King had to settle for a measly 39 million. Life just ain’t fair.

Closer Analysis

Taking a close glance at the list, I’m proud to say that I’ve only read one book of any of the best-selling authors. That book happened to be Honeymoon by James Patterson. I found the book, so my purchase price was nil. However, I only got a third of the way through the story, when I inadvertently left the paperback in a public place and somebody else decided that it was their turn to read the story. At the time I was disappointed because I did enjoy the portion, I had read and wished to continue with the novel.

Patterson’s Writing Style

What struck me most about James Patterson’s writing style was how terse and to the point his language was. James did not go in for too many big words or long, complex sentences. Instead he used plenty of dialogue mixed in with his description. The storyline was pretty good to. Now if only I could find a loose copy of  Honeymoon or locate my library card so I can finish the book.

New Shoes

cover image for New Shoes

Cover image for my newly, self-published e-book, New Shoes

The Cover

Today, I self-published a new 3,000 word short story at Smashwords. Tomorrow, I will probably add the ebook to Amazon. The story was easy to write, but coming up with a decent cover was a challenge. I can’t say I’m really excited about this one, but it will have to do for now. I used a couple of free images I found at Morguefile to create this undersea collage.

The Story

The story revolves around a young Louisiana fisherman named Jacque LeBeaux and a bunch of trouble he has gotten himself into with some not-so-nice mobsters. I don’t want to say too much, because it will spoil the sea adventure tale….. But I will say that there is a lot of banter and dialogue that goes on between the main character and his captors. You’ll just have to download it and read it to find out how things turn out.

Side Effects of Movies

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Merlot is just one of many red wines, photo from Wikipedia

The Effects of Movies

Recently, I have discovered screenwriting blogs and among this grouping, one particular site that I frequently visit is Screenwriting From Iowa. Just recently the site owner Scott W. Smith touched on a very timely subject, the effects of the movies on the American public. This seems to be a very apropos subject, especially considering recent events in Aurora, Colorado, where a mass shooter displayed a strong identity with the Batman character, “The Joker”, right after he unloaded several automatic weapons into a crowded movie theater. Strangely enough, the film was the new version of the Batman series, called The Dark Knight Rises. The article is definitely worth checking out…..maybe the movie is too. I did see The Dark Knight in the theaters and enjoyed the film very much, despite its long length.

Sideways, Red Wine and Wine Sales

“I’m not drinking any f___ing Merlot!” line from Sideways, spoken by Paul Giamatti.

On a more humorous note, Smith touches on the subject of the movie, Sideways, and the sale of red wine. I also saw Sideways, but did not remember the line about Merlot. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that the resulting drop in Merlot wine sales may be related to those six words. Do movies really exert that much influence over our life? I hope not but the evidence appears to pointing in the opposite way. This article (also referenced in Smith’s post) indicates that wine sales were probably affected by the movie. And if only half of what was said in the InsideNapaValley story is true, then we have a lot to think about.

Are Our Movies Too Real

Maybe what we need is a return to the ethics of the old movies made in the 30s and 40s before war engulfed the whole world. Well, not an actual  remake, but maybe a change in direction might be beneficial. I’m not talking so much about how we make the movie or how much sex or violence we portray, but I am suggesting that maybe the way we tell the story makes a difference. In other words, a hard look at the messages from the directors of the black and white era might be beneficial to Hollywood.

The Dark Knight

When I originally saw The Dark Knight, I was very impressed with how the film explored the emotional and psychological complexities of both the antagonist and protagonist. At the time I thought that the story line and dialogue between Batman and the Joker were a positive development in moviemaking. Even in lieu of last week horrific events in California, my thoughts on the movie have not changed. Though I think it may be a while before I view the latest Batman offering.

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The Big Sur Coast of California, from Wikipedia

I Am A Jelly Doughnut

What’s It All About

This is the ebook cover for a small (11,000) word collection of essays that I have just self-published at Smashwords.com. There are about 10 essays all total, covering such diverse topics as Icelandic yogurt and the Vienna Opera. It is not all original writing for some of the writing has appeared online at various journals and general interest websites. The title comes from John Kennedy’s speech in Berlin of 1963, when he reassured West Germans and warned Russians that the US supported the small enclave in East Germany 100 per cent. Later, the story circulated that JFK’s famous words, (Ich bin ein Berliner) really implied that he was a jelly doughnut. Since the news item broke (it was reported at such prestigious places as CNN, the BBC, MSNBC and the NY Times), this viewpoint has been pretty much relegated to the realm of urban fiction. Still, the life of the story makes for a good tale.

Besides JFK’s remarks made in Berlin, the text includes travel stories about Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy and France. The material is a result of two month long voyages, I made in 2003 and 2006. For a link to the book you can click on the image.

Putting the Cover Together

I had fun putting the cover together. I started with a NASA photo of distant space, then I added the jelly doughnut on a plate. I picked this image up on Wikipedia and I believe the image comes from Berlin, which is the geographical locale of the Jelly Doughnut story. Finally, the text was added. Everything was done in an old Photoshop Elements software program, which I paid 25 dollars for years ago. Photoshop was necessary to isolate the dish and also to get curved text. To be honest I am quite pleased with the way everything came out. Having a good cover is very important to promoting an Ebook, for most interest come from curious individuals, who see the image online and then become intrigued by the text. That’s kind of how it works at least for me.

Summer In The South

Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia

Oak trees often provide a shaded reprieve from the hot Southern summers

My Southern Summer Experience

Because of Winn Dixie is a charming children’s/middle grade story set in a small town in Florida during the hot summer. In a way it reminds me of our family visits to the Carolinas, which always occurred during the hottest time of the year, August, because that’s when we had the time to make the 500 mile drive from Maryland and then spend several weeks on the hot coastal plains. Our summer sojourn always included a trip to the beach, which was a nice reprieve from the hotter weather amidst the piney woods.  When inland our summer days included minimal daytime activity and a daily swim in an artesian pool or pond to cool off. Somehow we made it through the nights without AC and our frequent social gatherings always occurred indoors or at a cool and shady outdoor location. All of these childhood memories seemed to have been revived somewhat, when I read Kate DiCamillo’s charming little story that is slowly becoming a classic tale that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

About The Book

What I enjoyed most about the story was its eccentric yet believable cast of characters that were expertly weaved together throughout the short tale. Also enjoyable was the slightly irreverent atmosphere towards organized religion and the Old South that became the background for this short novel. Winn Dixie turns out to be the name of a dog, who acquired his unique handle because he  was found wandering by a young girl at the popular grocery store chain of the same name. The two turn into the best of buddies and the book follows their ensuing adventures that occur during summer recess.

This book makes for a quick and easy read, but you can watch the movie (made in 2005) on your DVD player, if you prefer. Published in 2000, this book quickly accumulated several awards and is becoming a classic read, for booklovers everywhere. The story appears to be loosed based on the author’s personal experience, who moved to Florida (from Pennsylvania) with her family at a very young age.

Florida in Winter

Florida consists of more than the popular places such as Miami, Key West and Orlando, from Wikipedia