Posts Tagged ‘The Outer Banks House’

“Moby-Dick” is actually good! Who knew?!

January 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading Moby-Dick by Herman Melville the last few weeks because I’m going to use the novel as a turning point for my  star-crossed characters in the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. In my first novel, I used Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe as a turning point for the same characters. I also began each chapter with a relevant quote from Robinson Crusoe, and I plan to start each chapter in the sequel with quotes from Moby-Dick. Such grand ideas!

But first, I have to read the darned book.

Moby-Dick is a large book, as far as books go (655 pages), and as alien to me as a T.S. Eliot poem. And yet, I was an English major at UVA. How did I manage to dodge what some believe is the greatest American novel ever written? I mean, it’s so large! Hard to miss on a syllabus, and even harder to dodge when thrown at you. I have considered the fact that I might have been assigned the book at some point in my college career, but just squeaked by on the Cliff Notes so that I could keep up with all the keg parties. I mean, I had my priorities, and the classics were kind of low on the list.

Moby-Dick’s important reputation precedes it , but that wasn’t the case when it was first published. In fact, the book was mostly panned by British and American critics, and Melville, who at the time was a rather popular author, never quite recovered from the blow.

But throughout my lifetime, I’ve been intimidated by even the tiniest mention of the book Moby-Dick. Its title alone suggests monstrosity and a dark abyss of confusion. I’d have been perfectly happy to while my days away reading Diana Gabaldon’s novels over and over, but something in my subconscious told me to consider it for my sequel. See, Ben finds a byproduct (can’t reveal what it is, it would spoil it!) of a sperm whale, but eventually finds that the booty isn’t necessarily his for the taking. He gets rather obsessed about his secret find, thinking things will now get better between him and Abby when he trades it in for cash. In the name of his treasure, he makes decisions that compromise his character.

Moby-Dick is himself a sperm whale, at first hunted for his byproducts of oil and spermaceti as all whales were, but as the novel progresses, we find that the particular white-headed whale is being hunted by Captain Ahab for revenge purposes only. Ahab took it quite personally when Moby-Dick bit off one of his legs, and he is obsessed with his killing quest, much as Ben is obsessed with his treasure. I can see the light in your eyes; you’re getting it! I’m happy with the choice of Moby-Dick as well.

But I’m also happy to be reading it. Melville writes with a sense of humor that I find rare in a mid-19th century author. It’s not even that hard to understand the high-blown style of language. It’s easier than reading Shakespeare, if that helps. Mind, it won’t do to read the book while drinking wine. You need all of your mental faculties about you when pick up the book. And a Cliffs Notes wouldn’t hurt either. (After every chapter, I read the Cliffs Notes to see what the hell the chapter was really about.) Here is a funny bit about narrator/sailor Ishmael’s observations about a dark-skinned harpooner Queequeg that he is forced to share a bed in a crowded in with:

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife…I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm–unlock his bridegroom grasp–yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse him–“Queequeg!”–but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! “Queequeg!–in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!” At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there…”  p. 54.

I could go on and on with quote after quote; Moby-Dick is filled with gems of comic genius! I wouldn’t lie to you, it’s worth a read. I’m not even half-way done, but I actually look forward to reading it at night. Those long-ago critics had no idea what they were dealing with.


Inspirations behind my characters

October 30th, 2011

So my friend from high school wants to know who the inspirations are behind my characters, after reading my last posting called “Book Club.” I get this question quite often, so I’ll elaborate on my answers here.

 When I first started writing, I didn’t have actual people behind my characters. It was just a love story between a Banker and the daughter of a North Carolina plantation owner. I decided to give Abby red hair, to match the fire inside her (very cliche, I know, but it just seemed right to me. I only had a handful of choices available anyway: black, brown, red, blonde. Give me a break!) and to give Ben blonde hair and of course tan skin, since he’s in the sun all day, every day. As I started to write, their faces began to form in my mind. Abby looked sort of like a girl I knew in high school in Newport News, VA. She had gorgeous strawbery blonde  hair but in my memory she tanned well!?! Unlike me, who burned/burns like drumsticks in oil. She was a beautiful girl. Bear with me, I’m going to try to find her on Facebook right now….please enjoy the easy listening music while you wait…it’s Neil Diamond…now it’s the Bee Gees…Found her! She is still beautiful, and living in Utah! Three children and a cute hubby. BUT her hair isn’t red anymore. It’s light brown. One of her children has the same red hair that she did though! Love genetics. Genes live on! I use genetics in my writing all the time. Abby inherited the red hair and fair skin from her father Nolan, but she inherited her bone structure and intelligence from her mother. And Ben looks just like his father. In my mind, he looked like Ryan Gosling  in the movie “The Notebook.”  Abby inherited another of her mother’s physical conditions as well, something that is hard for a marriage to endure…you’ll have to wait for the sequel to find out more.

Abby took on some of the same character traits as red-headed Kate Winslet’s character in the movie “Titanic.” You know, fighting for her own life/love instead of marrying the a** of a rich man her mother wanted her to marry. Ben took on some of the traits of Leonardo diCaprio in “Titanic.” Heart of gold, despite his hard life. I think both of my characters ended up being their own people though. And how they did that, I can’t really say. They are mostly creations of my own mind. All of the movies and t.v. I’ve seen, all of the books that I’ve read, all of the people I’ve met and known in my life– all of these things come to play when writing my characters.

When writing Nolan, I loved to watch the owner of the Gem Saloon, Al Swearengen, in the HBO series “Deadwood.” This man was a smooth operater: manipulative, amoral, foul-mouthed, at times abusive and murderous. But I couldn’t take my eyes off him, he was so naughty and swaggering. But sometimes, a brief glimpse of Al’s tender side was shown, and it made me care about him, in spite of his evil attributes. Genius! I wanted to try to do the same thing with Abby’s father, Nolan. But he was the hardest character I wrote. I felt like all of the dialogue I wrote for him sounded cliche, and how was I to go about showing both a genial, fatherly side and a murdering, racist side? That is difficult writing, in my opinion, and needs the most attention, because if it’s done right, you have an unforgettable Al Swearengen moment!

Uncle Jack is the character most clearly based on an actual person, that of my brother-in-law. He is such a great uncle to my kids and to this other nieces and nephews. He is able to access the child within, and that makes for very fun play dates and sleepovers and holiday visits. Wii, beach football and paddle ball, body surfing and boogie boarding, backyard croquet, movies, hikes, etc. are much for fun with this uncle. And I think that kind of relationship is so special and long-lasting, for all parties involved. Which is why I wrote Uncle Jack as such an important part of Abby’s childhood. I already knew such a relationship could be special, especially if Abby didn’t have good relations with her own parents.

All of the Sinclairs are tall, and I come by this character trait honestly because my in-laws are all very tall people. My mother-in-law is 6 feet 4 inches, my father-in-law is 6 feet 5 inches, and my husband and brother-in-law (not the Uncle Jack inspiration but equally as cool, and I must say a much better basketball player!) are both 6 feet 8! My sister-in-law is the shrimp, at a lowly 6 feet. I am 5 feet 10 inches tall, and I’ve always been able to hold my own in the height department. My boyfriends have usually been tall (over 6 feet) and I am taller than all of my friends but one, and she was an Olympic-class swimmer!  But when I met my husband, all of that height security went out the window. I now have to crane my neck to kiss my husband! Folks are very funny about tall people: they outwardly point at my poor in-laws when they are out and about, like they are escaped circus freaks or something. People ask them how tall they are EVERY DAY! I have seen this phenomenon too many times to count. The question is usually followed by “Do you play basketball??” It embarrasses me, this  personal questioning, executed by gawking short people with round eyes and open mouths. My mother-in-law sometimes gives the measurement in centimeters, to throw them off. I sometimes want my husband to answer the questions with an innocent “How short are you? Are you a gymnast?” But that would be mean…and too personal, right?! But I must say that with all of that height comes an undeniable respect. People are in awe of them, maybe even a little bit scared of them! And it was this attribute that I wanted to utilize, when writing the Sinclairs.

I’d love to hear which actor or actress you think should play Ben and Abby, Ingrid and Nolan, Eliza and Hector, if a movie were made of The Outer Banks House. Try to branch out from Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling and Leonardo diCaprio!

Welcome to my blog

October 13th, 2011

I am suffering from Outer Banks withdrawal. It always sets in around October, November, several weeks after Labor Day weekend, our last summer trip down from Manakin Sabot, Virginia. Perhaps someone should start an “Outer Banks” withdrawal rehab facility, where my fellow beach-loving Virginians can go to hear the digitized sounds of the Atlantic, walk barefoot in a giant sand box, spray themselves with a bottle full of actual sea spume (great word). Reading and/or sleeping in a beach chair would be mandatory, as would a prolonged dip in a big vat of salt water, complete with a wave machine. But of course, we would all know that nothing compares to actually being there. A three-hour drive for us Richmonders. And with tennis tournaments, soccer games and social obligations, my family and I have a hard time going down to the Outer Banks in non-summer seasons. So I must content myself with writing about it. I am diligently working on the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. And research and imagining are my favorite parts of the process. Of course, I am writing about the Outer Banks over 130 years ago, so my imagination is rather limited. But I do know that certain things haven’t changed on the Outer Banks– how whitecaps look on a winter sea, how hot the summer sand can get, what the gulls will do for just a small bit of your food, how much people love to spend time there. Welcome to my blog! I hope you’ll find inspiration from it. Until tomorrow…