Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Revealing Debris

I grew up in a household without any books…or magazines…or newspapers. In fact, it wasn’t until I started my paper route in Seventh grade that I even knew or understood what a newspaper was all about. I remember sitting on the front stoop of the last house on my route, perusing the headlines of the newspaper and trying to understand what I was reading. There were stories in-between those lines. I just had to find them. I do the same thing today…only now its sitting on my porch, coffee cup in hand and scanning my iPad.

How or why I became a writer is anyone’s guess. The first thing an old acquaintance once said to me after fifty years absence was ‘you did become a writer.’ I hadn’t realized it was that obvious of an obsession. Truth be told I’ve always been a writer trapped within my own imagination. Victor Hugo said it best: ‘A writer is a world trapped inside a person.’

My writings have taken me to many places seen and unseen. I might be traversing the desert out west riding alongside a loner called Jeb Burns in the ‘Apache Death Wind’ trilogy. It could be watching the cunning nature of a man, really a half-breed, by the name of Ree Bannon in my novel ‘Apache Blue Eyes.’

It might be reliving and writing down the adventures of a young man much like myself back in the mid-sixties in a book called ‘Love in the A Shau.’

Or it could be peeling back the layers of complexity of an aging hippie, trapped in a retirement community, who is causing all kinds of problems. This latter was a new medium for me, a play instead of a novel. But ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ was storytelling just the same. So how do these stories come about? Where do they come from and how do I manage to capture them on paper?

For most vacationers and snowbirds, Palm Springs hosts a veritable cornucopia of attractions that surround it. From the high desert of Joshua Tree to mountain communities like Big Bear and Idyllwild to the PCH and Pacific Ocean. LA and San Diego are only two hours away and Phoenix just four hours away.

Palm Springs has no industry to speak of, no high-tech jobs nor large Fortune 500 companies. It’s primarily a tourist destination with some agriculture on the Eastern end of the valley. Most of the jobs are service jobs and as such don’t pay very well. It is very much like other tourist destinations like Las Vegas, Key West and mountain ski communities like Aspen.

On the surface, Palm Springs is a remarkable place to visit and live…if you have the means to do so. I was reminded of that years ago when I was walking downtown one night and passed by the Greyhound bus stop. It’s been moved since then, probably because it was drawing the underbelly of what the city fathers didn’t want visitors to see. Those would be the homeless, the drifters, the vagrants and others down-on-their-luck who were moving constantly in search of something better in their lives.

As I passed by the bus depot a phrase came to me and stuck in my head: “They were all just debris from the west coast.” Thus, Palm Springs became the perfect setting for my story of ambition, passion and unrequited love. I thought about my elevator pitch to describe my storyline. It went something like this: ‘Palm Springs is haunted by the rich, the famous and the broken. This is their story.’

Immediately my imagination started churning. This novel would be a saga; a soap opera and a revolving, intertwined series of stories of individuals at different points in their lives.

I envisioned this kid, moving around the state, on a quest to find something better. I wanted him to be different than my character Daniel from ‘Love in the A Shau’ so unlike Daniel, Robert doesn’t have a college education, hasn’t been in the service, and yet is just as hungry to improve himself.

I saw him somehow ending up on a bus leaving LA and heading for Palm Springs. There were a number of interesting characters he met on the bus and more personalities he meets after he establishes himself in Palm Springs.

There is a love interest too but unlike Colleen in ‘Love in the A Shau’, Miranda is damaged goods. I won’t tell you why. But she is strong and feisty and determined to repair the damage brought on by her dysfunctional family. If I were to label these characters I would probably say they are all searching for something better in their lives.

In short, it’s the perfect place for a collision of lives subtly hidden by crystal clear skies, shimmering pools of blue and warm seductive nights. ‘Debris’ is a Roman coliseum of broken individuals each at various points of conflict in their lives and almost all of them seeking some kind of redemption.
Millie is the aging movie star whom time and Hollywood have long since abandoned. She is an icon for all that was the glory and power of old Hollywood. But she is lost in the new Palm Springs.

Juliet is in the desert to find another man to fill out her tepid life. A chance encounter with Natalie, her new boss at the real estate firm, now elicits emotions buried beneath her puritanical upbringing and society's standards.

Brett & Payton seem the perfect couple newly ensconced in Palm Springs’ growing design industry until a chance encounter with Kevin threatens the stability of their relationship.

There is a native american kid who wants desperately to break out of his tribal constraints while still respecting his elder’s traditions. He faces great danger as he searches for the ghost of Tahquitz Canyon.

Other characters keep piling up. Each is a footnote or a chapter liner without whom the main characters couldn’t function or evolve.

There are the Goldsteins who lost a son in Afghanistan and now grapple with finding meaning in their lives. Then there’s despicable Tom Thornton whose eye for Juliet doesn’t rise above her waist and who must deal with a sordid past that is fast catching up on him. Francie who ‘has it all’ in money and power and beauty. She has everything except the one thing she wants to control and can’t…Robert.

So how do authors keep track of all those fictional characters as their lives intertwine with one another? Some authors used 3 x 5 cards on a bulletin board. Others use detailed outlines. None of those techniques work for me. I simply let the story flow as it comes to my mind. With the greatest respect for Julian Fellows and his mastery of storytelling with ‘Downton Abby’ I wanted to emulate his techniques of floating storylines of these characters that seemed weave and intertwine from one chapter to the next.

When I was finished with ‘Debris’ it came in at a whopping 500 plus pages. Even I had to agree with my editor that it was too big for a not-yet-famous author. Fortunately, I had a rough treatment for a sequel to that original story.

So I want back to the drawing board and:

1.      First I envisioned where I might end the first part of the story.

2.      Then I envisioned how I would pick up the characters' lives after that. (because I knew their lives were going to change now that I had more space to continue their story.)

3.      Finally, I envisioned a continuation of their stories into a third book based on my rough treatment for a sequel.

What I liked about the outcome is that books one and two take part in roughly the same continuing time period. But book three begins about two years after book two ends and introduces some new characters who very quickly interact with some of my old characters.

Book three allowed me to tell the entire story and then realistically and honestly end the story of their lives.

In much the same way that ‘Love in the A Shau’ was all about capturing my youth, real and imagined so too Debris has captured those individuals I’ve met in Palm Springs. Individuals whose lives are worth capturing in words of my own.

It’s been a remarkable journey for all of us.

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