‘What did we suppress in order to become what we are?’

I just finished watching the film Caché (Hidden), directed by Michael Haneke, and starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. I’d seen it once before, during a film festival, and I came out of the theatre completely baffled by what I had seen. Thus, I decided to watch it once again and attempt to further understand the film.

In summary, Georges and his wife Anne receive a series of videotapes, each of which contains a long film exposure of the outside of their house. Later videotapes are wrapped in what appears to be child’s drawings. Over the course of the film, the footage on the tapes becomes more personal and Georges realizes who may be sending the tapes. Discovering the identity of the sender evokes old and guilty memories for Georges.

In an interview provided in the DVD’s special features, Michael Haneke states that the film was meant to discuss and evoke the French and Algerian conflict in the 60s, particularly the deaths of 200 Algerian protesters in the Seine, but to portray this conflict and guilt on a personal level, and to show what sort of things can be swept under the carpet. He compares the ability of a nation to forget or hide tragic things with that of a family or couple able to continue on with domestic life as usual, even though difficult or strange things are occurring. Hence his question: ‘What did we suppress in order to become what we are?’

That question resonated with me. As Haneke points out, Georges as a six year old has acted in a way that is considered normal, his protection of his own status and place in his home, as younger children are not as cognizant of the needs of others. Yet this action by young Georges has lifelong implications for the Algerian boy his parents were caring for. It makes me wonder, what has each person suppressed in their life, things they have done that they are ashamed of, that might crop up later?

As a writer, it intrigues me, and it would be an incredible basis for a story, or an intense back-story for a character. The wounds a person bears have an impact on how they act, and how they live, even years later. For myself as a writer, one of the hardest parts of writing is coming up with that back-story, that wound, and making it such that it colours the actions of the character, intertwining with every part of their being. Haneke’s question is going to become part of my plotting, I’m sure of it.

Are there films that you’ve seen which influence your writing?

Movie: In a Lonely Place

I’m a writer, and noir is my chosen genre. Hence, most of my favourite films have some relation to the genre, and In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, is one that left a mark.

I hadn’t read the book before I saw the film, which is perhaps a good thing, as the book differs in some essential ways (of which I won’t get into here, as to not ruin it for the reader).

Bogart is Dixon Steele (and what a name it is), a screenwriter who is cynical and abrupt. He hasn’t had much success since the war, and his latest project is to adapt a book for the screen. Gloria Grahame is his neighbour, Laurel Grey, a sometime actress who takes an interest in Dix. When Dix takes a coat check girl home with him, as she’s read the book he’s to adapt and he doesn’t want to read it himself, Laurel notices him. After he sends the girl home, she is murdered, and Dix is a suspect. Laurel is brought into the police station and confirms that the girl left Dix’s place alone, and thus begins a rather intense yet dark relationship between the two.

One of my favourite quotes comes from this film, said by Dix to Laurel:

‘I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me.’

The line so aptly mirrors the tempestuous relationship between Dix and Laurel, and the tone with which Bogart says the line enhances the bleakness of the film.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nNrIzx6bM4]

Dix is a strong, complex character, and the realism of Dixon Steele is one of the main reasons why I love the film so much. He’s not a typical alpha hero, as the main characters in so many films are. He’s a quick-tempered man, prone to violence, and to drink, but he’s loyal to his friends, even defending a washed-out actor from harassment.

As the murder investigation progresses, Laurel’s belief in his innocence is challenged, and his actions (side-swiping a car that cuts them off, beating up the driver) add to her worries, until she can’t continue their relationship. Her fear of Dix overwhelms her affection for him. It’s the gradual collapse of the relationship that is the strongest thread of the story in the film, in my opinion. At first, murder investigation aside, they are doing so well, but as events and doubts add up, it’s a slow-motion car crash.

Noir never ends with a happily ever after (nor usually with any sort of ‘happily for now’ ending), and In a Lonely Place is no exception. It isn’t the most pleasant and uplifting of films, but it’s incredibly compelling, and one I have re-watched multiple times in fascination. It’s one of Bogart’s best works.

2011: My Year in Review

2011 was huge.

I finished my novel THE PARIS GAME, all 82,000 words of it. (Still submitting it, but hopefully someone will bite in the new year!)

I joined the Calgary chapter of RWA in March after meeting some of the members at a library Writers’ Weekend in February. This group has been essential in my writing development. Plus, they’re all awesome people and tons of fun to hang out with. The monthly meetings are great, and the workshops this year have been fantastic. Mary Buckham taught at our spring workshop, and super-agent Deidre Knight, and HQN editor Emily Ohanjanians spoke at the fall workshop.

I met Julian Sands. I don’t make a habit of meeting actors and others I admire. I always worry that they’ll be jerks and I’ll be totally turned off their work from then on, but Julian was sweet. I still look at the photo and grin.

I went to RWA Nationals in NYC. Talk about overwhelming! So many writers, so many workshops, and so much fun. I met my longtime online friend Tiffany Reisz, and got to know lots of others from Twitter. I pitched for the first time. I met Maggie Shayne, and Eileen Dreyer, and heard Diana Gabaldon speak.

I became part of a group of authors, forming the Bandit Creek Books project. Best of all, my novella PROHIBITED PASSION comes out on January 15th, 2012!

I don’t tend to make resolutions, but in the new year, I hope to sell THE PARIS GAME, finish another novel, write a couple of novellas, and improve my writing (as always).

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 9: My Trip to Paris (1)

I went to Paris in June of 2003, as a very generous birthday gift from my parents. My father was working there for six weeks. I hadn’t been working at all, having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and without their generosity, I would never have been able to see the city that has since figured so prominently in my life and my writing.

I didn’t always have an interest in France. As I’ve written previously, about Simone de Beauvoir and about French authors, my abiding interest was sparked by a Philosophy of Literature class. I read Sartre’s La Nausée, and Edmond Jabès’s The Book of Questions, and Andre Breton’s surrealist novel Nadja.

So, though my French language classes in elementary, junior high and high school were lamentably poor, and my grasp of the language shy and shaky, I was off to see the City of Light with my own eyes.

I arrived on the 15th of June, having flown Calgary via Montreal to Paris, landing at eight-thirty in the morning. Yes, I remember…. because I wrote it down. A friend of my mother’s bought me a journal for my trip. Exhausted, my mother and I took the Air France bus into the centre of the city, alighting at the stop nearest the Arc de Triomphe and hefting our bags for the walk to the apartment just off the Avenue de Wagram.

Later that morning, I had my first café crème. Not the most exciting of things to report, but it was a revelation. I’d had coffee before, of course, including cappuccino, espresso and the like, but the taste of this café crème was like nothing else. It came in a white porcelain cup and saucer with a paper-wrapped lump of sugar on the side and a small spoon. It was delicious.

I remember the morning being pleasant, sunny with a light breeze. The café we’d stopped at had been crowded with the Sunday brunch crowd and our table still had dishes from the previous occupants cluttering it. Compared to at home, the service was slow, but it didn’t matter. Through my tired daze, I was already fascinated with this new city, so different from home.

Article: Don’t Write What You Know

From The Atlantic, by Bret Johnston. (read the full article here) He writes:

Instead of thinking of my experiences as structures I wanted to erect in fiction, I started conceiving of them as the scaffolding that would be torn down once the work was complete. I took small details from my life to evoke a place and the people who inhabit it, but those details served to illuminate my imagination. Before, I’d forced my fiction to conform to the contours of my life; now I sought out any and every point where a plot could be rerouted away from what I’d known. The shift was seismic. My confidence waned, but my curiosity sprawled. I was writing fiction, to paraphrase William Trevor, not to express myself, but to escape myself. When I recall those stories now, the flashes of autobiography remind me of stars staking a constellation. Individually, the stars are unimportant; only when they map shapes in the darkness, shapes born of imagination, do we understand their light.

I highly recommend going to read the entire article. It made me think about how I should be using my own knowledge and experiences (or not) within my writing.

RWA 2011, Part 1: The Conference

The idea of dropping $2K+ on a one-week writers conference for the Romance Writers of America had me feeling queasy, but as I’d decided back in January, I certainly wasn’t going back. I landed at Newark on Monday, June 27th, and the whirlwind began.

The view from the 39th floor.

The hotel was smack-dab in the middle of Times Square, which made for a slightly crazy experience. I’m one of those people who likes to go out to get away from the crush, but to go out meant stepping into the chaos that is Times Square (except in the middle of the night, which I didn’t do during this trip.) Handy to most everything, but sometimes I wished for closer proximity to Central Park, or at least a site in the more northerly end of Manhattan.

The conference itself was spread over 3-4 floors, connected by escalators illuminated with golden bulbs, and a computerised elevator system where you’d input your floor and be given a letter (which corresponded to a particular elevator) to attend. That took a bit of getting used to, and on Friday evening, the demand for elevators (and the slowness of getting one) made me wonder if we were going to be late for the RITAs.

View from the Rooftop Patio & Lounge during the Nelson Literary Agency party.

My goals for the conference were simple: meet up with Twitter/online friends, pitch to an agent, and take in some workshops. I did all three. My favourite was the Nelson Literary Agency party on Tuesday night. Hosted at the Rooftop Patio & Lounge on 5th Avenue and 27 Street, I was finally able to meet the very excellent Sara Megibow, Sarah Skilton, Miranda Kenneally, Roni Loren, Steve Vera, Kristin Nelson, Anita Mumm, and Lindsay Mergens, and RT’s Andrew Shaffer. A better bunch of people I could never hope to meet. (And if you’re wondering, I didn’t list Tiffany Reisz because we were roomies at the hotel, and I’d met her already.)

The scheduled luncheons and the opening session were enjoyable. The opening session had a panel of writers: Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen. I’d read most of Diana’s work but none by the other two, so I now have 2 books in my TBR stack. Luncheon #1 had Madeline Hunter as the keynote, and luncheon #2 was Sherrilyn Kenyon. Both were great to listen to. You’ll have to forgive my lack of detail, but all were dynamic and fascinating.

I didn’t get in nearly as many workshops as I’d optimistically plotted out on my RWA agenda. The constant barrage of people and broken sleeping patterns had me hitting the snooze button in the morning or retreating to my room after a luncheon to regain my equilibrium. Still, I managed to take in a few.

My favourite (and most useful) workshop was the Pitch Witch session by Carrie Lofty (author of ‘Portrait of Seduction’, which I reviewed.) She had four points for making the pitch that had me rewriting the entirety of my pitch. It came in handy for my Friday morning appointment, though I was caught off guard by some of the other questions the agent had for me. However, it was my first pitch ever, so I think I did well. My goal there was to do the pitch and get the experience.

I also learned that THE PARIS GAME (my current manuscript) does not have enough romance or erotica in it to be classified as either. Though I don’t tend to take genre specifications very seriously, being at the conference and hearing a publishing perspective made me realise that this book should really be classified as straight-out noir. And thus, not in the least suited to any of the romance sub-genres. What does this mean? Just that I’ll be more precise in my future pitching and querying (and I shall be starting querying agents this month). I’ll be looking for those who rep a broader variety of work, where I can expand my imagination and do noir one book, erotica or romance the next, and so forth.

So, where does this leave me? Recovering from the travel and pondering my next moves. It was definitely worthwhile to attend and hopefully I’ll be able to do it again.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 1: Le Bilboquet

I’ve been posting mostly about writing, and books, but I haven’t really posted anything about France. Given the heading of this blog, I’ve been neglecting its subject matter.

Thus far I have only traveled to Paris, though I would eventually like to see as much of the country as possible. I went to Paris in June of 2003 (maybe better known as the year where the summer was so hot, people were dying.) Ten fantastic days wandering the city, seeing museums, cafes, cemeteries, and taking in the sights.

One of my favourite spots was the jazz club Le Bilboquet, which at the time was located on the rue Saint-Benoît, just off of the Blvd St-Germain. (From what I understand, the club is no longer there, but I’m not sure whether it has moved or has closed permanently.) I can’t recall what music we heard that evening, but the look of the club made an impression. Small, dark, with a lot of red walls and dark wood. Smoking hadn’t yet been forbidden (that happened a few years later) and the air was hazy. We sat on the sidewalk outside and the windows had been thrown open, so we could see in and hear the music clearly. The staff were fantastic and friendly and the food was excellent.

As you can see from Google Earth, the sidewalk could hardly even hold a table, yet we sat at a four-top and felt quite comfortable. (The boarded up club is to the right.) I regret not taking more photos of the area when we were there.

I based the club ‘Le Chat Rouge’ in my novel WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN on Le Bilboquet. It seemed the sort of place where gangsters might consort with prostitutes and thieves. (Not that I saw any… that I know of.) Tourists could rub elbows with locals, enjoying the music and the atmosphere. A perfect place for an unexpected encounter.

Yes, I’m alive.

Sick with a sore throat at present, but also writing daily. I’m at the Big Climax part of my novel, and it’s taking all of my concentration.

A couple of books to recommend to you (both romances I’ve read recently):
Unveiled, by Courtney Milan
Dexter: Honorable Cowboy, by Marin Thomas

Happy weekend!