The Improbable Hour

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Fredrich Nietzsche

Remember the blizzard of 2015?

If you don’t, you weren’t anywhere near the east coast.

The region from Maine to Baltimore got hammered.  Hurricane force winds, severe damage to the Jersey shore, tons of snow, blinding conditions, followed by extreme cold.  The works.

The last day of the blizzard the winds turned offshore.  Which means basically nothing to anyone not viscerally tied to the sea.  But for surfers along the New England coast, the conditions became epic.

Needless to say, it remained a bit on the chilly side.  Not to mention frigid winds and blinding snow.  Four governors declared states of emergencies and told everyone to stay indoors.

On that day, videographer James Katsipis filmed four Montauk surfers having the time of their lives in twelve to fifteen foot Long Island waves.  The resulting video has gone viral, especially after Pearl Jam rendered ‘Rain On Me’ by The Who for the soundtrack.  The Vimeo link is https://vimeo.com/118156877.  But in case that is down, search for ‘Juno’ by James Katsipis and Tauk Is Cheap Productions.  The view is somewhat blurred at times by the blizzard, but for some of us that only adds spice to the mix. Read more

Quicksand

“Every day, do one thing that scares you.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

My wife is the smart one in our family.

When we were able to start living from my writing, Isabella had the opportunity to fulfill her own lifelong dream, and began work on her doctorate at the University of Oxford.  She promised me we would only stay in England for three years.  That was in 1992.  We are still there.

During our second year at Oxford, I was offered my own dream-come-true, in the form of my first large advance.  A word of explanation is due here.  An author’s advance is based on what the publisher thinks that particular book will earn in its first year to eighteen months.  My earlier books had done well, and my publisher decided that they wanted to up the ante.  They said they were going to try and elevate me to ‘front of store’, where the book comes out in hardback and is positioned on the table you see when you first enter a bookstore.  This placement has to be purchased by the publishers, but it also has to pass muster with the bookstore’s buyers.  They only offer front-of-store placement to books they think are going to hit the bestseller lists.

When I finally descended from my low-altitude orbit, my publishers asked if I had a story in mind that could potentially justify such a big jump.  And as a matter of fact, I did.  I wanted to write a romance-adventure based in the six months that began on May 22, 337AD. Read more

Goals, And How to Get There

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Pablo Picasso

Quite possibly, the hardest word for many artists to speak, read, write, or hear is…

Get ready for it.

Bran.

Even so, we have to discuss it.  Because, let’s face it, an artistic brand has never been more important than now.

Current definition:  An artistic brand is like a signature.  A buyer – as in, the person who supports your creative profession – wants to know what to expect from you, the artist.   Everything you produce needs to be identifiable to the untrained eye as distinctly yours.  It needs to follow a pattern, and create expectations in the buyer’s mind.  Eventually, the audience comes to anticipate your next work.  They grow eager to buy because they trust you to deliver along the same lines as before, which they already have come to love and desire.

The problem is obvious.  Seen in this light, designing an artistic brand and sticking to it basically requires you to build a cage.  You erect these restrictions to your creative direction, then you step inside and consign yourself to years of limited growth.

Who in their right mind would be motivated to even try? Read more

Why Bother

“Each of us have moments when we are swept away by an inner sense of excitement about something we are doing or want to do.  In this state, whatever we are working on seems to come alive with significance and even necessity, and our contribution seems to validate who we are or, perhaps more accurately, who we can be.”

Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer

But such moments of inspiration cannot be forced into being.  They cannot even be awaited.  Instead, for the artist to truly be an artist, the creative work must continue despite this inspiration being absent.

But why bother?

There are so many other demands upon our time and energy.  Why put up a fight against the incoming tide?  I mean, let’s face facts here.  There is so little chance we’ll succeed.

And another thing.  What about everything we have to give up in order to make this creative dream reality?

I’m so glad you asked. Read more

The Day, The Hour

But I shall let the little I have learnt go forth into the day in order that someone better than I may guess the truth, and in his work may prove and rebuke my error. At this I shall rejoice that I was yet a means whereby this truth has come to light.

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) leader of the German Renaissance

We cannot declare when the moment shall arise, when we cast off the chains of mundane existence and rise up to that incredible, exalted state.  We can’t fashion the hour that our wings will unfold, and we fly off, and glimpse a brief fragment of creative bliss.  We can’t, we just can’t.

But we can most certainly name it.

“Everything flows and nothing stays,” said Heraclitus, the fifth-century Greek philospher, speaking of how time constantly moves us forward, and change is life’s only constant.  But these days there is another meaning given to this word.  And it is by this term that we will begin to take aim.

Flow.

Why call it this?  Well, we need to call it something.  And naming that moment when we become one with the practice of our art is sort of like trying to name a vaccuum.  In that instant, we simply are not there.  So in naming it, we instead need to look at the process that brings us to that point.

Flow.  It works as good as anything else. Read more

Making It Natural

You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

Miles Davis

A dear friend in France, a gastric surgeon, is the son and grandson and great-grandson of taxi drivers.  Being French, the fact that his ancestors were both uneducated and dirt poor did not reduce their passion for art.  They also desired to be collectors, even though they could not afford the art they liked.  But as so often happens in that amazing country, they found a way around their limitations.

Although my friend has become fairly well-off, he has never been bitten by the acquisative bug.  The irony of his complete and utter disinterest in buying anything is also very French.

In his case, the reason for not wanting to buy more art is because he already has too much.  He claims the burden of inheritance has scalded him so bad he has lost his taste to acquire anything.  If his wife wants new furniture, new kitchen utensils, new clothes for the kids, new anything, she just goes and buys it.  Because she also handles their household accounts, I am not certain he even notices.

To enter their home is to pass through a rambling black and white museum.  Because his ancestors could not afford paintings, they bought sketches.  Many of the artists whose work they loved were starving, and they were able to acquire entire sketchbooks for pennies. Read more

The Thing About Discipline Is…

“In the great artist you see daring bound by discipline and discipline stretched by daring.”

Robert Brault, operatic tenor

It’s not about discipline at all.

It’s all about balance.

All the elements discussed in these pages can be boiled down to two vital factors.  The first is passion.  How to foster it.  How to bond with it.  How to harness, utilize, grasp, understand, and eventually, in those magical moments…

Transcend.

The second is this.  Not discipline.  But balance.

The problem with passion is that it is rises at the very heart of self-identity.  Self-expression.

And this can lead to self-absorption.  The unacknowledged assumption of too many artists that they stand at the center of their own universe.

Balance.  Balance is the key. Read more

Clarity Part Two: A New Take On An Old Word

“All of our actions take their hue from the complexion of the heart, as landscapes their variety from light…Very vew people have a natural feeling for painting, and so, of course, they naturally think that painting is an expression of the artist’s mood.  But it rarely is.  Very often he may be in greatest despair and be painting his happiest painting.”

Francis Bacon

With the onset of postmodernism, a new dirty word has entered the English language.

Emotion.

The highbrow artist may scorn it.  The intellectuals might dismiss it out of hand.  Too many critics may decry it as passé.  But there is one thing they ignore at their peril.

The audience still craves that emotional hook.

If you are aiming for a profession in commercial art, you had best pay careful attention to what your audience wants.

So how to do this.  Well, for starters, you need to be honest with yourself.  Emotions can be faked in the short term.  But over time, a false emotional tone to your artistic work becomes just another word for prostitution. Read more

Clarity Part One: The Eternal Question

The question, ‘What is the movie about?’ will be asked over and over and over again.  I work from the inside out.  What the movie is about will determine how it will be cast, how it will look, how it will be edited, how it will be musically scored, how it will be mixed, how the titles will look, and, with a good studio, how it will be released.  What it’s about will determine how it is to be made.”

Sidney Lumet, Academy Award-winning producer and director

For over fifteen years, Nicholas Burgess-Jones was the premier music-video producer in all of Europe.  He gave Guy Ritchie his start as director.  With offices in Los Angeles and London, he has worked with many of the world’s biggest acts, right across the music spectrum, from Barry Manilow to Boy George.  He is constantly asked to gauge the potential success of new acts and new sounds.  And for him, it all comes down to one question.

Is there a purity of direction.

Make no mistake.  He is not saying, a particular direction.  He wants to know, has the group arrived at a point where they are focused upon one specific compass heading.  Any direction can conceivably work.  So long as it is just one.

Regardless of our artistic medium, when it comes to bonding with our audience we all share one common trait. Read more

You Can Never Tell

“I’ve been able to work for so long because I think next time, I’ll finally make something good.”
Akira Kurosawa, film producer and director

pexels-photo-129062

Last week my younger brother and his wife sold their Raleigh home, where they raised their three beautiful children, and moved to another state where he is beginning a new job.  In the midst of this hectic and somewhat traumatic period, his wife came upon one of my earliest manuscripts.  It was entitled The Quilt, and this is its story.

Twenty-seven years ago, my mother’s mother started work on a quilt for us as a wedding present.  But then she had her stroke, and sewing became impossible.  Someone from her home town of Smithfield heard about this, and volunteered to help.  Over the next several months my grandmother’s last work was passed from one quilting group to another, until it was finished and sent to us three weeks after our wedding.

When the gift arrived in Germany and Isabella started to open the box, I told her she had to stop, there was such an intense feeling of having my grandmother there in the room with us.  I wanted to capture this on the page.  I took the unopened box into my study, and spent the next six weeks writing the story.  Only when The Quilt was finished did I let Isabella see our wedding gift.

We had to postpone our honeymoon because we were both working on very tight schedules.  Three months later, we flew first to Minneapolis and met with the publishers of my first book.  Then we flew to Hawaii. Read more