On the process behind End Game

I’ve discussed the historical background of End Game in a previous essay (July 16, 2012). In this post I’ll just go into my process a bit. The storyline was conceived in the period between 2004-2006 when I was working on the first draft of Death of an Activist. I wrote the first pages that year, and the first section was nearly completed in 2008. I set it aside and came back to it in the summer of 2012. I had years of research behind me, beginning with with NATO’S assault on Serbia in 1999 and going back to the the rise of the American empire following the Second World War.

Despite the fact that all of my work is grounded in history, it is primarily character driven. When I sat down to finish the book, the two main characters, Lazar and his nemesis turned helper, Mehmet, were already well drawn. Lazar, the army officer accused of war crimes is noble, austere, intellectual, rational on the one hand, and a cold, embittered, unloving –a man who has never had the courage to break from his past and live to his full potential, on the other.

Mehmet, is everything earthy, hard-living, scheming, amoral and less than savory, but good hearted underneath it all, as evidenced by his love for helpless animals. He’s Sancho Panza to Lazar’s knight and was, without a doubt, the most fun to write. I adore his initial introduction, tattooed, hungover, and hopeless after a night of debauchery in a whorehouse.

Petar is a Falstafian figure; Nada, Lazar’s longtime partner, is everything loving, good and patient in a woman, which Lazar discovers much too late. Robideaux, the cynical Amerindian journalist, and his feisty girlfriend, Marianne, established in DOA, put the events into perspective, but take on a secondary role in this story, along with Julian Fletcher, the defense attorney, and Adem, an Albanian and the primary witness.

The only main character left, the Chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Marie-Claude Scherer, had to represent the West, the thrust of neo-liberalism into the world theater, ignorance coupled with ruthless ambition and a drive for dominance, the banality of evil, and feminism gone berserk in one bad ass bureaucratic package. I’m certain no matter what our political persuasion, we can find public figures in the political arena to fit the description. However, I wanted to stay away from anyone who is actually known, and used my own worst traits, as well as those belonging to the people who have irritated me most in life, to shape her. She’s a true horror, God love her.

The book itself focuses on the nature of justice in a extremely morally compromised world and indicates where we might be headed as a global society in the future. It’s a fast paced and dramatic read, and I hope the readers will enjoy it.

On Mr Heathcliff’s Fortune & Other Short Stories

There was a three year lull in my writing from 2008 when I finished Death of an Activist, to the time it went to publication, during which many ideas for new books were conceived, tossed about, and either tossed out or outlined and begun.

Mr. Heathcliff’s Fortune, like Meridian, drew its inspiration from Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which was the tale of the mad wife in the attic in Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre. But like many, I always preferred her sister’s novel, Wuthering Heights. I was always curious how Heathcliff managed to make his fortune in the three years he was gone from Wuthering Heights. Generally, great fortunes are not made in short time periods, unless malversation is involved.

I conceived such a tale involving women, gambling and slaving in the New Orleans of the 1770’s. Originally it was going to be a novel, lengthy and detailed. I soon realized there was an entire genre of romance fiction centering around gaming. Additionally, without giving the story away, there existed another genre, involving the now passe and clichéd ‘tragedies’ of the light skinned octoroon or quadroon, to use the terminology of yore.

But how to make it interesting and fresh? I decided to write a long short story from multiple perspectives, not involving unreliable narrators but, rather, several narrators who are convinced their truth is the real and only truth.

When I finished Mr. Heathcliff, I had the idea that the rest of the collection would focus on the play of established themes from multiple perspectives, the perception of realities and the melding of realities and fictions.

The Affair features stories within stories, chronicling the impact of a brief love affair by a writer whose style and perception shift subtly over a forty year time period. It’s both a parody of erotica, and an homage to Chekov, Jeremy Brett, and the writers who employed the stream of consciousness technique, the first of whom, was, I believe, not the long forgotten Frenchman who inspired Joyce, but Tolstoy in Anna Karenina. I love The Affair and consider it my finest work to date, but then I’m standing on some pretty wide shoulders.

The Sentimental Imagination is a look at a love triangle in early twentieth century Japan through the prose of a husband and the poetry of his wife. The wife is an embittered creator of tankas, a genre of classical Japanese poetry, and her husband’s prose is a parody of Mishima’s, with a sinister bend that any despised wife will readily recognize. The red peony is a symbol of masculine purity and strength in Japanese culture.

The Edge of the Wilderness is about imagination both as an escape and as a way to process harsh realities. Inspired by the many immigrant women I knew as a girl, refugees from the aftermath of the Second World War, who wanted to begin over again in America by totally forgetting the horrors they had been through – to no avail.

The Cartographer is the story of a Greek boy taken in blood tribute to Topkapi Palace at the height of the Ottoman period, whose life and tale take some unexpected turns. It was inspired by a young friend, who jokingly asked if he would ever be featured in my work. I’m not certain if he’ll be happy with the fact that I made him a eunuch, but sometimes tales also take unexpected turns, and I suspect he’ll enjoy the beauty of the prose and some of the strange twists the story takes.

I’m very happy with the way this collection turned out and like it even more than I do Children of the Sun, my other favorite child.

Mr. Heathcliff’s Fortune

For fans of my blog, I have to confide that unless I begin writing portrayals of my friends which they may regard as character assassinations, I’ve run out of funny true life stories for the time being. The posts you have enjoyed up till now will be found in my new collection of short stories, Throw Granny off the Balcony. Now, I’m thinking of trying something new and I want to see how you will react to it.

When I was a girl, I would always riff on the books I enjoyed, enhancing the story or imagining sequels or prequels in my mind. Once upon a time ago, I asked myself where Heathcliff was for the three years he went missing from Wuthering Heights and how did he manage to make his fortune? And though not all questions need to be answered, or all characters from beloved classics deconstructed, I nevertheless couldn’t let this story rest. Though, personally, I never saw the dark, tormented anti-hero as a particularly appealing subject of desire, a whole genre of romance fiction spins stories, all much the same in my opinion, around the type.

We know that Heathcliff had obscure beginnings, a miserable childhood and an obdurate nature. As an adult, finding his source, Cathy, removed to a different life which he could not share, he became bitter and twisted in his quest for revenge. The story is there. The question remains, where did his fortune come from? Bronte suggests his bearing indicated a stint in the military, but fortunes aren’t made so rapidly by foot soldiers. So where did he go between 1780 and 1783, when he reappeared at Wuthering Heights?

I decided to set the story in New Orleans and the vicinity which had and to this day has, an amazing melting pot of cultures. At that time the Louisiana Territory, which extended all the way to Canada, had traded hands from the French to the Spanish. Settlers included French planters, Spanish administrators, Black slaves, free Blacks, Native Americans and people of mixed racial background. Immigrant German merchants and Anglo colonials from the east had started moving into the territory as well. All of these nationalities brought their cultural ideals and prejudices into the mix.

Coincidentally, it was a time of the rise of great ideas of the Enlightenment, which swept through the new world as well as the old, inflaming creoles in Latin America and their counterparts in North America in their quest for freedom from tyranny. In Louisiana, Revolutionary War fighting touched the area before turning back south and east.

At the same time, the Mississippi River was beginning to be exploited, the steam boat was yet to be developed, as well as the great card game of poker which grew out of the gaming cultures which consumed Europe at the time and moved westward eventually taking over the saloons of the Wild West.

As you all know, unless I’m poking fun at myself and my family, I tend to concentrate on serious topics, and I neither expect this to be a romance in the colonial or Georgian mode, nor a historical novel. Instead it will be a small story of human motivation and error set within a time as turbulent as our own.

I’m going to serialize it in short readable chapters each week since I realize we all have busy lives. I won’t have much time for embellishment or correction and I don’t really know what meandering paths the story might take, though I’m certain of the end. I hope you’ll tune in to my new adventure: uncovering the secret behind Mr. Heathcliff’s Fortune.

On Throw Granny off the Balcony

You know the players and you seem to love them. Crazy Granny heads the cast of strange family members and their antics. This compilation of short stories grew out of my blog, which grew out of the stories I would tell friends whenever they asked about Granny or my mother. Somewhere along the way, my dear friend Barbara A. convinced me that these tales should be preserved in some written form. After they appeared in the blog, some fans asked for them to be put into a book.

I really didn’t think there was anything much to them, no artistry or imagination on my part was required, I recorded them as they happened or were told to me. However after the first proofs came in, I was astounded by how good and funny they were as a whole and furthermore they are a chronicle of my childhood in a place that, as the great Garcia Marquez wrote, ‘that city of mirrors [ or mirages] would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men….because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.’ Though certainly my parchments too will finish as dust. So without further ado, here is an excerpt from your favorite, Throw Granny off the Balcony:

When Granny first moved into the assisted living facility, she worriedly told my sister, ‘I see people in old fashioned clothes floating on the ceiling in my bedroom.’ My sister, who has a spiritual inclination replied, ‘Those are your departed loved ones. When you are close to the end of your life, they come to help you transition to the other side.’

Granny apparently had a sleepless night over this but the next morning called my sister to triumphantly announce, ‘I want you to know something, I don’t see those people any more.’

Another time, my mother received a hysterical call from Granny when the beauticians came to trim her toenails. ‘Shame on you,’ Granny yelled, ‘I raised you alone after your father died and now you’ve sent these people to cut off my legs!’ My mother takes this all very seriously and tried to convince Granny that they were there to give her a pedicure. Granny imperiously rejoindered, ‘Now you are trying to make me into an imbecile.’

Lately Granny has got it into her head that there is another war on and that she is manning a machine gun. She looks at her arthritic hands and says to my mother, ‘How could you have taken me out of here and sent me to the front at my age. Look what’s happened to my hands from the machine gun.’ Mother, for some reason, feels the need to explain to her, ‘Mama, you were a courier during the war, you never saw action and anyway that was almost seventy years ago.’

No,’ Granny says, ‘the war is on-going.’ Personally, I used to think she was paranoid when she said ‘they’ were bugging phones and monitoring conversations, but now it seems that she was right.

Another time when she was temporarily in a rehab center for a medical problem, she determined that experiments were being conducted on the patients. ‘Don’t be surprised if you get a baby brother or sister,’ she tells my mother. Curious, my mother asks, ‘Who did this to you?’ as Granny points out an handsome young doctor. ‘Okay, but don’t tell anyone else,’ my poor mother says.

And so on and so on.

Thoughts on Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun grew from a video that my friend Fred Lyman, a painter and a sculptor, emailed me last summer. The video was by an artist who created one hundred alter egos and their submissions for his own biennale. Pretty hilarious stuff—but it started me thinking that we all have alter egos living within our own personalities, and that I was already familiar with a few of mine. Sometimes I can see Lee, living in Asia, creating black and white films of great spiritual beauty of mountains, gorges and lonely places which reflect who she is. And sometimes I see Mirta, living under one of the great Central American volcanoes, painting and having tumultuous love affairs. Sometimes I see another woman who lives in the 1960’s on the west coast and teaches ballet and yet another, who has two children and a small restaurant in Napa or some such lovely destination that tourists fantasize about.

The characters were there already. The format grew out of an early idea I had conceived in my thirties when I was doing serious spiritual and energy work—that of organizing seven stories according to the seven progressive chakras. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with chakras, they are the seven vortices in our energetic bodies relating to our connection to the earth, our creativity and sexuality, our power, our emotions, our personal voice, our imagination and dreams, and our connection to universal energies or the Divine Source. I can see them in my mind’s eye and I have seen them while swimming or snorkeling several times in my life emanating from people standing in shallow water as the sun hit at a particular angle. They look different on everyone—some, more developed and functional, some, ripped apart and weak.

As I began to organize the characters, I realized I would have to give them not only a history but an actual story and so that is where the imagination begins to do the creative work. As I progressed, I realized that they all had an art form of their own: painting, music, dance and so on. I also realized something else—although the characters certainly could be universal, they became immigrants or the children of immigrants transplanted to the New World. I drew on my Slavic background because although there are twenty million of us in the United States alone, and many more in Canada, Australia and Latin America, we seem not to have developed a literature of our own. I don’t mean a necessarily ethno -specific literature, but aside from Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Nabokov’s Pnin, Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter [ and the bizarre Heaven’s Gate], Irish-Serbian Rusty Sabich who appears in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and a Steve Tesich film which nobody seems to have seen, we have fallen off the radar. Sad, considering the richness of our folklore and often tragic history, which could generate a million stories.

Each of the seven characters has her own struggles and it’s interesting to hear readers reactions to them—which stories were their favorites and which moved them most.

When I finished the seven stories, I felt as if something else was needed so I added Children of the Sun to the collection. Try as I might, I can’t recall what made me focus on those particular characters. I did see that a theme had emerged with the seven stories –they were global in nature, they consisted of culture clash and people who were transported into new settings in the Western Hemisphere. I wondered what the beginnings of that would look like and arrived at the first explorers in the New World. My next thought was that an addition to the seven spiritual rungs embodied within the chakras, there might exist another layer above them corresponding to complete spiritual transformation. I had a ready made historical account, though sparse, in Cabeza de Vaca’s account of the ill-fated Narvaez expedition of 1528 into the area of what is now Florida, the Gulf Coast and Texas. Of close to four hundred men, four survived by becoming healers of great renown among the indigenous people they encountered during the eight years they were lost. Cabeza de Vaca is very vague about how that was accomplished, and so I drew on my own meditation and energy work and my sister-in-law’s healing practice, which I am familiar with.

Though the entire project began as a lark, I think it grew into something significant enough that could touch the reader on multiple levels – at least I hope it will.

On End Game, book two of the Robideaux series.

There is an idea floating among liberals that the empire began after 9-11 with Bush fils. That is wrong, the Empire began long ago and its attitudes towards the indigenous were forged during the conquest of Ireland and brought to these shores, where African slaves, white indentured ‘servants’ and Native Americans were ruthlessly exploited. This attitude extended itself into Latin America, then Viet Nam with a brief period of respite during the ‘good war’ against Hitler. After the Second World War we were all bedeviled by the specter of communism, and after seeing how many millions perished under Stalin and Mao, we concluded that the cold war too was a good fight. However we did not realize until the atrocities of Viet Nam were fully revealed to us, that we were not fighting on behalf of the poor people in those beleaguered countries but for a particular malformation of corporate capitalism that works hand in glove with Big Government and the Military Industrial Complex.

While I personally think that true free markets, healthy competition, innovation and capital have enriched our lives, so much so that poor in the first world live better than the kings of old, there has been a incredible perversion of power and control on the part of our ruling classes regardless of their political ideologies. By that I mean, whether they are party appartchiks or corporate Ceo’s.

End Game takes place in the aftermath of the fall of communism, when instead of becoming a beacon of light to the world, the US heading NATO, saw a new role for itself fomenting the civil wars which had begun in the former Yugoslavia. These wars had their antecedents in the period of neo-liberalisation of the nineteen -eighties where the country was effectively dismembered by the ‘reforms’ imposed by the International Monetary Fund. The west sold these wars to its gullible public through a disinformation campaign launched by intelligence agencies,ignorant journalists and the mainstream media ( often owned by weapons manufactures ) as a humanitarian intervention with clear cut good and bad guys. Nothing could be further from the truth. The end result: much human suffering on all sides, a chopped up country, and one of the biggest military bases in the world, Bondsteel, which was built in Kosovo as a stepping stone for NATO forces into the Middle East.

One of the most dangerous and frightening end results was the creation of a politically motivated international court of injustice, funded by The USA, various Soros foundations, the Rockefellers and the Carnegies. The ICTY, the court that tries so called war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and the the ICTR, the court for Rwanda, constituted as they are both inquisitorially and adversarially, without the protections of either form, staffed by unqualified prosecutors and judges, have now set the precedent for the ICC, a dangerous world court which tries anyone who defies the empire.

These courts were created by special UN charters, which by this action and on false pretext, undercut national sovereignty globally. This is of the utmost importance for anyone who cares about justice and the preservation of common law. What is so frightening is that the American Bar Association endorses this court and American citizens neither know nor care, thinking it is irrelevant to their own lives. We ignore these developments at our own peril since with the gradual encroachments on our civil liberties, we may see dissidents in our countries tried there one day.

End Game is a fast paced and exciting look into what happened in former Yugoslavia and what is happening at the ICTY. I don’t think that its something that you can read on the train to work but I believe that it is critical information for any thinking person who cares about justice, civil liberties and truth.

Katanga Province is much in the same vein but will focus on the Congo Wars.

Behind Death of an Activist

Death of an Activist grew out of an interview I read with First Nations actor Adam Beech, while I was perusing the Native Web. The young actor stated that his dream was to star in a movie like Lethal Weapon. I thought, what a great idea, and his partner could be the great actor Graham Green. Since then Mr. Beech has gone on to star in the excellent adaptations of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries, along with the iconic Wes Studi, who was so very memorable in the role of Magua in Micheal Mann’s adaptation of Last of the Mohicans.

That is how the characters of Ulyce Robideaux and Adam Smith were born. Up to that time I had read very few mysteries and fewer thrillers. I think I can safely say that I was familiar with the entire Sherlock Holmes, The Name of the Rose, Possession, Instance of the Fingerpost and The Quincunx. In essence, I didn’t know what I was doing when I began writing the book. Later, after reading many thrillers, I realized something interesting. Under a layer of murder and investigation, these books are actually works of social realism.

Since I have a cinematic visual imagination, the formation of this book played out more like a movie than anything else. Each day I would formulate a scene in my mind and then would sit down to write it. But I am getting ahead of myself. At the core of the story, I knew there had to be a beautiful, amoral and enigmatic woman who loses her life, since that is the type of story that I am most often drawn to, e.g: Vertigo, The Hustler, Chinatown, English Patient. However, I decided to begin with her death and let the characters coalesce around her. I’m also drawn to multiple points of view since I believe ultimate reality is seen through our own subjective lens.

Each project has its own life that consumes its creator for the duration, and for four years I lived and breathed the world these characters inhabited. In the aftermath of 9-11, I wanted to write a story for my kind but uninformed friends about the reality of foreign policy and corporate malfeasance which was not so apparent then but has become more than clear to many of us. I began not in the middle east, but with Native Americans who were the first victims of colonization and empire and who are still struggling to maintain their lands, way of life and dignity amidst the onslaught of rapacious commercial interests. Often, as shown in the book, indigenous peoples all over the world have been pushed to the most undesirable corners of the planet and ironically end up sitting on mineral and oil riches. My story took me to the Amazon where these terrible struggles continue.

I initially thought this would be a story about a man who lost a woman he had loved, followed her path into the Amazon and became spiritually renewed through his contact with the Native peoples. However mid-way though my research I saw that I was dealing with weightier issues: global finance and markets, the exploitation of natural resources, the third world vis-a-vis the West, and the potential energy crises and ecological disasters that we are facing. Furthermore, it concerns me that we are in a time of global transition where a web of exploitative global institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, NATO have usurped even more power, funneling it to the ruling class away from the people. Additionally, seemingly worthy institutions such as the United Nations, charitable foundations, environmental organizations are often co-opted by the ruling elite and serve them instead of the public. Death of an Activist represented a huge learning curve for me, that took me from the oil fields of the Amazon to the boardrooms of financial institutions and power makers behind the scenes. Everything I covered is well documented and publicized by now, thanks to the very diligent work of the alternative media and bloggers, who tired of the stranglehold of the Mainstream Media, have done excellent work exposing the way the world is really run.

If you care about the environment, indigenous people, globalization, corruption, illegitimate power structures and energy geopolitics, I’m certain that you will enjoy the mystery behind Death of an Activist.

On Meridian

Meridian was the first novel I wrote and is very dear to my heart. It embodies my life philosophy and I wanted to tell the story through the vehicle of the body. In this case a woman’s body which I had some qualms about since the male in our dualistic cultures is all too often identified with the mind and the female with the body, which I think is absurd.

What interested me primarily were the elements which would cause a spiritual breakthrough like the one the protagonist of Meridian, Mairin, experienced. I myself am rather cerebral and even as a child it was not difficult to see my way through the snares of the material world. I was fortunate, I experienced spiritual enlightenment at the age of twenty. I think this was something was was given to me. I have described it elsewhere, but in short, I woke up one morning, found everything within and without me bathed in a golden light, felt that there was no separation between myself and the All, and that time as I knew it had ceased to exist. In front of me I saw what could be described as a hologram representing a divine mind out of which all reality rose and sunk. The feeling tone was one of great joy. It took me another twenty years of reading, everything from physics to comparative religious studies to doing deep self work to be able to incorporate that experience, and since, I have concluded that although the universe arises from the divine source, whatever it brings is co-created by its creatures.

But this book is not about me, and I did not desire to talk about my esoteric process. It is about a very different woman who experiences many betrayals that cause her to see through the institutions of our civilization: family life, conventional religion, bogus spirituality, materialism, social movements, war, nationalism and finally even human relationships. Her trajectory through life is manifested through the energetic vehicle of her body– it is her greatest torment and ultimately the source of her healing and transformation.

Another thing that interested me is the adulteress, the sensuous and sexual woman who is punished by her creator, however empathic, for her sexuality. We’ve seen it time and time again, in great literature such as Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina; in victims high and low like Blanche DuBois, Lolita, Maria Vargas, Carmen and in books written by women, like the Brontes, oddly enough. What does a woman who goes through all of that and yet can still find her salvation look like? I wondered. Some call this type of novel post-modern optimism, and maybe it’s true, we are at a time in history where we are ready to begin an new more meaningful chapter in human existence.

On Writing

For the next few posts, I’m going to talk a little bit about my books, my reasons for writing them and what I think is interesting or relevant about them. I’ll backtrack a bit and say a few words about the writing process as well.

Though in our times, many seem to be suffering from graphomania, it seems, and quality is not a criteria either for publication or sales, a writer begins spinning their own stories very early in life. I think it’s often the case in sensitive or lonely children, and certainly when I was growing up in the former Yugoslavia, there was little on television and nothing like the panoply of games or the organized activities that children are subjected to nowadays.

Instead, there were days which seemed to stretch forever when I was allowed to wander around the countryside, close to the earth, experiencing all that beauty with a sense of awe that bordered on the spiritual. My first self expression was visual – my mother was an artist and I recall drawing and painting in water color from a very young age. But my father was a bookworm who had literary ambitions of his own, and so I got my love of stories from him.

I suppose when I started to read on my own, I would embellish whatever grabbed my interest and rewrite the story in my mind, or add to it, putting myself in the action-everything from pirate to princess. I think being an immigrant with very different cultural values than those around me, suddenly transported from a bustling extended family circle to vast American spaces, where, unless one was in school, days might go by without one having a conversation with another human being is a serious reason to spend time within the world of the imagination where all sorts of wondrous things might transpire.

I did very little writing growing up. I was too lazy to write the stories I had in my head out and by high school I had discovered great literature and was still taking it all in. In my twenties, I was still a very serious reader, but by my thirties I thought that I too might have something to say. I began writing a series of related short stories and saw several elements running through them, which have become features in my fiction, though in themselves all my books are very different.

Throughout my work, one can see lonely childhoods, unhappy families, artistic ambitions, spiritual awakenings and people caught up in the tumultuous events of the modern world which they have little control over. Write what you know, they say and I certainly do.