Eighty-three years ago to the day, Mars would never be the same—thanks to an event on Earth. On this fateful day in 1934, one made of starstuff was born.
Born in the town of Brooklyn, it seemed his sense of wonder was birthed in a nebula (a great star nursery in space). One of those rare beings like Leonardo da Vinci who must have five brains in their skull, Carl Sagan was a scientist, teacher, writer, poet, philosopher, philanthropist, and lifelong champion of space voyaging, but one planet in particular captured his galaxy-wide imagination: Mars.
In his classic tome The Cosmic Connection, the late astronomer wrote of his childhood love of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars book series, and his boyhood dream of seeing Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos (named after Greek gods), from the red planet’s surface.
Most men, unfortunately, never live their dreams, but Sagan was not…
When it comes to riding in cars, my dogs are abnormal – they hate it. They have no interest in sticking their head out the window, watching the world go by. They get anxious. They never know if they are going for a walk on the beach, an early morning donut run, or, heaven forbid, the vet. My dogs are rarely sick, so they only visit the vet for their annual shots and check-up. It can’t be fear of the vet. They just hate car rides. When it is a long car trip, however, their attitudes split. They each have a different reaction to road trips. Biscuit is lulled to sleep within minutes, and I get to hear her snoring behind me in the backseat. It’s very pleasant. Mulder, on the other hand, defiantly sits up and pouts. He’s the kid who never wanted to go in the first place and makes that point known by crossing his arms and making annoyed noises the entire way. This changes when it’s time for lunch. “I guess a bite of your chicken sandwich isn’t so bad,” says he. “You never let me eat your chicken sandwich at home. It’s pretty good. Nom nom. I don’t want my kibble. Stop pushing it in my face. Give me some more of the chicken sandwich. What are those things sticking out of that box? French fries? Okay, can I have some of those? Get out of my way, Biscuit. Those are for me! Blah! Cough! What is this stuff? Salt? Salt on French fries! Ack! Water! Water! Gulp, gulp, gulp! You can have the fries, Biscuit. More chicken sandwich, thank you. I guess this trip isn’t so bad. Wait, are we leaving? Oh, no, this stupid car is moving again. Ugh. Fine, Biscuit, just sleep like always, and look, she’s eating the last of the chicken sandwich! That’s just great. I never wanted to go on this stupid trip anyway.” And so it starts up again …
I had a horrible thought – what if Tennessee Williams had never lived in New Orleans? Would the world be without A Streetcar Named Desire? Or, would Wuthering Heights have a different feel if Emily Bronte had never lived on the moors?
This line of pondering started after I wrote a blog post about a historic hotel that might be closing soon. The Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas was a setting in one of my novels (Rosabelle, believe), which started me thinking about how locations, places I have lived and visited, have stamped my creative passport.
“The truth is, fiction depends for its life on place. Location is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of ‘What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?’ and that is the heart’s field,” Eudora Welty said.
Many vacations have inspired locales for my stories: a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean, zesty little days in New York City, even a stroll along the Côte d’Azur.
Little jaunts have become fodder for my writing, as well. A quick trip to the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama became the EXT. HOMETOWN for a screenplay, even though I was only there for one night. I remember a school field trip to the Toltec Mounds in Arkansas. That memory became the memory of the main character in Faith Orion’s Field. While the main setting of that novel was fictitious, it had a basis in reality – the areas in Arkansas near Keo and Scott.
These days, Los Angeles shows up in my writing a lot (the LaLaLand that has made me the “mad writer”). My characters have lived near the studios in Burbank, conceived children on Mulholland Drive, and experienced the weirdness of Hollywood Boulevard.
Most recently, I was asked to write a vignette for a compilation film, and I happened to come across some old photos from a local Renaissance Faire. It made a great setting for my story. How often, I’ve realized lately, that this type of thing happens.
My sister and I were very inspired by places we have visited when writing a women’s fiction series. The characters go on a zany road trip, and we used real places we have visited (and enjoyed). (Quick plug: The book is called Beatrice Palmato and will be out next year.)
Location is a wonderful inspiration for writers, so, to twist the phrase of Dr. Seuss, oh the places you SHOULD go, if you want to stamp your creative passport with interesting settings!
Over on Twitter, the trending hashtag is #readabookday. It’s always that “day” in my house. I love to read, and I love to write. I also like to eat. In order to eat, I must sell the things I write, so I would like to make two suggestions for your reading pleasure on #readabookday (but, of course, feel free to read on any day).
Two Cushing Sisters books for your consideration:
My sister’s novel, “The Mask of Aubrey Clover,” about a young misfit girl who wishes she could run away to Edward Scissorhands’ castle. And my novel (and I have three novels, just hinting there), “Rosabelle, believe,” a love story about a man who believes he is the reincarnation of Harry Houdini.
I love old things – books, records, trains, even hotels. If someone tells me there is original art deco in a building, I want to go inside. I love it so much that I usually have an “old fashioned” feel in my novels, especially, “Rosabelle, believe.” That book takes place in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Having grown up in Arkansas, this quaint city holds a lot of memories – strolling along “bathhouse row” with my family, filling bottles from a public “hot spring” fountain, and cheering for the horses at the races.
The city holds a lot of history, as well, which was the real reason I used it in my book. One such bit of history is the Arlington Hotel. My character in “Rosabelle, believe,” Eric Pilot, loves old fashioned things. When he visits Hot Springs for a book signing, he stays at the hotel because it is a historic hotel.
Sometimes it is hard to describe a place to someone who has never been there, so I’ll let the character from my story do it for me. Below is an excerpt from the book, describing Eric’s arrival at the hotel:
Eric’s antique pocket watch had stopped at 1:26 p.m. He shook it and tried to wind it with the winding key, but it would not tick. He stuffed it back in his pants pocket, paid the cab driver, and stepped into the sunshine streaming between the dark clouds. Hopping over a puddle, Eric looked up at the grand Arlington Hotel with its white-washed walls and giant twin towers surrounded by trees with fall foliage. He wasn’t sure what time it was. Stepping inside the lobby was like entering a different world and for a moment Eric saw it, the way he always saw things other people did not. In his mind, the place was filled with women in cloche hats with bobbed hair, some twirling flapper beads. He imagined that in a far right corner a jazz band played, while in the opposite corner Al Capone sat with a group of cohorts, talking in secret and smoking a cigar. As he looked around the lobby, his fantasy continued, conjuring a group of men just back from an expedition of Egypt, discussing Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Eric envisaged people walking past, laughing about a Harold Lloyd film, over-thinking surrealist art, or discussing the art deco design of the hotel.
While that excerpt is from a novel, The Arlington Hotel, which originally opened in 1875, does hold the type of history fantasized about in the book. If walls could talk, as the old saying goes. Unfortunately, the walls today have fallen into some disrepair. The city of Hot Springs is threatening to close it down. The fear is, if it closes, it will never reopen, and will, ultimately, be torn down. I would hate to see this place close.
So, you see, this post was not merely a shameless bit of self-promotion, but a plea for the past, for the historic, for the “old things” that can and do still define us, our culture, our history, that should be preserved. If you love “old things” as much as I do (and as much as my character Eric), then sign the petition below:
Today’s pondering: Which would be more fun to visit – Neverland or Wonderland?
Obviously both of these fictional, magical places have their charms. They also both happen to be used in Disney films. I suppose if I were to ask Disney Studios to pick a favorite, they’d say something like, “Please don’t use any images from our films in your blog. Thank you for your interest in the Walt Disney Company.”
They didn’t really say any of that. I need to make that clear. They have many, many, many lawyers. I’m not taking any risks though. Hence no photos from their movies. Besides, Wonderland and Neverland did not come from the imagination of a studio executive. Neverland was created by playwright James Barrie, and Wonderland was dreamed up in the imagination of author Lewis Carroll.
So, let’s say if you met both Alice and Peter on the same day, and they said, “Follow me,” what do you do?
If you go with Peter, you get to fly to Neverland. Flying! Whoosh! Right out the window! (I wonder if the book were written today there would be complaints from parents – Dear Mr. Barrie, are you trying to encourage my kids to jump out the window? To which, Mr. Barrie would reply, “I beg of your pardon, but are you insane? Kids aren’t that stupid. Please use your imagination. #youhavenoimagination) If, however, you are afraid of heights like me, flying could be scary (pixie dust or not!). Of course, once there, Neverland is filled with beautiful scenery. There are also pirates. Neverland pirates don’t seem very threatening, unlike those Caribbean pirates (well, except maybe Jack Sparrow, who could be defeated with a bunch of rum.) Of course, what Neverland is known for is the ageless youth and playfulness. If they had a tourism board they could promote with the slogan – Never grow up! Of course, I never grew up anyway. Well, crap, I guess I’m already there. (P.S. How many people thought there would be a Michael Jackson reference in here somewhere?)
Wonderland takes “magical” to a whole new level, so if you go with Alice, get ready to experience something more surreal than a Dali painting. First of all, you must drink some “potion” that shrinks you to doll size. That would be disturbing, and I’d feel like I was in an 80s Rick Moranis movie. Then when you get there: Yowza – it’s strange! Wonderland creates the feeling of being on drugs without being on drugs, which I guess, is a reason to go there? Aside from that strangeness, there are tea parties with crazy people, which would be entertaining. There are also talking animals, including a time-obsessed rabbit (he’s kind of annoying actually). I would guess the number one reason to visit Wonderland would be the overall weirdness, and there is a lot of weirdness. So much weirdness! Unless weirdness scares you more than flying, then don’t go to Wonderland.
I can’t pick. Can you?
Of course, you don’t have to fantasize about going to Neverland or Wonderland. Just read the books and you’ll be there. I just turned into a PSA. The more you know, knowing is half the battle, blah blah, blah. But, ’tis true, and as Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”
P.S. I was going to do “Star Wars vs Star Trek” but I thought that might cause a rumble of Beat Itvideo proportions.
In honor of Michael Jackson’s birthday (he’d be 59 today), I bring you the following “pondering”:
In the clip above, Johnny Depp is asked if he can name five Michael Jackson songs in a mere 10 seconds. He did it, of course. For many Michael Jackson fans, however, the questions is not IF he/she can name five MJ songs in 10 seconds, but how MANY in ten seconds. As a big MJ fan, I tried it. I was real arrogant about it too. Like how hard could it be? I got 10 in 10 seconds, which I thought was kinda crappy, and I felt much shame. My bravado returned when I realized that’s a song a second. But, still, I admit I should be able to do better. My only defense is, perhaps, I do not talk very fast? Yes, that must be it. So, I ask you, MJ fans around the world, what is your personal best? Surely, better than 10?
P.S. By the way, if you happen to like Johnny Depp, in addition to Michael Jackson, you might also like my sister’s novel, The Mask of Aubrey Clover, which is a tribute to Edward Scissorhands. (Notice the tagline of this blog says “shameless self-promotion,” but I also shamelessly promote my loved ones.) If you’ve ever felt like an outcast or a misfit, give my sister’s novel a read. Seriously, after you’ve figured out how many MJ songs you can name, moonwalk on out of here and check out her book. She references Thriller in it too! Shamone!
Like a carpenter, ready to build something beautiful and long-lasting, a writer carries a tool belt, except it’s filled with words, themes, emotions, and characters instead of wrenches, hammers, and bolts. With these tools, a writer doesn’t write stories–-a writer builds homes for the homeless, the misfits, recluses, lonely souls, the invisible ones, friendless ones, heartbroken ones, impoverished ones, oppressed ones, the ones who feel voiceless and avoid mirrors and never cross the velvet rope and never receive invites to dinner and walk with their heads down, while reading a book, the only place they belong: in the shelter known as a kindred story.
I read a recent article that said millennials have no use for heirlooms. I’m not sure if that is true, but there is a lack of sentimentality in society overall. I wonder if our digital world is partly to blame? As for me, I need a personal attachment to my music and literature.
As a member of Gen-X, I miss going to the record store, buying an LP (that’s “long playing” record for you young ‘ens), slicing open the plastic wrap (and, oh, if it was a double album, opening the centerfold), and taking out that shiny black disc. There was something pleasant about holding it between two palms (fingers never touching the disc), blowing gently over the record to remove any dust, placing it delicately on the turntable, and putting down the needle. I loved the soft hiss before the music started. There was an aesthetic to it, and that is missing from the world today.
Perhaps it’s also the ease of replacement that cancels the feeling of attachment? If my computer crashes, I have my music backed up elsewhere. I can do the same with a book catalog. Sure, back in the day, if I scratched a record, or broke it, or heaven forbid, left it near a sunny window and warped it, I could replace it, but it would always be an object that I could hold. I can’t hold the thousands of songs I have today. Not literally.
But, hey, I’m no fool, I love having thousands of songs at my fingertips, along with movies and books. The vast volume and readiness is amazing. I don’t deny that. I can imagine how excited my younger self would have felt at having over a thousand songs on one handheld device. I would have loved YouTube, watching my favorite music videos anytime, anywhere. The ease of Netflix, and the readiness of an e-book device on a long flight.
Still, I miss interacting with my entertainment. Maybe I’m weird. I don’t need the visceral experience to enjoy any of it, but it is missing from the world today, and I can’t help but feel forlorn sometimes.