An act of ego and a painted love letter

Helga’s Post #60:


‘Red Black and Silver’ by Jackson Pollock

This post is in honor of the 5 Writers’ upcoming deadline in early 2014. That’s when we are meeting to present outlines of our next novels.

It’s all about plot. To give your characters something to do.

One of the most agonizing decisions a writer will make is to decide on a plot for his or her first or next book. Endless choices. What to do? Write a novel that is a disguised autobiography? Pretend you invented your protagonist (which in reality is you, the author), as well as the antagonist, (your ex-spouse or your less than beloved sibling or parent) that engage in all that mischief in your novel.

Apparently, autobiographies that pretend to be fictional characters happen with alarming regularity. Sometimes thinly disguised (usually newbie writers) while better authors hide it more cleverly. It’s safe to assume that all of us create at least one character in our writing that is closely copied on someone we know, and more often, ourselves. ‘Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it,’ according to literary critic and writer William Zinsser. It makes sense. Write what you know.

So you decided more or less on your characters, maybe even before you have the outline of your plot, or the other way around. What will the plot be? You needn’t look far. Just read or listen to the news. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. A minefield for writers deciding on a plot. Let’s look at a few examples. The most recent, in fact from today’s news, contain some beauties. Black Friday. The day after America gave thanks:

Police intervened in a shoplifting scheme outside a Kohl’s in Illinois. Officers chased two suspects who reportedly stole clothing. An officer was involved in a struggle and was dragged by a car driven by one of the suspects in the parking lot. Shots were fired, and the suspect was struck in the shoulder. The suspect and the officer were hospitalized.

A Las Vegas shopper who bought a TV from Target was shot by a thief while taking his purchase to his home. Warning shots by the robber caused the victim to drop the television. As the thief tried to load the TV into a car, he fired two more shots, striking the victim in the leg.

A man in Claypool Hill, West Virginia, was slashed to the bone with a knife after threatening another man with a gun in an argument over a Wal-Mart parking spot, Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt told NBC. Both faced charges after the incident.

Nice going. That could make a neat intro for a novel about the First World’s drug of choice, consumerism. Add some conspiracy theory on how big business gets into our brains with all sorts of subliminal images to get us hooked. Add some greedy multinational executive and a Chinese Communist party billionaire, and you got yourself a fine thriller. Call it the decay of civilization or something more fetching.


Black Friday Stampede.

If you are in the process of deciding on the image of your antagonist, you need look no further than the Chicago Tribune website ‘Mugs in the news – A collection of Chicago-area arrest photos’. It features 100 mug shots to get you started, complete with names and charges from attempted murder to every conceivable crime you ever heard of.

But let’s not dwell entirely on the violent stuff. If your forte lies in a genre less blood-lusty, you will find lots of juicy news that could be part of the plot for your next novel. Here is a recent snippet. I love the intrigue and romance of this love triangle story:

You could call it CSI art world, as reported in a Mail Online article.

‘How hair from a bear skin rug proved Pollock’s last work really was a love letter to his mistress.

A retired New York City detective has used forensic techniques to help solve one of the art world’s longest running cold cases over a disputed Jackson Pollock painting. For 57 years the artist’s mistress, Ruth Kligman, has claimed he created Red, Black & Silver as a love token for her, one month before he was killed in a car crash.the-last-pollock_2728930b

And now, thanks to the discovery of fur from a polar bear skin rug and hair from the artist, forensics expert Nicholas Petraco has authenticated her story. Traces of the fur from a rug in Pollock’s East Hampton home, a hair from the artist and sand unique to his neighborhood have all been found in the painting. The discovery marks the first time crime scene analysis has been used to prove a painting’s authenticity by looking for fragments found in it, rather than just on the paint.’

Granted, that by itself does not a story make. But the character of the mistress is fascinating. (Andy Warhol and other famous artists had a crush on her too.) And the outcome for her (by now her estate) was huge: a multi-million dollar windfall instead of zero if it were a fake. All due to a hair from a fur rug. We writers are creative. We could spin a yarn from this snippet – with fictionalized characters of course – that could be the springboard for a 400-page novel. It always starts with the writer’s two most often used words: “What if…”

Oh, the possibilities.

Here’s another one, quite different. Writers who love the macabre might find excitement and inspiration in this story:

‘(Reuters) – A German policeman has been arrested after the chopped-up body of a man he met on a fetishist website for cannibalism was found buried in his garden, police in the eastern city of Dresden said on Friday. “The victim had been fantasizing about being killed and eaten by someone else since his youth,” Dresden police chief Dieter Kroll told a news conference. It was not immediately clear whether any act of cannibalism had taken place. The investigation recalled the case of Armin Meiwes, dubbed the “Cannibal of Rothenburg”, who killed and ate a man who had advertised on the Internet for someone to kill him “and leave no trace”. Meiwes, who filmed the act, received a life sentence in 2006. Dresden police said the suspect was a 55-year-old who worked as a technical expert in the criminal investigation department. The victim was identified only as a 59-year-old man from Hanover and the case was being treated as murder, they said.’

Not my forte.

Nothing yet that holds appeal for you? Try this, just reported today:

‘Remote-controlled helicopter allegedly used for prison smuggling’.

Or this:

LONDON – The London Fire Brigade is asking the public to use some “common sense” after firefighters assisted a man whose penis was stuck in a toaster. The Fire Brigade said the 1,300 emergency calls involving people stuck or trapped since 2010 included a man with his penis stuck in a toaster, an adult stuck in a child’s toy car and 79 people who were unable to free themselves from handcuffs donned for amorous purposes, The Mirror Reported Monday.

Don’t you just love these images? So have fun, let your mind stray as you plan your next novel.

6 thoughts on “An act of ego and a painted love letter

  1. Oh good Lord I hardly know where to start! The German cop? Really? And his victim! Too bizarre. Don and both had a painful laugh over the toaster guy. You can find anything in RL if you look hard enough.

    • Thanks, Silk. There is so much bizarre stuff out there, it’s hard to make choices. All fodder for our writing mills.

  2. A toaster??? I don’t even want to know what he was thinking! 🙂 My characters will tell you they chose me to help write their stories because we do share some common experiences. But they will also make it quite clear that they are not simply fictional versions of me. I’m looking forward to seeing how your outlines have turned out and what then follows!

    • Indeed. Who would ever think of a toaster / male anatomy combo! About the autobiographical angle: every time I have been trying to create a character with some of my own traits, it hasn’t worked out all that well. I am wondering if this is somewhat weird. Or maybe I just want to make sure not to reveal much of me! Thanks for your comment, JM

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