characterization

Landscape of Life


When I think about life events, I’ve considered how they might change a person.  I do this now, more than ever before.  What hits us most hard are the occurrences that mean we must conform to something new.  The death of a family member, friend or pet.  A divorce.  A marriage.  The loss of a job, or the move into a new home.  A pregnancy.  A new job.  All these and so many others permanently affect us as individuals.

With the more dramatic life events, I find death is the most difficult event to process.  In the past decade, maybe a little longer, I’ve had two co-workers and a brother in law commit suicide.  Three people.  It astounds me I know three people who took their life by putting guns to their heads.  I found the body of young man on the beach.  That was back in 2001.  My son and I were walking on the beach, talking.  Up ahead I noticed a strange looking object that seemed, at first, to be lying on the sand.  As we came a little closer, I could tell this brown and black object was in a tidal pool.  I thought it was possibly driftwood, then I had the horrible thought it was a drowned dog, like a German Shepherd.  I began running, and then slowed down.  Oh.  It was a person.  He looked like he was just floating there, for pleasure. Except, a wave came in, a rather large one, and it was the lack of reaction that made me start running towards him again.  A looseness which told me, something wasn’t right.

And, it wasn’t.

Later, I found out from his family he’d been fasting and praying after 9/11 and was too weak to fight the rip current from a recent hurricane.

As many know, in 2012, I lost my job at Nortel.  That same month, I signed the contract with my agent.  Veritable ups and downs.  Then, a few months later, I had to euthanize my dogs, Bella and Kiwi.  A friend’s child passed away at only six years of age when they had to make the horrific decision to take him off life support. He’d developed a fever which triggered seizures. The medical staff couldn’t bring him out of his drug induced coma because the seizures began again.  He had a twin brother.  What did this do to him?

And then there was Dad, who passed earlier this year.  And I watched my mother shrink, actually becoming smaller, frailer, afraid.  The paint strokes for that were broad and sweeping, dark and volatile, grays of depression, the ugly red of anger, all expressions of grief.  It covered me.  It covered all of us.

I am not who I used to be.  No longer am I that crazy, cut-up with a love for unusual shoes, dancing (even though I couldn’t, not really), that spur of the moment sort of person.  Nowadays, sure, I still joke around a little, but I’m more serious, and maybe I need the fashion police because I tend to wear flip flops (year round) and, haven’t seen a nightclub in almost twenty years, because I like being at home.  Some would call this getting old.  Maybe that’s it, but I prefer to just see it as who I am now.

The other day while I was running, the term “landscape of life,” came to me.  It stemmed from the thought we humans are a lot like wet paint on a canvas.  We shift our emotions, and ourselves in order to conform to pain, happiness, or sadness.  Sometimes we become different versions of the person we used to be, before things happened to us.  Like an artist who creates a mood on canvas by using various colors of paint or by incorporating different textures or a new technique, I think humans are like wet paint too.   Our moods, our persona, is the landscape, meaning we adjust and transform ourselves over time.  Maybe some aspect of our old behaviors are simply wiped away as we move beyond what we’ve experienced

I’d like to believe, and I hope, I can somehow use these life experiences when it comes to character development, or capturing a reaction accurately, turning it into a believable rendering a reader can actually relate to and feel.

the-artist-at-work-anna-bain

Courtesy artistandstudio.tumblr.com

Even though we may have lived it and breathed it, putting emotions into words and onto the page…it still doesn’t come any easier, does it?

Flash Fiction Addiction


I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m addicted to Janet Reid’s flash fiction contests.  They’re fun.  They’re great practice for learning how to use words sparingly while building a story, which must include a beginning, middle, end.  They give you a sense of accomplishment – yay I finished something! – especially if in the throes of a WIP.

Lucky for us, Ms. JR held a couple contests the weekends of May 30th, and June 6th.  For May 30th’s contest, I think blog comments may have prompted a North Carolina themed contest, and the one on June 6th was a suggestion from Colin Smith a “reg’lar” on her blog.  He reads a lot of books by a client of hers, author Gary Corby, whose latest book, DEATH EX MACHINA was released.

Of course I entered both.  As usual, she gave five prompt words, and then we have to write a story in 100 words or less.

Here is my entry for May 30th, where I placed as a FINALIST (whoop!) out of about 75 entries. Prompt words:  balloon, heart, wife, dare, plott (yes, with two t’s)

I watch the sun rise, a red balloon in the eastern sky. Haint stands at the river’s edge while Banner runs nearby sniffing traces of yesterday.

Never had much heart for anything other than these old Plott hounds, God love’em. Last year when that water moccasin bit Lloyd, then Haint, it tested that very fact.

Lloyd had hollered, “Wife! Move your ass, I’m bit!”

Forty years. Never once called me by my name.

I daresay my decision came then.

Is puttin’ a dog ahead of a human a sin?  

Maybe.

I wipe spittle off Lloyd’s chin and watch the dogs.

***************************************************************************************************************

For June 6th contest which I WON (!)  Double WHOOP!  Prompt words were:  chorus, ghost, actor, crane, stage

Back when I won’t more’n a speck, I heard what sounded like a chorus of voices under my bed mumblin’ some word.

I couldn’t rightly make it out at first, so’s I kept on listening, night after night.

Finally, I got it.

Useless.

I reckon they was ghosts.

That actor what shot Lincoln? Useless was last word he said afore he died, no foolin’.

Troublin’ what I see when I crane my neck like so. They been hammering since yesterday.

Come dawn, reckon I’ll be center stage.

It’s alright. I ain’t ever amounted to nothin’.

Funny.

Useless comes to mind.

These are The Shark’s words verbatim, below my entry in the finalist area, “This is a stunning demonstration of how to show rather than tell, and establishing character through diction.”

Reading that was SUBLIME, and then she added this with her determination of how she chose this piece as the winner, “It was very hard to pick a winner this week because all of these stories had things I loved.  In the end though it had to be Donnaeve for a compelling demonstration of craft and story.

ON.  THE.  FLOOR.

Then, I got up and did this:

Happy Dance

courtesy LOL.ROFL

Updates…, and On Writing With Sentimentality


In the last post “What If,” I described a crazy scam perpetrated by someone who sounded as if he’d previously worked in law enforcement.  I’m happy to say that, although he hasn’t been caught, the local sheriff’s department has made headway.  I’ve been given a weekly update and told it will be a lengthy investigation and that they’ve involved another agency.  Harnett County Sheriff’s office doesn’t take lightly the impersonation of law enforcement officers, much less using a judge’s name (there is a Judge Faircloth in Harnett County).  This crazy operation – which still makes no sense to anyone – will hopefully end up with an arrest.

In addition, and unbelievably, we’ve had a visitor here by the name of Type B influenza, which decided my husband looked like a good candidate for a nice long stay.  I thought flu season was over.  Evidently not.  On May 4th, what was a strange pesky cough quickly disintegrated overnight into a high fever, and it all went downhill from there.  At this point, he’s sick of being sick.

He’s on the mend, but he’s still not “right.”

Then there’s the whole thing about flu shots.  I’ve been told if you get the shot, and end up with the flu, it won’t be as severe.  Someone told me they got one, and they were laid up just as long as my husband.  I was told the serum for this year’s batch was only 2% effective against the strains out there.  I had Guillain-Barré syndrome back in 1993.  I’m not supposed to get them, although as one gets older I think you have to sort of mitigate one risk against the other.  Since GBS is triggered by a virus, it’s “advised” not to get flu shots, yet I’ve read arguments on both sides, and still I’m not sure what’s the answer.

****************************************************************

I subscribe to two writing magazines, Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers.  Interestingly, in an old issue of P&W, (old because I’m a year behind in reading these magazines) I ran across an article that was called “The Sentimentalist,” by Nate Pritts.  He writes that lately he’s seen an increasing number of instances in the literary community regarding the issue of sentimentality in creative work.  He questions this latest critiquing expression and wonders if it’s being used to, “excoriate a person or creative work,” and if so, how does one respond to it, if used against their own work?

The article moves on to explore how this view of being “sentimental,” came about.  How was it decided at some juncture this work or that work is sentimental, and therefore not worthy of publication?  A group of essays by Joy Katz, called “A Symposium on Sentiment” was presented in 2010 in a panel discussion at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs where she offered this explanation.  “Modernism…cooled the heart of poetry, confessionalism warmed it up; and poststructuralism threw a bucket of ice water on it.”

Pritts went on to say that sentimentality is seen as a weakness.  “A tired Oscar Wilde quote which calls the sentimentalist, ‘one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion, without having payed for it.’  Or Chekhov’s dictum, ‘If you wish to move your reader, write more coldly.’

Pritts continues on to say there is an underground movement however, in which poets and writers are resisting, or maybe the better word is insisting, that writing with sentimentality isn’t such a bad thing.  What’s wrong with being tagged as a writer “excessively prone to feeling,” as Webster’s defines the word?

More exploration by Pritts reveals a dissection of the differences between sentiment and sentimental.  Sentiment is based on experiences by individuals, those life events which create the feelings, as in nostalgia.  He explains critics use sentimentality to charge certain writing with “unwarranted sentiment, passages of unmoored or unjustified feeling.”

The article has so many interesting facets about the topic and about the fundamental job of a writer to not write as if overcome by emotion, “literally undone by feelings that seem baseless or without any clear origin that readers can trace and feel likewise moved by.”

From my own view, I don’t think a writer has done their work if a character falls apart without first showing that character for who they are, why they are the way they are, i.e., seeing their world through their eyes.  Otherwise, it’s like attending a funeral of someone you don’t know, or like the old movies where melodrama was usually on full display.

Damsel In Distress, courtesy Wingeye.

Damsel In Distress, courtesy Wingeye

How can you tell if you’ve fallen into the “sentimentality” trap?  I think one particular sentence Pritts wrote nailed it perfectly.

He said, “No matter how close we are to something, how invested we are in the subject matter, we have to find some way to retain distance.  The challenge we face as writers is to say something more like ‘Look at this thing that happened; let me show you why it’s terrible.  Or beautiful.  Or disappointing.  Or transcendent.'”

It seems to be back to that old adage, show, not tell, doesn’t it?

What The Heck Is This?


When I finished my last project I realized I was in a bit of a dilemma.  Based on what I’d read, it wasn’t an unusual spot to be in.  My dilemma was, what genre did my book fit in?  I hadn’t written a mystery because a reader would know certain things up front my MC didn’t.  My MC wasn’t trying to solve the crime, she was simply trying to find out what happened to her parents.  It wasn’t a thriller because although I did try to make things suspenseful for her, I didn’t have her hanging by a fingernail out of a plane door, nor did I have her standing on the ledge of some mountain about two thousand feet up with a knife wielding maniac taking swipes at her torso.  I didn’t have my bad guy constantly thwarting every attempt she made to figure things out.

I simply wrote it (ha! simply wrote = eighteen months of hair pulling and angst), tried to make it good, typed THE END and then I admit, I sat back and wondered, what the heck is this? 

Was it so out of line, so off the mark of anything marketable it was doomed from the get go?  I’ve tried not to worry about that.  Then, one day, without me trying to figure it out, I was practically handed my answer on a silver platter because I honestly can’t tell you how I land on the sites that answer my questions.  I traverse the internet the way a monkey traverses treetop canopies.  I cavort here and there without paying attention to what I’m linking to, flip flopping around like a spider on a web.  (no pun intended.  Well, okay, there is, because it’s a pretty good one if you’ve ever seen a spider spinning a web)   Hither thither I go, reading this and that.

I somehow found myself on the Algonquin Redux site and landed on a list that clearly stated the difference between a mystery and a thriller.  Here’s the short of it:

MYSTERY                                                                  THRILLER
A puzzle                                                                       A nightmare
Curiosity motivates                                                   Victim story (at top)
Protagonist has skills                                                Protagonist must learn skills
Thinking is paramount                                             Feeling is paramount
Action is offstage                                                        Action is onstage
Small circle of acquaintances                                  Thrust into larger world
Clues                                                                             Surprises/twists
Red herrings                                                                Cycles of mistrust
Information withheld from audience                     Information given to audience
Audience a step behind                                             Audience a step ahead
Mostly single Point of View                                      Up to four Points of View
Whodunnit?                                                                 What will happen?
Suspects                                                                        Betrayers
Ending intellectually satisfying                               Ending emotionally satisfying
Closure a requirement                                               Can end ambiguously
Series expected                                                            Often stand-alone
Usually 300 pages                                                       Can be longer

Here’s the link if you want to read the article in it’s entirety.  It’s actually pretty short.  This was all fine and good but it still didn’t quite nail the way I handled my story, or maybe I should say the way my characters handled the story.  Therefore, I still didn’t have a clue.  But, lucky me, I subscribe to various blogs and am never at a loss for something to read.  And just over a week ago I found my answer here.  Hallelujah, what I wrote actually fits nicely into this!  Crime fiction!  Whoop!

On what constitutes crime fiction:

“I would say that crime fiction is less about the whodunit than about the protagonist’s dilemma in a criminal milieu. The protagonist may not have all the information—so there is a mystery in that he is trying to find something out—but the story is really about how he solves his problems, which are often as much about his lifestyle as about the particular crime that spurs the plot. For instance, in Ray Bank’s brilliant Saturday’s Child, Cal Innes is forced by a local mob boss to find a former employee and the money he stole, but in many ways the story is about Cal trying to find a place for himself and form an adult life within a socioeconomic stratum that offers very few options.”

—Stacia Decker (Donald Maass Literary Agency)

This was such a relief because “crime fiction” isn’t listed very often.  If you do a search on it you can find some resources, but mostly you get thriller, suspense and mystery and often all of these are lumped together.  When I was trying to buy books so I could read “in the genre” I was writing, suspense was the one I searched under.  And oftentimes I ended up giving up because I just couldn’t seem to pinpoint a similar story.  (Saturday’s Child above would have been good to know about, for example)

Now I know.  A day late and a dollar short maybe, but my book fits somewhere!  Clearly!

Have you ever written a book, only to have no idea what the heck it is?

A Story Worth Telling


Blank.  Vacant.  Meaningless.

Those three words describe the current situation with my latest WIP.  This will be the fourth book I’ve written – if I ever get it done.  I felt like this with the last one too, and I did finish it, so yay, consolation there, right?  Meh, sort of.

What’s different is, I’ve run up against a new problem I’ve not encountered before; what is the story?  What am I writing about? I haven’t the faintest idea.  I still love the setting.  I still love the working title.  I just can’t seem to get my act together, and it’s starting to get a little worrisome.

Here’s what I want.  I want to be buried so deep I can’t see anything else but where the storyline is going next.  I want to drift around the house with that perpetual little wrinkle between my eyebrows, as I worry over a particular plot point.  I want my fingers to strike the keyboard fast as they can and still not be able to keep up.  I want to STOP pecking out a few words only to delete them.  I want to stop feeling like the ideas are all a waste of time.  I want to stop thinking I have nothing left.

I’ve sat on quite a few ideas, for days, weeks even.  I started to write, only to trash all within a day or two – usually as soon as I go back and re-read what I have the next day.  Two months ago, I was ten thousand words in on one lame idea, and it just didn’t feel right.  I think what I mean is, I wasn’t excited.  What actually went through my  head was, “God, this is a stupid story.”  If I’m not excited, how could anyone else feel that way?

Since then, I’ve play around with several other beginnings, only to get about two to three thousand words in, and I’m like, “nah.”  I’ve had so many false starts at this point, my folder for the new project has racked up discarded bits and pieces of this and that, just like the donated clothing bin over on Highway 421 with its overflowing trash bags of shoes, sweaters, pants,and coats.  I think I even saw someone’s red negligee fluttering in the wind.  In typical fashion, I think, ah, there’s a story there.  And the brain cells dry up.

I’ve questioned if I’ve pigeon holed myself by choosing this particular place to write about.  I don’t think so.  It’s a swampy area, and the perfect place for something suspenseful to happen.  But what?

Part of my relentless doubt about my new story’s beginning is because recently, I was blown away by a random encounter with an opening line of a story that grabbed me, and held on.  In my mind, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.

“The boy was on fire.”

This is how THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY by Shaun Hutchinson begins.  The book is not in a genre I would typically read, (LGBT YA), but I found myself absorbed instantly in the story.  Much like the last post, the writing once again only underscored the point that if the story is good enough, if it pulls a reader in and keeps them intrigued, it’s a story worth writing, a story worth telling.  It has heart.  It has tension filled moments.  It has a MC I want to get to know better.  I want to know how he ended up where he was, and what might happen to him.

If I didn’t know it before, I know it now.  This is why I’m still searching.  It’s why I haven’t yet found what I want to write about because until I’ve got something that snags at my heart strings the way the beginning of this story did, it does no good to start and stop.  If I have any confidence at all, it’s in the fact I recognize this and know it’s all part of the process.

It will happen – eventually.

Bottom line, I really just want a story worth telling, don’t you?

Scary Stuff


Last year on Halloween, I received the second round of feedback from the editor on my current project, A BLACK WATER SEASON.  She’d read the first 100 pages back in the spring, and, in a nutshell, hated them.  So, I had to start the story over and when I did, I changed it by telling it from a different POV, as well as shifting to a dual narrative. I sent her the brand new sample pages and waited.  They came back about ten days later – with a thumbs up – and I recall telling her I was glad I’d received a treat – not a trick.  It was Halloween, after all.

Of course, all of you know by now, the project is finished.  You know that it received wonderful praise from a focus group of test readers out of Book-Hive.  I received Author Of The Month as it was their highest ranked manuscript in August.

What you don’t know is the editor did not like certain things about the story, and did not like it enough to have me send it straight away to my agent.  She said the characters were “miserable.”  She felt I had too much internal monologue going on with my protagonist and antagonist.  She felt there should be more shared with regards to the sheriff, Wade Malone.  And last, and worst of all, she said the story was too slow.

A lot of her feedback conflicted directly with the group of Test Readers.

When Jennifer Bowen of Book-Hive asked what the editor thought and I shared her feedback, she said, “Hmmm, well, maybe this wasn’t the story for this particular editor.”

I loved that.  Still, I was faced with this new dilemma.  With such differing opinions, what should I do with the story?

This was certainly a bit of a conundrum and the decision as to what changes I needed to make had me stalled for a while.  Eventually, I cut some, (not all) of the internal monologue.  Enough to satisfy my guilt over not taking everything the editor said to task.  I then added in a couple of new scenes between Ruby/Haskell and Wade/Ruby based on the Book-Hive feedback.  I tweaked the ending which was all of my own doing.

What has continued to pester me though is that one big thing the editor suggested I do – and didn’t.  And that was to add that new POV narrative with the sheriff.  This would have been a major re-write.  It would have destroyed the structure of the story where, for the majority of the book, each chapter picks up where the other leaves off between my good guy (girl) and bad guy. Think maybe “duel” instead of “dual” narrative.

The other thing too, was, I hadn’t set out to write a crime novel.  The story wasn’t about the investigation.  It wasn’t as if I ignored the investigative tasks altogether.  I actually had a Raleigh City police K9 detective who answered some of my questions about what a law enforcement person could or couldn’t do.  I wrote about the sheriff’s initial interview with my protagonist.  I detailed his interactions with my antagonist, and mostly, I showed his “work” on the “case,” with his interrogations via dialogue – twice with the antagonist and twice with the protagonist.

Still, if you’re like me, you begin to question every choice made about revisions once it’s out of your hands.  Did I do the right thing?  Should I have worked on it more, maybe written in that extra POV, if for not for any other reason than just to see if his voice would come through?

It’s scary stuff.  Scary because it seems as if we’re always second guessing ourselves, asking the what if’s and what about’s once we let it go.  It’s scary because we follow some advice while ignoring the rest, all the while not knowing if what we’ve ignored was spot on.

S.C.A.R.Y.

What do you do when you’ve had such diverse opinions?

Bad Moon Rising

Why My Heroine Won’t Save Herself


When I started writing my latest book, my characters were murky – as they typically are.  I had no clue what they looked like, what they were interested in, what made them tick, because they didn’t exist in my mind – yet.

Many writers will talk about how their protagonists and antagonists step forward to show themselves – sort of like a reveal.  I say lucky them.  I envy this because it doesn’t happen over here in “blank land” which is what I call the space I occupy as I begin a new project.  For some writers on the very first day their butt hits the chair, they have a clear vision of what will happen – and who will make it happen.  They are able to go about the business of writing merrily, what with their extensive charting of character personalities, background, traits.  Or, maybe their ideas for characters simply stick in their heads, clinging as tightly as a two year old to a parent’s leg on the first day of pre-school, and screaming just as loud.

I’ve tried to shove my characters forward, using a template to jot down their physical appearance, personality traits, background story, and all that, like a rude jab in the back and…, it didn’t work for me.  Nothing I wrote down seemed right.  I spent days going back again and again, trying to fill in details about who the hell I was writing about.  Yet, any foreknowledge of them was like trying to predict next years super bowl winner.  I couldn’t do it.  What worked was getting to know them, just like real people.  I did this by writing about them every day.  And as I did that, a little more was discovered, another little nuance to their way of thinking popped up, resulting in a different reaction than what I’d written the day before.  Before long, I knew what seemed right or what didn’t about them.  I knew them.  I had their voices in my head – finally.  (finally!)    It took months to get to that point.

All of that brings me to the point of this post – and why my heroine won’t save herself. 

Like all of my characters, my heroine, which might not be the right term for her considering what I’m about to say, was slow in letting me get to know her.  In the story, she doesn’t perform feats of strength.  She doesn’t develop an innate ability to stay ahead of the bad guy’s every step.  She doesn’t somehow tragically fall into the well known trap like the characters who go down the dark steps and into the dark basement when they know a murderer could be lurking there. IMHO, this is so typical, and grossly overused.  Maybe because it works.  I guess, and that’s fine.  I just didn’t want to do this.

To keep beating the drum about what I didn’t do…

She doesn’t magically know how to avoid danger by suddenly developing a sixth sense.  She is suspicious of it, has gut feelings, but as the story plays out, when she lands in a dangerous situation (and she does), it’s not meant to be a descent into the basement sort of situation.  (That’s my hope). She doesn’t know jack about self defense and she doesn’t suddenly develop the skills of a top notch sleuth, spinning her way through the clues and miraculously solving the mystery of her parent’s disappearance.  She is a survivor, in the plainest and simplest of terms.  She is, as I wanted her to be, a typical eighteen year old girl, who just graduated high school, with intentions of spending the summer figuring out what she wants to do.  Until, she comes home and finds things are not as they should be. 

But wait.  Does this mean I made her boring?  I don’t think so.  Did I give her some unique skill set – you bet.  Did I use that skill set to somehow thwart Mr. Bad Guy.  Nope.  I started to…and then I thought, no, wait that’s falling into the “cookie cutter” trap.  What I tried to do was write real world actions and reactions – for all my characters, depending on how they developed over time.

The other techniques mentioned do work, I know they do and they’ve created some real blockbuster bestsellers.  Whether the way I’ve done it works – no freaking idea.  I’d like to think it will. In my case, I simply wanted to try to write about a situation that could happen to any of us, and I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, I still won’t go into my cellar after dark – even with a flashlight that works.  I tried to think, if this happened to me, what would I do?  Sure, she’s not sitting around filing her nails, waiting on the phone to ring, but neither is she taking over the investigation.  She’s trying to live her life as best as she can, trying not to give up hope, trying to figure out if this person is good or bad, and really, why is her uncle make some of the decisions he’s making?  It’s an upside down world for her, and she’s only too aware of it.

She’s smart, yet she’s not super-hero smart.  She’s not going to save herself, and still, I really like her, the way Mark Darcy liked Bridget, of BRIDGET JONES DIARY…, “just as she is.”

The Best Character Of All Time


The news of James Gandolfini’s unexpected passing yesterday in Rome, Italy brought me to tears.  I’ll admit it, I’m not embarrassed, I believe I loved that man, the characters he’s played, but my favorite, my absolute tabloid like crush (like with most everyone else) was for Tony Soprano.

From the moment we started watching the show, we couldn’t get enough of it, and I couldn’t get enough of him.  I sat with my eyes bugged out wondering what Tony would do next – or not do.  He was always full of surprises, a complex character who, could be cruel, tenderhearted, thoughtful and compassionate, all in one show.  When the scenes didn’t include him?  I felt a tiny bit of separation anxiety.  🙂

Yesterday evening, and this morning too, it did me a world of good to hear the newscaster say that many women gravitated towards his character, this big lug of a mob boss with sensitivities,  (sensitive???), when he could shoot his closest friend…, his brother…or anyone else for that matter, all for the “business.”  I was thinking “phew!” so it’s not crazy to love someone so sick.

Of course I’m going on and on with the word love…my husband said, “it’s okay, honey.  I understand.”  (I think he had a man crush on him if he were honest with himself.)  Interestingly, it was only recently when I watched a segment on the History channel about the real mafia that I learned it was originally made of up five families who’d come here from Sicily and Italy.  They never referred to themselves as “the mafia,” or any other name commonly use by others.  (mob, organized crime)  No, It was always referred to “as this thing of ours.”

The show’s producers, as with any great show, had done their homework.  I remember hearing Tony’s character, as well as some of the other ones saying “this thing of ours…” when they they talked about setting up some part of the business, or had to discuss the problems within the ranks  – and there were plenty in that show.

I also learned that unless you were directly related by blood to one of those five original families, you couldn’t be part of the organization.  You could be a “director” (or maybe it was a manager – some common way of referring to a position within) but you couldn’t go through the formal ceremony of being “brought in.”

James Gandolfini’s ability to capture the essence of Tony Soprano was supreme, a gift, a rare talent and so natural that I sometimes wondered if he felt it was as easy as slipping his shoes on and off.  When writing, creating a character as multifaceted as that wouldn’t be easy, but if done well, you would have really have something, wouldn’t you?

R.I.P James Gandolfini

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