February, 2013:

AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR MELAYNIE?

Technology…can be frustrating! I have a new computer and the blog site was upgraded not long ago. Something isn’t connecting right or I am forgetting a step in publishing my latest blog. This one is from Sunday and it wasn’t published. So…here it is again.

 

I just finished watching the Academy Awards, a yearly ritual for me, and I enjoyed it as much as ever. I love movies and the entire process that goes with making them. The emotions that come out during the Oscar awarding process are priceless. I’ve had my dreams about achieving an Oscar.

When I first wrote my screenplay about Sir Francis Drake’s 16th century adventures in the Caribbean, I pictured it being produced and eventually becoming an Academy Award winner with me walking up to that stage to receive my Oscar for best screenplay. I named one of my first drafts “El Dragon,” the Spanish derogatory name for Drake, who was stealing as much Spanish gold and jewels as he could plunder from Spanish ships.

I received compliments on the script, which was read by more than a few in the show business industry. Their advice was invaluable and I did about eight rewrites—good experience but no results and no funding. Rather than give up on a great idea and a passion for me, I turned the saga into an historical adventure novel—Melaynie’s Masquerade—by adding a feminine touch. My daring young heroine would be a native of Plymouth, England, Francis Drake’s hometown. I envisioned a young woman with guts and daring in an era when females stayed home with husbands and children.

Mel book cover 0

Melaynie was jealous of her older brother who was signing aboard Drake’s ship and sailing off to strange new lands in tropical climates. She made an outrageous decision to masquerade as a captain’s boy for Drake, and since her brother couldn’t talk her out of her plan, he agreed to help and even kept her secret from her father and other brother.

Her yearlong voyage brings dangerous encounters with Spanish enemies and a crocodile, new friendships and a romance with a Spanish envoy, who discovers her disguise. When she returns with Drake to England, still masquerading as a young male, she finds she is pregnant. The fiction I created has many fascinating twists and turns along the way. Read it if you want to know what happens. Check it out on Amazon–there’s a link on this blog.

I never gave up on the possibility that my book might become a movie. And to that end, I daydreamed about my choices for the cast. Who would play Melaynie? Years ago I pictured Christina Ricci, who is small and feisty and an excellent actress. Since then I’ve thought of Kristen Stewart, Saorise Ronan and, of course, Jennifer Lawrence, who got the Oscar for best actress tonight.

For my hero, the fabulous Francis Drake? My first choice was Kenneth Branagh and at one point even tried to get in touch with his agent. Since then, I’ve considered Jude Law, Colin Firth, and most recently the multi-talented Bradley Cooper.

Bernardino, the Latin influence and brief love affair for Melaynie, seemed to call for Antonio Banderas a few years ago. Currently, I might cast James Franco.

Diego, the brave African character, who was a Spanish slave and actually did exist and later sailed with Drake around the world, was an ideal part, I felt, for Djimon Hounson (remember “Amistad”?). Nowadays, perhaps Idris Elba.

The creepy Jerome, who threatens Melaynie in various ways, might be played by Geoffrey Rush or Bill Nighy—they are both talented in playing a wide variety of characters.

The location for my movie dreams for Melaynie’s Masquerade would have to be the Caribbean. Where else but an island in that beautiful sea where the action (most of it is real history) really took place? Besides, I plan on going along to do some sort of supervising or rewriting…

 

 

 

 

 

EDITING…BEING A MIDWIFE

For a time I called myself a Forest Guide, it was a way of explaining editing to new, usually first-time authors. I would guide them through their forest of words, especially when they had gotten to that place where they couldn’t see the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes. Lately, I’m conceiving of myself as a midwife, who helps in the sometimes torturous process of giving birth. The birthing pains involved in creating a book and then sending it out into the world is a lot like having and raising a child. You’ll always feel attached, much like the author does. But you inevitably must let go of your book (child) to make its way in the world.

Before I started editing books, I spent years editing newspapers and magazines. Working with words—twisting them around, rearranging, deleting, finding a more concise, more understandable way of saying something was a wonderful challenge. I’ve always loved editing and the more I’ve done it, the faster and more accurate I’ve gotten. I was an early and avid reader, from Nancy Drew stories to fairy tales and then on to the gods and goddesses of ancient Athens and Rome. I remember accompanying my mother to libraries wherever our military family was stationed. I became an early enthusiast of historical fiction.

In high school and college, English (an outdated word for the subject) was my favorite subject. I majored in English in college but managed to take a variety of history courses, a never-ending passion that would lead me to writing Melaynie’s Masquerade when I got older. I became serious about writing as a high school freshman when I wrote for the school newspaper. In college I continued my reporting and was delighted at one of the school reunions years later when I saw a couple of my articles in a scrapbook on display.

Journalism has been a great teacher. It requires precise, truthful writing, easily understood, to explain: who, what, when, where, how and why to a reader. And the information is provided in a descending order—the most important information is given in the beginning. Books are usually not written that way, but a foundation in journalism has stood me in good stead for many years.

A few of the 100 books I've edited.

A few of the 100 books I’ve edited.

 

I’ve edited about 100 books in the past 15 years and each one has been a special journey. No matter how much I’d read of each book in advance, there were always surprises. A book develops a life of its own, which proves the baby analogy I mentioned in the beginning. Because many of my clients were “newbies” to the world of writing, I became a co-writer in many instances.

I have edited almost every genre of book from how to save for retirement to what a young man on the singles scene learns about sexual success and failure. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal in the process since my clients have experienced amazing things in all areas of the world.

Some of the books I’ve edited/co-written in my next blog.

 

VICTORIA GIRAUD E-BOOKS ON AMAZON

Would you like to read an interesting and absorbing story about a military family? Dysfunctional, like most everybody’s family.

As a military brat, I didn’t have to look far for inspiration and source material for this story. Is it truth or fiction? That’s left up to the reader.  From my observations and reading, I know that soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, returned from World War II and Korea with emotional and mental wounds besides the physical ones. Families–the wives and children–suffered from the resulting abusive behavior of veterans returning from war. This story reveals how one daughter made the best peace she could, considering her own feelings and emotional wounds.

They used to say, “The Army takes care of its own.” But that only went so far. I wonder what physical and psychological problems our soldiers, both male and female, will bring home from our wars in the Middle East. We’ve already seen many books and countless newspaper and magazine articles.

I can’t imagine growing up in one house, one town. I loved the adventure of military life and the broader view of the world that it gave me.

 

Check me out on Amazon. The price can’t be beat:

Victoria Giraud

Colonels Don’t Apologize can be found at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06SQB82E

 

Another good read is my memoir of life in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. World War II was over and the world could breathe again for a while. Libya was ruled by King Idris, and the US Military held sway at strategic Wheelus Air Force Base. Attending high school amidst sand and palm trees, camels and donkeys, in a small cosmopolitan city along the Mediterranean was about as unique and full of contrasts as an American teen could get in the mild 1950s.

American teenagers sported jeans while Libyan women were covered from head to foot. Americans brought their cars; most Libyans rode bicycles. Despite the differences, East and West cohabited peacefully. It’s a new century but the American military remains in these exotic areas of the world.

It’s on Amazon at  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006/R0RQRM

 

 

GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS

Paraphrasing Shakespeare–Hamlet said to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I have always been interested in the supernatural; I’ve had some experiences and know many friends who have had them as well. It’s a great topic for articles and stories.  Interesting note to add to this blog post…It was written on February 6 and, I thought, it was published. I provided a link on Facebook and sent out reminders. Were ghosts at work on this blog? Turns out it was still a DRAFT and not published, no matter what I’d announced. There are several steps involved in putting out a blog, and I was sure I’d paid attention to them all. So, Hamlet was right! At any rate, here it is again for those who haven’t read it.

I’ve written a short story (except my short stories are generally novellas and anything but short) about a true fascinating positive encounter—Angels in Uniform—and I interviewed a man who was living in a haunted house. The interview was published in the Daily News newspaper when I had a column.

Glen Peterson had bought a dilapidated “castle” in the Santa Monica Mountains and began restoring it  years ago. Resembling a German castle on a hill with its bell tower, gables, decorative wood beams, courtyard and guest house, the home was built in 1939 by Theodore Spurkuhl, a Paramount Studios director of photography known for his pioneering use of spotlights. Spurkuhl worked with many of the film greats: Ronald Coleman, James Cagney and Fred MacMurray, for instance, and was noted for his work on “Beau Geste” starring Gary Cooper.

SparkuhlHome

Spurkuhl put a great deal of energy into building the home. Since it was wartime, he even added a secret room in case the Japanese invaded or the Germans won the war. His descendants, who visited the site while Glen was restoring it, thought the cinematographer might have put too much intensity into the building project since he died in 1940.

Before Glen bought it, the home was owned by actor Nick Nolte, who purchased it in 1975 during the filming of the TV miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” The other actor in the series, Peter Strauss, had also bought property nearby. Coincidentally, Strauss’ property was later sold by Glen, who had been a real estate agent, to the National Park Service. This miniseries was quite recently featured on a PBS documentary “Pioneers of Television.”

The 70s were wild and crazy for Nolte. I remember seeing his old yellow Cadillac broken down by the side of a mountain road one day. Nolte and his friends partied quite a bit and the house suffered a good deal of damage. It was finally abandoned to birds of all types, squirrels and various other animals. It was a mess of animal droppings and the like when Glen began his restoration.

One evening after the house was beautifully finished, Glen was home alone enjoying a quiet evening. While listening to a new Terence Trent Darby recording and near the end of the song, Glen heard a loud knocking on the back door. He checked both inside and out and found no one. Back inside he restarted the song. The knocking began again at the exact same place.

This time he checked the windows, “I had repaired the windows just that morning,” Glen recalled, specifically to keep them from opening due to strong winds. They were all still closed, and he began the recording once more.

Glen played the song eight times, and “the pounding kept happening at the same time each time.” Every time it happened, he checked for a reason for the knocking, but found none. On the ninth try, the record played through to the end, and there were no further knocking sounds.

The mysterious last two lines of the song that finally played were: “No grave can hold my body down; this land is still my home.”

WRITING A SCRIPT IS QUITE A CHALLENGE

English hero, sea captain Sir Francis Drake

The creative force is a powerful one. When it grabs hold, it must be answered. My blog is just such a force. It pulls at me and I answer!

I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was a kid. As I grew older, I aspired to grander themes than newspaper and magazine articles. I dabbled in poetry but it was nothing that would make me famous or supply a living wage, even though I loved my imagery.

An Aussie named Dudley Hood helped ignite the spark that began to lead me down another path. When we met in Southern California some years ago, he had an idea for an historical TV series about the Caribbean. The area has a fascinating history and lots of mystical elements from the mix of cultures.

When I picked up a Michener novel on the Caribbean, I was excited about the possibilities, especially when I read about 16th century English hero, Sir Francis Drake. I’d always loved history and he was just the sort of take-charge but compassionate hero I could admire. Besides, his costumed character was a constant at the yearly spring Renaissance Faire I attended in those years.

Since Dudley wanted to collect a few screenplays about different areas in the Caribbean, I was inspired to try my hand at it. So what if I’d never written a screenplay before or even seen one? How difficult could it be for a writer?

When I started to research Drake, I discovered that Michener’s books: all those huge tomes about Hawaii, the Middle East, Alaska, Texas, Colorado, etc., were not completely accurate. Since he didn’t call them histories, he felt free to fictionalize. It made for a simpler story since real life is never tidy, although reel life (as in movies) is! James Michener didn’t even work as hard as I had presumed: he had his own research team.

Amazon book cover for Caribbean

Michener’s story about Drake was so tidy he created a neat rivalry between Drake, the English privateer the Spanish called El Dragon, and a Spanish official of high rank. In the 16th century, Spain was the ruler of the Old World and the New World. The Michener story was entertaining and neatly handled even though this individual Spaniard didn’t exist (he was a conglomerate of many Spanish ship captains, officials, etc.). Drake made lots of Spanish enemies before he was through robbing them of their gold, jewels, and various galleons.

After I’d been lent a few sample screenplays, and a book about creating them, I was soon happily engaged in writing. I was studying all those instructions about where to put: NIGHT, DAY, FADE IN, FADE OUT and what sort of emotion was on whose face, not to mention setting the scene. Aiming for a standard page count (at least then) of 120 pages, I was confident.

Dudley and I had met more than a few people industriously working or aspiring to work in the entertainment industry. It was relatively easy to interest people in helping to create a potential movie, TV program, etc. In LA, many of us live on dreams of stardom and success, and there are always a few who do realize their dreams, even in spectacular fashion.

I can no longer remember if our associate Jan was involved with costumes, set dressing or what, but she had been in the industry for a few years and was making a living at it. She was an intelligent, encouraging, enthusiastic kind of person. Our project must have sounded feasible.

I could hardly wait for her to take a look at my creative efforts when I’d completed my first draft. I’d put a lot of work into my script and I was brimming with pride.

When we met after she’d read it, I eagerly awaited her verdict. I was sure I had a good beginning and I even liked my dialog.

“Where’s the conflict?” she asked me gently. “Every film has a conflict.”

“It’s got plenty of conflict,” I replied, defensively. “Drake’s always fighting this battle or that.”

“It’s a dramatic technique to keep the audience interested. The work has to focus on a primary conflict of some kind as it builds to a climax and the conflict is resolved, one way or another,” she told me kindly. “You also don’t want to lose your viewer in all sorts of unnecessary details or lots of dialog to explain things. Film is a visual medium.”

My screenplay was just history with a few flourishes.  Maybe Michener was more right than I gave him credit for.

Back to the drawing board, I thought ruefully. It wasn’t so simple after all.

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