Thursday, April 4, 2013

I TOLD you Disney was a ripoff!

From Murnau's 1926 silent masterpiece, FAUST

From Disney's FANTASIA:  running low on ideas, boys?


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

You were temptation

The Glass Character: synopsis


A novel by Margaret Gunning

Published in April 2014 by Thistledown Press

I would like to introduce you to my third novel, The Glass Character, a story of obsessive love and ruthless ambition set in the heady days of the Jazz Age in the 1920s. This was a time when people went to the movies almost every day, living vicariously through their heroes: Valentino, Garbo, Fairbanks and Pickford. But comedians were the biggest draw, and broad slapstick the order of the day - with one very significant exception.

Standing beside Keaton and Chaplin in popularity and prowess was a slight, diffident man named Harold Lloyd. He hid his leading man good looks under white makeup and his trademark black-framed spectacles. Nearly 100 years later, an iconic image of Lloyd remains in the popular imagination: a tiny figure holding on for dear life to the hands of a huge clock while the Model Ts chuff away 20 stories below.

With his unique combination of brilliant comedy and shy good looks, Lloyd had as many female followers as Gilbert or Barrymore. Sixteen-year-old Muriel Ashford, desperate to escape a suffocating life under her cruel father's thumb, one day hops a bus into the unknown, the Hollywood of her dreams. Though the underside of her idealistic vision is nasty and fiercely competitive, she quickly lands extra work because of her Pickford-esque ability to smile and cry at the same time.

When her idol Harold Lloyd walks on the set, her life falls into a dizzy whirl of confusion, attraction, and furious pursuit. Muriel tries on and sheds one identity after another: bit actress, waitress in a speakeasy, "girl reporter", script writer - while Lloyd almost literally dances in and out of her desperately lonely world, alternately seducing her and pushing her away.

While researching this book, I repeatedly watched every Lloyd movie I could get my hands on. I was astonished at his subtlety, acting prowess and adeptness at the art of the graceful pratfall. His movies are gaining new popularity on DVD (surprisingly, with women sighing over him on message boards everywhere!). The stories wear well and retain their freshness because of the Glass Character's earnest good nature and valiant, sometimes desperate attempts to surmount impossible challenges.

Introduction: Why Harold Lloyd?

The Glass Character is a fictional account of a young girl’s experiences in Hollywood from approximately 1921 to 1962, in which she develops a relationship with silent film comedian Harold Lloyd. Though I did extensive research in exploring the era in general and his life in particular, this story is not intended to be a biography of Lloyd. My main purpose was to communicate atmosphere: the excitement, exuberance and joy of these “high and dizzy” times.

Though I have the greatest respect for the memory of Harold Lloyd, who is in my mind one of the most charismatic performers in screen history, I did not wish to paint him as a two-dimensional figure or a saint. Though his behaviour is not always exemplary in this story, I tried to portray him as I came to believe he was: a human being of enormous complexity, phenomenal talent, and a basic midwestern decency that served him for a lifetime. This is not the Harold Lloyd, but a Harold Lloyd, a personal, fictional portrayal of a supremely gifted artist based on deep research and multiple (and very enjoyable) viewings of his remarkable films.

With his boyish good looks and appealing everyman persona, Lloyd was no less than the inventor of an entire film genre: the romantic comedy. These sample remarks from YouTube (all by women) indicate a charm and magnetism that reaches across generations:

I think he was and still is one of the most attractive men ever to walk the earth. I absolutely love him!

Each time I watch his movies I fall in love a little more.  He is sooooooo funny and the most handsome man ever!

Talented, funny, smart, creative and damn gorgeous!

I find him really attractive with his glasses on, and you can’t beat that half-shy, half-sly smile of his.

I don’t want to say it but he is in my fantasies. . . sigh.

I doubt if George Clooney could inspire such rhapsodic praise.

When I sat down to write, words often tumbled out at a fever pitch. Many of the scenes came to me out of sequence, as if I were shooting a movie. Inspiration had a timetable of its own and sometimes happened on holiday (can you believe I almost missed the Grand Canyon?). This had never happened to me before, and I had to take a few leaps of faith to believe I could ever piece it all together.

Plunging into his pictures to such depth, I experienced an immediacy, even an intimacy I had never known before. I was breathing in the gunpowder and the dust and the sweating horses and the she-loves-me/she-loves-me-not flowers and the white greasepaint. I could hear “roll ‘em” and “cut!” and “damn, we’ll have to do that again.” I was seeing that wonderful “half-shy, half-sly” smile of his in person. 

Though Lloyd’s work has been gloriously reborn through the medium of DVD, he is still too frequently seen as a bronze medallist after those two other legendary figures from the silent age: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s time to throw away useless comparisons and hierarchies (is Picasso “better” than Van Gogh? And how about Rembrandt – why does the poor fellow always come in third?), and appreciate Lloyd’s movies for what they are. He is so much more than the “everyman” of popular description. His Glass Character is a subtle, slightly surreal, heart-touchingly brave and boyish silent clown, and if you don’t watch out, he will take up residence in your heart, perhaps for good.

This is Harold Lloyd the way I see him. I hope you enjoy this story.

It hurts to be in love

It hurts to be in love.

There is so much about it that hurts.

People don’t admit it, don’t talk about it. But I doubt if I am alone.

By "it", I mean IT, the need, want, passion, prayer to write. Often it’s lit inside you in childhood, after falling into the disturbing wonderland of books.

When I look back on it all, my “writer’s journey” (as so many of the more sickening how-to books call it) has been rocky in the extreme. Long stretches of struggle and hard work with tiny rewards, except for getting it down on the page. Brief upflashings of what can only be called inspiration. One sweet, almost unbelievable passage when I published my first novel and received the kind of reviews a writer can only dream of (only to be followed by negligible sales and quickly turning into box office poison).

Following that, I had a void. I had an abyss. I had a time in my life when I wandered strange. I don’t know what caused it. I had no way out, no compass. All I had were a few friends to wave at me as I stumbled by.

During this interminable time, I wondered if it was “all over”. It FELT over. I poured my feelings into a journal so self-absorbed that I would never consider showing it to anyone (though someone suggested I turn it into a blog – at a time when I barely knew what a blog was).

I can’t remember, except that I do, when the spark flared. I can’t quite find the end of the ball of string. Except to say I had Turner Classics on (which I suppose reveals my age, something around blltxyx years). It was a silent movie, black and white, and someone was walking away from the camera. I could only see his back.

His back was – what shall I say, jaunty? He was in character, obviously, and this was the way he walked.

After a few seconds, I said out loud, “That’s Harold Lloyd.”

I was not sure I knew how I knew, and this reaction was to come up again and again in the next couple of years while I beavered away at the novel. Yes, the novel: The Glass Character, a fictionalized account of Harold Lloyd’s life seen through the eyes of an obsessed fan who virtually stalks him for 300 pages.

Something happened then: I fell back in love with the process. Every day I approached the computer with excitement and joy. Surely THIS was the best thing I had ever written? If not, why did I feel that way? I spent a year and a half researching and writing about Lloyd, falling so in love with him along the way that I wondered if I had lost my objectivity.

During the writing, I would not talk about the project. I was close-mouthed. I knew if I talked about it, I’d kill it. I sometimes blurted things to my husband, just so I would not go insane with it, the isolation. When it was finished, I cautiously talked about it to people who asked if I had written anything lately (hoping, in that manner of people who hope you will fail, that I would avert my eyes, shuffle my feet and say, 
“Well. . . “)

Almost to a person, when I said it was about Harold Lloyd, I got a puzzled look. One of those “I really do think you’re out of your mind and are making things up, but I’ll iron out some of the crinkles in my forehead and tone down the gimlets in my eyes in order to humour you”. Then when I explained, stumblingly, “He was the silent movie comedian who climbed up the side of a building and hung on to the hands of a huge clock”, I almost always got, “Ohhhhhhh, THAT Harold Lloyd!”

And I’m sure they didn’t know how they knew.

My dreams were high and dizzy.  There would be a movie version, surely (which I cast in my mind: never mind who, I’m not that masochistic), or at very least a decent-sized book contract. I began the heartbreaking process all over again.

Every time I talked to anyone about trying to market a manuscript, they always seemed to say, “Just get an agent.” The “just” (which I am going to blog about, as I think it’s a casual form of sadism or at least dismissal) felt like a sort of “oh, quit kvetching, it would be easy if you did this the right way”.  One, two, three, and you’re in.

Oh yes, I tried! I tried. With my typical savage perseverance and propensity for running headlong into a brick wall, I tried. I did work with an agent in the mid-2000s, and at that time she actually approached me, a dizzying development. Of course I grabbed at it, even if it didn’t work out.

This time it was different.

Agents have to make a go of it, and I can see why taking on things like books of poetry and literary fiction won’t sustain them. They’d make next to nothing and starve to death, as would their authors. That said, it was pretty heartbreaking not to be considered at all: most of them would only look at non-fiction and children’s books, preferably series.

A few at least allowed me to send a sample of my work. The one that sticks out in my mind is the agent who asked for “the first two pages”. I had to blink twice before that sank in. The answer, based on those first two pages, was no.

That’s kind of like evaluating a speech by the intake of breath before the speech even begins.

I’m not crazy enough to get into the ins and outs of approaching conventional publishers, except to say that one submissions page currently says that it is permissible (though ONLY after your manuscript is accepted for publication) to mail it to them on floppy discs.  But along with this startlingly modern, Jetsons-like form, you must also mail the printed manuscript (typed on 8 ½ x 11” white paper, double-spaced, on one side of the page only and in 12-point pica type or larger) along with it.

And all on your own dime.

Am I complaining because nothing has happened? I don’t know, maybe. Have I just killed my chances because I quoted something from a publisher's web site, nearly verbatim? (To deal with the literary world is to be on permanent eggshells.)  Is this novel not quite as good as I thought? Hard to say. Did I lose my objectivity, fall in love with Lloyd to such a degree that I could never write about him with the proper detachment?

So what DOES sell now? Fifty Shades of Grey, bad soft-core Mommy porn. Maybe I should have had Harold Lloyd tied up and whipped.

Oh, and another thing I constantly hear (along with, "Wasn't the fun of writing it enough?") is: “JUST self-publish”. Or epublish, interchangeably. It’s a fast way to jump over all the barriers that “paper” publishers erect. It’s true, this new-ish form does open a gate that often seems permanently closed and barred. But the problem is that there are no standards. None.

I’ve been a book reviewer for 30 years, and I think I have some capacity to judge. It’s the Wild West: one big tidal wave of good, bad and indifferent. And the thing is, if your work really is good and worthy to be read, how will anyone ever pick it out of the flood?

People always quote an epublished success story, a “for-instance” like Fifty Shades or the latest Stephen King, but isn’t that something like winning the lottery? After all, SOMEBODY has to win, don’t they?

But unless you were born under a brighter star than I was, I can almost guarantee you that it won’t be you.

"You had me at hello"

Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!