Thursday, February 15, 2018

Eliot Ness and the Origin of Ideas

Successful authors advise novice writers to read EVERYTHING. They maintain that good ideas may percolate from our subconscious and consuming diverse inputs creates more interesting percolations. Sort of how a better coffee bean creates a more robust, complex cup of coffee. This week, I experienced the wisdom of this sage advice.

Since National Novel Writing Month in November, I've been working on a novella set in Cleveland. I copped the working title, Build Break, Rebuild, from the Carl Sandburg poem Chicago. I wasn't happy and expected a better title would suggest itself, but three months later I was still stuck with Sandburg.

That changed on Sunday. Here’s how.

While editing, I noticed that dead crime fighter Eliot Ness's image played an outsized role.

Eliot Ness? Why?

Because Eliot Ness ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1947 after retiring from the FBI. Despite being the hero who captured the notorious gangster Al Capone, he got shellacked.

Like it would most Clevelanders, this factoid surprised me. I didn’t learn this in history, Instead, our urban studies class stumbled upon a faded Ness campaign mural in 1985. The discovery delighted me because Ness was a cultural icon, the intrepid G-Man memorialized in film and TV. But I wondered why a famous crime-fighter wanted anything to do with Cleveland.

So I researched, reading up on Cleveland's history.

Turns out I was a product of 1980’s newscasts which cast Cleveland as sad sacks: the Cuyahoga River catching fire, massive plant closures sending the once thriving industrial mecca into free fall and bankruptcy, etc. I did not realize that in 1938, only New York and Chicago were wealthier and more powerful than Cleveland. This impressed me. So I included two fictional Ness murals in the book.

This explains how Eliot Ness murals crept into a novella.. And that observation led to a new, catchier title: Eliot Ness for Mayor. This is an object lesson on creativity. Sure, some of it may be natural, but nurturing your creative side is as important, especially as you get older. And though I’m loath to admit it, I am now middle age.

Which leads to my final observation: it pays to heed the advice of successful people you want to emulate. They may not always be right, but odds are listening to Stephen King’s advice will net you greater results than heeding your own muse.

Unless your name is Stephen King.

For More On Eliot Ness in Cleveland, read the article Eliot Ness and his Role in Cleveland History
from the Cleveland Police Museum.

Image Source: 1938 CAMPAIGN SIGN ON BUILDING AT 36TH STREET AND CEDAR AVENUE by Frank J. Aleksandrowicz. Available on Wikipedia:

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Free College-Level Creative Writing Course Offered on Cousera

I’m both writer and die-hard exerciser. However, cardio bores me. Sure, I love running outdoors. I dig the scenery (trees, clouds, animals, etc) breathing in the big-sky and soaking up rays. These satiate my sensual-mind. However, these pleasures do little to keep my thinking-mind from chattering, like a wild monkey, telling me “You’re wasting time.” 

To chill my skeptical monkey-mind, I ‘read’ several dozen non-fiction books per year while running. What can I say? I'm easy to dupe. I’ve been an info freak since at least college, so just give me a book. Further,  since most successful authors counsel aspirants to read everything they can, audiobooks turn running from a passive into a work-related activity.

Cool. Win-win. The perfect solution it seems. 

Not so fast. Problem is winter cramps my style. Lord knows I cannot run here in Cleveland through most of the winter. The roads can be icy and treacherous. And it’s cold. For instance, we’ve experienced below-zero Fahrenheit temperatures (that’s below -18 Celsius for non-Americans) for the past two weeks. And try as I might, the lack of visual/ sense stimulus makes it impossible for me to listen to audiobooks on the treadmill. So my only alternative has been to watch the boob-tube, an unattractive option.

While looking for a remedy, I stumbled upon an online college-level creative writing course the Wesleyan University offers on Coursera that feeds two passions at once: writing and exercising. I fire up the laptop before starting the treadmill, get cardo, get sense input AND learn, warm and comfy at home. 

See the course links below.

Caveat: Coursera is a business. They make money by getting people to subscribe and pay. However, Wesleyan allows you to audit the course for free... at least for now (January 2018). Just ignore their big-type "free trial," which will end up costing your $20 a month. And hunt for the "audit for free" link at the bottom of the pop-up box.  

That said, Coursera’s been a huge find. They offer courses on many things writers will find helpful. For instance, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, covers on self-published books are bad, and Cal Arts offers a free course on graphic design.

That said, have these courses tamed my mind? Too early to say, but learning during cardio seems an investment, better than engaging in a time-drain, like watching The Voice and Seinfeld reruns. 

Links to the Wesleyan University Creative Writing Course: 

PS. I am in not affiliated with Coursera. If you click on a link and sign up, I get nothing. I am just sharing since I agree with AA when they preach we only get to keep what we have by giving it away.  

Image Sources: 

Personal screen capture