Category Archives: Vienna

The Writing of Vienna: The Agony in the Garden

The Agony in the Garden,  Eglise St-Jean-du- Béguinage, Brussels.  Photograph by Kathryn Kirby.

The Agony in the Garden, Eglise St-Jean-du- Béguinage, Brussels. Photograph by Kathryn Kirby.

The Agony in the Garden is an ode to human weakness. Replace the apostles with friends and you have a modern-day parable for what happens when moving time comes around. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

In the opening chapters of my mystery novel, Vienna is character whose limits are defined by the unquestioned conviction of her frailty. Spurned after a one-night stand (yet another test she has failed), her only response is tears. Every step she takes into the world seems to be off a cliff.

Wandering through her misery, Vienna finds herself at the Eglise St-Jean-du-Béguinage, in Brussels. Looking upon a centuries-old frieze of the Agony of the Garden, she reflects upon her own weakness. Depression tells her she’s hopeless, but the spur-of-the-moment verdict hides a deeper truth. Vienna does not retreat back to her sunless apartment. She turns and faces the day, a simple act of courage she doesn’t even acknowledge.

Within minutes, Vienna’s choice leads her to the heart of a 19th century tangle of fortune and blackmail.   Her self-confidence in tatters, she has lottery odds of solving the mystery. Worse, the riddle forces her to work with Justine Am, a know-it-all American loudmouth who has everything anyone could ever want. And who, despite having no rational claim to misery, seems to have a more than passing acquaintance with it.

Can’t be. Justine has everything. How could she need help from anyone? Especially anyone as addicted to failure as Vienna?

It’s another mystery Vienna must solve.

Vienna walked to one of the friezes that flanked the doors of the church, if only for the sake of appearing to be doing something. Other than crying.

Christ waited there, beseeching weathered apostles. The Agony in the Garden. There were words that went with the scene, written in italic red letters: Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

My Life as a Supermodel (Part 2)

The Berserkers Field, Iceland.  Photograph by Author.

The Berserkers Field, Iceland. Photograph by Author.

After a bit of a hiatus, due to blown rotator cuffs and broken hands, I’m ready again to face the question of how an average-looking male can reasonably be expected to write the thoughts of a twenty-something supermodel during a same-sex encounter.   If you’ll recall, we were in the Berserker’s Field in Iceland, with Justine Am and Vienna.  We were trying for a subtle love scene.  So what, exactly, would supermodel Justine Am be thinking out there on the tundra?   Coming up with an answer seemed more unlikely than the Cubs winning the World Series.  What was I supposed to write?

The easy answer, which is:  “Just wing it” is not without merit.  After all, what are the chances of being caught?  How many people can actually claim to be supermodels?  How would anyone know if I even did any sort of research?

Of course, another possible (if not exactly plausible) answer was to spend the afternoon looking at pictures of supermodels doing a Victoria’s Secret show and hope for inspiration.

Unfortunately, the need for some sort of cogent hook for this scene finally drove me to the Internet in search of whatever it is supermodels think about when they’re out in the wilds of Iceland with an introverted, depressed, and likely autistic, young lady.

My hard-won advice is to never try these search parameters.  Never.  It’s a really stupid way to waste time.

The correct answer serves as my answer to every question along the lines of “What makes you think you can write such-and-such characters?”  The answer is to shut off the computer.  Shut off the cell.  Shut off the background music.  Shut off the TV.  Close your eyes and think about what it means to be human.  And then assume that supermodels are human too.  Risky, I know, but there is a certain twisted logic to it.  Think about love and what that means.  Think about a place with no honking horns and no deadlines, and what that means.  Think about being alone with another person who wants to be with you, and what that means.

Think about an hour in paradise.  And then turn the word processor back on and write about that.  My guess is, everyone (from supermodels to old writers) can understand that point of view.

“Why aren’t we making love,” Vienna asked.  “We are,” Justine said.

My Life as a Supermodel (Part 1)

The Hauptplatz of Graz.  Photograph by Kathryn Kirby.

The Hauptplatz of Graz. Photograph by Kathryn Kirby.

On a warm September evening in the Graz Hauptplatz, I was approached by the most beautiful woman in the world. She was dressed from neck to ankles in a modest combination of black wool and cotton. Her brunette hair, shoulder-length, caught the evening sun in a perfect metaphor for health and youth. Her flawless skin made my freckle-dotted arm look diseased. She had liquid brown eyes. This was not Helen to launch a thousand ships. This was an earthquake. Our eyes met. She smiled. I stepped to the side. That’s what a gentleman does. Encounter over. I turned to watch her glide down the crowded sidewalk. Except I found myself watching everyone watch her. Male, female—it didn’t matter. Everyone looked. Kathy commented on the woman’s beauty before I did.  She parted the crowd like Moses going for a swim.

Fortunately there’s a fountain in the center of the Hauptplatz.  I could sit beside the gurgling water and think things over.  That’s what writers do: act morose and glare out at the world while trying to figure out what the hell is happening.  Kathy, who is used to this silliness, explored nearby architecture and had a great time while I scowled at the perfect evening.

My conclusion was that the beautiful woman was an alien life form.  Or close enough anyway.  On the most trivial level, when she smiled people got out of her way.  How weird would that be?  On the particular fall evening, the thought seemed earth-shatteringly important.  So I spent half an hour sorting through all the ways the woman’s world was different than mine.  There had to be story in that, right?  So I talked to Kathy about it, and she agreed that I should write something, because (she pointed out) that’s also the kind of thing writers do.

Which was fine in theory.  “Hey, I could write this thing about this beautiful fashion model doing this stuff.”  It sounded solid until the story moved on to a place called Berserker’s Field in the middle of Iceland.  Then it all fell apart.

For reasons that seemed sane at the time, I’d placed my fashion model, Justine Am, and my troubled orphan, Vienna, out in Berserker’s Field.  They were going to make love.  Not the sweaty, clothes-off–in-a-pile kind of love, but that much more difficult, “Hey, I think there might be something here” moment when you have to converse with another human being on a level that will later allow the clothes-off gymnastics to take place.  That tiny, beautiful, slice of time when simply holding hands qualifies as erotica.

This had to be a quiet scene.  Physically, it could be nothing beyond Justine and Vienna talking and looking up at the night sky.  There had to be gentle humor.  There had to be an undercurrent of deep emotion.  There had to be enough bravery to overcome various internal glitches I’d written into these characters.

Piece of cake.  All I needed to do was write…  I could start with…  With a bit of tweaking I could…  There might be this clever exchange of dialogue where….

The thing was, out on the tundra of Iceland, Justine had to be assured in both intent and action.  She had to do the heavy lifting because (at this point in the novel) Vienna has no idea what’s called for.  Whatever problems Justine faces elsewhere in the book, in this scene she has no room to get it wrong.  So I had no room to get it wrong.  I had to think like an utterly fearless and confident twenty-three year-old fashion model contemplating an uncertain relationship with a young woman who was not always on speaking terms with reality.

Alas, a few minutes of running an internal memory check confirmed the worst:  I didn’t have any experience being a twenty-three year-old fashion model.  I’d somehow skipped that stage of life.  It wasn’t that I had no idea what Justine would do (though there was a bit of that) but I felt that anything I put down would be viewed as clueless at best and exploitive at worst.  (Look at the old perv writing about lesbian romance!)  So I stepped out of my study to speak to Kathy.  “Hey, that story I’ve been working on for the last three months?  It’s going to be hard to sell.”  Kathy, who is used to this silliness, said, “You should finish it anyway.”

I did what any writer would do.  I bought a six-pack of outrageously priced microbrew.  I drank too much of it and projected exceptionally vile thoughts at my blank computer screen.  Then I played Minecraft for three days straight.  And then…

(to be continued)

A Novel Idea

Galleries St. Hubert, Brussels

Galleries St. Hubert, Brussels (Photograph by author)

For the next twelve months, I will be using the main page in this blog for many a fun and lighthearted post. But I will also be using it to run a race.  The finish line is the publication of my new novel, VIENNA set for 2015.  VIENNA is a contemporary mystery centered on a world-famous fashion model named Justine Am, and a world-class social outcast named Vienna.  As for the race, the rules are simple: I have to pique your curiosity in Justine and Vienna enough that you’ll give their story a read when it comes out.  The starting line is the picture to the left.  The first step goes like this:

In the heart of Brussels Belgium, there sits a 19th century mall called the Galleries St. Hubert.  It was near the entrance to St. Hubert that my wife, Kathryn, and I came across two young women at that delicate stage of romance where merely holding hands is enough.  You know the drill: Lots of blushing coupled with an utter disregard for anything happening in the mundane world.  You also know how important this moment is.  Throughout life, there may be many chances for sex, but precious few moments of delirium caused by the simple touch of hands.

The image of these two women became glued to my memories of Belgium.  It wasn’t a matter of their beauty, though to my eye both possessed more than a fair share.  It was a question of how they had ended up together on a perfect summer’s eve in Brussels, backlit by copper twilight and looking very much like an expensive perfume ad.  There had to be a story there.  As intruding into their world was out of the question I had no alternative but to write a story for them.

So here we have a young lady named Vienna, walking down the Galleries St. Hubert on a beautiful evening in Brussels.  She can’t be a local as she would sound foolish conversing in my elementary school French.  Best make her speak English.  In fact, make her a Londoner.  We don’t as yet know anything else about her.  But we know where she is and where she comes from, and that’s a start…

A few turns and she entered the Galleries Saint Hubert.  Vienna loved the spider web of iron and glass that covered the long plaza, hung from the heavens with spectral grace.